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Bible Insights

Why Do You Fast?

Some things are more important than religious practices, and we need to focus on what matters most

I plan to fast one day a week. While I’m not as consistent as I would like, I follow through more often than I miss. Fasting is a spiritual act of worship for me. It better connects me with God and sharpens my prayers. I (mostly) anticipate my fasts.

Fasting provides me with spiritual focus—providing I fast for the right reasons. As such, I must fight against fasting for lessor, secondary benefits: saving time in meal preparation and eating, increased productivity throughout the day, and a means to keep my weight in check.

Those may be good, but they miss the main point of fasting.

Sometimes I fast with the right perspective, and other times I don’t do so well. It seems Zechariah has my struggle in mind when he cites God asking, “Was it really for me that you fasted?” Yes, we can fast for God or we can fast for ourselves.

The first brings glory to God and the second, detracts from God. If we’re going to fast—or engage in any spiritual discipline, for that matter—we need to do so for the right reasons. If we fast, may we do so appropriately.

If we’re going to fast we need to do so for the right reasons. Click To Tweet

Yet a few verses later Zechariah seems to offer a better alternative to fasting. Again quoting God, he says to “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.”

When done right fasting honors God. However acting with justice, mercy, and compassion honors God and benefits others. While the first is good, I suspect the second is better.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Zechariah 5-7, and today’s post is on Zechariah 7:5-9.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

What Are Spiritual Disciplines?

Spiritual disciplines are things we do to draw us closer to God or to honor him. But if we do it out of obligation or in response to guilt, we miss the point. To be of real value a spiritual discipline is something we enter into willingly, with joy and anticipation.

Unlike spiritual gifts, which the Bible lists, scripture doesn’t delineate spiritual disciplines. But it does hint at the practices of certain spiritual disciplines throughout its pages. However, making a list is more a matter of opinion than fact.

Therefore there is little agreement about what constitutes a spiritual discipline.

A quick online search of a half dozen sources revealed the following composite list of seventeen spiritual disciplines. Some people use different labels, so similar items are combined:

Bible Reading

We regularly read the Bible. This is tops on many people’s list of spiritual disciplines.

Bible Study

Reading the Bible is good, but studying its words is even better.

Chastity

Chastity or celibacy is living a life of moral purity.

Community

Hanging out with other Christians (and spiritual seekers) to form spiritual connection. Some people call this fellowship or a soul friendship.

Confession

Confessing our acts of disobedience. This can be to God or to others.

Evangelism

Telling others about Jesus.

Fasting

Going without something, usually food, in order to give more attention to God.

Prayer

Talking with God. Prayer is so much more than sharing our wish list with him.

Sabbath

(take a Sabbath): Follow the Old Testament tradition of a Sabbath rest, be it on Saturday, Sunday, or another day.

Sacrifice

Giving up something to help others or something that keeps us from God.

Secrecy

Do things in secret to benefit others, such as giving gifts or doing things for others without letting anyone know. (Our reward for this comes from God.)

Service

Serving others.

Simplicity

Committing to a life of simple existence. (Some might use the label of poverty, but that seems extreme.)

Solitude

Being still to connect with God or seek him. this can go by various labels: meditation, personal reflection, silence, listening, and seeking guidance.

Stewardship

Using our blessings to bless others. This includes giving and tithing.

Submission

Yielding to others for God’s glory.

Worship

Approaching God with joy and awe. Celebration.

A spiritual discipline is something we do to draw us closer to God or to honor him. Click To Tweet

Other Possible Spiritual Disciplines

What about going to church, tithing, silence, and suffering? Can these be spiritual disciplines too?

In looking at this list I can smugly check off some of these items, while having others confront me. The key thing to remember about spiritual disciplines is that we must pursue them willingly and not out of obligation or guilt.

[Check out this book about spiritual disciplines.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

A Hint of What is to Come

Last month I shared that my yard was a blank canvas, a palette of browns awaiting a fresh start. At last, that transformation has begun.

Trees have been added, bushes inserted, and plants strategically placed. Grass seed sown, just now showing the fragile green tips of what is to become. Watering has begun in earnest.

My yard is in the process of change, from lifeless to life-filled. What is presently there shows promise, the promise of what is to become. Trees will grow, bushes will flourish, plants will bloom, and grass will thicken into a rich carpet of lush goodness. Change awaits.

At least that is my hope. Until then I can only anticipate what will one day be. However, I can glimpse what is to come. One plant is already displaying its glory. While it will take time to realize the overall landscaping dream for my yard, this one bush now offers a hint of what is to come: a beautiful scene.

So it is with us. Our lives possess potential; we anticipate a better tomorrow. Yet even as we envision what will one day be, if we look carefully enough we can now see hints of our future. Today’s limited beauty foreshadows tomorrow’s complete glory.

Just as I hold on to hope that my life tomorrow will be better than today, I have an ever greater expectancy in the spiritual realm, that today is but a dim reflection of the eternity that awaits.

God gives us hints today of what our future with him will be like. Do we see it?

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Do Angels Have Wings?

I’m not sure if I assumed it or someone taught me, but I always thought seraphim and cherubim were two special classes of angels.

Though seraphim and cherubim aren’t mentioned often in the Bible (2 and 69 verses respectively), angels make a much more frequent appearance, in some 290 places.

In none of those passages does the Bible call angels seraphim or cherubim. (The dictionary labels all three as “celestial beings.”) Although seraphim and cherubim have wings, no verses say that angels do.

Do Angels Fly?

The Bible never says angels fly, though there are some hints they are occasionally airborne, but as supernatural beings, they don’t need wings to go vertical.

Angels are mentioned more times in the New Testament (182 times) than in the Old (108 times), with Revelation giving them the most coverage (77 times), followed by Luke (24 times) and Acts (22 times).

We don’t know if angels have genders or not, but one verse (Judges 13:21) implies that particular angel is masculine, so I refer to angels as “him” rather then “it.”

While we see seraphim as worshiping God and cherubim as hanging out with God in heaven and attesting to his glory, angels serve as God’s messengers to us. They show up unexpectedly, suddenly appearing and then disappearing.

Do Not Be Afraid

Apparently either their arrival or their form is frightening, because they often say, “Do not be afraid.”

If an angel ever visited me, I wonder if I’d shrink back in fear. I’d like to say I wouldn’t, but I suspect I would.

Regardless of how I react, I will want to listen carefully to what the angel tells me, receiving it as a word from God.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Judges 13-15 and today’s post is on Judges 13:21. See 290 verses that mention angels.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Value of Spiritual Training

I had friends in high school who dreamed of excelling in sports, of being the star and even receiving a college scholarship. The problem with their aspirations was that they seldom practiced; a few never even bothered to try out.

More recently I’ve listened to aspiring writers who dream of having the next great novel, memoir, or nonfiction release. The problem with their ambition is that they’re not writing.

In both cases, they dream of glory but don’t want to put in the preliminary effort. Folks who don’t practice never become sports stars; people who don’t write never become the next best-selling author.

So it is with our spiritual journey.

We may desire to say bold prayers and see amazing results, to heal others with a word or a touch, to proclaim insights that move masses to faith or action, and to enjoy a direct line of two-way communication with God.

But results, such as these, often require years of struggle. Practice precedes performance. True, God could immediately bring someone to this point, but those things don’t generally happen without us doing our part first.

Moses

Moses spent forty years in the desert preparing. Then he led a nation.

David

David had years on the lam as a fugitive from King Saul. Then he became king, noted as a man after God’s own heart.

Joseph

Joseph spent time as a slave and years in the pokey. Then he experienced what God foretold him in his visions.

Abraham

Abraham lived as a nomad for decades, honing his faith and patience while awaiting God’s promise. Then he became the father of nations.

We may dream of possessing great spiritual power or producing amazing supernatural outcomes, but if we skip the preparatory time of praying, listening, waiting, seeking, and practicing, we’ll never become the people God wants us to be.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Lord’s Prayer

When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, he gave them a short little example. It’s commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer” (though some suggest “The Disciples’ Prayer” would be a more appropriate label.) Others refer to it as “Our Father” after its opening phrase.

The Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13. In the NIV, it’s only 53 words long and 66 words if you include the additional text at the end that is not found in all manuscripts:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (53 words)… “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen,” (13 more words; 66 total).

The Lord’s Prayer is also found in Luke 11:2-4. Compared to Matthew’s version, it omits two phrases and simplifies others, so it is even shorter, at only 34 words:

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Which Version of the Lord’s Prayers Do You Say?

Which Version of the Lord’s Prayers Do You Say?

Did you know there are multiple versions of the Lord’s Prayer—the prayer Jesus used to teach his followers how to pray? Matthew records the most common version, which goes something like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

While there are some variations to this depending on the version of the Bible referenced, it is essentially the wording many people use. However, there is a footnote indicating that some manuscripts add the following phrase at the end:

“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

This completes the version used by most of the rest of us. However, Luke also records the prayer with a more concise wording:

“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.”

I’ve never heard anyone use this version. But it is in the Bible and is worth considering. However, it doesn’t really matter which of these three versions of this classic prayer we follow, for I don’t think Jesus intended us to recite it verbatim, but to use it as a model or a template to form our own prayers.

[Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

God’s Perception of Moses Versus Moses’ Self-Perception

When God told Moses to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses objected. He said, “I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and tongue.”

Moses’ self-perception was that he was not able to do the job God asked of him, that he lacked the essential qualifications needed for success. While Moses’ self-assessment may have been correct—which would allow God to work through him despite his deficiencies—that may not have been the case.

God will use us for his glory even though we aren't qualified. Click To Tweet

We get a glimpse of how God viewed Moses through Stephen in a powerful speech he gave hundreds of years later. Speaking under the power of the Holy Spirit, Stephen proclaims that Moses was “no ordinary child,” that he was “powerful in speech and action.”

It seems that God’s perception of Moses was in sharp contrast to Moses’ self-perception.

When we are called to do a difficult task, it could be that:

  • God will use us for his glory even though we aren’t qualified
  • God will grow us and help us become qualified
  • God sees things differently and we actually are qualified

Regardless of our self-perception, we shouldn’t let that limit God. One way or another, he will work things out to accomplish what he calls us to do.

[Exodus 3:10, Exodus 4:10, Acts 7:20-22]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Jude Likes to Write in Triads

Jude writes his short letter to those who are called—that’s you and me. In it, he often writes in triads, listing three items or offering three examples. He does this with such regularity that when he deviates from this in verse 12, I thought I had misread the text.

Consider Jude’s triplets (and a couple of deviations):

  • Three actions of God: called, loved, and kept (and if you implicitly see the Holy Spirit in doing the calling, then the Trinity is implied here as well: Holy Spirit, Father, and Jesus); verse 1.
  • Three blessings: mercy, peace, and love; verse 2.
  • Three historic warnings: leaving Egypt, deserting angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah; verses 5-7.
  • Three negative actions: pollute their bodies, reject authority, and slander angels; verse 8.
  • Three bad examples: Cain, Balaam, and Korah; verse 11.
  • Five negative allusions: shepherds who feed only themselves, clouds without rain, dead autumn trees, wild waves, wandering stars; verse 12.
  • Three characteristics of ungodly men in the church: cause division, follow natural instincts, and do not have the Spirit; verse 19.
  • Three prescriptions: build up your faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, and stay in God’s love; verses 20-21.
  • Three ways to show mercy: help doubters, save others from destruction, and carefully rescue others without being taken down; verse 22.
  • Three attributes of God: keeps us from falling, presents us without fault, and has great joy; verse 24.
  • Four praises for God: glory, majesty, power, and authority; verse 25.

As someone who also has a propensity of writing in threes, Jude’s style is especially appealing to me.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is from Philemon and Jude, and today’s post is on Jude 1:1.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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