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Archive for March 6th, 2009

Fasting for the world

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

Depriving oneself unnecessarily is not commonly something that modern Americans view favorably. Why would you do it if you don’t have to? This is especially the case when we think of food. Why fast unless your doctor requires it? It’s clear, however, that our Savior viewed fasting as something His people would do until His return. He not only warned the disciples against hypocritical fasting but instructed them in the proper way to fast (Matt. 6:16-18). And we should note that this instruction comes in the context of teaching about the proper ways to give and pray. Fasting is as much an obligation for the people of God as giving or praying. Jesus assumes that it is going to be a regular part of our lives.

This is reiterated in Matthew 9 where Jesus defends His disciples against the charge of indifference to fasting by saying that there are times when fasting is inappropriate (Matt. 9:14-15). But He goes on to say that the time is coming when the disciples will have occasion to fast and in those seasons, they will do so.

This reality lies behind the season of Lent. I grew up around Roman Catholic friends who had a superstitious understanding of this season and trivialized it to such a degree that I always thought it silly at best and destructive and dangerous at worst. Lent seemed to distract you from the finished work of Christ and focus you upon a dependence on your own works. But historically, the Church was motivated to observe this season by the opposite reason. The concern was that there should be a time, at least once per year, when God’s people are called to a formal, corporate remembrance of their sins and their continual need to humble themselves before the Lord in repentance. All have sinned and thus, all deserve to die.

The season of Lent calls us to remember this sobering reality. Far from focusing upon self-atonement, it reminds us that there is no hope in us at all. Our confidence is not in our works but in the work of Jesus in our behalf. His death in our place and His resurrection; His righteousness is our only hope and the foundation of our acceptance in the sight of God. Lent focuses upon how this glorious reality ought to affect us and what it ought to produce in us. Rather than provoking pride and self-righteousness, this reality brings us down in humble acknowledgment of our disobedience and unbelief and produces in us thankful acknowledgment for all His mercies to us in Christ Jesus. And that is where fasting comes in.
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Happy birthday Mickey

Today is the birthday of the amazing Michelangelo. His first major work of art was the Pietà, a marble statue of Mary holding the dead Jesus in her arms. Supposedly, after the statue had been put on display, he went to see it and heard a crowd of people praising its beauty. When someone asked who had made it, another replied that the artist was il Gobbo, from Milan. That night, Michelangelo locked himself in with the statue and carved this inscription on Mary’s robe: “Michelangelo Buonarroti the Florentine made this.” It was the only work he ever signed.

(taken from the Writer’s Almanac)

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