Lent and Fasting

What is Fasting?

Fasting is the act of voluntarily abstaining from food (or some other good thing) for a spiritual purpose. True fasting is not only voluntary and spiritual; it is also Christ-centered. True fasting always has the purpose of exchanging physical blessings for the spiritual blessings of Christ and the gospel.

“Andrew Murray says that prayer and fasting are like two hands. Whenever we pray, it is as though we are reaching out and putting one hand on the mercy seat, the place that symbolized God’s forgiving presence on the Ark of the covenant. But when we fast, we take our other hand off the legitimate things of this world (such as the comforts of food) and cast all earthly supports aside in order to put both hands on that mercy seat.”

Why Do We Fast?

For much of church history, the season of Lent leading up to Easter has been a time of fasting for believers. Ultimately, whether or not you choose to fast during the season of Lent is entirely up to you, but here are a few of the reasons that Scripture gives for why believers are called to engage in periods of fasting:

To Strengthen Prayer Fasting and prayer are natural partners. Several places in Scripture depict people fasting and praying together (Dan 9:3; Neh 1:4). The reason that prayer and fasting go together so naturally is that both express and deepen our dependence on God and His grace. Nothing shows us our human frailty and weakness quite like hunger.

To Seek God’s Protection In Esther 4, the Queen Esther commands all the Jews to fast on her behalf as she prepares to go before the king, an act that could have cost her her life. She calls this fast in order to seek the Lord’s protection for her from the king of Persia, but also protection for the Jews from the plot of Haman.

To Express Grief Fasting during a time of grief is a way of expressing the depth of our feelings to God. By fasting during times of grief, we bring our bodies into line with the way that our souls feel— empty and in pain. This type of fasting is seen in Psalm 42:3 and 1 Samuel 1:7-8.

To Express Love to God As a form of worship which God desires, fasting is a way of showing our love for God. We see an example of this in Luke 2:37 in the person of Anna. She had devoted her life to worshipping God through fasting and prayer.

To Express Concern for God’s Work This is simply a more specific form of fasting and prayer going hand in hand. In Nehemiah 1, we see Nehemiah devote himself to a period of prayer and fasting as he appeals to God on behalf of the people of Israel. He sees a work that God is calling him to do, and before he gets to work, he spends time in fasting and prayer.

To Overcome Temptation In Matthew 4, Jesus fasts for 40 days prior to facing temptation from the Devil in the wilderness. Fasting prepares us to face temptation by turning us away from the concerns of the world and towards our God and Savior.

What Should I Fast From?

The Bible gives us examples of all sorts of different fasts. Obviously the traditional fast was from food, but Numbers 6:1-21 describes what was called the Nazirite vow in which the one taking the vow would abstain from all forms of grapes, strong drink, cutting their hair, and coming into contact with the dead.

Below are some examples of what a fast could look like. Due to the extended nature of Lent, the most common forms of fasting for this season are a partial fast or an atypical fast.

Typical Fast The normal model of fasting is to refrain from food but not water. In Matthew 4, Jesus underwent a typical fast as he went 40 days without food but continued to drink water. In a typical fast, a person may continue to drink juices, as well as coffee and/or tea.

Partial Fast A partial fast involves refraining from a certain food or group of foods. This may involve giving up a food that the faster cherishes strongly— coffee, bacon, cheese, etc. We see John the Baptist participate in a partial fast in Matthew 3 by eating only locusts and wild honey.

Absolute Fast An absolute fast is a fast from both food and water. Since the human body can only survive for three days without water, an absolute fast should not be held for more than three days. And this three day model for an absolute fast is even given to us in Scripture passages like Esther 4 and Acts 9.

Atypical Fast Fasting does not have to be limited to food. Among other things, a fast could be taken by abstaining from any of the following: TV or Netflix, ESPN, eating out, social media, speaking, hobbies, or non-essential purchases. The particular activity or pleasure that you refrain from is not important. What matters is taking a season to refrain from an activity that you find enjoyable in order to grasp more fully onto Christ.

Is Fasting Safe?

When done properly, fasting is not only safe and healthy but of great spiritual benefit.

However, fasting is not safe for everyone. If you meet any of the following criteria, Christ Redeemer insists that you do not fast from food:

  • Those who are underweight or emaciated

  • Those prone to anorexia, bulimia, or eating disorders

  • Those who suffer from weakness or anemia

  • Those with tumors, bleeding ulcers, cancer, blood diseases, or who have heart disease

  • Those with chronic problems of the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, or other vital organs

  • Those who take insulin for diabetes or suffer any other blood sugar problem such as hyperglycemia.

  • Women who are pregnant or nursing

An Update On Our New Venue

AN UPDATE       I wanted to give a quick update on our venue search.  We are currently working on the arrangements of a lease that would provide a 24/7 facility for at least the next year on the corner of Monroe Ave and Flint St.  More information and photos will be coming soon once we have a signed the agreement.

I'm not going to mince words, as we discussed Sunday the place needs a lot of "sweat equity" and some improvements.  As our leadership weighed the options in front of us, we felt this place was the right option and that our family was ready to pitch in to make this place a home.  So we will be communicating "work days" to help prepare the location for our move in date.  We are asking everyone who is able to sign up and help somehow.  There are lots of ways to serve that don't involve handiness or other "construction type" skills.  Our hope is to move right from CityYouth to the new space, but sometimes that is out of our control.  So please be patient with us as we worship each week together in the space God provides.   

ON ANOTHER NOTE       I'd like to take a moment to personally apologize and clarify something.  Our congregational meeting on Sunday was intended to be a time for our members, regular attender, as well as guests to hear about our venue options, ask questions, and share concerns.   There should never have been a vote taken.  I know many of you, perhaps like me, grew up voting on everything as a congregation.  While our "presbyterian" form of church government seeks congregational votes for certain things (sell or purchase of property, teaching and ruling elders, etc.) this lease agreement was not one of those times.  I want to assure everyone that when a congregational vote is necessary, proper notice will be given in writing, well beforehand with the items being voted on explained.  I realize my actions on Sunday may have been confusing or hurtful to some and for that I apologize and ask your forgiveness.  I love our form of church government and the people its here to serve.  I desire to be better prepared to lead us in the future for moments like that.  I've learned a lot in a very short amount of time, but moments like Sunday remind me there is still so much to learn about leading a flock well.  Thank you for the grace you've shown to me as I stumble from time to time and the encouragement I feel as your pastor.  I look forward to the day that God raises up even more leaders to help govern and guide His church!            

                                                                                                      Sincerely, 

                                                                                                      Jeff Wreyford, Lead Pastor

                                                             

Why I annually do “Bible in a Year” plans

Why I annually do “Bible in a Year” plans

I'm sure everyone has been there.  The New Year is fast approaching, and you are feeling a mixture of both regret and possibility.  You desire to do something different, to make changes for this new year.  Maybe you have a number in your head that you want to weigh at this point next year.  Perhaps a number you will have in the bank?  For those of us who are trying to pursue Jesus, we share these, but perhaps might add the infamous "read the whole bible this year" goal.  There are any number of plans and schedules.  Read it forward, backwards, chronological, alphabetical (I made that up, I think).  You get my point.  Well, I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

I'd like to share why I have taken a long-term strategy in recent years, committing to reading the bible in a year.  More importantly, as someone who has in years past over promised and underperformed, I'd like to share why it’s working! 

Over the last two years, I have started a particular "read through the bible in a year" plan that I like, and, for the last two years, I have finished it.  I have a few caveats to my statement "finished it" that I would like you to consider.  I believe these caveats will set you up for long-term success as it relates to bible literacy and spiritual development.  

STRATEGY ONE   I don't always read the prescribed portion each day.  Whew! It feels so good to admit that, and, even better, not feel like a failure who might as well quit.  As a pastor, who I hear is supposed to be a bible professional, I also have many things going on at times which keep me from checking the box many days over the course of the year.  In fact, I've missed whole books in my quest to finish the bible!  Sorry Philemon!  This speaks to the goal of "long term" success and not just checking the box each day.   

I hope you don't hear me saying, "just do it when you feel like it."  Each of us has to make a choice to make pursuing God a priority over other things we like to do  (i.e. eating, work, TV, social media, etc.)  It should be an expectation for every Christian to meet with God each day, much like my wife expects me to acknowledge and perhaps even pursue her at some point each day.  Right?  It's a relationship, not simply a box to check.  Those who merely check the box will have their reward in checking but shouldn't expect much more than that.  

I decided about two years ago that I needed something to give me daily direction and structure in reading God's Word.  A relationship with God should also include other things, like prayer and further meditating on information already read or learned about the text, so I added those as well.  God speaks to us primarily through His revealed Word, but how we take it in might change day to day.  

What I have begun to see each year is that books and portions I missed the last year are covered the next or maybe even the next, but my overall bible familiarity has grown with each passing year.  So if and when you fall behind, just keep going.  Take a long-term approach to your growth.     Just think where you and I might be after 20 years!

STRATEGY TWO   Make a plan that challenges but fits best with your life season.  A book a day might get you done faster but probably isn't very realistic.  What plan you choose and when you plan to accomplish it each day are crucial parts to work out before beginning.  I have built in a few backup opportunities if my primary time and place are compromised.  One backup is that my bible reading plan can be found in an app that will read it for me in the car if I'm on the road.  I also know that I have grown to enjoy a plan that doesn't repeat (the NT or certain books multiple times throughout the year) and includes both the Old and New Testament each day.  

Look, someone out there could certainly coach me in all this, but I know for certain that I need to be in it every day to combat the darkness in my heart and around me.  I also know you need it as well.  I know that a group of believers committed to being with God, knowing, and applying His Word are a powerful force against the kingdom of darkness.   

This is how we build the kingdom and change the world, folks.

A fellow journeyman,

Jeff 

You can download the pdf of the plan I use from the ESV Study Bible or find it as one of the offered plans in the ESV Bible App.

Why We Worship

The Why  There's a good chance something is getting lost in the area of church worship.  Our culture is moving more and more in the direction of individualized experience and entertainment.  Churches are spending billions each year on the Sunday worship experience centered primarily on helping "you" the consumer worship.  This only mirrors the path of cultural innovation.  We are living in a "iCulture" no longer a "weCulture."

“As we gather to worship on Sundays, it has a primarily vertical (God) focus as our chief goal becomes the praise and acclamation of God.  However, as we worship together, we receive the added benefits horizontally (with one another) as we share a common space and focus with all those who gather.

We are going to assume that everyone who joins us for worship is there because to one degree or another we don't have it together and need help.  That goes for the pastor (especially the pastor), the singers, the door greeters, everyone.  Our primary posture should always be that of a beggar who has come for bread.  We invite others as "one beggar showing another where to find bread." Often times our worship is quite the opposite.  Instead we gather as the "spiritually elite" and if you are lucky enough to even warrant an invitation, it is as though we are inviting you to come and get your act together like we have.  This is a lie that we tell ourselves and perpetrate on our community that both hurts the church and attempts to deny the life giving sustenance God is committed to provide His sheep.  God help us when we act this way.  

What to expect at Christ Redeemer    We are intentionally trying to offer something on Sundays that God has asked us to pursue and we can't receive anywhere else during the week.  We use this imagery of "leaky buckets" to show our tendency to run dry and need to return to the well.  This is not meaning to deny the Spirit's work as "the well within that never runs dry," but rather make reference to the role God has given the body of Christ to assemble together to encourage (Hebrews 10:25), as well as sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17).

Children  We have chosen to invite our older children to join us in worship because we believe God has called them to be image-bearers and gifted them to help serve the greater body in worship as they experience and learn the truths of our faith. 

Music  We think deeply about the songs we sing.  There is a lot of great and popular music out there these days.  Lots of older stuff as well.  Music is a very powerful tool to take what we believe about God and put it in a form that helps us take it with us all week.  Maybe even more so than what we hear in a sermon.  So what we sing should be considered as important as what we say.  It should line up with what we believe.  We have chosen to use the people God provides us in the church to be our primary source of musicians and song leadership.  We are attempting to blend the older songs of faith with newer songs that echo the message we preach each week and fall in line with our core beliefs.     

Structure  Our goal is to pack as much truth and encouragement as we can possibly offer in the small amount of time we share in worship each week.  We regularly use different forms of liturgy (elements that invite participation in worship) that may feel a bit stuffy and structured, but our goal is to turn our attention to worship God in Spirit and truth, which takes some thought since our natural bent is to make worship about us.  We hope that the elements and order we offer in our worship each time we gather will help focus our attention on God, help us remember all that He is for us, and activate our passion and love to serve Him together.  

What Comes Next   Churches often put more emphasis on their Sunday worship experience to the detriment of members growth in Christ.  We believe that Sunday gatherings are vital as they are the only vehicle for receiving all the means of grace God ordains (prayer, teaching of the word, and the sacraments).  In order for a disciple of Christ to reach his or her potential, they are going to need more "touches" than an hour on Sunday can provide.  

The struggle, primarily, has to do with the way we have structured worship in our culture.  Most families in the states are ok with Sunday programming as long as its over in time to eat lunch or make kickoff.  We may be willing to return later that evening for another dose.  In other parts of the world, Sunday worship is an entire day where the body pursues "rest" from their work, together, as well as other means to encouragement and equipping one another for the coming week.  This lack of resting and pursuing one another could go a long way towards explaining a lot of the spiritual, physical, and emotional struggles our communities are facing.  Faith-based communities are statistically not immune to these struggles.   

The short is we need more "touches" with God and one another than our cultural two hour Sunday experience can provide.  We are attempting to balance our approach towards growing and equipping disciples that encourages our church participants to get involved during the week as well as Sunday.   Its important to know that Sundays at Christ Redeemer are only the tip of the iceberg.