When We Fast from the Feast

Scripture: Ephesians 4.22-24
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Scripture: Luke 14.17-18
At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses.

Reflection: When We Fast from the Feast
By John Tillman

We already know how to fast. We have simply been fasting from the wrong things.

Our culture has steadily, for decades, been encouraging us to abstain from spiritual disciplines in favor of activities that we are led to believe are more profitable.

Our culture tells us that rather than read scripture in the mornings, we must pound through more emails. Productivity trumps biblical literacy.

We are told rather than praying at noon, we should skip lunch to work at our desk or take lunch with a valuable business contact. Productivity and self-promotion trumps prayerfulness and relational spirituality.

Rather than living simply and giving extravagantly, we reverse the equation, making our giving a simple percentage that satisfies a legalistic requirement or gains a tax benefit. Moral satisfaction trumps active compassion.

Rather than draw away from the world to worship in community with other believers, we draw away from others to worship with our headphones in—shutting the world out via podcast or streaming music and worship services.

When we have had just enough of God to make us feel more emotionally healthy and morally superior, we wish to move on to productivity, profit, and success. (All with the implied blessing of God of course.)

Many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted him to do, and we should be obliged if he would now leave us alone. — C.S. Lewis

We’ve pushed our chairs back from the banquet table of God’s Word and placed our hand over our glass to prevent being refilled with the wine of his Holy Spirit.

God invites us to the feast of the kingdom. But many are fasting from God’s feast in order to binge on the benefits we can wring from the world.

May we return to the table and to the fellowship of believers with gusto, pushing aside distractions and false supplements that aren’t real spiritual food. As the voice of Christ cries through the prophet, Isaiah, “Why spend money on what is not bread?

Spiritual disciplines of daily Bible reading, prayer, and meditation are not the spices and subtle flavorings of life—they are the main course. Everything else is sprinkles of garnish.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 17.7-8

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 10 (Listen – 3:34)
Ephesians 3 (Listen – 2:41)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 11 (Listen – 3:41) Ephesians 4 (Listen – 3:58)
Proverbs 12 (Listen – 3:07) Ephesians 5 (Listen – 3:42)

Easter Wings :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: Ephesians 2.1, 4-6
You were dead in your transgressions and sins… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ…

Reflection: Easter Wings :: Throwback Thursday
By George Herbert – (1633)

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did begin:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With thee
Let me combine
And feel this day thy victory:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

Editor’s Note:
That our fall and affliction may further our flight is a part of the miracle of Easter. Not only Christ rose from the grave. We, with him, arose to newness and life.

George Herbert’s beautiful poem explores both the rhythmic shape of these thoughts in meter and their physical shape on the printed page.

May we become “thinne” that Christ’s fullness may shine more fully through us. We must decrease and he must increase. — John

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.20

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 9 (Listen – 1:50)
Ephesians 2 (Listen – 3:04)

Fasting to Benefit Others

Scripture: Proverbs 8.10-11
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Reflection: Fasting to Benefit Others
By John Tillman

How did the Israelites’ celebrations of fasting and feasting go from being a trumpeted memorial before God in Numbers 10, to being something God despised in Isaiah 1?

How can we keep our fasting and feasting from becoming meaningless rituals that make us feel good about ourselves but are despised by God?

In Isaiah, God describes the festivals that he hates as being meaningless because of the lack of carryover into the community. The Israelites were observing the traditional actions without acting out their meaning in their lives. Their devotion to God’s regulations was meaningless because they were refusing to act on their devotion to their fellow men.

When the poor, the disadvantaged, and the outcasts were ignored outside the sanctuary, God turned his face away, to ignore the pious rituals of the religious inside the sanctuary.

Specific actions of fasting and feasting aren’t as important as the motivations that begin it and the actions that follow it. It is what we do beyond the event that brings meaning to our feasting and our fasting. When Jesus was critiqued regarding fasting and feasting, he responded by saying, “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

We need to enter fasting and feasting with the proper motivation—that of seeking God and doing his work. And we need to find a way to connect our fasting and our feasting to real life help for others.

When our fasting leads to a longing to serve and help others, and when our feasting celebrates and motivates us to participate in the work of Christ, our accompanying deeds will prove our spiritual wisdom. Through our churches, through charities we support, and individually, our wisdom can be proved right through our deeds.

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

In this and other times of fasting or feasting, may we continually work to connect our observances to times of service and to the work of Christ’s church on behalf of others.

Prayer: The Greeting
I will offer you a freewill sacrifice and praise your Name, O Lord, for it is good. — Psalm 54.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 8 (Listen – 3:26)
Ephesians 1 (Listen – 3:10)

Inward Battles

Scripture: Ephesians 6.11
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. ― J.C. Ryle

Reflection: Inward Battles
The Park Forum

One of the Fruit of the Spirit is peace — a gift which we receive from God. Yet here, in Ephesians, the focus of scripture turns to war. Timothy Keller, in a sermon on spiritual warfare, quotes the 19th century Anglican bishop of Liverpool J.C. Ryle on the way spiritual war and peace exist in the life of healthy followers of Christ:

Let me talk to you about true Christianity. There’s a vast quantity of religion currently in the world that is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster, it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the real thing…

There are thousands of men and women who go to chapels and churches every Sunday and call themselves Christians… But you never see any ‘fight’ about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all.

Let us consider these propositions.…The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict or fight. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or even twice a week, but the great spiritual warfare … its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests … of all this they appear to know nothing at all.

Do you find in your heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Are you conscious of two principles within you, contending for the mastery? Do you feel anything of war in your inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification.All true saints are soldiers. A real Christian can be known as much by his inward warfare as by his inward peace.

May the peace of Christ be in you as you fight the good fight necessary to cultivate the fruit of heaven on earth.

The Refrain
For God, who commended the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 9 (Listen – 4.16)
Ephesians 6 (Listen – 3:17)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 10 (Listen – 4.27) Philippians 1 (Listen – 4:03)
1 Kings 11 (Listen – 7.05) Philippians 2 (Listen – 3:45)

The Idol of Immorality, Impurity, and Greed

Scripture: Ephesians 5:3, 5
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed…For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Reflection: The Idol of Immorality, Impurity, and Greed
By John Tillman

Paul, in Ephesians 5:3-6, describes three qualities that the church must not allow a “hint” of—immorality, impurity, and greed. (We have a tendency to ignore that greed is in there…)

Why is it, according to Paul, that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the kingdom? “Such a person is an idolater,” Paul says. Modern sophisticates that we are, we have trouble admitting to idolatry. We think of idolaters as foolish primitives staring into the light of a sacrificial fire, not children of the technological age staring into the lights of our devices.

We are correct when we assess idolatry’s primitive nature. Where we are wrong is in thinking that our modernity exempts us from its allure.

This past week many articles were written about the death of Hugh Hefner. There is much for our culture to idolize about him. His story of rising from impoverished roots to become the multi-millionaire-magnate of a publishing empire would be irresistible in our culture even without the added sex appeal.

Hefner was the high-priest of a uniquely American religion of erotica, venerating sex as the chief marker of identity, as the chief goal of individual self expression, and as the ultimate pathway to self-actualization and self-worth. There is nothing holier (worth protecting) in secular culture than sexuality and sexual expression. When it comes to sex, we have all become Cameron Frye.

“She will have given him, what he has built up in his mind as the end-all-be-all of existence.” — Ferris Bueller.

But Paul reveals to us that what is truly at the root of sexual immorality, is exactly the same thing that is at the root of greed—selfishness.

We worship this idol, by making an altar of our own bodies and sacrificing the bodies of others upon it. Yet just as with every other form of idolatry, the benefits we seek at the feet of an idol can only be found in the true God. Carved stone rain gods can’t bring rain, and our photoshopped gods of sexual expression leave us just as dry—alone in a loveless drought.

In the end we must recognize that the reason Paul connected sexual immorality and greed is that the two forms of idolatry are identical. They each are concerned with “getting mine” without regard to what the costs are to other humans.

Reclaiming sexuality as an honoring celebration of God’s image in our physical bodies and as a unique emotional and spiritual union for couples is a difficult, and narrow path. When we walk this path we will be marked as strangers and aliens in a foreign land.

A Reading
…not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you went home again justified… — Luke 18:13-14

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 8 (Listen – 10:23)
Ephesians 5 (Listen – 3:42)

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