Friday, September 25, 2009

Two for One-Fasting and Study

Newspaper column for September 25--Study

“God probably doesn’t exist. Don’t worry about it.” This arrogant statement was observed on a banner on the side of a bus in London this past summer. Author Darryl Tippens saw this while in the United Kingdom a few months ago.

The sign disrespects many world religions—not only Christianity. The eight words are in-your-face paid “advertising” that makes “choice” a god. The banner shouts: live your life as you wish. Do what you like. Hurt others if you will. There is no absolute love. Satisfy yourself. God is a myth.

Years ago, just north of Montgomery, Texas on Highway 49 North, resident “Rock” Jones declared with boldness his belief in God. Signs and placards hung along his fence that fronted the highway. And on that fence, he had signs that proclaimed “Jesus is Lord” and God as “Rock of Ages.”

My soul sighed when I heard Tippens tell of the bus banner. However, I also celebrated last week, when an accident victim on a news story gave praise to God for his rescue. Anti-God talk is nothing new. It happened in the Garden of Eden when Satan first tempted Eve, and it will keep happening until the end of time. God only grows distant when we distance ourselves from God.

This week, in our look at the inner disciplines, let’s consider the act of study. Author Richard Foster suggests four areas of study that are closely related to understanding God: the Bible, God’s creation, other works about God, and the human race.

Foster says as we study these and practice other inner disciplines of prayer, fasting, and meditation of scripture we come to know God and his work. The Bible is not just a compilation of hero, heroines and stories of wickedness, too. The Bible is an autobiography of God how he loves and deals justly with deep seated sin.

In the book of Jonah, Jonah is not the main character, God is. In the gospel according to Mark, we get Mark’s inspired perspective about God, but the story is about God. In Acts of the Apostles (these titles are man-given), it could more accurately be called Acts of the Holy Spirit. As we repeat our readings and studying this history of God, who has long been wooing humanity to himself, a deeper understanding of God is unveiled.

As our age grows chronologically, we also observe and comprehend more of God’s extravagant power in the natural world. By the sheer power of his words, Genesis one says he spoke this world into reality. Daily, amazing facts and intricacies are discovered about our habitat—intricacies of a buffalo gnat, newly discovered galaxies, unseen viruses, and genetic makeup. As we study nature, we come to grips with Paul’s statement that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

As we read the story of Jesus’ walk on earth we witness in him an exact likeness of God. Jesus is co-creator, who showed us the full extent of God’s love (John 13). When we study and observe human kind, in some we see God’s love lived out again and again. And when we consider those humans who choose the dark side, we have learned through study of their character that they are capable of vile acts against other males and females created in the image of God.

When study of scripture, truth in print, is embraced it is like taking a bath in cleansing water. The grime and dirt we pick up from rubbing shoulders with bad influences can be showered away. We can assist in washing negative God-graffiti from hearts and off bus banners.

A psalmist wrote, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). God’s story, found in the Bible, is a classroom and liberating, freeing us to love instead of hate, stimulating us to grow instead of stagnate.

newspaper column from Sept 11--Fasting

Fasting is one of the inner disciplines, allowing the body to go hungry and even thirsty so that the mind and heart can fill up with better things from God’s table. While food and drink are necessary to sustain the body, it is beneficial to the inner person to step away from the fast foods and over-stuffings to focus on God.

Fasting brings about physical benefits such as body cleansing and weight loss, but these should not be our motives. John Wesley said about fasting, “Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven.” Richard J. Foster agrees with Wesley, saying that worshiping God during a fast should be the all-in-all goal—the only way “we will be saved from loving the blessing more than the Blesser.”

I remember studying the topic of fasting when a teen. Jesus’ instructions to his disciples were challenging, “When you fast…” An imperative is implied by the word choice of “when.” Jesus did not say “if” you fast, but “when.” I didn’t try to fast until I was in my thirties, and I found it both difficult and enlightening—it really showed me what a slave I was to my cravings.

We’re familiar with the act of doing without food for eight hours or more. Our word “breakfast,” is from the two words “break” and “fast.” We sometimes fast before medical tests or procedures. My mother said that my Dad, a minister, often went without food because he was so intent on caring for a needy family that his focus was on them and not mealtimes.

While the idea of fasting is familiar to us, the practice is foreign. Fasting from food is not the only type of fasting. The apostle Paul said that married couples will sometimes fast from sexual intimacy in order to devote themselves to prayer. Others recognize disturbances in their lives and choose to fast from them, such as dating, from the media, from noise, or they fast from speaking words.

The first recorded teaching of Jesus about fasting is in the book of Matthew, and he cautioned about the motives behind fasting. “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:17).

During Bible times fasting, folk often let their bodies go unkempt, put on scratchy “sackcloth,” and smeared ashes on their bodies. But Jesus said for the best reward, avoid tell-tale behavior. God is not looking for an outward display of piety. He is looking for humble hearts, sanctuaries where he can abide. And when God takes up residence in hearts, he becomes the janitor—cleaning like no one else.

The Bible also tells about times of corporate fasting, when groups of people agree to fast and pray. When an evil edict gave permission for citizens in Persia to slaughter Jews, young Jewish Queen Esther asked for three days of agreed fasting from food and water from the Jews in the citadel of Susa before she approached King Xerxes seeking a solution.

I you choose to fast for a first time try a lunch to lunch fast. You will miss dinner and breakfast. Drink fruit juices, pray throughout the hours, but especially at the time you would normally have your meal spend that time in devoted prayer.

One time when Jesus disciples talked about regular food, Jesus said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32). He spoke about a feast between God the Father and Jesus, who chose to stay in God’s will and was empowered to finish the work of salvation for mankind.

Despite the wondrous variety of good things God gave us to eat, the best food isn’t calorie laden. The superior food is to do the will of God and often that path is revealed through the discipline of fasting.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Christian Meditation

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My husband and I sometimes go around and around in circles in our house. We have a floor pattern that lends itself to this. He will be in one room when I seek to talk to him. I’ll go to the room where I think he is but he’s already moving on our circular path to another room. After a lap and a half, one of usually says, “Just stand still. I’ll find you.” That’s when we catch up to each other and talk about the intricacies of our days.

This week in our series on the spiritual disciplines we’ll consider Christian meditation. Meditation is reflection on God’s work and words. I believe meditation of this sort is both intentional and unintentional. Sometimes we set a time to read, meditate and study God’s word and work. At other times, to my surprise, a scripture or thought about God will replay in my mind much like a tune gets stuck there and “plays” repeatedly.

In my Bible reading this summer, I read through the Psalms and for most of the time, I stayed on a self-prescribed agenda. I moved forward at a leisurely pace, one that allowed me to “digest” the scriptures and absorb them. But one entire week, I only read a few verses. Each time I opened to the Psalms and started reading where I left off, I sensed that I was not getting the meaning of the verses.

I read about those few verses in commentaries, prayed to know the meaning, looked up what other writers had documented about them online. Finally, after about eight days of mulling and thinking about the essence of the thirty or so words, I moved on, satisfied that I had wrung out all I could for the moment. We can stay in the shallow end of the pool of God’s word or we can meditate and God will build up spiritual muscles and put meat on skinny souls.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” the Lord proclaimed to Israel, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

I’m certainly not an expert on Eastern meditation but I know that it calls for the emptying of the mind. Christian meditation calls for the mind to be filled. That’s put too simply to be of much help, but God’s words call us to a better place, from selfish ways of doing things to looking out for the needs of others.

Meditation is similar to a cow chewing her cud—you know that digestive process, right? Contemplation is chewing on holy words to get all the benefits that come from re-digesting scripture. The Lord God explained to Joshua the profit of having the words of God swirl around in our minds rather than meaningless thoughts: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success (Joshua 1:8).

Meditation on God, his work and words can lead to recognizing and yielding to his gift of peace. Richard Foster says the church Fathers often spoke of “Otium Sanctum,” holy leisure. Those words refer to balance in life, an ability to be at peace through the activities of the day, the ability to rest, the ability to pace ourselves.

Meditation best takes place in a quiet atmosphere—that alone should help with the balance of life. This week, choose one scripture to meditate on, chew on it and think about it in arranged quiet times. Most likely, the scripture will even pop into your mind during activities, too. That’s great. Your heart is calling up God’s word to nourish you.

Want to draw closer to God’s intent for your life? Then meditate and follow him around this week. Like my husband and I trail each other trying to catch up to have a more intimate talk, God is looking for us, too. Fix your thoughts on him this week, and you might just hear God whisper.

“Just stand still. I’ll find you.”

Friday, September 04, 2009

August Book Winner: H. Blomerus

Send an email to or leave a comment at blog: to enter the September book contest to win The Stained Glass Pickup or A Scrapbook of Christmas First, your choice. Read reviews at

My granddaughter Jolie started to kindergarten. Her first visit to the school was at an open house tea a few days before the school term. Her mother took her and she met her teacher Ms. Robbins. Jolie still has a problem pronouncing “r.” Wouldn’t you know, she got a super teacher, but when she pronounced her teacher’s name to us she said, “It’s Mrs. Wobbins.”

Beginning school for the first time is full of adventures. Jolie thought she could spend all day at school after the tea. She was eager and ready to go, so no tears fell when she finally walked into the classroom for the first day of school. She trotted to her desk and began filling in a coloring sheet. But that evening, Jolie said to her mother, “School is nice, but I don’t think I’ll go back tomorrow.” Of course she did and now the transition is almost made. It’s always an adjustment from days at home to mandatory school.

Since kiddos through college age are back in school, I thought we adults could revisit the classroom of spiritual disciplines. For the next few weeks we will consider the disciplines and the gracious side effects of deepening our conversations with God. Joy and peace are a gift at our salvation, but expect God assist you to more fully take notice of this joy and peace if you accept this mission of training in the spiritual disciplines.
Personal spiritual training has been shelved by many. We train throughout life—good manners, riding a bicycle, driving a car, and work related instructions—the spiritual disciplines cause us to look into our hearts and that is difficult for many. It’s so much easier to drift through life. But it is not more rewarding.

Richard Foster, a Friend and Quaker, is one of America’s primary writers on the spiritual disciplines. His book “Celebration of Discipline” has sold over a million copies, and although it has been in print for 30 years, it continues to sell well.

Eugene Peterson says that the modern world has for the most part stored away the spiritual disciplines, but that Mr. Foster has rummaged around brought them out of hiding and shows through his writing that they are the way to the abundant life in Christ.

Any tool that brings us closer to the Christ is a call to celebrate. Mr. Foster divides the disciplines into three groups: the inner, the outer, and the corporate. The inward are the ones we practice in a more private setting giving our hearts over to God’s regulation, and they include meditation, fasting, prayer, and study. The outer disciplines are simplicity, solitude, submission and service, and the corporate ones are confession, worship, guidance and celebration.

This week, we will concentrate on the more familiar inner discipline of prayer. Prayer is communication between the created and the Creator. To start our journey, answer these questions about prayer habits: When do you pray? Early morning, at meals, at bedtime, or throughout the day? Maybe your prayer life is a combination of all. Or perhaps prayer is your 9-1-1, an emergency only connection.

Several things can happen during prayer: praise, thanksgiving, praying for others (family, friends, government leaders, etc), confession, asking for forgiveness, and seeking guidance. To further understand personal prayer, think about what you most often say in your prayers. Are they mostly expressions of thanksgiving? Are they most often focused on personal needs?

One of the most familiar prayers in the Bible is the one Jesus taught his disciples to pray, often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. One of my favorite lines in that prayer is “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The request is a desire for the perfection, holiness, and goodness of God to be lived out through personal lives in sync with God.

Whether you are in kindergarten prayer or headed toward your doctorate in prayer, pay attention this week to how often you talk to God and the intent of your words. And why not customize that phrase from Jesus’ prayer-teaching: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and Lord, begin with me.”