One Year Later

Last year, on this date, I wrote a quick post about the loss of a spiritual giant. Dennis Kinlaw was a mentor, friend, and example for at least three generations of Christians. I labeled the post the first in a series which I never got around to finishing because I was wrapping up final edits and preparing for graduation in the days following. As the one year anniversary of his death looms on my calendar and in my heart, I have been thinking a lot about him and his influence.

One of the most important resources to come out in the year since his death was a compilation of his sermons titled Malchus’ Ear. For a scholar like Kinlaw, whose sharp mind kept him learning and writing until he died1, it might seem odd that a posthumous volume wasn’t a scholarly work or even a Festschrift2. But, to those who knew his evangelist heart and his abandonment to our Triune Creator God3, a volume of sermons is fitting. Particularly these sermons which were carefully chosen and edited by his longtime writing partner and beloved granddaughter.

Dr. Kinlaw was a scholar. He was also a dilettante in the oldest sense of the word. He had an interest in nearly everything. This is the world the LORD has made, and he wanted to know about it all. I chuckle recalling our last conversation, one in which I wanted to delve as deeply as possible into the subject of Christian perfection, but we ended up spending thirty of the ninety minutes talking about quantum mechanics! The man had an interest in his Father’s world, and he wanted to learn how to sing and dance to the “music of the spheres4.” His curiosity was borne out of his love for and experience with our Triune Creator God. He wanted to know everything he could about the lover of his soul, and he wanted to tell other people about this God whose love and holiness are abundant and never-ceasing.

Therefore, we have these sermons. In the preface to this volume, there is a personal testimony about the perfect love of God being shed abroad into the heart of a young Dennis Franklin Kinlaw:

In the years since, I have never found words adequate to describe to anyone what those next few hours were like. It was years before I even tried. Human language just could not do justice to what occurred. It was a profoundly emotional moment. A joy flooded my inner being, a joy of a deeper magnitude and of a different essence than anything I had ever known before. Later, I found myself thinking of it in terms of the promise in Romans 5:5, that the Holy Spirit can shed abroad in the human heart the very love that binds the three persons of the Holy Trinity together in the human believer's heart. There was a marvelous sense of inner cleanness that now seemed to leave my inner spirit as if it had been cleansed from all of the normal defilements that haunt a thirteen-year-old boy's conscience. Yet even this sense of cleansing was not my primary consciousness. That was completely different. It was the sense of a Presence, an Other, who had come to me.

I’ve spent a good portion of the last fifteen years (particularly the last six) thinking about and agonizing over the doctrine of Christian perfection as an experience of God’s great love and holiness that any believer can know - mostly because of Kinlaw’s influence. One of the reasons I think the book is so important is because of this testimony. It was this witness to the holy and perfect love of God “shed abroad in5” his heart that sent him on a lifelong adventure of walking in close relationship to God, of scholarly work in the Old Testament, and of co-founding the Francis Asbury Society with Harold Burgess.

As I’ve been working on and praying for Christian perfection for the past few years, I’ve been toying with a term I made up called “Realized Theology.” I believe realized theology is the place where the truth of God becomes a personal experience. I think this is at the heart of the theology and ministry of John Wesley: Aldersgate was the place where justification became more than a doctrine, it was the experience of a sinner receiving pardon. It was this experience of grace that fueled Wesley’s passion to “spread Scriptural holiness over the land.6” It was the realized theology of Christian perfection Dennis Kinlaw experienced at Indian Springs in 1935. This man of effusive joy flowing out of the love of God gave his whole life to making sure people could have a realized theology of their own.

I have another piece for this blog I’m working on at the moment on the need for a holiness reclamation project within United Methodism, and without wading too deeply into that piece let me say that the life, work, and writing of Dennis F. Kinlaw is essential. Not to that piece of writing, but to the whole world, and particularly the witness of United Methodists in the white fields of the world. We lost a friend, an advocate, and a standard-bearer when he died, but we have a legacy worth carrying forward no matter the cost. I miss him, but mostly I want to carry on the ministry he left behind. I hope you will pray about doing the same.

  1. He was working on a manuscript on anthropology for at least a couple of years before his death. ↩︎
  2. Something Dr. Kinlaw deserves and I hope there is a project in development toward this end. UPDATE - I discovered there was one published in 1982, but I was only 5 at the time, so I was completely unaware. ↩︎
  3. I use this name a lot when writing about God because I want to be specific. I’m deeply indebted to Mary Fisher for her constant usage of this phrase to describe God. Her words have had a lasting impact on me. ↩︎
  4. If you’re not familiar with the quotation, please listen to Babcock’s hymn “This is My Father’s World.” ↩︎
  5. Romans 5:5 KJV ↩︎
  6. 845 vol. 10 of Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley ↩︎

Keeping Promises

  My daughter and her mama before Palm Sunday 2005, the day she was baptized.

My daughter and her mama before Palm Sunday 2005, the day she was baptized.

I do a lot of comparing and contrasting when I read the Bible. For instance, just this morning, I was reading about the people of Israel crossing the Jordan River into Canaan to begin the conquest. The Jordan River stopped and the people passed through on dry ground. There are echoes of the Exodus in this event. Joshua 4 even makes the comparison. There are contrasts as well: a river versus a sea, leaving slavery versus leaving the wilderness, entering the promised land versus entering the wilderness. When the themes are similar, it makes sense to detect those connections because they draw out a depth of meaning and order within the Bible.

13 years have passed since my daughter was baptized. My wife and I were in our late 20s, and our daugther was 5 months old. In 1977, my parents were in their late 20s and I was 5 months old when they brought me to Atwater UMC in Atwater, MN. The same mode of baptism was used in both baptisms. The same liturgy was read by a United Methodist pastor. In both places and at both times, the same promises were made by the parents, the church, and, implicity, by our Triune Creator God.

The contrasts are stark. My path in faith has been markedly different than my daughters. My parents and the church I attended growing up did the best they could as they confirmed me and guided me. But I arrived in adulthood malnourished and somewhat malformed. I was a bit of an autodidact in the ways of the Bible and in theology. That's not to say that I didn't have deeply Christian people around me who loved me and prayed for me. I think, however, they suffered from a century's worth of ecclesial malpractice with respect to discipleship. We weren't told that we were to make disciples much less how to make disciples. Yet the promises were made and the attempts to fulfill them were earnest.

My daughter, however, has been catechized in the home. She's encountered people who had an inkling of what is required of us as disciples, and has grown spiritually in ways that I'm pretty sure outstrip my own spiritual development by the time I reached seminary. I am overjoyed by her heart and soul on a regular basis.

Yes, there are contrasts, but my reminiscence isn't about who did what or kept which promises. All of our spiritual journeys are beset with obstacles, difficulties, and victories. No matter the contrasts, the strongest comparison between those two baptisms is the initiator and sustainer who has been completely faithful in keeping his promise. Too often, we look at baptism as something "I" did or "we" did. However, the Bible and the lived out interpretation of the Bible we call tradition is clear that God is the subject of this means of grace. If baptism were a sentence, God is the subject, we are the direct objects, and the water is the indirect object. We miss the point when we spend too much time comparing and contrasting the objects rather than beholding the steadfastness of the ultimate subject, our Triune Creator God. God is the one who kept his promise to love and keep the both of us. God is the one who has formed us according to his love and mercy, both of which were promised to us. God is the one who daily teaches us to "swim in our baptismal waters," as my friend, Andrew Thompson, so eloquently wrote about in his book on The Means of Grace

As I watch her grow, both physically and spiritually, and as I pause to think about and celebrate her 13th "baptiversary," I am overwhelmed by the love and grace of the God who loves her, guides her, and forms her by the promise he made to her in the Bible and in the baptismal liturgy. What a loving Father he is to us.

Lent 2018 - Holy Saturday

This is the last entry for the Lenten diary my friend and fellow pastor wrote about his fasting experiences during Lent. I appreciate all of the feedback given during these last seven weeks and have passed on all of the encouragement to my friend. Thanks for reading.

-Matthew


Saturday, March 31, 2018                     Holy Saturday

 

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  -Book of Common Prayer

 

Tonight at the Great Vigil, sometime around sunset which marks the end of the day, the Gospel of St. Mark chapter 16:1-8 will be read and will be the first of many proclamations of the empty tomb and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While I won’t eat immediately after the gospel reading, that moment marks the end of my period of fasting and transitions into not only the greatest day of the year, but also a period of feasting.  We are moving into celebration soon.  Easter is the best.

 

I thought I’d just reflect briefly on some things I’ve really appreciated this year during my fasting.  I have had some good family time, especially with the kids, teaching them not only about fasting – which is an annual occurrence for them to witness now – but also encouraging my older ones as they give up things for Lent, explaining to my youngest what my prayer book is and having him sit on my lap during a few prayer times.  We have especially honed in on the story of Jesus the past few weeks during bedtime and we will read from “The Jesus Storybook Bible” which is outstanding.  We tell the story.  And then we tell it again.  You see, I want this story of Jesus and his love and victory to be THE story that defines who they are.  I love their questions and comments.  My youngest telling me his favorite picture in the Jesus Storybook Bible is the one with Jesus on the cross.  My others asking me questions about Judas and why he did what he did.  You can do these sorts of things without fasting, of course.  We do faith focused things around bedtime all year round.  What fasting does for me, however, is to set this time apart.  This time is special.  I’ve appreciated my prayer times.  I am able to be consistent in prayer during my fasts in a way I am not able to in other times of the year.  I will attempt to continue some sort of continual prayer throughout the day, but fasting adds a discipline that I so badly need.  The result of this is that currently I feel at peace with God even in the midst of the busiest time of the year for me at work.  In fact, I feel an abiding joy and great anticipation for Easter.  Another thing I am appreciating right now is the journey I’ve made with my back pain.  It has hampered my ability to work.  I’ve had to lay down in my office, or walk around, or stretch out.  I’ve had several doctor’s appointments where they don’t seem to be able to keep my back aligned properly.  Nonetheless, I continue to think of how God’s grace is sufficient for me and I am less angry about my back pain now than I was before.  I am not “there” yet – as in, I have not arrived.  But I do think I have grown not in spite of the pain, but probably because of it.  That is a surprise. 

 

This will most likely be my last entry for this journal.  I do hope it helps you to consider the ancient Christian discipline of fasting and the work the Holy Spirit does through it.  But I hope above all that the joy and power of Christ’s Resurrection envelopes and overwhelms you, and that the transforming and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit fills you to full and over flowing and that the richest blessings of God the Father are yours now and forever. 

Have a blessed Easter, for He is Risen!

Lent 2018 - Good Friday

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Friday, March 30, 2018                         Good Friday

           

“Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me.”  -Lamentations 1:12

 

This verse is in the beginning of the prayer service in the Book of Common Prayer for the Lenten season and it seemed especially fitting today on Good Friday.  Today will be a somber and contemplative day as well as a busy one.  I have many preparations to do for tonight’s worship service, as well as work to do on my Easter Sermon – which is a weird head space to be in as I contemplate the death of Christ to think on preaching the victory of Christ.  I will take some prayer time today to really contemplate the cross of Christ. 

 

It is strange to think my fasting is coming to an end.  I will break my fast after the Holy Saturday Evening Service, so I have just over a day left.  In some ways, it has really gone by quickly.  I am used to not eating.  As my body ages, I think it has gotten easier physically, which is strange.  Nonetheless, the spiritual aspects are still so helpful and also vary from year to year in what God does.  Last year I felt like a lot of stuff was stripped away.  This year I began with an increasing awareness of my own sin, but I seem to have transitioned into more contemplation and thanksgiving.  For example, last night I had a moment where I was kind of just overcome with God’s grace during a part of our worship where we practiced foot washing.  A parishioner washed my feet and then prayed for me.  Being the person who usually prays for others, when parishioners do this in a heartfelt manner, it is always touching.  There was a sweet spirit in that place, and I was at one of several foot washing stations where folks from our church were practicing what Jesus did.  The Holy Spirit was present and I was just incredibly moved by the whole thing.  I am thankful. 

 

I will be very thankful Sunday.  We are not there yet, however.  Today we remember the extent to which God the Son so loved us.  Then on Sunday we can celebrate how that love triumphed over all.  Even death itself.

 

Lent 2018 - Maundy Thursday

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Thursday, March 29, 2018                    Maundy Thursday

            It’s just a few minutes before our Maundy Thursday service, but I wanted to take a moment to briefly journal.  We are now entering into an intense couple of days for me personally and as a church as we celebrate the Tridiuum and Resurrection Sunday.  This is the worship highpoint of our year. 

            I just finished a prayer time.  I learned right before my prayer time of the shooting of the young man in Sacramento who was in his grandparent’s backyard with only his cell phone.  I don’t know what all will come out in this story.  I like to wait a bit just to get as clear a picture as I can.  But I do know my heart was full of sorrow during prayer this evening as I was mindful of a mother who lost a son and a family who lost a loved one.  I’m also sad about the societal brokenness that is a part of the bigger picture of this young man’s shooting, however complex it is.  I’m just sad.  This is a journal about my fasting, not my venturing into racial and political areas, but I thought I ought to note this past prayer time.  I think it is just another reminder of the brokenness of this world and the hurts that are all around us.  Someday Jesus will return.  The Resurrection gives me hope of this.  Someday there will be no more shootings.  Someday no more racial tensions.  Someday all our wounds shall be bound up and our hearts will be one in praise to the one on the throne who makes all things new.  Until that glorious day, we gather and remember Jesus’ commandment to us – “love one another as I have loved you.”

Have a blessed Maundy Thursday.

Lent 2018 - Wednesday of Holy Week

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Wednesday, March 28, 2018                Wednesday of Holy Week

            We are getting towards the end of Lent. I find myself thinking more and more about the feast of Easter and how to do that.  My wife and I talked a bit about that last night as far as how to do this well and have our kids take it in like they are supposed to.  A lot of it is telling the story, I think.  That’s a lot of what Holy Week is about.  We will have services on Thursday (footwashing), Friday, Saturday Easter Vigil, and of course Sunday.  It’s a lot of stuff and it takes a lot of people to do it, and I find myself very thankful.  I am thankful for all the work of staff and volunteers to make it work.  I am thankful for the church for participating.  And most of all, I am thankful to Christ for dying and rising again for us.  This week is so full, yet so amazing. 

            It’s funny, I had a few things removed from my plate this week.  I had a project I was doing (I don’t want to be too specific in order to maintain some anonymity), but it has been several weeks and many hours in the making, and on Monday I found out the whole thing was ruined.  A lot of wasted time – apart from the lesson learned.  Along with that I am watching sports less, and some of my other hobbies are on a down time, so I began to see the whole thing as God just clearing things away so I can focus where I need to this week.  My back is still an issue – I do wish back pain was something cleared away – but I guess that’s not the way it works.  It’s about focusing on Christ and the sufficiency of Jesus for me.  Is Jesus enough?  That’s kind of the whole thing with going without food.  I’m 43 days into this journey, and I think that means I’ve eaten 6 days of the last 43.  I’m hungry.  The medication I was just put on for my back is not good on an empty stomach, so I’m taking half doses.  I get really tired much earlier than normal.  But, I’m praying 4 times a day.  I’m confessing my sins to God in the morning and evening.  I’m reading scripture.  I’m contemplating the resurrection.  And, I really am full of thanks for many things. 

            I guess one thing I’d like to emphasize for anyone who is reading this and has been following along (God bless you).  I’m not a spiritual giant.  I struggle with prayer.  Being grateful is not a natural thing for me.  I’m more cynical and pessimistic.  But… but fasting does stuff to me.  I guess that’s why I’m so passionate about it.  God really works in this in my life.  It has impacted me in ways I have not expected.  And I am thankful.  It really is about the power of God working in me to transform me.  I am not doing this stuff by my own strength.  I am an emotional eater and have less impulse control than I’d like, and yet here I am fasting.  Also, while I tend to be pessimistic, there is one thing that gives me real hope.  Hope like nothing else I’ve experienced.  I really do have hope because of Easter.  I don’t trust this life.  There is too much that is unfair.  Death happens.  Illness happens.  Good people get bad diseases.  Innocent people have horrible things happen to them.  But then along comes the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ to show us that death has been defeated and evil undone.  It is possible that the Lord will truly, one day, give back the years the locusts have eaten.  Blessed are those who mourn, because someday they will receive back their dead through the resurrection.  The Resurrection of Jesus shows me that no matter how bad evil is, no matter how much it steals, no matter how much it hurts, the power of the Living God can undo all of that in but a moment and even transform the scars left behind into signs of glory.  I absolutely cannot think of anything more hopeful than that.  So I am thankful for fasting, because it helps me be more focused on that event that is of most importance to my life instead of on all the distractions I face. 

 

Prayer for Wednesday from Book of Common Prayer

            Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Holy Week - 2018

Victim Divine, Thy grace we claim,
While thus Thy precious death we show:
Once offered up a spotless Lamb,
In Thy great temple here below,
Thou didst for all mankind atone,
And standest now before the throne.

Thou standest in the holy place,
As now for guilty sinners slain;
The blood of sprinkling speaks, and prays,
All prevalent for helpless man;
Thy blood is still our ransom found,
And speaks salvation all around.

The smoke of Thy atonement here
Darkened the sun, and rent the veil,
Made the new way to Heaven appear,
And showed the great Invisible;
Well pleased in Thee, our God looked down,
And calls His rebels to a crown.

He still respects Thy sacrifice;
Its savor sweet doth always please:
The offering smokes through earth and skies,
Diffusing life, and joy, and peace;
To these, Thy lower courts, it comes,
And fills them with divine perfumes.

We need not now go up to Heaven,
To bring the
long sought Savior down;
Thou art to all already given,
Thou
doste’en now Thy banquet crown:
To every faithful soul appear,
And show Thy real presence here!

-- Charles Wesley, 1745

Lent 2018 - Day 36

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Wednesday, March 21, 2018                          Day 36 of Lent

                  Physically things are beginning to take a toll on me.  I am tired more often.  I have some hunger pangs now.  My back is not doing well today, so I’m in pain with that.  And I’m cold.  My body temperature drops or something, so I have to dress warmer and use a space heater at times.  But the end is in sight.  This Sunday is Palm Sunday and then we are into Holy Week.  We do quite a few worship services for Holy Week – Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so I’ll have a few messages to prepare and lots of logistics to figure out as well as a lot of volunteers to have in place.  On top of that, I am beginning to feel a bit of pressure.  Easter is my favorite day of the year and is such a joyous celebration that I want to properly convey that in my message on Easter morning so that anyone present, whether long time attender or visitor knows that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, trampling death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life and that it is a really big deal with life changing implications.  One of the effects of this Lenten preparation I am finding, is it adds a very physical and visceral quality to the rejoicing on Easter morning.  It’s more than just eating again, too.  The ability to eat and feast is a manifestation of the reality that death’s power has been broken and in the Resurrected Christ we receive life.  I feel excited and emotional even typing this stuff because it awakens in me such joy and hope that it really is hard to contain. 

 

                  It’s early, but some words I have been reading today:

                 

“Let none fear death, for the death of the Saviour has set us free. 

                  Christ is risen and the demons have fallen.

                  Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.”                        

-St. John Chrysostom

 

                  “He whom none may touch is seized;

                  He who looses Adam from the curse is bound.

                  He who tries the hearts and inner thoughts of man is unjustly brought to trial;

                  He who closed the abyss is shut in prison.

                  He before whom the powers of heaven stand with trembling stands before Pilate;

                  The Creator is struck by the hand of his creature.

                  He who comes to judge the living and the dead is condemned to the Cross;

                  The Destroyer of hell is enclosed in a tomb.

                  O thou who dost endure all these things in thy tender love,

                  Who hast saved all men from the curse,

                  O longsuffering Lord, glory to thee.”                           

-Orthodox prayers on Vespers of Great Friday

 

“(Easter) is the explosion of cosmic joy at the triumph of life, after the overwhelming sorrow over death – death which even the Lord of life had to suffer when he became man.”     

-Fr. Dumitru Staniloae

 

“All ye that seek the Lord who died, Your God for sinners crucified,

Prevent the earliest dawn and come, to worship at his sacred Tomb.

 

Bring the sweet spices of your sighs, your contrite hearts, and streaming eyes,

Your sad complaints, and humble fears; Come and embalm him with your tears.

 

While thus ye love your souls t’employ, Your sorrow shall be turned to joy

Now, now let all your grief be over! Believe and ye shall weep no more.

 

An earthquake hath the cavern shook, and burst the door and rent the rock,

The Lord hath sent his angel down, and he hath rolled away the stone.

 

As snow behold his garment white, his countenance as lightning bright;

He sits and waves a flaming sword, and waits upon the rising Lord.

 

The third auspicious morn is come and calls your Saviour from the tomb,

The bands of death are torn away, the yawning tomb gives back its prey.

 

Could neither seal nor stone secure, nor men, nor devils make it sure?

The seal is broke, the stone cast by, and all the powers of darkness fly

 

The body breathes and lifts his head, the keepers sink and fall as dead;

The dead restored to life appear, the living quake, and die for fear.

 

The Lord of life is risen indeed, to death delivered in your stead;

His rife proclaims your sins forgiven, and shews the living way to heaven.

God tell the followers of your Lord, their Jesus is to life restored;]

He lives that they his life may find; He lives, to quicken all mankind.

-Charles Wesley

 

Lent 2018 - Day 31

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Friday, March 16, 2018             Day 31 of Lent

            Tuesday I woke up feeling gross.  This is kind of what happens when my body adjusts to just drinking water, juice and some chocolate milk and then on Mondays I eat lots of stuff.  It’s almost like a hangover.  I feel sluggish and my stomach felt gross.  The strange thing then is fasting on Tuesdays is a welcome thing.  By the time I get to Thursday, however, I am ready to eat again.  My hunger is not too bad though.  I am a bit more tired now, and cold, but besides that, my body is holding up well.  My back is still an issue.  That does force me to pray more and think more about how to rely upon God.  It’s still a struggle. 

            The prayer for this week is

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

            One of the readings this week from the two-year lectionary was Mark 8:1-10, the feeding of the 4,000.  In verse two, Jesus says, “I have compassion for the crowd because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.”  This verse hit me in a very different way in the midst of a fast.  It’s not necessarily saying they were fasting during the three days.  Jesus just says that they did not have anything to eat.  But in the next verse, he says that if he sends them away, they will faint on the way because of hunger, so whatever the specifics of the situation, these crowds had forgone their immediate needs in terms of food for the sake of listening to Jesus.  Am I doing that?  Furthermore, am I willing to lay everything down just in order to listen to Jesus?  There was just something challenging for me in that little story that wasn’t before.  I think we focus on the miracle, and that makes sense, but the miracle came to a people Jesus had compassion on and a people that were being taught by Jesus.  They sacrificed in order to be taught.  Of course, all of that leads to Jesus miraculously giving them bread, which then led my mind to the prayer for the week.  Jesus Christ is the true bread – “ever more give us this bread that he may live in us and we in him”  May that be my prayer.

            So I guess, whether it is my back or my fasting – whatever it is, Jesus is to be the real bread that feeds my soul.  That is what I want, but I find myself hesitant to make sacrifice all too often.  I think one of the real benefits of fasting like this is the intentionality of sacrifice for the sake of listening to Jesus.  I am not convinced that I would just do this naturally.  I need the rhythms and traditions of the church to sweep me into this narrative and this way of life, and I am often surprised by what this discipline in one area of my life brings out in others.  On that note, I remember the first time I did this sort of fast throughout Lent.  I went into it thinking a lot about the physical challenge and wondering how that would work out.  I was blown away by what happened spiritually and emotionally.  As I have continued this tradition, I am not as surprised by the fact that these other areas are addressed or exposed, but I am continually surprised by how fasting opens up areas in my life and soul that I was not expecting. 

Lent 2018 - Day 26

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Sunday, March 11, 2018                       Day 26 of Lent

            It’s late Sunday night, but I just wanted to add a few things about today.  Saturday and this morning I prayed a bit for the folks that would attend worship this morning.  I did this in part because of a story that Matthew told me about Billy Graham and how he would often be found prior to a crusade, on his face, weeping in prayer for people.  I know I need to pray for that sort of thing, but I don’t do it enough.  So I did. I was surprised at how easily it came.  I’ve prayed for the service before, but it often doesn’t feel like much… I don’t know.  Anyway, I do believe I did feel God’s presence as I prayed for folks who would be at worship.  This week’s message happened to be a pretty good salvation type message anyway, so I hoped.  Then today at worship I was surprised to see two people I’ve had some contact with recently that I hope to see come to faith or really commit themselves to Jesus.  I am not sure how it all went for them. I was not able to catch them before they left, but I am praying.

Lent 2018 - Day 24

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Friday, March 09, 2018             Day 24 of Lent

            Being that the Lenten season actually spans 46 days (as Sundays don’t count in the 40), day 23 was the half way point of the journey.  This means I am over half way to Easter.  I have hunger here and there, but my body is still doing pretty well.  I drink chocolate milk and juice most days and lots of water.  My prayer is consistent – even through this past week which has been exceptionally busy.  I’ve had a couple of mornings where I’ve had to be on the road early, but even then I’ve had good prayer time in the car.  I’ve said this before, but I really appreciate how fasting positively affects my prayer life.  I don’t yet have the intimacy with God that I imagine I’d like – at least in prayer, but then on the other hand I was talking with some missionaries the church supports today and they asked about my background and testimony and I was really emotional telling about God’s work in my life, and then again as I talked about the ways God is moving in our ministry to our community.  As I reflect upon that emotion and try to get behind it, I think I was feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude and realization of God’s work by God’s grace alone. 

            This goes along with the prayer for the week, I think:

            Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

 

            I have no power in myself to help myself.  Take care of me Lord. 

Lent 2018 - Day 20

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Monday, March 5, 2018         Day 20 of Lent

            I realized I haven’t written in this journal for the better part of a week, so I wanted to write today.  Today is eating day, which is wonderful!  The past few days I’ve had more hunger spells, which makes sense as I’ve eaten only three days of the last 20.  I started drinking a bit of chocolate milk on Thursday, in part to keep my energy at a decent level, but also in part to help with my body healing.  The doctor said that my lack of nutrition has probably slowed my body’s healing process, so my back pain has lingered.  I was able to see him last Thursday and he gave me an injection that acts as an anti-inflammatory. 

            My prayer life has been steady and good.  I still hunger to feel more intimacy with God – or maybe to just be more aware of God’s presence and how close he is to me.  Last week’s prayer – for the 2nd week of Lent, really hit me a few times:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son

Praying that God would be gracious to all who have gone astray – and believing that God would be gracious with me, was a helpful thing. 

            Finally, one thing that is happening as my fast continues, and I don’t know if this is something with blood sugar or not, but I get more task oriented and focused.  My productivity increases, but it’s not as fun.  Also, I am going to bed earlier and earlier.  Partly because I’m tired, but also because I usually snack at night, and with that gone I don’t enjoy the evenings as much.  It is fascinating how emotionally dependent I am upon food.  My prayer is that as my dependency on food is stripped away, my reliance upon God will grow. 

Lent 2018 - Day 15

Another entry in the Lent diary from my friend who is fasting from food during this season:


Wednesday, February 28, 2018    Day 15 of Lent
    Prayer and fasting are a bit of a struggle today. I’m not sure what it is.  I am hungry and a bit fatigued.  My focus is lacking. My back is bothering me.  The issue with my back has been difficult, not only physically with the pain and how that limits what I can do, but emotionally it is hard because I get frustrated and wonder if and when it will end.  I have great sympathy for folks who have had chronic pain for years.  You cannot underestimate the toll that takes on your emotional self.  Anyway, I have hunger pangs now and getting into prayer today was more difficult.  
    During my scripture reading, one of the assigned readings was from Mark 4 – the parable of the sower and seeds.  The third soil was full of thorns.  People hear the word, but “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.”  Of course, we want our hearts to be the good soil, but the traps of this third soil got me today.  How many of us can say we are not distracted by the cares of the world?  You don’t have to idolize money to be pulled away by the lure of wealth.  I mean, how much have I thought about personal finances, will I have enough for retirement or that sort of thing?  I don’t have to chase the new cars and boats to struggle with the ‘desire for other things.’  What takes my attention?  The results of this third soil and thorns are “it yields nothing.”  
    Fasting is challenging because as this one thing is stripped away from me, it’s like the whole house of cards comes tumbling down, and I realize how tied in to this world I am.  

 

Lent 2018 - Day 14

 

One of my closest friends practices fasting better than anyone I've ever met. Nearly every year during Lent, he fasts from food for six days in a row, eats on the Sabbath, and begins again the following day. I recently asked him to write about this practice, but being more Scripturally and spiritually attuned than I am, he begged off. Still, feeling there was value in others being able to read about this practice and with the possibility that others might even try to fast for a day for the first time in their lives, I convinced him to do it anonymously on my blog. He's going to keep a sort of diary each day and I'm going to share it here. I hope you find my friend's journey exciting and convicting. 

-Matthew

 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018               Day 14 of Lent

            Sunday evening I felt pretty hungry. I write that because that was unusual for last week, but I was ready to move into my eating day yesterday.  A couple of things are developing though, in regards to my eating.  First off, my stomach has shrunk down a bit, so I feel full a lot quicker than I normally would.  This creates a problem because I often feel like I really need to eat on the day I eat, but I am not really able to eat as much as I initially want.  On top of all of that, I eat like I normally would.  Richard Foster, in his book, “Celebration of Discipline” talks about extended fasting (in an excellent chapter, btw) and that when you come off an extended fast you should ease into it with fruits and things like this.  This is not how I do it, and my stomach hates me today for it.  It’s a strange experience, but waking up the morning after eating, I feel a bit more sluggish and I have a bad taste in my mouth.  Tuesday ends up being a day of getting back into balance.  A final note on eating: I notice that our diet contains a lot of sodium.  In our household, we aren’t even eating a ton of processed foods, really.  But there is salt and sodium in everything, and I taste it more and more the longer the fast goes on. 

            My prayer life has gone well this year.  There have only been a couple of times that I am not praying the four offices (morning, noon, evening, bedtime) each day.  One of the things I find with my fasting is that I am much more consistent with prayer.  It becomes a normal part of my routine.  And I never know what is going to grab me from my prayer books.  I think one of the things I want to focus on this week is the personal and relational aspect of prayer with God.  By that I mean, I am experiencing much better focus, and I am challenged and convicted.  I am aware of my dependence upon God, and I also feel grateful during different times.  There is something about going without a main part of your life that brings into focus those things you take for granted and yet that are so important.  These are all good and important things in the fast, but I think I need to either take note or pray more intentionally about experiencing the presence of God and the love of the Holy Spirit. 

            I’ll close with a reading from the Divine Hours that I read last night.  It is a Celtic prayer:

 

            The will of God be done by us;

            The law of God be kept by us;

            Our evil will controlled by us;

            Our sharp tongue checked by us;

            Speedy repentance made by us;

            Temptation sternly shunned by us;

            Blessed death welcomed by us;

            Angel’s music heard by us;

            God’s highest praises sung by us.

Lent 2018 - Day 10

 

One of my closest friends practices fasting better than anyone I've ever met. Nearly every year during Lent, he fasts from food for six days in a row, eats on the Sabbath, and begins again the following day. I recently asked him to write about this practice, but being more Scripturally and spiritually attuned than I am, he begged off. Still, feeling there was value in others being able to read about this practice and with the possibility that others might even try to fast for a day for the first time in their lives, I convinced him to do it anonymously on my blog. He's going to keep a sort of diary each day and I'm going to share it here. I hope you find my friend's journey exciting and convicting. 

-Matthew

 

 

Friday, February 23, 2018                   Day 10 of Lent

            I’m at a point in the fast where my body really has adjusted to not eating.  I am entering into what will be the best part of the fast physically.  I’m not sure how long it will last.  I do have periods of hunger. I had some yesterday, but they pass with time.  I do have periods of being fatigued, but they are not so bad, and overall my energy level seems about the same as when I am not fasting.  This will all change in time, however.  I will become more fatigued, go to bed earlier, and I will become colder and always need a sweatshirt on.  But for now, things are going well.

            Spiritually, I feel like I am getting cleansed with a scrub brush.  Most prayer times I have the last two days have involved me realizing some aspect of my life or my heart that is in disrepair.  For example, this morning, as I began the daily prayer office, the opening verse was 1 John 1:8-9, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  I was then lost in thought for a few minutes as I realized some of my sin.  I am too quick to talk and a poor listener at times.  I may be quick with an opinion, but it may not be thought out.  Do I really listen to others?  Especially those with whom I disagree?  Why am I defensive?  I get distracted so easily sometimes.  Am I really focused on living for God like I need to be?  Do other people experience me as exuding the grace of God?  Shouldn’t they?  What would that look like, and why am I not there?

            I don’t know, it was a bunch of stuff that ran through my head.  In the beginning of that service, not too long after that verse, I prayed a confession and then prayed the response of being forgiven and praying that God would amend my life.  It’s been interesting how fasting brings this sort of thing out in me.  I’ll be honest, when I am praying confession normally, it can be a struggle to really get to the heart of some things I am doing wrong.  Partly because I am thinking about what is next and maybe rushing through prayers too quickly, and partly because I have not put myself in a spot where I am sensitive to the conviction that the Holy Spirit brings. 

            It is not only my sin that is coming to the surface, but also an awareness of God’s grace.  Sunday, during a time of prayer, I was unexpectedly struck by how God’s grace has worked in my life.  I remembered some things I had done – active rebellion against God, quite frankly – and it just hit me that nothing apart from the grace of God stopped me and turned me around.  It’s more than saying, “I did nothing to deserve it.”  I was actually doing things that ought to have excluded me.  And yet, God’s grace was there.  At the end of the day, that is why I fast and pray and confess and contemplate my sin.  I cannot forget what God has done for me already, and I made a commitment that I would place myself in His hands and have him shape me.  I realized again on Sunday how my current situation is much different because of God’s grace, and I was overwhelmed.  How could I not let that same grace work in me, dig through the muck, and clean me out.  My life is not my own.  I want it to be too often, I know that.  But again, when it comes down to it, I just can't forget that grace that has changed me so much already.  When I think of that, it stirs up something much more powerful than conviction of sin or desire for self-will.  I do love God.  I want to love him better. 

Lent 2018 - Day 7

 

One of my closest friends practices fasting better than anyone I've ever met. Nearly every year during Lent, he fasts from food for six days in a row, eats on the Sabbath, and begins again the following day. I recently asked him to write about this practice, but being more Scripturally and spiritually attuned than I am, he begged off. Still, feeling there was value in others being able to read about this practice and with the possibility that others might even try to fast for a day for the first time in their lives, I convinced him to do it anonymously on my blog. He's going to keep a sort of diary each day and I'm going to share it here. I hope you find my friend's journey exciting and convicting. 

-Matthew

 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018               Day 7 of Lent

            Tuesdays are not too bad hunger-wise, since I just ate yesterday. However, fixing a meal for my kids was not as pleasurable this evening, and smelling the leftover bacon as I heated it up for my son did stir up hunger pangs. 

            My prayer times have been pretty good today.  I not only prayed through the morning service in the Book of Common Prayer, but I also spent some time praying for folks I know, people in my church, and family.  I feel like I am in a decent rhythm of prayer right now. There haven’t been any tear filled, mountain top, emotional experiences, but I am in a groove, I guess.  I feel like I am getting closer to God, but I am also aware of a need I have to be closer.  I need this time.  I need this discipline.  I am such a bad pray-er that I need to do something drastic sometimes to grow at it.  And because of God’s grace, He meets me where I am. 

            It’s funny, I was laying on my back in my office, in order to rest my back and keep it from cramping up, and I was contemplating some stuff I’d just read that got me thinking of issues around the Great Schism of 1054.  The day had begun well, and I was feeling like I was fairly holy, to be frank with you, and the phone rang.  Now with my back bothering me, getting up to get the phone presented a challenge, so I moved quick, cursed under my breath and just like that… there went my sanctification!  I continue to be humbled.  All it took was an unexpected phone call.  CS Lewis has a line about these things, I think in “Mere Christianity” about catching rats in the cellar and sin.  If you bang loud and make noise during your approach, the rats have time to hide.  If you come upon them quickly and suddenly, you catch them.  Sometimes those unexpected things reveal our rats in the cellar.  I continue to be made aware of my weaknesses.  I continue to realize my need for grace.  During prayer, I was thinking about a family relationship I have and contemplating my heart towards this person.  For a moment, I was able to see myself outside myself and a bit of how I was. It’s not always flattering to see yourself outside of your own gracious point of view.  Anyway, I am aware of my brokenness and my need for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in me. 

 

A reading from my noon prayer time:

 

When we were still helpless, at the appointed time, Christ died for the godless.

Romans 5:6

Lent 2018 - Day 6

 

One of my closest friends practices fasting better than anyone I've ever met. Nearly every year during Lent, he fasts from food for six days in a row, eats on the Sabbath, and begins again the following day. I recently asked him to write about this practice, but being more Scripturally and spiritually attuned than I am, he begged off. Still, feeling there was value in others being able to read about this practice and with the possibility that others might even try to fast for a day for the first time in their lives, I convinced him to do it anonymously on my blog. He's going to keep a sort of diary each day and I'm going to share it here. I hope you find my friend's journey exciting and convicting. 

-Matthew

 

 

Monday, February 19, 2018                Day 6 of Lent

            It’s eating day! 

            Today I woke up a bit earlier than I usually do on my day off so I could prepare a big breakfast for everyone.  It was touching yesterday evening when my daughter remarked how much she liked when I made breakfast on Mondays last year during Lent, so I really wanted to do that today.  I made bacon, eggs, toast, and hash browns that were fried in duck lard from one of our ducks we raised ourselves.  It took a while to prepare everything, cutting up the potatoes and garlic and frying up the bacon (which I’m never patient enough for).  We all ate breakfast together, which we hardly ever do.  It was a wonderful way to temporarily break the fast. 

            I share all of that because one of the big things I take away from my times of fasting is how much I enjoy eating on the other end.  I do really mean enjoy.  I taste everything and smell everything.  And if you don’t think you are extra appreciative of eating after not eating for days, well…  Fasting, for me, sets up feasting in a way that regular eating simply does not.  Now, it is very possible that this is because I’m so gluttonous normally that feasting is hard to distinguish from everyday life.  Again, fasting teaches me this through practicing restraint (which I do not come by naturally).  It’s also been an unexpected surprise for me in my own experience how scenes like this morning can play out, where it is not only the food, but the presence of my family and our conversation that add to the entire experience.  This apparently made enough of an impression on one of my children that she requested it again this year. 

            I have continued with my prayers today.  The continual touching base with God has a cumulative effect on me that is just starting to take hold.  I am thankful.

            I’ll close with part of the Psalm that was in my morning prayer reading:

 

            For you, O God, have proved us; you have tried us just as silver is tried.

            You brought us into the snare; you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.

            You let enemies ride over our heads; we went through fire and water;

            But you brought us out into a place of refreshment.

            -from Psalm 66

Lent 2018 - Day 5

 

One of my closest friends practices fasting better than anyone I've ever met. Nearly every year during Lent, he fasts from food for six days in a row, eats on the Sabbath, and begins again the following day. I recently asked him to write about this practice, but being more Scripturally and spiritually attuned than I am, he begged off. Still, feeling there was value in others being able to read about this practice and with the possibility that others might even try to fast for a day for the first time in their lives, I convinced him to do it anonymously on my blog. He's going to keep a sort of diary each day and I'm going to share it here. I hope you find my friend's journey exciting and convicting. 

-Matthew

 

Sunday, February 18, 2018                 Day 5 of Lent

            I have moments of hunger, but it is not a constant issue.  I am beyond that stage.  Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to eating tomorrow.  It’s just not as immediate of a physical need as before.  My back continues to be an issue that is in the forefront of my mind, however I am hoping that I have turned a corner on that.  My back issues have affected my fasting in a strange way this year.  I have focused on my back pain and because of that, not worried so much about my hunger.  It reminds me of when I was a kid and I’d say my arm hurt (or something) and my dad would (jokingly) offer to smack me in the back of my head so that I’d forget about my arm pain. 

            I continue to find God challenging me.  Yesterday I was really contemplating what it means to love people you have a difficult relationship with.  How do you hold healthy boundaries, yet truly love others?  How do I not react out of hurt, but instead receive healing so that hurt doesn’t touch me?  And do I really have love in my heart for people who have been difficult towards me?  I was uncomfortable with what I was finding. I am still struggling with this.   

Lent 2018 - Day 3

 

One of my closest friends practices fasting better than anyone I've ever met. Nearly every year during Lent, he fasts from food for six days in a row, eats on the Sabbath, and begins again the following day. I recently asked him to write about this practice, but being more Scripturally and spiritually attuned than I am, he begged off. Still, feeling there was value in others being able to read about this practice and with the possibility that others might even try to fast for a day for the first time in their lives, I convinced him to do it anonymously on my blog. He's going to keep a sort of diary each day and I'm going to share it here. I hope you find my friend's journey exciting and convicting. 

-Matthew

 

 

Friday, February 16, 2018                   Day 3 of Lent

            Today was a struggle, mostly because of my back pain. My back goes out occasionally, and this was one of those times. I’ve taken muscle relaxers the past few days, so my head has been cloudy and I can’t think like I would like.  I went to my General Practitioner today because he is a DO and has adjusted me before with success.  He adjusted me, but we also talked about medication.  Due to my fasting, I’m not really able to take what he suggested because it would tear up my stomach.  If I need to stop fasting in order to get better, I will, but for now I want to try to continue.  Luckily my doctor is a practicing Catholic, so the notion of fasting was not a new one.  He made a remark about how he complains about having to eat fish, then laughed. 

            The thing about my back is it’s funny because this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened during my fasting period.  The first time I did my major fast in Lent, there was a terrible division that finally broke to the surface at the church I was serving.  It was pretty brutal.  I’ve had back issues during Lent a few times, but I’ve also had irritating things, like parsonage repairs that sprang up in a house that is really in pretty good shape.  I guess it’s just a reminder of the spiritual side to what is going on.  It’s a battle. 

            My prayer has been pretty good. I am keeping to praying four times a day, and that rhythm starts to be a helpful thing.  This morning there was a reading from Matthew 5 where Jesus says if our eye causes us to sin we ought to pluck it out.  I felt a twinge of guilt as I considered how much time I was browsing online. Nothing scandalous.  Social media. Sports sites. Finance. But how much time do I waste?  I need to keep my browser shut unless I have reason to check email or something.  So already the work has begun. Chipping away at me. 

            Finally, as to hunger, it’s not been too bad.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to eat, but my hunger has not been terrible.  This is the third day of the fast, so by tomorrow my body will be quite a ways into adjusting to this new thing.  I’ve lost around 8 lbs already.  The weight loss is always bigger in the beginning.  Then my body wises up and tries to hang on to all the calories it can.  Also, I’ll gain a few pounds on my eating days. 

Lent 2018 - Day 2

One of my closest friends practices fasting better than anyone I've ever met. Nearly every year during Lent, he fasts from food for six days in a row, eats on the Sabbath, and begins again the following day. I recently asked him to write about this practice, but being more Scripturally and spiritually attuned than I am, he begged off. Still, feeling there was value in others being able to read about this practice and with the possibility that others might even try to fast for a day for the first time in their lives, I convinced him to do it anonymously on my blog. He's going to keep a sort of diary each day and I'm going to share it here. I hope you find my friend's journey exciting and convicting. 

-Matthew

Thursday, February 15, 2018              Day 2 of Lent

I began experimenting with fasting when I was in seminary. I cannot remember what it was exactly that inspired me to try this, but I do know that studies of the spiritual disciplines and the rhythms of the church calendar year really resonated with me and if they were not the immediate cause of my entry into fasting, they were what kept me in it.  The first fasts I would do were 24 hour fasts.  Usually, I would try to time these so that they ended on Wednesday afternoon at the little communion service that was held on campus.  In doing this, I was able to break my fast with Holy Communion, a practice that not only increased my appreciation for fasting, but also the sacraments.  Eventually, I moved into longer periods of fasting, and one year I learned of a seminary friend who had fasted throughout Lent the year before.  I was very intrigued.  How did this work?  What was it like?  It’s interesting because he didn’t want to talk too much about it apart from giving some advice as to the mechanics of his fasting.  Later on, when I went through the Lenten fast myself, I discovered that there is an element to the fast that is intensely personal.  It is intimate.  I tried blogging on my first extended fasting experience, but had to quit part of the way through because it did not feel appropriate.  That may seem strange.  In St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus instructs his followers that they ought not to make a show of their fasting.  He tells us that what is done in secret, the Father will reward in secret.  I struggle with the public aspect of my fasting.  As a pastor and leader of a congregation, I think it is important for me to set an example.  While I do not go into all the details of my fasting, unless I am asked by people individually, I do want my congregation to know that I fast quite a bit during Lent (and also Advent to some extent).  I have found that this public example has encouraged or spurred on folks in my congregation to try fasting themselves.  I am blessed to hear stories from people who are taking part in 24 hour fasts, or abstaining from certain foods.  I have heard from one person who has taken to doing the Lenten fast herself.  Just yesterday, on Ash Wednesday, a parishioner told me of how he apologized to a coworker for something he had said the day before.  There were others in the lunch room who heard the apology.  They also noticed that he was fasting that day, and so questions came.  They were genuine questions about fasting and faith. 

            Yesterday, I was talking with my friend, Matthew, and he encouraged me to write a bit about my fasting experience this Lent.  I do keep a prayer journal, but I have not written much on my blog about it because it does not feel right.  I worry that it would be for the wrong reasons.  So Matthew offered to post my thoughts on his blog as written by “anonymous.”  I think I may try that.

            I thought that in this first post I should not only give you a brief background into my fasting, but also share the ground rules I use in my Lenten fasting.  It is a juice fast.  I drink water and juice for the first part of my fast.  Eventually, I phase in chocolate milk.  I discovered that my body will need the protein or I get lightheaded and on the verge of passing out.  Also, Lenten fasts do not count Sundays, which is why Lent is actually 46 days prior to Easter.  Sunday is the Lord’s Day and not an appropriate day to fast.  My Sabbath is on Monday, however, and since I want the whole day to rest and eat with my family, I fast on Sunday, but on Mondays I do eat.  Finally, I replace my meals with prayer time, and I have found “The Divine Hours” by Phyllis Tickle to be incredibly helpful to pray from.  My usual routine, then, is to pray in the morning from the Book of Common Prayer morning service, then pray at lunchtime, dinnertime, and bedtime from “The Divine Hours.” 

            I hope that by sharing this people will be challenged and encouraged to try this ancient spiritual discipline.  And I pray that in your fasting you will find God working on you in challenging, powerful, and grace filled ways.