More Thoughts on Fasting

September 24, 2018

If you were at Bowman yesterday you know the sermon was about fasting. Time always limits what can be said in a sermon. I didn’t discuss what fasting looks like or all the specifics. Here are a couple of quotes to fill in the gaps:

“Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.” — John Piper (I just liked this idea.)

Fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not…be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting. — Martin Lloyd Jones

[Examples of biblical fasting]: 1. Fasting was practiced to avert God’s judgment and displeasure against His people (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8; Jud 20:26; 1 Ki. 21:9; Jer. 36:6, 9. 2. The people of God often fasted in preparation for war, with a view to seeking God’s protection and blessing (2 Chron. 20:1-4; Joel 2:15. 3. Fasting was one way of seeking God’s help for deliverance from personal troubles and opposition (1 Ki. 21:27-29). 4. Fasting was often an expression of sincere and heartfelt repentance from sin and humility before God (Neh. 9:1-2; Psm. 35:13; Dan. 9:3; Joel 2:12-13; Jonah 3:5-8). 5. Fasting also signified or expressed mourning, sorrow, deep grief, and sadness (1 Sam. 20:34; 31:13; 2 Sam. 1:12; 12:15-23). 6. Ezra fasted as part of his request that God provide him with a safe journey (Ez. 8:21-23). 7. Fasting is a way of expressing one’s concern for the success of God’s work (Neh. 1:3-4; Dan. 9:3). 8. Fasting serves to humble and rebuke us as it reveals how much of our happiness depends on the external pleasures of eating (Psm. 69:10). 9. Fasting teaches us self-control and self-discipline (Phil. 3:19; Rom. 16:18; 1 Cor. 9:25-27). — Sam Storms

One final thought: Some of the examples of fasting in the Bible are daunting. 40 days for most of us is out of the question. But how about one meal? Most of us can do this. I’m not suggesting that the impact would the same, but I am saying that anything that brings the beauty of Christ into clearer focus is well worth it.

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John Owen was a great theologian in the 17th century. In the 1650’s he was the vice-chancellor of Oxford University. However, later in his life he was pushed into obscurity and harassed by a new government. Much worse, during his life he witnessed the death of all eleven of his children and his wife, Mary. After the death of his first ten children he wrote these words: “a due contemplation of the glory of Christ will restore and compose the mind ….[it] will lift the mind and hearts of believers above all the troubles of this life, and is the sovereign antidote that will expel all the poison that is in them; which otherwise might perplex and enslave their souls.”

Michael Reeves says, “Death, sin, sadness, slavery, despair: in Christ there is antidote for it all.”

A Happy Day For EmmaRae

August 29, 2018

For those who attend Bowman, the newsletter should arrive today. This is my contribution for that newsletter.

Recently Debbie and I were at the Shasta County Courthouse. Typically this isn’t a fun place to visit, however on this particular occasion it was a day of celebration. There were signs on the walls of the foyer outside the courtroom telling people to be quiet, yet the celebratory nature of the gathering was betrayed by the excited conversation in the foyer.

This was a festive day, a day that will live in the memories of the family and friends who were there. This was Adoption Day for EmmaRae Faith Warner, July 25, 2018. You can imagine what took place in the courtroom that day. Promises were uttered; documents were signed. When EmmaRae walked out of that building she was officially part of a new family.

Bags of candy were distributed. The tag on the bags had a picture of EmmaRae on one side with the date and the words “Adoption Day.” On the other side of the tag were the words “wanted, chosen, adopted, loved” (like us!). This was our first adoption day experience. When we lived in Willow Creek, Debbie and I had tried to make it to another family’s Adoption Day but the snow on Berry Summit prevented us from completing the trip to the courthouse in Eureka. After witnessing EmmaRae’s adoption, I’ve been thinking about the connections between her adoption and ours as “sons of God.” 

I often say that justification is the penultimate blessing. Justification gets us through the door. The truth that our sin is forgiven and that Christ’s righteousness has been credited to us is glorious truth. Yet, it is merely the key that unlocks the door into God’s kingdom. Gal. 4:4-5 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (emphasis mine).” The purpose of redemption is adoption. The ultimate blessing is the blessing of adoption. We are now children of God. We might also contrast adoption with regeneration, the truth that believers have been born again. God uses the preached gospel to raise us from the dead (Ja. 1:18, 1Pet. 1:23). We are now new creations with a new set of impulses. Adoption has to do with the truth of our new family, regeneration has to do with our new desires and tendencies. 

On a practical level, what does adoption mean to us. First, since we have a new Father, we have a new experience of God’s Fatherhood. We all were born with the devil as our Father (Jn. 8:44). We were outside God’s family. Through the Spirit’s work in our lives, we experience the Fatherhood of God. Rom. 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Jesus called to the Father using the same term (Abba). Mark 14:36 says, “And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you …” Put differently, Jesus is our Brother (Ro. 8:29), and we share the same Father (not that Jesus’ sonship is like ours, he is only begotten). EmmaRae walked out of that courthouse with a new family. Because of a “not guilty” judgment in God’s courthouse we too have a new family. 

Second, our new Father has promised to meet all our needs. Just as promises were made to EmmaRae on Adoption Day, so our Father has made promises to us. Matt. 7:11 says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” He is a Father to us. As our Father he also disciplines us. Heb. 12:5 says, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.”

While much more could be said, I’ll mention just one more blessing. Because of what happened on Adoption Day, EmmaRae will have an inheritance. We do too. 1Pet. 1:4 tells us that we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven.” We are fellow heirs of Christ so that everything that he received by divine right as the natural Son of God we will receive as adoptive children of God. Wow! Now “we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Our heavenly home is calling and we can’t wait to get there. 

As we see little EmmaRae play around our feet, let’s remember that she’s a living illustration of the grace that is ours through adoption. We too are wanted, chosen, adopted, and loved.

All believers battle spiritual lukewarmness. We know we have drifted when the baseball game or the dinner out or the camping trip is more engaging than the beauty of the Savior. Here’s John Owen’s (1616-1683) physic:

Do any of us find decays in grace prevailing in us;–deadness, coldness, lukewarmness, a kind of spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us? … Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, yea, no other way but this alone,–namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein. Constant contemplation of Christ and his glory; putting forth its transforming power unto the revival of all grace, is the only relief in this case.

Joel

July 30, 2018

Tim Challies helpfully critiques Joel Osteen’s message in this video:

Bowmanites, here’s my latest contribution to newsletter …

About a month ago, as I write this, the Lord brewed a fairly powerful storm in the eastern Pacific. An atmospheric river had taken dead aim at northern California. After a fairly xeric winter, the four inches we received were seen as a God-send and prolonged our spring. Where we live, not only did the grass receive a second wind, but I noticed some mushroom sprouting around the place. I was surprised to see them this late in the year, but didn’t give them a second thought.

This last Saturday, Hannah dropped by to talk AWANA stuff with Debbie. The final club meeting needed to be discussed so that the dear children might end the year with a bang. After the AWANA conversation, we walked Hannah out to her car that morning as she left to return to her home. Violet, our mutt dog, bored with our conversation sorted through dry leaves looking for whatever she could find. It seems that she found an old mushroom carcass. I think we yelled at her to drop it, and didn’t think much more about it. 

Violet has always had a voracious appetite. She was a foodie. Eating was most important. She was also my dog. We had a connection. More than this, she was always was exuberant when family and friends would drop by. I have one of those Radio Collars. You know, the kind where you dial in the circumference of a circle, and if the dog crosses the line, the dog gets a low voltage jolt sending the critter back to the house. This kept her in the yard. When we moved here from Willow Creek, I bought collar for our then dog, Baxter. I had nightmares of having to tell our children that their beloved dog got whacked on Bowman. With her collar, Violet never could get to the mailman. When we’d go on walks, I’d swap collars so she wouldn’t get the jolt. She loved that particular collar and going on walks. 

Today, I put her favorite collar on her. Not because we were going on a walk, but because yesterday after Debbie and I returned from an outing we found Violet listless. She had eaten her morning rations but wasn’t interested in the evening’s dole. This was unheard of with Vi. I called the vet at 7:30 this morning. The earliest appointment I could get was 2:10. At our appointment, the Vet looked her over and recommended that we do blood work. After more than an hour the Vet returned saying that Violet was very ill. Long story short, by the time the evening was done, we brought Violet home one last time, this time in a box. It seems that the mushroom Violet had sampled a few days before was deadly (there are three deadly mushrooms in northern California).

I know there are FAR, FAR worse things than losing a stinky mutt. But still, I really liked our mutt. I know that because God works everything according to the counsel of his will, Violet’s death wasn’t merely an accident. I need to do more thinking about the issue, but right now in this very raw moment, two thoughts console me. First, the storm that dumped all the rain and ultimately sprung a mushroom from the newly watered earth was from God’s hand. We can rest in the truth that EVERYTHING, is from his loving hand. The Lord gives and takes away.

Second, the Lord was gracious in Violet’s passing. She was on my lap as the Doc administered the toxic cocktail that caused life to drain out of her. As painful as it was, the promises of God sustained. Knowing the heart of my Heavenly Father, I knew my pain would ultimately work for my good. Ps 56:8-9 says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle …This I know, that God is for me.” This is the best of all truth; God knows our pain, and he is for us. I’ve been reminded of the wonderful gifts that God gives us in this broken life, even if they are temporary (and they all are). For the believer, everything is about love. Love moves us to love him, and want to draw close. I don’t want anyone to be sad or feel sorry for me; everyone I know can tell the same story in one form or another. I want us to see that we have a loving heavenly Father who gives just what we need, good and bad, so that we’ll thrive spiritually. Again, it doesn’t get any better than this. It really doesn’t.

Second Class Love

April 28, 2018

Bowmanites, here’s my contribution to the current newsletter …

Our hope of salvation stems from the truth that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Believers have heard the “not guilty” verdict of Judgment Day. This is precious truth to us. We cling to this promise. It gives us hope in spite of our ongoing propensity to sin.

As important as the truth of justification by grace through faith is, it isn’t the essence of the Christian life. Justification opens the door to relationship with God. The separation between God and believers has been removed. The Christian life is about relationship with God.

We might be tempted to think that this relationship with God is primarily about obeying the law of God. And, obviously, a Christian will be passionate about obedience. Yet, obedience isn’t the essence of the Christian life. We obey because we realize that disobedience is like carrying fire next to one’s chest (Pr 6:27). It is antithetical to life. Believers realize that there is never an upside to sin. 

If we see that the Christian life is primarily about obedience, we are missing the warp and woof, the very essence, of the Christian life. The Christian life is relationship with God. We know God. Paul writes in Gal. 4:8-9, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God …” At one time believers did not know God. No one is born in relationship with God. We come to know him as we hear the gospel and God raises us from the dead, (1Pe. 1:23, Ja. 1:18) so that now we know God.

What does relationship with God look like? What does relationship with your dear spouse, your children, and your friends look like? Love. You would literally and/or figuratively give your life so that these dear ones might thrive. What does relationship with God look like? Love. Mk. 12:29-30 says, “Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ ‘ ” Here Jesus is quoting from the book of Deuteronomy. This to say that the idea of loving God is an oft repeated command in Scripture. And, it is most important.

So, while believers emphasize justification by faith, this is simply the door that gets us into the throne room of God. Once in the door the real fun begins. We have loving relationship with the most beautiful, glorious, wise, powerful, holy, pure, loving being there is. Some of you might be thinking “amen” as you read this, but there is a hesitation in your spirit. It is because you know yourself, and what lurks in your spirit isn’t unrestrained, exuberant love for God. Rather, you track with the Laodiceans in that you detect lukewarmness in the deep recesses of your soul.

I believe there are only two places in scripture where people in essence say, “I love you, Lord” (Ps. 18:1; 116:1). I know of one high-end Hebrew scholar who believes that these lines are mistranslated. Even if he were wrong, very few people in the Bible have the guts to say, “I love you, Lord.” You probably remember the dialogue Jesus had with Peter in John 21 after his denials. Jesus asked Peter if he loved (agapao) him. Jesus used the Greek word agapao, a word used to describe divine love. Peter knowing his “lukewarmness” said that he did phileo Jesus. Phileo speaks more of a family love, not a divine love. Peter peered into his cold soul, and knew he couldn’t use the word agapao. Jesus used the word agapao two times, and both times Peter responded with the word phileo. Finally, the third time Jesus used the word phileo too. Again Peter said he did phileo Jesus. Then Jesus told Peter about his death. I think this knowledge about his death would have been an encouragement to Peter. He knew he would follow Jesus to the end of his life, and die a martyr’s death thus affirming his salvation. Agapao was the goal but Phileo was enough.

The essence of the Christian life is a loving relationship with God. Yet, we don’t do this well. Knowing the deadliness of lukewarmness, we beg God for more love for him. Even this lukewarmness is forgiven. Blessedly, we’re not saved by our love for God, but rather by his love for us. This unrequited love for us moves us to love him more deeply. We love because he first loved us.