• TeMah LoraLee

Unsplash; "Neil Thomas"

 

I’ve fasted in every way imaginable. As a new believer, I stopped eating certain foods for times ranging from three to forty days. A decade later, I participated with a group from my church to consume only water for seven days. And a decade after that, I ate raw fruits and vegetables only after sunset for twenty-one days while in Africa.


I’ve spent time fasting from screen time or secular music. One year I tried a verbal fast hoping to be more positive in my communications. And during each fast, I did my best to remain positive and humble as Jesus instructed in Matthew 6:16–18:


Moreover when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. . . . But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.


But is that all there is to fasting? No. In fact, I remember how shocked I was when I happened upon Isaiah 58. In this chapter, God describes “true fasting.”


Let’s break down the instructions verse by verse:


God begins this important conversation with an announcement, “Cry aloud!” he tells Isaiah, “Declare to my people their disobedience . . . [and] their sin” (v. 1).


In verses 2–3, God offers the following report (paraphrased): “They seek me daily as if they were a righteous nation, asking me for righteous judgments as they cry out, ‘Why have we fasted and you didn’t see it? Why don’t you notice?’”


Then God explains, “In the day of your fast you find pleasure, and oppress all your laborers.

Behold, you fast for strife and contention, and to strike with the fist of wickedness” (v 3–4).


He follows up this commentary with the following rhetorical questions:


Is this the fast that I have chosen?

A day for a man to humble his soul?

Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under himself? Will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to Yahweh? (v. 5)


What?


Forgive me for pausing in the middle of the commentary, but honestly, even if I’ve never fasted with fists or oppression, I was guilty of making my fast all about bowing down and humbling myself. I didn’t know God had given his people—and me—clear instructions about the kind of fast he chose (v. 6). During a fast, God said we are to:

  • release the bonds of wickedness (v. 6)

  • let the oppressed go free (v. 6)

  • distribute your bread to the hungry (v. 7)

  • bring the poor who are cast out to your house (v. 7)

  • cover the naked (v. 7)

And he promised results for those who fast as he desires:


Then your light will break out as the morning,

and your healing will appear quickly;

then your righteousness shall go before you,

and Yahweh’s glory will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and Yahweh will answer.

You will cry for help, and he will say, "Here I am." (v. 8–9)


So how should we fast? By loving God with all we are and have and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is what God calls a true fast.


We Can Please Him


13 He went out again by the seaside. All the multitude came to him, and he taught them. (Mark 2:13)

Matthew 9:9–13, Mark 2:14–17, Luke 5:27–32


1 “Cry aloud! Don’t spare! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Declare to my people their disobedience, and to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways. As a nation that did righteousness, and didn’t forsake the ordinance of their God, they ask of me righteous judgments. They delight to draw near to God. 3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you don’t see? Why have we afflicted our soul, and you don’t notice?’

“Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and oppress all your laborers. 4 Behold, you fast for strife and contention, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You don’t fast today so as to make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to humble his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under himself? Will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to Yahweh?

6 “Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen:

to release the bonds of wickedness,

to undo the straps of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and that you break every yoke?

7 Isn’t it to distribute your bread to the hungry,

and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house?

When you see the naked, that you cover him;

and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then your light will break out as the morning, and your healing will appear quickly; then your righteousness shall go before you, and Yahweh’s glory will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and Yahweh will answer. You will cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you take away from among you the yoke, finger pointing, and speaking wickedly; 10 and if you pour out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light will rise in darkness, and your obscurity will be as the noonday; 11 and Yahweh will guide you continually, satisfy your soul in dry places, and make your bones strong. You will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters don’t fail. 12 Those who will be of you will build the old waste places. You will raise up the foundations of many generations. You will be called Repairer of the Breach, Restorer of Paths with Dwellings.

13 “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy of Yahweh honorable; and honor it, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, 14 then you will delight yourself in Yahweh, and I will make you to ride on the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father;” for Yahweh’s mouth has spoken it. (Isaiah 58:1–14)

Meditation Moment


Dear God,


Forgive me for making fasting all about what I can get from you. Like David, I afflicted my soul with fasting (Psalm 35:13) and made it all about me (Psalm 69:10). While You love our mountaintop time together, You’ve called me into service (Galatians 5:13). Guide me when I fast and pray to help the least of these (Matthew 25:40) so that Your true glory may be revealed on earth.


Amen.


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Yes. In fact, human suffering draws compassion from God.


In our previous post, a leper came to Jesus—begging, kneeling, worshiping—and said, “If you want to, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). And today’s passages continue the narrative by telling us how Jesus was “moved with compassion” and stretched out his hand and touched the leper saying, “I want to . . .” (Mark 1:41).


These verses came to life for me this week. While my suffering was nowhere near that of an ostracized leper, I’d like to share how God’s compassion helped me heal.


Two days ago, a family member asked me to explain some lies my ex-husband told him the day before. My guess is my ex didn’t expect the words to reach me and said them to justify his behavior since we haven’t spoken for two years. Maybe the time gap should make it easy to let the mud slung in my direction slip off my back, but I haven’t yet reached emotional apathy for the man I loved for two decades. Like every other human, I desire the good opinion of others (see previous post for more information).


My first reaction was to want to defend myself against him, but experience had taught me that would only trigger more defensiveness from both sides.


The best way for me to address my residual emotions was to seek understanding from the Lord—my deliverer. So yesterday, as I looked out the window, God revealed an idea that helped me put this rejection into perspective.


I live in a sixth-floor apartment in downtown Baltimore, and while meditating with God about my pain, I glanced down at a pedestrian crossing the intersection. I didn’t know the person on the street below me. I didn’t know the woman next to him. Or the eight, ten, twelve others going about their daily lives.


What God compassionately whispered to me was that not one of them had any bad thoughts about me. None of them were tearing me down. And for every person in my life who threw insults in my direction, at least a billion more weren’t and had no desire to do so. A BILLION.


This merciful revelation dried my tears and helped me shake off the insults. Mud slipped off my back and to the earth where it belonged. This morning as I rose to write this blog, I found the ability to feel compassion for the mudslinger. They say hurt people hurt people. And now that I’m no longer feeling hurt, I no longer want to hurt in return.


God’s compassion for me and my suffering allows me to extend compassionate thoughts toward others as I continue to move forward in my journey of peace.


Grace for Grace


41a Being moved with compassion, (Mark 1:41a)

Matthew 8:3, Mark 1:41b–42, Luke 5:13


43 He strictly warned him and immediately sent him out, (Mark 1:43)

Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:14

Mark 1:45, Luke 5:15a


15b and to be healed by him of their infirmities. 16 But he withdrew himself into the desert, and prayed. (Luke 5:15b–16)


3 ‘Call to me, and I will answer you, and will show you great and difficult things, which you don’t know.’


14 “Behold, the days come,” says Yahweh, “that I will perform that good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and concerning the house of Judah.


15 “In those days and at that time, I will cause a Branch of

righteousness to grow up to David. He will execute justice and

righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. This is the name by which she will be called: Yahweh our righteousness.”


17 For Yahweh says: “David will never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel. 18 The Levitical priests won’t lack a man before me to offer burnt offerings, to burn meal offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.”


19 Yahweh’s word came to Jeremiah, saying, 20 “Yahweh says: ‘If you can break my covenant of the day and my covenant of the night, so that there will not be day and night in their time, 21 then my covenant could also be broken with David my servant, that he won’t have a son to reign on his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers. 22 As the army of the sky can’t be counted, and the sand of the sea can’t be measured; so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant and the Levites who minister to me.’”


23 Yahweh’s word came to Jeremiah, saying, 24 “Don’t consider what this people has spoken, saying, ‘Has Yahweh cast off the two families which he chose?’ Thus they despise my people, that they should be no more a nation before them.” 25 Yahweh says: “If my covenant of day and night fails, if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; 26 then I will also cast away the offspring of Jacob, and of David my servant, so that I will not take of his offspring to be rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to be reversed and will have mercy on them.” (Jeremiah 33:3,14–26)


1 The Mighty One, God, Yahweh, speaks, and calls the earth from sunrise to sunset. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines out. 3 Our God comes, and does not keep silent. A fire devours before him. It is very stormy around him. 4 He calls to the heavens above, to the earth, that he may judge his people: 5 “Gather my saints together to me, those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” 6 The heavens shall declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah. 7 “Hear, my people, and I will speak. Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. 8 I don’t rebuke you for your sacrifices. Your burnt offerings are continually before me. 9 I have no need for a bull from your stall, nor male goats from your pens. 10 For every animal of the forest is mine, and the livestock on a thousand hills. (Psalm 50:1–10)

Meditation Moment


Dear God,


I confess my gut reaction is to seek revenge for myself, rather than compassion. Help me not get in the way of Your justice, grace, and mercy. I accept that vengeance belongs to You as does the repayment of sin (Romans 12:19). Help me not return evil for evil to anyone. I want to follow after that which is good for all (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Your loving kindnesses and compassion don’t fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22–23).


Amen.


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No. When Jesus encouraged us to enter through the narrow gate in Matthew 7:13–14, he did not tell us to close our minds.


Consider the following description of the term "narrow-minded" from the website AllSides—a news site focused on exposing “people to information and ideas from all sides of the political spectrum”:


Some religious conservatives are happy to claim the term “narrow-minded,” because they connect it to the “narrow path” (or gate or door) mentioned in the Bible as the sole means of salvation. In this view, having a narrow-minded view is not only reasonable but laudable. It is those who lack the courage to fully commit to their beliefs who fall short.


In recent usage, however, the term “narrow-minded” has taken on a nearly universal pejorative slant. It means something close to biased, ignorant, perhaps even delusional. . . . Many conservatives bristle at being called narrow-minded, and point out (quite reasonably) . . . In some liberal bastions, such as certain universities and towns, it’s hard to argue that any historical connection between liberalism and open-mindedness remains.


. . . Many libertarians take “open-mindedness” to a degree that makes many progressives uncomfortable. For example, libertarians are often open to the legalization of all drugs, prostitution, organ sales, doctor-assisted suicide, innovative medical procedures without FDA approval, and so on. From a libertarian perspective, however, progressives are only slightly less narrow-minded than conservatives.


And of course, some people believe that finding a middle ground between the benefits (and perils) of narrow-mindedness and open-mindedness is the best way forward. The joke “Be open-minded, but not so open that your brains fall out” is a common call to moderation in openness to new experiences.


All faiths—including those without a deity—and political affiliations contain narrow-minded people. However, choosing to journey through the narrow gate does not require a person to become narrow-minded. In fact, on closer examination, the narrow way demands the opposite.


When a person chooses Jesus as their “way” of life, they decide to put the love of God over the love of self and elevate loving their neighbor equal to that of self-love.


Therefore, I’m encouraged to consider and respect my neighbor’s differing views. And I can do this without taking a single step off the narrow path.


Jesus is the door to that path. John 10:9 explains it this way: “I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture.


I hope you can see the freedom offered in that verse. As a metaphorical sheep, I have access to the promised green pastures (Psalm 23). And because my need for substance and safety are satisfied, I’m better able to meet the demands made by God for those around me.


So the narrow way is not narrow-minded, and it is our job to keep it that way.


Whom the Son Sets Free Is Free Indeed


13 “Enter in by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter in by it. 14 How the gate is narrow and the way is restricted that leads to life! There are who find it. (Matthew 7:13–14)

Matthew 7:3–5, Luke 6:41–42


4 A high look and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin. 5 The plans of the diligent surely

lead to profit; and everyone who is hasty surely

rushes to poverty. 6 Getting treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor for those who seek death. 7 The violence of the wicked will drive them away, because they refuse to do what is right. 8 The way of the guilty is devious, but the conduct of the innocent is upright.

9 It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop

than to share a house with a contentious woman. 10 The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes. 11 When the mocker is punished, the simple gains wisdom. When the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge. 12 The Righteous One considers the house of the wicked, and brings the wicked to ruin.

13 Whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he will also cry out, but shall not be heard. 14 A gift in secret pacifies anger, and a bribe in the cloak, strong wrath. 15 It is joy to the righteous to do justice; but it is a destruction to the workers of iniquity. 16 The man who wanders out of the way of understanding shall rest in the assembly of the departed spirits. 17 He who loves pleasure will be a poor man. He who loves wine and oil won’t be rich. 18 The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, the treacherous for the upright. 19 It is better to dwell in a desert land, than with a contentious and fretful woman. 20 There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man swallows it up.

21 He who follows after righteousness and kindness finds life, righteousness, and honor. 22 A wise man scales the city of the mighty, and brings down the strength of its confidence. 23 Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles. 24 The proud and arrogant man—“Scoffer” is his name— he works in the arrogance of pride. 25 The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. 26 There are those who covet greedily all day long; but the righteous give and don’t withhold. 27 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination—

how much more, when he brings it with a wicked mind! 28 A false witness will perish. A man who listens speaks to eternity.

29 A wicked man hardens his face; but as for the upright, he establishes his ways.

30 There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against Yahweh. 31 The horse is prepared for the day of battle; but victory is with Yahweh. (Proverbs 21:4–31)


1 Remind them to be in subjection to rulers and to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing all humility toward all men. 3 For we were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love toward mankind appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; 7 that being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This saying is faithful, and concerning these things I desire that you affirm confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men; 9 but shun foolish questionings, genealogies, strife, and disputes about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. 10 Avoid a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a one is perverted and sins, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:1–11)

Meditation Moment


Dear God,


Help me yield my way to You. You promised to open what no one could shut and shut what no one could open (Isaiah 22:22). So open my mind, that I might understand Your Word (Luke 24:45). Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119:18). And shut out the lies and fear that keep me from truly following the golden rule.


Amen.


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