Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gluttony and Fasting

Yesterday I finally completed The Lord's Table, Phase I. It took me five months to complete this 60 day course, but I did it, with God's help. I learned a great deal about the sin of gluttony during this time. Then wouldn't you know it, this morning I woke to find an article featured on Yahoo! titled, "When unhealthy foods hijack overeaters' brains," and I had to marvel at how good God is. Six months ago I would have truly believed that food had hijacked my brain. But the truth, God has shown me, is in the Bible:

Do not mix with winebibbers,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21)

I've learned that gluttony is the equivalent of drunkenness, only instead of indulging oneself on alcohol, the substance of choice is solid food. You don't have to be fat to be a glutton, either. All you need to do is give in to temptation and eat uncontrollably, whether you are hungry or not. We call this overeating. The Bible calls it sin.

Ever notice how people who quit smoking or drinking will tend to put on weight? This is because people often will satisfy their cravings for nicotine and alcohol with sugar, and vice versa. We replace one substance with another. When I worked for a while at an eating disorder clinic, many of the girls we saw did not just suffer from eating disorders. They also had problems with drugs, alcohol, and sex. All of these behaviors are common in that they are vices to indulge the flesh. There is nothing wrong with food, sex, or even having a glass of wine (in my culture, having a glass of wine with dinner is akin to having a dinner roll). The problem comes when we abuse these things and attempt to get our comfort from them, instead of God.

The Bible says we cannot conquer these issues on our own strength. We must abide in Christ, or we will find ourselves right back where we started - perhaps even worse than where we were before. Here's a similar scenario: have you ever lost a great deal of weight, only to gain it back, plus a few more pounds? Of course, we all have. In fact, this phenomenon reminds me of a certain scripture:
“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

We may enjoy success on our own strength temporarily, but if we do not surrender to Christ, our old behaviors will return. We will either return to this sin as a dog returns to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11), or we will fill the void with something equally as sinful (such as drinking, drugs, or illicit sex). So it is not enough to simply repent from gluttony. We must turn from sin and turn toward God. One of the ways we can do this is through fasting.

A Modern Gospel View of Fasting

Fasting is not something that is practiced much these days. I believe we have really adopted a "modern gospel" view of fasting. We may possess an intellectual understanding that Christ came for the salvation from our sins and not to give us temporal prosperity, yet our lives do not reflect this. We will whine about fasting, claiming all sorts of medical conditions* and other reasons why we cannot partake in this spiritual discipline. Instead, we happily volunteer to participate in less painful forms of self-denial. This "alternative fasting" often presents itself in the form of abstinence from TV, internet, or other "busy" activities. But this is not really fasting, according to the Bible. Nowhere in scripture do we see someone fasting from anything other than food. While it is good to shut off the TV or computer from time to time for the sake of holiness, it is not the same as fasting the way scripture intends.

As a single person, I abstain from sexual activity. No one would consider this fasting, and neither should we equate abstinence from other activities to be fasting either. Through true fasting, our bodies have time to rest. The digestive system shuts down and the body begins to detoxify and purge itself of impurities. During this time, we are to look to Christ for our strength, as He purifies our souls. We do not get these benefits of fasting when we decide to go without TV for a month. In order to truly claim that one is fasting, one must abstain from food.

The Lord's Table - Phase II

For this reason, I have decided to take on The Lord's Table, Phase II, also known as "Feasting and Fasting." (Click here to read about my experiences with Phase I). Starting today, I will take 2 days to transfer into a 16-day fast, when I will drink nothing but liquids. After this, I will take two days to transfer out of the fast. The entire program is accompanied by a daily Bible-study with Setting Captives Free, the same ministry that brings us The Lord's Table, Phase I. There is a suggested donation of $50 for this program, but Phase I is free. If you have not yet participated in Phase I, I cheerfully encourage you to give it a try.

I do not look forward to the suffering that I will experience. But I do look forward to the spiritual changes that I expect to take place during this time. I may or may not be posting much during the fast, but I imagine I will respond to this post with updates via the comment feature to report how I'm doing. I would also like to invite you to prayerfully consider fasting with me - not necessarily for the whole 20 days, but for a portion of the time. Even if it is one day, we can claim victory over the lies that say we can not fast when we realize that a greater likelihood is that we will not fast. Will you consider joining me in this battle against the flesh? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Please use the comment feature to let me know how you are doing, and God bless!

Please Note: The Lord's Table, Phase II is no longer available through Setting Captives Free, however, Phase I is still available.

* A word about medical conditions: I once suffered from severe hypoglycemia, but now my condition is virtually non-existent. I have not had a problem with hypoglycemia for several years, yet all of a sudden it emerges when the word "fasting" is brought up. This is because I do not want to fast. I convince myself that a headache is a sign of danger. Yet I realize now that my body is detoxifying itself, and that's why I have a headache. I acknowledge that some medical conditions are real and prevent one from fasting, however, it may behoove some of us to reconsider our reasons for not fasting. We may discover that the enemy wants to convince us that we cannot fast when the Lord says we can.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Marital Status: Micro and Macro Practice

In the field of social work, there are levels of practice to describe work of equal but different proportions. "Micro" practice refers to social work with individuals. It generally takes the form of individual counseling, but the goal is positive change within the individual. "Macro" practice refers to social work with organizations and communities. It generally takes the form of policy-making, and the goal is positive change within the community. (There is also a mid-level social work practice that exists but is rarely acknowledged, and this is "Mezzo" practice, which refers to social work with groups.) If you were to choose, which form of social work would you say is better, micro or macro? For example, is it better to help an individual overcome a drug habit, or should we instead create a program to teach school-age children not to take drugs in the first place?

Naturally, neither is better than the other, but rather, both have equal importance in addressing social problems. The same concept exists in Christian ministry. We need both micro and macro ministry. What would the church look like if everyone ministered to individuals, but nobody planted churches? What if all we ever did was plant churches, but never ministered to anyone on a personal level? It just wouldn't work. Both are needed, and therefore both are vitally important to the advancement of God's kingdom. Makes sense, doesn't it? Sadly, there is one area of ministry where we do not see this as making any sense at all, and that is the area of singleness vs. marriage.

Marriage is a lot like micro social work practice. Your focus is primarily on one individual, and you will also have some micro/mezzo responsibilities if you raise children. But singleness affords a person the opportunity to carry out macro-level ministry. One is not "better" or more important than the other. However sometimes we unintentionally communicate to singles this very thing.

For the greater part of my sixteen years as a single Christian woman, I have had to endure the faulty advice that "it is far better to be single than married". Most of the people who insist on perpetuating this advice, God bless them, are married, and just about all of them are misunderstanding Paul's intent in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul was not advocating one status over the other, but rather, he was demonstrating how both situations have kingdom value. Imagine if all the adult Christians in the world were married. Who would go minister to that remote village in a foreign country? Similarly, if every Christian on earth was single, who would raise our children? To assume that one marital status is "better" than another is nothing short of pure foolishness. For this reason, (and I realize I may be slightly biased because I am writing from a single perspective), we need to be very careful that we do not interfere with the marital status of Christian singles.

Imagine how inappropriate it would be for a single person to say, "I can't wait for Charles to kick the bucket! I just want to see you single again!" When I'm not being told how lucky I am to be single, I have married couples urging me to get married. They tell me, "When are you going to meet someone nice? I just want to see you married!" Imagine how inappropriate it would be for a single person to say, "I can't wait for Charles to kick the bucket! I just want to see you single again!" Constantly urging your single friends to get married can communicate disrespect for the single ministry. Again, a more accurate understanding of how important both marriage and singleness are enables us to see why this is not helpful.

The illustration of micro and macro social work comes in handy in this situation as well. When I was in graduate school, many of my classmates were micro social workers, but I considered myself to be a macro social worker. Not one person ever tried to convince me to change my role. Not one person said, "You should get into counseling instead." These people understood that their role in social work was different from mine, yet they had a respect for what I do, because they understood that both micro and macro social work are equally important. We need to apply this same principle to our perceptions of single and married ministry. When God calls someone to a marriage, we tend to understand and accept it. But when God calls someone to singleness (perhaps permanently, perhaps temporarily), we often have a difficult time with this. God calls each of us to these roles as He sees fit. It is not our place to pass judgment on our single friends this way, even if we feel we are being helpful or trying to encourage them.

In an earlier post, I had written:
Both callings to singleness and marriage require service to others, only the focus is different. It is a lot like being male or female. Neither is more precious to God, and one is not better than the other. The roles are just different.
Make no mistake, marital status is an assignment from God Himself. If you are a married person, think of yourself as a micro-level social worker. Every day, you are doing an important work for the Kingdom of God by encouraging your spouse and children on a direct individual level. If you are a single person, think of yourself as a social worker who is free to carry out the responsibilities of macro-level practice (with opportunities of course to engage in micro and mezzo as well) within the Kingdom of God. Whichever role He has placed you in, do not seek to be released from it, and do not pass judgment on those who are currently filling the opposite role. When the time comes, singles may be called to marriage. Married people may become widowed. When we leave the assignments up to God, He will see to it that all positions are filled to carry out His work on earth until it is finished.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Did God Change the Sabbath?

In honor of Good Friday, and to demonstrate that things aren't always what they seem, I thought it apropos to entertain the question, "Did God change the Sabbath?" The question of whether or not the Sabbath should be celebrated on Saturday or Sunday has been hotly debated for years, and in many cases, it has been debated in vain.

Seventh Day Adventists will fight tooth and nail for the belief that God never changed the Sabbath. Well, they are wrong. God did change the Sabbath, and for this reason, we are not to celebrate our rest on Saturday. Now, before you "Sunday Sabbath" fans start to high-five each other, let me also make it clear - God did indeed change the Sabbath. But He did not change it to Sunday. For this reason, we are not to celebrate our rest on Sunday either!

No more do we need to bicker about what day the Sabbath is, because it isn't a day at all! Dear Reader, isn't that exciting?!How can this be? Well, we often only consider this question in terms of two choices: Saturday or Sunday. But I believe there is a third option, one that we almost never even consider, because we are too busy focusing on the wrong thing. You see, I believe God changed the Sabbath from a day to a Person. That's right: God changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Jesus Christ. Consider this:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17, emphasis mine).

All of the Old Testament rituals and laws were a shadow of things to come! In this manner, the calendar sabbath was just a sign which points to the real Sabbath - Christ. He is our rest, not from our 9-5 jobs and our household chores, but from our toil to release the burden of sin.

Now, if we go with the idea that God did change the Sabbath, not from Saturday to Sunday, but from Saturday to Jesus, then is it still possible to break the Commandment which says we must honor the Sabbath and keep it holy? Absolutely! It's not that the 4th Commandment goes away, rather, it has merely been fulfilled. Jesus said He didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. In this sense, we break the Sabbath whenever we dishonor Christ. Anyone who fails to keep the Sabbath holy is violating a command to honor Jesus:
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29, emphasis mine).

Jesus is inviting us to take rest in Him. People who do not honor the new Sabbath - people who insist on working, working, working their way into heaven instead of entering into His rest - will find on Judgment Day the wrath of God kindled against them, no matter what day of the week they choose to "rest" or go to church. No more do we need to bicker about what day the Sabbath is, because it isn't a day at all! It's not about a day of the week. It's all about the Lord. Dear Reader, isn't that exciting?!

So why then do we meet on Sunday as a church? We meet on the first day of the week to celebrate His resurrection. It's not really a Sabbath at all, but a celebration! Sunday is a weekly reminder of the glorious day that He rose from the grave and conquered death. Our sins have been washed away. No more will we have to toil in an effort to keep the law, an impossible task! No, because He is risen, we can have rest in Him. This is why Sunday is referred to as "The Lord's Day" in Scripture.

This is good news for all who put their faith and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sin. It is also good news for those of us who still wish to honor God by keeping the Commandments, not in an effort to earn salvation, but as a means of repentance and an expression of gratitude to God for what He has done for us. We don't have to worry that we are displeasing God if we are called into work on a Sunday, because if we should work on Sunday, we are not breaking the Sabbath. But if we should attempt work our way to heaven, we are breaking the Sabbath:
And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:23)

As stated above, in God's kingdom, things aren't always what they seem! May you find your rest in Him this Holiest of Lord's Days: Resurrection Sunday.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

If you look in our sidebar you will see that although this blog is geared toward women, we have three faithful male "advisors." These guys give us suggestions for the site every now and then and so it is only fair to give proper credit to James Lee, our brother from Detroit, for our film of the month. You will probably find it surprising that I do not go to the movies very often. (I prefer classic movies and find that many of today's films pale in comparison.) So when James enthusiastically recommended The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I was intrigued. I had never heard of it before. I rented it from Blockbuster and watched it Sunday night.

I watched it again on Monday. I asked people at work if they had seen it. I emailed my brother and told him to rent it. And now I am recommending that you, dear reader, do the same.

This is a tale about the Holocaust unlike any other: as experienced through the eyes of a child. It is a story of innocence lost and innocence kept. It is a story about friendship and loyalty. And I believe it is also a story about the little things that give God great pleasure in the midst of so much evil.

Year: 2008 (Rated PG-13)
Directed by Mark Herman, based on the novel by John Boyne.
Starring Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon.
Setting: Nazi Germany.

Content warning: There is no profanity whatsoever (not even a pseudo-profanity in the form of a word that may be questionable). Violence is implied, but not shown. Subject matter concerning the lives of children during the Holocaust may be upsetting to some viewers (particularly young children and anyone who has ever been addressed as "Mom"). Therefore I would advise everyone to please heed the PG-13 rating. The film has a shocking ending.

1. The Symbolism of the Dolls. Pay close attention to Gretel, the older sister, during the first 30 minutes of the film. Notice how tightly she hugs her dolls to her chest. Watch her care for each of her dolls by tying ribbons in their hair. See how she surrounds herself with the dolls she loves. Then notice how tightly she hugs the Nazi literature she is given. Her bedroom now covered with posters of Hitler, the dolls abandoned to a mass grave in the cellar. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

2. Love, Repentance, and Forgiveness. We could all learn a lesson in relationships from Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and Schmuel (Jack Scanlon). If only we could all move past our interpersonal conflicts without holding onto grudges or beating ourselves up over our trespasses against one another. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

3. Friendship Rooted in Loyalty. Loyalty is a dying virtue in this day and age. How can we call ourselves friends when we refuse to make and honor commitments to one another? Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. (1 Samuel 18:3)

4. Indoctrination vs. Innocence. Children are so impressionable and I believe much of their innocence is stolen from them before they have a chance to outgrow it naturally. We need to be so vigilant when it comes to what our kids are learning at school. But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:14)

5. The Agony of a Guilty Conscience. Compare the guilt Bruno suffers for his betrayal of Schmuel with that of his mother, who must keep silent about the gas chambers in their own backyard. "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer." (Psalm 32:2-4, NASB)

6. God Will Have His Day of Vengeance. When I saw this film for the first time, three Old Testament stories came to mind in the last 20 minutes of the film. One of them was the story of David and Jonathan. Can you guess the other two?

Vera Farmiga won the 2008 British Independent Film Award for Best Actress. The film also picked up two nominations for Best Direction (Herman) and Most Promising Newcomer (Butterfield).

To the best of my knowledge, this is NOT based on a true story.

The official website does include a spoiler, so visit with caution if you have not yet seen this film. The official trailer is below: