21 February 2010

On Fasting

Here's a little something I wrote up for our congregation. Rev. David Petersen's recent church newsletter article on the same topic helped me think through some of this (especially under point #1):

The Christian is invited to and expected to fast. Although Christians typically fast on certain days throughout the year--except during the Easter season--Lent is an especially appropriate season to practice fasting. Fasting is a bodily exercise of self-control and repentance, both themes of the Lenten season.

Christians do not fast just to “give something up.” Fasting is not a punishment or a kind of religious masochism. Instead, we fast for two general reasons: 1) to increase the joy of the festive seasons, such as Easter, and 2) to train our souls to be self-controlled.

Firstly, fasting enhances the rhythms of life. When you fast during solemn times, the joy of festivity is enhanced. Small servings of potatoes and vegetables during Lent makes the lamb and pies of Easter taste richer and sweeter. By engaging the body in the mood of the season, the experiences of restraint and of plenty are heightened. Fasting joins your body to what is happening with your spirit.

Secondly, fasting trains your soul. That isn’t a typo. It should not seem odd that bodily exercise ends up training your soul, for your soul is the center and source of your desires. When you intentionally deprive your soul of what it wants, it has to get by without. When you want supper but don’t eat it, not only your belly, but your soul also learns temperance and resiliency. Fasting trains not only your body, but also your self-control.

Why is that important? Your desires, uncontrolled, give in to temptation. They lead you into sin. Uncontrolled desires make idols of what your soul wants: desiring excess food is gluttony; desiring extravagant clothing or cars or d├ęcor is greed; desiring a man or woman outside of marriage is adultery. Desiring anything outside of God’s order makes you an idolater.

Fasting is like working out. It is spiritual exercise. As jogging or lifting weights conditions your body, fasting conditions your soul.

So how should you fast? Like exercise, start with a routine you can handle. If you have never fasted before, don’t try to give up food for a whole day. But, on the other hand, make it noticeable. Everyone should be able to give up dessert and second helpings. For moderate fasting, eat smaller portions at each meal. To step it up a bit, replace two meals each with a small snack, and, for the third meal, eat only about half of what you normally would.

Can’t do it every day? Fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, the days Christians traditionally fasted throughout the year.

Want to fast in a specific way to address your particular weaknesses and temptations? Think about what tempts you, and limit your exposure. If shopping is your weakness, no shopping sprees or comfort purchases during Lent. Too much time wasted on the internet, or visiting sites you shouldn’t be? Only use it at work or when someone else is with you. If you need encouragement, counsel, or more ideas talk with your pastor.

Fasting makes you more conscious of your desires. Even as you try to control them, they will seem enhanced, simply because you’re thinking about them. As you become more aware of temptations and sinful desires, confess them. Confess them in your prayers, confess them in preparation for the Divine Service, and confess them to your pastor. Then receive the absolution of Christ, and His life and Spirit to encourage and refresh you on your spiritual journey.

Note: Sundays are never fast days, so go ahead and enjoy the good gifts of creation to their fullest on these days! Also, expectant or nursing mothers, children, and the ill are never expected to fast from food, but to provide the nourishment their bodies need.

20 February 2010

Can We Listen to Johnny Cash Read the Bible Stories?



This was the question from the four year old on the ride home tonight from some church folks place. We've got the Cash CD set, the Man in Black reading the New Testament - New King James Version.

It's great. We listened to tomorrow's Gospel, St. Matthew 4:1-11, the rest of chapter 4 and into the sermon on the mount a bit before we got home. Definitely worth the investment- check out Amazon.

Anyway, Happy Lent. The kid wants to listen to the Bible and even knows Johnny Cash.

16 February 2010

FC X

As much as I say I don't like (long, drawn out discussions on) ethics, let me make another post on ethics (silent blogs worry me).

Consider this. That a right and proper approach to Lutheran ethics could flow very well and easily from the 10th Article of the Formula of Concord. What do I mean? Well, let us examine what the Formula teaches (feel free to contend with any of my summary points below).

1. There is a difference between what God has commanded and what is done for good order.
2. What God commands must always be followed - what God forbids must never be allowed.
3. For the sake of good order, we may go beyond Scripture, but when we do this we must never expect this to be binding like Scripture -- our actions and decisions are fundamentally temporary as opposed to the Word which endures forever.
4. So long as we do not contradict the Word, we are free.
5. This freedom includes setting additional standards which we will hold to for good order.
6. Our free actions are not to be frivolous or scandalous to the neighbor.
7. We do not yield to those who demand what God does not demand.

Is this not an ethical roadmap which could be applied to virtually any situation? First, consider what the Word says. Then consider good order and the benefit of the neighbor. Then consider whether or not false doctrine is encouraged. If all these ducks are in a row, then you have ethical behavior.

Thoughts, questions, comments?