Ash Wednesday, for main-stream churches is traditionally the start of forty days of fasting to observe the Lenten season. I grew up in the Anglican church where it was observed, but when I married into the Baptist church this observance went largely unnoticed. If it wasn't in the Bible it was not something God ordained, so it simply wasn't a "thing" with Baptists or any or Bible-based churches.
Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season is a man-made construct but one that was created with good intentions. It is to be a period of reflection and preparation for Christ's burial and resurrection. It can be a very satisfying spiritual journey when done in the correct way. The forty days is in rememberance of Jesus' time spent in the wilderness, where he fasted and was tempted to sin by the devil, for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4). But for many Christians this commitment to "fasting" has transitioned more into a second attempt at a New Year's resolution that was forgotten. Now people are goal setting (losing "X" amount of pounds in forty days) or giving up a luxury or guilty pleasure of some sort, (taking the bus instead of a car, or giving up chocolate). Sadly, what the church began as an exercise in growing spritually has devolved into how one can best help themselves for the next forty days. So today I am going to re-appropriate a post I wrote on the true meaning of fasting and share it again here.
This is what God said true fasting should like like:
“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?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah 58:6-11, NKJV
Jesus carried this teaching through to his disciples. He wanted to see a change of character in those who followed him. He taught the need of purity and simplicity of motive in our fasting. Yes, there were times when fasting was needed (Mark 9:25-29) and yes, private fasts were observed by Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11) and his disciples. Paul fasted to seek God's guidance (Acts 14:23).
Giving up chocolate for Lent or going on a diet for 40 days has no spiritual value. The value comes when you truly deny yourself for the sake of another, not so that you can be edified, but so that someone else can be. That's true fasting and it falls in line in regard to what Jesus taught us about denying ourselves (Luke 9:23) and loving others (John 13:34).
I read an interesting article the other day that has calmed my fears somewhat in regards to Justin Trudeau's recent attack on Christians. It reminded me that even people like Trudeau who think they are in control - really are not. God has the final say, and way before Justin came into the world, God had already set his plans in motion. Much like he did with King Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel).
For those of you who do not know what I am referring to, let me get you up to speed. In Canada we have a government funded summer jobs program that is supposed to help local small businesses, non-profit, and faith-based organizations by providing wage subsidies to create summer jobs for secondary and post-secondary students. We have had this program for years. When I was a teenager I got a job through that program and that was over 40 years ago. Everything seemed to be running smoothly. Students got jobs and businesses, non-profits and churches were able to afford to pay them because of the extra funding. But this year Justin has decided to attack anyone who doesn't hold the same beliefs he does in regards to abortion. Simply put, if you are against abortion, you can't have any governent funding.
The new application for the Canada Jobs Grant requires that businesses or organizations applying must respect the core mandate of “reproductive rights” along with other human rights, and unless that “attestation” is signed, the online application cannot be submitted. In other words part of the core mandate of your business or church must in support of abortion. If you don't believe that abortion is right, because of religious or even personal beliefs, don't bother applying.
That's right. We have a dictator here in Canada who is basically telling all faith-based organizations and churches that if they don't agree with his perspective on abortion and a woman's right to choose, then they can't have any government funding. The absurdity of this line of reasoning is that the organizations and businesses Justin is attacking, deal with compassion for the poor and the elderly, or feeding and clothing the homeless, or bringing help to those with addictions. None of which has anything to do with abortion!
When I was a student in this program I worked in a Day Care Centre. I took care of babies and little children until their parents came to get them. But according to Trudeau, those babies and children will not have that extra care now if the Day Care centre doesn't have something in its core mandate that deals with abortion. Why in the world would a Day Care Centre have that as part of its mandate?
This is very dangerous ground because what is the next step after this? Denial of pensions? Or medical care if I don't tow the party line? Trudeau says he is doing this in the name of "inclusion" and "tolerance" but to those of us who don't share his beliefs, his words sound more like those of an unstable dictator like Kim Jong Un.
Sadly, the people who would be helped by this program (like the poor, homeless and those struggling with addictions), will be the ones who have to suffer because of Trudeau's intolerance. Think about organizations whose core mandates are founded on Christian principles like The Salvation Army, and Mission Services who provide food, shelter and clothing to those in need.
Stephen Wile, CEO of the Christian aid organization The Mustard Seed, had this to say to the Calgary Herald, "The Mustard Seed doesn’t take a position on abortion, but with the government making this a requirement for funding, it’s trying to force us from a neutral position to an affirmative position on abortion, and we’re not prepared to do that,” said Wile from his Calgary office.
“We’re not willing to support the government’s position in order to get the funds, it’s just not worth it for us."
“It seems,” added Wile, “like the government is saying, ‘The issue of where you stand on abortion is more important than the work you do and the people you serve,’ and that’s really sad. At the core of who we are, we’re really against fear and hate, and unfortunately, the government is taking a position that instead of decelerating division, it’s accelerating it.”
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