Fasting and Feasting

Scripture: Philippians 2.3-5
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

Reflection: Fasting and Feasting
By John Tillman

The one biblical feast most Christians know about is Passover or Pesach. This celebration is a combination of fasting and feasting. Families abstained from specific ingredients and indulged in others. Modern Jewish Seders are large, celebratory meals intended to be shared with guests and specifically the poor.

Christians have stripped this feast down to a cracker and a thimble.

This isn’t to say Christians have completely abandoned feasting. Liturgical churches designate many feasts and times of fasting throughout the year. Evangelicals have not completely abandoned feasting or fasting but have abandoned any structure or organization to their observance.

However, many Christians still don’t think of “feasting” as a holy activity. As much as we love potluck suppers and dinner-on-the-grounds, they are rarely held up as anything other than a social event. Even when meals are institutionally celebrated feasts, Christians of all denominations tend to speak of these celebratory meals with apologetic tones. Many an honored deacon or pastor has publicly prayed, “Lord, bless our bodies despite that of which we are about to partake.”

We shouldn’t flagellate ourselves much for misunderstanding and misinterpreting feasting and fasting. They have always been topics of controversy and religious struggle.

John the Baptist came fasting and Jesus came feasting, and both faced harsh critique. John was damned for doing it and Jesus was damned because he didn’t.

Many of the condemnations of the biblical prophets concern violations of the spirit of, if not the actual practice of, the festivals and feasts that God had established.

Like the Israelites’ celebrations, which went from being a trumpeted memorial before God to being something God despised, our fasting and feasting can easily become meaningless rituals that make us feel good about ourselves but are despised by God.

To prevent this we can’t allow the purpose of these observances to become obscured by the details of their practice. To do so robs them of any spiritual power.

Whenever there is a form devoid of spiritual power, law will take over because law always carries with it a sense of security and manipulative power. — Richard Foster

As we engage in feasting or fasting, during the season of Lent and beyond, may we not grow secure in legalistic, moralistic rules, but stay insecure, relying on God and seeking him more fervently than legalistic perfection.

Prayer: A Reading
Just at this time, some Pharisees come up. “Go away,” they said. “Leave this place because Herod means to kill you.” He replied, “You may go and give that fox this message: Look! Today and tomorrow and the next day I must go on since it would not be right for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem.” — Luke 13.31-33

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 15 (Listen – 3:36)
Philippians 2 (Listen – 3:45)

Rejection

Scripture: John 19:15
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

Reflection: Rejection
By Matt Tullos

Rejection: When walls go up, and you stand alone. Completely discarded and unwelcomed.

Away with him!

These heartless words are scattered across the landscape of a world full of religion, judgment, and bloodlust. And worst of all, the cruel apathy that pushes divine grace aside like a dead weed.

“Away with Him!” they shouted, as if this suffering Hero had the looks of last week’s garbage– vile and putrid under the haze of a bitter sun.

How often I have dismissed the precious Lamb of God from my life. I, like Pilate, have whisked Him off the throne at the slightest moment of inconvenience, seeking to please the masses by releasing the Lamb who knew no sin.

“Away with Him!” I’ve said, when life seemed unsure.
“Away with Him!” I’ve said in my exhaustion.
“Away with Him!” I’ve have said in times of pride and vainglory.

And we, the bride He so loved have said, “Away with Him!”
…from our culture,
…our schools,
…our homes,
…our values,
…our bank accounts,
…our futures.

We, like Pilate, have called out, faultless though Jesus is, “Away with Him!” We have washed our hands of this divine enigma.

Lord, Jesus Son of God, have mercy on us.

We have condemned you with our actions in exchange for the false security of our personal idols and jewels. Lord, have mercy on our country for we too have condemned innocent blood.

There was no one standing beside You that day.

You stood alone without a defender. And in this moment, I draw strength from the thought that through You, I too may stand alone in my desperate hour of need. When I am treated unfairly, help me to reflect on that moment in History when, under the greatest anguish known to man, You suffered rejection as a balm of hope on my behalf. You stood under a cascade of shame and rejection so that I may draw strength and help in my darkest hours.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, I thank Thee for the power to stand alone, defenseless.

Amen.

Rejection challenges you to discover the steadfast companionship of the One who walked through complete and utter annihilation to redeem to you.

Reflect upon a rejection you’ve experienced in your life and the effect it has had upon you.
Is there something about that experience that shapes your decision making today?
Does it still haunt your emotions?

*From a series Matt Tullos wrote called 39 Words. A few of these posts (including this one) are available in audio form via Soundcloud. — John

Prayer: The Greeting
Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger. — Psalm 119.54

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 14 (Listen – 3:45)
Philippians 1 (Listen – 4:03)

Escaping Discontent

Scripture: Philippians 4:12
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Reflection: Escaping Discontent
By Jon Polk

A commercial pilot flying over the Tennessee mountains pointed out a lake to his co-pilot. “See that lake down there? When I was a boy, I used to sit in a rowboat and fish for hours. Whenever a plane flew overhead, I pretended I was piloting the jet.”

The co-pilot responded, “You must be proud that you have achieved your boyhood dreams.” The pilot replied, “Not exactly. Now when I fly over that lake, I wish I was down there fishing.”

Contentment is an elusive pursuit. We want to believe there is something out there that we can find or achieve or buy that will finally make us happy.

It is difficult to find contentment in a culture that works hard to foster discontent. Consumer economies are designed to ensure we are never satisfied, in essence, monetizing our discontent. Businesses do their best to keep us constantly longing for the latest and greatest “Shiny Objects.” Enough is never enough.

If we are never satisfied, we are not fully able to enjoy the life that God has given us.

Notice that Paul didn’t write, “I’m so glad that it is easy to be content in every situation.” No, he says, “I had to learn to be content whatever the circumstances.”

First, Paul learned we should rejoice in the Lord. Even in the midst of difficulty we can rejoice that God sustains and cares for us. Second, be known for gentleness, not insisting on our own rights, but instead striving for the welfare of others. Third, don’t be anxious about anything. Recall the words of Jesus, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Finally, pray with thanksgiving. When we give thanks to God, we acknowledge that everything we have is a gift, a result of His goodness and generosity.

If we are pursuing these things, what are we not doing?

We’re not congratulating ourselves for how great we are. We’re not being proud or selfish or stingy with our resources. We’re not complaining or comparing ourselves to others. We’re not consumed by the insatiable quest for more.

Instead, we are free to focus on the only one who can provide for us, God himself, and when we find joy in the Lord, we can let go of our discontent and find contentment in his love and grace.

The Call to Prayer
Sing praise to the Lord who dwells in Zion; proclaim to the peoples the things he has done. — Psalm 9:11

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 13 (Listen – 5:14)
Philippians 4 (Listen – 3:20)

Gospel Faith or Garbage Faith

Scripture: Philippians 3:8-9
I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

Reflection: Gospel Faith or Garbage Faith
By Jon Polk

Before the Damascus road, Paul had all that we expect would make a person successful: respect, reputation, power, influence. He had the pedigree of his nationality and family. He had the résumé of an impeccable Pharisee, a leader in the community.

And yet, even with all that he had achieved, once he met Christ, Paul realized everything prior was waste, rubbish, by comparison.

The word that Paul uses in Philippians 3:8, often translated “garbage,” is Greek for dung or excrement. Paul makes an extreme point by stating that all that he has built up in his life—all that we consider to be of value—is completely worthless when compared to faith in Christ. By using this particular word, he is saying that it is all, quite frankly, disgusting and repulsive.

So what does Paul consider worthwhile? What should we strive for? Knowing Christ through faith. We should pursue a righteousness that is not found in accomplishments, or in keeping the law or rules, or in being a “good person.” The only worthy thing is knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection and in participation in his suffering. This kind of faith is our foundation.

A story is told of a wealthy man on his deathbed visited by an angel. Upon hearing the angel remind him that “you can’t take it with you,” the man pleads, “Please, I have so much that I have worked hard all my life to acquire. May I bring just one suitcase?” The man begs until the angel grants his request.

Thinking he was clever, the wealthy man converted his riches and filled the suitcase with gold bars. When death came for the man and he arrived at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter insisted on inspecting his luggage.

Opening the heavy suitcase to examine its contents, Peter looked at the man, puzzled, and asked, “Why did you bring a suitcase full of pavement?”

The “streets of gold” metaphor in Revelation reminds us that the very things we find valuable in this life will be most ordinary in our eternal life. The stuff we value here will be under our feet in eternity.

Faith in Christ, the foundation of our righteousness, is the only thing that lasts. In the end, it won’t matter how much money we made, what country we were born in, what our family pedigree is, or how successful, powerful or prestigious we became. Only faith sustains and only faith remains.

A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “How blessed are the poor in spirit: the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” — Matthew 5:3

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 12 (Listen – 7:05)
Philippians 3 (Listen – 3:21)

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)

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