Daily thoughts from our minister.
June 3, 2023
Worship in the ancient world was given to kings. There was a secular as well as religious aspect to worship. One would give worship to a king because of his position, not because his actions and laws deserved it. If one did not worship the king, bad things would happen. This is one source of trouble the early Christians had. They refused to worship the emperor – it got some of them killed.
However, we read consistently in the Old Testament that the God of Israel was a just and loving God. He was worthy of worship, not only because he was king, but because he executed justice and righteousness and he listened to his people. This is the same God we worship today!
Mighty King, lover of justice,
thou hast established equity;
thou hast executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
Extol the LORD our God;
worship at his footstool!
Holy is he!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.
He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his testimonies,
and the statutes that he gave them.
O LORD our God, thou didst answer them;
thou wast a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Extol the LORD our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the LORD our God is holy!
June 2, 2023
Moses had witnessed the burning bush. He had been called by God to deliver His people out of their bondage. Moses was so reluctant that eventually we read, “and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.” At this point Aaron comes into the equation and they, along with Miriam, eventually become the leaders of Israel through the wilderness.
Here, however at the very beginning of the story, before God had done anything except send His word, we read that the people believed. Remarkable! This is eventually going to be rather shocking: that the same people who believed before God had sent even one plague upon their oppressors had so much trouble once they had escaped. But that is much later in the story.
What we read here is that the response to belief is worship. There is enough in the Old Testament for me to conclude that worship always involved moving the body in a way to show reverence. When speaking of God is it a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality.
And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD with which he had sent him, and all the signs which he had charged him to do. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. And Aaron spoke all the words which the LORD had spoken to Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.
June 1, 2023
There are many words in the Christian vocabulary that can be difficult to pin down. It is my opinion that “worship” may be at the top of the list. Historically, as in the years B.C., and in Greek and Roman culture of the New Testament times, “worship” was an act of bowing to indicate reverence and honor to the one bowed to. It was likely reserved mostly for deities, but not always.
It is possible that when Cornelius bowed and worshipped Peter in Acts chapter ten, he was not recognizing Peter as a god, but rather showing deep reverence. Peter immediately puts them back on level terms by saying, “I too, am a man.”
Since the days of the New Testament, “worship” has undergone such change that I am certain that if one of the apostles were to walk into nearly any Western Church (Catholic or Protestant), they would 1. Be terribly confused. 2. Be horribly offended. This is not to say that our worship today is unacceptable but rather that the change in the understanding of the word is as radical as any other in the Christian vocabulary.
In the Old Testament and the New Testament world “worship” was a physical act of prostrating in front of the object of worship. Such reverence is completely gone in many assemblies today where comfort and familiarity are praised.
I am looking forward to learning a little more about worship as we think on this together during June.
May 31, 2023
It is my hope that these reflections have been helpful to those who have read them. There have been a couple of people express knowing “what this looks like.” Based on that, here is my personal experience with fasting.
I have fasted five times in my life for a period of a week or more (excluding a couple of years when I cut something out of my diet during Lent). None of them included complete abstinence from food, but rather restricting intake (one meal instead of three . . . or more), only eating fruit and drinking water, or not eating unless I felt like it.
The occasions were:
Twice when making significant decisions – both of which led to good results and changed the course of my life.
Twice in periods of mourning because of loss, the details of which I do not want to share in this format.
Once during an especially trying time of distress, again the details of which I choose not to share here.
Fasting is well within reach of anyone who wants to do it. I can say that recently I have made modified fasting a part of my routine. There are many days that I may only eat a piece of fruit for lunch, or nothing.
Here is what has happened. I feel better being slightly hungry than slightly full. My relationship with food has changed. I still eat processed foods but not nearly as much because some of them now make me feel awful. The joint pain in my ankles (chronic for twenty years) has diminished. My prayer life and devotional time is now felt in my body.
Hope this helps.
May 30, 2023
In Isaiah 58 we read about “the true fast” of the heart. Fasting for the sake of keeping a religious obligation is as useless as going to church for the same reason. Jeremiah 36 represents a breaking point for Judah and Jerusalem. It was a fast day – a day of religious observation. The king and priests had already had more than an earful of Jeremiah. So much so that he was not allowed in the temple area. Imagine, a truth telling-prophet not allowed to be at the temple. Truth-tellers in churches run the same risk.
Jeremiah got around the ban by dictating to his faithful scribe, Baruch. Those who heard it knew they were in trouble with God. They also knew that Jeremiah and Baruch were in trouble for pointing this out to the king. What follows is one of the greatest acts of defiance in the prophets – the king taking a written message from God and cutting it up to throw it in the fire.
Too bad for Jehoiakim, the king. The rewrite contained a terrifying epilogue – because you would not hear, the throne of David would be vacated. This was as bad as it gets. God, who keeps faith and had promised one to sit on the throne of David had had enough. And for six hundred years they waited . . .
God hates vain religiosity.
And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, "I am debarred from going to the house of the LORD; so you are to go, and on a fast day in the hearing of all the people in the LORD's house you shall read the words of the LORD from the scroll which you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the men of Judah who come out of their cities. It may be that their supplication will come before the LORD, and that every one will turn from his evil way, for great is the anger and wrath that the LORD has pronounced against this people." And Baruch the son of Neriah did all that Jeremiah the prophet ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the LORD in the LORD's house. In the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the LORD.
Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary; and Jehudi read it to the king and all the princes who stood beside the king. It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. Yet neither the king, nor any of his servants who heard all these words, was afraid, nor did they rend their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king's son and Seraiah the son of Azriel and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel to seize Baruch the secretary and Jeremiah the prophet, but the LORD hid them.
Now, after the king had burned the scroll with the words which Baruch wrote at Jeremiah's dictation, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: "Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say, `Thus says the LORD, You have burned this scroll, saying, "Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and will cut off from it man and beast?" Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah, He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity; I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced against them, but they would not hear.'" Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire; and many similar words were added to them.
May 29, 2023
The church in the first century had great difficulty in staying connected to their neighbors and keeping a clear conscience. We still have this trouble today. Because each person’s conscience is their own, it is a certainty that believers will do things that offend another’s “scruples.” The list of questionable activities is long and ever-changing; movies, cards, gambling, alcohol, dancing, how we dress . . .
In First Corinthians, Paul is dealing with the problem of eating meat sacrificed to give honor to one of the Greek or Roman (or any other) gods. The key, he says, is to “do all to the glory of God.” This does not mean that we do whatever we can justify and then give God glory. It means that whatever we do should give glory to God. There is a significant difference.
Fasting works in much the same way. We do it to give glory to God. It just happens that it, like other spiritual exercises, has many side benefits. Here is another selection from Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) which demonstrates that there is freedom to fast or not to fast and not to judge those who do or who don’t.
“He that undertakes to enumerate the benefits of fasting may, in the next page, also reckon all the benefits of medicine, for fasting is not to be commended as a duty, but as an instrument; and in that sense no man can reprove it, or undervalue it, but he that knows neither spiritual arts nor spiritual necessities. But by the doctors of the church it is called the nourishment of prayer, the restraint of lust, the wings of the souls, the diet of angels, the instrument of humility and self-denial, the purification of the spirit.”
I Corinthians 10:27-33
If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (But if some one says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then out of consideration for the man who informed you, and for conscience' sake -- I mean his conscience, not yours -- do not eat it.) For why should my liberty be determined by another man's scruples? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
May 28, 2023
Not to make too much of it, but it seems that Jesus fully expected his disciples to fast. He says in Matthew 9:15, “And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” In this context there is an implied mourning that is part of this fasting. At the least it is an expectant waiting.
Matthew believed that fasting was a part of a faithful life as well. We know this because, led by the Spirit, he includes it in the Sermon on the Mount – which was written at least twenty years after Jesus’ resurrection.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses helping those in need, prayer, and fasting – three core markers of faith. In each of them he contrasts those who advertise their good works through the blowing of trumpets, standing in prominent places, and acting the part. Christianity is still infected with these things that give us the reward we are seeking – to be seen and recognized by people.
We live in a culture where this is especially tough to balance – hence the absolute necessity of a pure heart and truth-telling friends and mentors. The verses immediately following this section of Matthew 6 drive the point home further – where is your treasure?
"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.