October 20, 2014

The Humble Letter

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The other day I was reorganizing my room in preparation for the fall season and unearthed a hand-written letter from a friend.  I was so excited that I immediately sat down and read it.

Even though I knew the contents of the letter there was something so fun and special about holding a physical letter in my hands.  The texture of the paper, the grooves that the pen tip made, the way that light hit every fold, and the thought that my friend took time out of her busy day to write something just for me.

Letters are so beautiful.  In fact I would even say that they are precious.  It represents the care and thought someone took to put each word to pen.  There are feelings and emotions in every sentence.

I get the same great feeling when I read birthday cards my family gives me each year.  I know they love me and we still see each other just about every day but there is something wonderful about having love presented to me on ink and paper.  Its physical proof, evidence that they care.

After carefully tucking away the letter I thought about other letters that have influenced my mind and moods.  During the times of the Roman Empire the church was young and suffering tremendous persecution.  The New Testament speaks of their many sufferings and struggles. And God sent His church a man who had a talent for writing: Paul. 

Paul, known before his amazing conversion as Saul, was highly intellectual and religious.  Previous to becoming a Christian he firmly believed that his life was undeniably holy and pure.  He believed this even as he hunted down Christians, imprisoning them, torturing them, and ensuring their deaths (the most famous of these being Steven). In fact I sometimes wonder if Paul's "thorn in the flesh"(II Corinthians 12:7) might have been his memories of what he did and/or witnessed of the many innocents who died because of his actions.

But that's a thought for another post. Little did Paul know that God was hunting him. Ah!  His conversion and life is such a fantastic story! Anyhow, once Paul humbled himself and allowed God to use him it didn't take long before he started writing letters.  And he wrote beautiful, heart-felt letters to friends, colleagues, and churches.

His letters were personal in that even though anyone could read them it was evident that he took great pains to write them. He chose only to write what the Holy Spirit impressed upon him.  The themes were often a mix between encouragement and constructive criticism.  To me, many of his letters have the tone of someone much older and wiser. As they well should, right? When I was younger I often thought his letters sounded a bit like a favorite uncle or a loving grandparent. 

But it was his letters to Timothy where Paul revealed his heart as I imagine a father would to his son.  I can only imagine what Timothy felt reading those beautiful letters and keeping them safe for the times when he would want to "hear" the words even after Paul died.

The Bible is so amazing.  From front to back it is physical evidence of God's love and promise that my life, my story will have a happy ending. And so it will be for anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  God tells us how far He is willing to go to rescue us and bring us safely home.

I love personal letters!  I especially love physical letters.  So I'm going to begin writing and sending personal, physical letters to friends.  Hand-written. Hm, I might have to clean up my handwriting a tiny bit.  Its been quite a while since I've written any physical letters "just because."  Maybe someone will need the physical affirmation that they are remembered and cherished.

How about you?  When was the last time you received a personal letter that warmed your heart? When was the last time you wrote and sent a letter?  

" Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways.
The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.  
This is the mark in every letter of mine, it is the way I write.  
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."
~ II Thessalonians 3: 16-17

September 23, 2014

Do You Fast?


Do you fast?  I suppose if this question were very technical in nature than the answer would be a resounding yes.  Everyone fasts when they sleep.  That's why we have  Breakfast.

But my question is not for the cycle of rest our bodies undergo every night.  The type of fasting I am bringing to the "table" in this post is Biblical fasting.

And let me be the first to say that fasting was never a top priority in my spiritual life.  I had read about it in scripture and for some reason always believed it was for those super spiritual people like the prophet Elijah or beautiful, Godly queens like Esther, or the disciples, or even the Son of God.  But fasting for the every day, ordinary Christian gal?  Really?.... why?

That was the question I often asked whenever this topic came up anywhere.  Why on Earth would a person willingly put themselves through that if it wasn't to lose weight, get over the stomach flu, or prepare for surgery?  It just didn't seem like something a Christian living today had to do.

I used to believe that it wasn't as important as paying your taxes, loving your enemies, and tithing.  But then I was convicted when I read Matthew 6:16.  Jesus begins this verse by saying,

" And when you fast..."

Not IF you fast.

Jesus was talking to his followers and talking in the future tense.  He was giving instruction on what was proper behavior during fasting and expected that fasting would be a natural part of the Christian life.

Hm.  It wasn't a part of mine.  Once I realized this I knew I had to make a decision.  Would I obey in this or... not.  I certainly had a list of reasons why it would be better to just ignore this verse.  I mean, I'm a tiny, petite young woman to begin with.  I struggle to gain weight and keep it on.  So to skip meals for several days at a time just didn't seem wise.

So I took this excuse to the Lord in prayer and He led me to examples of different fasting.  Some were as long as forty days!  Others were as short as one skipped meal.  The one commonality of each type of fasting was that the faster (fastee?) would spend their time praying and reading the Bible instead of eating.

So, I understood that fasting meant serious one-on-one time with the Lord but why does He expect us to do it in the first place if we are already reading and praying each day?

When I went back to the Bible for this answer I learned that fasting always precipitated breakthroughs in the lives of those who fasted and sometimes in those who were the subject of those prayers.  And then the lightbulb turned on in my head.  There have been a few areas in my life were I was still waiting for answers. There were some areas in my life where I was still struggling. Fasting helped me and I'm so encouraged that I felt it a good idea to encourage each of you to do it too.

As I stated earlier I really can't handle a long fast.  And before you try fasting do pray about it first and do your own research concerning how the body is affected by skipped meals.  Please use common sense and know that fasting may not be possible for everyone such as: diabetics, pregnant or nursing women, the very sick, the very old, the malnourished, and people on medications.  A person who fasts should be healthy at the time of fasting.

When I began fasting I decided to start by skipping one meal and spend all that time with the Lord.  After a few tries I felt good about skipping two consecutive meals.  I paid attention to how I felt emotionally, spiritually, and physically by writing in a journal my experiences.

Work days keep coming don't they?  So either plan to fast on a weekend or when you won't have a heavy load of responsibilities at your job. I started keeping track of how much time, in terms of days, my body would need to be back to full strength and scheduled accordingly.

I also began planning what would be acceptable to ingest.  Under no circumstances should anyone be fasting for lengthy periods of time without drinking anything!  There are exceptions in the Bible but those were special cases and miracles in their own right.  Forty-day fasts must be planned and carefully monitored.  The Holy Spirit will never ask someone to do anything that would be detrimental to their health.  The idea of fasting is to achieve a closer relationship with the Lord in this world, not just the next.

After a time of practicing fasting for two meals I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to fast for a full 24 hours.  Because of my physical needs I did continue to drink water and fruit juice in the form of orange juice and apple juice.  I also prepared several days in advance by eating smaller meals as I drew closer to my fast in order to help my stomach transition.  I also planned my meals after the fast. 

I was careful not to do anything physically strenuous the day before, during, and after my fast.  I wrote down a list of things I wished to bring before the Lord and I asked for His direction in planning what to focus on in Bible reading.

I made certain to get a good night's rest before and after my fast and I removed all distractions as much as possible.  And I decided to put on a summer dress. Something I felt pretty and presentable in since Jesus is my best friend and I like looking good for my friends.  It really did help me get focused on why I was fasting in the first place.

Things I noticed:    

As long as I kept to a scheduled time of drinking the hunger pains were minimal.  
I did experience feeling cold later in the day and had a warm tea and put on a blanket.  
It soon passed.  

I was careful not to stand up too quickly to avoid dizziness.

I experienced several breakthroughs concerning my life and God spoke to me profoundly through His Word.  I feared I would run out things to pray about but I never did.

I did experience a few bouts of fatigue.  By the end of the 24 hours I was quite tired.  
In fact I did take a short 20 minute nap during the day.

After the fast I felt renewed, invigorated, and very happy and content as I haven't felt in a long time.  And those feelings have lasted to this day.  I have no doubt it is because of the time I spent seeking the Lord and I want more.

Something to keep in mind is that not every prayer will be answered as we wish.  God cannot be manipulated.  He is not a genie in a bottle.  

You will probably face opposition but if the Holy Spirit is leading you then obey Him anyway.  It is soooo worth it!

Never fast in order to brag about it.  Fasting is to humble us.  No one is "more spiritual" by fasting since we are all called to do so.   Those are common reasons why other religions fast (monks, nuns, etc.).  Fasting can never replace salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

I will continue to incorporate fasting into my life and I hope that you will too.  The benefits are wonderful and if you are struggling with strongholds in your life, or if you are wrestling with defeat or discouragement, then let me urge you to fast.  

No way around it.  Fasting is hard work.  So start small... one meal and go wherever God leads you from there.  It is possible to fast.  You can do it!  God will help you as He did I and so many others.

And when fast you will be joining the ranks of Christians leaders who rocked the world.  People like:  Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Finney, etc.

Blessings to you as you seek to know the Lord more deeply.