Thursday, April 14, 2011

How will I fast?

“And when you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18 NIV).”

Let me say this a little different:

"When you don’t eat food for a period of time because of your devotion to God, don’t flaunt your hunger to everyone so they will think you’re really spiritual. If you do, the praise they give you will be your reward. Instead, when you choose to abstain from food because you want to show God your devotion, don't let your hunger be what people see about you. Then when God the Father, who is in heaven, sees you devoting yourself to him (not in the open for men but inside just for God), he will reward you!"

In Jesus’ day, fasting lost its meaning. It was about showing people perfection in religion and devotion. Many people fasted twice a week to show others their devotion to God, but Jesus saw through them. He knew their practice was driven by pride and a desire to "appear" perfect before men. Jesus called them out as hypocrites to correct their thinking and challenge their attitude towards devotion.

How does this apply to us? Well if you fast all the time and brag about in the workplace, at school, or with your friends and family, then you should consider deeply the words that Jesus says and stop. However, I’m guessing that (like me) fasting is not a practice that you partake in on a regular basis. If that is the case, there is something else to consider.

The practice of fasting didn’t start in Jesus’ day. Before Jesus came, the Jews were to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement. This was the annual event where God forgave the sins of his people for that year. On that day, the people were to fast from food as a way of devoting themselves wholly to God and to cleanse themselves. Gentile Christians don’t celebrate the Jewish Day of Atonement, but we do celebrate the day where God forgave our sins--Easter. As we move towards that day, let's make a commitment together. Let's each pick a short period of time when we will abstain from food/drink as an act of devotion to God so that we can prepare our hearts for celebrating the greatest event in all of history--the day Christ died to pay for our sins!

I'll be the first to admit that fasting is hard. It will stretch us in ways that we're not ready to expect. However, if you decide that you want to devote yourself to God by abstaining from food for a day, think of it as an act of devotion that's just between you and God. As it becomes difficult, consider Jesus and the loss he endured to give us a great gift--everlasting life! Remember not to overlook the end of the passage; you will be rewarded. I don’t know how, but I imagine it’s really good like all the stuff God gives us!

Do you think fasting is beneficial? Why or why not?
What kind of reward do you think Jesus is talking about?

~ Paul Boelhke

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Love/Hate Relationship With Forgiveness

Matthew 6:14-15 (New International Version, ©2011)

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I put my name down to write on forgiveness for this devotional because, to be completely honest, it is the most challenging aspect of following Jesus that I struggle with. I think the idea of God forgiving me (that He would release me of the debts or wrongs I have committed against Him) through sending His son to pay the penalty I deserved is more easily acceptable than the act of extending it to others.

For some reason when I first read these two verses these questions came to mind, “If I don’t forgive those who have hurt me, will God really not forgive me?” “Will He take away my salvation, or ‘unforgive’ me?” What questions for God do you in regards to forgiveness?

The more I pondered (ha! ponder, that’s a funny word) and sat with the those questions and others as they came up, the more I realized that those were an indication of where my heart is at and ultimately not the best questions to ask. It’s as if I caught myself thinking, “I know I’ve been forgiven and that feels great, but it seems impossible to forgive some people in my life, God can’t expect me to do that.”

I’m essentially desiring to somehow go around forgiving people who’ve hurt me. What if I sat with God and asked Him to help me experience His power at work in my life in a new, fresh way today by trusting Him to help me do this? Believing that He won’t leave me alone to do this, but will go with me and walk me through the pain of it all. Could those desires lead me to take steps towards forgiving these people in my life that have caused me pain? I say take steps towards forgiving others because I believe it’s a process, that is often painful to do and one that has no quick fix or simple button to hit.

I firmly believe forgiveness is NOT...
Looking the other way when we’ve been wronged
Not pretending that evil is not evil
“Holy Amnesia”
Condoning what a person has done
The same as trust. (We can forgive but we may not be able to trust and in some cases shouldn’t trust those who have hurt us.)

Forgiveness is the willingness to bear the pain, sorrow, and suffering that the failures and sins of another person causes us. It’s substitutional, Christ substituted his life for ours, bearing God’s wrath for our sins. Suffering is what forgiveness costs: for us to suffer in the place of another. Each we time I forgive experientially, we know a little more of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10)

What’s interesting to observe is the section in verse 12 (forgive us our debts) on prayer to his verses 14-15 where He wants us to be constantly reminded of our identity as people who have been forgiven.

Take 10 minutes and pause while you’re on your break at work or sitting in rush hour traffic and ask God to reveal the cost He personally paid to forgive you of the mess your life has created. Ask Him to help you feel His forgiveness on your behalf. Then ask Him to give you His heart for those people who have wronged you and for the courage to take steps towards forgiving them. Call a close friend or someone you trust to pray for you as you process all this with God.

Forgiveness, I’ve learned, is something that you have to first receive in order to give, just like any other gift. You can’t give something you don’t have. Perhaps today is the day you receive God’s work on your behalf and your life begins to reflect His forgiveness.