Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fasting as Spiritual Warfare: Part 2 - Some Practical Suggestions

The first time I ever fasted was after reading Richard Foster’s book A Celebration of Discipline. Were I to list the top 10 books outside of the Bible that have influenced me, Foster’s book would be on that list. After reading his chapter on “Fasting,” I felt motivated to begin to practice it.

Here are some more practical thoughts I have about fasting.

Accompany a fast where you have no food with water and fruit juices.

If you have not practiced fasting before, then try a one-day fast. Go without food for 24 hours.
Drink only water, and perhaps add fruit juices.

Allow God to lead you in regard to the spiritual focus of your fast. For example, you may choose to fast and pray for a specific person in your life. During your fast, when you feel hungry, let that sensation of hunger be your reminder to pray for that person. In praying for that person, pray the 6 “Prayer Hooks” of the Lord’s Prayer.

For example:

1) “I pray that ______ would hallow Your name, Lord.”
2) “I pray that the Kingdom would come in _____’s life.”
3) “I pray that Your will would be done in _____’s life.”
4) “I pray that ______ would receive daily bread.”
5) “I pray that ______ would understand how Your Cross brings forgiveness for _____’s debts, and that ______ would extend that forgiveness to any who have sinned against _______.”
6) I pray, God, that You would protect _______ from the evil one, and not let _______ fall into the evil one’s traps.”

You may choose to fast for breakthrough and victory in some area of your life that is not pleasing to God. This will likely include prayers of brokenness before God. And prayers of breakthrough by the power of God.

NOTE: If you have a medical condition that does not allow you to fast from food, then read this article by Richard Foster called “Fasting: Twentieth Century Style” to see other areas to fast from.

If you want to study more about fasting, in addition to Foster’s book, I recommend:
- Bill Bright, The Transforming Power of Prayer and Fasting: Personal Account of Spiritual Renewal
- Bill Bright, 7 Basic Steps to Successful Prayer and Fasting
- Bill Bright, The Coming Revival: America's Call to Fast, Pray, and Seek God's Face (I read this several years ago, and was blessed by Bright's own fasting experiences and God-encounters. Bright was the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.)
- Elmer Towns, Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough (I read this book years ago. A very good resource, describing 10 biblical fasts. Get it used for $1.99 at amazon.com!)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dallas Willard on Fasting

Here's some thoughts from Dallas Willard on biblical fasting. I have slightly edited them. For the full essay see here. (For my essay on "Fasting & Spiritual Warfare: Part 1," see below.

Fasting is another long proven way of finding our way into Sabbath, where we live and do our work from the hand of God. In fasting we abstain from our ordinary food to some significant degree and for some significant length of time. Like solitude and silence, it is not done to impress God or merit favor, nor because there is anything wrong with food. Rather, it is done that we may consciously experience the direct sustenance of God to our body and our whole person. We are using the keys to access the kingdom.

This understanding of fasting is clearly indicated by Jesus in Matt. 4:4 (with its back reference to Deut. 8:2-6) and in John 4:32-34. Fasting is, indeed, feasting. When we have learned well to fast, we will not suffer from it. It will bring strength and joy. We will not be miserable, and so Jesus tells us not to look miserable. (Matt 6:16) Was he suggesting that we fake a condition of joy and sufficiency when we fast? Surely not. He knew that we would "have meat to eat" that others "know not of." I and many others can report that we have repeatedly verified this in experience.

Fasting is one way of seeking and finding the actual kingdom of God present and active in our lives. And because we are then more immersed in the reality of the kingdom, practically utilizing the "keys," our lives take on the character and power of Jesus. This will assure us that our work is his work and that he is working. Though we act, and work hard, it is after all not our battle and the outcome is in his hands.

One pastor had this to say about his experience with fasting: "Surprisingly, after the fast is when I began to realize something from the fast. I came back from the fast with a clearer sense of purpose and a renewed sense of power in my ministry. The anger which I unleashed at my wife and children was less frequent and the materialism that was squeezing the life out of my spirituality had loosened its grip."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fasting as Spiritual Warfare: Part 1

In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says these words: "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

With these words we see that Jesus expects his real followers to fast. For Jesus it was a matter of when believers would fast, not if they would do it. He spoke in these terms: "When you give to the needy...when you pray...when you fast." (Matthew 6:2,5,16) These three things should be done, not rarely, but as a lifestyle.

All this will really mess up your personal kingdom-building. This is because the only Kingdom Jesus wants to build is the Kingdom of God.

In Matthew 9:15 Jesus says, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” There is no way to escape the force of Jesus’ words here. He makes it clear that he expected his disciples to fast after he was gone. In other words, until the Kingdom comes in its fullness Jesus’ followers will fast.

And fasting is not a horrible thing to do, something to be dreaded. The Jewish religious leaders put on their sad-masks when they fasted to draw attention to themselves. Thus “fasting” gets a label of “bad experience.” But I think that when fasting is really understood, it becomes a spiritual adventure. When you see what it is for and why Jesus expects it you will see fasting a powerful spiritual weapon to advance the Kingdom of God and push back the powers of darkness.
Richard Foster defines “fasting” as the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity. Fasting is: going without food for spiritual purposes.
More specifically:

  • Fasting is…

  • going without food…

  • for the purpose of seeking God…

  • So as to…

  • Advance His Kingdom

  • Push back the powers of darkness

  • Heal the sick

  • Deliver the oppressed

  • Raise the dead…

  • And proclaim the Good News about what God has done in Jesus the Christ.

Did anyone fast in the Bible? Moses did, on Mt. Sinai, for forty days and forty night (Ex. 34). In fact, Moses did two 40-day fasts. (Deut. 9:9, 18-19) Hannah fasted when she was praying for a child. She was barren and deeply distressed, and God freed her. Then God gave her a baby boy, Samuel, who grew into a mighty man of God. (1 Samuel 1:7-8) David fasted many times. For example, once David fasted and prayed to God for the life of his child. (2 Samuel 12.) Elijah fasted after his victory over Jezebel.

Ezra, in Ezra 8:21, 23, writes: There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions… So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. Ezra faced a problem. He was leading a large group of defenseless people across the wilderness to return to the Promised Land. The “wilderness” was a “badlands” area inhabited by thieves who attacked caravans of people. The Israelites were not only returning home, they were bringing all their household goods and treasures with them. Faced with this problem… Ezra called a fast.

Nehemiah fasted and prayed when he was preparing for the trip back to Israel. In Neh. 1: 3-4 we read: “They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Esther fasted when God's people were threatened with extermination. In Esther 4:15-16 we read: “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."

Daniel fasted many times. In Daniel 1 he fasts from the king’s food and drink. In Daniel 9 he fasts. In Daniel 10, faced with the destruction of Jerusalem, he fasts and has a phenomenal visitation from God.

“ At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not se it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.
In Joel 1 the prophet Joel declares a holy fast for corporate repentance. In Jonah 3:5-9 the people of Nineveh, after hearing what Jonah had to say, “believed God.” Then “They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”

John the Baptist and his disciples fasted often. (Matthew 9:14-15) The Christians at Antioch fasted when they sent off Paul and Barnabas on their mission trip. And Paul and others fasted when they appointed all of the elders.

And on and on it goes. Fasting, accompanying prayer, is a biblical, intense God-seeking.

In history Martin Luther and John Calvin, John Knox and John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney , Billy Graham. and many, many others prayed AND fasted. Wesley himself wrote in his journal, "Is not the neglect of this plain duty (I mean fasting, ranked by our Lord with almsgiving and prayer) one general occasion of deadness among Christians?"

What does true fasting look like? Isaiah 58:3-12 is an especially relevant text on biblical fasting, since in it God tells us the elements of his “chosen fast.” The context was that the people of Israel had been fasting, but no spiritual transformation (changed lives) was happening.

'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD ? "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Here God, functioning as Great Physician, PRESCRIBES and DESCRIBES.


- Live to free people, not to burden them.

  • Verse 6.

  • Feed the hungry.

  • House the homeless.

  • Clothe the naked.

  • Move towards other people (no "cocooning" allowed)

  • Get rid of the pointy finger and trash-talk (stop the oppression!)

  • Spend yourself on other people

That's God the Doctor's prescription. God says… this is what I mean by fasting. This is my “chosen fast.”

Description (Promised Results)

  • If we fast like this the darkness in our life will become light.

  • If we follow this fasting there will be physical strengthening.

  • Verse 11: "He will strength your frame – lit., your bones. Your skeletal structure.

  • Who knows how much weakness is in us because we are not fasting in the way God wants us to?

  • If we follow this fasting God will be in front of us and behind us and in the midst of us with righteousness and glory.

  • If we follow this fasting, God promises to guide us continually.

  • John Piper says, “It seems the Lord gives his most intimate guidance to those whom have a heart for giving themselves to the needs of others—especially the poor.”

  • If we follow this fasting, He will satisfy your soul.

  • Pouring ourselves out for the poor is the path of deepest satisfaction.

  • If we follow this fasting, God will make you a watered garden with springs that do not fail.

  • It is a paradoxical spiritual principle in Scripture: as you pour yourself out you become full.

  • As you give away you get more.

  • When you are watered with God's grace you do not merely become a wet, moist, living garden; you also become a spring.

  • Finally, if we follow this fasting, that is, if we give ourselves to the poor, God will restore the ruins of his city—and his people.
There’s much about God’s “chosen fast” in Isaiah 58 that is close to the heart of Jesus the Son. When we hear Jesus’ words we see that God’s heart has never changed about these things. You can hear the beating heart of God in Luke 4:18.

  • "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
You can hear it in Matthew 25:35-36 - when Jesus says…

  • "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to visit me."
And you can hear it in John 7:38 - "He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'streams of living water shall flow from within him.’” In other words, align your heart with Jesus’ heart and you become a well-watered garden, a “spring whose waters never fail.”

For me what is really the point of it all this is that in a true fast the Kingdom of Darkness is getting assaulted and losing!

And… Jesus fasted. When he began his public ministry, After Jesus is baptized he fasts for forty days. Then comes the testing of Satan in the desert. I think the significance of this, namely, that “fasting” was God’s chosen spiritual weapon, is that fasting clarifies things so much that we see the Kingdom of God squaring off against the Kingdom of Darkness. Fasting can enter us into deep spiritual warfare.

Note that immediately after this time of fasting and temptation John the Baptist comes and announces to everyone that “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."

And then comes Jesus: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."”

For those who truly fast, there’s a reward. For the hypocrites the “reward” is the applause of other people (woo-hoo!). For true followers the reward is nothing less than the approval of God.

Richard Foster writes, in his excellent, revolutionary book A Celebration of Discipline: "Superficiality is the curse of our age…. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people." I agree.

Self-denial is cool; self-indulgence is trite and boring. Spending your life on others is deep; building your own little earthly kingdom is superficial. Advancing God’s Kingdom is as meaningful as this life gets; living out of the kingdom of darkness is absurdity.

Real Followers of Jesus listen: the upside-down Kingdom is beautiful. It is advanced through giving to the poor and needy, prayer, and fasting, with all thee becoming a lifestyle.

(I'll soon make a post on how to do a fast, emphasizing practical things.)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dan Piippo in Istanbul

Today's Monroe Evening News did a story on my son Dan, who just returned toMichigan after serving two years with Campus Crusade for Christ in Istanbul, Turkey.
And when Dan arrived at Detroit MetroAirport he got down on one knee and asked Allie Miller to marry him. She said yes! Allie returned to Michigan this summer after serving for one year in Istanbul with CCC.
The picture is one I took of Dan and Allie in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul last January.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Now Reading...

I'm now reading George Ladd's excellent The Gospel of the Kingdom. This fall at my church I'll be teaching this on eight Sunday evenings out of this text. I began reading it this week and found I could not put it down. One reason for this is that since last September I have been preaching and teaching the 4 Gospels on Sunday mornings . And I began reading and re-reading through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John last September, and will continue doing this for at least another year. So I am immersed in Jesus-studies. I want to know Jesus, the Real Jesus. Ladd's work is extremely helpful, since Jesus' main message was "Repent, for the Kingdom of heven is near."
I also picked up John Howard Yoder's classic The Politics of Jesus, and will begin reading that very soon.

Now Teaching...

This Fall at Monroe County Community College I will be teaching two philosophy courses instead of one.
I'll teach Introduction to Logic for the sixth straight year, using Hurley's 9th edition.
I'll also teach History of Western Philosophy, using Jerry Gill's Enduring Questions.
And, for the past 5 years every winter I have taught Philosophy of Religion, using Pojman's anthology of readings, which I find to be quite good.
In all these classes my main goal is: learning. The material, especially in the Western Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion classes, is extremely difficult to read since I am using primary texts and not explanations of the texts. My task as teacher, which I love, is to take the students from no understanding of philosophy to a solid basic understanding of philosophical issues.
I rarely have one student who comes to class familiar with this material, even a little bit of it. Philosophical thinking opens up a new world of possibilities to them. It strengthens their analytic abilities. It also makes them think in new ways about God and the meaning of life.

William Wilberforce Movie

I was excited today to find out that a movie on the life of William Wilberforce is coming out. It's called "Amazing Grace: The William Wilberforce Story." It's produced by Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist), and opens publicly in theaters in early 2007 to coincide with the bicentennial of the abolition of the British slave trade.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Charles Colson's Misrepresentation of Greg Boyd

Charles Colson’s recent response to the New York Times article on Greg Boyd is confused in a number of ways.

First, Colson commits the fallacy of ad hominem circumstantial when he writes: “There they go again. The liberal media, it seems, likes nothing better than to play up what they see (or create) as divisions in the evangelical ranks.” Yes, the NYTimes is left-leaning. But in this case God used the NYTimes as a vehicle for a prophetic word to the Church in America. Why not? If God can speak through a donkey, why not through the liberal media? The arguable fact that the NYT is leftist does nothing logically to cause one to therefore reject Greg's biblical, prophetic message to the Church (especially the Evangelical Church) in America. Perhaps God had to speak this way precisely because the American Church has identified the Kingdom of God with the State.

Secondly, the NYTimes piece does not do full justice to Greg’s position. This should surprise no one. For the fuller story read his book The Myth of a Christian Nation. I’ve read it, and am suggesting it to others. It is, I think, a prophetic word from God to the Church in America. Here’s one reason why I think so.

My son Dan returns next week from two years serving as a missionary with Campus Crusade for Christ in Istanbul, Turkey. Linda and Josh and I went to Istanbul for 10 days in January. I’ve been studying the Turkish and Muslim culture, to include regularly reading Turkish news and editorials on the Internet. Turks are very, very suspicious of “Christian missionaries.” So much so that CCC tells its team members not to use the “M” word. Why? Because Turkish Muslims and other Muslims equate “Christianity” with “America.” But Christianity is NOT to be equated with “America," right? (To confirm this please read the original Christian documents, the 4 Gospels.) The Church in America has, sadly, created this image. Greg is absolutely correct in saying that the effect of this is not to advance the Good News of Jesus but to hinder it. I and my son have seen this firsthand.

Colson writes: “Life issues [such as abortion], you see, go to the very heart of the Gospel, which is why the first-century Church cared so passionately. And we can do no less today. The Church does not just have the right to speak about it; it has the duty to do so.” I agree. I know Greg, he spoke at my church last fall, and I’ve spoken at two conferences in the last three years where he has been the keynote speaker. Greg hates abortion. But please… the main, and passionate, message of Jesus and the early, pre-Constantinian Church was precisely: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” With Constantine the message of the Kingdom and the Church got co-opted by the State. This has NEVER been a good thing for the Real Church. The message of the Kingdom of God is subversive of all nations and is not an "arm" of the State. This is one reason that, from Constantine on, the message of the Kingdom got suppressed. (Brian McLaren is absolutely right about this.) As Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

The point being: Let the message of the kingdom of God come forth from the Church, not only in America, but all around the world. The Church then will speak with a prophetic voice in its culture. This is much needed today. That was the main message of the early church. Within that main message is included the ethics of the Kingdom (abortion, and many other things). And, by the way, the answer for the world is precisely the Good News of God's Kingdom. The Church, if it aligns itself with any nation no matter how "good" it is, will necessarily diminish the real meaning of the Kingdom.

Colson writes that, in his opinion according to Greg Boyd, “we ought to abandon moral issues and adopt Boyd's position.” I find this statement incredible. It’s a false dichotomy (either agree with Greg and abandon moral issues, or reject this “propaganda” and speak out for moral issues). Sadly, this kind of thinking seriously misrepresents what Greg and others are saying. This is precisely the kind of thinking the Church does not need today.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Metaphor and Science

There’s an interesting article on metaphorical thinking in science in The Toronto Star. My dissertation at Northwestern was on metaphorical thinking and truth-speaking. I included examples of metaphor in science, and how scientific theories are, at root, inextricably metaphorical. One of my resources was Andrew Ortony’s classic Metaphor and Thought. See, e.g., Thomas Kuhn’s essay “Metaphor in Science” and other essays on metaphorical thinking and science in Ortony.

This realization, viz., that scientific theories are inextricably metaphorical, complexifies issues of truth and meaning and debunks positivistic theories of scientific truth that are indebted to non-informed, simplistic notions of such truth as “literal” (the meaning of which always remains unstated).

One problem with the Star article is that it conflates, e.g., “metaphor” with “analogy.” Metaphor is to be distinguished from “analogy,” “model,” and other tropes. “Simile” is closer to “analogy” than metaphor is. Theories of metaphor from Aristotle up to the 1960s viewed “metaphor” as only an “elliptical simile”; viz., a simile minus the word “like.” Metaphorical thinking, from Max Black onward, and especially Paul Ricoeur et. al., are careful to not reduce metaphor to simile. There are psycholinguistic studies that suggest metaphor and simile are even processed differently.

But the Star article moves in the right direction when it states that “metaphor, and its more common cousin analogy, are tools that are just as important to scientists investigating truths of the physical world as they are to poets explaining existential conundrums through verse. A scientist, one might liken, is an empirical poet; and reciprocally, a poet is a scientist of more imaginative and creative hypotheses.”

One thing this suggests is that there is not such an unbridgeable abyss between “science” and “religion,” such that science is “empirical” and religion has to do withnon-empirical “faith.”