Spending our Way to Asceticism

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 5.15
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Reflection: Spending our Way to Asceticism
By John Tillman

Ascetics are the new cool kids. How do we become ascetics in a Western consumerist culture? Spend more, of course. 

People, even non-believers, universally recognize fasting as a marker of spirituality. Fasting is perhaps one of the least understood and most abused spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster said, “Because of the secularization of modern society, ‘fasting’ is usually motivated either by vanity or by the desire for power.” The power many are seeking is not power over sin, but power over the bathroom scale. We are not looking to make ourselves fit for Heaven as much as we are looking for ways to fit into the suit we wore a few years ago.

Many “fasts” involve paying for or partaking in perplexing, complicated, and expensive diets, foods, powders, and gadgets. This consumerist approach helps fasting fit into the American spiritual narrative of moralistic self-sufficiency. Even atheists can virtue-signal their dedication to self-improvement by going on a partial fast, eating far less of far more expensive food.

I am prone to stumble into cynicism about societal/spiritual trends such as these. So I want to be careful not to step too hard on anyone’s attempts to seek God through a discipline of fasting. Just because some fasts have a trending hashtag or have been of financial value to grocers and the sports nutrition industry doesn’t mean they have no spiritual value. After all, sticking to an expensive plan as a part of a fast is adding a financial level of sacrifice to a physical level of sacrifice. Who am I to judge? Fast on, trendy-fasters.

But I pray, for myself and others, that as we continue through Lent that no matter what kind of fast we choose, fasting will be more to us than a religious/dietary stunt. 

I pray that our intentions will be not for a good result in our dietary health but a God-result in our spiritual health.

As we continue fasting this weekend, let us pray this prayer from a previous post on fasting:

May we be more thrilled by gaining a better connection to Christ than by losses on a scale. 
May our lack aid us in leaning into Christ’s sufficiency. 
May our hunger lead us to read from His holy Word. 
May our pangs of emptiness lead us to make more room in our hearts and lives for the Holy Spirit and for the community of his Holy Church.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. — Psalm 85.10

Today’s Readings
Job 35 (Listen -1:33)
2 Corinthians 5 (Listen -3:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 36 (Listen -3:04), 2 Corinthians 6 (Listen -2:31)
Job 37 (Listen -2:27), 2 Corinthians 7 (Listen -2:58)

Read more about Binging on Fasting
We misunderstand fasting to such a level that we have co-opted the concept to create new opportunities for consumption.

Read more about Fasting “Better”
As fasting has grown fashionable…It’s easy for it to become just another spiritual competition of one-upmanship and comparison.

Seeking Silence

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 4.18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Reflection: Seeking Silence
By Matt Tullos

The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. — Blaise Pascal

My wife and kids were away the night a violent thunderstorm hit our town and the electricity went out. At that moment I was watching a football game, scanning twitter, and listening to music.

When darkness arrived in a split second I realized that the battery on my iPhone was almost gone. A brief moment of panic ensued. I realized that in a matter of minutes I would be thrust into the lifestyle millions of people enjoyed in the 1800s!

The silence and lack of media connection was unnerving at first. It was then that I sensed the presence of God speaking to me about my addiction to noise. After 15 minutes I had rediscovered the beauty of silence.

These days, silence is something we must fight to achieve, but it is definitely worth the fight. The National Center of Biotechnology stated in a study that two minutes of silence is more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.

However, this is not new knowledge for people of the Book. The Bible urges us to experience silence as a spiritual discipline.

Every day we are faced with the choice of constant communication, noise and blather or intentional, Jesus-focused silence.

Don’t wait for a power outage in order to spend time in silence. God might be trying to tell you something but all the ambient noise and entertainment leaves you deaf to His voice.
I believe we would be astounded by all God wants to say to us and yet He never gets a chance because of our preoccupation with news, messages, conversations and entertainment. Silence isn’t just golden, it is godly.

Ask yourself, “How am I seeking silence in my day?” and “Why is constant communication and auditory stimulation so addictive?”

Take time to spend 15 minutes in silence today. Allow God to speak into your soul.

Editor’s Note: Fasts of many different kinds are common during the Lenten season. In our modern world a fast from certain aspects of technology might be as important as any other type of fasting.

As we continue through the season of Lent we pray that our fasting would not be merely self-improvement or self-fulfillment, but instead, a process of self-denial, seeking of God, and blessing of others. — John

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
My soul thirsts for the strong, living God and all that is within me cries out to him.

Today’s Readings
Job 34 (Listen -3:26)
2 Corinthians 4 (Listen -3:02)

Read more about From Silence, Peace
Seek silence and darkness for a time, so that you can meditate and wait to hear his intimate voice and feel the light of his peaceful presence.

Read more about Hearing in Silence :: Throwback Thursday
It is not that God is not speaking or communicating to us. Rather, we have allowed ourselves to get back into such a hole that all we hear is the noise around us.

Only Through Christ :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 3.5-6
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Reflection: Only Through Christ :: Worldwide Prayer
By John Tillman

If we have confidence in our own competence, we are destined to accomplish only what is possible by human effort. 

May we approach God with the humility of Paul’s proclamation from 2 Corinthians 5, and with the humble faith of this prayer from Nigeria, which invokes God’s power to work through us as his instruments.

Only Through Christ
A Prayer of Invocation from Nigeria :: Worldwide Prayer

O God, our Father we thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ through whom you have incorporated us into your divine life by virtue of which we can call you Abba, Father. How can we thank you enough for the unmerited promise that where two or three are gathered in your name, you will honor them with your presence?

In humility, we have come to you claiming this gracious promise of your presence. Grant us the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to worship you in Spirit and in truth, for our desire is to be acceptable to you.

Our Holy Father, we have come confessing our sins of commission and omission before you because if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. Your promise is that if we confess our sins we will be cleansed by the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ. Father, in your grace, touch us now and purge us of all of our sins.

Quicken our spiritual sensitivity so we can be consciously tuned to your spiritual wave length. May our eyes, O God, be opened now by the Holy Spirit to enable us to see the Risen Lord seated on the Throne in all his glory, pleading for us.

Grant that we will be dedicated to the task of being your divine instruments of redemption in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities, to the extent that people around us will be impacted by the empirical demonstration of your transforming power working in us.

O Eternal Father, this is our earnest desire, this is why we have come before you. Grant this our humble desire, O God, not because we merit it but only because we ask for it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ , your Son and our Savior.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful, for I have taken refuge in you; in the shadow of your wings will I take refuge until this time of trouble has gone by… — Psalm 57.1

Today’s Readings
Job 33 (Listen -3:00)
2 Corinthians 3 (Listen -2:25)

Read more about Christ, Our “If Only…”
Christ comes, applying for Job’s job posting. He would be our mediator if we let him.

Read more about Faith Requires Humility
One reason faith is so difficult for today’s culture is that we devalue humility. And faith cannot exist without humility.

The “Ideal” of the New Testament Church

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 2.1-4
So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

Reflection: The “Ideal” of the New Testament Church
By John Tillman

The New Testament church is often held up as an historical ideal. By this, people usually mean that if we only did things the way the New Testament church did, everything would be ideal.

But reading the history of the early church recorded in the New Testament shows us that conflicts, scandals, heresies, and difficulty in dealing with the prevalent sins of the culture were common problems.  

The Apostles, leading the early church, were men and women who saw the actual face of Christ. Christ-in-the-resurrected-flesh breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.” They spoke in tongues and had tongues of fire over their heads; they raised the dead; they had prophetic visions and powers of healing. Yet even with all of their spiritual power, gifting, and clarity, the Apostles had problems in every church they planted. They dealt with conflict, personality clashes, arguments about worship styles, arguments about food and drink, arguments about power, arguments about money, arguments about sexual ethics, and arguments about racial divides. 

The Apostles had difficulty leading a diverse population to understand the implications of the gospel. Why then, are we shocked and surprised when this happens to us?

Rather than one “ideal,” when we look at what the different churches actually did, we see many variations. They met in the Temple. They met by the river. They met in homes. They met in the public square. They met every day. They met on “The Lord’s day.” They met in the morning. They met at midday. They met all night long. Their leadership structures seem flexible as well. The shared leadership of multiple churches across a vast area amongst Paul, Barnabas, Priscilla, Aquilla, Apollos, James, Peter, Junia, Timothy, Silas, and many other Christian leaders is unlike church or denominational leadership structures today. Their style of worship seems to be varied with some following orderly Jewish customs of the reading of scripture or of letters from Apostles and some engaging in freewheeling times of multiple impromptu speakers in unplanned succession. 

The one thing we can definitively say about the practices of the local churches in the New Testament is that they were led by the Holy Spirit. And the one thing that the Holy Spirit seems to have inspired in all of them is a spirit of innovation and flexibility in practice, while holding tightly to a strict theological interpretation of the gospel.

This is something we can aspire to in our churches and our lives.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

Today’s Readings
Job 32 (Listen -2:12)
2 Corinthians 2 (Listen -2:13)

Read more about The Church of Acts
Acts is not a step-by-step program to cut-and-paste into modernity. It isn’t a start-up handbook

Read more about To the Worst Churches in the Bible
There are many strange and unfamiliar images in Revelation that we have no context for and do not easily understand. But one that has a very familiar ring is the description of scandal-filled churches.

Grace Displaces Retribution

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 20.9-10
Joab said to Amasa, “How are you, my brother?” Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly.

2 Corinthians 13.11-12
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Reflection: Grace Displaces Retribution
By John Tillman

The kind of humility and gracious forgiveness often shown by David is as greatly out of place today as it was in his own time. 

Those who cursed David during his flight from Absalom had no right to expect anything but death and destruction on David’s return. Retributive violence was the norm. But David risks displacing retribution with grace. One example is the cursing of Shimei

Shimei was a member of Saul’s family who cursed David, accusing him of being a murderer and claiming God was punishing him for his sins against Saul’s house. David acknowledged that perhaps God had sent Shimei to curse him and submitted to the humiliating rain of dirt, stones, and curses. Abishai would have cut Shimei’s head off but David prevented it. 

Shimei’s accusations are at least half-true. David was a murderer of Uriah and was in the company of murders such as Joab and Abishai who had murdered Saul’s former general, Abner. Shimei, whether in true repentance or simply to save his skin, repents of his former actions, and David spares him from Abishai’s sword a second time.

When seeing a beloved leader pelted on Twitter with half-truths, many respond as Abishai, “let me go over and cut off his head.” Some “Joabs” in ministries have engaged in just these kinds of violent threats against those who have accused pastors and ministries of wrongdoing, even when the accusations were far more accurate than those of Shimei.

As David tried to put back together a shattered nation, he continued to reach out to enemies in peace. When another rebellion arose from Sheba of Bikri, David chose Amasa, who had commanded the army of his rebellious son, Absalom, as his new army commander to put down the rebellion.

Whether by incompetence or from some other motive, Amasa takes too long and David sends Abashai after him. Joab murders Amasa and takes his job back to put down the rebellion.

Like David, we live in a culture of violence. 
We, like Christ, must be ready to rebuke violence.
Through the Holy Spirit may we have the grace to say, “No more of this!…Put your sword back in its place. For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
It may seem impossible and impractical to replace retribution with grace but this is the “full restoration” that Paul calls chuches to enact.
May we do so in His grace.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 20 (Listen – 4:51)
2 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:19)

Thank You!
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Read more about A Christian Response to Offense
There is nothing in the Christian faith more strangely counter-cultural, and more practically difficult to live out, than how the New Testament instructs us to deal with offenses and with offenders.

Read more about Dealing with Joab
One of David’s greatest failings as a leader might be failing to deal with Joab. If you are a leader, you may attract a Joab. Beware.

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