Friday, June 24, 2005

“Cheap Grace” and Opportunity

I’m not sure if it’s a good call to do so but I really think shaking things up a bit can be good for discussion. Are we really living in an age of “cheap grace”? Is grace without discipleship or the cross really the rule of the day? If a person says no to fasting are they opting for the easy way out and missing out on “breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that may never happen any other way”? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do really appreciate this week’s Celebration of Discipline chapter on Fasting.

I don’t agree with the author’s read on Matt 9, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Scripture doesn’t seem to speak in terms of a “Church Age”; rather, the idea more likely is rooted in a system theology that, whilst it may have merit, it is not God-breathed. So, implying that the passage should be understood in this context raises questions to explore before settling into a comfortable posture with the idea. More importantly, however, I’m not sure how to interpret Christ’s promise to His disciples that” Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world…” if we are to view Him as being absent – in a sense- until His return at the end of this so-called ecclesiastical epoch. Yet, the chapter was really helpful.

I feel the subject was handled in a balanced way. Fasting is not commanded but it is modeled. It is not “prescribed” but is “described” in the pages of the New Testament and it certainly requires our study and, as God leads, participation. “ It is a means of God’s grace and blessing that should not be neglected any longer.” And, Foster does well in pointing out that it has fallen into disrepute and disregard. Likewise, he does well in placing the spotlight on a few dangers, too.

Danger 1: “To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion.” We can do this with fasting.

Danger 2: Fasting for show is a bad deal. The Pharisees picked market days to fast so that they could show off to the largest number of spectators. Clearly, they “ got their reward in full” right then – and a puny reward at that - given Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

Danger 3: You can’t make something a “biblical law” if scripture doesn’t support your legislative attempt. Remember the moralist trap in Ch 1 and be OK if others don’t line up with your zeal. Refrain from manipulating. God the Holy Spirit is quite capable – and you are not Him.

Dangers mentioned, what about the encouragement of several realities about fasting?

Reality 1: “Biblical fasting always centers on spiritual purposes.” There may be evidence of other good things that we derive from the practice but fasting, as modeled in scripture, is for spiritual purposes.

Reality 2: “Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated (Sorry but I didn’t want to miss the chance to underscore that fasting is God-initiated and a grace of God and not a man initiated discipline that somehow moves God to our way of thinking - Whoop!! Celebrate!!! Worship!!!!!) and God-ordained.” Likewise, ”fasting” and “worshiping” the Lord must be said in the same breath”. It must be unto God. (Zech 7:5) “If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed.”

Reality 3: Fasting is a grace of God given for His glory and our good. He has chosen, as in prayer, to include us in His work in the world. He makes the invitation and sets the music to playing. Now, we can exercise faith and join Him in the dance. How cool this is. Likewise, it resonates with the idea of opportunity that grows from our freedom. What a meaningful paradigm shift. Freedom in Christ brings opportunity - not license. Opportunity-it is profound observation. Thank you Mr. Foster.

Dangers. Realities. Is there more to consider? Yes, there are secondary purposes to fasting that are subservient to what appears to be God’s primary purposes for fasting. For time’s sake, let’s make a simple list: a) fasting reveals the things that control us, b) fasting reminds us that we are sustained by the Word of God more so than the physical food that quells our appetite, c) fasting aids us in keeping our life in balance. It helps us major on the major matters of life and keep the non-essential matters that distract – even entangle - us in check.

Well, that’s it for now. I really enjoyed the interaction sparked by reading this week’s chapter on fasting and I appreciate Mr. Foster’s fair and thoughtful handling of the subject. I must admit this study of the disciplines is very meaningful. I value the dialogue and the encouragement of the discussion that drives me to the scriptures to seek answers to questions that are sparked by the study. Thank you guys for the process.

Here's a parting thought and observation about the question of “cheap grace”. Whilst the accusation may be true more often than not in an affluent society with limited and little persecution, it is certainly not true for our many brothers and sisters in Christ that are enduring persecution for their faith in Christ right now. I don’t think that I fathom the reality that more Christians are persecuted today than at any time in history. So, if we’re fat and happy and guilty of “cheap grace”, we may need God’s grace to repent. Yes, we make up many local bodies of believers all across the globe but we are part of the global body, too, and it seems unfair to apply the paint of “cheap grace” accusations with a broad brush.

A while back, a small group of believers here in Atlanta took part in a 24-hour prayer initiative for the persecuted church. It was eye opening and heart rending. The event, called
Shockwave, began in New Zealand and rolled across the globe for 24 hours. Believers in each time zone gathered to pray in a 4 or more hour window for the persecuted church. Most prayed from 7:00 to 11:00 (in some cases all night) in their respective corner of the world. With the time progressing from east to west and back again, that 24 hour period was able to send a shockwave of prayer for our world and the church. Let me close with the comments of a guy named Sal in CA. He, and many others, took part in an ongoing Internet chat for the persecuted church. Here is what he observed:

Here in Porterville California we had a small shockwave event, ok tiny, but we did pray in general for the persecuted church. The best thing that happened is that eyes were opened, including mine! I know that we here in the USA are spoiled! While the many of the world's Christians are persecuted, we're having lattes at Starbucks! I hope that we are awakening to our responsibility to pray and support them where we can. Hmm? Is there anybody out there? Bye now. Sal Man has left the building.

Good thought – don’t you agree? Hmm—time to leave the building.

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