If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this puzzling assortment of letters and words. The “game” is to look for the first three words you recognize, so if you haven’t played the game yet and would like to, take just a minute and look until you recognize three words.
Have you found them? According to the game going around, those three words define reality for you. What did you find? Not that it matters, but I found “creation,” “power,” and “family.” I considered how those words might define my reality, but I was a little disappointed. I looked back and found words like “love,” “gratitude,” and “purpose” that I might have preferred. I also found “breakthrough,” “miracles,” “health,” “alignment,” “selfcare,” “lessons,” “connection,” “money . . .” the longer I looked, the more options I found.
Are you satisfied with the first three words you saw?
As a game, it’s fun and a little provocative, but it made me stop and think about this question: If I could have any three words define my reality that I want, which three would I pick? How about you? “Love, grace, and mercy” come to my mind today, but maybe I’d pick three different words if I gave it even more thought.
Our reality isn’t really defined by words on a page, although if we believe something defines us, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, today’s reality doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s reality. In fact, we can change our reality by changing our focus. What if we think hard about what we would like to become, and head in that direction?
“As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
“When God opens our eyes for his word, we see into a world of miracles. What previously appeared dead to me is full of life, the hard demand becomes the graceful commandment” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
Have you ever gotten into the habit of fasting? To date, I have not, but I’ve been thinking very hard about it! As a young person, every once in a while, I would get an ascetic urge to fast out of a desperate desire for God to move in someone’s life (based on Mark 9:29, “And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting“). I could make it for about one 24-hour period before I’d give up! Man, how did Ghandhi ever do it?? I marveled at his will power and my lack of it!
After marrying, my husband—due to his medical training—did not want me to fast even for one day for my own health’s sake while nursing or pregnant . . . which was most of our married life into my early forties. So, in the spirit of Numbers 30:8 (although I didn’t believe in taking a vow as such, based on James 5:12*), I (somewhat begrudgingly) gave up fasting as a favored means of focusing more on prayer and hoping for deliverance for beloved friends from various maladies.
Fast forward twenty years, and in my sixties, I began partial fasting during Lent, which has definitely had ample benefits: helping me focus on prayer and appreciation for Christ’s sacrificial life for me, as well as weight control, although I never really experienced specific answers to prayer as a result, nor did I end up feeling any more “holy” or “spiritual.”
It wasn’t until just lately, as I studied for this post, that I realized fasting was not a usual part of weekly life for Jewish people during Jesus’s time. In fact, my beloved husband was completely indemnified when I learned that the ancient rabbis forbade scholars and teachers from fasting lest it interfere with their studies! (And, I think caring for infants is every bit as important, don’t you?) I was also surprised to discover that there is really only one official fast day prescribed by the Mosaic Law: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). This is the holiest day of the year in Judaism, also known as Yom Kippur, and it was just observed this past week on October 8. This annual fast lasts approximately 25 hours, from the time the sun sets on Yom Kippur until three stars appear the following evening (October 9). The purpose is to set aside usual pleasures and activities (including eating and drinking) in order to spend the time in reflection both personally and communally, repenting of sins from the past year.
I love this explanation from ReformJudaism.org: “Yom Kippur is the moment in Jewish time when we dedicate our mind, body, and soul to reconciliation with our fellow human beings, ourselves, and God. As the New Year begins, we commit to self-reflection and inner change. As both seekers and givers of pardon, we turn first to those whom we have wronged, acknowledging our sins and the pain we have caused them. We are also commanded to forgive, to be willing to let go of any resentment we feel towards those who have committed offenses against us. Only then can we turn to God and ask for forgiveness. As we read in the Yom Kippur liturgy, ‘And for all these, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement.'” Amen? This sounds exactly like the teaching of Christ on forgiveness too: ” For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).
So, what does all this have to do with fasting, or putting the “feast” into fasting, or the opening quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer? This is what I think after a lot of prayer about fasting: Jesus doesn’t tell us to fast, but he does tell us how to fast when we do. Unlike many religions, which require fasting as a means of obtaining grace or increasing spirituality, the Bible teaches us that holiness comes from trusting in God, repenting from sin and avoiding evil. In Isaiah 58:6, God declares, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” God doesn’t require intentional deprivation. Instead, He wants us involved in actively caring for others. And what about this one from Zechariah 8:19? “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.” God isn’t looking for asceticism; He’s looking for positive action!
I really believe there will be times in our lives when we are so distraught over something that we don’t feel like eating, and we may even intentionally fast for a specific time in order to focus on prayer and seek God’s will and favor. (Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.) However, Jesus’s disciples didn’t fast routinely. In fact, when the Pharisees grumbled against Jesus for not requiring his disciples to fast, he answered, “Can the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days” (Mark 2:19-20). We don’t have Jesus today, but He has given us his Holy Spirit to abide with us forever. Therefore, I think it’s appropriate to turn our weeping into “joy and gladness,” with our thoughts being focused on loving the truth and peace and sharing what we have with others “in cheerful feasts.”
However, when you do feel a need to fast, do it with a pleasant face, uplifted heart, and trusting spirit. Remember that your heavenly Father sees your needs, hears your prayers, and will reward you.
Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:16-18, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”
*”But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (James 5:12).
That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.
If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!
Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!
Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,
as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)
Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)
Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!
Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear
and triumph in the midst of tragedy.
If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).
Since the essence of genuine prayer is communion with God, we can pray anytime and anywhere. We can pray kneeling by our bed or lying in our bed, while speaking to our boss at work or sitting alone at home, as part of a gathering or as part of a retreat, with arms extended on a mountain top or arms folded in a closet. It’s like eating green eggs and ham. It’s good whether we’re with a fox or in a box. God is here and there and everywhere.
Prayer is like breathing. It’s the spiritual life-giving exchange of ideas with God, like receiving oxygen when we inhale. We don’t have to speak; He can hear the silent cry of our hearts! No one can stop us! We don’t have to move a single muscle. If we’re too tired to form thoughts, we can simply rest in His presence. We don’t need light; we can pray in the dark. We don’t need wisdom; we can ask for wisdom. We don’t even need faith; we can ask for faith too! Whatever we need, we can ask. He invites us to ask, but truly, we don’t even need an invitation!
However, Jesus does give this instruction: Prayer is to be genuine. Pretending to pray isn’t praying. You can pretend to pray anytime and anywhere, but it will get you exactly nowhere every time. Ingenuous prayer may catch the attention of others, but God will not hear: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Prayer must come from a sincere heart, directed straight to the heart of our sincere Father. Honest, earnest prayer from a humble heart offered up in secret will bear spiritual fruit. God will hear us and reward us for seeking Him and His help. What a blessing to have this most intimate and immediate resource available to us every moment of our lives! We can commune with God!
If you’ve never read the little book by Brother Lawrence called The Practice of the Presence of God, I’d like to commend it to you. Your library may have a copy, or you can buy it for $5.95 on Amazon. It’s short and sweet, and it walks readers through the practice of focusing spiritually so we’re more fully aware of living in the presence of God and can better apply the injunction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to, “Pray without ceasing.” Sound good? It’s great! In fact, it’s the greatest thing in life to me!
Text for this Meditation: Matthew 6:5-6 “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
Do you get overwhelmed by all the appeals for help you receive from organizations? How about the folks at the markets with placards asking for spare change? Fall is “the season” for fundraisers in Grand Rapids, and this past week, one of my friends experienced one company’s latest bright idea for pressuring people into donating: “Just text in your donation right now while you’re sitting at the table, and we’ll flash your name and amount up on the big screen!” Woah! Is this meant to create competition, extra glory for the donor, or shame for those who won’t or can’t give more (beyond the extremely expensive ticket price for the dinner)?
I would like to say, “Wait! We’re getting this all wrong!” I’ve been to fundraisers that are almost like auctions: “Who will give us $100? Just raise your hands! Now, who will give us $1,000? Who will give us $5,000?” I think the last bid was for $25,000 that night. We didn’t participate in the bidding war, but I did go home feeling a little shell-shocked.
Jesus taught us the “right” way to give: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).
Giving to the poor is commendable, but let’s give out of hearts that overflow with compassion, not to avoid the social stigma of feeling uncharitable! Giving can fill us with joy when done out of a pure heart for the right reasons, but otherwise, it just makes us resentful or proud. Dear Lord, don’t let our acts of charity go to the loudest, highest bidders or be governed by our desire for the praise of men, but rather let us give prayerfully, in response to the quiet promptings of your Holy Spirit. So simple. So obvious from scripture. So contrary to the way our world works!
Text for this meditation: Matthew 6:1-4 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.“
My father grew up going to church but rejected what he had learned as a child and became a self-proclaimed atheist for many years, so when I was a child, I never went to church or heard anything about Christianity. In fact, my mother wrote as a “cute saying” in my baby book that at some point I said, “I think I should know more about the Bible.”
After eagerly trusting Jesus as my Lord and Savior the first time I ever heard the good news that God loved me and Jesus died for me, I immediately shared the Good News with my parents. I don’t remember what they said, but my mother’s attitude was sort of a non-descript “That’s nice honey,” and my father’s was a condescending, “Well, you’ll soon grow out of it.”
I was much older before I got my courage up to ask them why they didn’t believe. My mother (who was at that time agnostic) said it was because she didn’t feel certain God was real. She was afraid he was perhaps just an abstract construct, so she was unwilling to trust lest she be disappointed or discover that she’d been deceived. My father, on the other hand, had a more definitive reason. He remembered reading Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” and—knowing that he could never be perfect—decided to give up before he ever started trying. Why ascribe to an impossible standard? Why undertake an impossible quest?
My husband’s parents both believed in God and felt that the Bible was true, but Alan’s father had an almost exactly similar stance to my father’s. He said he could never be perfect, and that if he were to say he was a Christian, then he would have to be perfect, and since that was impossible, he would always feel like a liar and a hypocrite.
Why did Jesus tell people to be perfect, since he knew good and well they couldn’t be? Was he trying to turn people away? Was he just setting us all up to feel like guilty losers who are nothing but failures? Was he suggesting that unless we attain perfection, we’ll never enter heaven?
NO! But, well yes (in a way)! Jesus spoke the truth, which is that in order to go to heaven, we must be perfect. Thankfully, Jesus is also the way: Although we can’t be perfect, he could, and he was. He fulfilled the Laws of God perfectly, but then he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins. If we are willing to humbly admit that we aren’t perfect and never will be, and that we don’t deserve to go to heaven based on our ability to keep God’s perfect standards . . . if we are willing to admit that we are sinners (law-breakers of God’s perfect laws) BUT are also willing to accept the free gift that Jesus offers us—his death as the full payment for our sins—then we become children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus, and possessors of eternal life. When we accept Jesus as our savior and surrender our lives to Him, He becomes our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit indwells us and begins the good work of making us more and more like our Master, until someday—when we see Him face-to-face in heaven—we will at last become perfect, not because we are, but because He is, and He has made us like himself.
Now, that’s not so hard, is it? Nobody told me I had to be perfect to become a Christian. All I heard was that God loved me and Jesus died to save me, and that’s all you need to hear. Believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him. He will receive you, give you eternal life, and the Holy Spirit will indwell you to comfort, guide, and teach you. Life is hard, but trusting Jesus is inestimably easier than trying to attain perfection without the aid of the one and only, truly holy, 100% good Higher Power, which is God himself!
Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Also: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
P.S.—Thankfully, both my parents became believers in their eighties, and Alan’s mother became a believer in her sixties. I hope Alan’s father also became a believer, but I’ll have to wait until heaven to know for sure. At any rate, as long as you have life and mental faculties enough to choose Christ, it’s never too late. Hopefully, as we age, we’re better able to recognize our own lack of perfection and more willing to lean on God’s everlasting arms for help! He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). My mother was never disappointed in Christ after she believed. Instead, she became peaceful about her impending death, which assured me that her future was secure. God is so merciful!!
Photo Credit for Painting: “Love Everlasting” by Yongsong Kim, permission granted by Foundation Arts, website: Havenlight.com
Are you all excited about the fall sports season? I love all the inspiring movies based on true stories have been coming out in the past few years. One I missed from 2018 until recently is The Miracle Season, which recounts the triumph of joy over sorrow just a few years ago during 2011 when a group of high school girls from West High in Iowa City tried to rally after losing their star player through a tragic accident.
Caroline “Line” Found was the sort of person who loved everybody and was loved by everybody.
Her father, a surgeon, was also very involved in trying to foster team spirit and good will between the team members and throughout the community.
However, he had his own set of heartaches, not the least of which was the fact that his deeply loved wife was dying.
Their coach (who won National Coach of the Year in 2011) was dealing with a lot of pain and loss in her personal life as well.
Of course, the kids on the team—and especially Caroline’s best friend from childhood, who was chosen to replace “Line” as the team’s center—were all totally traumatized by the loss and emotionally immobilized.
Although West High’s volleyball team had been the state champions in 2010, they lost every game in the fall of 2011 until they would have to win all fifteen of the last games in order to qualify for the championship playoffs.
Could they do it? What happened? Wanna know?
If you’ve got a free evening for a heart-rending, heart-warming story of overcoming sorrow to “Live Like Line!” (giving life all the best you’ve got), take time for The Miracle Season.
You never know, it just might spark a miracle season this fall in your own life too!
After all, God is the God of the impossible, and He delights in helping us when we cry out to Him for help!
“Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:1-2).
“Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:17).