David Leads The Way

Remember when Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44)? He said that we do this so that we “may be the children of your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:45). This is hard. Our resentment seeks to lash out against our enemies with an “eye for an eye” and a “blow for a blow.” But Jesus enjoined on us the attitude that when we are persecuted for doing good, we should respond positively: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Mt 5:12).

David took this one step further. We struggle under the instructions of Jesus to love and pray for our enemies. The carnal side of our humanity seeks to retaliate with equal harm to our enemies.   But what if the Holy Spirit called on us not only to pray, but also to fast for our enemies? This is what David, the “man after God’s own heart,” did in response to his enemies. We humbly listen to the Holy Spirit speak to us through David in Psalm 35:

They [David’s enemies] rewarded me evil for good to the sorrow of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth. I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer returned to me unanswered. I behaved myself as though he [my enemy] had been my friend or brother. I bowed down heavily as one who mourns for his mother (Ps 35:12-14).

Would we mourn in sackcloth with fasting for those who lash out against us? David turned his enemies over to the Lord through prayer and fasting. “And let the angel of the Lord persecute them” (Ps 35:6). But as for him, he would fast for them as one would fast for his own brother or mother.

In view of one’s struggles through fasting, we find it amazing that David would behave so toward his enemies. It is easy to utter a momentary prayer for an enemy and move on. We comfort ourselves that we have legally satisfied Jesus’ command to pray for our enemies. But with a lingering and prolonged fast, it is not so easy to dismiss our responsibility to “pray for those who persecute us.”

A prayer is for a moment, but a fast is for a prolonged period of time during which one is self-inflicting oneself on behalf of his enemy. In this behavior we realize the longsuffering of God who lingers for us when we go astray from Him. We begin to understand how, not why, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). In fasting for our enemies, we are given a brief glimpse into the longsuffering of God that the Holy Spirit sought to explain through Paul in the following statement: “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8).

David was a person who identified himself so much with the character of God that he put himself in the place of God in this world.   He sought to be a child of His Father who was in heaven. He wrote, For the zeal of Your house has eaten me up. And the reproaches of those who reproached You are fallen on me” (Ps 69:9). David was so in tune with God that the unrighteous could not comprehend the spirit and purpose of his fasting. When I chastened my soul with fasting,” he wrote, men jeered at me (Ps 69:10).

In fasting, the righteous will often be ridiculed by the unrighteous today because they do not understand the spiritual purpose for which the righteous fast. If one does not believe this, then try fasting at the time when there is an office party. Try to maintain a fast during a family reunion or during a birthday party.

We have found that it is quite difficult to have a lengthy fast in a world that seems to consider the eating of food on a continual basis a necessary part of connecting socially. The world jeers at the one who would discipline himself in a prolonged fast. There is no respect for the one fasting because those around him are deep into the world. Imagine drinking no coffee at the office for a week. It would be as David said, “I made sackcloth also my garment, and I became a proverb to them (Ps 69:11).

When in a prolonged fast in these modern times, it will be sometimes as David, who lamentably wrote during his fast for his enemies:

Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness. And I look for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Ps 69:20).

Nevertheless, one’s fast must continue if he or she has determined to reconnect with God in deliverance from the foes of this world.   We must fast until we feast on the sweet morsels of spiritual energy that flows freely from the throne of our Father. David would walk us through this journey. My knees are weak through fasting,” He wrote, “and my flesh fails of fatness” (Ps 109:24).

David fasted to the point that his body was manifesting to those around him the loss of weight. This was not a day fast. It was not for two or three days. It was a fast that could be identified by his loss of “fatness” over a long period of time. But in such a fast, one must be prepared for the jeering of the unrighteous. David again wrote, “I have become also a reproach to them [the unrighteous]. When they look on me, they shake their heads” (Ps 109:25).

There may be times in our lives when we should fast to the point that unbelievers shake their heads concerning what we are doing to ourselves. At least this was what David did. Our unbelieving friends will never understand why we would go on a fast to the point that our bodies would show a tremendous loss of weight. The non-spiritual have no idea what the spiritual are trying to accomplish through fasting. If there were a time when the spiritual are not on the same page as the non-spiritual, it is in the realm of fasting.

Fasting by the spiritual proclaims to the world that our Father reigns in our lives. The one who fasts, however, must not put on a show of their fasting as the hypocrites. Jesus said of them, “Do not look gloomy as the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so that they may appear to men to be fasting” (Mt 6:16). The righteous must wash and cloth themselves in an ordinary manner in order to manifest to the world that their fast is inward, not outward (Mt 5:17,18). Fasting is never to be for the purpose of manifesting one’s self before the world, lest the purpose for fasting be defeated.

It is interesting to note what David concluded should be one of the outcomes of a prolonged fast: So that they may know that this is Your hand, that You, Lord, have done it (Ps 109:27). We would fast until the unbeliever comes to the conclusion that we fast in order to reconnect with our Father in heaven.

[Next lecture in series: July 22]

Fast In Face Of Calamity

The historical setting for this fast by Mordecai and Esther came as a result of Haman orchestrating a scheme to have the Jews killed throughout the Medo-Persian Kingdom.

When Mordecai perceived all that was done [by Haman], he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth with ashes. And he went out into the middle of the city and cried out with a loud and bitter cry (Et 4:1).

What was happening was a potential national calamity for the Jews. They were about to be exterminated from existence. The King’s decree to kill all the Jews went throughout the entire Medo-Persian Empire and there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting and weeping and wailing (Et 4:3). When a nation of people are about to suffer a great calamity, it is time for national mourning and fasting.

In this case, the Jews were innocent. The calamity was not their making. There was an outside evil that was coming upon them because “of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the Jews in order to destroy them” (Et 4:7).

Queen Esther was informed of the wicked scheme of Haman. Now Esther was in a dilemma.   It was the law of the land that no one could approach the king unless he held out the golden scepter so that the one who approached him would live (Et 4:11). But Mordecai exhorted Esther, “Do not think that you will escape in the king’s house more than all the Jews” (Et 4:13). Her life, too, was in danger, for she was a Jew. It was a time for Esther to risk her own life for her nation. Mordecai encouraged her with the words, “And who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Et 4:14).

Esther’s response to the calamity was heroic. “Go,” she said to Mordecai. “Gather together all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me. And do not eat or drink three days, night or day (Et 4:16). Esther would take her life into her own hand by approaching the King without an official invitation. “I will go in to the king that is not according to the law.   And if I perish, I perish” (Et 4:16). And she did not. The Jews were saved from an ethnic cleansing at the hand of wicked Haman when the king realized that the genocide scheme was against some of the people of his kingdom, particularly the Queen.

When righteous people rise up and realize that calamity is upon them as a people, it is a time for mourning, fasting and petitions to God. When the decree of the king went throughout the Empire, the Jews knew that they were in trouble. In this case, the people against whom the evil was intended were the people of God. It was an evil scheme of Satan to terminate the fulfillment of the promises that God had made to the fathers concerning the coming of the Redeemer into the world through the Jews. When schemes are engineered on earth to thwart the eternal plans of God, then God’s children must renew their commitment to God, for God is about to act through some unknown manner.

Mordecai knew that the genocide of the Jews could not happen because he knew the promises and plan of God through Israel.   For this reason he said to Esther, “For if you hold your peace at this time, then relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place (Et 4:14). Though we may know the plan of God to act in whatever way He chooses, this is not an excuse to sit by in idleness. It is a time for fasting and praying. For example, God promises to forgive and remember our sins no more. But we still must pray and confess our sins (1 Jn 1:9). Knowledge of the plan of God is no excuse for neglecting fasting and prayer for that which will come. We know that Jesus is coming again. This is certain. However, it is something about which we fast and pray in order that He come now (See 1 Co 16:22; Rv 22:20).   We would, therefore, fast and pray for that which the Lord has promised He will do. Fasting and prayer put us on the side of God who will carry out His plans for the redemption of His people.

We can think of no better way to conclude this chapter than with the words of a great American President, Abraham Lincoln .   President Lincoln made the following proclamation while the United States was in the throes of a civil war that divided a nation. Senator James Harlan of Iowa, who was the son-in-law of President Lincoln, introduced a unique Resolution in the Senate of the United States on March 2, 1863.   A request was made of President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting for the United States of America during its time of national division. The Resolution was subsequently adopted on March 3rd and was later signed by President Lincoln on March 30th. This was one month before the day of fasting was observed on behalf of the nation. Notice carefully the spiritual language of the Resolution. We wonder if such a Resolution could ever be introduced into the present Senate of the United States.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day of National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward, Secretary of State

[Next lecture in series: July 19]

Fast For Favor

When concerned people realize that things are not right, they mourn, fast, pray and take action. Such were the actions of Nehemiah in reference to the spiritual condition of God’s people while they were residing in the land of their captivity and the condition of a remnant that had returned to Palestine.

When a delegation of men eventually came from Palestine to Nehemiah, who was the cupbearer for the King in the palace of Shushan, Nehemiah asked them concerning the condition of Jerusalem and the returned remnant of God’s people who were in the land of Palestine. The delegation replied through Hanani,

The remnant that is left from the captivity in the province is in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down and its gates are burned with fire (Ne 1:3).

Godly people are not insensitive to the deplorable situation in which God’s mission sometimes exists at any place or time in history. It was God’s plan to work through Israel in the haven of the promised land to eventually bring the Messiah and Savior into the world. But according to the report of Hanani who testified concerning the condition of the people of God in the land of Palestine, the situation was deplorable.   Those who were in the land were composed of those who were left in Palestine after the captivity of 586 B.C., as well as a remnant of captives that joined them with the restorations led by Zerubbabel in 536 B.C. and Ezra in 457 B.C. Restoration in those days was started on the city, but was eventually terminated.

Godly leaders respond, as Nehemiah, to situations that are wrong in reference to the work of God.

Now it came to pass when I heard these words that I sat down and wept. And I mourned many days, and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven (Ne 1:4).

The historical setting of this report is crucial in reference to Nehemiah’s response. With the return of captives to Palestine that were led by Zerubbabel and Ezra, the rebuilding of the temple was completed in 515 B.C. (Ez 6:13-16).   However, opposition arose against the returnees to the point that they ceased rebuilding the city (Ez 4:1-5,24).   God then sent Haggai and Zechariah to motivate the people to continue the rebuilding of the city (Ez 4:24; 5:1ff).   But because of opposition, the rebuilding was still not completed. It was not until the coming of Nehemiah in 444 B.C. that the city reconstruction was started again and completed. This was over ninety years after the initial return of captives in 536 B.C.   Now we can better understand Nehemiah’s tearful response to the report of Hanani that the city was still in ruins.*

In his weeping prayer and fasting to God in response to the report of Hanani, Nehemiah first confessed the sins of the people that had led to the condition in which they existed in the land (Ne 1:6).   He prayed, “We have dealt very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments (Ne 1:7).

Nehemiah confessed that their predicament was the result of their own sin. In his confession, he remembered the pronouncement that God had made to Israel through Moses before they entered the land over one thousand years before:If you transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations” (Ne 1:8). But in the warning concerning transgression and exile, there was also a promise.

 But if you turn to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though your outcasts be in the uttermost part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place that I have chosen to set My name (Ne 1:9).

Nehemiah realized that if the people of God would be restored to their mission to continue the purpose of God, then it was a time for mourning, confession, fasting and prayer. The sincerity of Nehemiah’s prayer for the restoration of Israel was revealed in his mourning and fasting over the past sin of the people. Because of his intense emotional response to the report of the men from Palestine, he took a lead in setting the example for the people to do likewise. His reaction to the report was a call for mourning, fasting and prayer on the part of the people.

Nehemiah realized that he must first lead in mourning and fasting for the people in order to plead with God that restoration occur. Nehemiah’s prayer, therefore, was backed up with the intensity of his fasting. After he had fasted, he prayed,

O Lord, I beseech You, let now Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name. And make Your servant prosper today and grant him compassion before this man [the King of Persia] (Ne 1:11).

Results happened in answer to Nehemiah’s fasting and prayer. Nehemiah subsequently was released from his duties as cupbearer to the King in Shushan. He then led a group of repentant captives back to Palestine.   Ezra had previously led in restoring captives to the land not long before Nehemiah’s restoration. It was a time in Israel’s history for rejoicing.   It was a time of reading from the word of God in the land. But it was also a time for action. Prayer and fasting produce results when those who pray and fast do their part.   The theology to pray and fast, and then wait on God to act is a self-deception. James was right, “Faith without works is dead” (See Js 2:17).

In order to activate the request of their desires, the people gathered together in the land for a special assembly. They called on Ezra to bring and read the law of the Lord (Ne 8:1-3). The people also assembled with fasting and with sackcloth and dust on them (Ne 9:1). For one-fourth of the day at this special assembly, Ezra “read in the book of the law of the Lord their God” (Ne 9:3). The people realized that their obedience must be according to the word of God.

The people also realized that their situation in captivity was the result of their fathers’ forsaking of the word of God.   And now that they were restored to the land, they understood that in order to stay in the land to accomplish the work of God through them, they must stay close to the word of God. Fasting and prayer for restoration can be profitable and sure only when people are driven to the word of God for direction.   It is only the word of God that will keep people close to God, and consequently, God close to their desires to work to His glory.

All these events happened in fulfillment of a promise that God made to Israel many years before when they were still in the midst of apostasy in the land. God promised through Isaiah, the prophet at the time, that upon their return to Him, they would be restored from captivity:

Then your light [after captivity] will break out like the dawn and your health will speedily spring forth. And your righteousness will go before you. The glory of the Lord will be your reward. Then you will call and the Lord will answer. You will cry and He will say, “Here I am.” (Is 58:8,9).

Because of Nehemiah’s righteous leadership, he and the captives saw in their lives the fulfillment of God’s promise through Isaiah.   In captivity, the people mourned over their sin. They prayed and fasted and the Lord heard. When they were restored to the land, they fasted and prayed in thanksgiving.   They made a commitment to stay close to the word of God, lest they repeat the apostasy of their fathers.

God had answered their prayer for restoration because they mourned and fasted over their apostasy from Him. The people, through the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra, committed themselves never to make the same mistake of turning from the word of God. The sincerity of their commitment was based on the intensity of their prayers and fasting. It could be concluded that their fasting kept them in prayer and their prayer kept them close to the word of God. And when people stay close to the word of God, they stay close to God.

We glean a great deal from the events of this historical account of Nehemiah in reference to the importance of fasting in our lives. Prayer was the communication of the people to God concerning their repentance and desires. But it was fasting that communicated to God the intensity of their requests. Their requests through the communication of prayer was made sincere through their fasting, and by fasting their prayer was made complete.

Through fasting they were able to clearly focus on their goal of rebuilding the wall of the city.   We might conclude that the success of their focusing through fasting was that “the wall was finished in the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days” (Ne 6:15).

[Next lecture in series: July 16]

Fast For Life

(2 Samuel 12:1-23)

Because he allowed himself to be tempted, David committed adultery with another man’s wife. The prophet Nathan confronted David on the matter with a parable, and with the following concluding words: “You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon” (2 Sm 12:9). Nathan’s judgment of David was not unfruitful. David repented with the words, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sm 12:13).

But this story was not over with the repentance of David. When Nathan departed from the house of David, “The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife [Bathsheba] bore to David, and he was very sick” (2 Sm 12:15). Whether David knew that the Lord had taken a direct hand in the matter to strike the child sick, we are not told. We are told, however, that David “inquired of God for the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground (2 Sm 12:16).

David evidently concluded that this was a life-threatening sickness. His love for the child moved him to fast in his petitions to the Lord on behalf of the child. A parent who has not had this experience cannot fully understand the helplessness that David felt for his child. We are told that he fasted.   Whether intentional, or because of intense worry, we are not told. But a parent who has a child who wavers between life and death will feel no desire to eat. We view David’s fast in this context to be both the result of intense worry that was combined with his intense prayer that God save the child.

David’s fast was prolonged. “The elders of his house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat bread with them” (2 Sm 12:17). Realizing that David was as a mourning father on the ground before his sick child, the elders sought to comfort him by raising him from the ground. The elders offered to eat with him in order to bring comfort to this concerned father.

“Now it came to pass on the seventh day that the child died (2 Sm 12:18). We assume that this was the seventh day after the child first fell sick, and for the same amount of time, David was on the ground before the child in fasting and agonizing prayer.

There are those times in a parent’s life that fasting is the right thing to do. When our children are in danger, it is a time for agonizing prayer that is coupled with fasting. We would fast as David until a solution is realized. Unfortunately, in David’s situation, the result of the sickness of the child was death. Since it was God who struck the child with sickness, we wonder why He allowed the child to remain alive for seven days before he died. It could be that God wanted to impress on David the great shame that he, the king, had brought on the people of God through his adultery with Bathseba, and subsequent elimination of Uriah, the husband of Bathseba, by death in battle (See 2 Sm 12:14). The sin was grievous, and thus the time for sorrow was also to be grievous.   And because we have a biblical record of this sin, God would admonish each one of us never to involve ourselves in such a scheme, which in this case, led to the death of both an innocent man, Uriah, and an innocent child.

[Next lecture in series: July 13]

Mourn, Fast and Attack

(1 Samuel 7:1-12)

The context of this event of fasting on the part of God’s people is explained in 1 Samuel 7:2:

Now it came to pass while the ark remained in Kirjath Jearim that the time was long, for it was twenty years.   And all the house of Israel mourned after the Lord.

Samuel’s answer to test the sincerity of the mourning of the people was his following mandate:

If you do return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only. And He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:3).

 Realizing that one has strayed from the Lord should stimulate sincere mourning. But in order to mourn sincerely, one must know the Lord from whom one has strayed.   And there is only one way to know the Lord. “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rm 10:17). One can mourn in ignorance of the word of God, but such mourning is useless in “putting away foreign gods.” Acceptable mourning must be founded upon the word of God from which one has strayed. Sincere mourning is characteristic of those who hunger and thirst after the word of God (See Mt 5:3-6).

In the case of the people in the historical event of 1 Samuel 7, Samuel commanded that the people turn from the gods they had created after their own imagination (1 Sm 7:4). Their next action was to take action. Samuel directed, “Gather all Israel to Mizpeh and I will pray to the Lord for you” (1 Sm 7:5). The people immediately obeyed the orders of Samuel to gather at Mizpeh. And they fasted on that day and said there, ‘We have sinned against the Lord’” (1 Sm 7:6). Their mourning provoked fasting and confession that they had strayed from the will of the one true and living God. Therefore, in order to prepare their hearts and bodies for war, they fasted This was a day fast, probably ending in the evening, for on the following days they were going into battle (See Jg 20:26).

In preparation for this fast, they first took ownership of their sin that they had forsook God. They were mourning over something that was wrong in their lives, that is, they had forsaken the will of God for the will of foreign gods. As a result of their apostasy, God allowed the ark of God to be taken from them. The objective of their fast, therefore, was first to restore themselves to God, and then, restore the ark of God to its proper place.

When righteous people realize that they are not spiritually right with God, it is a time for mourning. But mourning must be followed by action. Feelings profit nothing if they are not objectively carried out in our lives. Once the people of Israel heeded the call to do that which was right, they fasted an entire day in order to prepare themselves in body and mind to engage the Philistines in battle.

This incident reminds us of the physical benefits of fasting that the people surely knew at the time of this conflict. It was not a time to gorge oneself with a heavy meal, and then try to engage the enemy on the battlefield. It would be quite difficult to go into battle and pursue an enemy on a full stomach. The imminent conflict called for a fast in order to energize their bodies and minds for battle.

When the Philistines heard that Israel was serious about retrieving the ark of God, they were terrified. Israel was empowered both mentally and physically through their fasting. They prepared themselves to run great distances in pursuit of the Philistines.   They “went out of Mizpeh and pursued the Philistines. And they smote them down as far as below Beth Car” (1 Sm 7:11). The end of the story was recorded in 1 Samuel 7:12:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen. And he called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us (1 Sm 7:12).

If the saints of God today would raise a stone to commemorate their victories for God, then mourning and prayer over that which is not right in their lives must begin. Next comes action and fasting, and action again. Our fasting objectively reveals the sincerity of our mourning and prayers. If we would have God heed the call of our prayers, then our mourning must be in response to His word and will. Religious people who are ignorant of the word of God have no idea what the will of God is, and thus, their pleas to God to act in their lives goes unanswered. And thus, their mourning is in vain in that it is not in response to the word and will of God.

Many years later, Israel again sinned. And again God punished them. On this particular occasion, King Saul had taken apostate Israel into battle with the Philistines. In this battle, the Philistines won because Saul had moved away from the will of God. Consequently, King Saul and his sons were slain in the battle. To disgrace Saul and his son, the Philistines hung their bodies on a wall at Beth Shan.

Fortunately, there were some valiant men in Jabesh Gilead who “arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan.   And they came to Jabesh and burnt them there” (1 Sm 31:11,12). When these righteous men had accomplished this good deed, they fasted seven days (1 Sm 31:13; 1 Ch 10:12). This fasting was in respect of God’s anointed, but also their cleansing from handling dead bodies. The sincerity of their deed was manifested for seven days in their fasting. When good men to do good things, a fast in appreciation for God working through them to accomplish good works for His glory is in order. The valiant men of Jabesh Gilead would teach us a lesson on fasting when we accomplish good things because God worked in our lives.

[Next lecture in series: July 10]

Listen to the Doctor

Fasting affects every part of our physical and spiritual being. We wish that the Bible had given more details on this matter. If it had, we would probably fast more for physical reasons than spiritual reasons. Fasting is the result of a spiritual commitment that has serendipitous physical benefits.   Since we are almost always focused on the physical, and if God had explained all the health reasons for fasting, then we would surely neglect the spiritual in order to accomplish the physical results. Nevertheless, God made our bodies in a marvelous way that it re-energizes itself when we fast. For the Christian, however, fasting is primarily about spiritual matters.   Nevertheless, we do not ignore the physical health benefits of fasting that have been learned throughout history.

As an introduction to our study of the historical cases of fasting by the children of God, upon our doctor’s advice, it is good to identify some of the physical benefits of fasting that are connected with the spiritual. Only in the last century has the modern medical world “discovered” many of the physical benefits of fasting that many people have known for centuries. We only assume that those who fasted in ancient times understood some of the physical benefits that modern medicine has now confirmed. Though we do not assume that the ancients fasted primarily because of physical benefits, we do assume that they realized many of the health benefits of fasting.   At least in the biblical context where fasting is mentioned, there is no mention of physical benefits, though we could assume that the physical benefits played a part in the fasting. As we study case examples of fasting in the Bible we will assume that the people had naturally discovered many of the physical benefits of fasting.

Generally speaking, some of the mental and physical benefits of fasting that have been discovered by modern medicine and Christians are the following: (1) In fasting, the spiritual part of man has the opportunity to refocus on the mental. (2) The result of focusing on the mental in fasting is that we have better clarity in thought processing. (3) When we focus on the mental (spiritual), our thoughts are trained to focus clearly on tasks that are at hand. (4) In reference to the Christian, when one focuses in fasting on the spiritual, his or her focus becomes more aware of God’s participation in our lives. (5) Fasting gives our digestive system a break.   (6) When our digestive system is idle, then the body has the opportunity to cleanse itself through detoxification. (7) The energy saved from digestion is directed to repairing the body. (8) Through fasting our body has the opportunity to refocus on restoring itself in order to be energized after the fast is terminated.

Some doctors have stated that fasting is the “miracle healing” for many of our most common ailments. In his book, Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Dr. Elson Haas mentioned twenty-four different health and spiritual benefits that result from fasting. These include a better resistance to disease, better sleep, better creativity, improved senses, more energy, purification of the body and physical rejuvenation. Haas continued to explain that the body has the ability to heal and maintain itself through periodic fasts.   Fasting frees up energy to be directed to the healing processes of the body. The old saying, “You must eat to get better,” is not necessarily true. If one loses his appetite, his body is saying, “Give me a break so I can heal myself.” Listen to Pepper.

Fasting from specific foods and drinks will produce limited results. When we fast from those foods or drinks that we crave, then our mind is being reprogrammed not to depend on those craved foods and drinks. Cravings are a dysfunction of our life-style behavior.   When we fast from cravings, we are training our minds to consume all things in moderation.

In America over 50,000 people die every year because of opioid overdose. This overdose of a drug should be a resounding call for fasting from those who are addicted to any drug. The same should be said of the alcoholic and those addicted to smoking. If one is in the bondage of coke or coffee, he or she too is in need of fasting from these cravings in order to know that something outside their bodies does not have control over mind and body.

Fasting is a blessing to the health of both mind and body. During a prolonged fast the body frees up energy to detox and to redirect energy to repair cells, organs and skin tissues. Fasting reprograms the mind to detour the craving for drugs. This is especially true in reference to long fasts. As in the case of Pepper, it took a long fast in order that the body repair the wound of a severed leg. Lengthy fasts redirect the healing processes of our body and reprogram our minds. Fasting for a long period of time gives our bodies the opportunity to detox in order that the cleansed body better use its own healing processes. In fasting, our minds are delivered from the bondage of outside influences.

Detoxification is one of the greatest physiological benefits of fasting. After about two days of fasting, and when one has progressed through the common “detox headache,” he or she knows that their body has stored up toxins that had to be eliminated from their system. Fasting cleans out stored toxins. When the headache is gone, then the toxins are gone.

Detoxification is only one benefit of fasting where the body is doing some house repair in order to come back with more energy after the fast. Those who fast for health reasons must remember that the body is storing up a great deal of toxins from the medication that is consumed on a regular basis. These toxins must occasionally be flushed from the body.

Fasting gives the body an opportunity to readjust itself to normality. Our bodily functions are re-balanced in order to function unhindered in order that the body heal itself with its own power. For this reason, fasting is given credit for allowing the body the opportunity to clear up many allergies, help with arthritis, digestive disorders, skin conditions, cardiovascular disease and asthma. Eating excessively on a regular basis hinders the body from functioning normally in guarding and healing itself. When one is an excessive eater, his or her body is storing away toxins and postponing normal body function to eliminate toxins. It is as if the body is waiting for a time of rest from digestion.

Two thousand years ago obesity was not a problem in societies throughout the world. Archaeological discoveries reveal no fat statues or inscriptions.   However, in these modern times of wealth and prosperity, obesity characterizes the majority of many Western populations. When artists paint a true picture of the typical modern person, there is a bulge hanging over the belt. If the world is here a thousand years from now, we wonder what archaeologists then will conclude from their discoveries of the sculptures and art of this generation.

Some would fast solely for the purpose of losing weight. In fact, many people with whom we have discussed fasting name this as their primary reason for fasting.   There is some benefit of fasting for physical goals. But if fasting is solely for the purpose of losing weight, but with no change in mental attitude, then the weight loss is usually undone soon after the fasting.   The point is that if one’s mind is not connected with the fast, then no mental change is made. Subsequently, one’s normal mental attitude toward food will continue after the fast as it was before. And since one’s body goes into “starvation mode” when in a fast, immediately after the fast almost all the food intake is consumed by the body.   Therefore, regardless of the reason for fasting, one should eat lightly for some time after any fast.

The body can be trained to fast. We have discovered that when fasting on a regular bases, the body can easily go into a two to three day fast without all the agony that comes with initial fasts. Once the body and mind are trained to fast, then it is easy to fast. The Pharisees who fasted twice a week knew this (Lk 18:12).   Nevertheless, that first fast is a struggle. The reason so many people give up on fasting is that they cannot mentally get past all the struggles they had with their initial fast. But be patient, fasting becomes easier the more one fasts.

Fasting will change your tastes. We once fasted from all carbonated drinks for two years.   After about two weeks into the fast, water started tasting better. We were amazed. We just could not drink enough water. What fasting does is also turn one’s tastes more toward natural and wholesome foods. We found that fasting moved us to love salads, a food that we were not previously overenthusiastic about eating. It was an interesting experience, discovering that God evidently created our bodies first to be vegetarian.

Since fasting gives one greater mental clarity and energy, then the conclusion is obvious. Before one seeks to accomplish a particular task, then fasting should be one of the first things to do in order to clarify one’s mind. If the task is physically related, then fasting gives the body the opportunity to rejuvenate itself before engaging in the physical task. If one desires to have a clearer perspective of what is to come, then fasting helps one to think more clearly.

Some tasks that are before us demand a clear focus by the mental/spiritual side of our being. Since our physical being is inseparably linked to our mental being, then fasting refocuses our attention to clarify our objectives. This is one reason why fasting is often linked with prayer in the Scriptures. Fasting helps us to focus in prayer. Instead of gorging ourselves into spiritual frailty, fasting restores our focus on spiritual things.

Prayer becomes more intense when we are on a prolonged fast. When Epaphras “labored fervently” in prayer, we assume that his prayer was connected with fasting (Cl 4:12).   The Greek word that the Spirit used to define his fervent prayer was the word that was also used to refer to the labor pains through which a woman goes during childbirth. Fasting will take one to the level of agonizing in prayer.   If one is having difficulty with his or her prayer life, then fasting is the cure.

We keep in mind these benefits of fasting as we study various texts of the Bible where the people of God fasted. Knowing what modern medicine has discovered helps us better understand why some fasted in the Bible in reference to great tasks that were set before them. Though there are no commands in the Bible to fast, there are enough examples to lead us into this behavior as the children of God.

[Next lecture in series: July 7]

Objective Assurance

There is a difference between subjective and objective influences and responses.   Subjective focuses on inward feelings and emotions. Objective focuses on outward influences that often generate subjective responses.   Our emotions and thoughts are subjective influences that determine our behavior. Influences from what we empirically experience around us, or read, are objective. Objective influences affect our subjective responses, but objective influences exist separate from our subjective being as a person. Though only God can judge us according to our hearts, He does not accept subjective responses alone in reference to our salvation.

Now consider this in reference to God generating a salvational response and behavioral changes in our lives. James referred to both the subjective and objective when he wrote, “Even so faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Js 2:17). Faith is inward, and thus subjective. Works, however, are objective, for they are a manifestation of that which is within us. Works are something that can be witnessed by others in one’s life. When James said, “I will show you my faith by my works,” he was rebutting those who affirmed that their faith alone could simply be accepted because it was self-proclaimed (Js 2:18).

But James is saying that God does not accept anyone’s subjective faith without an open and objective demonstration. He does not accept anyone’s declaration that “I am saved,” without the objective testimony of obedience. And for this reason, He does not ask any Christian to accept anyone’s faith that is not objectively demonstrated through fruit bearing.

Some self-righteous disciples in Corinth sought to masquerade themselves as saints. But Paul wrote that they were Satan’s disciples among the sincere disciples. They “masquerade themselves as ministers of righteousness” (2 Co 11:15).   But, Paul warned, their “end will be according to their works (2 Co 11:5). Their inner twisted self-righteousness would be revealed to be false when they are objectively judged according to their works.   Judgment will be fair, therefore, because “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Co 5:10).

Final judgment will be objective according to our works, and thus there will be no doubts as to why one is either saved or condemned. And for this reason, God allows us to make an objective judgment of others according to the witness of their works. This is what Jesus meant when He instructed His disciples, “Do not judge according to appearance [what one pretends to be], but judge righteous judgment [according to his deeds] (Jn 7:24). We are only allowed to make judgments objectively by witnessing the righteous works of others. In this context Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16).   Christians have no right to judge the subjective motives of one another. However, they are to be cautious fruit inspectors.

We learn from this something very important in reference to how God considers both the salvation and faithfulness of any person. The faith that saves is objectively manifested and witnessed by others. It is declared by God to others when others see the obedience that God objectively requires in His word in order to be saved. Paul focused on this principle in the life of the erring disciple: “For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation” (2 Co 7:10). In other words, if it is sincere, subjective godly sorrow will manifest itself objectively in a changed life of repentance, which changed life is objectively perceived by others. As God accepted no faith without an outward expression, neither does He accept any repentance that cannot be objectively witnessed through godly behavior. He expects us to do likewise.

Now we need to apply this principle to those who seek God’s approval in reference to their salvational relationship with Him. In the historical context of idolatrous religiosity, believers in Jesus in the first century sought to influence idolatrous unbelievers through the power of the objective gospel event of the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Son of God. Their initial objective statements gave direction to salvation for unbelievers: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you … will be saved” (At 16:31).   This was an initial objective statement that called for a subjective inward response of faith in the resurrected and ascended Jesus. The inquiring sinner had the opportunity to subjectively respond with inward faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, in order for the sinner to come into a salvational relationship with God, the subjective response had to be manifested with an objective demonstration.

The Ethiopian eunuch is a typical example of an objective response. Philip objectively presented the means by which the eunuch could reveal any subjective faith. Beginning with Isaiah 53, Philip “preached Jesus to him” (At 8:35). Philip’s objective word about Jesus worked because the eunuch responded with a desire to objectively reveal his subjective response to Jesus. So he said to Philip, “See, here is water! What hinders me from being baptized” (At 8:36). Baptism was an objective manifestation of an inward subjective faith.

The same scenario developed on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Peter presented the objective evidence that the crucified Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (At 2:14-36). The people, therefore, subjectively responded, for they were “cut to the heart” (At 2:37). Their response was initially inward. However, they had to make an outward objective response before they could receive remission of sins. In order that they reveal their subjective “cutting to the heart,” therefore, Peter revealed to them what they must do to objectively manifest before God and man that their faith was not dead: “Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (At 2:38). A change in behavior (repentance), and baptism, were the objective responses to their subjective “cutting to the heart.”

God never asked repentant believers to trust in their own intuition, feelings, or emotions in reference to their own salvation. He has never required this of people for one simple reason: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jr 10:23). If we were allowed by God to trust in our own subjective emotions as a guarantee of our salvation, then we would become narcissistic religionists.   This is the belief of man-made religionists who seek to call out to God their own terms for their own salvation.

However, as Peter uttered the mandate of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38, a God-directed objective response of faith must always be the point of reference where sins that separate us from God, are washed away in the waters of baptism (At 22:16). The objective experience of baptism into Christ is a point in one’s life where faith is objectively revealed, both to God and to those who witness the occasion.

After years of spiritual growth, the objective response of baptism is a God-ordained point of reference to which one can always know that God saved him by washing away his sins. This is not the case with the subjective declarant who would spiritually grow beyond those youthful years where he or she sought to declare his or her own salvation by a self-proclamation that is not stated in the word of God. It is God who has the right to declare when we are saved, and His declaration is made by our objective obedience to the death of Jesus for our sins, and resurrection for our hope (See Rm 6:3-6).

Immediately before His ascension, Jesus explained it clearly: “He who believes [subjective] and is baptized [objective] will be saved” (Mk 16:16).   The objective (baptism) substantiates the existence of the subjective (belief). However, Jesus continued, “But he who does not believe [subjective] will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). There is no reason to mention the objective (baptism) if one does not have the subjective belief to take one into and out of the waters of baptism.   If one’s subjective faith does not lead to an outward manifestation of objective obedience to Jesus’ instructions, then his faith is dead. It is dead because it is a faith that is void of objective obedience.

We must caution everyone, therefore, that faith (subjective) comes by hearing the objective word of Christ (Rm 10:17). If we do not obey what God has objectively presented through words of instruction in reference to our faith, then we are harboring a dead faith about which James said would produce only death.

God never gave man the right to declare his own salvation through his own self-proclamation that he “received Jesus,” “went forward during a ‘church’ service,” or fell to his knees. It is God, not man, who, through His word, mandates the objective conditions that must be obeyed in order that we are assured that our sins are washed away.   And His declaration is actually quite simple: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16).   It cannot be stated more clearly than that. Our assurance, therefore, is in the declaration of God that our sins have been washed away and forgiven at the point of our obedience to His instructions that we read about in the Bible.

[For continued study, download free and read Book 41, Obedience To The Gospel.

www.africainternational.org]

Victory on the Summit (2)

In order to celebrate our victory on the summit, we must lay aside anything that would hinder our quest to get there.   And so we remember the Spirit’s words:

Do not fear those things that you will suffer. Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison so that you may be tested. And you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life (Rv 2:10).

All preparations must be made to climb through all the trials that we will incur along the way in our quest to grow as disciples of Jesus. We seek to be aware of our hindrances in order to change or rearrange, or simply discard unnecessary baggage. Every successful mountaineer has a rucksack full of all those things that are necessary in order to be successful. And because weight is one of the most critical aspects of a successful climb to the summit, it is important to discard any unnecessary articles that would weigh one down in his or her quest.

We must be willing to break out of the bondage of past religiosity. Religiosity must be sacrificed for Christianity. Those things that obscure one’s vision of the summit of spiritual growth, must be left behind. Old appendages of religiosity may encumber our growth in Christ. We must be willing, therefore, to make all changes that are necessary in order to establish a greater relationship with King Jesus on our way to summit. There can be no growth in the knowledge of Jesus if one remains in the bondage of biblical ignorance or laden with fake religiosity (See 2 Pt 3:18).

There is no cheap trek to the peak where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tm 6:15).   Some have held up or stalled their accent by claiming to have reached a “personal relationship” with Jesus.   This statement is never made in the New Testament, and thus, we need to be cautioned about the use of the phrase lest we deceive ourselves into reaching a spiritual summit that is far short of greater heights above. We may be claiming a victory that is short of what God has offered for us to enjoy.   In claiming a “personal relationship” with Jesus, we are actually weakening the authority of Jesus’ word in our lives and His promises that we must experience. And if we do this, we weaken the strength of His word and promises to empower us in spiritual growth (See Hb 4:12).

The claim of a “personal relationship” with Jesus is commonly made in a world of confused religionists who have little knowledge of the Bible, especially those passages that read with the meaning of what Jesus said in John 12:48: “He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has one who judges him.” The Judge is Jesus. The standard of judgment is His word. If one uses the phrase “personal relationship” to define his relationship with the Judge, then he must seriously consider a very important point lest he establish for himself a manual on discipleship training that is weak and inactive, and thus will hold one up and stalled on a lower summit. In other words, if one does not consider the word of the Judge authoritative in determining his beliefs and behavior, then certainly he will not respectfully respond to it as the final standard for discipleship training.   One’s “personal relationship” with Jesus would make Jesus equal with everyone else with whom we have a “personal relationship.” Doing this is a similar theological apostasy as the Hebrews who were making Jesus equal with angels, but no greater (See Hb 1).

We have a “personal relationship” with our friends and spouses. In this relationship we are buddies. We are partners. We have one another’s back in times of crisis and trials. This definition of a “personal relationship” with Jesus is usually based only on one’s understanding of who Jesus was in His incarnate state with the early disciples who knew Him as they walked down the Galilean pathways. They talked with Him. They conversed, and possibly they played a game or two with Him. They had a “personal relationship” with Jesus on earth. Our relationship with Jesus is all this, save for the personal encounter with Him. But our relationship with Him is far greater.

On the night of His betrayal, and during His final hours with His disciples, Jesus prepared the disciples for a paradigm shift in their relationship with Him. He said, “You call Me Teacher and Lord. And you are right, for so I am” (Jn 13:13). During His personal ministry with them, the disciples grew to the point of calling Him Teacher (Rabbi). They had also progressed spiritually to calling Him their Lord. But before making this statement to the disciples, and on the same occasion, Jesus had said to them, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has one who judges him. The word that I have spoken, the same will judge him in the last day (Jn 12:48). Our friends with whom we have “personal relationships” would never say this to us. Our wives or husbands with whom we have “personal relationships” would never say this to their spouses. Only one who was God could make such a statement, and our relationship with God is far different and greater than our personal relationship with anyone on this earth.

What the disciples of Jesus did not know at the time when Jesus was personally with them, was that He was about to ascend to the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul later confessed that God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man [Jesus] whom He has ordained” (At 17:31). It is this Judge who is coming again. And it is with this Judge that we must establish a relationship. But the relationship is beyond simply “personal.”

By the time Paul made the preceding statement, his relationship with Jesus had changed from the time when he thought Christians were only a religious sect of this world. At the time he made the statement, Paul had an obedient relationship with the Judge who was King of kings and Lord of Lords. He had this relationship in mind when he wrote,

 The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Th 1:7,8).

Now when we use the phrase “personal relationship” in reference to our discipleship of Jesus, it is this Lord Jesus Christ before whom all men will give account of their sins, for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Co 5:10). In order to stand before the judgment seat of the Lord Jesus, we must have an obedient relationship with Him in reference to His word by which we will all be judged (Jn 12:48).

Discipleship of Divinity must move beyond the “personal relationship” that the disciples had with Jesus before He ascended to the right hand of God. Our knowledge of the Lord Jesus must include more than the information provided by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One must move on to the ascension of Jesus, and then into the epistles wherein it is declared that the Father raised Jesus . . .

. . . from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not in this age, but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet …” (Ep 1:20-22).

We must not settle for a cheap discipleship that sparks no fear deep in our souls in reference to standing before the Lord Jesus in judgment. Our personal friends may forget a multitude of sins because of their love for us.   Our spouses may do the same. But if one is not obediently walking in the light of the word of the Lord Jesus, then His blood will not cleanse him of sin (See 1 Jn 1:7). And if we stand before the Lord Jesus in judgment, then we will have serious trouble.

As the first disciples who walked with Jesus moved on from a personal to an obedient relationship with a reigning King, we too must move on as disciples to the summit of our King Jesus (See Ep 1:20-22).   This the early disciples did.   And because they did, the word of King Jesus empowered them on to higher summits. This we also must do. Jesus is now the ascended Judge at the right hand of God who is coming to judge the world.   It is this Judge with whom we must now have an obedient relationship. When this relationship with Jesus is established, then we too will be able to declare with Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Ph 4:13). And to mountaineers this means, “We can reach all spiritual summits through the One who empowers us.”

The early disciples of Jesus made this paradigm shift. Paul explained this transition in the lives of the first disciples: “Even though we have known Christ [personally] according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more (2 Co 5:16). The first disciples had a personal relationship with Jesus when they walked with Him “according to the flesh” during His earthly ministry. But that all changed when Jesus ascended on high to the right hand of God. Knowing that the Lord Jesus now has all authority is comforting (Mt 28:18).   Knowing that the Lord Jesus is head over all things is empowering (Ep 1:22). Knowing that the Lord Jesus upholds all things by the power of His word is reassuring (Hb 1:3).

Our discipleship with Jesus is based on love, but it is a love about which John wrote: “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). Our love must go into action. We know that we are God’s “little children,” therefore, “when we love God and keep His commandments” (1 Jn 5:2). “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jn 5:3).

Our discipleship of Divinity is now based on our obedience to the commandments of our Lord. Our obedience is always flawed, but our flaws are covered by His grace. We cannot ignore commandments by focusing on grace, lest we turn the grace of God into a life of disobedience (Jd 4). True disciples of Divinity love God through their love of His commandments. It is for this reason that a true disciple is discovered by his or her obsession with the word of his Lord (See At 17:11). A true disciple seeks to be knowledgeable of the “climbing manual” of the Judge before He shows up at the court house for judgment (Hb 9:27).

When the love of God’s commandments reigns in our hearts, fellowship between Bible loving disciples happens. And when the fellowship of obedient Bible lovers happens, then we are brought together in assembly to sing the praises of our Lord and Savior.

Once we clear away all the religiosity that may have been handed down to us through our fathers, we are then on our way to the summit of an unadulterated relationship with the Judge who is seated at the right hand of God. The first disciples transitioned in their relationship with Jesus from personal to the One who reigns as a king over all things (At 17:31). If we would have an obedient discipleship relationship with this Lord Jesus, then we too should say as Eli instructed Samuel the next time he heard the still quiet voice from the Lord, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Sm 3:9).

Do not forget these words from Jesus: “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). When times get tough on “discipleship mountain,” and when you think you have spent your last efforts to scale the slopes, having dressed yourself with Christ, have handy also a comb and some lipstick.

[End of series on Disciples of Divinity. Download the book from www.africainternational.org, Biblical Research Library, Book 71. If you would share the book around the world, it would be appreciated.]

Victory on the Summit (1)

When we were in high school, one of our new school classmates who grew up in the city, and after observing our stout physic, asked my brother and me, “Do you guys work out on weights?” We answered “no,” realizing that our father had “grown a gym” on a Kansas farm where he “worked us out” every day. We grew up on a farm just this side of horse-drawn implements—our father had walked behind a horse pulling a plow in his early years.   But on our “farm gym,” we had 35 kilogram hay bales that we had to deal with from hay cutting time to cattle feeding throughout the winter months. The advantage we had in growing up on the “farm gym” of our father was that we developed arms and legs for mountains.

My wife, Martha, and I eventually moved to Africa in 1989. In our early years in Africa we climbed our share of mountains, but none as Mount Kenya and Kilamanjaro—they are on the bucket list. (Fortunately, I have lost that bucket.) Nevertheless, in our adventure to climb mountains in South Africa, one particular mountain almost did us in.

Knowing that we liked to hike and climb mountains, a good friend of ours studied a particular mountain that she thought would be a challenge for us. So a team was put together, plans were made, and the day arrived for our assault on a mountain summit in 1992.

It was easy to get to base camp. We drove our cars. (OK, we cheated.) But with a good night’s sleep at base camp, we were up at 6:00AM, rucksacks packed, and the team of eight trekked toward what we thought was the summit of a challenging mountain.

Hours went by as we trudged a rocky pathway around the mountain that gradually steepened as we made our way up the southside.   The temperature that day at base camp would eventually rise to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). After laboring and sweating in the lower rising heat, we began to climb into the cooler temperatures of higher altitudes.   But we were a long way from the “summit” that we could see at our level.

After eight hours of laborious struggle, I looked back at Martha and saw that she was somewhat fatigued, but gallantly trudging on in good spirits. Such could not be said for some of the other team members. Nevertheless, we were all determined to carry on.

The wife of one team member was almost at the end of her endurance. So I offered, as any strong-legged farmer, to carry her rucksack. I placed it on my chest, which balanced out my own rucksack on my back. We continued to climb.

From the lower altitudes, we could see what we all first believed was the summit of the mountain. So onward we encouraged one another to go. Because I was the faster of the lot, I went on before the team to walk the way up in order to encourage the exhausted mountaineers below that they could make it to the summit. So for about an hour I labored on up the mountain toward the top. But as I neared what we thought was the summit, I realized that it was not the summit at all. It was only a high ridge that hid the real summit that was much further on up. As I neared the summit of that ridge I was amazed at how much higher the actual summit extended into the heavens.

It was a moment of emotional deflation. I was somewhat disheartened about my discovery.   I stopped to ponder the predicament of the exhausted team below. I calculated that the rest of the team was nearing the end of their physical abilities, as I was close to mine. I looked back and could not see them beyond a ridge over which I had just climbed.   So with my best yell at the top of my voice, I cried out, “Go back! Go back!   This is not the summit!” I cried out the command over and over.

I then assured myself that they had all heard my pleas that they return to base camp. Nevertheless, I was determined to conquer the real summit of this mountain.   I convinced myself that I could do this mountain. So on I went, up to the “deceptive summit,” and then down into a valley on the other side.   Fortunately, in the valley there was a small stream of water. I was in desperate need of water because I was at the end of my supply. I drank like a camel and then threw myself on the ground exhausted just to have a moment of recovery. That was a mistake. Cramps set in and my “farmer legs” stiffened with excruciating pain. I was there alone and surmised that rescuers would eventually find this forty-five year old body sprawled out on the ground with a distorted face lying stiffened by a creek of water.

After some time, however, I recuperated, stood up, and worked out the rest of the pain as my body emptied the toxins that had cramped my belabored leg muscles. I remember, however, having this feeling of peace because I was sure that the team had surely heard my pleas that they return to base camp. I could go in peace alone to the summit, and then make the descent the following day to reunite with them at base camp.   Solitude at the time was truly the best company.

It was now about 6:00PM. I finally reached the real summit and celebrated my victory with a cooked can of beans from a camper’s rucksack cooker. I was at peace and exhilarated by the fact that after eleven hours of climbing I was victorious over the mountain. It was now time to sleep a full night in the tranquility that only summits can offer.

So at about 7:00PM I laid my worn and wasted body down with the setting sun for my prayers of the night. During my conversation with God, I heard this still small voice. It was as if it were coming from a great distance away.   “Rooooger! Rooooger!” the voice cried out. It raced across my mind, “God, is that You?” And there it was again: “Rooooger! Rooooger!” After I theologically readjusted myself, I perceived that the voice was that of Martha, my beloved wife. What?   How in all the world, I thought, was the voice of Martha making its way up from the base of the mountain to the summit where I had convinced myself that I was alone with God? Had I become delirious in my fatigue?

After coming to my senses and overcoming my shock, I jumped up and headed through the twilight hours back down the trail toward the echo of the pleading voice. After over about a half kilometer of hurried walk, I saw in a distance this woman seated calmly on a rock. As I hurriedly drew closer to the “woman on the rock,” I identified her in the twilight as my devoted wife. Thoughts raced through my mind: What in the world is she doing up here? Did she not hear my plea that the team return to base camp?

But there she was, having trudged on before the other team members, two of whom had to give up the quest and return to base camp.   She was somber on that rock. She had neatly combed her hair. She had put on lipstick, straightened her clothing, and sat there calmly on that rock. When I approached her, she had this solemn appearance, being totally exhausted of all emotion and physical strength, but totally ready to give herself over to God.   She was at the edge of the agony of defeat.

She later explained to me her mental state of mind at the time, “I knew I was going to die on that mountain. And when the search party found my body, I didn’t want to look bad.”

To say the least, that was the day that I truly understood that there was more in the woman that I married than I thought, more than even she herself knew. (Mountains have a way of revealing to ourselves who we really are.)

Having not heard my pleas to the team to return to base camp, through some marital instinct she had followed her adventurous husband to the summit of a mountain where she was willing to give herself in death that she be by his side. And by his side she was that night on the summit that both of us had conquered.   And when darkness eventually crept upon the face of the earth that surreal night, and as we lay cradled in one another’s arms, both of us had a greater admiration for the other, me more than she.

[Next lecture in series: May 7]

Envision the Summit (3)

B.  The bondage of unrealized preparations:

When some Christians make their assemblies all that there is about being a disciple, then they will seek to establish a theological outline of order by which each assembly is validated as legally correct.   When one has walked through the legal performances of the assembly, then his discipleship is confirmed. He can step outside the legal assembly after the “closing prayer” and feel that he is a legally validated disciple, and thus has no responsibility to work for Jesus.

What the legal assembliologist has forgotten is that the assembly of the saints is the result of our discipleship.   We are disciples of Divinity before we show up at any assembly. If the validation of our discipleship were based on assemblies, then we would be forced to establish some theological basis for what would be a “scriptural” assembly. Once we performed the “scriptural” assembly, then we would feel reassured that we have scripturally proved our discipleship without manifesting our faith through ministry to others (See Js 2:14-26). The result of this thinking has in the past led some into a quagmire of debate as to whose assembly is scripturally correct, regardless of how one behaves outside the “hour of worship.”

If discipleship is determined by the doctrinal correctness beyond fundamentals, and in the area of religious opinions, then we are still in the arena of debate because we too often try to sneak into our theology our opinions as fundamental, and then make our opinions a standard by which we determine faithful discipleship. This leads us to make judgments concerning whose opinions are “scriptural,” and whose opinions are “false doctrine.” And the debates continue endlessly.

Two contexts of discipleship in the New Testament might help settle most of the debate. The first is Acts 2 and the second is the book of Hebrews. In the first, there were about 3000 on the day of Pentecost who were added by God to the number of disciples, the number of which was only about 120 at the beginning of the day. But by the end of the day, God had added to this number about 3000 who believed on Jesus as the Son of God and were baptized into His name (At 2:38,41). Their knowledge of “New Testament doctrine,” therefore, was quite limited.

The second case scenario is on the other end of a lifetime of discipleship. These were the Jewish (Hebrew) disciples who had been Christians for many years (See Hb 10:32,33). These disciples were on the verge of forsaking the fundamental truths concerning who the ascended Jesus was and what He now does in the life of the Christian. They were Jewish disciples who were returning to the Levitical system of the Sinai law.

Now compare these two cases. The new disciples in Acts 2 were added to the number of existing disciples upon their belief in what Peter announced on that day for the first time in history, the message of the gospel of the reigning Son of God (At 2:22-36). They were disciples of Jesus before their first assembly of the saints the following Sunday. They were added to the church of disciples by God before the church had its first assembly.

Other than their knowledge of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, and what Peter preached in Acts 2:22-36, the 3000 responded and were baptized. After Peter’s message, the audience responded to the apostles, “Men and brethren, what will we do?” (At 2:37). Then came the instructions of Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized.”   And, “with many other words he testified and exhorted …” them on that same day (At 2:40).

Now in a brief time—Peter had to leave room in the day for the actual baptism of 3000 people—these 3000 heard, believed and obeyed, and were subsequently added to the body of disciples (At 2:47).   There could not have been much time for the continued schooling in the truth on that day since 3000 were baptized.   It seems that their initial discipleship was not based on a great deal of knowledge in reference to who Jesus is or what the church was.

The point is clear. These initial 3000 disciples had little teaching concerning the new covenant before they were claimed as disciples by God and added to the other disciples (At 2:47). Discipleship does not depend on knowing a complicated outline of “proof-text scriptures.” Knowledge of books on “theology” are not necessary to be a disciple of Divinity. No church manuals or books on “church doctrine” are necessary to be a disciple. All that one needs to get started in his or her trek of discipleship can be communicated in a matter of minutes, or at the most, an hour or so, for that was all the time Peter and the apostles had on the day of Pentecost before they started immersing about 3000 people in the same day.

Those who heard the gospel were discipled to Jesus (See Mt 28:19,20). They were subsequently baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   In response to what they initially heard to become disciples, was the beginning of their lifetime of discipleship that involved continued study of the word of the One after whom they claimed to be disciples.

Now consider what the Hebrew disciples were changing in the context of the book of Hebrews. These disciples were going back into the bondage of the Sinai law.   And in order to do this, they had to give up the fundamentals of what the disciples on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 had accepted. The reason for their turning back from the One into whose name they had been baptized was that they failed to study as disciples, and thus, grow in the faith (See Hb 5:11; 2 Pt 3:18).

The Acts 2 disciples accepted the fact that Jesus was the prophesied Son of God who was resurrected from the dead and was sitting at the right hand of God (At 2:24-28). They accepted Him as the only Lord over all things (At 2:34). He was the Messiah (Christ) who fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning His coming and priesthood (Lk 24:44; At 2:36). Because of their lack of spiritual growth, all these things the Hebrew disciples were giving up. And for this reason, they were going back into destruction (Hb 10:39).

If one gives up those initial fundamental truths concerning who Jesus is and what He now does, and fails to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Pt 3:18), then he will lose his discipleship. All the 3000 who were baptized on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30 were Jews, many of whom were visiting from locations in Asia Minor. The book of Hebrews was written many years later to Jewish Christians. It makes one wonder if many of the 3000 Jews who were baptized in A.D. 30 on the day of Pentecost failed to continue their growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. At least this was the exhortation of Peter when he wrote to Jewish Christians who were living in different provinces of Asia Minor, some of whom may have been among the 3000 during the A.D. 30 event (See 2 Pt 3:18).

One may be added to the body of saints upon acceptance of the fundamentals of who Jesus is and His function as our high priest.   But if we do not move on from the first principles of the faith (Hb 6:1-3), then we will fall back into our past religious heritage as those to whom the Hebrew writer was addressing his warning. If one does fall back into his old religious heritage, then he will lose his discipleship of Jesus, and thus fall back into destruction (Hb 10:39).

The Acts 2 disciples accepted the fundamental truths concerning who Jesus was. The Hebrew disciples were forsaking these fundamentals. Therefore, our discipleship in reference to belief is based on the fundamentals of who Jesus is and what He presently does in reference to His high priesthood. Our response to who He is generates discipleship by what He does through the continual cleansing of our sins by His blood (1 Jn 1:7).

We begin our journey as His disciples, not because of a knowledge of a complex outline of scriptures on the “identity of the church,” but on the fundamental fact of who Jesus is. Once one is discipled to Jesus as the reigning Son of God, he is then baptized into Christ in order to begin his or her life as a studious member of a universal body of disciples who have likewise responded to King Jesus (See Gl 3:26-29). The Holy Spirit’s letters of the New Testament were written to help us climb the mountain of discipleship. They were not written to prove that we are disciples of Jesus. According to what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, we are baptized disciples. One is discipled to Jesus, and then baptized.

We commit ourselves to follow Jesus before we apply His cleansing blood at the point of baptism in order to have our sins washed away (At 22:16). The letters of the New Testament were written in order to give us the road map to continue growing in our discipleship until we reach the summit of where He is on high.

C.  The bondage of a past religious heritage:

If one’s faithfulness to his religious heritage (traditions) is the validation for his discipleship, then he can identify with the Jews of Jesus’ day who had almost 2,000 years of heritage from the day of Abraham. Of course, between Abraham and the Jews who lived at the time Jesus came into the world, a host of traditions had been added to the Jews’ heritage. These traditions of their heritage posed a significant obstacle for most Jews in reference to becoming disciples of Jesus.

During one encounter with Jesus, the guardians of the Jewish heritage (the Pharisees and scribes) complained to Jesus about the behavior of Jesus’ disciples: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders …” (Mk 7:5). Jesus’ answer was quite unsettling. “All too well you reject the commandment of God so that you may keep your own tradition” (Mk 7:9).

Our traditional religiosity (heritage) has an significant influence on how we define discipleship. In fact, if our heritage in some way comes into conflict with our relationship with Jesus, then we often display a greater commitment to our religious heritage than we do to Jesus. At least this is what happened in the lives of most of the Jews of the first century.

Our traditions often become a crutch for our discipleship, if not the definition of how we relate to Jesus. However, we must keep in mind that any tradition of our heritage that conflicts with our discipleship of Jesus must be sacrificed in order for us to be the living sacrifice that God desires of us as disciples of Jesus. Discipleship, therefore, often calls on certain necessary sacrifices that must be made in order to become and maintain one’s discipleship.

The problem with the traditions of our heritage is that submission to traditions perpetuates our religious heritage. And if our heritage is in some way contrary to the commandments of God, then we are in trouble if we are not willing to sacrifice any conflicting traditions. Without Jesus, our heritage is simply a religion that has been fabricated according to our own traditions. When our religious traditions are the foundation of our faith, we are simply being submissive to the “traditions of our fathers.” This was the challenge of the Jews when Jesus walked into their lives.

When submission to Jesus came into conflict with the traditions of the Jewish fathers, the Jews had great difficulty in making the sacrifice that was necessary in order to become disciples of Jesus. But because the initial disciples of Jesus were willing to exalt Jesus over tradition, the Pharisees and scribes recognized in the disciples’ behavior some things that were contrary to the religious practices of their fathers. We would rightly conclude, therefore, that it is not wrong to have traditions, but when those traditions that support our faith are contrary to being a disciple of Jesus, as were some of the traditions of the early Jews, then those traditions must be sacrificed. Any religious traditions of man that would hinder our discipleship must be sacrificed in order to submit totally to Jesus.

Each person comes to Jesus with the baggage of his or her own religious traditions. Any of those traditions that would hinder our discipleship must be sacrificed in order that we obey the will of God. Only those traditions that are not contrary to the will of God may remain, as long as those traditions do not divide disciples from one another. If a particular tradition is used to divide disciples from one another, then that tradition also must be sacrificed. It must be sacrificed in order to maintain unity among the saints.

Each potential disciple, therefore, must sacrifice some religious traditions that were once valuable in maintaining a past religion that was contrary to the will of God. But if one is not willing to make these sacrifices, then he will remain in the bondage of his own religious heritage, as well as infringe on the freedom that we all have in Christ (Gl 5:1).

[Next lecture in series: May 6]