The Keys to Successful Fasting
As New Life enters this upcoming 21 day season of fasting, I felt it important to offer some encouragement and clarification as we all prepare. Below are some important things to consider and implement over the course of your fast.
1. Decide what type of fast you will go on and its duration.
I am asking that we as a church commit to one of the two biblical fasts – either a solid food fast or what is known as a Daniel fast. While a solid food fast is self-explanatory, a Daniel fast follows the guidelines that we read about in the book of Daniel. It centers on not eating “pleasant foods” – meats and sweets. As a rule, a person on this type of fast can eat anything that originates from a seed. Once you determine which fast is for you, set the duration of your fast. Will you fast a day? A week? One meal a day? etc…
2. Don’t change mid-stream.
Fasting is a challenge – a spiritual discipline. It will be a hard, but commit to staying the course once you begin. I would suggest writing down your fasting plan ahead of time and refer to it as you pray and press through the “wall’ of the first hours or days of your fast.
3. Altar your routine and commit to extra prayer times.
Replace the times you would normally eat with prayer times. Come to church and pray in the sanctuary (Mon-Fri. 6:30-8am 11:30am-1pm) during your fast. Go for drives and pray. Do whatever you have to do to find extra time to spend with God.
4. Limit other areas of “intake”.
During a fast we become sensitive to spiritual things. The Lord desires to fill us while we are “empty” so to speak. Just as we don’t consume food during a fast, it is best to limit other forms of consumption. Pay attention to what you consume via TV, movies, music, internet etc… Maybe take a break from Facebook for the duration of your fast. God wants our attention during this season. Let’s give it to him.
5. Believe and pray for specific results.
Write down what you want The Lord to do in your life during your fast. Pray those things as you fast. Don’t be random in your prayers. Be specific. If you need help in this area refer to the fasting points I referenced last week: Repentance, Closeness to God, Supernatural Help and Fresh Vision.
This list is by no means exhaustive. But hopefully it helps as we prepare for these next few weeks. You can do it!
Bob, where did you go? I thought you were going to write often…
Sorry, friends. I write when I have something to say. As my wife can attest, I often speak of the “economy of words”. In my world, words are currency. And unlike my tendency with cash, I have become very proficient at saving up my words (working on that saving cash thing, though)…
But every once in awhile, I feel the need to splurge and withdraw some words from the vault inside the “Bank of Bob”. Well, today I’m in the mood to spend a few. I’ve got the window open to the sunshine, a cream soda from the fridge – caffeine free and low calorie of course – and the Righteous Brothers cranking to stir up the creative juices.
Hey!!! If the Righteous Brothers reference sent you into a flashback; find that lovin’ feeling and come back to me…
I want to spend words communicating about spiritual formation (Spiritual Formation: The process by which our spirituality is constructed throughout the course of our lives). If you heard the message that I preached on June 24, you heard a message about exactly this topic. I feel so strongly about this subject that I wanted to take some more time and write about it. Here goes…
A few weeks ago, Rachelle (see above mentioned wife) and I went to a concert at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It was a fantastic time. I don’t have enough words in my “Word Bank Vault” to describe the fun and great music that we heard all day. But, I do want to let you in on the start of a journey that began that day as we stepped off the Red Line at Clark and Addison in North Chicago. You see, I spent most of my childhood in and around the city of Chicago. I grew up a Cubs fan. I’ll stop and give you moment to crack your favorite “the Cubs are losers” joke here. You good? Moving On…
I grew up going to Wrigley Field. I literally went to dozens of games from the time I was old enough to remember until we moved out of the Chicagoland area when I was a teenager. My heroes growing up were Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg. I remember being in awe as I watched them play in the “Friendly Confines”. I remember watching them both hit home runs out on to Waveland Ave. over the the left field bleachers. I can picture those moments like they were yesterday. When I walked on to the grounds earlier this month, all of those memories came flooding back. I remembered how I felt as a kid again… That stadium served as psychological trigger that brought all of the emotion and feeling of those times that my brain has stored all of these years back to the forefront of my consciousness. I guess since then I have been in touch with those feelings…
Fast forward a few weeks later… I’m in the basement playing LEGOS with my 4 year old son. It’s just us and we’re having fun. He’s so excited about the latest greatest superhero vehicle that we are constructing and I’m getting a kick out of his exuberance. I then proceed to tell him that there is still a model of LEGO superhero vehicle that is bigger and badder than the one we are currently working on. I wait with anticipation for his response. I’m thinking it’ll be something like, “Cool! Can we go to the store and get it?” But instead I was shocked by what came out of his excited mouth. He expressed his wonderment with the following: “No Freakin’ Way, Dad!!!”
Only he didn’t say “Freakin”… Oh wait, yes he did. I was just having a “Ralphie” flashback to my favorite Christmas movie (See “A Christmas Story”; available wherever fine movies are sold). Now pick yourself off the floor and follow this.
My son loves Jesus. He’s enamored with the stories we tell him from the Bible. He comes home from church telling us about what he learned that day. He sees his brother hurt himself and he always says “It’s OK, Pauley, I’ll pray for it.” He has already at four, started his process of spiritual formation. He, in his four year old mind, equates certain things as being important to his understanding of Jesus and some things (like saying the word “Freakin”) as being unimportant. Here’s where you may say, “Well Dad, its your job to help him along in that process and show him what’s important and what’s not.” My response to that is, “I agree”. More on that later…
Shortly after this little episode with my son, I was reflecting on the the whole thing when my mind wandered back to Wrigley Field. Remember, I told you of all of my memories and love for the Cubs? Well my brain connected the Wrigley feelings to the feelings I then began to remember experiencing as a little kid, like my son, about the things of God and the process of my own spiritual formation that began when I was his age. Here’s an example: I remember sitting above the dugout on the third base side watching the Cubs play the Reds. The man next to me, holding his Old Style, was disappointed in the play on the field and uttered a curse word. I then remember thinking to myself – “He’s not a Christian.” All of the sudden my memory had just confronted me with one of the earliest formative links in my Spiritual chain. To me as a kid, you couldn’t be a Christian if you uttered a cuss word. I remember thinking that everyone was a Christian until I heard them cuss. Imagine my chagrin when as a six-year old, I watched Andre Dawson charge Eric Show after being hit in the head and uttering profanity the whole way out to the mound. Or, imagine the disappointment when a reporter would catch Michael Jordan (who I watched in person score 55 on the Nets in old Chicago Stadium) in a vulnerable moment exhort one of his teammates with a “give me the D*** ball!”
My heroes were on their way to hell! More on that in a later blog…
I’m not advocating cussing… I don’t really care for my four year old incorporating that word into his vocabulary. I need to correct and train him in this area. But I need to be careful how I go about doing that.
I love Robert DeNiro… “You talkin’ to me?” I digress… I love his work in dramatic films, but I also appreciate his ability to work in the genre of comedy. No finer example of this exists than his work as Frank Burns in “Meet the Parents”. In the film he stars as a retired CIA agent who is skeptical of his daughter’s boyfriend, Greg Focker, played by Ben Stiller. Throughout the movie Frank speaks of what he calls the “Burns circle of trust”. In relating this concept to Greg, he describes each family and prospective family member as a link in the chain that forms the circle. In other words, the links form the whole. Expressing his distrust for his daughter’s new love, he tells Greg, “I can’t have a chink in my chain.” No weak links for Frank Burns, because with them comes the collapse of the whole “circle”.
When we think of our own spiritual formation, I find it helpful to consider our spirituality as a whole to consist of several links that we chain together over the years. I would assert that the average person doesn’t often think about the individual “links” that have formed their concept of God and His kingdom, but instead focuses on the whole. I find it to be healthy every once in a while to step back and analyze the different voices that have shaped the links in our chain.
Back to my childhood example… Where did that voice come from that made me associate someone else’s Christianity with whether they ever swore? Well, I do remember growing up and hearing preachers talk about swearing as being a terrible sin.
I also remember my parents washing my mouth out with soap for uttering the word “hell” as an adverb and not a noun(See Christmas,1989). So my little mind made a connection between swearing and sin. Now of course, I was a kid. Kids associate things in a simpler way than adults and sometimes those associations lead to incorrect connections. Never the less, the voices formed a link and the link found its way on to my formative chain.
You don’t like the kid example, here’s another one… On into my adult years, I associated the mission of Jesus and the church with the Republican party. Taken as a whole, in my mind you couldn’t be a Christian and vote for a democrat – any democrat. That particular link in my chain wouldn’t allow me to fathom the possibility that anyone of that particular political persuasion could love Jesus – even if they said they did (see Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama). But yet, I had no problem believing George W., Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin were extraordinarily close to Jesus when they said so. After all, their politics lined up with their religion. Or maybe a more accurate statement – their politics lined up with their interpretation of their religion. But couldn’t this last statement be true of Jimmy, Bill and Barack? Perhaps its disingenuous to judge another’s salvation by their political affiliation. Jesus never made those connections… Uh oh, another link that’s looking pretty weak. Maybe some voices got into the mix and formed my spirituality in that area more than I ever realized. You may be saying, “uh, oh Alice,” he’s a liberal. We’re outta here.” I’m going to let this example stand as the illustration that it is and not offer my personal political views in this blog. Again, I’m not willing to spend that many words today. But I will spend a few more to say this, “if a pastor being willing to talk about politics and perhaps even hold to a different political ideology than you is enough to make you dis-fellowship from a church – check your chain.”
Both of these examples lead me to this conclusion. I think our Spiritual Formation chains could often times be a lot shorter. The ideal is a three link chain: Scripture, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Realistically, I don’t know if we can ever fully disassociate from the voices of our experience, culture and interpretation. But I do know that we can subjugate those voices to the words of Scripture, the words of Jesus in those Scriptures and to the illumination of the Holy Spirit. But sadly, many never take the opportunity to examine the strength of their chain by weighing them against the strength of these three strongest links. Somebody said people can’t swear and love Jesus at the same time and that was good enough for them. They never thought to examine the strength of that link and determine if it would hold up to the scrutiny of Scripture or be ripped apart by the whimsy of culture. Republican Jesus is the Jesus of choice for many… Democrat Jesus is the Jesus of choice for many… too bad we don’t often examine those links and test them against the strength of what Jesus himself says in the living words of Scripture. It would be a shame if we let any politician speak for Jesus, when Jesus very clearly speaks for himself.
I’m advocating a re-examination of the links that have formed our spiritual chains. Notice I didn’t say let’s throw them all out and start over. I’m merely saying let’s weigh the various links that have formed our spirituality against the strongest links that we have – Scripture, Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s celebrate a Christianity that is centered on Jesus and who he really is.
Do I want my son to associate swearing with someone’s salvation as I did? My answer is absolutely not. I want to teach him that there should be honor and virtue in how we speak and that we should desire to please God in everything we say. But I won’t allow a link to grab onto his chain that enables him to pronounce eternal judgements on others. I believe that as he grows in his love for Jesus, my voice as his father will be able to help shape him as he walks through the process of forming his own relationship with God and this world in which we live. I want him to see the world and the people in it as Jesus does. Maybe sometimes that will mean allowing the Holy Spirit to be a louder voice in his life than my own. If that’s what it takes…
I’m as serious as DeNiro… “No more chinks in our chains.” I realize I’ve opened a can of worms here. I’ll spend more word currency soon. But in the meantime, if my words are strong enough to be considered a link in your chain, than I advise you to test them against what God would say to you through Scripture and the voice of the Holy Spirit. If there’s chicken there, eat it. If bones, throw away the link and allow God to keep shaping your chain.
Have you ever wondered what the number #1 question a search committee will ask a pastoral candidate in a Pastoral interview? Probably not…most of the normal world never even thinks about such a question. Well for the purposes of this blog…act like you really care about the answer
Can you sense the anticipation? Are you ready? You’re about to be enlightened… Wait for it, wait for it…
“Pastor, what’s your vision for our church?”
BOOM! There it is…
The Magna Carte of interview questions. The question designed to sound as superspiritual as humanly possible…
Now here comes the answer from said Pastoral Candidate:
“Blah, Blah, Blah Blah … Blah Blah Blah”
BOOM! There it is!
The committee’s in love. The deal is closed. Pastor marries church. Church marries pastor – all with the answer given to that ultimate question sticking in the back of everyone’s mind serving to create expectations of who the church is and where this new pastor is going to take it… immediately!
Begin honeymoon period… “We love you, Pastor. You’re wonderful.” “I love you, Church. You’re wonderful.”
Fast forward one year; the vision answer has proven not to be even remotely relevant. The church looks nothing like everyone imagined it would. Unexpected issues have crept up that have thrown roadblocks into the mix that have made it impossible for the church to be the next “Willow Creek”, or the “Event Church” or the “Super Hip Worship Church” or even the “Our Coffee is the Best in Town so Please Come to Our Church”Church. All of these are plausible answers that may have been given to that all important question – “What’s Your Vision, Pastor?” But, expectations have not been met; frustration then sets in and before you know it – detonation.
Boom! There it went…
Now before you NLWC’r's panic; relax – this isn’t the road that we are on.
I have avoided the answer to that question over the past four months like the plague…
And please understand, I fault no one for asking it. It’s natural to want to rally to a cause and to pursue a common direction. But if I were to answer that question prematurely, a course would be charted that would be void of a crucial element in making the vision turn to reality – GOD!
It’s His church – the direction and the vision should come from him. It is my contention that the vision question should wait until God has been sought through prayer, time has passed and discernment can happen. The Holy Spirit loves to speak into the everyday “business” of church life. He reveals bits at a time until a big picture has been created and is in view.
As I stated before, I have avoided the question…until now.
I’ve prayed. Some time has passed. The Holy Spirit has been speaking to me. I feel like I have some discernment as to where we need to focus our attention as a church for a while…It is my intention to dig a well. “Ok Pastor, I’ll donate the shovel.” No, no, no hold on – a spiritual well. I believe it is the Lord’s desire for his people to rediscover what His living water tastes like. The kind of water that instantly rejuvenates the soul, re-energizes the physical body and reminds of why we do all of this “God Stuff” in the first place. Do you remember what feels like to be absolutely overheated and thinking of nothing
but a cool drink of water? Or, perhaps a more appropriate metaphor for Minnesotans – Do you remember what it feels like to be completely chilled to the bone and then to jump into a hot shower?
Friends, life lived without wells leads to dehydration. Spiritual life lived without a continual stream of God’s presence – His living water – leads to spiritual thirst, dehydration and disillusionment. One of the signs of both dehydration and hypothermia is delirium – or a loss of touch with reality.
How do we expect our “God Stuff” to matter – the “Events”, “Hip Music”, “Growth Strategies” or even the taste of the coffee to make a difference if we lack a connection to the presence of God. All of these efforts become as the ramblings of a delirious person in need of hydration.
Jesus recognized spiritual dehydration when He saw it – read John 4 and John 7 and see if you today don’t come away desiring again a fresh drink from the well. The kind of drink that you remember from times past but have somehow lost touch with… He desires to do it again.
So, there’s my answer to the question as it has been given to me by the Lord. My task is turn everything that is NLWC into a well – our services, our ministries and programs, KNLW, small groups, the building, the worship, the ALTAR, the sermons, the nursery – everything… No slick marketing, no super strategies, nothing fancy – just a simple well created for the God of the universe to fill with His life giving water. The vision is to create
an environment for renewal and hydration in everything that we do. If that happens to mean that the church will grow numerically, praise God. But, for now – and always – we’ll let the effectiveness of our church be defined by two factors: Is God here? and Are we pursuing Him with everything?
Boom! There it is…
I’ll show us how to build wells …. God will do what He does…. You drink…..
I have heard from various people throughout my life time that they have struggled with certain birthdays that befell them. For some it was 40, for others 50 and so on… I never really identified with them. Birthdays have always been fun for me… I’ve always looked forward to them. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been one who’s fallen into the trap of feeling like there’s always plenty of time. Or perhaps I’ve been one who’s always carried the confidence of youth with me through my teenage years and my twenties…
Oops…the cat’s out of the bag. You would expect the above words to be written by someone much older. In fact, my wife comments that it sounds ridiculous to complain about only turning 30. Yep…I’m only turning 30 next week. But it’s really messing with me!!! Go ahead, take a second to laugh and then come back and read the rest…
People who are predisposed to a naturally melancholy personality like I am have to be careful not to allow their circumstances to propel them into episodes of prolonged sadness or depression. I have been determined not to let this happen, and have realized that I need to turn to prayer and the Word of God to counteract my feelings with His truth. In doing so, I’ve come back to some revelations about life that are really helping me start to look forward to Feb. 15 instead of dread it. Here they are on no particular order… I hope these can help and encourage you in whatever circumstance that you find yourself in.
The mercies and grace of God are new and replenished for us each and every day… I’ve realized that a lot of my apprehension about this coming birthday stems from the regret I still struggle with about my past. Newsflash…teenagers aren’t playing with a full deck. Everyone does things that they regret in those years. I don’t struggle so much with that era as I do my twenties. I made some monumental mistakes in my twenties…to you they may be no big deal. But to me….whoppers. I’m not done making up for and unraveling some of the mess that these mistakes have caused. I’m not ready for another year to go by…I’m still working on fixing the past. But I can’t fix it… It’s over.
It’s amazing how Satan wants to use our past to heap condemnation on us… the only answer is to be saturated in the mercy and grace of God every day. To wake up each day and realize that you have a clean slate with God and to walk in the power of that great truth is like a healing salve that pours over your heart. At least it has mine…
The new mercy and grace that I receive from God each day turns my attention away from the past that I can’t change and towards the present and the future that with his help, I can.
The seasons of our lives were God’s great idea…
The Bible tells us that God is the author of life. Each successive season of life is by his design and is orchestrated by his great love. That means there is joy to be found in each season of life. This truth has also helped me a great deal… There is joy to be found in this next season of life. In my twenties, my boys were born. In my thirties, I’ll get to watch them grow up and become young men. That sounds like fun to me… I can handle that. I’m sure there will countless numbers of other things that will bring joy into this next season. Birthdays were God’s idea and I need to trust Him.
We’ve been blessed…
I’ve had friends who never saw age 30. I know many my age or just slightly older who deal with incredible health issues – they face cancer or some other terrible affliction. I am in good health! If you can say the same than you are incredibly blessed. I have a great family. What a blessing. If you can say the same than you are incredibly blessed. I have been saved by grace through my faith in Jesus. The ultimate blessing! If you can say the same than you are eternally blessed. It’s this last blessing that reminds me that in the grand scheme of things this life on earth is but a breath. But that’s ok. Eternity awaits. It is promised to us to be incredible.
So, there you have it. I’m going to choose to enjoy this birthday. I’m going to enjoy being with my family, my church and the Lord. I think I’ll wake up next Wednesday, go hit a workout and then think about all the He has in store for me this year and in this season. It’ll be ok.
I have always been drawn to stories about leadership in the Bible. One of my favorites is the Old Testament story of Joshua. Joshua gets his own Bible book named after him, so we know he must be important, and the first chapter of that book finds Joshua about to take over the reigns of leadership of God’s people and get them to the Promised Land. Joshua 1 is a great passage of scripture for any of us who ever find ourselves facing a daunting task in life… Be Strong and Courageous is the advice we read from the Lord over and over in this great chapter.
Now obviously, getting that kind of encouragement from the Lord would help, but as a leader myself, I know that Joshua must have taken relief in the fact that the people he was leading had been taught well and lead well. Furthermore, Joshua had been trained for his position by his predecessor – Moses.
Moses, we know, was great leader. It was his job to get God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and organized as a nation so they could proceed towards the ultimate goal of settling in Canaan. It’s interesting to see that Moses never makes Canaan himself. He’s not the one who leads the people across the Jordan River and into the land flowing with milk and honey. But, in the end, he’s just as important and vital to the story as Joshua. Without the preparation and leadership of Moses, Joshua’s ultimate leadership success would never have happened. Metaphorically speaking, it was as if Joshua was standing on Moses’ shoulders as he lead Israel across the river into their promised land. This story has many fascinating perspectives and truths, but to me the one that sticks out perhaps the most is the generational hand off of leadership that takes place between these two men.
I can relate…
Tomorrow, here at New Life, we are hosting a community event to honor the ministry and legacy of Pastor Phil and Faith Shaw. Rachelle and I have been the pastors here at New Life for three and a half weeks now and it has been wonderful. But I can’t help but wonder if Joshua in some way felt like I do as I stand out on our property and survey the city that God has called us to reach. I take comfort in the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of me saying, “Be Strong and Courageous.” But I also am strengthened by the Godly legacy of ministry and leadership that I am following in the Shaw’s.
Jesus tells us that we judge a tree by it’s fruit. The metaphor is used to teach us a kingdom principle about the quality of a person’s life. I have not had the privilege of knowing the Shaw’s prior to coming to New Life. But, I can see the enormous amount of fruit that their ministry has produced and the enormous foundation that has been laid in the founding of this church. It is everywhere…from the building, the land, the cross tower and KNLW. But the greatest living testimony to the faithfulness of this dear couple is in the people that have reaped the benefits of their ministry. The maturity, the dedication to building the kingdom that exists in so many and most importantly the love that exists for God and each other stand as pillars erected through years of faithful service and dedication to this church. These are pillars that I now have the privilege of standing on as we move forward. If Joshua stood on the legacy of Moses as he lead Israel, I now stand on the great legacy of Pastor Phil and Faith. Every soul that is one, every marriage that is saved, every life that is transformed will be credited directly back to their faithfulness and their dedication to the call of God. I take great courage from the fact that someone great has gone before me. The foundation has been laid and it is solid. I stand now with many of you who wish to honor and thank your pastors for the incredible work that they have done. And Rachelle and I both say to Pastor Shaw and to Faith very simply, “Thank You.”