Anger and the Christian

Should Christians be angry? What are the dangers of human anger, and how do we avoid them?

Several weeks ago, my son David was engaged in a discussion with a classmate about whether a Christian should ever be angry. My son argued that God shows anger and Paul writes “Be angry but do not sin (Ephesians 4:26).” His disputant suggested that God alone can be angry, but humans never should. Like many conversations, this one dragged on, with neither man convincing the other. David remained calm, but his counterpart did not. Resolving nothing, they parted company.

Continue reading “Anger and the Christian”

The Purpose of Prayer

Why pray? When prayers don’t seem to work, and we doubt God, what do we do? May we ask the Lord for a sign in prayer as Gideon did? Answers here…

A few days ago, our family dog, Serena, found wrapped chocolates that my sons had left in their bedroom. Within minutes, truffles, peppermint patties, and a host of other delectables were gone. The same day, close friends visited from northern Virginia. The chocolate and excitement were too much for Serena, and she couldn’t go to sleep. Instead of sleeping, she barked and barked and barked.

Continue reading “The Purpose of Prayer”

Whose Will?

Do we trust God to do our will for our lives, or His will? Do we know what is good or wise better than He does?

The teenaged son of a good friend seems to be wasting away; not of cancer, AIDS, or drug addiction, but of an inability to keep down what he eats. The boy has seen the best specialists in the US, has had every reasonable medical test, and has tried a panoply of medications, procedures, exercises, and behavioral health interventions. Hundreds of people have prayed earnestly for his healing. Still, the food comes up and his weight goes down.

The middle-aged wife of our music minister was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. She had surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and a variety of experimental therapies. Christians in churches across the country prayed for her healing, and hundreds of us joined hands in a prayer chain around her house. Nonetheless, in Jan 2017, this wonderful woman slipped the bounds of this earth and into glory.

Continue reading “Whose Will?”

Encountering God

As we approach death, we realize that only an encounter with God is big enough to save us from despair. Too bad we don’t realize that earlier. And how do we encounter Him?

When children are young, their world is little bigger than their neighborhood; their home, their school, their friends’ houses, and their church. When people reach young adulthood, their world expands, perhaps even to encompass the whole globe. Slowly though, muscles weaken and eyes get foggy. Women lose their ability to conceive, and hair grays. At those moments, pensive people begin to truly understand that though the world will not leave them, they will leave the world. While little children anchor themselves in their parents and young adults in career and family, the aged realize that these anchors will not hold.

Continue reading “Encountering God”

How ordinary people can contribute to extraordinary change

Ordinary people often feel powerless to improve our society, or even our lives. We can, and we do, but we can do it better. 

Last night after dinner my family and I were discussing some of the Middle East events of the day, and the picture was not pretty. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were capturing more territory, killing more people, and destroying mosques and other religious sites. Hamas and Hezbollah were launching rocket attacks on Israel, who was retaliating with air strikes, killing many. Syria remained embroiled in its civil war, and the “Arab Spring” of 2011, with all of its hopes of democracy, has turned sour. My daughter, visibly troubled, asked what our government was going to do about all of this mayhem. I answered that no matter how powerful, governments have limited ability to intervene. The American President Barack Obama, who some consider to be the most powerful man in the world, has four main elements of American national power that he can use to accomplish US goals in the world, which in this case is to restore peace and stability and promote democracy.

Continue reading “How ordinary people can contribute to extraordinary change”

President’s Day – Christians and the President

American Presidents are extraordinary, and they are ordinary. We should value, and can learn from, them all. 

This President’s Day, it is reasonable for Americans who follow Jesus to consider the President of the United States, the man and the office, and to commit ourselves to praying for him, for the rest of our government at every level, and for our nation.

“The conclusion of a brief speech made by Gen. Garfield at a mass meeting in front of the Merchants’ Exchange in New York City, April 15, 1865, the day of President Lincoln’s death. The excited throng was demanding vengeance upon certain newspapers for utterances considered treasonable; two men lay dying in the street for exulting in assassination, and telegrams from Washington gave intimations of other probable victims of a general conspiracy. At this critical moment, a man known to but few stepped forward, and, beckoning to the crowd with a small flag, spoke these words in a clear and impressive voice:

‘Fellow-citizens,—Clouds and darkness are round about Him. His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. Justice and judgment are the establishment of his throne. Mercy and truth shall go before his face. God reigns, and the government at Washington still lives.’
The effect was instantaneous. The crowd listened, and became calm, and the meeting afterwards was quietly dissolved (http://www.bartleby.com/344/187.html).”

The Power of the President

The President of the United States is considered the most powerful man in the world; primarily because the United States is the most powerful nation in the world. He has command of a military of over 3,000,000 and influences a federal budget of nearly $4 trillion dollars. There are over 310 million Americans, almost 5% of the world’s population, and the US gross domestic product is over $15 trillion, over double that of China, who has the second biggest economy. For the brief time that he is in office, the man who is the President is the personification of America. His may be the most recognizable face on the planet, with people everywhere seeing his face on television, on the Internet, in magazines, and in a thousand other venues.

Within the United States, the power of the President is unequaled. He has what Theodore Roosevelt called a “bully pulpit”, the ability to be heard, but not necessarily agreed with, nationwide on any issue of his choosing. The president will always be more popular than Congress or the Supreme Court because, unless he is an idiot or a sadist, it is always easier to like and harder to dislike an individual than an organization. From 1975 to 2010, Congress’ job approval rating averaged about 35% (http://www.gallup.com/poll/145238/Congress-Job-Approval-Rating-Worst-Gallup-History.aspx) while the President’s, though much more variable, has most often been in the 40-50% range (http://www.gallup.com/poll/124922/Presidential-Approval-Center.aspx). The president has the power to unilaterally modify legislation through signing statements and Federal rulemaking, and can move the executive branch through executive orders. He can also decide to enforce certain laws and disregard others. Congress and the Supreme Court can do little except by consensus and the courts can decide on only what comes to them.

The Demands on the President

We have had good presidents and we have had poor presidents, but regardless of the qualities of the man the American people, and many others throughout the world, put great faith in him. Making the world safer in an age of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, encouraging the equitable distribution of scarce resources, protecting the Earth’s climate, and helping safeguard human rights for all is a nearly impossible task, but we expect our president to do all of these things. Simultaneously he needs to laugh when we laugh, cry when we cry, and grow angry when we are angry. Americans expect the president to inspire them when they are discouraged and point the way to a brighter future. It is a burden no man can fully bear, but the best among us can handle for a time.

No one who has never been president understands the diamond-crushing pressure, the microscopic scrutiny, the impossible expectations, and the gravity of the decisions inherent to the office. When Truman was sworn in as the 33rd president of the United States after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Georgia in April 1945, he famously asked Eleanor Roosevelt what he could do for her. Eleanor replied “Is there anything that we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

The Limitations of the President

Though presidents have tremendous power and control an impressive array of resources, people, money and expertise, they are not able to do whatever they wish. The Founders specifically limited the power of the presidency to prevent tyranny. Government was and is limited, and the citizens of America have a vital interest in keeping it that way. This is because government is comprised of people, and we all have the same corrupt nature. James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers:

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Unlike more autocratic nations, the United States has multiple centers of power which limit the president. Corporations and other organizations can and do vigorously oppose him at times. Citizens vote every four years to keep or replace the president, and the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution ensures that no one can ever be president more than 10 years.

Putting Hope in the President

Too many people put too much hope in a president. For reasons good and bad, his power is always limited. Presidents and other political figures, no matter how good they are, will always disappoint. Presidential satisfaction levels are nearly always high when he first takes office, and drop off significantly thereafter. Presidents are men, and even the best, like Lincoln or Washington, sometimes failed. King David, one of the best leaders in history, failed spectacularly. And as noted in the introduction, presidents die. Through natural processes, accidents or the hands of others, the Great Equalizer strikes down even the most capable, the most likeable, and the most powerful.

What should Christians Do?

As Christians, we must pray for the president, both the office and the man. We must pray for Congress, the Supreme Court, and all of the other executives and legislative bodies that govern our land. Shortly before the 2012 Presidential Election, a woman in my church told me in passing that she was praying for the presidency, but not the president, with whom she vehemently disagreed. Though that opinion might sound good to some Christians, to whom Barack Obama’s policies are anathema, Jesus would have vehemently disagreed. He commanded His followers to “pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).” The Apostle Paul wrote “Bless those who persecute you (Romans 12:14).” No U.S. President in history can compare to Herod or Nero.

Believers in Christ should be active in all aspects of life, including politics, to try to “form a more perfect union.” If governments at all levels in the United States are truly governments of the people, by the people and for the people, such governments are not our enemy. When they do wrong, however, the Church must oppose them, as Friedrich Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer did against Hitler.

But we must never place our hope in a man or in any group of men. Psalms 146:3-4 reminds us “Put not your trust in princes, [nor] in the son of man, in whom [there is] no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Though governments seem to have so much power, God still reigns (Psalm 2). When Pontius Pilate, the appointed governor of Judea in the Roman Empire, told Jesus that he had the power to free Him or condemn Him, Jesus replied “you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above (John 19:11).”

James Garfield, on that somber day in April 1865, got it exactly right: “God reigns, and the government at Washington still lives.”

Magic, Science and Prayer

What are magic, science, and prayer? How do they differ? How do they work in our lives? How should they work? What can be do to make them work better?

Last Sunday my family and I watched The Hobbit, the latest movie from the writings of the great fantasy author JRR Tolkien, which also includes the Lord of the Rings series. It was a good show, bringing the audience through sadness, excitement, laughter, and the whole range of emotions. During my time of prayer and meditation this morning I considered some of the differences between science, prayer, and magic, as it is portrayed in The Hobbit and the Harry Potter series.

Continue reading “Magic, Science and Prayer”

Fasting in the Bible

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

“This world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes – a time for men and women to be heroic in faith and in spiritual character and power.” Dallas Willard

Einstein spoke of thought, and diplomats, politicians and business leaders are generally intelligent people. But Willard wrote of thought and far more, because mere thought is not enough to rescue mankind from himself. In The Spirit of the Disciplines – Understanding How God Changes Lives, he was speaking of the sorry state in which we find the world today and how restoration can only be found in spiritual renewal. His book is a powerful survey of practices of world-changing Christians throughout history. Richard Foster writing in the Christian classic Celebration of Discipline – the Path to Spiritual Growth, also discussed these practices. The lists of spiritual disciplines are as follows:

Willard Foster
Disciplines of Abstinence Disciplines of Engagement The Inward Disciplines The Outward Disciplines The Corporate Disciplines
Solitude Study Meditation Simplicity Confession
Silence Worship Prayer Solitude Worship
Fasting Celebration Fasting Submission Guidance
Frugality Service Study Service Celebration
Chastity Prayer
Secrecy Fellowship
Sacrifice Confession
Submission

Many, and some would argue all, of these disciplines are not confined to Christians. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle fasted as did Zoroaster and Confucius. Muslims and Jews and many others pray. The difference between the Christian practice of these spiritual disciplines and the practices of the same actions by non-believers is the presence and activity of the Spirit of God within believers (John 16:5-15).

Due to the abuse of spiritual disciplines in the Middle Ages, often associated with groups such as the Flagellants, the use of such practices declined after the Reformation. There is no example in the Bible of self-torment as a route to personal holiness and service to the Lord. When Bible personalities denied themselves, for example, when Ezekiel was told to lie on his side for 390 days (Ezekiel 4:4-8), it was always to advance the work of God.
In Corinthians, Paul wrote “The kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power.” Nonetheless, sometimes it seems like there is little power in the Church today. Believers who transform cultures like St. Paul, Saint Boniface, John Knox, and George Whitfield seem to be people of the past. Against the onslaught of postmodern thought and the march of secularism, the church, at least in the West, seems vulnerable.

Ultimately, Christians need have no fear of the future because Jesus Christ is the Lord of the future and His church will prevail (Matthew 16:13-20). However, the world desperately needs men and women with the power that only the Holy Spirit provides. The spiritual disciplines can help ordinary people gain such spiritual power and be used extraordinarily by the Lord. This paper describes the discipline of fasting.

Fasting, or really denying ourselves anything, is nearly unheard of in the modern world. Why would anyone deny themselves of anything if they don’t have to? If we are the center of the universe, why restrain anything? Among people who riot at the very mention of austerity, demand their “rights” even at the expense of the lives of others, and who spend themselves into debt oblivion, self denial is not only inexplicable but perhaps even evil.
Nonetheless, we are not the center of the universe, and we must remind ourselves of this fact while coming into better communion with the One who is. Fasting is a good place to start.

Fasting in the Old Testament

Fasting is one of these disciplines and was important part of service to God in the Old Testament. The following table summarizes information about fasting in the Old Testament.

Topic Citation Notes

The Command to Fast

The Day of Atonement (10th day of 7th month) Leviticus 16:29-31, 23:26-32, Numbers 29:7 The phrase translated “humble your souls” in the NASB and “afflict your souls” in the KJV uses the phrase ענה `anah נפש nephesh.  The idea is to bow yourself down and deny yourself of normal things, such as happens when you fast.
National repentance Jeremiah 36:4-8 Jeremiah commanded the people to hear the Law and fast for repentance of sin.

Length of Fasts

One day Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 14:24, 2 Samuel 1:12, 3:35 Sunrise to sunset (like Muslims do at Ramadan)
One night Daniel 6:18 King Darius ate nothing while Daniel was in the lions’ den.
Three days Esther 4:16
Seven days 1 Samuel 31:13, 1 Chronicles 10:122 Samuel 12:16-18 The death of Saul and his sons, also David’s fasting for his sick newborn.
Forty days Exodus 34:28 Deuteronomy 9:9 Moses and Elijah

What is Fasting?

Partial Daniel 10:2-3 Daniel restricting certain types of food and drink to seek the Lord.
Normal Abstaining from all food but drinking water
Absolute Jonah 3:5-10Esther 4:6Deuteronomy 9:9

1 Kings 19:8

No food or water.  This is physiologically impossible for more than three days.  Such 40 day, absolute fasts as Moses and (and maybe Elijah) did must have been miracles.

Prayer and Fasting for Forgiveness

One man for himself 1 Kings 21:17-29 Even the weak King Ahab, incited by his evil wife Jezebel, humbled himself before God and received a blessing.
One man for the sins of others Deuteronomy 9:15-18 When Moses saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, he denied himself, humbled himself, as he interceded for them before God.
One man for the sins of others Daniel 9:3-5 Daniel humbled himself and confessed the sins of His people.
A city for itself Jonah 3:4-10 Ninevah prayed and fasted for forgiveness at the preaching of Jonah
People for themselves Nehemiah 9:1-3 After the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt, the Feast of Tabernacles was reinstituted.  As part of the ceremony, the Law was read and the people repented of their sin.
To avert God’s judgment Joel 1:14, 2:12- 15 Humble yourselves to return to the Lord.

Fasting in the Old Testament (continued)

Topic Citation Notes

Prayer and Fasting for Victory in War

Civil War in Israel Judges 20:26 The tribe of Benjamin was defeating the other tribes in war.  The others humbled themselves in fasting and prayer and the Lord answered, destroying Benjamin for their sin regarding the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19).
Battle of Mizpah 1 Samuel 7:6 The Philistines were threatening Israel at Mizpah.  The people were terrified so they prayed and fasted, confessing their sins.  God gave them a great victory.
Judah against Moab/Ammon 1 Chronicles 20:1-25 Moab and Ammon invaded Judah and King Jehoshaphat proclaimed a nationwide fast to seek the Lord.

Prayer and Fasting to Mourn the Death of Others

The Death of Saul and Jonathan 1 Samuel 31:132 Samuel 1:12 1 Chronicles 10:12 David, his followers, and the people of Jabesh Gilead mourned the deaths.

Prayer and Fasting for the Healing of Others

The illness of David’s son 2 Samuel 12:16-23 The child of David’s adultery was perishing and David sought the Lord for his life.
Interceding for others’ health Psalm 35:11-13 David prayed and fasted for the healing of his enemies

Prayer and Fasting for Help

Journeys Ezra 8:21 Ezra proclaimed a fast for all of the people traveling with him back to Judah after the Exile in Babylon
Homeland Nehemiah 1:4 Nehemiah fasted and prayed several days to mourn his destroyed homeland and get guidance on what to do about it.
Deliverance Esther 4:3 The Persian king had decreed the extermination of the Jews.  They fasted to be saved.
Personal protection Esther 4:16 Esther, her maidens, and Mordecai and the Jews in Susa prayed that Esther would be favorably received by the king.
Personal protection Psalm 69:10Psalm 109:24 David humbled himself with fasting to be delivered from his adversaries.

Prayer and Fasting to Commemorate Important Events

Siege of Jerusalem 2 Kings 25:1 The 10th day of the 10th month – the beginning of the final siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
Fall of Jerusalem 2 Kings 25:3-4 The 9th day of the 4th month – the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Babylon.
Political assassination 2 Kings 25:23-25Jeremiah 41:1-3 The 2nd day of the 7th month – the assassination of Gedeliah
Jeremiah 52:12-13 The 10th day of the 5th month – the burning of the Temple.
Feast of Purim Esther 9:31 The 14th day of the 12th month – the deliverance from the destruction planned by Haman.

Limitations of Prayer and Fasting

Prayer Psalm 66:18 God will not hear a prayer from a heart that hides sin.
Fasting Isaiah 58:1-12 Fasting with injustice and an unrighteous heart has no good effect.
Ceremonial fasting Zechariah 7:1-14 The ceremonial fasts that the Hebrews instituted were not of God but of themselves.  The Lord wants righteousness, not empty ceremony (Psalm 51:16-17).

Fasting was not to be done simply for its own sake, but in accordance with prayer and the other spiritual disciplines to accomplish some important work in obedience to God. Prayer usually accompanied fasting as did the offering of sacrifices as taught in the Law of Moses.

Fasting in the New Testament

Fasting is less prominent in the New Testament but was still an important part of the spiritual practices of people such as Anna the Prophetess and the Apostle Paul. Even more, Jesus fasted.

Fasting was not to be done simply for its own sake, but in accordance with prayer and the other spiritual disciplines to accomplish some important work in obedience to God.  Prayer usually accompanied fasting as did the offering of sacrifices as taught in the Law of Moses.

Fasting in the New Testament

Fasting is less prominent in the New Testament but was still an important part of the spiritual practices of people such as Anna the Prophetess and the Apostle Paul.  Even more, Jesus fasted.

Topic Citation Notes
To become closer to the Father Matthew 4:1-9Luke 4:1-2 Jesus had no sin of which to repent and at this point no earthly enemies from which to be delivered.  This fasting was to prepare Him at the beginning of His earthly ministry.
To please the Father Matthew 6:16-18 Fasting humbly before the Lord and not to impress others pleases God and helps us to know Him better.
Done at the right time Luke 5:33-35 Jesus’ followers were to fast but only at the right time for the right reasons.
Fasting enhances the power of prayer Matthew 17:14-21Mark 9:14-29 Verse 21 in the Matthew passage is not found in some of the earliest and best manuscripts, but given all of the evidence, fasting probably enhances the effectiveness of prayer.
Seeking guidance on a call to missions Acts 13:1-3 The church at Antioch fasted and prayed to decide whom to send out as missionaries.
Seeking guidance on a call for elders Acts 14:21-23 The churches in the province of Galatia prayed and fasted for guidance from God on whom to appoint as elders for the churches.
Seeking to grow closer to God as a couple 1 Corinthians 7:5 Prayer and fasting are suggested while abstaining from marital relations.
Seeking a life close to the Lord Luke 2:36-38 Anna the prophetess made a life of seeking God in prayer and fasting

Having done a brief survey of fasting in the Bible, we realize that God’s people fasted to grow closer to Him through repentance of their sins. Once the relationship was restored, they fasted to gain some special blessing such as healing of the sick, protection from enemies or victory in war. They also fasted to remind themselves of past failures so that they would avoid such failures in the future.

Conclusion

God has called His people to put Him first in their lives, which is only logical since after all, He is God and therefore first in the universe. New thought is not enough to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and bring justice to the oppressed. New thought will not overcome selfish hearts and vengeful minds. As man accepts the reality that God is the center of existence, not him, he will begin to align himself with reality, rather than the fantasy that man is the measure of all things.

Christians do not engage in the spiritual disciplines to gain the power to change the world. Rather, they engage in the spiritual disciplines to know and love their Creator more. In so doing, however, they will gain knowledge of what is right and the power to do it. The world will be better. Einstein was right but incomplete. Willard is right and complete. Men and women filled with the Spirit and exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), gained by the work of the Spirit through the faithful practice of the spiritual disciplines, including fasting, will change the world.

%d bloggers like this: