Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart

Marriage & Mountain Climbing

I just finished Dr. Stephen M. Judah’s (1949–2008) book Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart. The book is full of stories of his experiences counseling couples caught in the web of an affair (or some cases multiple affairs). He describes these marriages using a very helpful illustration: mountain climbing. As Judah sees it, couples climb toward an affair. He calls it “the ascent into brokenness.”

Novice climbers approach the mountain unaware of what awaits them. In my one experience climbing, I remember watching a couple of my team members have uncontrollable emotional reactions as they acclimatized to the altitude. Similarly, nothing can truly prepare a person for all that marriage entails. Couples should avail themselves of every opportunity possible to prepare and train, just as a climber should! Preventative measures are practiced by the wise of heart. Even so, you still have to climb (i.e., get married) to have the real experience.

from Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart by Dr. Stephen M. Judah

Judah describes the active affair as the peak of the ascent into brokenness; he also calls it the “death zone.” The reason for such a description is because a person cannot linger long on the peak of a mountain and live—the body simply cannot take it. Likewise, a marriage cannot linger long in an affair. He also compares the active affair to the peak of a mountain ascent because an affair does not simply all of a sudden happen. A couple climbs into it. Judah describes the progressive ascent into brokenness as the accumulation of brokenness from sin, brokenness from the family of origin, brokenness from our peer group, brokenness from dating relationships, romantic love, civil war, the evolution of affair conditions, and finally the peak—the active affair. Rather than an affair being a spontaneous act of passion, the spiritual and social science of the act explains that the affair is the result of the unchecked accumulation of brokenness in a person’s life. We enter marriage with imbedded flaws that remain hidden until a crisis exposes them.

As a boy, I remember watching footage of the January 28, 1986 NASA space shuttle Challenger explosion. It happened 73 seconds into its flight. All crew members were lost. The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology concluded its hearings with a statement: “The fundamental problem was poor technical decision-making over a period of several years by top NASA and contractor personnel, who failed to act decisively to solve the increasingly serious anomalies in the Solid Rocket Booster joints” (under Conclusions, pages 3–7). Years of poor decisions by experts who failed to act decisively created a death zone that exposed everything.

The Ascent into Brokenness

Civil War

In his chapter entitled “Civil War,” he writes, “The experience of civil war has universal and unmistakable characteristics: (1) Awfulization best characterizes the overall experience. The warring pair tend to primarily see the bad in the other. The good is denied or remains carefully ignored. Each becomes at risk to fall into a pattern of being at their worst. (2) Awareness of incompetence—The couple becomes mostly conscious of each other’s incompetence. (3) Negative response—The couple moves either against or away from each other, engaging in classic fight or flight. (4) Depressed sensory acuity—The couple’s senses are diminished, and they attribute the lack of clarity to a lifelessness in their relationship. (5) Separation—They may think or say, ‘I can’t stand to live with you.’ (6) Incompletion—They may think or say, ‘Something is missing.’ (7) Unfamiliarity and disbelief—They may think or say, ‘I’m in the wrong place with the wrong person. How did I ever get here?’ . . . We demand more and put up with less” (pages 65–66). The reality is that both spouses have both brokenness and wholeness within them. Dr. Judah states that “master couples” learn how to focus and practice an awareness of one another’s competencies, which eventually evolves into an unconscious trust in one another’s competencies.

Evolution of Affair Conditions

I found chapter seven, “The Evolution of Affair Conditions,” insightful. He suggests that both “difficult” and “good” marriages experience affairs, and then he seeks to answer the question “Why?” He proposes a two-fold answer: (1) the 60% push and (2) the 40% pull. A negative or difficult marriage environment is likely to “push” a spouse toward an affair. Dr. Judah describes the primary factors at play as (1) communication issues, (2) character or developmental issues (e.g., unmet needs), (3) conflict resolution issues, (4) adult life stage or landmarks (e.g., mid-life crisis), and/or (5) confused or broken choices. A combination of these factors can literally “push” someone toward an affair. However, sometimes affairs (40%) happen in marriages described by couples as “happy” or “fulfilled.” In these cases, there are factors present that “pull” a spouse into an extramarital affair: (1) proximity, (2) similarity, and (3) reward. Work relationships where men and women are working in close proximity and where conversation moves from work-related into more personal feelings, desires, dreams, etc. Unintentionally, boundaries are crossed. From proximity, similarities may begin to surface and create a dangerous intimacy. Eventually, it is possible for the offending spouse to perceive rewards associated in an affair with the third party person.

After explaining these “push” and “pull” realities of the evolution of affairs, Judah offers wrong ways to handle the evolution of an affair and right ways to handle the evolution of an affair (pages 69–75):

Wrong Ways Right Ways
Toying with the possibility of having an affair Commit to finding a way to create a strong marriage—step away from the edge and look for the safe path
Acting out (without talking about) your negative thoughts and emotions Talk about your inner struggle—find friends of the marriage, those who will strengthen your commitment to the marriage bond
Blaming yourself or your partner Replace blame with understanding and take responsibility
Getting bad advice from friends, family members, coworkers, affair partners, or even counselors Get professional guidance that specializes in marriage or relationships
Triangulation or substitute triangulation, which is focusing more on the third party or some other substitute that you do on your spouse Embrace the usefulness of suffering, and choose optimism—suffering together can be a bonding experience
Focusing on the third party rather than on your core values and commitments Focus on the primary couple, the husband and wife
Waiting for a crisis, that is, most people seek help only after an affair has happened Focus on your core values and commitments
Be proactive, preventative and preemptive.
Master essential disciplines—Dr. Judah covers these in part three of his book.

Dr. Judah brings this chapter to an interesting close by warning readers not to dismiss the role of both evil and good supernatural forces at work behind the evolution of an affair. As people of the Bible, we believe in supernatural realities. God calls us to love as he loves—with faithful, steadfast love; however, sin, Satan, and demonic activity are realities opposed to human flourishing. Beware the spiritual forces at work in the “push” and “pull” of the evolution of an affair. Cling to your God and to your spouse.

The Descent into Wholeness

The third part of the book is entitled “Descent into Wholeness.” Surprisingly, the descent down the mountain is harder than the climb up. I remember being caught off guard by this during my single mountaineering experience. There a number of factors that make it more difficult: (1) you’re not as motivated; (2) the goal destination seems boring and anticlimactic; (3) it hurts your joints and feet in an unexpected way; (4) you’re off balance because of terrain; (5) you’re exhausted; (6) you have fewer supplies and possibly damaged gear; (7) you’re far more irritable; (8) the path isn’t always as clear; and (9) well, you’re just done! While all this is true, you must make it back down the mountain—your life depends on it. You can’t survive long at the top. Reaching bottom restores normal, whole, healthy living.

In this section, Dr. Judah walks the reader through his five essential disciplines that have the potential to restore wholeness to a marriage broken by an affair: (1) SHARE—sharing the truth with your spouse, (2) RECONCILE—reconciling the crisis with your spouse, (3) REFINE—redefine and realign your character through development and commitment, (4) ENHANCE—rebuilding and cultivating the positive, (5) ENVISION—flourish by creating the possible, exploring tomorrow’s dreams, and generating today’s plan. The first three disciplines function “like powerful workhorses to transform the negative” (1) communication techniques, (2) crisis experiences, and (3) character traits; whereas, the final two disciplines (4) cultivate what is good and (5) create the possible.

The Crisis & RECONCILE

In chapter ten entitled, “The Crisis,” he borrows an experience from Andy Politz, who has reached the summit of Mount Everest multiple times. He writes, “On one occasion he helped rescue a party of five . . . They had spent the night near the peak in bad conditions. Another party had come across them but left the party for dead, giving them only a candy bar to assuage their own guilt. Andy and his party, by contrast, abandoned their climb to devote all their resources to the rescue. The party in trouble needed oxygen and water of course, but mostly they needed someone to walk them down the mountain step by step. Every two steps those being rescued would collapse. Generally competent, experienced and strong, now they were temporarily dazed, confused, weak and blind. They could not rescue themselves. They needed somebody to help. Rescue by definition usually requires others” (page 108).

He continues to develop what the essential discipline of RECONCILE looks like for the offending and the offended spouses. The offending spouse may experience a great deal of relief when the affair is either discovered or confessed; however, the offended spouse often goes through a threefold process that he describes as (1) disorganization, (2) reorganization, and (3) organization. Further, the offended spouse may experience something similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other severe emotional conditions. Judah writes at the close of this chapter, “Oddly enough, the descent into wholeness involves temporarily putting your partner into a crisis state. The offending spouse has been in the death zone for a while, so descending lets them breathe a little easier. By contrast, the offended spouse feels like they have been dropped into the death zone of a mountain peak without any acclimatization. The necessary disclosure hits the offended spouse hard” (page 125). While this crisis has to be a part of the journey, it is miserable.

Flourishing & ENVISION

Chapter thirteen introduces that couples who have experienced an affair can indeed flourish again. “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Here, he helps couples recover and reestablish core desires and core values together. Having “survived, stabilized, and succeeded, then pursue significance” together. Couples that reach this ENVISION stage of the descent into wholeness are invited to imagine a resurrected relationship in which they can clarify goals and adjust priorities. Couples that remain committed in the descent can have fulfilling relationships, discover anew that they are good at something together, make the world a better place together, and enjoy peace with God together.

The Spiritual and the Scientific

Descending into wholeness is possible for the couple that has encountered the “death zone” of an active affair. It will take help from others; it will take commitment to a process; and it will take a new hope and vision. Dr. Judah has a couple of appendices at the end of his book that speak to special situations that couples may face along the way of their journey. His final chapter addresses “The Spiritual and the Scientific: A Fusion of Strengths.” He is a committed Christian, who has trained and worked as a social scientist (a.k.a. a professional marriage counselor). He describes the relationship between the two by returning to his mountaineering imagery. He explains, “Mountain climbers have found one particular rope design superior to all others. The structure involves an inner core rope that provides strength and a series of woven otter strands which amplify strength and offer protection. You cannot actually see the vital inner rope. You can only see the otter strands. When spiritual wisdom and the wisdom of social science combine, a fusion of strengths occurs. They become woven together like strands of a rope. At the core lies an indescribable, invisible and vital force. We cannot see God, but we can see the strands surrounding the core” (page 172).

Don’t Lose Hope; Grab the Rope

Don’t die on the mountaintop trying to handle your crisis all alone. There is hope. Get some help. May God grant your marriage the grace to descend back into wholeness with a new hope and vision. May it be stronger having gone through such an incredible crisis.

Home: The Elusive Search for Place, Belonging, Rest, & Origin

Home

Where Is Home?

For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
(Hebrews 11:10 ESV)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines home in multiple ways:

  • one’s place of residence
  • the social unit formed by a family living together
  • a familiar or usual setting,” related to this is the idiom at home, which means “relaxed or comfortable, in harmony with the surroundings, or on familiar ground
  • a place of origin

What about you? How would you define home? The dictionary definitions may be narrowed even further to (1) a location, (2) a people, (3) rest and harmony, and (4) origin.

My personal experience, which I realize that everyone may not share, is that home can be elusive. Here is what I mean. As you get older, home changes . . . locations may change; the people who make up home may change; the familiar expectation of rest and harmony may change too. However, young people and children can also experience these changes to home. Sometimes the changes that come upon a home are a calling into a new adventure and opportunity for growth — for example, higher education, an opportunity to advance a career, serving God’s mission, building a new house, an adoption or foster care, etc. Yet, sometimes the changes that come upon a home are the result of unexpected tragedies or unplanned invasions into the dreams that you had — death of a loved one, a house that burned down, divorce, job loss, abuse of all kinds, disease that requires special care, etc. Maybe you haven’t been able to put words to the feeling before, but I bet in some way or fashion many of us have asked, “Where is home?”

Another element of elusiveness is added when you begin to follow Jesus as a Christian. Perhaps the old Southern Gospel song, “This World Is Not My Home” says it best,

This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus
O Lord, You know I have no friend like You,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am and weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

I have a loving Savior up in glory-land,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Just up in glory-land, we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

For the Christian, there is a search for a new location to call home; there is a search to belong to a family that isn’t bound by a loyalty made merely of earthly flesh and blood (c.f., Mark 3:31–35); there is a longing for true rest and perfect harmony. I would even say that there is an ancient longing of origin—when a person comes to know God as Creator, Father, and Savior, the idea of origin and returning to a place and people of origin takes on a new meaning. Consider these words from the writer of Hebrews:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13–16 ESV).

Abraham, for example, searched for this city— “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). Was Canaan all that Abraham searched for? Was Sinai all that Moses and Israel searched for?

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear (Hebrews 12:18–21 ESV).

Even the earthly Jerusalem on Mt. Zion appears to have been only a pattern shaped after a better city of promise,

On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God (Psalms 87:1–3 ESV).

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18–24 ESV).

If you look closely, you’ll see in the previous verses that there is (1) a location—the heavenly Jerusalem, (2) a community—innumerable angels, the assembly of the firstborn, and the spirits of the righteous, (3) rest and harmony—festal gathering, made perfect, the mediator of a new covenant. We may even see a hint of origin and return here with the mention of “the city of the living God.” Perhaps, this new Jerusalem is something like Eden was meant to be.

The writer of Hebrews indicates that “passage” into the city that the Christian seeks actually requires a journey “outside the camp.” The way of Jesus is outside the gate, outside the camp. For the audience of the writer to the Hebrews, this meant choosing Christ by faith, which was a confession that he was better than Moses, better than the temple, better than the sacrifices, better than the High Priest, and offered a better home than Jerusalem. The road that leads to the city we seek is marked with suffering, reproach, and sacrifice.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:12–16 ESV).

The final words of Scripture to us about this new city are found in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1–4 ESV).

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9–14 ESV).

Where is home? Home is “the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). It is an ancient city that God has been building for ages, and he invites us into this home. He built its gates out of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He built its foundation out of the apostles. Jesus Christ is its cornerstone. He’s still building it out of the supply of “living stones” in the church (1 Pet. 2:4). The location of this home is now heavenly, but there will one day be a move to earth, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come,” and “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” There is a social, family unit forming, held together by our common faith and fellowship in Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. You can feel the true rest and perfect harmony when John writes, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Doesn’t dwelling with God in the new heaven and new earth also remind us of Genesis in the Garden of Eden?

So what? Home is a residence, a community to which you belong, rest and harmony, and a place of origin. For many people, home is elusive. The heart awakened by the gospel begins to reimagine what home is, and the two views of the earthly home and the heaven. Home begins to orient itself around God—his city, his people, his rest and harmony, and a return to his purpose for humanity.

I think that this gospel reorientation of home is practical in four ways.

Enemies of Home

First, it exposes sin, Satan, and death as the enemies of home. They destroy locations, divide families, make us restless and interrupt our harmony, and blind us toward God’s purpose in creating us.

Grace at Home

Second, the gospel reorientation of home allows us to have grace with our current home situation, empathizing with and understanding its imperfections and limitations and rejoicing in the glimpses it gives us of our future home.

Hope for Home

Third, we have a future hope in a dwelling, community, rest & harmony, that will fulfill God’s purpose for us and that will be free from the threats of sin, death, and Satan.

Church as Home

Lastly, I think that the closest place we can experience anything like that future home is in the church—a location of assembly, a community and family united in Christ by God’s Spirit made up of many fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, spiritual rest and peace in Christ, and a place of fellowship around God’s purposes for our lives. Let’s be the best home we can, with God’s help, at West Lisbon.

Merry Christmas Aleppo

citadel of aleppo

I’m not a professional in political science at the international level. I don’t know all of the inner-workings of the conflict that is raging in Aleppo, Syria. All I know is that I woke up and checked my newsfeed, just like many Americans this morning. CNN reported breaking news of the advance of Syrian forces, who were reported to be employing execution style methods to weed out the final population of rebels in eastern Aleppo. Then, I opened Facebook. My cousin had shared a video collage of certain Syrians giving perhaps their last moments and words to a watching world.

Sometimes, I hate the internet. I despise the mobility of information I’m exposed to from around the world. I muse, “If there were no internet, I wouldn’t know about all the horror in Aleppo.” Yet, for the very same reason, the internet is a great grace to us. It makes us aware of needs throughout our local, national, and international communities. I am aware of deep injustice and evil in the world, residing in the heart of humanity. I am aware of the need for the dawn of a new King, a new earth, and a new humanity—a new creation.

It’s Christmas time in America. Is it Christmas time in Aleppo? Choke that one down. There’s nothing pleasant about war, death, and starvation. While many of us will probably enjoy family, decorations, food, laughter, presents, the fruits of our labors, and reminders of the Incarnation, Aleppo will be weeping and mourning—families destroyed, decorations of rubble and bloodshed, hunger and starvation, wailing and crying, no provisions, let alone presents, fruit from vocational work as a distant memory . . . and will there be any reminders of the Incarnation?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. I hope so. It may be all that some have left—their faith in Jesus and the hope of eternal life. Aleppo has ancient roots in Judeo-Christianity. The Aleppo Codex (“The Crown of Aleppo”) was housed there for half a millennium, which significantly contributes to our understanding of the Hebrew Bible. Did you know that Aleppo is only an hour and a half drive (65 miles) from Antakya, Turkey? Antakya in the book of Acts is known as Antioch—the mission center from which the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey. But today, Aleppo is in ruin and misery.

Remember that time Jesus chose to praise a Syrian over his own worshippers? In case you don’t, here’s the story for you,

“And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they [the residents of Nazareth] heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him [Jesus] out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

(Luke 4:27–30 ESV)

Jesus’ praise of the Syrian caused such anger in his own people that they were ready to kill him. The message of course is clear — just as Naaman rather than the Israelites experienced God’s power, so would others rather than the residents of Nazareth experience the power of the Son of God.

You can read more about Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1–14. His name means, “one endowed with beauty” or “pleasantness.” It’s kind of an ironic name for a tough, military commander. It’s also an ironic name for a leper. There’s nothing pleasant or beautiful about war and leprosy.

Elijah and Elisha prophesied in Israel during an era when it was a spiritual wasteland. Oh, there was plenty of religious activity going on—plenty of prophets, plenty of sacrifices, plenty of altars, plenty of worship, plenty of gods, plenty of offerings, etc. Yet, it was very rare for a person in Israel to have an undivided heart for Yahweh, the true God of Israel. Hence, we have a number of stories from that era in which those outside of Israel graciously receive the miracles and the word of God. Naaman was one of those recipients.

God sprinkled his grace all over the story of Naaman. First, 1 Kings 5:1 reads,

. . . through him the LORD had given Syria military victories.

Wait, what? The God of Israel gave military victories to a Syrian commander? Yep. Paul House writes,

At first this claim may seem startling because Naaman is not an Israelite. However, 1, 2 Kings emphasize repeatedly God’s sovereignty over all nations and all people (271).

Second, God raised up help for Naaman from unknown, common sources. Elisha the prophet may seem to be the obvious hero in this story, but really, I think it’s the unknown servants who point Naaman to God’s healing power. The young Israelite slave girl shares the knowledge Naaman needs (1 Kings 5:2–3). Her suffering at the hands of a Syrian raiding party led to Naaman’s deliverance. She was like Daniel and Ruth—seeking the blessing of those around her despite their own sorrow. Later on, other servants approached him after the words of Elisha provoked his angry pride. They steered him away from pride and toward common sense—

“O master, if the prophet had told you to do some difficult task, you would have been willing to do it. It seems you should be happy that he simply said, ‘Wash and you will be healed.’” So he went down and dipped in the Jordan seven times, as the prophet had instructed. His skin became as smooth as a young child’s and he was healed.

(2 Kings 5:13–14 NET)

Lastly, God healed Naaman. He didn’t merely heal his skin disease; he converted his soul. He said in 2 Kings 5:15,

For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!

He responds to his new faith in the God of Israel by modes of generosity and worship (2 Kings 5:15b–17). He also has the insight to request forgiveness for the idolatrous duties wrapped up in his vocation (2 Kings 5:18–19), and recognizing the rare sincerity of his faith, the prophet tells Naaman to “Go in peace.” Such a discerning faith was not common in Israel during Elisha’s day.

Human Rights Watch reported yesterday, December 12th, that residents in eastern Aleppo have not received aid since July of this year. Civilians caught in the fray between opposition groups and Syrian forces are starving to death and are not receiving necessary medical treatment. Now, house to house executions are reported to have completed. One resident was reported as saying,

Massacres are happening and the world is watching.

This afternoon, news sources are now reporting that the Syrian forces have secured Aleppo and reached a ceasefire with the rebel opposition. Supposedly, the Bashar Al-Assad regime is ready to make way for overdue humanitarian aid.

In the very least, may we pray for God’s grace upon the Syrian people. Surely, we believe that God’s omnipresence and sovereignty extends over that nation.  Maybe God will use you. May God’s grace heal the wounds — body and soul — of the people of Aleppo. Lastly, may we, the Church, pray and seek God in a way dissimilar to the residents of Nazareth in Jesus’ day, but rather may we carefully and intentionally share in suffering where we can and pass on blessing as we’re able. May God’s grace restore and endow the people of Syria with beauty and pleasantness as he did for Naaman. Merry Christmas Aleppo. Merry Christmas.

The Epistle of James: Godly Living in an Ungodly World

Epistle of James

Epistle of James: Godly Living in an Ungodly World

On Sunday, we concluded our 5-month study of the Epistle of James. What a challenging message! We explored various themes for Godly Living in an Ungodly World. Here, I am providing the title to each sermon, and the basic outline that accompanied each sermon. I hope you are able to use this in your personal Bible study in James and perhaps as you have opportunities to lead others in the study of this book of the Bible.

Epistle of James: Sermon Series Titles and Outline

Introduction: Explore Godly Living in an Ungodly World (1:1) 
  • The Author: James, the brother of Jesus Christ
  • The Date & Place of Writing: Mid-forties A.D. from Palestine
  • The Setting in Life: The difficulties, persecution, economic oppression, and community disharmony of Palestinian and scattered Jewish Christians in the 1st century Roman world.
  • The Form & Content of the Letter: The letter appears to be an edition of James’ own sermons covering such themes as suffering, wisdom, regeneration, a primitive Christology and eschatology echoing the teachings and sayings of Jesus himself, poverty & wealth, the tongue, and the relationship of law, grace, faith, and works of charity. James’ use of “my brothers” or “brothers” is a notable feature and guide throughout the letter.
The Godly Person Endures Tests Joyfully for Maturity (1:2–4).
  • Don’t Divert, but Direct Your Thinking During Tests (1:2–3).
  • Don’t Divert, But Develop Your Endurance During Tests (1:4).
The Godly Person Stays on Track to Maturity by Praying for Wisdom in Testing (1:5–8).
  • Two Problems May Derail Maturing Faith in Testing (1:5a, 6b–8).
  • Two Solutions Will Keep You on Track to Maturing Faith in Testing (1:5b–6a).
The Godly Person Calculates Life by Eternal, Not Temporal, Wealth (1:9–11).
  • The Poor Christian Must Look for Godly Glory Because of Eternal Renewal (1:9, 11).
  • The Rich Person Must Look for Godly Dependance Because of the Eternal Reversal (1:10–11).
The Godly Person Perseveres to Eternal Life through Testing by the New Birth (1:12–18).
  • Persevere to Eternal Life (1:12).
  • Persevere Through Internal Temptation (1:13–15).
  • Persevere by the Internal Transformation of the New Birth (1:16–18).
The Godly Person Heeds Wisdom’s Warning about Anger by Hospitably Hosting the Gospel (1:19–21).
  • Heed Wisdom’s Warning about Anger (1:19).
  • Hunger for God’s Justice Instead of Anger (1:20).
  • Hospitably Host the Regenerating Word for Transformation (1:21).
The Godly Person Perseveres Beyond Hearing to Doing the Word (1:22–25).
  • Beware Deception about the Regenerating Word (1:22).
  • Blessing Belongs to Those Who Persevere Beyond Hearing to Doing (1:23–25).
The Godly Person Awakes to Regenerate Religion (1:26–27).
  • Wake Up from Dead Religion (1:26).
  • Wake Up to Living Religion (1:27).
The Godly Person Pulverizes Partiality Out of His/Her Faith – Part 1 (2:1–7).
  • Heal Community Poverty (2:1–7).
    • Let Jesus Level You (2:1).
    • Obey Your Calling As a Good Judge (2:2–4).
    • Share God’s Burden for the Poor (2:5).
    • Evaluate Whose Side You’re On (2:6–7).
The Godly Person Pulverizes Partiality Out of His/Her Faith – Part 2 (2:8–13).
  • Heal Spiritual Poverty (2:8–13).
    • Live Under the Royal Law of Liberty (2:8–12).
    • Love Mercy More Than Strict Justice (2:13).
The Godly Person Has a Regenerate Faith That Extends Life (2:14–17).
  • Into Eternity (2:14).
  • To Others (2:15–16).
  • By Works (2:17).
The Godly Person Proves His/Her Faith Profession by Corresponding Works (2:18–26).
  • Close the Gap between Faith and Works (2:18).
  • Complete Your Faith (2:19–25).
  • Capture the Correlation (2:26).
The Godly Person Steers the Tongue to Arrive at Maturity by Limiting and Harnessing It (3:1–5a).
  • Limit Tongues That Teach (3:1–2).
  • Harness the Tongue’s Teaching Influence (3:3–5a).
The Godly Person Sparks a Revival of Words (3:5b–12).
  • Trade Hell’s Spark for Heaven’s Spark (3:5b–6).
  • Trade Hell’s Tongue for Heaven’s Tongue (3:7–12).
  • Trade Hell’s Heart for Heaven’s Heart (cf. 1:18, 21; Mt. 15:7–20).
The Godly Person Harvests Harmony with Heaven’s Wisdom (3:13–18).
  • Evidence Your Leadership (3:13).
  • Evict the Party Spirit (3:14–16).
  • Exchange for Heaven’s Wisdom (3:17).
The Godly Person Weeps over His Words Today for a Better Harvest Tomorrow (4:1–10).
  • Weep over Your Desires for War in the Congregation (4:1–3).
  • Weep Like an Adulterer Discovered by a Jealous Spouse (4:4–5).
  • Weep to Find Grace for a Better Harvest (4:6–10).
The Godly Person Places His Words Under God’s Authority (4:11–17).
  • Place Your Social Words Under God’s Authority (4:11–12).
  • Place Your Vocational Words Under God’s Authority (4:13–17).
The Godly Person B.A.N.K.S. on God’s Justice for the Oppressed (5:1–6).
  • Beware the Miseries of Wealth Gained by Exploitation (5:1–3).
  • Attend to the Cries of the Oppressed (5:4).
  • Neglect Luxury, Not Justice (5:5).
  • Keep the Lord Jesus in View (5:6).
The Godly Person Energizes Endurance in the Church by Elevating Faith in Christ’s Return (5:7–12).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Perseverance of the Saints (5:7–8).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Community Harmony (5:9).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Ancient Hope (5:10–11).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Daily Truthfulness (5:12)
The Godly Person Cares for the Condition of the Congregation (5:13–20 & Conclusion).
  • Cry Out with the Sufferer (5:13a).
  • Cheer with the Cheerful (5:13b).
  • Confess with the Sick (5:13c–16b).
  • Consider the Powerful Prophet (5:16c–18).
  • Call the Wanderer Home (5:19–20).

The Complex Place of the Heart of Soldiers and Veterans

Veteran
This is a piece that I wrote for our 2016 Memorial Day Service at West Lisbon Cemetery. Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served and sacrificed for our country!

Intro

Decoration Day began in 1868 after the American Civil War to remember those solders who gave their lives in the conflict and to decorate their graves. The holiday eventually extended to the remembrance of all our fallen soldiers.

Family

 
I never served in the military. As a boy, I do remember feeling a certain awe and wonder about the life of a soldier. I took a shot at the ASVAB In high school, because of that wonder, and if I’m honest, because of the potential financial help for college, but it never went any further than that.
The wonder and awe that I felt as a boy came from the stories that my father and grandfather would tell about their experiences in the military. These men were giants to me. Both of them were in the army. My father didn’t serve in a conflict, but served in Germany during peace-time. My grandfather served as military police at the end of WWII. Most of their stories told of their experiences in a different culture, rather than battle at the front lines. Grandpa could describe the post-war scene, but he hadn’t been there for much of the fighting.
However, there was one more man in my family that had seen the reality of war. My uncle, Bill Pennington, fought in the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945), which was toward the end of the war. The Germans pulled off a surprise attack on the Allied forces; however, the Allies were able to recover and organize themselves and win the battle, which depleted the German forces to such an extent that some credit it as the battle that ended the war.
My uncle Bill is a large man, tall and broad as a house. He’s a fox hunter, fox hounds and all. When he told me stories as boy, I felt that I gazed into the soul of a man who had experienced something too great for words. This man would cry when he spoke about the things he saw. At the same time, war had left him extremely gentle and tender, especially to children, and vulgar and hard when it comes to even a sniff of injustice. Uncle Bill scared me and comforted me at the same time. He scared me because he spoke of a world that was awesome and terrible. He comforted me because I knew he, and other men like him, would protect me.

The Hearts of Soldiers and Veterans

 
As I talk and listen to soldiers whom I know, I discover that the heart of a soldier is a complex place, where deep thoughts about God and the world reside. In 1 Samuel 17:38–40, we find part of a very, very familiar story. Which of us upon hearing the story of David and Goliath have not imagined ourselves, sling in hand, launching a single stone at the giant, and knocking him straight dead? Prior to the battle, remember the scene where David is trying out Saul’s armor. 
Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’ So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
Have you ever read the story of David and Goliath and wondered, “Why wouldn’t anyone except David approach this brute?” I mean, yes, he was big, but surely out of the whole army of Israel there was someone who would go at this guy, right? In his book Manners and Customs of Bible Times, Ralph Gower tells us something going on behind the scenes, 
Saul’s helmet and armor were probably almost unique in Israel at the time, available to him because he was king. It was not at all unusual for a soldier to be armed with only a weapon such as a sling. Saul was anxious to protect David with the armor because it was a custom that champions should decide the outcome of slavery rather than a general battle in which the majority of the opposition would be maimed or killed. Saul wanted to take no chances (233).
The Israelite soldiers were not merely scared of losing a single battle to Goliath, but they carried the burden of possible failure that would lead to the subjection of their families to slavery.  No one wants to be responsible for bringing such a thing on the people, so they altogether as one man hesitated. Into this scene, steps David, the young shepherd who had looked into the eyes of lions and bears, and fought them off to protect the sheep. He knew that Goliath wasn’t going away. No doubt, he had not planned to go to battle that day when he first set out to deliver provisions to his brothers. But the giant was like a lion or bear who had his prey right where he wanted it. David trusted the Lord to accomplish his will through him, and he desired freedom for his people rather than slavery to fear or to the Philistines.
Saul tried to take every precaution to protect David, but the armor didn’t fit. Yet David in that moment had all that he needed. He had the heart of a soldier, a heart that was willing to encourage a nation, a heart that was willing to stand in the way of the oncoming enemy, and a heart that trusted God with the outcome for his own glory and purposes. The heart of a soldier plunges into deep places, where heavy costs are calculated.

Closing

 
As we remember those soldiers who are no longer with us, may we give thanks for their burden and struggle, for they carried it for our sakes. May we also consider the living soldiers among us. Both those who are here with us, our veterans, but also those who are active and on duty somewhere in our world. You may ask, “What can I do?” My pastoral counsel would be to regularly pray and give to them God’s word, because God affects and transforms the heart. Since soldiering requires so much heart, pray and give them God’s word. 

2016 WLC Pastoral Intern: Seth Larson

Getting Started

Before I started my internship with Rex Howe, I believed that a pastor’s’ role in a church is to lead the congregation that God has placed him to lead. I still believe this, but I now realize that I thoroughly underplayed the role of a pastor in a church, but I will get back to that later.

I decided to enroll in this internship during the winter of 2015. I had been in close contact with my friend, Mitch Friestad, and he expressed that he enjoyed his time in the year previous with Rex as his intern. Once I told Rex about my ambitions to become his intern, he asked me what I wanted to get out of the internship. I had no idea. I think he could tell by my expressionless look that I was racking my brain to find an answer to a question that, to a normal person, should have required no thought . . . But I’m no normal person. Rex began listing off different things that we could go over as an internship. He mentioned things like biblical theology, pastoral ministries, missions, apologetics, and religious philosophy. My ears perked up when he said apologetics. I have always enjoyed the art of defending the Christian faith. There had been times when I was at work or I was at school, and someone would bring up their doubt or hatred of Christianity, and I was immediately happy, because that meant I had the opportunity to, “Give an answer to anyone who asks me for the reason for the hope that is in me” (1 Peter 3:15b). So, Christian Apologetics is where we decided to focus the internship.

Ministry Description and Experience

Studying 1 Peter 3:15, we discovered that there are two kinds of apologetics—a professional, academic kind and a pastoral, equipping the lay congregation kind. Because of these two distinct paths, we also decided to briefly dive into what it looks like to be a pastor of a church, on account that I would like to be a pastor some day. Through the course of the internship, we read 2 books. One titled, Apologetics for a New Generation by Sean McDowell, and The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. Both of these books were amazing. We also read most of the Gospel of John. We also watched a series of apologetics videos by Voddie Baucham such as how to use apologetics appropriately and expository apologetics. Towards the end of my internship, we did a project. I asked my peers what they thought was the number one spiritual question that their peers asked. We received a ton of great feedback. When the poll was finished, the most voted question was, “How can a good God allow pain and suffering?” As it turned out, Rex has a friend named Rick Rood (author of Our Story . . . His Story) who was very qualified to answer this question. I then spent a day finding eleven sub-questions[1] related to the main question of God, pain, and suffering. We made contact with Rick through Skype, a computer software that allows face-to-face video chatting, and asked him all of the sub-questions that I developed:

  1. Does God have control over my pain?
  2. If God allows these things to happen (pain and suffering), then does he love/care for me?
  3. Is there a bigger plan to my pain?
  4. Do other religions have an explanation as to why there is pain and suffering? If so, what are they?
  5. Does God understand/sympathize with our pain?
  6. Can God take away my pain or suffering? If so, why doesn’t God take away my pain/suffering?
  7. Does God find joy in my pain and suffering?
  8. Is my pain or suffering always the consequence of something that I have done?
  9. What part do I play in rededying my pain?
  10. How does the theme of pain and suffering develop in God’s story?
  11. How do I become a blessing to those who are in pain and suffering?

We recorded the conversation. I then did a two-week bible study at West Lisbon that involved showing the youth group the footage of the video conference between us and Rick via iMovie, and the second week I talked to the youth group about apologetics. Both of these went very well.

Internship Reflections

I remember at the end of the year thinking “I learned so much about apologetics, but I didn’t learn as much about how to be a pastor.” I didn’t have many one-on-one conversations about what it’s like to be in the pastoral ministry like we did with apologetics. Then I thought, maybe he was teaching me a little differently. Then I realized, I think that he was teaching me, just without talking. He led by example. He showed me how to be a leader by never being afraid to pause our internship to help anyone that came into the church that needed to talk to him. He taught me to be spontaneous by going to subway and reading John just because it was beautiful outside. He taught me to not be afraid to talk in front of people by having me do a bible study in front of my peers for two weeks. He showed me that to do what God calls me to do, I have to be willing to do the hard things, like when he truly showed me how much he preps for a Sunday sermon and how much work that entails. And finally, he showed me the imperativeness of mentoring others and sharing your knowledge with others. He did this by being gracious enough to allow me to study under him for a semester of school and gain some of the knowledge that he holds.

So now, when I think of all of the things that a pastor does, it isn’t a once every seven day gig. It is a nonstop job that only few have been given the gifts from God to carry out. My words can’t do a justice to what this internship has done for me, and I hope and pray that I am not the last to receive all that has been given to me in the last year. And above all, I thank God and Rex for all that I have learned since January.

Sincerely,

Seth Larson

2016 WLC Pastoral Intern

[1] Rick’s answers to these questions are available and can be printed or emailed. Please contact Pastor Rex to get a copy.

Is the Church a Fasting People?

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day (Mark 2:18–20 ESV).

Fasting. Just doesn’t sound all that fun does it? Not something you’re gonna invite your buddies into—“Hey guys, we’re going to do some fasting next week, want to join in?” Yeah right. I’ll take a rain check on that. Hand me my Big Mac, fries, and Coke! What is this fasting thing all about? Is it biblical? Should Christians do it? If so, how do we do it?

One of my favorite theological journals is the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS). In the most recent volume, there is an article from Sigurd Grindheim, a professor of New Testament at Fjellhaug International University College in Oslo, Norway.  The article title is “Fasting That Is Pleasing to the Lord: A NT Theology of Fasting” [JETS, 58/4 (2015) 697–707]. Professor Grindheim addresses the passage above from Mark 2, and extends a challenge to traditional Christian thinking on the spiritual discipline of fasting.

His article seeks to discern whether the NT spiritual life calls for either exceptional or habitual fasting. The exceptional fasting approach is rare rather than routine, and attached to largely significant moments, decisions, or spiritual efforts in the will of God. The habitual fasting approach is routine rather than rare, and in so doing, prepares a person for those bigger moments needing discernment in the will of God. One may say that the exceptional approach is more impulsive, and the habitual approach is more preparatory. In saying this, I don’t mean anything necessary negative about one or the other. For one may say that being impulsive is negative because its reactionary, but another may say being habitual is negative because it is legalistic.

Professor Grindheim attempts to argue for a new kind of fasting, not merely for exceptional practice, but also at the level of motive. He describes Old Testament fasting as accompanying (1) prayer, (2) mourning, (3) humility, (4) repentance of sins, and (5) direction from the Lord (cf., 2 Sam. 12:16–23; Esth. 4:16; 1 Sam. 31:13; 1 Chron. 10:12; Ps. 35:13; 1 Kgs. 21:27–29; 1 Sam. 7:6; Jon. 3:5; Neh. 9:1; Judg. 20:26; Dan. 9:3). The only required fast of the OT accompanied the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27–32). Later on in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, the Jews are practicing the discipline more regularly as indicated by the very early Christian document called The Didache,

And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week; but do ye keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation (the sixth) day”(Didache 8:1 AFL-E).

Jesus himself references this regular practice of the Jews in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9–14.

Out of this regular practice flows the dismay of both the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist when they approach Jesus in Mark chapter 2:18–20. In other words, they are asking Jesus why his disciples don’t fast twice a week like the rest of us? Most likely for both the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist, they participated in regular fasting, which was motivated by eschatological and messianic hopes. So, their question to Jesus is not merely about religious practice but also an indirect inquiry about his identity. So as to say, “Have they stopped fasting because they believe you are the Messiah? Are you the Messiah?”

Grindheim writes,

Whereas the Old Testament (OT) devout were characterized by their longing for the presence of God, New Testament (NT) believers are characterized by their joy at his presence. OT believers were yearning to experience  God’s favor; NT believers rejoice that they always enjoy his favor through Jesus Christ (698).

He goes on to explain that Jesus would fulfill the Day of Atonement on his cross. Therefore, Jesus’ presence includes the complete forgiveness and removal of sin, so that his presence is marked by joy and exultation, not mourning or grief.

We can all agree with such thinking. We can all agree that the disciples had no reason to fast because Jesus was present with them—the bridegroom was there with them—

Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” But what does Jesus mean when he says, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day?

Professor Grindheim argues that this is a matter of debate among scholars,

Scholars debate whether this refers to the relatively short period between Jesus’ death and his resurrection, or whether it refers to the long period between Jesus’ death and his second coming (699).

He spends the next several paragraphs in his article choosing and defending the former interpretation over the latter; that is, the bridegroom’s “taking away” refers to the three days in the tomb, not to the time between Jesus’ ascension and second coming. He references texts such as John 16:20 about the disciples’ grief being transformed into joy. He also appeals to the many promises of Jesus to be with his disciples (eg., Matt. 28:18–20). He claims that the mediated presence of Jesus to the church through the Holy Spirit (John 14:23; Eph. 2:21–22) is also reason to believe that the church age is not a time of mourning for Jesus’ presence, but rather a time of rejoicing because we are indeed experiencing Jesus’ presence. He further and finally builds one final evidence of Christ’s presence with his church—the fellowship of suffering. Grindheim doesn’t see suffering as a sign of Jesus’ absence, but rather as a sign of his presence and intimate fellowship with his people as they suffer for their identification with Jesus (Rom. 8:17; Phi. 3:10; Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 4:13); further still, such suffering is a cause for joy, not a cause for mourning.

From Grindheim’s perspective, when Jesus calls for “new wine to be put in new wineskins,” he is saying that the old mindset (i.e., anticipating Messiah and eschatological realities) and old practices (twice weekly routine fasting) are obsolete. Now, as I believe Grindheim would say, we have a new mindset (i.e., new wine = the Messiah has come) that requires new practices (i.e., new wineskins = a new kind of fasting).

He then spreads his discussion beyond the Mark passage into the rest of the New Testament and a little bit into the early church writings and practice of fasting. Regarding the early church, he only quotes The Didache 8:1 (see above), which he dates much later than the most recent scholarship would suggest, which would place it possibly in the 40’s. Therefore, the Christian practice of regular fasting on two days a week is very early. It’s early practice doesn’t necessarily make it correct, but it can’t be dismissed because it is late, as Grindheim seems to suggest. It is also demonstrable that a period of fasting accompanied the act of baptism (Did. 7:4).

He takes on several NT texts on fasting (Matt. 4:2; 6:16–18; Col. 2:20–23; Acts 9:9; 13:2–3; 14:23). Regarding the temptation of Jesus, he argues that the 40 day fast is not example for us to follow, but rather a unique undertaking by Jesus to prepare himself to be the second Adam and faithfully endure the temptations of the devil and continue his Messianic mission. In Matthew 6, Jesus is giving instruction about the practice of spiritual disciplines and the danger of hypocrisy. Grindheim is too strong when he writes, “Jesus’ point is not to instruct his disciples to fast, but to warn them against hypocrisy” (703). No, Jesus isn’t teaching them to fast; he assumes that they will fast, so much so that he commands them how to do it regularly without being hypocrites. Paul in Colossians is not directly dismissing fasting as a practice; rather he is dismissing wrong motives behind fasting as a practice—self-imposed piety has no value in opposing self-indulgence. Paul is clear in Romans and Galatians that what the law could not accomplish through the sinful flesh, God himself has accomplished through his Son and by the Spirit. The motive of fasting must be a desire for the control of the Spirit over the flesh, a desire for the word of Christ to dwell in us richly and to become our “food.” Paul’s own practice of fasting in Acts 9:9; 13:2–3; and 14:23 finally forces Grindheim to admit that there are some, exceptional occasions when fasting is legitimate and appropriate for the Christian and the church.

However, in the very next paragraph, Professor Grindheim goes on to say,

The baseline for Christian piety must therefore be that fasting is not an appropriate expression of Christian devotion to the Lord. NT differs from OT piety in that God has now come near in his Son and through his Holy Spirit. Even though believers long for the Second Coming of Christ and the visible manifestation of his rule (Matt. 6:10; 1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:20), NT piety is characterized by intimacy, not distance. The predominant sentiment of believers living in the age of fulfillment is joy, not grief (Phi. 3:1; 4:4–7; 1 Thess. 5:16). They therefore have no occasion for fasting (705).

My difficulty with Grindheim is that he struggles to see how joy and fasting can be in continuity and continuation into this new age—a new age to which I feel he attributes too much fulfillment, nearly eliminating some forms of Christian practice and piety. The dominant message of the NT writers is that the kingdom is both already and not yet here, which he finally does acknowledge at the end of his article,

The Christian fulfillment of fasting should therefore be to spread the joy of Christ’s presence and to demonstrate it in action by sharing with the needy (cf. Isa. 58:3–7). Nevertheless, while joy has replaced fasting as a habitual expression of Christian piety, fasting is not prohibited in the NT. Christian experience is still characterized by the tension between the already and the not yet, between the realized and future eschatology. Normal Christian experience will therefore still have room and need for other expressions than manifestations of joy (parentheses mine, 707).

It would be interesting to know whether or not Grindheim feels we should pray habitually or give offerings habitually, or only exceptionally? Proportionately, prayer is spoken of far more in the NT than fasting, and I think that guides us some in our practice of spiritual disciplines. No one disagrees that Mark 2:18–20 is transforming the way that we must think about and practice fasting. It must not become religious ritual that seeks the reward of other religious people, and it’s motive and practice must adjust to the realities of Christ’s work in death and resurrection. It must come—whether habitually or exceptionally—out of the joy and longing we have because of and for Christ. And there is no reason to be rigid in our practice of the discipline, but rather a practice rising from our love and liberty. Isaiah, the OT prophet understood these things,

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to oppress himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:3–7).

So what about you? Have you ever fasted before? What is your motivation to fast? Do your motivations sync with the NT transformation of fasting in light of Jesus’ person and work? What are the exceptional times that you feel require a season of fasting? Do you think habitual fasting is appropriate sometimes? If so when, and how do you prevent it from becoming an empty ritual? May the joy of the Lord become your utmost hunger, and may the Lord renew your minds to discover his aim for you in Christ, using every detail of your life, until the kingdom fully and finally comes.