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Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

21 Days

Today is the last day of my 21 day full fast (or juice fast I should probably say) and tomorrow I will transition to the Daniel Fast, basically a vegan diet through the end of Lent. It has been an illuminating time. We humans spend a lot of time dealing with the business food: planning, purchasing, preparing and finally eating, but then cleaning up and storing what’s left. My days were less preoccupied. My time in prayer was without hurry. Being faithful to alone time with God was much easier. The discipline was worth it.

My challenges in walking out God’s truth have not changed as much as I had hoped. But I have been more aware of my choices and tendencies throughout the day and for that I am grateful. My heart has been open and quicker to forgive. It’s a process.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” [Matthew 6:16-18]

Today is a day for giving thanks. Spring is upon us. As the shoots begin their journey upward, so does my soul climb.

 

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While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingBut the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” [Matthew 9:32-34 NIV]

Jesus healed in plain view of many people. Eyewitnesses were aplenty. And yet, despite that, there were many who could not see. They could not believe that the healings were rooted in good. They decided it was fake news.

I have never personally witnessed a healing miracle. I have heard stories from missionaries and conference speakers, people who have seen many miracles reminiscent of the work of Jesus in his day. And aren’t there promises in scripture that believers would also be able to channel God’s power?

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” [James 5:14-15, NIV]

Prayer, offered in faith, is the key. Believing that it can happen, that God is able, that the miraculous is possible. And to name it truth.

In our current political culture, truth has become elusive. We are bombarded with claims on every side. How is it possible that such diverse claims of truth could have such passionate believers? And where is truth in the midst of them? I’m thinking it’s in plain view but we only see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. In that regard, nothing has changed in two thousand years.

Pray for revelation. Believe God.

From the Original Trinity Hymnal, #468

O God of truth, whose living Word
Upholds whate’er hath breath,
Look down on thy creation, Lord,
Enslaved by sin and death,

Set up thy standard, Lord, that we
Who claim a heav’nly birth,
May march with thee to smite the lies
That vex thy groaning earth.

Ah! would we join that blest array,
And follow in the might
Of him, the Faithful and the True,
In raiment clean and white!

Then, God of truth for whom we long,
Thou who wilt hear our pray’r,
Do thine own battle in our hearts,
And slay the falsehood there.

–mirfield

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prayer-1Come close and listen,
    all you who honor God;
    I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him
    with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart,
    my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.   
    He heard the sound of my prayer.
Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer;
    he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66: 16-20]

In the Restore Church Lent Devotional for 2017, this passage from the Psalms is highlighted. And the phrase about the sound of prayer jumped out at me. What is that really?

Is it the sound of my voice? Of course, there are times of praying out loud. I think it helps keep me centered in the moment when I pray out loud. But God does not necessarily need to hear my voice to know my prayer. There is the prayer that comes with music and singing. I don’t sing as much in my prayer time as I used to do, but much is said about God hearing music as a form of worship, adoration, and of course, prayer.

Instead, it’s a deeper sound. In verse 18, it is written that evil in my heart (or sin) would have gotten in the way of the sound of my prayer. God would not listen, by choice.

For this reason, I find myself in confession from the beginning; I ask God to empty my heart of the resentments I have carried through the day or day before, to empty my heart of judgments and jealousy and envy, to empty my heart of disappointment. I want God to hear my heart in prayer, my mind in prayer, my soul.

I understand why some Eastern traditions use a bell whose vibrations linger, I can imagine the clearing of my inner self would be like one of these bells, the sound of my prayer on its tail.

Hear my prayer O Lord. 

 

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Will You Fast?

prayer-and-fastingDuring lent, one of the practices we are asked to consider is fasting. Historically, fasting implies the cessation of eating. But over time, particularly in our culture, this has morphed into “giving up” something. And so we find people say they will give up soda or sweets or caffeine. Some people now give up other soft pleasures like Facebook or gaming or television. It’s an interesting development. I have done the same thing over the years. It’s not a bad thing per se, but we may have missed the point.

If I think about the many habits I have given up for Lent, most of them I should probably give up anyway. I mean, they’re not really good for me. I remember the first year I gave up diet soda. Well, for heaven’t sake, that should be a permanent thing, for who doesn’t know that diet drinks are terrible for the body? So, what have I done there? I’ve used a spiritual “practice” to motivate me to give up something I don’t need.

Instead, I think a better fast might be something else–a beloved or necessary thing. And for this reason, I have chosen to begin a full fast of food for a period of time and then clear liquids. I love to eat. I need to eat. But I want to be truly conscious and intentional in this season. I want to be uncomfortable and out of step with my normal routine. I want to experience a change within.

There are habits of mind that I would like to break: judgments and gossip and resentment. These require a mindfulness that only comes with breaking out of the norm.

A full fast is not for everyone. I get that. But I have fasted at length before and I know its benefits. But I also know its traps like hoping to lose a few pounds or to be perceived as “holier” than others. Beware or just be aware. That’s the plan.

Another aspect I am adding this time is daily communion. Last night during the Ash Wednesday service, after fasting all day, the taste of a small piece of bread and juice was a tangible reminder of Christ’s presence in my life, as Jesus answered his tempter in Matthew 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” For me, communion became the Word made flesh as I took it.

Amen.

 

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lent-2017People are often surprised that I engage in the practice of Lent. Traditionally Lent is part of more mainline denominations and particularly “high church” or liturgical worship. How did this charismatic, “praise the Lord” believer come to Lent?

Part of the reason can be traced back to a few years I spent in a Reformed Episcopal Church. The priest of that congregation was a neighbor and engaging and after a broken experience in our previous church, we needed to rest. At first, the weekly liturgy seemed dry and unyielding. But over time, the words themselves began to unfold and they became a musical meditation to my heart and soul. It was during this time that I began to study and investigate the role of contemplative prayer and other practices like fasting, etc. At this church, we marked and walked the church calendar with an understanding that we were joining millions of others doing the same. The meaning of “our” Father became more real to me.

After I left this church, I continued my interest in the wider Church and its rhythms. I discovered another form of prayer called “keeping the hours” which was daily prayer and liturgical readings at fixed times during the day. So now I had a combined sense of the yearly pattern as well as a daily structure. Many would find this confining but I discovered a river that flowed beneath the practice and discipline.

I would be lying if I said I held to these faithfully year after year, I did not and have not, but there are seasons that I long for that rhythm again, that pulsing of the Spirit’s heartbeat within. I cannot experience this in contemporary worship services. Those have a different flavor, a joyfulness and a passion. I am that too.

And so, I balance my personal worship by choosing the 40 days of Lent, to slow down my body and my mind, to listen, to breathe, to flow in that river. It takes a while to find my way again. And so I fast or re-engage with fixed hours of prayer, or sit quietly.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and the next 40 weekdays (including Saturdays) are the days assigned to re-connecting with our inner life in Christ.

I invite my readers to come along with me and let us see what God will reveal.

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Mary Martha 2Having been a Martha type most of my life, it takes some strong intention on my part to return to the “one necessary thing.” In our Lenten devotional, the word for this week is Service and the first meditation is on Mary and Martha and I am reminded again, that service must come out of devotion or burn-out comes next.

The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42, CEB]

A group of us at the church are participating in the Daniel Fast for the next 21 days, right up to Easter Sunday. And although there’s a lot of talk about the foods and food preparation (basically vegan – very Martha), the essence of it needs to be Mary, or the entire process becomes another diet or fad.

Clearly, we clutter our bodies with junk food & drink in the same way that we clutter our minds with noise, screens, and distraction. Where we can cleanse our bodies by changing our diet, it seems harder to clear our minds. This is one of the reasons why we all need times of solitude and silence. We need to stop multi-tasking and instead, put our single focus on God, on Christ, on the Holy Spirit, on the Word. Pick. Be. Rest.

In the journey toward simplicity, the questions that must be answered over and over again are, “do I need this?” or “do I love this?” Having just been through my first downsize, I practiced these questions quite a bit. Nonetheless, and despite giving away over 35 boxes of book, I still have eight shelving units filled with the books that remained. It’s a process. But I am getting better at it. Triage.

And I’m thinking this same process happens in the mind and spirit. Do I need think about this right now? Do I love contemplating upon this? Is it edifying or destructive? Will this practice move me closer to God?

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fruits and veggiesThe roots of the Daniel Fast come from this portion of the book of Daniel who circumvented the commands of King Jehoiakim of Babylon, who conscripted several bright men from the Israelites to be trained and to serve in the king’s palace. But part of their training was to eat and drink from the royal food (something most people would jump at the chance to do — something like being invited to the White House to eat 3 squares for 3 years]. But Daniel considered the food of Babylonia defiled and came up with a test:

Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. [Daniel 1:11-16, NIV]

So, a few of us at Restore Church  will be working a modern day interpretation of this fast for 21 days. Susan Gregory wrote a book about the fast and has promoted it around the country since 2007. It’s actually a “partial fast” which means that we will only be fasting from certain foods and not others. In this case, we will be abstaining from all meats, fish, dairy, coffee and carbonated drinks. The Daniel Fast website has a complete food list.

The first question everyone asks is why? It’s a good and valid question. Personally, I have done a pretty good amount of fasting, at least once a year. But in all of those cases, I have done a complete fast, finding the partial fast too difficult. But I am drawn this time to the regimen and sharing the experience with others. During this time, I will continue to add my other Lenten practices. Basically, I’m curious. And there are health reasons too. I am testing these waters as well. Will I feel better?

There will be more food preparation and in some ways, I worry a bit about the time involved, something that full fasting releases me from having to think about. Nonetheless, I am forging ahead. And perhaps, there will be a mind-body-spirit integration that I could not have predicted.

Day one begins March 6.

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