Alaskan Arrival!

After worrying about our bags being overweight with all of our food and clothes for the next 16 days, the man at the counter did not even weigh our bags. They did not even charge us at check-in for them. So, hopefully they make it to where they need to go! After Deb and I bought our caffeine for the night, we boarded the plane at 11:55 P.M. All went well and we left right around 12:35 A.M., to begin our 6 hour journey to Anchorage, Alaska. As the plane loaded, we came to realize that we were the only two people in our row, so we were able to have the middle seat open and spread out.

Despite the heavy turbulence in the air, we were both got around three to four hours of sleep. This was a blessing considering the future time change we were going to confront and the flight connection. The flight into Anchorage was beautiful and we learned fast that their “nighttime” was still light. CRAZY!

We decided to get some breakfast and sit down and look at the view outside of the window until our boarding time at 6:30. Little did we know that there was heavy fog where our plane was coming from which caused us a delay…wait no make that a cancelation of our morning flight. We had to reschedule for a later flight at 6:00 P.M. As we were waiting in line we met a guy who is going out to fish for the summer. He came from California and turned out to be meeting a bunch of Christian men to fish with all summer. He had to spend two nights in the airport without any family or friends. Wow, God works in mysterious ways we were able to take him out to lunch and a walk around Anchorage. He says he was so thankful he met us because he was starting to get frustrated.

Finally when 6:30 rolled around we were able to board our plane and take off for King Salmon. From there we found John and Carrol who picked us up from the airport. We were then taken to the KAKN radio station, which is where we would sleep every night. Thank you for all of the prayers! God Bless.

—Caeley and Deb

2017 Destination: Spain

We made it to our gate; everyone’s enjoying dinner now :-). Thanks for your prayers! Weather is a little rough outside; please keep this matter in your prayers! See you on the other side of the pond.

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).

What Is Revival? Part 3

Revival

What Is Revival? Part 3

This will be the third and final part to the Messenger series on revival. The previous two parts also entitled “What Is Revival?” are available online. In this third part of the series, I’d like us to consider our cultural moment. Alvin J. Reid wrote a book entitled Firefall 2.0: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals. Throughout the book, Reid indicates that cultural moments of upheaval and uncertainty can become moments of opportunity for the people of God to seek him for revival.

Looking out over our upcoming election and cultural climate, I feel that we Americans together must not neglect our ownership of this cultural moment. I believe that we are in such a time of upheaval and uncertainty that God’s purpose for us now is to return to him in desperate, repentant prayer. The two major party candidates—regardless of what we think of either of them—largely represent our corporate choices. They represent us. Even if they were not the primary choices of some, we all contributed to this cultural moment. Nationally, we have committed sins against God, against our neighbors, and against the weak among us. Nationally, we have neglected obedience and faith toward God, resulting in injustice, a lack of mercy, and a twisting of truth and goodness. The time has long passed for us to “argue with God” or to “defend our righteousness” before him. He won’t hear these defenses. He’ll only hear repentance. The righteousness that we offer him is stained and filthy. Eugene Peterson’s rendering of Romans 1:32 says it best,

And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!

It’s time for us to find our need for the gospel of Jesus Christ afresh.

Therefore, if these two candidates are descriptive of our general, national spirituality and character—and I believe that they are—then we must hit our knees and avoid bartering with God about a winner. There is no winner for us between these two. It’s like having to choose between Jeroboam or Rehoboam, like choosing between Ahab or Jezebel.

Here are five devotional thoughts—in no particular order—on biblical living for this current cultural moment. First, let’s agree with God about our guilt in this cultural moment. To our knowledge, Daniel lived a life that we all would describe as faithful to God. He was loyal to the point of facing death multiple times in key cultural moments for the people of Israel. Yet, read his prayer in chapter 9. In response to what he reads in the word of God, he owns the sins of his nation before God. He doesn’t excuse himself from the corporate sins of Israel. Let’s stop fighting for what we want, and start asking God what he loves. It’s an opportunity for the church to humble herself and repent and seek God afresh.

Second, pray carefully about our vote. There are many perspectives about how Christians should vote. Some say that we should vote for “the lesser of two evils.” Some see a vote cast for either major party candidate as approving a liar and adulterer on the one hand or a murderer and crook on the other hand. Others say vote for the Vice President that you prefer. Some say that a widespread Christian silence should be our voice in this election. Others say to be loyal to your party while being critical of its failures in attempts to reform from within. Some are considering starting or joining a new political party. Others plan to write-in the primary candidate that they had hoped would make it into the national election. The multiplication of our reasonings reveal the trouble in our hearts about this cultural moment. May God graciously persuade our national heart to accomplish his will—whatever that may be.

Third, pray for the candidates. Proverbs 21:1 in the ESV reads,

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

One of them will be our president. Interestingly, the apostle Paul instructed his son in the faith, Timothy, to pray for leaders even while they were living under Emperor Nero. Christian historian, Justo Gonzalez, quotes the Roman historian, Tacitus, to remind us of Nero’s cruelty to Christians that followed his false identification of them as the ones who started the great Roman fire,

Before killing the Christians, Nero used them to amuse the people. Some were dressed in furs, to be killed by dogs. Others were crucified. Still others were set on fire early in the night, so that they might illuminate it. Nero opened his own gardens for these shows, and in the circus he himself became the spectacle, for he mingled with the people dressed as a charioteer, or he rode around in his chariot. All of this aroused the mercy of the people, even against the culprits who deserved an exemplary punishment, for it was clear that they were not being destroyed for the common good, but rather to satisfy the cruelty of one person (The Story of Christianity, vol. 1, 35).

My brothers and sisters, if Paul could instruct his young pastoral protege and his church plants to pray for Emperor Nero and for a Roman culture that so despised the very existence of Christians, then I think we can pray for these candidates and for our neighbors regardless of their present political views. It is this kind of peaceful prayer that commends the gospel to a watching world. Read the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah in 1 & 2 Kings and in 1 & 2 Chronicles. You realize quickly that the story of every nation is one woven by the reigns of both good and wicked leaders. However, you also learn that there is a God who intervenes, hears prayer, and acts to accomplish his redemptive purposes throughout the whole earth for his glory.  Chuck Colson famously exhorted that our hope does not come out of Air Force One. May we be found as a people praying to this end for every candidate on the ballot.

Fourth, pray for the transition of power to result in the expansion of the gospel in our own nation and into the global community. It is true that moral and ethical legislation can be a common grace to all of us, but Christians know that real change results in the new birth of the human heart. This is why we need revival. The only news on earth that effects such a change of heart is the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lift up your eyes and look beyond to what God’s interests are in our world. He’s neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He has accomplished his aims throughout history in countries ruled by democracy, socialism, communism, dictatorships, monarchies, and even nations supposedly ruled by the theocracy of a false god. What I am saying is this: be more confident in your God to accomplish his purposes in our cultural and political moment than the political imaginations of humans. If anything else, allow this election season to solidify your identity in Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

Lastly, let’s be directly thankful to God for what we’ve been given. It is difficult to locate gratitude and thankfulness in the current climate. But honestly, how bad is your life right now? Really, how bad is it? Expressing thankfulness to God has a way of softening our hearts and a way of decreasing our complaints—even in times when it is genuinely and terribly bad. Remember the old hymn “Count Your Blessings” written by Johnson Oatman Jr.,

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain:

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;

Count your many blessings, money cannot buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Perhaps, the Lord will graciously give a revival to our countrymen and women like he has in times past. I am thankful to be able to vote. I hope you are too, even given the circumstances. The pastoral role in these moments should continue to point people to God. We have one God and Savior, and he unfortunately will not be on the ballot this Tuesday. However, let us not forget that it is he who truly reigns over the affairs of the world as the Psalmist reminds us,

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting” (Psalm 93:1–2).

The Lord is an ancient monarch, who establishes the earth by the permanence of his rule. He’s seen it all. May this election cycle cause a renewed longing on the ballot of our hearts for the rule and hope of this ancient King of humanity.

What Is Revival? Part 2

Revival

Last month, we began to give our attention to Dr. Timothy Keller’s words on revival as it is portrayed in the Bible. He defined it as

. . . the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit.

Those ordinary operations are (1) conviction of sin, (2) conversion, (3) giving of assurance, and (4) sanctification. He also suggested that in biblical revival three things happen: (1) sleepy Christians wake up; (2) nominal Christians are converted; and (3) hard to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. A revival of the adoration of God and the gospel, that begins within the church, beautifies the church in such a way that makes it attractive to even the hardest to reach unbeliever.

This brings us to Keller’s next movement in his teaching on biblical revival. He expresses five marks or theological descriptors of revival. First, whenever there is a season of revival in the church, it usually goes hand in hand with a recovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is recovered from legalism and lawlessness. The gospel is neither of these things. The faithfulness of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection is better than sacramental traditionalism, and the faithfulness of Jesus Christ is also better than the antinomian (i.e., anti-law) chaos that James would call “demonic” (2:19). We have been saved by grace through faith, and the faith that saves is a faith that works (Eph. 2:8–10; James 2:14–26). The new birth only gives birth to a persevering faith that saves and works. Keller instructs that the recovery of the true gospel is the first theological mark of revival.

The second theological mark of revival is repentance, not emotional bubbly-ness, but awe, even silence and stillness, not necessarily noisy. Preachers may be in revival with the gospel when the church gets quiet . . . no fighting or quarreling or bickering, but rather peace, unity, love, mercy, and listening.

A third theological mark of revival is anointed, corporate worship. On Tuesday, February 3rd, 1970, the students of Asbury College assembled for their normal, routine, required chapel service. Instead, a testimony from Adademic Dean Custer Reynolds gave way to testimonies from students, students pouring to the altar in prayer, songs, and repentance among both the student body and faculty. People began seeking forgiveness from one another for sins committed, and others committed their lives to Christ for the first time. The revival continued throughout the week, and then it spread through the students and faculty into other churches and places as they were invited to speak. Evangelism and mission flowed out of the revival that broke forth on the Asbury campus. Anointed, corporate worship happens when people show up at church expecting to encounter God, instead of treating church like their regular meeting at the local social club. Do you go to church expecting to meet God? Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 14 that the presence of God during the church’s worship should be tangible enough to “cut to the heart” of the unbeliever who may show up.

Fourth, revival also sparks real church growth. You can have some church growth without revival, but you cannot have revival without church growth. Also, I say real church growth, because there is mostly fake church growth being peddled these days. When churches “swap sheep,” that isn’t real church growth. It can be terribly unhealthy, and it could mean that church members are failing to reconcile relationships and conflicts at their previous house of worship. Others leave their church because another church “offers so much more”; therefore, consumerism rather than commitment becomes the basis for choosing. They fail to recognize that if all the people who left to attend the “Grass Is Greener Church” remained at the church to which they had originally committed, God could use them to be a part of a fresh work and a new season at their former church. Instead, they find themselves at a church where there are already tons and tons of gifted people, and their former church finds itself struggling to meet all of its ministry needs. Local pastors (including myself) should commit to healthy growth for their church and area churches by holding attenders accountable to their membership covenants. We aren’t helping people grow into mature Christians by turning a blind eye to unreconciled conflicts or to consumeristic tendencies. After all, a recovery of the gospel means a recovery of reconciliation and a recovery of perseverance. There’s probably only two reasons why a person should ever leave the church where they are members: (1) a geographical move, or (2) heresy (i.e., doctrinal or ethical deviance from core biblical truths). Real church growth in numbers results from conversions caused by evangelistic activity, and real church growth in maturity results from effective discipleship and Christians learning experiences. People transformed by the gospel in revival turn out to be bold and humble evangelists themselves.

Lastly, prayer marks revival. Extraordinary, kingdom-centered, prayer. Simple, yet sincere prayer, like that of the little girl named Florrie Evans, who sparked the great Welsh Revival of 1904–1905, who simply testified to Pastor Joseph Jenkins,

I love Jesus with all my heart.

The revival that followed saw more than 100,000 people profess Christ as Savior. You see, all of these great revival movements of the past were preceded by Christians burdened to pray. A dear friend always says to me, “Prayer isn’t everything, but everything comes by prayer.” A call and commitment to pray may very well lead us into a revival, and if revival comes, people will not want to stop praying for they will have found that sweet presence of God. Some of the Welsh Revival prayer meetings extended into the early morning hours, some lasting until 3:00am.

The gospel, repentance, worship, church growth, and prayer mark true revival. How do you seek revival? Go after these theological marks. In the First Great Awakening, there was the method of outdoor preaching, but outdoor meetings are required. In the NYC revival between 1857–1859, noon-time prayer meetings led by lay people catalyzed the Spirit’s work. Keller states, “Revival is like Narnia—you can’t get in the same way twice!” Keller goes on to explain that one of the tragedies of the Welsh Revival was that people got “stuck” in their method. Revivals, instead, oftentimes spark through new, creative methods of ministry as major cultural upheavals are taking place. Keller closes with two exhortations for today’s church to seek revival. First, for the church to experience revival today, sexuality must be addressed from a biblical perspective. The bible has much to say on the topic that we as a culture are neglecting and suppressing—even in the church. This is one of the major cultural upheavals we are facing. We must find a way to speak truthfully and lovingly about sexuality from God’s perspective. Second, revivals start with small things, much like avalanches begin with pebbles. Pastors and church leaders need to be willing to faithfully start with something small. Fabricating something huge from the popular church down the road may make us as famous as the next guy, but it isn’t  likely to spark revival. Don’t neglect that little group that wants to gather for prayer once a week.

Psalm 65 praises the Lord,

Praise is due you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions. Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.

O how we need such a God in our day, friends. May we pray to him, and may he hear, forgive, act, and maintain our cause in the gospel of his beloved Son.

What Is Revival?

Revival

Growing up in Scioto County, Ohio, I remember many little churches decorating the landscape. Every now and then, you would see on the outdoor church sign something like this: “Revival! Sunday through Friday! 7pm each night! Come on out and join us!” As a kid, teenager, and young adult, I attended many of these meetings. There was a very predictable format—a special and very dynamic speaker would be invited; the revival was scheduled; many times special musicians were also brought in, and the altar calls didn’t end until somebody made their way down the aisle.

I think that I was part of a real revival once in that Appalachian country. However, it wasn’t scheduled or coordinated. It also happened at multiple places, rather than at one local church. It wasn’t the result of a solitary, drawn out altar call. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Lord may very well use all of those things—and has before—but the revival I think that I was a part of didn’t fit that repeatable, copyable, scheduled pattern employed over and over again by churches in my hometown area.

Tim Keller spoke on A Biblical Theology of Revival (a.k.a. What Is Revival?) at the 2013 The Gospel Coalition Conference. It is definitely worth an hour of your time. If it doesn’t stir your heart into longing for revival, then maybe you should check your pulse! I’d like to summarize and share some of my own thoughts from Keller’s comments on biblical revival.

Since there are many descriptions and definitions out there on revival, it helps to begin with the same: Biblical revival is “the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit” (Keller). So, it is the Holy Spirit doing what he already does, but in a more intense way. What are these ordinary operations? There are 4 that Keller highlights: (1) conviction of sin (John 16:7–11), (2) conversion (Acts 16:14–15; Titus 3:3–7), (3) giving of assurance (Ephesians 1:13–14), and (4) sanctification (growth in holiness) (Romans 8:1–11). The Holy Spirit certainly does more than this in the Christian life, but these are the intensified Holy Spirit operations when there is revival.

When the Holy Spirit intensifies these operations of his, three things seem to happen. First, sleepy Christians wake up. Sleepy Christians are neither happy nor sad enough, Therefore, they do not experience high assurance of salvation (the Spirit bears witness to my spirit — Romans 8:16), nor do they experience deep repentance (godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation — 2 Corinthians 7:10). The difference between a sleepy Christian and an awake Christian can be illustrated in the relationship of a father and a son. A father and a son share a legal relationship. It can be declared that the son is in fact the son of the father and vice versa. I can be officially documented on the birth certificate. Now, imagine when a father embraces his son. The son is not legally more a son, but he is certainly experiencing sonship in more than a legal way.

Second, the nominal Christians get converted. Nominal Christians are those who are baptized, church attending people, but during revival they will come and say, “I was never really a Christian.” These are surprising conversions: church leaders, spouses, long-time members, etc. During times of revival, the Holy Spirit goes through the church, and this is consistent with the pattern of Scripture. When God wants to do a fresh work—be it for judgment or for redemption—he starts with his people.

Third, hard or seemingly impossible to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. Those dear ones out on the fringes that seem beyond the reach of the church and even God encounter the long arm of God, and the Holy Spirit generously and gloriously converts their souls by the gospel. When sleepy Christians wake up and nominal Christians are converted, the Holy Spirit beautifies the church, even to non-Christians.

Revival, brothers and sisters, is what we need, because it results in both adoration and attraction. An internal shift occurs in our posture toward God resulting in changed lives. If this is what you long for, then the best thing to do is to ask God for it in your own life. Pray for God to wake up, convert, and to reach out. Better still, start a prayer meeting with others to pray for revival. If we ask, seek, and knock, perhaps the Lord will kindly unlock an entry for us into such an experience (Col. 4:2–6).

Returning to my story, once I—a nominal Christian—was truly converted, I returned to the church of my youth to discover that a number of my peers had experienced the same thing. I would describe some of the older Christians around me at that time as having been awakened from slumber! In a very small, rural church, I became one of seven men, who felt a call into full-time gospel ministry. It was very unusual. To my knowledge, five of those seven are still serving in ministry in some capacity. We wouldn’t have probably described it as revival back in those days, because revival to us was predictable and scheduled. However, looking back and knowing what I know now about revival, I think that I experienced a small taste of it, and I long for it again.

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.