Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lenten Fast - Week Five

Suggested Fast – Food
Food is one of the most basic needs of our lives. It sustains, energizes, and heals us. Not only that, but food brings comfort; it is the centerpiece for much of our fellowship. Jesus used food as the tangible representation of His own life in one of our most important sacraments.

Without food we soon lose strength, begin to wither, and will eventually die. Long before we experience any real physical effects of going without food, our stomachs and our minds will tell us to eat. They will nag at us, complaining louder and louder until we feed the desire – all the while, reminding us of our need, of our mortality.

While our abundance in America can make us prone to gluttony (a very real sin issue), the purpose of this week’s fast is to intentionally deny ourselves of the very thing that sustains us. As the hunger grows, we redirect our appetites to the Bread of Life – Jesus, who is our true sustainer, our source of abundant life – and allow Him to satisfy our deepest pangs of spirit-hunger. It’s a good idea to use this time to confess sins and read Scripture.

As with the other fasts, you need to determine the extent and length of the fast. You may wish to skip a certain meal each day this week, or fast for a whole day, or multiple days. It is very important to make sure that you are physically able to do the fast you are intending. If you choose to fast for several days, you should consult a physician about how to do that safely.

Lord, You have built into us a need for food. You also have created it for our pleasure. Today though, I choose to lay aside this need, this desire, this comfort, in hopes of drawing close to You. As I do this, feed my spirit, nurture my soul, remind me of Your sustaining presence in my life. May each pang of hunger prompt me to pray, feasting on Your very self.

As you break the fast…

Lord, thank-you for the food You have provided to sustain my body. May I never take one bite for granted. May this food strengthen me to do Thy will this day. – Amen.

Suggested Scripture Readings
Nehemiah 9:1-3; Matthew 6:16-18

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lenten Fast - Week Four

Suggested Fast – Work
Most of us are familiar with something the Bible calls “Sabbath”. Most of us probably know that it has something to do with worship on Sunday (actually, it doesn’t… Jewish Sabbath time runs from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.) Most of us probably believe that it is something from Old Testament Law that we are free from. In the end, most of us are clueless when it comes to Sabbath.

In his book, The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan says this:

The root idea of Sabbath is really quite simple. It’s that all living things thrive only by an ample measure of stillness. God stitched into the nature of things an inviolable need to be left alone now and then. The primary way we receive this aloneness and stillness is, of course through sleep. Sabbath, however, is a form of rest unlike sleep. Sleep is so needed that, defied too long, catches you and has its way with you. Sabbath won’t do that. Resisted, it backs off. Spurned, it flees. It’s easy to spend most your life breaking Sabbath and never figure out that this is part of the reason your work’s unsatisfying, your friendships patchy, your leisure threadbare, and your vacations exhausting. We simply haven’t taken time. We’ve not been still long enough, often enough, to know ourselves, our friends, our family… our God.

Most of us are busy people. And here in America, it’s a badge we wear proudly. It gives us status. The busier we are, the more important we must be. Or maybe people will think we’re really earning our keep. Or maybe they’ll feel sorry for us... probably not. More likely, they’ll feel guilty and create more busyness for themselves.

At the root of our Sabbath breaking lifestyle is the great sin of pride. Pride – because people might think I’m important. Pride – because I think that I’m really responsible for making my life successful. Pride – because I think I can do it just fine without God. All of this makes us fearful of Sabbath, and so we don’t do it. We stay busy, ignoring the rhythms God has placed deep inside us. Perhaps ignoring God Himself. Practicing Sabbath let’s us exercise trust in God. Jewish rabbis have a saying… “we don’t keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath keeps us.”

This week, we’d like to encourage you to enter into the “rest of God”. This is more than just taking a day off. Rather, it is a way of orienting your life toward God – to die to self and your need to be busy, to feel important. It is a time to quiet your spirit and worship the Creator – to stop your busyness and rest in His care, His love, His provision. Perhaps you can go for a long walk, “peditating” on Scripture as you walk. Perhaps you can go to the mountains, or to the ocean, and read through Isaiah 40 – celebrating the greatness of God. Perhaps it is simply sitting in your back yard, intentionally centering your relaxing, or rest, on Him.

O God, You are the Lord of the Sabbath. You planted in me a deep need for Sabbath rest and command me to pay attention to this need. Lord, I confess that I have ignored it, pushed it aside, closed my ears to its call – and have listened too much to the call of the world to be busy, to accomplish, to impress. The tragedy Lord, is that it is now hard for me to hear it at all. I repent Lord, of this sin against Your ways – of the pride that often drives it, and ask that You would help me to stop the busyness, my addiction to it, and to replace it with Your rest. Give me this week, times of refreshing with You. Open my ears to hear Your call to enter Your rest. -Amen

Exodus 20:8-11; Psalm 62; Hebrews 4:1-11; Psalm 23

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lenten Fast - Week Three

Suggested Fast – Fossil Fuel
One of the foundations of our faith is that we worship the Creator-God. We also celebrate that we are created in His image. As image bearers of the Creator, our rule and dominion over the earth is that of a steward or a caretaker, not a reckless exploiter. God intended us to live in harmony with nature, and yet, we have more often than not been at odds with nature.

Throughout Scripture we see God’s high regard for His creation. One of the principles of His kingdom is that creation needs periods of rest. This week, remembering our role as stewards of creation – and honoring this principle of giving creation a rest, consider fasting from fossil fuels. You may want to walk or ride a bike to work. You may consider a day where you deny yourself the comfort of heating your home, or a meal where you don’t cook. As with the other fasts, you decide how extensive and how long your fast will be.

As you are “inconvenienced” by this fast, remember that part of our goal in the fast is to experience death – death to our wants, death to personal comfort at the expense of creation. Direct you worship to the Creator and look for ways to honor His creation. Consider other ways in which you can worship Him by being a good caretaker of our temporary home on this planet.

(begin by reading Psalm 104 out loud, then continue with the prayer)

O God, Creator of all, I praise You for the beauty of Your creation. King of the universe, You have made all this for Your own glory. I am reminded that when I am careless with Your creation, I sin. I confess my complicity in failing to be a good steward of Your Creation. I have not been attentive to Your kingdom principles that require seasons of rest for all creation, and for this I ask Your forgiveness. As Your image bearer, I ask for Your help as I seek to walk gently on Your earth, looking for ways to replenish what I have taken away, and to heal what I have damaged. -Amen

Gen 1:28-31; Leviticus 25:1-7; Ps 104; Romans 8:19-22

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Lenten Fast - Week Two

Week Two
Suggested Fast – Technology

We live in the “Silicon Forest”, surrounded by technology. We may believe that technology makes our lives easier, but in many ways it complicates life too. At times our use of technology can be a replacement for real conversation (blogs, myspace, etc.) or a pipeline to sin (internet porn, gambling, etc.) At the very least, our use of technology can divert our attention away from relational time with people (TV, computers, etc.)

Even worse, our 24/7 availability to everyone else has made us unavailable to God. Finding uninterrupted “alone time” with God is rare.

This week, consider fasting from the use of technology (your work may require this to be a one day fast, or a portion of each day.) Consider how you might simplify your life. Redirect your attention to having real, face to face time with others, and more importantly, with God. If the use of technology has been an area of sin for you, confess it and consider how you can become pure in this area of your life.

Lord, forgive me. The technology that was designed to make my life easier has become my master. I confess to You that I have become too dependent on – even enslaved to – my computer, cell phone, iPod, or PDA. I pretend that these things help me to connect with people, when in reality they have become an escape from authentic relationships. It grieves me Lord, to think that these things have made me unavailable to You, who offer to me the most intimate and satisfying relationship of all.

Lord, help me this week to “unplug” from technology and instead “plug in” to authentic relationships. Relationships with others – and most importantly, with You. As I simplify my life this week, may I discover a new intimacy with You that leaves me longing for more. I welcome you to speak to me, uninterrupted, in Spirit language that my spirit understands. Out of those times with You, may I then look for opportunities to enjoy relationship with others you put in my path.

Help me in those times, full of Your Spirit, to be a minister of Your grace & peace. – Amen

1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 119:9-24; Acts 2:42-46

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Lenten Fast - Week One

The Lenten Journey
Lent is a season where we are reminded of our mortality and our sin. It is a 40 day journey to Good Friday (the Cross), and then to Easter (our Great Hope – The Resurrection.) It is an intentional journey that calls us to repent of sins that we have grown accustomed to and to turn our attentions and affections toward Christ, where they belong.

To aid in this journey, we will be sending out six emails, one each week, that are designed to help you focus on God. Each week we are suggesting a fast that we hope will deepen that experience. Don’t mistake this for some legalistic set of rules that you must keep to please God. It is simply a way for you to discipline your thoughts and prayers during this season as we journey together toward Easter.

Fasting – What & Why
Christian fasting is more than denying ourselves food or something else of the flesh - it's a sacrificial lifestyle before God. In Isaiah 58, we learn what a "true fast" is. It's not just a one-time act of humility and denial before God, it's a lifestyle of servant ministry to others. As Isaiah tells us, fasting encourages humility, loosens the chains of injustice, unties the cords of the yoke, frees the oppressed, feeds the hungry, provides for the poor, and clothes the naked. This concept of fasting underscores that fasting is not simply “going without” but should be accompanied by the twin practices of generosity and solidarity.

Each of the suggested fasts are just that—suggested. What degree you take the fast, and how long you decide to do it are entirely up to you. We hope that this will truly enhance your journey toward the celebration of Easter.

Week One
Suggested Fast – Consumerism
We live in a culture defined by what we can buy next. It feeds our selfishness and tells us we need more, more, more. In this first week of the Lenten journey, consider fasting from consumerism by refraining from buying goods of any kind. You may want to do this for one day, or the entire week.

As you deny yourself of those selfish desires; as you die to power of consumerism, redirect your efforts to selfless giving to others– just as Christ gave of himself.

We live in Your world, O God, and for this, we praise and thank You. Among Your treasures we creatures have fashioned many things to make our lives easier, healthier, and freer.  But we have also created more things than we need, more than we can ever use.  When these things distract us from our purpose in this life, we are misusing the world You have created.  When these things prevent others from having their basic needs met, Your creation is corrupted.  Help us to keep our eyes open to this temptation of consumerism.  Help us to be followers of Jesus who are focused on the important and simple things in life – Christians who care for others and are willing to share our riches with those who have unmet needs.  Give us the courage to go against our culture when it confuses wants and needs.  Remind us that when the journey of life in this world is complete, we take with us only our relationships – with You and with the people You have given to us to love. 

We pray for these things in Jesus' name.  Amen.

Suggested Scripture Readings
Isaiah 58:6-12; Psalm 52; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 13