Fasting and Feasting

There’s always negativity about the church from culture and government, but lately there has been a new wave — coming from INside the church. Christians calling out other Christians and putting down Christianity and the Church all together. There’s even a trend that encourages no “authentic believer” to associate with the title of “Christian” because it’s too negative and it’s believed best to distance ourselves from anything that might be perceived as stoic, traditional, or fundamentalist.

This breaks my heart. It creates the worst form of disunity: a house divided against itself. The church has problems, yes, but it always has and, as long as it’s filled with imperfect people, it always will. Attacking those beside us isn’t the answer. Silently separating ourselves from brothers and sisters isn’t a good idea either.

Returning to the Bible, however, is a SUPERB idea. Let’s do THAT!

Before anyone accuses me of being blind or wearing rose-colored glasses, know that I am frustrated, too. The bulk of my frustration can be found in the following words penned by a writer far braver than me. I know it’s long, but please read it. It’s so good.

Let’s look to the Bible for answers and do this together, because — guess what? Simply seeing the problems doesn’t mean we’re above them.

7Below is an excerpt from Jen Hatmaker’s book “7.” I’ll be posting a full review next week. If you can’t wait that long, CLICK HERE to order a copy and start reading. I definitely recommend it.

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“God, may we be focused on the least, a people balancing the fasting and the feast.”

That statement sums up all my tension and hopes for the American Christ-follower, the American church, the American me. With good intentions but misguided theology, the church spends most of our time, energy, resources, prayer words, programs, sermons, conferences, Bible studies, and attention on the feast, our feast to be exact.

Now certainly, there is a feast, and thank you, God, for it. Where brokenness and starvation once consumed us, God sets us at a new table:

“Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuse in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Ps. 36:5–9)

This is the feast of the redeemed; Jesus made it possible for the wretched to dine with the Most High, neither offending His holiness nor compromising His justice. For those adopted by grace and faith, He no longer sees our failures or omissions; He only sees the righteousness Jesus covers us with. We stand safely behind Christ, made white-as-snow perfect from His substitution on the cross.

The currency of salvation includes blessings, redemption, fulfillment, peace, healing, sustenance, forgiveness, and hope. It’s a spiritual jackpot. For those salvaged from the gutter by Jesus, these are new mercies every morning. We are easily overwhelmed by the goodness of God, which knows no bounds. The gospel is so liberating; it is worthy of adoration every single second of every single hour of every single day forever. We will never be the same. This is indeed the feast, and to celebrate it is utterly Christian.

But the feast has a partner in the rhythm of the gospel: the fast.

Its practice is unmistakable in Scripture. Hundreds of times we see reduction, pouring out, abstinence, restraint. We find our Bible heroes fasting from food — David, Esther, Nehemiah, Jesus. We see the Philippian church fasting from self-preservation, sending Paul money in spite of their own poverty, a true sacrifice. John the Baptist says if we have two coats one belongs to the poor. The early church sold their possessions and lived communally, caring for one another and the broken people in their cities. We see God explain his idea of a fast: justice, freedom, food for the hungry, clothes for the naked. This balance is a given in scripture.

If we ignored the current framework of the church and instead opened the Bible for a definition, we find Christ followers adopting the fast simultaneously with feast. We don’t see the New Testament church hoarding the feast for themselves, gorging, getting fatter and fatter and asking for more; more Bible studies, more sermons, more programs, classes, training, conferences, information, more feasting for us.

At some point the church  stopped living the Bible and decided just to study it, culling the feast parts and whitewashing the fast parts. We are addicted to the buffet, skillfully discarding the costly discipleship required after consuming. The feast is supposed to sustain the fast, but we go back for seconds and thirds and fourths, stuffed to the brim and fat with inactivity. All this for me. My goodness, my blessings, my privileges, my happiness, my success. Just one more plate.

looking at church

What would the early church think if they walked into some of our buildings today, looked through our church websites, talked to an average attender? Would they be so confused? Would they wonder why we all had empty bedrooms and uneaten food in our trash cans? Would they regard our hoarded wealth with shock? … Would they see the spending on church buildings and ourselves as extravagantly wasteful while twenty-five thousand people die every day from starvation?

I think they’d barely recognize us as brothers and sisters.

I think the early church would cover their heads with ashes and grieve over the dilution of Jesus’ beautiful church vision.

If the modern church held to its biblical definition, we would become the answer to all that ails society. We wouldn’t have to baby-talk and cajole and coax people into our sanctuaries through witty mailers and strategic ads; they’d be running to us. They local church would be the heartbeat of the city, undeniable by our staunchest critics.

Instead, the American church is dying. We are losing ground in epic proportions. Our country is a graveyard of dead and vanishing churches. We made it acceptable for people to do nothing and still call themselves Christians, and that anemic vision isn’t holding. Last year (Note: this book was published in 2012.) 94% of evangelical churches reported loss or no growth in their communities. Almost four thousand churches are closing each year. We are losing three million people annually, flooding out the back door and never returning. The next generation downright refused to come.

Ironically, this is the result of a church that only feasts.

When the fast, the death, the sacrifice of the Gospel is omitted from the Christian life, then it isn’t Christian at all. Not only that, it’s boring. If I just want to feel good or get self-help, I’ll buy a $12 book from Borders and join a gym. The church the Bible described is exciting and adventurous and wrought with sacrifice. It cost believers everything, and they still came.

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This excerpt was taken from Month 6, Day 25 of 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.
Copyright 2012 by Jen Hatmaker. B&H Publishing Group. Nashville, Tennessee

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