Tag Archives: Jesus

Why and how we should practice fasting as regularly as we pray or give

19 Jun

 

Image result for does fasting matter?

Is fasting an important teaching of Jesus?  Let’s be honest.  Rarely, exceedingly rarely, in our evangelical world do we hear about fasting.

Once scholarly source, Halley’s Handbook says this: “There are special occasions born out of extreme sorrow when fasting is appropriate, but generally speaking it is out of order.”

Generally speaking, it is out of order?  Really?

Jesus once spoke to his disciples about fasting in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6.  In verse 16 we read that he said, “When you fast…”

Look at the flow of the Jesus’ teaching, since the beginning of chapter 6.  Jesus says in verses 2 & 3 “When you give,” and our Christian culture generally accepts this teaching as something normal.  The result is that we practice giving weekly in worship and in other ways.  Then Jesus says in verses 5, 6, & 7, “When you pray” and our Christian culture also generally accepts this as normative, and we have prayer in worship, prayer meetings, and encourage private prayer as well.

Then Jesus says “When you fast” in verses 16 & 17, and we have to be honest and admit that this is NOT a common part of Christian culture and practice.  But look at what Jesus has done so far in this chapter: he categorizes these three practices equally.  Giving? Total normal and expected.  Prayer?  Totally normal and expected.  Fasting?  “Generally speaking out of order”?

Not so for Jesus.  He taught fasting as expected and normal.

In Old Testament Jewish culture, and later in the early church, there were a variety of special occasions when fasting took place: sadness, tragedy, demon possession, ordination for ministry.  Fasting was considered to be a regular practice.  Just as regular as going to worship services.

Sadly over time fasting has gone from a regular practice to an occasional practice.

So first and foremost, we need to see Jesus’ teaching as a corrective.  Fasting is to be practiced by all of his disciples regularly.

Having established the regularity of fasting, Jesus goes on to show us that fasting can be done the wrong way!

Fasting can be done the wrong way.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:16 that fasting can be done wrongly by people attempting to build their reputation.  Earlier in the sermon in Matthew 6, Jesus said the same thing about giving and prayer: our practice of spiritual disciplines can be abused.  He shows how the hypocrites made a mockery of fasting by making a production out of it.  He says they disfigure their faces.

My NIV Study Bible notes say that typical custom when fasting was to put ashes on your head to signify that you are fasting.

For many centuries and still to this day, ashes are a traditional way to start Lent.  Early Ash Wednesday morning, Christians receive a sign of the cross, written in ash, on their foreheads.  Then they wear it all day long to signify that they have begun the period of fasting lasting from that day until Easter.

Jesus is saying that some people in his day would go beyond that.  You might not notice that someone had ashes on their head. But you couldn’t miss it if someone’s face was “disfigured.”  That word “disfigure” is the same word that Jesus will use a few verses later in 19 & 20 to describe what moths do to clothing and was rust does to iron.  What these hypocrites were doing to their faces, then, was very noticeable.  And that is a problem.  They’re doing a good thing, fasting, but they’re doing it wrongly.  They’re using fasting to get a lot of attention.  To build up their reputation as being super-spiritual.  To get people to think they’re something special.  And Jesus says, if that’s what they want, then they got it.

They have their reward already.  His point is that their reward is a weak one.  It’s a powerless reward.

Is it possible that we might draw attention to ourselves when we practice spiritual disciplines?  Might our announcements on Facebook, about fasting or praying or giving, amount to the same kind of self-focused attention that Jesus decries?  If so, then the “likes” we receive are our reward.  We really want those “likes” on our posts.  They can make us feel important and appreciated.  But Jesus says that our practice of spiritual discipline should be aimed a much higher reward, that of being noticed by our father in heaven.  And the way to get him to reward us is to do our fasting in secret.

Jesus isn’t alone in showing how fasting can be done wrongly.  His teaching is very similar to another prominent teaching about fasting in the OT.  In Isaiah 58:1-7, God says fasting can be done wrongly by not changing us.

Years ago at Faith Church we showed a film called simply, 58.  It is now free to watch online.  I encourage you to do so.  It talks about how the teaching about fasting in Isaiah 58 can apply to our world, a world in which poverty, human trafficking and injustice are rampant.  We can practice fasting all we want, but what if we are never changed by it?  What if our fasting doesn’t make a difference to the injustice in our world.  In Isaiah 58, God calls this a false fast.  In Isaiah 58, just as in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6, it seems the people doing the fasting are out to get the benefit for themselves alone.

When our church took a mission trip to Costa Rica in the summer of 2009, our group there read this chapter the day before we walked through a deeply impoverished slum neighborhood where a church we visited was located.  We decided that those who wanted to could voluntarily forego a meal, and we would donate the funds to the church.  Many also selected numerous personal items to give to the needy brothers and sisters in the church.  Some in our group were very hungry that day as we walked around that neighborhood.  But instead of eating lunch, we prayed as we walked the streets.  We had our eyes opened to poverty and gang violence and broken down homes where babies were sick.  That was a fast designed to benefit those in need.

Now read the rest of Isaiah 58, verses 8-14 to hear the results of the true kind of fasting.  Isn’t that astounding?  That is another reason why we practice the right kind of fasting.

But what else happens when we fast.  So far we’ve heard that God desires us to fast, and that he blesses and rewards those who fast.  That alone is wonderful.  But in Scripture we see there is even more to fasting.

Fasting is designed to: Help us concentrate on prayer.  Fasting adds intensity to prayer.  Jesus once gave his disciples a tip when they were struggling to cast out a demon.  They had seen Jesus do it many times and thought they would try.  But this demon wasn’t coming out.  Jesus said to his disciples, “That kind only comes out by prayer AND fasting.”  In the spiritual realm, fasting adds power.

Next, fasting is designed to: Heighten spiritual awareness.  Many times fasting was used before a special decision.  Acts 13 speaks of a time when the early church fasted.  As a result, God set apart Paul & Barnabas as missionaries.  Then the church fasted again before laying hands on them.  When my denomination, the EC Church, was selecting a new Bishop a few years ago, the leaders called for a special season of fasting before our Bishop was chosen.

Next, fasting is designed to:  Teach us dependence on God (rather than food).  Fasting flies in the face of American self-sufficiency.  Our famous slogan is: “Get R Done.”  We are independent.  We think we don’t need anyone, and fasting reminds us, YES WE DO.  Fasting takes us out of our comfort zone and reminds that we are indulgent, consumers, and it takes us to a place of dependence.

To illustrate our need for dependence on God, in a very weird statement in John 6, Jesus told us that he was to be “eaten”.  I’m serious.  Look it up.

I encourage you to read all of John 6 because the connections between Jesus and food are many and varied.  He carries on a testy conversation with the crowds around him that day, and eventually he says this: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” Weird, huh?  I wish I could enter into their hearts and minds of the people listening that day.  I wish I could understand what this meant to them.  It is such a bizarre statement.  We know a bit of how they understood it because toward the end of the chapter, we read that even some of his disciples stopped following him.

So what was going on in this strange chapter?  Jesus said more than just “eat my flesh and drink my blood.”  Look back at verse 48.  He talked about being the Bread of life from heaven.

There was in the history of Israel a story all the people listening to Jesus that day would have known very well.  The story of manna, which the people in the crowd refer to in verse 30.  It is a story hearkening back to the time when the people of Israel, in the book of Exodus, had left slavery in Egypt and wandering through the desert, heading toward the Promised Land of Canaan, they had very little means to get food.  So God provided miraculously for them every morning with flakes called manna.  The flakes would lay on the ground like snow, and then would collect enough for that day and use the manna to make bread.  Back here in John 6, Jesus says that he, not the manna, is “the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die” (6:48-50).  The practice of fasting goes together with this teaching about nourishing ourselves on the person of Jesus.  But how?

Author Dallas Willard, in his excellent book about spiritual disciplines, The Spirit of the Disciplines says that fasting “emphasizes the direct availability of God to nourish, sustain, and renew the soul.  It is a testimony to the reality of another world from which Jesus and his Father perpetually intermingle their lives with ours.  And the effects of our turning strongly to this true “food” will be obvious.”

So we see that fasting teaches us dependence on God.

Next, Fasting is designed to: break the chains of injustice

We have practiced communal fasting like this during lent with our sister church in Chicago, Kimball Avenue.  I have written about the Lenten Compact here.  Lent is an ancient Christian period of fasting, and the Lenten Compact is a group fast.  In this group fast, we agree with one another to participate in a fast, leading up to Easter, using the principles found in Isaiah 58, which I mentioned above.  One year was the Compact was designed to teach us about the strangers among us, and many of us fasted by giving extra time and resources to help refugees coming into Lancaster.  Another year the Compact was about violence, and we gave up things like violent movies, video games and the like.  These are fasts that heighten spiritual awareness, help us prayer, help us depend on God and break the chains of injustice.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty.  How do we actually practice fasting on a regular basis?

There are all kinds of ways to fast.

Fasting is abstaining from anything that hinders prayer.  Abstaining from something that would allow more time for prayer.  Meal?  Football game on TV?  All TV for week?

Ideally fasts add more prayer and time with God.  But just fasting alone is important because it reminds us that we can have unhealthy dependencies on things in life, and the act of giving them up, just that alone, is a good thing.

Maybe you might try fasting food on Sundays before communion.  Start Saturday night after dinner, eating nothing until after communion the next day.  Take the extra time that you would have normally spent eating food, and spend more time in prayer confessing your sin and shortcoming, thus preparing you for communion.

Fast during Lent. Catholics have Friday Fish Fries because a traditional fast during Lent is giving up meat.  You have probably heard the phrase: “What are you giving up for Lent?”  This past Lent I gave up phone games.  Some people give up Facebook.  Some fast from TV.  When we fast during Lent, we are opening up space in our lives to ask God how we can depend on him more during that time.  We are seeking to break unhealthy dependency on lesser things.  We are seeking to prepare ourselves for the great celebration of Easter.

We should also practice fasting during times of spiritual depression, maybe to get away, go to a mountain and pray.  Twin Pines is a great spot for this.  When you go to camp or go on a retreat, do you realize that you are actually fasting many of the normal parts of life we are accustomed to?  What also happens at camp?  We spend extra time with God!  Should we be surprised, then, at how many people have amazing experiences with God at camp, or on retreats?  Fasting is part and parcel of that.

We also need to practice fasting on a regular basis like we practice weekly worship attendance which includes prayer and giving.  In this regard, many American Christians could learn from our brothers and sisters around the world.

I’ll never forget that when I visited our sister churches in Nepal in 2007.  I got to talk with their director, and he told us about how much their churches are growing and reaching people, even in the midst of persecution.  I had to ask him what their secret was.  How could they be growing so much, while we in the USA are seeing churches in decline?  You know what he said to me?  Our sister Churches in Nepal practice fasting regularly.

And then there was the time our missionaries in Brazil, Dave & Conce Roof, shared this amazing story:

A number of years ago, one of the elders Dave and Conce trained, and who was a dear friend of theirs, started outright lying in a number of the churches. He was causing division and strife, and it seemed he was intentionally trying to destroy the church from within.  Dave and Conce were devastated with seeing the destruction of the relationships in the church by this man they had invested so deeply in. The personal hurt and grief were painful.

They asked us to pray for God to give them wisdom as to how to handle the situation for God’s glory and the good of the body, and for the restoration of this dear brother.  How could they confront this man effectively and biblically, to bring healing?  Dave and Conce decided that this was definitely a time for fasting.  I don’t remember how long they fasted, but Dave said they were just finishing praying at the end of the fasting period, and there was a knock at their door. Dave literally got off his knees to answer.

It was the elder.  He was weeping.  God had spoken to him.  This man not only confessed to Dave and Conce and asked their forgiveness, but he also went church to church, and publicly before each and every congregation confessed everything and asked for forgiveness.  Some people were very suspicious, but over time the elder proved himself as truly changed.  As you can imagine, out of an incredibly difficult situation, the churches came together and were strengthened.  It unified them. Fasting can do mighty things in the spiritual realm.  Dave and Conce did not have to find a way to deal with the mess, God moved in the elder’s heart.

Some cautions are in order when thinking about fasting:

Be prepared for the battle inside when you fast.  Your mind and body will tell you that it is too hard.  “What are you going to do without that TV, food, phone, etc?  You really enjoy that.  You need that.”

What if fasting food is medically detrimental?  You should see your doctor before fasting food.  If the doctor says, “No,” you can fast other things.

Have you ever considered fasting?

Not for dieting purposes but for spiritual strengthening purposes.  In fasting we deny ourselves real food, in order to feast on the Bread of Life.  We do this by taking the time we would normally eat and use it to spend more time with Jesus.  The implication in this is dependence, trust.  We are saying to God that we will trust and depend on him to nourish us more than food.

Remember that we are both body and spirit.  What we do in the body affects the spirit and vice-versa.  In fasting, we are denying our body, so that we can strengthen our soul.  It may seem counterproductive.  Wouldn’t denying the body hurt the soul?  NO, because if we learn to depend on Jesus while denying the body, we can learn to control ourselves.  If I can deny my body food, then I will have greater spiritual strength to deny my body of lustful things as well.  I use my soul nourishment to control myself.  The desires of my soul to love and obey God become the controlling factor of my life rather than the desires of my flesh.

Remember that time that Jesus practiced a 40-day fast?  He was out in the desert by himself, spending time with God.  It must have been physically excruciating.  I have fasted for a day here and there, and it was hard.  One time I fasted food in college during soccer season, including a game day, and it felt really hard.  Jesus fasted 40 days.  Imagine what that did to his body!  Imagine how emaciated he would have been, how weak.

And yet, author Dallas Willard says something shocking: Jesus in the wilderness was actually at a place of spiritual strength. Jesus had just spent 40 straight days with God.  24/7.  Total dependence on God. Fasting, in a total surprise move, actually strengthens us.  When you consider that in fasting you are spending extra time depending on God, it makes sense that you are strengthened.

What can you give up to nourish yourself on Jesus?  All of us should try fasting food if it medically possible. But we could also deny ourselves of things like TV, Facebook, Video games, etc.

Remember to fast in secret:

  • Someone who gives up hobby for a month, spends that time in prayer, and tells no one about it!
  • Imagine a family that decides to skip a meal a week, and instead of that hour or two spent on meal preparation, eating and clean-up, they spend time in extra Bible devotion, prayer.  And they tell no one about it.

What are you going to do to practice fasting?   Wait expectantly, then watch God work.  Be excited about the connection you will feel to Jesus, the things you will learn and the things you will see.  When we willingly sacrifice to spend time with and get to know another person, it is good.  Love is received and felt.  The relationship grows. How much more should we be excited to deny ourselves and fast to get to know our God more and to have time to commune with him, to reconnect in a deeper way.

Remember that Christ said to us, “WHEN you fast….”  So, think about it…What can you fast this week?  This month?  What area or circumstance in your life needs extra prayer and focus right now?

And if you need help, get a trainer. Be a trainer.

How the scariest Bible story helped us create our Faith Church Growth Process

22 May

Image result for scary bibleWhat do you think is the scariest, most haunting passage in the Bible?  Maybe something about demons or hell or something?  Could be.

For me it is Matthew 7:13-29, and especially verses 21-23 where Jesus says this:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

For me as a pastor, it haunts me.  Why?  Because there are people that assumed, and even were convinced, that they were in good standing with Jesus, that they were going to enter heaven.  But they are dead wrong.  He says to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”

You know why that haunts me?  Those people were convinced they were good to go.  They were sure they were doing what Jesus wanted them to do.  They presented their evidence to Jesus.  In their minds, they were guaranteed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

But they were totally wrong.  Jesus says “Nope, all that stuff you think is important is not important.”  Jesus says, “Many will say to me on that day.”  We’re not talking about a small group.  We’re talking about “many.”  This relates to the previous part of the passage, verses 13-14 where Jesus says a large group of people are headed the wrong way.  Instead a small group finds the road that leads to life.

See how that could be freaky? This large group of people who are headed the wrong way are deceiving themselves by their evidence. Their so convinced the have the golden ticket to heaven, the people try to reply to Jesus that they should be allowed into heaven.  They even have evidence: “prophesying in his name, driving out demons in his name, and performing miracles.”  It seems convincing.  I can hardly imagine anyone, except a true disciple, doing these things.  In fact, I would say all those pieces of evidence seem to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through those people.

But there is a problem.  What do you notice about their evidence?  It’s all outward.  We look at them and on the outside they seem to be true followers.  But Jesus’ shocking response shows us that they are not.

Jesus’ response is what led to creating our new church logo. Take a look at the logo:

Each part of the logo symbolizes something.

There are four green squares, each representing a major focus of our church: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, and Outreach.  The third box from the left is a darker green, indicating it is a special focus. We call the line down the middle the Matthew 7 line.  Finally, the cut-out in the middle two boxes draws an imaginary horizontal line across the middle vertical line, thus giving us the image of the cross.

Every part of the logo tells a story, and it is all based in Jesus’ shocking response to the people in Matthew 7:23.

We call this story our Growth Process, and that is why the squares are colored green, symbolizing growth.  But it is not about growing the church numerically.  That might happen, of course, but our Growth is about how we grow as disciples of Jesus and how we reach out so that more people can become disciples of Jesus.

At the end of our recent teaching series through 1st Timothy we looked at a couple of statements Paul made about eternal life, what he called “the life that is truly life.”  Paul tells Timothy to take hold of eternal life now.  Eternal life is not just something that happens after we die.  It is that for sure.  But it is also now.  Followers of Jesus take hold of the life that is truly life.  That true life, or that eternal life now, is the life that Jesus said those people in Matthew 7 did not have.  Those people in Matthew 7 looked good on the outside doing their religious duties, but they were missing something inside. They had not taken hold of the life that is truly life, they were not living eternal life now.

Our Growth Process story explains how to take hold of eternal life now.  We don’t want anyone in our church family to stand before God one day and hear him say “Away from, I never knew you.”  Instead we want everyone to have a growing relationship with Jesus.

Let’s take a look at the first square, then.  This square represents Worship.  It is first because most people start their connection with our church family by attending Sunday morning worship services.  Not everyone starts there, and of course they don’t have to start there, but most do.

Considering what it means to be a true follower of Jesus, can we say that a person is a true follower of Jesus if attending worship services is pretty much the sum total of their expression of faith?

No.  Very much like the people in Matthew 7:21-23, they might look worshipful on the outside, but Jesus calls his followers to so much more.

So we ask everyone to evaluate themselves.  Are you in that first square?  Are you primarily just a Sunday morning Christian?  If so, that is a wonderful start, and because we do not want you to hear Jesus say “Away from me, I never knew you” we encourage you to add Fellowship to your worship.

I use the word “add” very purposefully.  When you move from square to square in the Growth Process, you are not leaving the previous square behind.  You are adding something.  That is key.

So if you have determined that you are primarily in the Worship square, we encourage you to add the Fellowship square.  Adding fellowship means going deeper, building relationships.  It might be joining one of our Sunday School classes.  It might be joining a small group.  It might be serving on a serve team.  It might be inviting people over for dinner, hanging out, etc.  It is anything that helps you build deep relationships with and care for others in the church family.

Again I ask you to evaluate yourself.  Would you say that your expression of faith in Jesus is in the Worship box, or maybe you have added Fellowship to Worship?

You know what though?  Attending worship services is important, and adding deep fellowship relationships to that is even better, but I’m convinced a person can do those things, and maybe even do them a lot, but still have primarily an outward appearance of faith.  That kind of person can still hear Jesus say “Away from me, I never knew you.”

That’s why the next part of our Growth Process story is the most important.  Crossing the Matthew 7 line.  We don’t want anyone to hear Jesus “Away from me, I never knew you.”  Instead we want everyone to experience his eternal life now, to hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”  But how does that happen?

Jesus himself told us.  To cross over that Matthew 7 line, we need to learn to do what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21: those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven are the ones who do the will of his father in heaven.  What is the will of the father in Heaven?  Jesus would go on to tell his disciples precisely what he meant in Matthew 16:24, when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”  That kind of full life commitment to Jesus means a person has had a deep inner change.  There are no hidden secrets, nothing held back.

He goes on in Matthew 16 to say “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”  We need to add discipleship to worship and fellowship.  The Discipleship box is a darker green color because it is the most important one.  Jesus later said to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 that he gave them a mission, a mission of making disciples all over the whole world, teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.  That is what God desires for us: deep inward change, to be his disciples, giving our lives completely to him, and seeking to help others become Jesus’ disciples as well.

Now for the scary, but all-important question. Those people back in Matthew 7:21-23 assumed that they had crossed the Matthew 7 line, they assumed that they were true disciples, and they were wrong!  Those people looked at their outward expression of faith and assumed that was what God wanted. They were wrong. Is it possible that any of us might be wrong?

We would do well to assume that it is at least possible.  Therefore we have to talk about this.  Our Leadership Team cares so much about each and every person in our church family.  We don’t want anyone to assume that they are disciples of Jesus, only to be shocked one day to hear Jesus say, “Away from me, I never knew you.”  We leaders of the church would have utterly failed you if that happens.  That’s why we are placing so much weight on this discipleship square.  But there is one more square after that.

When a disciple of Jesus adds fellowship to worship, then crosses the Matthew 7 line, adding discipleship to worship and fellowship, something very obvious will happen. Go back to Matthew 7 and see verse 15.  That’s where Jesus talked about false prophets, comparing them to trees.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Only good trees can bear good fruit.  By your fruit you will know who is good or bad.  By your fruit you will know who has crossed over the Matthew 7 line into true discipleship.  True disciples will bear fruit.  Not raspberries or strawberries like in my garden, but the fruit of more people becoming disciples of Jesus.  That is why our logo has the final square.  A disciple is a worshipper, a fellowshipper, and finally a disciple reaches out.  It will be obvious.  Disciples make disciples.

And that is the story of our Growth Process.

That is the process that Jesus taught.  And that is the process that we want to see each and every one of you go through.

So how goes it with your soul?  Or, using the language of the Growth Process, what squares have you added to your life?  Have you crossed over the Matthew 7 line?  Are you a worshipper, a fellowshipper, a disciple, and reaching out?

How goes it with your soul? Our Leadership Team had a wonderful retreat last weekend, and we talked a lot about this Growth Process.  We feel the weight of leadership, and we feel convicted that our God-given role is to care for the spiritual growth of our entire church family.  To do that we are going to regularly start asking each of our church family a version of the question “How goes it with your soul?” because we care so much about everyone.  We don’t want anyone to hear Jesus say, “Away from me.”

So what will the Leadership Team do?  Each of them will be responsible to check in with people in the congregation.  They can not and will not try to force anything on anyone.

You could say in response that you don’t want to be involved in this.  We will honor that. But we encourage you to give yourself to this kind of important accountability.  I know “accountability” can sound like a scary word.  Maybe it sounds harsh.  I guarantee you that our leaders are not interested in being harsh or forcing anything on anyone. There was a unanimous agreement among our leaders that they simply want to care for each of you.

Also let me clarify something specific.  The leader is not there to be your mentor.  That kind of discipling/mentor relationship might happen between a leader and a person in the congregation, but that is not the purpose of the Growth Process.  Instead, the purpose is to have the leadership team intentionally supporting and encouraging people to be moving along the growth process.  If you agree together that you need a discipleship mentor, more than likely the Leadership Team member will direct you to another person in the congregation who can be that mentor for you, who can encourage your spiritual growth,

How many of you would want to be encouraged like that?

So we want everyone in our church family to begin a self-evaluation.  Where are you on the Growth Process?  Are you in the worship block?  Have you added the fellowship block?  Be very honest as you evaluate yourself.

Do that eval so that when the Leadership team contacts you, you’ll be ready to discuss this further.  Your self-eval will facilitate the conversation.  Remember that this will be confidential.

When you are in conversation with the Leadership Team, you may say to them that you want to move forward in the Growth Process, but you don’t know how to add the next block?  You might not know how to move from Worship to Fellowship.  You might not know how to cross the Matthew 7 line.  And that is where our Leadership Teams and Serve Teams are working hard to give you resources to help you.  For example, when you are conversing with the Leadership Team member, you might say that you are not sure you have crossed over into the Discipleship square, but you want to.  You want to be a true follower of Jesus.  That Leadership team member will be able to give you practical suggestions for next steps to take.  It might be getting you teamed up with a discipleship mentor.

We encourage you to take time to evaluate yourself, to take this Growth Process story in prayer to the Lord.  Ask him to give you wisdom and clarity about where you are on the process. Ask him to give you wisdom about how to move forward, growing as a disciple of Jesus.

If you have any questions, please contact anyone on the Leadership Team.

How you can experience eternal life before you die (and why waiting till after you die is foolish)

9 May

Image result for eternal life now

Do you feel like following Jesus is difficult?  I sometimes think that I must be doing it wrong, because following Jesus seems like it should be easy, but I can struggle with it.  Is it is struggle for you too?  And what do we do when following Jesus seems too difficult?  We so often flee pain, trouble, hardship, and we pursue ease, comfort, entertainment.

In our continuing series on 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 6, verses 11-16, and Paul talks about what it is like to follow Jesus.  As you can imagine, Paul does not tell Timothy to flee the pain and pursue ease.  In verse 12 he says this comforting phrase to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith.”

Fight is a brutal word.  When we hear “fight”, we think of boxing.  We think of pushing and shoving and punching and maybe even yelling and pulling hair.  Maybe we think of a sword fight or a gun fight or a bull fight.

But the word Paul uses is not necessarily that kind of fight.   It is defined as “to strive to do something with great intensity and effort—‘to make every effort, to do everything possible, to strain oneself.’”[1]

Surely that definition could relate to a fight.  But it could also be a noncombatant striving, a struggling.  And it is intense.  It involves great effort. We generally don’t like to hear that.  How would you react to the following”

“If you sign up to be a volunteer on the booster club, it is going to be really hard!  You’ll have to struggle and put in a lot of work and effort.”

Or, “Please sign up for to be one of our children’s ministry teachers, it is super hard!  It will require a lot of you. You will have to be committed in time and energy.  It will be exhausting.”

Or “follow Jesus, be his disciple, die to yourself.”

Not a very compelling marketing scheme is it?

How many advertisers do you see that market their experience or product as being a really difficult, challenging, hard experience?  Barely any.  Maybe the military.  Many an elite school.

“Buy this mattress and it will be so awful you’ll have a horrible night’s sleep!”  They don’t do that.

Instead, when marketers advertise to us, they want to make their product as accessible as possible.  So they generally tell us how incredible and helpful and easy and fun and comfortable their product is.

Jesus apparently didn’t go to marketing school.  His call to discipleship is hard.  Paul’s charge to Timothy is hard.  “Fight the Good Fight.”  It is a fight.  Fights are hard.  They hurt.

There is one word in that phrase I haven’t mentioned yet: “Good.”

Paul says “Fight”, but it is a good fight.  It is a good fight of the faith.

What you are fighting for, what you are working for, what you are striving for makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  If the cause is just and good, you are much more likely to put in the long hours, to take a pay cut, to exercise, to practice, to make sacrifices.  Though it is hard, though it can feel like a fight, and though you might be exhausted, you can continue on because you know what you are fighting for is good.

Finishing a college degree might feel that way.

Raising children might feel that way.

Following an exercise or diet plan feels that way.

Paul is talking to a pastor, so yes, ministry can feel that way.

But all these are good things!  In fact, they are very good.  While they can feel like a fight at times, while they might inflict bodily damage on you just like a fight does, they are good, and remembering that they are good is so important.

If we are honest with ourselves, though, and I will be honest about ministry, there are moments of doubt.  We start to question, is it worth it?  How many of you have been there before, when you are involved in something hard?  You start to ask “Why did I get into this?”

I’ll never forget the marathons that I have run, having those thoughts, those questions pounding in my mind.  In the picture below, see the “FULL” back plate?

Image result for baltimore marathon back bib "full"

In the Baltimore Marathon, the race organizers asked us to pin that to the back of ours shirt because we were running simultaneously with half-marathoners for the last 10+ miles of the marathon.  I’m not sure why they asked us to do this.  Maybe it was simply so that runners on the course could know and encourage one another.  And they did.  I was very encouraged when some half-marathoners told me how impressed they were with the marathoners like me.

But at about mile 21 or 22, my body experienced a deep kind of exhaustion that I had never felt before.  In training, the most I ran at one time was 20 miles.  Now I was beyond that.  And I still had 4-5 miles to go.  I was cramping, scared something was wrong and this 18 week process was falling apart.  I entertained the possibility of quitting, of not finishing.  Worse yet, I still had hills to climb.  I started thinking to myself “Why in the world did I ever do this?  This was so foolish!  I’ll never do it again.”

The “full” sign really ought to say this: 

Have you ever doubted your abilities?  Have you felt foolish?

Maybe you have doubted our parenting abilities.  Maybe you wonder if you are smart enough to finish school.  We can doubt ourselves in the middle of the fight.

Have you ever doubted whether you can make it as a disciple of Jesus?  Do you ever feel like Christianity, discipleship to Jesus, feels like a fight?  Why does it feel like a fight?  What are you fighting against?  I think we followers of Jesus fight against at least three things.

First, we fight against ourselves.  We have free will.  When it comes to following Jesus, we freely chose to follow him.  Free will, though, means that we can freely choose the right thing, just as much as we can freely choose the wrong thing.  We have a tendency to make bad choices, think bad thoughts, and harbor bad attitudes don’t we?  Following the way of Jesus can feel like a fight because we ourselves have a free will struggle with our lack of self-control.

 

The second thing that can make discipleship to Jesus difficult is culture.  It is not like our culture has a goal of promoting discipleship to Jesus.  I think it is absolutely possible to live as gracious, compelling disciples of Jesus in our culture.  But it can be hard.  Are there elements of our culture that you find make it hard for you to follow Jesus?

The third thing that can make the good fight feel like a fight is opposition.  There is a very real enemy force in the world that would love to see us fail.  Satan.

Even though these three things work against, remember that it is a good fight!

What is your personal fight?  Here are some personal struggles that people often talk about:

Fear of what other people will say or do to you.  Mine is speaking the truth in love. Specifically the truth part.  I will often skip the truth part because I am afraid of offending. Perhaps the fight is the busyness in life.  Or is it that you feel loneliness, without much support? Our world certainly seems to pressure us to have material comforts. Are you hoping to climb the corporate ladder to the extent you are tempted to let other things go? Why?  To get more money, more prestige at work, or to get Power.  You can perhaps get all these things, but what will it cost you to get them ?  You’ll have to work long hours, and the resultant stress and anxiety will come at the cost of your personal time, sanity, and maybe your family or ministry time.

So Paul says to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  If we are to pursue righteousness and godliness, know that it could be hard.  But it is good!

In fact, Paul says next in verse 12 that it is not just a mediocre good.  Paul says it is a fight to take hold of eternal life.  It is that good!

He says that Timothy should, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”

Wait a minute! Eternal life?  Is Paul talking about getting saved?  Isn’t Timothy already saved and going to heaven when he dies?   That’s how we talk about eternal life, right?  You have your present life now, then you die, and after you die, you will go on to eternal life in heaven.

But think about this passage with me a minute.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy wasn’t yet saved, considering that Paul already installed him as pastor of the church at Ephesus.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy was not going to have eternal life in heaven, as if Timothy had to now accept Jesus as his savior and become a follower of Jesus.  Paul would never have allowed Timothy pastor this church that Paul loved if he, Paul, wasn’t certain that Timothy was a true follower of Jesus who was going to have eternal life in heaven.

You what that means?  Whatever Paul is saying here, this cannot be a statement about eternal life in heaven after you die.

Paul is saying that Timothy should take hold of eternal life now.  One of my favorite writers on the Christian life, Dallas Willard, says this:

What Willard says fits perfectly with this passage.  How do we know this?  See the phrase in verse 12: “Take hold”?  It is an imperative tense, which means that Paul is commanding Timothy to do this right now.

Later on in verse 14 he even calls it a command.  What that means is that this command, “Take hold of eternal life”, is really important.  Paul is serious about this.  He is saying, “Make no mistake about it, you have to do this, Timothy.”

Live an eternal life right now.  Or as Willard put it, learn how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven now.

This is another passage to ask ourselves, “How am I doing in my life? What is important to me?  Am I fighting the good fight of the faith to take hold of eternal life now?”

We recently had the season of Lent.  Lent is the 7 weeks prior to Easter, and it is a season where people spiritually prepare themselves for Easter.  The spiritual preparation in Lent features fasting.  The question “what are you giving up for Lent?” refers to this.

I gave up phone games for Lent.  I can’t tell you the amount of time I wasted playing games on my phone.

How about you?  How are you wasting time?  Is what you are doing necessary?

It is good to first ask these questions between you and Lord.  Ask him to evaluate you.  Ask the Holy Spirit to evaluate you.  David in Psalm 139 says:

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. 

But you can compound the effectiveness of the evaluation by asking godly, wise people to evaluate you, to speak the truth to you.  One of one or in a small group, ask for accountability.

You know what the result of all this fighting the good fight, and taking hold of eternal life, will be?

We can live eternal life now!  That is so amazing to consider.

We so often feel desperation and frustration in life, and we think “I can’t wait for heaven and eternal life when all this pain will be gone.”  But in so doing, are we enabling ourselves to continue living in the muck of life?  Are we allowing ourselves to stay stuck in our bad habits, stuck in sin, feeling distant from God, feeling powerless to change?

Remember that Paul says “you can experience eternal life now!”  And actually he goes farther than that.  He commands it.  He is saying you must live eternal life now!  Take hold of it!

What an awesome privilege we have.  Following the way of Jesus might feel like a fight, but remember it is a good fight, because it means that we can take hold of eternal life right now.

I love the illustration at the top of the article because it shows how physical life and eternal life overlap.  We can and should experience eternal life now.  In fact, that is what God wants.  He wants the eternal life of his Kingdom to radically impact our lives, our world now, so that we and our world are being transformed now.

Paul is right, that might feel like a fight sometimes.  Anytime we go through transformation, it is usually hard.  But consider what transformation means: it is a good fight that means we are being changed to look and act more like Jesus.  It means that the list in verse 11, all those qualities of eternal life, are more and more are part of our lives.

So Paul finishes with a wonderful benediction in verse 13-16, charging Timothy to keep this command, and thus it is a charge to us as well, to flee evil, pursue Jesus, fight the good fight, take hold of eternal life now, until such time as Jesus returns or God takes us to be with him.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.

Why does following the way of Jesus seem so difficult?

5 May

For those of you that are followers of Jesus, have you ever thought that that following the way of Jesus is difficult?  I think life itself can feel difficult.  But then add following Jesus, and there is another layer of effort, right?

Ever think thoughts like this?

I hear Jesus say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” and sometimes I think “What?  Jesus, following your way of life is frustrating and complex!”

The process of life transformation that God wants to work in our lives is not always an easy one.  In fact it might be more accurate to say that it is often difficult.

And that can make us frustrated, can’t it?  Whether it is a habit we’re trying to change, a relationship we’re trying to mend, a ministry we are involved in or a sin that we’re trying to repent of, following the way of Jesus can feel heavy.

How many of you think “I just want a break!”?

I often wish following Jesus were easier.  In fact that raises a question in my mind.  Should following Jesus be easier than it seems?  If we think that following Jesus is hard, maybe the way we are following him is wrong?  Is it our fault that following Jesus can be difficult?  If you feel frustrated as a disciple of Jesus, what is going on?

This coming Sunday as our family of Faith Church gathers for worship, we continue our study through 1st Timothy and we’re going to read some comments that Paul gives to Timothy about following Jesus.

You can preview it at 1st Timothy 6:11-16.  Then we hope you’ll join us at 9:00am to hear more!

Why we’re installing modesty scanners in our church lobby

1 Mar

 

whatismodesty

What is modesty???  Who gets to make the call?  What centrally recognized authority do women have so that all can go to that authority to answer the question “Is this outfit modest?”

There isn’t one!  There is no centrally recognized Christian modesty panel that we can refer to.  Men, we really have little idea how tough it is for women.  One author, Rachel Held Evans, describes the struggle this way:

“What I’ve only just begun to realize is that these two extremes represent different sides of the same coin. While popular culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to get men to look at them, the modesty culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to keep men from looking at them. In both cases, the impetus is placed on the woman to accommodate her clothing or her body to the (varied and culturally relative) expectations of men. In both cases, it becomes the woman’s job to manage the sexual desires of men, and thus it is seen as her fault if a man ignores her on the one hand or objectifies her on the other. Often, these two cultures combine to send out a pulse of confusing messages: “Look cute … but not too cute! Be modest … but not frumpy! Make yourself attractive … but not too attractive!” Women are left feeling ashamed of their bodies as they try desperately to contort around a bunch of vague, ever-changing ideals. It’s exhausting, really, dressing for other people.”

That’s the culture we live in.  Other people live in other cultures which approach modesty quite differently.  Tribal women dress  in ways that our culture would find quite immodest.  So let’s start off investigating modesty by trying to become culturally aware.

Take a look at these photos.  What assumption do you make about a person who dresses like this?amish

 

That they are Amish, right?  When you first saw this picture, did the thought jump into your mind that these ladies might be headed to a Halloween costume party?

Or did you immediately think, “Amish”? Did you assume something about these ladies because of their dress?”

What about this guy?cowboy

 

What kind of music does this guy probably like?  Country!  But how do you know he doesn’t like opera or gansta rap?  Are you assuming something about this person because of his outer appearance?

Let’s do a couple more:

goths

 

What style are these people dressed like?  Goth.  What are some general tendencies of someone who dresses like this?  They like heavy metal music with rebellious themes.  But how do you know they aren’t having a Bible study?interview

One more.  Which clothing style is more likely to get this guy hired at a job interview?

 

The suit, right?  Why?  We believe that when a person puts on a suit, it says something about them. But what if the interview is for a tattoo parlor?

So what do all these questions and pictures help us learn?

It is a societal norm to make assumptions about people based on their appearance.  We know that God does not look at the outward appearance.  He looks at the heart.  And we also should strive to look at people God’s way.

But we should be extremely conscious of the fact that many people do not look at things the way God does.  Instead many people in our society judge you based on how you look, and even more, they treat you differently based on how you look.

Perhaps you rightly feel a sense of injustice about that.  People shouldn’t treat you differently based on how you look!  God’s way of looking at the heart is the right way.  But it would be extremely short-sighted for any of us to fail to take into account how some people still look at and judge others based on outward appearance.

I am not excusing bad behavior.  Not in the least.  If a person lusts against another, that is wrong in Jesus’ teaching.  If they rape another, or if they do anything in between, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  Sin is sin.

Hear me on this: I am not saying that sin is OK, or that it is OK to view people differently based on their appearance.  I am saying we live in a world where people commit sin against other people based on their outward appearance!  Therefore, when you live in a world where people do not have self-control, you should prepare for it.  You would be wise, very wise, not to invite sin in your life.  There is a great wisdom, therefore, to modesty.

So once again I ask, What is modesty?  As the pictures above remind us, our view of what is modest, decent and proper is socially conditioned.  You might not like the way someone dresses.  But that doesn’t mean that your opinion is the only valid one.  We simply must have humility about that.

And that brings me to passages like 1 Cor 8-10 or Romans 14-15 where Paul talks about what to do when Christians disagree with one another.   We are not going to come up with a universally agreed upon Christian standard of modest dress.  Even if we took a vote and agreed on a Christian dress code, we might have a majority opinion, but there would still be many who disagree with it.  So what do we do when we disagree?  First and foremost, we love one another.  We can and must exist together, especially in a local congregational setting, where there are differences of opinion about modesty.  We must fight the urge to judge one another.  Here what Paul says:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

So with that spirit of love and unity in mind, I refer to my mini-sermons that I mentioned last week. I believe they speak valid points from both gender!  Let’s start with what some women have said:

Dear brothers in Christ, we women are ogled at in our hypersexualized culture.  It is hard. We get weary.  The last thing we want is to have you checking us out.  So help a girl out. Please look up.

Men, you are responsible for your own thoughts and actions.  It is not the women’s fault if you cannot control yourself.  It is your fault.  You need to take ownership of your own lust.  You should not be objectifying women, checking them out, etc.  Do not blame the women for lust.  So do the hard work of opening yourself up to an honest appraisal of yourself.  Men, none of us wants to admit that we have a problem with lust, or a porn addiction, or a self-control issue.  But if we do, we need to know it and admit it, because it is only from the place of honest confession that we can begin to see transformation.  I encourage you to have an accountability partner or group.  Men, you should almost certainly have content filtering and accountability software on your devices.

A few years ago one of my sons, who was in elementary school at the time, heard from other students on the bus about a website they were encouraging him to check out.  We didn’t have filtering software on our home computer, and he snuck on to the site.  Once we found out through the sibling grapevine, I was heartbroken.  In the safety of our home, my son had been exposed to extremely perverse images. Researches and scientists have done excellent and sobering work on the affects of porn on the brain. It create a powerful addiction, with ruinous consequences.  Men, we need to take action to guard our homes, our sons, our minds.  I had failed.  We now have filtering software on our home computer and devices.

We need to talk about sexual addiction and lust in our churches, in our small groups, and take serious action.  When Jesus brought up the topic of lust in Matthew 5, notice his approach:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Who does Jesus say should carry the burden for lust?  Not the recipient of the lust, but the purveyor. Men, when we lust, Jesus says our response should be to take drastic action.  He was speaking in hyperbole in those verses, of course.  I also believe Dallas Willard’s approach to these verses is very instructive.  It could be that when people in the crowd heard Jesus teaching this drastic action about lust, they would have been laughing.  Not at, but with him.  How could this be funny?

Consider, men, how you lust.  If you gouge out your eyes, would that remove the capability for lust? Absolutely not.  We well know that lust is a matter of the heart and of the mind.  So perhaps the drastic action that we need to take is what Willard would call the renovation of our hearts.  That might involve some serious rehabilitation, therapy.  But if work on our inner life is what we need, then let us do that work.

Does this mean that women should be free to wear whatever they want?  Not in the least.  Without question, especially in a church family, women should be free from objectification, though not necessarily free to wear whatever they want. Paul was writing to women in 1st Timothy 2:9-15.  So the second mini-sermon has some important points as well.  Here it is:

Dear sisters in Christ, we men battle lust in our hypersexualized culture.  It is hard.  We get weary. The last thing we want is to see some of you dressed immodestly.  So help a guy out. Please cover up.

Just as the men are responsible for how they think, women, you are also responsible for how you dress.  Paul said clearly that the principle you should follow is to be known for your good deeds.  Be aware of how warped our society can be, of what reputation you desire to carry and of what your message your dress sends to those who might not have self-control.  Be known for your character.  May your outerwear be an expression of your inner character.

So, Faith Church, we are installing new modesty detection scanners this week. All women must walk through the scanners before they enter the sanctuary. Men are exempt because Paul didn’t address them. The scanner will sound a buzzer if the woman is not dressed modestly, and our modesty security team will escort her to our new clothing ministry which will outfit her with proper attire. She may then enter the sanctuary.  Image result for refrigerator boxes

We will also be email you all catalogs which will enable you to order our new church uniforms.  That way no will have to face the shame of the scanners.   Except guests.  And they will get up to code quickly, we’re sure.  Here is a picture of the sample uniform.  We will provide kits for cutting out eye-holes.

Just kidding!  No church should endeavor to create a dress code.  Or install scanners.  And neither will we.  But we do ask all women to consider what Paul says in this passage.  What does it mean to dress with modesty, propriety and decency?  Please seek a faithful answer to that question before the Lord. I would recommend that women discuss this together.  Our culture has plenty of clothing styles that are considered trendy, fashionable, and attractive.  But our culture’s perspective should not be seen as the last word on the matter.  The runways in Paris, London and NYC might not be the best place to learn how to answer the question of what is modest.  Then again, they might!  They might have good options. But they also have a reputation of subtly promoting the objectification of women, based on the styles they design.

In conclusion, I return to what Paul said above in Romans.  Let us love one another.  Our love for another should be such a priority that we are willing to practice massive amounts of self-control for one another.

PS – I mentioned a bonus 4th sermon in my post last week.  I did briefly preach that on Sunday.  It was about the role of women in ministry.  My perspective was identical to what I said here.  I continue to believe that in a near-egalitarian culture, such as the USA, Paul would have preached something very different than what he said in 1st Timothy 2:9-15 about women and their role in ministry.  Look no further than how differently he taught in Romans 16, where he mentions Junias, a female apostle.  That said, and because their is a robust, faithful hermeneutic around the equality of men and women in the church, I cannot fathom why other approaches continue to exist that do not allow for total equality of men and women in the church.

 

 

What if Christianity’s massive investment in worship is wrong?

17 Feb

Image result for wrong worship

Is it possible that Christianity’s massive investment in worship is misguided?

Think about it.  We invest a lot of time, money and energy into worship, don’t we?

One morning or evening each week is devoted to it.  Our society is very much oriented toward a weekly schedule that keeps Sunday mornings free.

We also build buildings for worship.  We don’t have to.  We could worship without them.  But it is also not wrong to build buildings.  The simple matter of fact, though, is we build buildings, lots of them.  I don’t know the specific number, but I have heard that there are about 800 churches in Lancaster County, and most of them have buildings and property.  Some are massive, some tiny, and many sizes in between.  Drive around Lancaster County and start tallying up the church buildings and you lose count.  Think about that with me for a minute.  What would you estimate the average value of a church building and property to be?  Now multiply that by 800.  Then add the years upon years of furnishings, utilities and upkeep.  That’s a lot of money, isn’t it?  I wouldn’t doubt the figure is in the billions of dollars.

Then think about the other costs of worship.  Staff is the big one.  That’s me.  The pastors.  Then there are worship leaders and the many other staff.  Multiply that by 800 churches, and here in Lancaster we spend a lot of money on hiring people to be involved in worship and worship programs, don’t we?

Next think of the time involved.  Not just the 1.5 to 3 hours that you spend attending worship service and classes.  Also add in the prep time, the volunteer time.  Multiply that by 52 weeks every year.  The result is a boatload of hours.

Put it all together and what do you have?  We Christians make a massive investment in worship, don’t we?  Why do we do this?  The standard answer, and it is a good one, is that we give so much because God is worthy of our worship.

Not so fast, though.  God is worthy, no question about it, but does that mean we can worship him however we want?

Because we invest so much into worship, it is incumbent on us to evaluate our investment, right?  When you give time and energy and money to something, you are being responsible if you evaluate how that time, energy and money is being used, right?

How many of you would want to stand before God in heaven and hear him say “Your worship was seriously wrong.  All that time and energy and money you spent on Sunday mornings in your buildings with your professional staff and worship services with songs and sermons and classes…I didn’t want you to do that!”  You would want to know that,  right?  And you’d want to know what God wants sooner rather than later, wouldn’t you?  I would.  In fact, even if he said “You were on the right track, you were mostly right, about 75% correct in your investment in worship, but here are some things I wish you had done differently…” I would want to know that too!  I would want to know even if we only got 5% wrong.  Even if it was 1%.  But how can we know?

When I meet people who don’t know much about Faith Church, they often have a series of questions they ask me:  How big is the church?  Is it inter-generational?  And what kind of worship do you have?  When they ask about worship, they’re not wondering about my sermons.  They are wondering about the music!  Is it traditional, contemporary, blended?  We had a guest musician at our church a year ago or so for a special service, and he asked me that question: “What kind of worship do you have?”  When I answered “experimental”, you should have seen the wrinkled up, confused look on his face.  It was great!   More recently I have changed my answer a bit.  I still describe our worship as experimental, but I try to explain it a bit because people don’t know what I mean.

So what do I mean by “experimental”?  People from Faith Church reading this might actually be confused by what I’m saying here because most Sundays we have a typical standby kind of worship.  If you’ve been with us for a couple months, you know what I mean:  welcome & announcements, focusing prayer, worship songs (mixture of old and new), sharing time, prayer, dismissal of kids, sermon, closing song, fellowship time.  Doesn’t sound very experimental does it?

But I say that we are experimental because about once per quarter we try to do something completely different.  Silent Sunday, Church has left the building, Worship in the park, worship in the Fellowship Hall around tables, artistic Sunday, change up the order of worship, change the method of communion, etc.  It has been wonderful having the variety!

Why do we experiment with worship?

We experiment because we don’t ever want to give ourselves the idea that we have worship figured out.  We always want to have the posture of learners when it comes to worship.  There is no one right way to worship. We can learn from many different Christian traditions and new and upcoming styles about worship. Silent Sunday, for example, was informed by Quaker and Taize worship.  We want to keep learning.

Why am I saying all this about experimental worship and being learners about worship?  Because on our next two Sundays in our study of 1st Timothy, Paul teaches Timothy about worship.  This is perfect for people who see themselves as learners of worship.  Learners of worship don’t come to worship expecting to worship how they like to worship. Instead learners of worship come to worship services expecting God to teach them.  That’s you and me. We are learners of worship.  Disciples are learners from Jesus.  And when we come to worship we come with hearts and minds that pray “Lord teach me today.  Teach me how to worship you.  Teach me what you want to teach me.”

Learners come to worship with teachable hearts and minds!  And for the next two Sundays we are going to learn from Paul how to worship.  Paul wanted Timothy to teach the church in Ephesus about worship. You are welcome to join us at Faith Church at 9am on Sunday if you want to learn about worship too!  To prepare you might consider reading 1st Timothy 2.  Hope to see you there!

Two things Christians should fight for

14 Feb

Image result for fight the good fightPaul tells Timothy to fight the good fight.  Generally Christians are not supposed to be fighting.  So what fight is Paul talking about?  He calls it a good fight.  Not too many fights could be described as good ones.

Life can feel like a fight.  Have you ever felt that way?  Life seems too hard sometimes doesn’t it?   Is that what Paul is referring to?

Actually, Paul is saying, the fight to stay faithful to the Lord is a good fight. And maybe that resonates with you.  If you are a following of Jesus, you might know the feeling of how difficult it can be to remain faithful to the Lord.  This life is full of temptations which, if we caved in, would lead us to be unfaithful to God.  Sometimes it is our own bodies that tempt us.  Sometimes it is an addiction.  We know that Satan loves to tempt us.  Sometimes it is other people.  Staying faithful to God can seem like a battle.  Paul says it is a good fight.

 

In our study of 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 1, verses 18-20.  There Paul describes  what he wants Timothy to fight for: first, to hold on to faith, and, second, to hold on to a good conscience.

The image here of holding on is a person who is holding on to an object and not letting go.  It is an iron grip.  I know in life it can often feel like we are losing grip on our faith.  In the next verse Paul is going to refer to some guys that did just that.  Hymenaeus and Alexander, he says, lost their faith.  Part one of fighting the good fight is to hold on to faith.

The second thing Paul wants Timothy to hold on to is a good conscience.  What is the conscience?

One scholar says that it is “the psychological faculty which can distinguish between right and wrong”.  That same scholar goes on to say that “In some languages [this word] may [refer to] ‘the inner voice’ or ‘the voice in one’s heart’ or ‘how one knows right from wrong.’”

So Paul is referring to something that is inherently within us.  We believe that God created all humanity with this inner voice, this true psychological faculty to distinguish right from wrong.  That doesn’t mean that all people will do the right thing.  You can know the right and not do it.  I think we all are very aware of this in our lives.  How many times do we know what is right, but we do what is wrong?  What is worse, it seems that the more we do the wrong, the less we are aware of the right.

We can see why Paul would place such importance on fighting the good fight in the areas of faith and good conscience. Hold tightly on to them!

How do we hold on to a good conscience?

  1. Keep a sensitive ear to the voice of the Lord. The means we should practice prayer.
  2. Remain teachable.  Remember the story of Samson in the Old Testament?  He didn’t even realize that God had departed from him.  He wasn’t teachable.
  3. Read the Bible. It is our instruction.  We need to know who God is and what he wants us to do.
  4. Be doers of the word, which means that when you read the Bible, you then do what it says. This may require change.
  5. Have accountability. This means close fellowship with other Christians.

We have to intentionally work at being sensitive to God. If you let it go one day, it will be easier the next day to grow callous to God.  If you keep letting it go, you can find yourself quite distant from God.

In the physical world, the less food we get, the hungrier we get.  In the spiritual world, it is the opposite: the less food we get, the less spiritually hungry we get.  If you skip lunch, you’re crazy hungry by dinner, right?  If you skip out on spending time with God, though, you start to lose desire for it.  I wish the spiritual worked like the physical in this regard.  I wish I would get spiritually hungrier if I skipped time with God.  But I have found that when I distance myself from God, I only grow more apathetic about him.

It is more like relationships.  When distance is put between two people, they start to fall away.  So we need to fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.

To successfully fight the good fight, I’d like to talk a bit more about one of the suggestions I made above, remaining teachable.  I have found in the last 20 years or so, that a healthy self-awareness, humility and teachability are perhaps the most important foundation a disciple of Jesus must have.  If we want to fight the good fight, first we must be teachable and humble.

We should be Christians who are seeking out the truth about ourselves.   Think about yourself.  Are you actively seeking people to speak the blunt honest truth about yourself?  Or are you thinking “I’m scared of what people think about me…I want to avoid it.  I don’t want to hear what people think of me.”  Would you rather live in a fantasy world of your own making?

Many of us choose to live in a fantasy world because it is much easier.   In those fantasy worlds, we are generally pretty awesome people who don’t have to change.  In those fantasy worlds we can tell ourselves that we are good.  But a huge part of holding on the faith and a good conscience is being humble and teachable.

It means having a healthy self-awareness, and a willingness to speak openly and honestly about yourself, both your successes and your failings.   And that means that you invite the tough stuff into your world.

So let us fight the good fight, hold on to faith, and a good conscience.

Fighting the good fight implies that it will be tough.  Paul doesn’t say “sleep on a cozy bed.”  “Eat delicious desserts”  “Enjoy a stress-free walk.”

He says “fight the good fight.”  It is good.  And it is a fight.  It is good, worth it, fighting for the mission of the  Kingdom of God. It is a fight against evil, a fight against injustice, a fight against Satan, a fight against selfishness and pride.

But it is a fight, and fights are hard.  They require energy, time, and usually bring pain and hurt.  Disciples of Jesus are fighters.  But they fight the good fight.

Jesus said something about this fighting concept when he said, “take up your cross and follow me.”  He was referring to self-denial.  It is a fight. Often a fight against our inner inclination toward selfishness.

If you don’t want to shipwreck your faith, you’ve got to keep fighting.