20160205

The Glory of Fasting :: Weekend Reading List

Faith, like generosity, grows when a person transfers their focus outside of themselves. By prioritizing those around us we experience growth—the same happens when the object of our faith becomes our heart’s joy and priority. When generosity and faith combine a person experiences the glory of the two greatest commandments: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great. — John Chrysostom

The season of Lent, which begins next Wednesday, is marked by fasting. “In Scripture, we see that fasting is a sign of sorrow over sin, a sign of repentance, and an aid to prayer,” observes Kevin P. Emmert. Yet if these were the only reasons to fast it would not have made sense for Jesus to fast 40 days before beginning his ministry—Christ had no sins for which to be sorrowful or repentant and lived his life in direct communion with the Father.

In his article—titled as a call to action—A Lent That’s Not For Your Spiritual Improvement, Emmert writes,

The truth is Christ didn’t forego privileges and battle for humanity for only 40 days. The scene of Jesus in the wilderness is a synecdoche for his entire early life—and ultimately his incarnation… Christ made himself nothing by becoming a servant. He did not use his divinity to his own advantage, as Paul put it, but largely to walk a life-long path of self-sacrifice.

Christ’s whole life was lived on behalf of others, a continuous pursuit of others’ wellbeing. And Christ’s fast in the wilderness is a crucial example of that reality.

The ancient Jews expected the Messiah to grow in power and control—instead Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God and man. They expected him to conquer and overthrow—instead he sacrificed and served. Emmert continues, “If we want to imitate his life and his fast to the degree we can, then we should consider fasting on behalf of others—that is, for their benefit and blessing.”

Perhaps this is why Jesus insisted that he desired “mercy, and not sacrifice.” Part of Christ’s fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures was calling his followers to embrace God’s vision of fasting given through the prophet Isaiah:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Isaiah’s prophecy is one of total transformation—the salvation of marginalized and oppressed actuated by the people of God growing in faith. Fasting—sacrificing—in such a way that others benefit is the very way we ourselves grow. “The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand,” writes the Pope. In a Lenten proclamation the pontiff continues:

In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy—counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer—we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need.

The glory of fasting is found in what it does for others. Maybe we fast from meat or coffee and donate the money we would have spent to organizations who feed the poor. Maybe we give up plastic for the benefit of the environment and those most harmed by its decay. Maybe we abstain from time-wasters like online video-streaming or non-essential iPhone apps to invest in relationships we don’t normally have margin for. Regardless of the steps we take by God’s grace, Emmert reflects,

Lent is not just about personal holiness. Nor is it about pursuing simplicity of life for its own sake. Lent also has a remarkable social dimension. As pastor and columnist Chuck B. Colson said, “Lent gives us the opportunity to move towards our neighbor in charity” because it “emphasizes simplicity for the sake of others.”

 

Today’s Reading
Job 4 (Listen – 2:06)
Romans 8 (Listen – 6:22)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 5 (Listen – 2:29)  Romans 9 (Listen – 5:15)
Job 6 (Listen – 2:56)  Romans 10 (Listen – 3:21)

Weekend Reading List

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20160204

Spiritual Warfare :: Throwback Thursday

By Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843)
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind. — Romans 7.22-23
A believer is to be known, not only by his peace and joy, but by his warfare and distress. His peace is peculiar: it flows from Christ; it is heavenly, it is holy peace. His warfare is as peculiar; it is deep-seated, agonizing, and ceases not till death.

Before a man comes to Christ, he hates the law of God, his whole soul rises up against it. The law is the breathing of God’s pure and holy mind. It is infinitely opposed to all impurity and sin. But natural men love sin, and therefore they hate the law, because it opposes them in all they love.

Unconverted men quarrel with the law of God because of its strictness. If it extended only to my outward actions, then I could bear with it; but it condemns my most secret thoughts and desires, which I cannot prevent.

When a man comes to Christ, this is all changed. He can say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” He can say with David, “O how I love thy law: it is my meditation all the day.” The law is no longer an enemy. In Christ you will find rest.

Yet, in the heart of the believer there remains the whole members and body of an old man, or old nature: there remains the fountain of every sin that has ever polluted the world. So in the heart the lusts often lie quiet till the hour of temptation, and they war against the soul.

There are two great combatants in the believer’s soul. There is Satan on the one side, with the flesh and all its lusts at his command; then, on the other side, there is the Holy Spirit, with the new creature all at his command.

Have you experienced this warfare? It is a clear mark of God’s children. Learn to be humbled by it, but not discouraged. You need the blood of Jesus as much as at the first. You never can stand before God in yourself. You must go again and again to be washed; even on your dying bed you must hide under Jehovah, our righteousness.

Take up the resolution of Edwards, “Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”

*Abridged from Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s sermon, A Believer Delights in the Law of God.

Today’s Reading
Job 3 (Listen – 2:32)
Romans 7 (Listen – 4:09)

20160203

Real Freedom

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. — Romans 6.17–18
The proposition of Christianity is not, live free or submit yourself to Christ. Instead, the gospel challenges its hearers to recognize the way things of this world enslave and disappoint—and to abandon those things for Christ.

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism,” David Foster Wallace said in his famous talk This is Water. “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

The influential author went on to explore that in comparison to the divine, “pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.” Paul’s suggestion that we become slaves to Christ isn’t a surrendering of freedom, it’s the beginning of freedom from the masters that destroy human flourishing. Foster Wallace continues:
If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you… Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
Paul calls the faithful to submit to Christ: “Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” In other words, the more you double down on your commitment to things which cannot fulfill, the more you get hurt—give yourself now to Christ, only he is sufficient to meet the deepest longings of your soul.

Foster Wallace concludes, “Freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”

Today’s Reading
Job 2 (Listen – 2:11)
Romans 6 (Listen – 3:28)

20160202

Suffering is Not for Nothing

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5.3-5
Malcolm Muggeridge said, “Supposing you eliminated suffering. What a dreadful place the world would be because everything that corrects dependency of man to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now. But he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.” Muggeridge gets at the heart of what I want to say. It’s not for nothing. Now how do I know that?

The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. Out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God. The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering. The greatest gifts of my life for example have been marriage and motherhood. And let’s never forget that if we don’t ever want to suffer, we must be very careful never to love anything or anybody. The gifts of love have been the gifts of suffering. Those two things are inseparable.

When I stood by my short-wave radio in the jungle of Ecuador in 1956 and heard that my husband was missing, God brought to my mind the words of the prophet Isaiah, “When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee.” You can imagine that my response was not terribly spiritual. I was saying, “But Lord, You’re with me all the time. What I want is Jim. I want my husband.”

We had been married twenty-seven months after waiting five-and-a-half years. Five days later I knew that Jim was dead, and God’s presence with me was not Jim’s presence. That was a terrible fact. God’s presence did not change the terrible fact that I was a widow. Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God—my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is—who He is in a way that I could never have known otherwise.

Where does this idea of a loving God come from? It is not man so desperately wanting a god that he manufactures him in his mind. It’s He, who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain—and He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know that suffering is not for nothing.

*Excerpted from an interview with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. For more see Elizabeth Elliot’s 7-part video series, Suffering is Not for Nothing.

Today’s Reading
Job 1 (Listen – 3:38)
Romans 5 (Listen – 3:53)

What Happens When We See God

Highlighted Text: Job 42:5
Full Text: Job 42, 2 Cor. 12

Sight | We can read about God and study His Word and yet never be changed. God is just an idea until He comes and speaks into our hearts. Before God spoke to him, Job was quick to remember his own righteousness. When he heard God’s voice, however, he fell in brokenness and confessed, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you”[1].

Perspective | Job immediately had two new senses about the Lord – that His sovereignty was absolute: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted”[2], and that His wisdom was infinitely superior to human knowledge: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” [3]. In light of having these two new senses about God, Job also had a new sense about himself: “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” [4].

Sense | This is what happens when we see God. We don’t have to ask God to show us our sin for what it is; we merely need to ask God to open our eyes to see Him in His magnificent and sovereign holiness. When our eyes behold His glory, we automatically see how utterly different we are from Him [5]. Then what happens to us? Do we become joyless and depressing people? No! We get a brokenhearted joy and a childlike faith that trusts in God. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires; their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble, broken-hearted joy, leaving the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior” [6].

Prayer | Lord, When we’re not in your presence, it’s easy to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We praise our own abilities and knowledge instead of your sovereignty and wisdom. Yet, when the reality of your holiness comes bursting forth into our hearts, we see how unworthy we are – apart from Jesus – to live in your mighty love. Therefore, make us broken and changed people, who trust in you with childlike faith. Make our objections to you give way to our worship of you. Give us a sense of your holiness so that we live in confession. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Job 42:5 ESV  |  [2] Job 42:2 ESV  |  [3] Job 42:3 ESV  |  [4] Job 42:6 ESV  |  [5] Isaiah saw the Lord and proclaimed, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:6 ESV), and Peter saw Jesus perform a miracle and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8 ESV).  |  [6] Jonathan Edwards. Religious Affections. (portion in italics is taken from 1 Peter 1:8). Elsewhere Jonathan Edwards elaborated on the experience of David Brainerd, “I saw that I had been heaping up my devotions before God, fasting, praying, pretending, and indeed really thinking sometimes, that I was aiming for the glory of God; whereas I never once truly intended it, but only my own happiness. I saw, that as I had never done any thing for God, I had no claim on any thing from him, but perdition, on account of my hypocrisy and mockery. Oh how different did my duties now appear from what they used to do! I used to charge them with sin and imperfection; but this was only on account of the wanderings and vain thoughts attending them, and not because I had no regard to God in them; for this I thought I had. But when I saw evidently that I had regard to nothing but self-interest, then they appeared a vile mockery of God, self-worship, and a continual course of lies; so that I now saw that something worse had attended my duties, than barely a few wanderings; for the whole world was nothing but self-worship, and a horrid abuse of God. I continued, as I remember, in this state of mind, from Friday morning till the Sabbath evening following (July 12, 1739) when I was walking again in the same solitary place, where I was brought to see myself lost and helpless, as before mentioned. Here, in a mournful melancholy state, I was attempting to pray; but found no heart to engage in that or any other duty; my former concern, exercise and religious affections were now gone. I thought the Spirit of God had quite left me; but still was not distressed; yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth could make me happy. Having been thus endeavoring to pray though, as I thought, very stupid and senseless for near half an hour, then as I was walking in a dark, thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing; nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light, somewhere in the third heavens, or any thing of that nature; but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor any thing which had the least resemblance of it. I stood still, wondered, and admired! I knew that I never had seen before any thing comparable to it for excellency and beauty; it was widely different from all the conceptions that ever I had of God, or things divine. I had no particular apprehension of any one person in the Trinity, either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost; but it appeared to be divine glory. My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable, to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that he should be God over all for ever and ever. My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God, that I was even swallowed up in him; at least to that degree, that I had no thought (as I remember) at first about my own salvation, and scarce reflected there was such a creature as myself.” See how Brainerd FIRST saw his own sinfulness and wretchedness and THEN saw the unspeakable joy of the Lord – so much that he even forgot about himself! This is the process that God uses to show us who He is and who we are in light of who He is. This is how He makes us brokenhearted in joy and childlike in faith. See Jonathan Edwards. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.