Thursday, February 18, 2010

Missional Fasting for Lent

Lent is the six weeks prior to the great gospel week where Jesus' death, burial and resurrection are celebrated. For centuries the church has celebrated this time as a time of reflection and renewal, of introspection and self-examination. One of the customs of Lent is to give up (fast) something for the entire 40 days, to help you keep your focus on 'the reason for the season'.

I'm curious, what should missionaries to Corinth give up? and for whom?

In Isaiah God's people were very spiritual, observed the feasts and sacrifices with vigor and even went above and beyond, fasting for God to break through and bring revival. They looked around and didn't like the sin and where their culture had drifted to, and they did the only thing they knew to do, they went to church more and begged God for a revival. But God rejected their religious efforts, their fast, their sacrifices and he asked them for a different kind of fast... a fast for others instead of themselves.

Most fasting is for us. We want to get something from it. We want to get closer, dig deeper, have a revival, whatever. But in Isaiah 58 God told his people that an acceptable fast was not a fast for themselves but a fast for others. In verse three the people are fussing with God. They say, "Why have we afflicted our souls and you haven't taken notice?"

Then God begins to unfold the true fast. It goes like this:

Isa 58:6-7
"Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

God said that a true fast is not you giving up something for you... but you giving up something for them, the poor, the needy, the outcast.

God went on in verse 10 to use their own complaint and turn it on them, he said:

If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul...

God called his people to satisfy the afflicted soul of someone else, not afflict their own souls for their own satisfaction.

Maybe this Lent, instead of us giving up something for us, we could give up something for them.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Why give gifts?

From time to time, including this weekend, Crosswind gives gifts to over 250 families in our 'adopted' neighborhoods. This time it'll be a box of practical supplies, specifically:

- A four pack of toilet paper
- Three bars of soap
- A bottle of shampoo
- A tube of toothpaste
- Two rolls of paper towels
- A box of clothes washing soap
- A bottle of dish washing soap
- A bottle of house cleaning supplies
- AND a box of chocolates

Why bother with this gift some may ask? Does it really do any good? Wouldn't it be better to do something else? We are very sensitive to how our gifts may impact our friends.
1. We don't want to be condescending with our gifts. The last thing we want to do is embarrass someone who is working hard to make it by bringing a gift that may feel to them like we're looking down our noses on them.
2. We always want our gifts to be truly helpful, to build up the whole person in their situation, not just meet a temporary need that will be back next month.

So why this gift? and why now?
1. After Christmas, family budgets are exhausted. It's a rough time for us all. Also, during the cold there are above normal utility bills. So people who live on fixed incomes are strapped. And the items listed above are the items that are usually cut first. Food stamps will not buy any of the above items so people just do without. Many of our friends have told us how, in the hard months, they use their phone books instead of toilet paper and just wash with warm water, no soap. So the first reason is that we love them and want to help them through a hard time.
2. The second reason may be a bit of a surprise until you read Luke 10. In this story Jesus is teaching his followers how to prepare a city for His arrival. In verse five he says, "whatever house you enter first say, "Peace to this house." Jesus called for his disciples to enter into a custom of the day of hospitable blessing. In many of the cultures of the world even today these customs remain. Whenever you enter a home you bring a blessing of a practical gift to return the blessing of their hospitality. God told his followers to enter homes with blessings of peace. This welcome gift, if received, was the beginning of a relationship. The relationship would deepen (v.7), needs would be met (v.9) and the gospel would be presented (v.11). In this way the hearts would be prepared for the arrival of Jesus who draws people to Himself. So the second reason is to make new friends by giving hospitable gifts which may open hearts for relationship, giving us the opportunity to serve and the blessing to present the gospel.

For about $15 bucks a family we can do something practical (help a friend in tough times) and something spiritual (prepare the way for Jesus). Can't beat that.

Bobby C