Posts Tagged With: fasting

Being God’s Instruments of Peace

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen” (a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, from The Book of Common Prayer).

Statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo courtesy of Pxfuel.com.

As Lent approaches, millions of Christians, especially in traditional churches, are pondering what they can give up during Lent. Many give up a favorite food or hobby for 40 days. Such fasts are voluntary. Christians do this to remember our Lord’s fast in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11) and His sufferings for us, as well as to reflect on our sins and remember why we need a Savior.

Meanwhile, many Ukrainian citizens face the risk of non-voluntary suffering. The Russian army has invaded their country. Civilians have taken up arms to defend their homeland. Thousands have fled the country. Millions will face a lack of food and other resources, destruction of their homes, communities, and infrastructure, and even death. Suffering is not a choice for them; they cannot just take it easy if things get uncomfortable.

Those who will receive ashes on Ash Wednesday will hear the pastor say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent reminds us of our mortality. Millions are facing it every day: not only in Ukraine but also in Congo (where some of my denomination’s churches have been attacked in recent weeks) and in countless nations where the government leaders are more concerned about their power than about the needs and rights of their citizens.

Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

As we fast, we will remember our sins. We will recall that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible). We will remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). People in Ukraine are experiencing the full weight of sin now. They are suffering one of the most flagrant expressions of human sinfulness as one nation’s leaders seek to inflict death and despair upon the people of another country.

Many churches will encourage the faithful to take on a positive spiritual discipline to complement the Lenten fast. In addition to giving up cookies or coffee for 40 days, one might pray more or read more chapters in the Bible every day.

Image by Prierlechapelet from Pixabay

Perhaps we can go beyond that. Millions are crying out for peace in 2022. We want the war in Ukraine to end. We pray for peace throughout the world. We cry out for justice. We want to see a better world around us. Many Christians are praying for a spiritual revival in our churches and communities as more people turn to Jesus for salvation, healing, and hope.

We can take St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer above as our guide. “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” We need to pray for peace: Few of us can make any direct impact on the situation in Kyiv at this time, but we worship a God who rules all of creation. We can bring the peace of God to our homes, families, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. We can take a stand against hatred only by bringing God’s love (1 Corinthians 13) to those we meet. We can share God’s mercy and pardon with those we meet.

Over the next 40 days—and beyond—let us be the answer to our prayers. God is sending us, His children, to bring His love, forgiveness, peace, and hope to this world. That will draw us closer to Him and bring more of His blessings into our lives than any fast we may choose to make.

How can you bring God’s mercy and peace to those around you? Do you have a plan to share God’s peace in the weeks to come? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. IX: Putting on the New Self

“… {A}nd put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

My last article looked at Isaiah 11:2–5, which tells us how Christ bore God’s righteousness and faithfulness like a belt. This verse reminds us of the whole armor of God, which includes the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14).

The Bible has many images to describe our relationship with Christ. We are members of His body, much like our limbs and other organs are members of our bodies. We are “in Christ,” and He is in us. The whole armor of God, Ephesians 4:24, and several other passages remind us that we are to “put on” Christ or the “new self” in a sense of “clothing ourselves” with Him. The clothing imagery sometimes speaks of clothing ourselves in Christ or clothing ourselves in righteousness.

“I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
 My soul will exult in my God;
 For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
 He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
 As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
 And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:12–14).

This clothing imagery appears throughout Scripture. It is an active, conscious choice that we make. For many of us, one of the first decisions we make every day is what to wear. We make a thoughtful decision on what to wear each day; we do not aimlessly walk out the door wearing whatever we wore to sleep. We usually make a decision based on the day’s activities. Even though I work at home, I ask myself whether I will be in a Zoom or other virtual meeting before picking my shirt for the day. My wardrobe decision will be much different for a lazy Saturday morning than for church on Sunday.

Are we as decisive with our spiritual wardrobe? Do we conscientiously choose to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, or do we just mindlessly go through our day?

Many Christians, myself included, observe Lent. This is a season of prayer and fasting, offering us an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with Christ. This year, I have felt convicted about how easy it is to slip into a neutral gear in my spiritual life. Having focused on the fast itself, it is easy to lose sight of how it points me to Christ.

The focus of Lent should be on Christ, not solely on the fast. This year, I have caught myself getting lazy about one of my fasts. While I have avoided donuts and cakes pretty well, I have not kept my word to God that I would abstain from playing computer games during Lent.

Does God really care that much if I play solitaire on my computer? Probably not: people do far worse things online. However, I have found myself playing games when I could be reading the Bible or devotional books. Sure, I can make excuses: Lent has been particularly challenging the last two years. The pandemic has forced many of us to forego human interaction and social activities—even in-person church events—while also giving up favorite foods or hobbies. The battle is real, and it is intense, but as the “whole armor of God” imagery reminds us—Christians are always at war. You cannot afford to get lazy when the enemy is ready to attack.

Let us avoid complacency. Let us renew our commitment for the next few weeks. Lent is not merely about giving up chocolate, cookies, donuts, video games, etc. It is a time to deepen our focus on Jesus. It is also a war game to prepare ourselves for the real battle: to lay aside the deeds of darkness and the old nature so that we can put on Christ. It is a conscious decision. Fasting in specific areas of our lives during Lent can be a form of practice for facing real battles. It will be easier to battle hardcore sin when we have triumphed over the Boston crème donut.

When all is said and done, we should be clothed in Christ so that His glory is revealed through us. Let that be our goal.

Do you have anything to add or any thoughts that come to mind about clothing yourself in Christ? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ash Wednesday: Rules or Relationship, Faith or Fellowship

I was a young Christian when I attended college in the mid-1980s. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior following my freshman year, in the summer of 1984. During my senior year, 1986–87, a hall-mate in my dorm asked me once, “So, I hear that you’re a born-again Christian? What does that mean? Does that mean you’re not allowed to drink or smoke or have sex?”

Cross of ashes on a believer’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

I replied, “Actually, I’m allowed to do everything that God allows you to do!” For a few brief seconds, I enjoyed the slightly confused look on his face.

“To be born again means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” I continued, probably quoting John 3:3 while sharing some other details about the Gospel. “Because I have a relationship with Jesus, I want to know His will and do it. He has forgiven my sins and I want to honor Him by trying to be more like Him.”

God’s kingdom extends to all. The greatest difference between Christ’s followers and others is that Christians recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. We are forgiven, and we follow Him.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in many churches. The season lasts 40 days, plus Sundays, culminating in Easter. Many Christians will receive ashes in a cross shape on their foreheads, as a reminder that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those who observe Lent will fast during the 40 days: some may give up a favorite food, beverage, or activity. Catholics and some members of other churches may give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.

For those who are observing Lent: Do not let it become a season of “Does that mean you’re not allowed….” Let it be a season of renewal in your relationship with Jesus. Yes, give up those cookies, if that’s what you feel God is leading you to do. But, do not stop there. Figure out how you can use this time to enhance your relationship with Christ.

One of the ministries in my church is hosting a series of “Life in the Spirit” seminars during Lent. This made me think: How can I allow the Holy Spirit to more clearly direct me? How can Lent become a time when I become more in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit and less driven by habit or routine? How can I hear more clearly from the Holy Spirit?

This leads me to one of my goals in Lent. I have developed a routine of praying at the computer: I have my online Bible open in one tab, the Book of Common Prayer open in another. It can be easy and convenient to have everything I need right in front of me.

Unfortunately, this convenience can lead to distraction. It is too easy to open another web browser that goes directly to Facebook. My email client will keep popping alerts onto my screen. This Lent, the computer stays in sleep mode during my prayer times. I still have a few “ancient” Bibles from the 20th century, printed on paper with actual covers and binding (OK, one or two have lost their covers!), along with an equally-old copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Neither of these artifacts from the last millennium give email alerts or social media links. This will avoid the temptation to allow my prayers to be distracted by less important things. It is rude to stare at your computer screen when a person in the same room is telling you something important. Could it be just as rude, perhaps, to wander off to Facebook and email while talking to God or, even worse, when He is trying to speak to you?

Lenten fasts and practices should be personally meaningful and relevant. God may be calling you to do something very different from what He is calling others to do. I have shared some advice regarding Lenten fasts here and here.

Ask God: “Is there anything I can try to do differently in Lent? Should I pray differently? Should I spend more time in Bible study? Should I find ways of serving You that might challenge me to step out of my comfort zone?”

Lent, like the rest of the Christian life, is not primarily about what you are allowed to do. It is about who God is in your life. May this be a time when you invite Him to claim a greater role in your life.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lent and Fasting

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it? Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? 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? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am. If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:1‒12; all Scripture citations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

For much of my adult life, I ignored Lent. It seemed to me like a legalistic ritual. I thought it provided nothing for salvation or spiritual growth. You get some ashes smeared on your head one Wednesday; for the next 40 days, you give up chocolate. What makes this spiritual? Where is God in all of this?

The truth is that some people will go through Lent and get nothing out of it. However, that is not because there is a problem with the season or the traditions associated with it. It is a problem with how that particular individual is approaching the situation. We can take legitimate ways of approaching and worshiping God and do them without His presence. Even the holiest acts can be worthlessly mundane if we merely go through the motions.

God is not impressed if we just go through the motions of Lent or fasting. The true worshipers of God will serve Him in Spirit and truth, not merely in outward rituals. What God says about fasting in the above passage is just as true about all spiritual disciplines and practices, including Bible study, prayer, praise, worship, and serving others.

(For those of you who believe fasting is a purely Old-Testament practice that Christians can ignore, I urge you to read my article, “Principles of Fasting,” at https://darkenedglassreflections.com/2011/12/04/principles-of-fasting/. Jesus assumed that His disciples will fast, and in Matthew 28:18‒20 He told them to teach later generations of disciples to obey ALL that He commanded them.)

It is helpful to remember that one goal of any fast is to give up something physical or natural so that we can devote our attention to things that are spiritual. Many people will give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, along with a favorite kind of food and/or hobby for the entire season. Others may be more ambitious (perhaps going on a full no-food fast for a day here and there), while others may do something simpler (perhaps giving up only one food). However, whether we give up a lot or a little, we need to fill the gap with something spiritual. If you give up food, without adding prayer or other spiritual disciplines, you are dieting—not fasting.

So, here are a few suggestions for those who observe Lent:

  • While giving up food, add prayer. The time devoted to preparing and eating food can be used for additional prayer and Bible reading.
  • While giving up a hobby or activity (television, Facebook, etc.), add praise and worship. The time you would normally spend on your hobby can be spent playing favorite worship songs on a musical instrument, or listening to favorite praise and worship music on a CD, Spotify, or Pandora. (Yes, this can include songs you actually enjoy listening to in your favorite musical genre. “Holy and spiritual” does not have to mean “boring, tedious, and painful.”)

Let us take it even further, as Isaiah advises in the above Bible passage:

  • Let us give up anger and develop a lifestyle of patience.
  • Let us give up greed and develop a lifestyle of generosity.
  • Let us give up selfishness and develop a lifestyle of compassion and love.

Okay, I admit: That last list may be a little less fun than perpetually streaming a playlist of your favorite Christian contemporary musicians. However, this is what God is really seeking. He is not interested in creating a club of people who eat fish on Fridays. His goal is to mold us to be more like Him.

Therefore, let Lent be a season of self-examination and reflection. Take some time in the coming weeks to read Galatians 5:19–23. Take a look at the deeds of the flesh: Which of these have the most impact on your life? Where are your weaknesses? Next, take a look at the fruit of the Spirit: Which are most abundant in your life? Which would benefit most by a season of growth.

At its core, Lent is not about meatless Wednesdays, fish on Fridays, or 40 days without chocolate, coffee, or donuts. Like every other day or season of the year, it is a time that the Lord has made for us to worship Him (Psalms 118:24). Let us devote this season to a searching and fearless moral inventory. Let us confess those parts of the carnal worldly life to which we continue to cling, release those defects to God, and yield to Him so that He may manifest His holiness within us. Then shall our light break forth like the dawn, and our healing shall spring up speedily. Our righteousness shall go before us, and the glory of the Lord shall be our rear guard. We shall call, and the Lord will answer.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

christ_in_the_wilderness_-_ivan_kramskoy_-_google_cultural_institute

Jesus fasting and praying: “Christ in the Wilderness,” by Ivan Kramskoi [1837-1887, Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Those who fast during Lent reflect on Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism in the Jordan River. As Jesus prepared to begin His public ministry, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and ate nothing for 40 days. At the end of those 40 days, Satan tempted Him to use His divine power for personal gain, daring Him to turn stones into bread. Jesus responded, as He would to each temptation, by quoting Deuteronomy, responding to the first challenge by saying “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

That verse highlights one of the lessons learned during fasting, a lesson God taught the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering after they escaped from Egypt. Fasting calls our attention back to God, and reminds us of our need and His provision.

The wilderness wanderings were a time for the Israelites to learn how to live out their covenant relationship as the people of God. It did not start well. Even though God protected them during a series of plagues, until Pharaoh let them leave, they grew fearful as soon as they saw the Egyptian chariots chasing them at the Red Sea. Despite God’s previous signs, they would not believe that He would rescue them this time.

After God parted the Red Sea so they could escape, they complained at the waters of Marah, believing God would not provide clean drinking water. He provided it anyway (Exodus 15:22–27).

Soon thereafter, they complained that they did not have enough food, and accused Moses of leading them into the wilderness to starve. God provided bread from heaven, “manna” (Exodus 16). Before long, a miraculous (and free) supply of bread was not good for them; they demanded meat, so God provided quail (Numbers 11:1–15, 31–35). However, the quail came with divine discipline, as God sent a plague among the people while they were eating.

Much of this was probably on Jesus’ mind as Satan tempted Him. Jesus answered all three temptations by quoting from chapters 6 or 8 of Deuteronomy. He probably spent a lot of time during those 40 days meditating on the first few chapters of that book.

God had tested the Israelites, to give them a chance to trust Him. They failed each test. Every time, God provided opportunities to remember how He had provided for them in the past. Every time, they failed.

Many Christians can relate. How often do we immediately worry when a problem arises? Do we have faith to cast all of our cares upon the Lord, knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7)? Do we remember the times He has been faithful in the past: the times He answered our prayers, healed our illnesses, or provided for our needs? Or, do we anticipate a catastrophe and forget that He even exists?

God wanted His people to learn to look to Him for all their needs, and to recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). The testing was designed to prepare them to remain grateful all of their days (Deuteronomy 8:11–18), so that they would remember to thank Him for all that He provides.

Yet, they failed the gratitude test. Manna was not good enough for them; they demanded meat. God’s provision was not sufficient: It was too boring, the same thing day after day. They wanted something exciting, something new, a change of pace. So, they told Moses that God could do better.

Ingratitude, distrust, and disbelief showed they were not ready to claim the promised land. God extended a trip that should have taken less than two weeks and forced them to wander for 40 years.

As Jesus prepared for His ministry, He must have reflected on these lessons. He had to remember who He was, why the Father had sent Him, and what He would do. He would look to the Father to protect, provide, and direct over the next few years. Every step in His ministry would be guided by the Father and would bring Him glory. At no point could Jesus afford to grow impatient or seek an easy way out.

For those of us who participate in a Lenten fast as we follow Jesus, the following questions are significant. Let us each reflect on them:

  • When difficulties arise, do I trust God or gravitate towards doubt, unbelief, fear, distrust, and anxiety?
  • When has God met my needs in the past?
  • Are the things He provides sufficient for me, or do I crave more? Do I demand more from God than He provides?
  • What mission, passion, ministry, or calling has God placed on my life? How can I pursue it His way, rather than trying to do things in my own strength?
  • Will I be grateful for His goodness?
  • Will I remember God’s mercy in good times, or will I forget about Him when life gets easy or comfortable?

Not long after His season of fasting and temptation, Jesus would travel with His disciples through Samaria, where He would minister to a woman with a troubled past and, most likely, a questionable reputation (John 4). When His disciples arrived with food, He did not have much of an appetite. It was as if He had already enjoyed a feast. He knew a satisfaction in the soul that natural food could not meet.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

As Jesus’ soul was nourished by doing the work that His Father required, may we be satisfied in His blessings, provision, and the joy of serving Him.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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