Real fast

Matthew 9:14-17

Did Jesus have the talk with his disciples? The fasting talk? Did he sit with them and explain that, when it came to fasting, they would be different?

They would not fast at all!

For sure they knew other rabbis and disciples fasted. It was a holy act of devotion. They could’ve been looking forward to their fasting experience with their teacher. Or not. Did they notice they hadn’t been fasting?

Well, we’re sure others noticed.

At the very least, John the Baptist’s disciples wondered about their fasting practice. Or lack thereof. They aligned themselves with the Pharisees. As best we can tell, they fasted twice every week. But why didn’t the disciples of Jesus even fast once?

The Lord eluded to his being the expected bridegroom–the church is the bride. Wedding attendants don’t mourn when they’re with the bridegroom. My best man took me out to lunch and bought me a gift on my wedding day. He didn’t bring up to me that about fifty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. He didn’t tell me most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. There’s too much to celebrate right now.

To be sure, a time would come when others would take away or snatch the bridegroom, Jesus. Let’s guess that’ll happen on a Thursday evening. Were his disciples fasting behind locked doors the day Jesus resurrected?

The larger point Jesus pointed to was about the new reality God was shaping in Jesus. There was nothing wrong with fasting. There was nothing wrong with praying and giving. But there was a change in perspective and, perhaps, even in attitude. That was what Jesus led his disciples toward by not fasting.

Now, if we want a new or even a renewed sense of joy in our churches, we need new attitudes. New perspectives. Is there something we need to stop doing to pay closer attention to the reality of Jesus? Dressing up our old only creates more problems. Problems that take us further from our mission and purpose.

I won’t suggest we stop fasting because I’m not so sure many of us do to begin with. So, maybe we should fast this week. In the next few days, find a way to fast with joyful expectation. And let’s see what God might show us.

Stay blessed…john

Engaged

Psalm 40:6-17

“In many cases, our need to wonder about or be told what God wants in a certain situation is nothing short of a clear indication of how little we are engaged in his work.”

Whoa!

That quote from Dallas Willard always makes me pause. I can’t help but bring the church’s ministry into question when I reflect on it. There’s no telling how many times I’ve been in church groups that wondered in bafflement.

What should they do? What should be important to their ministry?

To be sure, it’s wise to ask questions. We need corporate reflection and prayer about our next steps. Indeed, where there is no vision from God the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). On the other side of Covid, many church leaders have been asking questions. Many blamed the virus for the amount of churches that have perished in the last few years. Could it be, though, they had already long stopped engaging in God’s work?

And what is God’s work?

So much of what is faithful ministry can fit into the categories of worship, ministries of reconciliation and evangelism. There are more, I’m sure. But let’s chew on these for a moment.

Worship as God’s work is encountering the living God, not singing your favorite songs. Worship in sprit and in truth ushers in transformation of our hearts and minds. We are drawn closer to God’s will not made more comfortable with our own ways. 

Reconciliation takes many forms. It requires prayer and humility. Grace and courage. You can’t have that if you only complain about how things aren’t like they used to be or how no one wants to come to church. Or even making faith all about coming to church.

We limit evangelism to mean teaching people the Bible. Scripture is an important tool of evangelism, of course. But true evangelism is teaching people how to sense and participate in God’s kingdom fully. That’s so much more than a quick Bible study.

Quite frankly, most of our churches would rather have another bake sale than get that deep in the water. Now, we want to hear from God, we say. But what do we expect to hear if we won’t actually engage in God’s work?

Stay blessed…john

You are a blessing

Genesis 27:30-38

There’s an entire conversation to have about giving and receiving blessings. It helps understand the story of Esau and Jacob. We’d consider what kind of blessings were at stake and who wanted which sons to have them and why. Of course, most of us would want to know why this was such a big deal to begin with. Like Esau, we might wonder if there was a spare blessing to give that could’ve made everything right. And what made it so binding there’d have to be such much drama?

All that would make for a great study together.

Today, I’m focused on another aspect of Esau’s encounter. It’s related, of course, to his father’s blessing. They both discover there’s been a trick. First, Isaac doesn’t know who received the blessing. But quickly recognized it was Jacob who deceived him. The text says Isaac “trembled violently” (Genesis 27:33). What was Esau’s response?

He cried.

You get to imagine what his “great and bitter cry” looked and sounded like. Think back to our blessing conversation. What did Esau stand to lose? What was he feeling? Chances are, you would cry, too, if it happened to you.

Esau asked for another blessing. His blood began to boil knowing his brother tricked him again. Then again Esau asked for another blessing. His father, seemingly, threw his hands in the air in defeat and confinement. What could he do? Then Esau did again what he first did.

He wept.

We’ve got something else to add to our blessing conversation. Isaac seemed helpless with Esau with one blessing. But, in the next chapter, Isaac will easily bless Jacob again. In this chapter, though, only after Esau wept twice did Isaac muster the ability to offer some kind of blessing.

I’ve often said the church is God’s blessing to the world. Our practice of love should be healing and transformative, thus being a blessing.

But, often, we withhold our blessing. Sure, we may not mean to, on our best days. We’re just too busy doing church-y stuff to get to it.

When we finalize realize the futility of that kind of church, what do we do? Where do we begin sharing the blessing of being loved by God? Start where there are tears.

Listen to what makes people weep. And be a presence there. Not to fix anyone. Not to swoop in and save them. But to be the blessing of a loving presence. I guarantee you’ll have a lot more blessing conversations to share!

Stay blessed…john