Another Way To Worship

I’m not a very well trained writer, but I do know that the opening of a book or article is critical to catching the reader’s attention enough to get them to read through to the end.  I’m going to break that principle here and probably lose a bunch of you when I tell you that I’m writing today about fasting. But if you’ll chew through the meat of this article (sorry bad pun) I believe you’ll discover something about intimacy with God that you likely have missed till now.

Mention fasting today and for most what comes to mind is dieting, or hunger strikes, or religious ritual.  For those who have grown up going to church you may have connected it with prayer during times of significant crisis or need.  Many don’t even consider it or if they do wonder if it is still relevant today.

For me personally I have struggled with the purpose for fasting because it seemed to me that it was used as a means to manipulate God.  Like if I’m facing a really serious issue or decision, or if I really want God to act in a particular way then I’ll fast and by my efforts pry what I want from him, or prove to him my devotion so he’ll act favorably toward my situation.

I understand that some have said fasting is a means of focusing so that I can hear and more clearly discern what God is saying or revealing, but even that smack a little of being dependant on my effort or sacrifice to get to God.

So I did a study of fasting through the Bible, and while space here doesn’t permit in depth analysis of what I found, here are the basics.

Fasting in the Old Testament lines up with the motive of special intense effort to get God to act or move in a particular way.  David fasts for God to save his son born from adultery, or Ezra calls for a national fast to ask God for safety as they journey back from captivity to begin rebuilding Jerusalem.

But in the New Testament Jesus, when asked about fasting, indicates that the way of relating to God has changed. (New wine in new wineskins is the analogy).  And the accounts of fasting in the New Testament indicate that worship, rather than petition, were the new primary motivation for fasting.

So here’s my suggestion for you: test my discovery.  Try a fast.  Not a long one, just after supper one day until supper the next, and have no agenda or motive other than to worship God during that time.  I believe you’ll discover as I have that fasting does still have significant value.


To Summarize With Abandon

It was Ghandi who once commented that if he’d have known Christians to live out what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7 which you should really read or re-read) he would have become a Christian.  Now whatever you may or may not think of Ghandi, the point I take from this is that those teachings of Jesus describe what a person who claims to follow him should look like.

Please notice I did not say that those teachings are the rules by which a Jesus follower is to live.  In fact Jesus makes the point that following him isn’t about keeping rules but being set free from rules to follow him with wild abandon.

That statement is going to make some of you uncomfortable because you like things to be safe and predictable.  I have news for you: Jesus is neither safe nor predictable, but, as   C. S. Lewis said, he is good.

Now some others of you are going to think that means I’m suggesting you’re free to live by your own rules, and that’s not true either.  You do not set the rules and Jesus follows you, you follow Jesus no matter what regardless of what the expectations of culture and religion are.

There is an allegory someone’s written that’s well worth the read comparing following Jesus like this to riding a tandem bicycle with him.  You can find it on-line here: www.cs.cmu.edu/~bsinger/roadlife.html

But to help you put some handles on Jesus’ description of one who follows him, I’ve tried to summarize it in a couple of paragraphs.  It is undoubtedly an imperfect attempt, but hopefully it will still be of some value:

The Sermon on the Mount describes a person who is humble and dependant on God; a person who follows Jesus with passionate and reckless abandon, who is courageous and strong in the face of adversity and oppression and on behalf of those who are oppressed.

This person enriches the community he or she lives in, making it a better place to live for everyone through caring for the needs of their neighbors and neighborhood.  Their lifestyle and character is respected by those who know them, but not because they religiously follow a set of rules, rather, because their actions flow out of a transformed nature that transcends any set of rules or laws.

This person is devout but not religious, upright but full of grace and mercy, hardworking but not frenetic or anxious. It is a person who demonstrates confidence knowing his or her future has been set by God himself and so always seems to have time for others.

The Sermon on the Mount describes Jesus, and in ever increasing measure, those who truly follow him.


When The Teacher is Wrong

Alright, hands up; who has never been wrong?  Exactly! Other than a couple of smart alecks (I won’t name names but I know who you are), nobody’s hand is up.  The same is also true for our theology, or beliefs about God.  There are things that I once believed about God that I have come to realize are wrong.  What’s more is there may well be things in my theology today that one day I’ll look back on and shake my head at.  But that doesn’t make me a false teacher.

Both the Old and New warn about not listening to false teachers and we need to be discerning.  But sadly there are some who believe it is their responsibility to decry those who they believe have “fallen into error” and brand them as “false teachers” demanding the rest of Christianity write them off.  But Paul makes it very clear that we ought “not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” (1 Corinthians 4:5)

So we’re not to judge (scripture is also clear about how to confront someone who has sinned, but that’s for another time), but we still need to guard ourselves against false teachers or prophets.  I’ve combed through the Bible and come up with six characteristics exhibited by false teachers.

  • Personal lives are inconsistent with their message and/or there is a lack of fruit of the Sprit. (Matt 7:15-20, James 2:18, 3:13-18)

This is about character and integrity, but it’s more than that too.  It’s also how they treat those around them.  Are their lives consistently characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, gentleness, and faithfulness?

  • Try to lure people away to follow them. (Acts 20:30)

When someone is more concerned about building their own kingdom than seeing the kingdom of God built that’s reason for concern.

  • Self-preservation. (John 10:12-13)

When the going gets tough do they sacrifice their own comforts and wellbeing for the protection of others?

  • Exploitation of followers. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

They promote their own needs and interests on the backs of those who follow them.

  • Turns attention away from Jesus. (Deut. 13:1-3, Acts 13:6-8)

This and the next are foundational.  A teacher of the truth will always turn hearts and minds towards Jesus, even if it costs him or her.

  • Refuses to acknowledge Jesus came in the flesh and is from God. (1 John 4:1-3)

This is one of the non-negotiables when it comes to faith.  Jesus is fully God and fully human and no one comes to God except through him.

 


I Admit It! (re-post)

It’s been a long time since I have gotten a speeding ticket. Mostly that’s because I don’t speed much anymore. There was a time, though, when I was pushing the limits of allowable demerit points. But even then I didn’t complain or criticize the cops when I was pulled over; I knew the rules and I knew I was breaking them. But I have a young friend who, when he was apprehended for some misdemeanor, soundly cursed the authorities who caught him. Even when I challenged him on the fact that he was doing something illegal he still maintained that he had been unduly targeted.

In studying the book of Revelation one of the aspects of that book that many have trouble with is the wrath of God. I think that one of the primary reasons we may have such a hard time reconciling the wrath of God as expressed in Revelation is, much like my young friend, we have a skewed perception of our own rightness. We are, in essence, saying that it is God who has the problem not us, and so we dismiss or ignore Revelation or even God.

What we need is a better understanding of God’s rightness and our “wrongness” or shortcomings. The amazing thing about this, though, is that unlike the police officer, God does not demand that we measure up to his standard. He knows we can’t. Instead he offers, through Christ and by faith to impart to us Jesus’ own rightness as our own. That what Easter is all about: Jesus giving his perfect life and taking on himself our self-justifying “wrongness.”

Even in Revelation, in the middle of some of the worst things that are going to happen we find that God is giving us a warning, like a final plea, to acknowledge our wrongness and accept his grace. (See chapter 9 verses 20 & 21) But still people refuse and insist it is God who’s got the problem.

The heaven that God finally brings to earth at the end of Revelation is intended for everyone, but can only enjoyed by those who have admitted their wrongness and accepted God’s rightness that comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ. Have you admitted it yet?


Ask To Do Unto Others

I`m going to pose to you that age old question: what would you ask for if someone gave you three wishes?

 I ask you that because I’ve been looking at one of those passages in the Bible that, with a casual reading, could be understood to be suggesting just such a thing.  Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Jesus goes on to say that if we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

But that’s not the end of his thought.  The very next verse is where you find the Golden Rule. And lest you think the two are not connected, that verse begins with the word “Therefore”, meaning that based on what I’ve just told you (ask and you shall receive) now apply it in this way (do to others what you would want them to do to you).

When you put the two teachings together you get a radical, profound picture of what Jesus intends the lives of his followers should look like.  I expect most of you are like me in that when that age old question is posed my first thoughts are of myself.  Jesus’ first impulse is to ask how can I serve others.

Believe me, that doesn’t come naturally but I know a few people who are beginning to more and more live this out.  It seems that most of them are people who have gone through profoundly painful trial and have learned to depend deeply on Jesus for each day.

Like a friend of mine whose wife recently lost a long and gruelling battle with cancer.  I have been amazed at the depth of his faith when the pain in his eyes is so obvious.  His neighbor is a lady who lost her husband a couple of years back and is left struggling to raise their young son.

Recently the muffler on her husbands’ old diesel fell off.  It was her only means of getting to work and she couldn’t afford to get it fixed.  What’s more she was now getting fumes into the cab.

My friend, recognizing he had some money put away, gave her his truck for the day and took hers in to get fixed.  Why? Because he could and it’s what Jesus would have done.

So ask yourself that question again, but first ask God the give you the heart and mind of Christ.


This Blog Has Been Commandeered

If you’re reading this article you should know that another author took over for the week.  I’m the writer’s wife, Wendy.  I asked if I could have this space this week so that I could share an important message with you.

This past year, working at the Vernon Live Well Clinic for Sexual Health & Pregnancy Association I was often asked about what’s available to present to the youth about sex.  That’s right, I said it.. “sex”.  Those conversations are not always comfortable, some of us come from backgrounds where you didn’t talk about sex, drugs or other awkward topics.  That needs to change.  We need to build those trust relationships and then pause.  The definition of PAUSE is as follows:  interrupt action or speech briefly.  Synonyms: stop, cease, halt, discontinue, break off, take a break; adjourn, rest, wait; informal take a breather, take five…”  I am reminded that if I don’t stop, I don’t have to think.  I believe that applies to everyone.  I long for our youth to take a moment before making a decision that can affect them for a lifetime.  Let’s teach them to think critically.  My challenge to you is to become aware of what’s going on in the youth culture and to invite conversations.  I can tell you that if you don’t take responsibility for their sex ed, their peers and the internet are readily available.  What I do know is that taking the time to truly listen so our youth feel “felt” makes a difference.  PS that requires leaving your judgemental inclination at the door.   If you are lacking resources, feel free to contact me through email: wendyberg1@gmail.com.

Proverbs 5: 1-2 (MSG) “Dear friend, pay close attention to this, my wisdom; listen very closely to the way I see it.  Then you’ll acquire a taste for good sense; what I tell you will keep you out of trouble.”


Irrelevant!

Irrelevant. Longman’s Dictionary defines irrelevant as “not useful or not relating to a particular situation, and therefore not important.” I think one of the worst feelings and greatest fears we have in life is being considered irrelevant.  It’s the feeling that whether I’m here or not doesn’t really make a difference to anyone. Or that what I do, my job, or even my contributions to a conversation aren’t considered of any real interest, value, or importance.Wendy Grandma 001

The best example of how to make someone feel relevant is my wife’s grandma.  Wendy treasured the times she would get to go visit because Grandma always made her feel like she was someone special; that she really mattered.  Grandma had a special Mennonite name that she would call Wendy.  She would say “Scheen Wendy” (pronounced “shina”), which means lovely, or beautiful.  The power of someone intentionally taking time to show and say that she was beautiful has had a lifelong impact on Wendy.

In the Bible we get a picture of this in Mark 10:13 where the disciples were shooing away parents who wanted to bring their children to see Jesus.  In the disciples minds these little ones were not important to the job at hand.  After all what could they possibly contribute?

But Jesus said in essence, “Don’t ever stand between children and me.  There is no one more important than these children.”  Imagine the impact that hearing the most popular man in town say that would have had on these kids.

Two things to take from this.  First, what message are you sending to the children in your life?  Are they hearing that they are only relevant when they have achieved some level of success? You have the power to profoundly impact the life of a child simply by stopping to listen and pay attention to them; to communicate that they are as important and special as anyone else in your life.

Second, is to realize that this is the way God sees you; as worthwhile spending time with.  And he will always take the time.  But here’s the thing, Jesus went on to say that unless you come to him with the same attitude as a little child you won’t get into the kingdom of heaven.  In other words Jesus’ acceptance of you as worthwhile isn’t based on what you achieve, or accomplish.  It is simple trust and dependence on what he has done for you.

You are relevant and important and what you do has eternal value and worth. But it needs to flow from a place of dependence on what Jesus does in you and through you.