Every Tuesday, from 05/31/2016 to 06/28/2016, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
"Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest" by Edward T. Welch No childcare offered. You are welcome to join this study at any time, just register below before ...
Ah, (or ugh!) fasting—that one commanded spiritual discipline that we either inwardly groan about or willfully neglect. Bible reading we understand, prayer we’re accustomed to, community we see our need for, but willingly abstaining from food for a day or more? That’s crazy talk, or something for only super spiritual people.
Why is fasting so hard to be motivated to do? I recently taught through Matthew 6:1-18 in Middle School Sunday School (Jesus’ authoritative teaching on giving, prayer, and fasting). Sarah and I had a discussion afterward regarding one of our friends who’s in need, and she said something to the effect of, “I’d gladly sacrificially give to help her out, but fast for her? It’s much harder to see how that helps.” We came to the conclusion that one of the most difficult parts about fasting is that there is nothing tangible about it besides hunger. We can go serve and give and see with our own eyes what needs are met and how God is working through us. But when we fast, all we may feel is hunger.
But there is something tangible to fasting—an audience with God. There are several ways in which Scripture describes and prescribes fasting, but primarily fasting is intensified prayer. God called His people to fasting in times of impending national disaster so that they could “cry out to the Lord” (Joel 1:14); Jesus implies that fasting is an intensified way to seek after God’s presence (Mark 2:19). When we pray we are saying, “God please do this, I need you and you alone to do this.” When we fast we are saying, “God I am absolutely desperate for you to do this.”
God loves to respond to persistent and desperate seeking after His blessing. Jacob had to wrestle God, but he received His blessing. The blind men had to cry out to Jesus three times in great public embarrassment, but they received their sight. God wants us to engage in persistent faith that seeks Him desperately. Fasting is a way we express this faith-filled persistence and desperation for God’s presence, power, and deliverance. Could our lack of spiritual experience, fruit, or effectiveness in the kingdom be because we haven’t desperately sought God through one of the means he has established—fasting?
Are you in a poor spiritual state and desperate for God to restore and empower you? You should fast and plead for God to revive you. Are you desperate for God to save a lost parent, child, or neighbor? Do you want God to break your heart over the nations, to finally give you a passion for missions? Fast and spend the day pleading for these people’s salvation.
The best practical advice I’ve ever received about fasting is to fast with a clear purpose and a key prayer request in mind. This takes the hardest part about fasting—the constant, nagging hunger that makes many of us miserable (and some of us miserable to be around)—and makes it a gateway to effective and persistent prayer. Determine one or two key prayers or desires for your fast, and every time your stomach grumbles or you start to feel “hangry” lift up that prayer or the name of the person you’re pleading for. You will find yourself praying more and grumbling less if you fast with a purpose.
Another benefit of fasting—though one not explicitly stated in Scripture, so take what follows as my own perspective—is that it helps us to experience particular spiritual truths. The Lord is clearly pleased to teach us truth through physical acts and experiences because he has given us baptism and the Lord’s Supper, physical actions that signify and symbolize spiritual realities. In a similar way, fasting may help us experientially know:
That we are weak and helpless: It’s hard to be impressed with yourself when you can barely function in regular life or work and have an earsplitting headache by 3PM simply because you have not had breakfast or lunch. We don’t like to think of the fact of our weakness and mortality, we prefer to consider ourselves self-sufficient, autonomous, and immortal. Fasting reminds us that if God were to take away our daily bread for just one day, we would be undone. When we are full (and fully caffeinated) we are constantly tempted towards arrogance in our abilities or fooled into thinking our earthly lives will last forever; fasting can be an incredible gateway toward humility and learning to number our days (Psalm 90:12).
That we need Jesus every hour: Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:35). Not having physical bread for a day and experiencing sluggishness and hunger helps us see what happens to our souls without the continual nourishment of Jesus, the bread of life. The physical hunger of fasting helps us see how hungry our souls should be for the continuing presence and power of Christ.
That enjoying the world and its pleasures is not the purpose of our lives: It’s easy to buy the lie that being a Christian means living the good life now and dying and going to heaven. The reality is that we are strangers and exiles on the earth, and should be willing to leave every earthly comfort for obedience to Jesus (Hebrews 11:13-16, Phil 3:19-20, Mark 8:34-38). Willingly abstaining from food for a day—which most American unbelievers could never understand—reminds us that this world is not our home, and that enjoying all the (delicious!) things of the world is not the purpose of our lives.
That when we are weak, we are strong: We are tempted to think that the way to true strength is to feel strong; or that somehow walking with Jesus will make us strong and beyond any of the struggles and suffering of “regular” people. But the biblical testimony is that the way up is down, the way to true strength is through utter weakness. Think of the incarnation and death of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11), the suffering-filled ministry of Paul (2 Corinthians 12:10), and the fact that repentance (renouncing yourself, your sins, and your way of life apart from God) is integral to salvation. Fasting helps us experience this. We intentionally weaken ourselves through abstaining from food in order to be made strong in our hearts as we cry out to God and for God.
So set a date in the coming month, set a purpose or prayer request you’re desperate for God to answer, and resolve by God’s power to fast and pray for a day. As you do, expect God to meet and bless you with His presence and power.
My father-in-law always wore the pants in his family, but my husband said that was because his mother washed and ironed those pants and then said, “Here, Robert, put on your pants.” A man cannot lead unless his wife is willing to let him. As a result of the Fall, men can have the tendency to be passive and women can have the tendency to dominate. Genesis 3:16b I think that our culture really exacerbates this with so much confusion over gender roles. However, being the suitable helper to our husbands is a high and holy calling. It is one that requires much prayer and wisdom. When we as wives live this way, we are actually helping to reverse the curse and live Kingdom centered lives according to God’s created order. Living this way brings joy and peace to our homes and our hearts because God is glorified. (Genesis 2:18-24) That is why it feels so right; because He made it to be so.
This is not a blog about how to submit to your husband’s leadership in general but more specifically, how to help your husband to be the spiritual leader of your home. First, you must pray. Ask the Lord to equip and motivate your husband to be the spiritual leader of your home and ask God to help you to patiently encourage him and follow graciously. Remember, he does not need to have a seminary degree or to read theology books every day in order to lead well. Only one Book is needed! (Psalm 119:105) Secondly, is your husband a believer? Is his heart inclined toward the Lord? If you know he loves the Lord and has a personal relationship with Him, then you have a very primary prerequisite for spiritual headship!
Here are three ways to be that suitable helper in this area:
Does your family pray before meals? Does your husband ask the blessing? If not, maybe you could gently ask him to do that? Does your husband pray with you? Ask him to pray for you regarding specific things going on in your life. Don’t worry if he does not automatically pray aloud for you in that moment. Also, ask him in the morning how you can be praying for him during the day. Be sure to ask him later for an update on that request. When there is a decision to be made, ask him if you can pray together and ask for the Lord to give wisdom to your husband as he leads you in the decision-making process. Be sure to give thanks in your prayer for your husband and for his leadership. Affirm him. Ask for his advice and take it! Gently encourage your husband to go to Man2Man, Bible study, Wild Game Banquet, and accountability groups with other men. Invite other godly couples to do things with you socially. Ask your husband if he would be willing to join a community group. Christian fellowship is very encouraging. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Seek the Lord on your own! (Philippians 1:9-11) Passion for the Lord is contagious! Share with your husband what you are learning in Bible study or reading on your own. Talk about the sermon and Sunday school lesson on the way home from church and at Sunday lunch. Ask him what he thinks. Be patient as seeds are planted and watered and wait for the Lord to bring the harvest.
Look for ways to build your husband up and to bless him. Be sure there is nothing between you. When a person does not feel appreciated they can withdraw in very subtle ways. Men can have tender hearts, ladies. If you are the mother of sons, you know this all too well. As the woman in the home, you have much influence. Set the tone. Affirm your husband as the leader to your children. You cannot demand that your husband lead but you can gently encourage him by your actions. If he does not take the lead, be sure you do not step in his place. You have to step back so that he can step forward. Pray for the Lord to lead Him. Even if your husband is not a believer, these principles can still yield much fruit in your marriage. With prayer, encouragement, and time, see what God will do. (1 Peter 3:1-2, Ephesians 5:22)
So, ladies, let’s give our husbands their pants- freshly washed and ironed with our prayers- not wadded up and wrinkled with ungracious and unloving attitudes. Seek the Lord and ask Him to show you the best ways to be that suitable helper. As the saying goes, “Behind every good man is a good woman”….handing him his pants.
Recently, the Middle and High School Ministry teams combined for a panel discussion regarding dating and relationships during the teenage years with the goal of providing parents some biblical perspective, practical application, and general guidance on the subject. For those able to attend, we hope that we achieved this to some extent. This post is intended as a follow-up to provide some of the information we discussed as well as some additional resources on the subject that might be of help.
Answering the question “Should I let my teenager date?” is challenging because there are several factors that need to be considered such as the personal convictions and guidelines of your family, your teenager (and their level of maturity), the person they are trying to date (and their level of maturity). This is also difficult because when it comes to dating there is nothing mentioned in the Bible. Thankfully, however, the Bible does give us perspective on our uniquely wonderful roles as men and women made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28) and the covenantal union of marriage where “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:23-24). The Bible also helps us to understand how we are to live and interact in various (non-married) relationships:
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Tim. 5:1-2)
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. (Titus 2:2-6)
These relationships are characterized by respect, kindness, goodness, and self-control (see Gal. 5:22-23). So although the Bible doesn’t explicitly discuss teenagers, boyfriends, and girlfriends, it does give us a clear direction as to who we are as image-bearers and how we are called to live amongst one another.
With this in mind, it is critical to ask the question, “Why do we date?” or, in this case, “Why do teenagers want to date?” Ideally, dating results in marriage. No one plans on breaking up or having their heart broken. There is a great quote that says, “Dating without the intent of getting married is like going to the grocery store without any money. You either leave unsatisfied or take something that isn’t yours.” I think this is intentionally stated in these absolute terms to help people to realize the stakes of becoming emotionally (and physically) invested with someone you might not marry. When we fail to guard our hearts (what/who we love), we fail to guard how we use our time. The consequence of having our time monopolized by someone or something is ultimately a replacement of who we guard as our Savior. So eventually, a failure to guard the heart leads to idolatry.
Being active and involved in your child’s social life is tough to do because as a rule of thumb, most teenagers would prefer if their parent(s) never asked them questions. About anything. Most of you have probably experienced an exchange that goes something like this:
Loving Parent: How was your day?
Conscientious Parent: How was school?
Teenager: Okay (with a slight shrug)
Nurturing Parent: What would you like for dinner?
Teenager: I don’t care
Asking questions can be difficult when the responses are like this but they are critical to a healthy and open relationship with your teenager. Ask about why they like that certain girl or boy they are spending time with. Ask how their date went. Ask about their physical purity. Additionally, get to know your child’s boyfriend/girlfriend as well as their parents. Have them over for dinner. Talk with other couples who have experienced parenting through the teenage years and can give you advice, counsel, or empathy with where you are in trying to understand your kid. At first, some of these conversations may feel awkward and ill-received but more than likely they will provide relational dividends later down the road.
A few weeks before I proposed to Camma, I orchestrated some time where I could have a private conversation with her dad to ask for his blessing and approval. After eventually mustering up the courage to broach the subject, I told him (in more or less eloquent words) that I loved his daughter, wanted to marry her, and hoped he was receptive to the idea. What he said next floored me. My future father-in-law told me that ever since Camma was born, he and her mom had been praying for me. Not literally by name, but they had been praying for the man who would one day come to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage. A few things became immediately clear to me. By praying for their daughter’s future husband, my future in-laws revealed that their main priority was for the Lord and His work and blessing in their life. They displayed a high concern for Camma and her well-being. Finally, they showed love for me – decades before they even knew my name. My encouragement to parents is to be praying for not only for your child but for the man or woman they might one day marry. Go before and behind them in this, trusting in the Lord’s sovereignty to work in their lives.
Ultimately, the answer to the question “Should I let my teenager date?” is dependent on the convictions of you as a parent, the maturity of your child, and their intention and desire in wanting to date. I (as well as the rest of the Student Ministries Team) are praying for you as you wade these waters. God bless!
The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas
Five Pieces of Out-Dated Dating Advice
Is My Dating Relationship Idolatrous?
Six Traits to Look For In a Spouse
It’s Not You, It’s God: Nine Lessons for Breakups
Toward a Biblical Approach to Dating
Three Pitfalls to Avoid When Dating
Have you ever felt weird singing love songs to an ancient Jewish carpenter? I have. There have been seasons in my life where I became really uncomfortable with some of the language in our modern worship songs. One of the choruses that used to trip me up was, “I’m running to Your arms / I’m running to Your arms / The riches of Your love will always be enough / Nothing compares to Your embrace.” Singing songs like that, I would think, “This just doesn’t feel right singing to another man.” Of course, the man I am speaking of is Jesus, but still, it bothered me. Now, if you are a woman, I don’t expect you to have this same problem, but maybe you still find the emotional tone of some worship songs off-putting. Eventually, I had to ask myself, “Why does showing emotion to Jesus make me uncomfortable?” And then a step further, “What’s going on in my heart?” Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe you stand through worship services week after week bothered and uncomfortable, hesitant to sing. If so, here are some thoughts that helped me.
Since college, I have really developed a passion for theology. Since the first time I got my hands on a theology book, I was hooked. I had never read or heard things like that before. I didn’t realize God had attributes that could be studied, or that people debated the finer points of the process of salvation. It was a whole new world. That was exciting for me. But I made a mistake. I let cold, detached facts about God become a substitute for an actual relationship with God. Now, I don’t mean that in terms of salvation, but rather in terms of affection. Imagine if you wanted to grow intimacy with your spouse, you wouldn’t just spout off a list of facts and stop there. The facts are good, but if those facts aren’t connected to your emotions, you’re in trouble.
Here was my issue. I had been playing it safe, keeping my distance, just spouting off facts. That’s where I was comfortable. But I never let those facts fuel my emotions. I didn’t want to connect my head and my heart. I thought that stimulating my mind with learning something new about God would be just fine.
Now, looking back, I think the reason I felt uncomfortable letting my knowledge of God fuel my affections for Him was because it made me vulnerable. There’s an inherent vulnerability to showing emotion. It’s the risk of showing your cards versus the safety of your poker face. But God’s not going to hurt you for opening up and showing emotion, so what’s the problem? For me, the problem was other people. What if other people saw me showing emotion toward an ancient Jewish man? How would that look? Crazy?
The Bible gives us a story in Luke of a woman, who at a dinner Jesus was attending, went all out showing her love for Jesus. The scripture says, “And standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment” (Luke 7:38). Immediately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus was eating began to chastise him saying, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Jesus went on to give them the parable of the two debtors explaining that whoever is forgiven much loves much. Jesus was saying the women’s response was the correct response. It was appropriate to bare it all at the feet of Jesus. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Pharisees were uncomfortable adding overtly emotional acts to their religious routines. Maybe they thought that was beneath them or undignified. Maybe that’s where you are today.
But scripture challenges us. It tells us that if we really understand who God is and what he has done for us, the appropriate response is an emotional one.
We should always be wary when our heads don’t affect our hearts. What I mean by this is that our knowledge of God should manifest itself emotionally in our lives. That is healthy. It is appropriate. We must not let social pressure keep us from a full relationship with our Creator, Savior, and Lord. If you find yourself like I was, uncomfortable with showing affection to Jesus, ask yourself why. What’s going on in your heart? To return to music, this is why I think singing is so important for Christians. Worship songs and hymns allow us to express the knowledge we have about God emotionally through beautiful melodies and musical settings. I believe this is why God created music. Just try to listen to a beautiful symphony and not be moved. It would be very hard!
The next time you find yourself in a worship service and having a hard time expressing yourself emotionally, just go for it. Leave your dignity behind for the One who gave himself up for you. Raise your hands; lift your voice. It’s fine. It’s an appropriate response to the love God has shown you. He wants your mind and your emotions—your head and your heart.
When my husband and I first joined ECBC in 1998, Craig Harris sent us a letter of welcome. In the letter he wrote that East Cooper was a big church (although not as big as it is now!) and that if we wanted to become part of the life of the church we should dive in with both feet and get involved. We took that to heart and did exactly as he encouraged. We prayed and began to take part in various ministries in many different capacities. I cannot tell you the blessing this has been in our lives. Through our time here, we have discovered that there are three ways that serving is a blessing.
An effective way to discover how the Lord has gifted you is to try serving in various areas. You will likely feel an affinity for certain types of service and other people will affirm your strengths as they observe you serving. Or perhaps the opposite will be true, which is valuable information as well. Always begin with prayer and ask the Lord to reveal to you the things He has uniquely gifted you to do. We function best when we serve and do things that are within our areas of giftedness. I want to caution here that some things just need to be done and sometimes we all have to pitch in, even if we do not have that particular gifting. Be aware of the needs around you and try to be sensitive to ways you can use your gifts to serve the body of Christ. To see what the Bible has to say about spiritual gifts, I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:3-8.
When you hear the words “volunteering” and “ministry,” what comes to your mind? As a new believer in the church, volunteering did not sound appealing to me. In my mind, it was just work. However, I was very drawn to ministry. Why? I think it was because of the connotation each word carried in my mind. Secular people can do volunteer work, which is certainly good and useful in the community, but only believers can do ministry. Of course you do not have to be in a church to be doing ministry; it is all about the attitude of your heart. I used to get periodic updates from missionaries in Israel who signed their letters, “Servants of the Most High.” Believers, we serve the King and the goal is His glory! Serving gives us the opportunity to see the glory of God in many ways. When we serve in ministry we are reflecting the very life and heart of Christ. Jesus humbled Himself. Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28). As we serve others, we are living kingdom-minded lives (Matthew 20:26-27). Not only that, but what we are doing is of eternal significance. We are storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20). Jesus promises us a reward (Ps 62:12, Mt 16:27, Eph 6:8, Rev 22:12). Think of how amazing it will be to see those in heaven who were impacted by the things we did here on earth! Blessing upon blessing! This is what it is to serve the King of Kings.
As my husband and I became more involved in the life and heartbeat of the church through our service, we met some dear people who became our friends. It transformed a larger church into a smaller church for us because we were relationally connected with other believers. The benefits we gained far outweighed anything we gave. We did not expect to receive such blessings when we first began serving in the church but as we have continued to serve, the Lord has certainly chosen to shower us with His abundant grace.
If you are not yet plugged into the life of the Body at East Cooper Baptist, may I suggest the same that was offered to us as new members? Dive in with both feet! Get involved in the various ministries of the church! After you pray, the website is a great place to start looking.
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