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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

When Appetites Break, Fasting Is The Meat Between Broken Bread

The Stout German and the Grinning Texan
I went to Walmart today to buy frozen berries, black grapes, mangoes, La Croix sparking water and, e-hem, a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Therapy ice cream. Oh, and the main reason for going to Walmart instead of the Kroger just around the corner-Screw Eyes from the hardware isle.

I've had a good ol' fashioned "mom" kind of day. Baby on the hip, Yellow Therapy dog and her new German friend, Sam, who is bilingual but prefers commands given to him in German, like "Platz, Sam, platz; and he lays down. "Zer gut, Sam,!Yellow Therapy dog, the grinning Texan, decides to lay down, too. Zer Gut is the kind of praise worthy of copying the German to get! And this baby boy's made up his mind; he's just going to cry today. So he cries on the hip, the dogs skirt around with concern in their eyes, and in the minutes when the tears stop and this little buck-a-roo hitches up for another rodeo, I vacuum, do laundry, fold clothes, wipe down the laundry supply shelf, and even mend up the straps on a few tank tops that have either stretched to a plunge I'm not comfortable in, or I've just grown flatter in that department.

Maybe I looked a tad frizzy in the isles of Walmart; or maybe I smelled of crying baby and had a vacant look in my eyes-or maybe not.

Baby Boy

Maybe I looked like what I was feeling like. I wasn't feeling frizzed or weary or even like I was wearing eau de bebe, but at peace. I strolled the mile of tile between the hardware isles, to the grocery isles and the pace of my steps matched the peace I felt inside.

I exited the bottled water isle, entered the fizzy water isle, and a kid on a ladder stocking the shelves turned around as if he heard me coming. "How're you doin'?"

"I'm fine, thank you! How are you?" My usual response.

He looked at me, paused, and said, "You have such a peace about you. I felt you coming before I saw you!"

"I must be the Lord," I said.

"Amen!" His eyes lit up. "Oh, the Lord! " He waved his hand and grinned,"Don't you be gettin' me talkin' 'bout the Lord, 'cause I go crazy 'bout Him!"

I wondered to God, How did that happen? How is Your presence so strong when I'm just going about my business?

"You broke." His voice was all tender.

He remembers the breaking.

He remembers that rodeo. Bullish.

He remembers how I hitched myself to a yellow life preserver which saved my knees over the breaking years. I found it in the garage when my prayer pillow went flat and I began to understand why the apostle Paul had camel knees. Bursa sacks fill with water when they've been overly pressed. So I found this life preserver. It's not the kind which hangs about the neck, but the kind you hug to your chest right about where the heart is pressed hard and fills with the salty water which often spills from the eyes. That kind.

Walmart doesn't stock essenced, effervescent water, but I guess if it did, then I wouldn't have been in the soda isle with the slight hope of finding it there. What I found, instead, was that a kid on a ladder whose spirit recognized the Spirit, basically told me, "You don't need La Croix in a can, you've got it in your vessel! It's just spilling out of you, all Spirit essence and effervescence like a stream of peace flowing down the isles ahead of you!"

Funny, La Croix means The Cross in French.

Effervescent Water

walked down memory lane as I walked down the ice cream isle. Yeah, Ben and Jerry's and, no, it's not for me though I may bum a spoonful tonight.

I put Ben and Jerry's in the freezer at home. Chocolate Therapy. Good name. It fits the sweet and rich therapy I'm tasting from the Lord right here, right now.

I broke messy. It wasn't a neat, straight down the middle halving. I shattered into a million pieces and didn't have any service to God except to cling to Him more tightly than the preserver and to pray His word back to Him because I had no words of my own.

I gulped His living water, His La Croix, as fast as I spilt enough tears from the cross I was carrying to become truly thankful that He stores tears in bottles. Well into the breaking years, I remember saying to Him, "It's a good thing You store them in bottles, Lord, or else the streets of Heaven would be under continual flash flood warnings!"

I had no words; but God's got books full of words, and more. He's got His own language! I don't speak it, but His Spirit speaks it to my spirit.

I began to read His words back to Him because I knew that He must be faithful to answer His own Word. So, I read His words to Him, till His words became part of my speech and, eventually a couple books I wrote.

It's fool proof-literally. No fool stays a fool when the heart is being transformed by the renewing of the mind.

Something happens when breaking like this. Every natural appetite breaks. The appetites of the heart, emotions, thought life and physical appetites-they break. 

I din't know my appetites were breaking. I didn't give my appetites a thought. That's what happens when spiritual hunger cancels physical hunger. I didn't realize till the first month of the second year, when the church I was attending proclaimed the annual 21 day fast, that I'd been fasting every day for two years and that I didn't need a 21 day special.

For two years my spiritual hunger literally canceled my physical hunger.

I remained on that yellow life preserver, with the word of God opened before me from the minute I got home from taking my children to school till the day was half over.

I'd been eating broken bread, drinking the essence of the cross, and realized that day at church that my spirit had been feasting on the meat sandwiched by the Bread broken for me.

Something happens when appetites break like this-a complete overhaul. 

It can't be helped. It just happens, little by little, and then what happens is some clarity about fasting. That's what happens when appetites are broken because spiritual hunger cancels physical hunger.

I may be wrong, but I'm convinced that this is the order of a fast that God chooses-spiritual hunger must precede any physical appetite to fast. 

Chocolate Therapy

Did Jesus go into the wilderness to fast for forty days and nights? Did He say to Himself, after being baptized, "I think I'm going to go fast"?

No. The Spirit of God led Him to the wilderness and the fast wasn't the focus. The fast didn't take a bunch of will power to keep it going. It's not even mentioned that Jesus was hungry until the forty days were over. Then physical hunger is mentioned. Before then? I imagine that He was so consumed with spiritual hunger that His physical appetite was canceled.

So, I've never officially looked into this, till now. I've reason now to share, so the first thing I ask myself is, "Why was Jesus in the wilderness, really? What was He doing there?"

 I turn to Matthew 4:1-11 and it's clear what the devil was doing there, but what was Jesus doing? Was He establishing the right order for Christians to live?

I place Matthew 4:1-11 next to Romans 12:1-2. I read them side by side and, "Were You answering temptations, saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,' because that's the kind of thinking that comes when, by the mercies of God, we present our bodies as living sacrifices to Him?" I ask the Lord as I read Matthew 4:4 with Romans 12:1.

I read Matthew 4:7 next to Romans 12:2, and ask it, "Were You answering temptations, saying, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God,' because it's for us to prove Him?"

I read Matthew 4:10 next to Romans 12:1 and ask a third question, "Did You answer temptations, saying, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve,'" because that's just reasonable service for those who are being transformed by the renewing of their mind?"

I think so. I think Jesus, the Lamb who would be slain as the sacrifice for our sins, was establishing the concept of sacrificial living to us at the very get-go. I've sometimes said, "It's easier to be a dead sacrifice than a living sacrifice!"

He shows us how to be living sacrifices.

A quick glace down the headings in my Bible are almost laughably in favor of this-Serve God and Behave Like a Christian.  

Yeah, okay then.

The Meat Between the Broken

-Describe the fast that Jesus demonstrated in the wilderness. 
-What does this say to you about how He would want you to approach fasting?

"So, Lord," I venture further into this, "What's the kind of fast that You choose?" I ask because, clearly, Jesus did that kind of fast and it reads pretty straight forward in an era when fasting is sometimes not.

So, I've made a list of several scripture passages because I told a few ladies that I would. Read them with me?

"'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?'" (Isaiah 58:3)

God answers, "In fact, in the day of your fast you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness, you will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast that I have chosen, as day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?" (Isaiah 58:3-5).

-Describe the fast the Israelite's chose for themselves. Do words like "violent" and "selfish" come to mind?
-Read Isaiah 58:3. What question do you have regarding your fasts?
-Read Isaiah 58:6-7. Describe the fast God chooses. 
-Read Isaiah 61:1-3. Describe what you see? 
-What does this tell you about the heart of fasting?

I see three key stages in these sections relating to our understanding of fasting. First are the Questions in verse 3 about fasting; second is the Clarity God gives in verses 6-7; and third is Christ's fulfillment of the kind of fast God chooses and describes in Isaiah 61:1-3.

Here are more passages to read from Scripture. They give further clarity about the kind of fast God chooses for His people.

Read Matthew 9:14-10:1.
-Can you identify the Question? What is it?
-Can you identify the Clarity? Describe it.
-Can you identify Christ demonstrating how to do it? Describe His method.

When Moses fasted of the mountain where he received the Ten Commandments for the second time, he didn't say to the children of Israel, "I think we need some order! I'm going to go up this mountain to fast so that I might get God's attention and receive rules."

No. He was deeply distressed.

He went  up to the Lord in the mountain too grieved and hungry in his spirit to give fasting much thought, I'm sure. Fasting is just what happened because he was broken. He'd smashed the first edition of the Ten Commandments, grieved by the people's behavior while he was gone on the mountain with God, and, I imagine, he felt as smashed up as those two stone tablets were.

Read Exodus 32:19, and 34:28.
-What do these passages tell you about the heart of fasting?
-Why do you think Moses didn't fast the first time he went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, yet did fast the second time?

Read Ezra 10:1-17.
Ezra's fast was what happened in the course of his mourning over sin. He was consumed with prayer, confession,weeping and bowing down, not as the hearts of those described bowing down as bulrushes, but he bowed before the house of God.

Read Esther 4:1-11.
Esther fasted, and asked the Jews to fast, too, the king had decreed to destroy, kill, annihilate all the Jews-young and old, little children and women-in one day. This was the setting preceding the three day fast. Esther and the Jews must have been too distraught for a three day fast to be much noticed at all, Esther's spirit was hungrier than her flesh. Clearly she didn't give her flesh much thought when she said, "If I perish, I perish!" (Esther 4:17)

Read 1 Kings 19:4-8.
Elijah's fast was the result of discouragement so deep that he'd rather die than live. He was being hunted to be killed by Queen Jezebel. He prayed God would let him curl up and die in his sleep. Instead, God sent an angel to feed him and then Elijah traveled 40 days, fasting in the strength of the the food that the angel gave him.

-How would you describe the conditions of the circumstances in these passages, and of Ezra's, Esther's and Elijah's  hearts?
-Having read these passages, what instructions do you perceive for yourself about fasting? 
-Why you would fast, what circumstances would drive you to fast, what heart condition would prompt the kind of fast that is little more than an outcome -a result-of desperate times?

Now read Mark 2:18-20.
Jesus predicts that His disciples will fast after He is taken away from them. It's not a commandment, but a prediction. He knew that the grief-stricken condition of their hearts in that circumstance would lead them into a fast before they even knew they were fasting. But while He was still with them, why would they fast? Why would they fast when things are going well?

Read the next two verses in this passage-verses 20-21.
-Why do you think Jesus answers the question about fasting with talk about a new patch stitched to and old garment, and an old wine skin filled with new wine and how those combinations are incompatible. 
-What do you think He was saying about the compatibility of the old traditions of fasting and what He taught about fasting?

Read Matthew 11:19.
Jesus fasted the 40 days and night in the wilderness. He fasted once a year to keep the Mosaic Law. Other than that, there is no mention of Jesus fasting. He didn't come to us fasting, but feasting. Even the night before He was betrayed, He didn't fast.

Well, good enough.

Having read these verses, what do you think Jesus' attitude is toward fasting?

Last morsels for thought. Pray through these and let the Spirit of God guide you.

If His will is clearly written in His Word, known by His character, and revealed by His Spirit to our spirits, then what would you say about the popular idea that fasting is necessary to discern God's will?

If the most effective prayers are the prayers of the righteous, and if our righteousness isn't our own but is in Christ, then what would you say about the idea that fasting is an essential ingredient to our prayers being effective?

And if God promises to do whatever we ask in His name- that is to say, in accordance to His word and in agreement with His character- then what would you say about another popular idea that fasting is an essential ingredient to our prayers being heard or answered?

If we know that we already have God's undivided attention-far more so than He has ours-then how would you respond to the notion that we fast in order to get His attention?

If all we need to do to hear God is to listen to what He says-and it's written in the Bible-then how would you respond to the idea that in order to hear Him clearly we need to fast?

What do you think about the practice of fasting as something that happens as a result when we give Him the kind of attention that we ought to be giving Him as the living sacrifices we are to be-our reasonable service?

What do you think about the practice of fasting as something that happens as a result of desperate times, not as a decision we make in response to them?

And, what would a fast like that look like? It's tempting, in desperate situations, to let everyone know that we're declaring a fast because of them, but according to Matthew 6:18 how are we to fast?

This was supposed to be a snack, not a feast.

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Her Song Is Mine

This blue plastic crate, it's where I store old rags, spray bottles marked, Household Cleaner and Window Cleaner in black sharpie, and the old standby Comet which has served housewives for about as long as Corn Flakes cereal. Somethings just never go out of style.

After decades of indecision in the cleaning supply isles at Kroger and Walmart and the Dollar Tree, I made a decision I should have made at the very start of my house cleaning ventures. Of course, back then there wasn't google and pintrist. That's where I discovered recipes for a streak-free window cleaning solution which really is streak free, and for all-purpose household cleaning. Indecision in the aisles, confusion over too many products, it's solved.

Vinegar, water, and a nice smelling essential oil. Done. And come to find out it's as tried and true for window cleaning as the old-fashioned Comet is for everything else.

I can't remember the last time I bought Corn Flakes, but I still use Comet for the grit I need in tough spots; though it's inconvenient to clean a counter with Comet and then clean the Comet from the counter. That's one too many steps for this modern woman with old-fashioned in her supply crate. There may be as many recipes for cleaning supplies as there are products on the shelves, but I'm pretty much in the clear as long as I've got vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, an essential oil, and water.

This blue plastic crate and I, and green rubber gloves that casually drape their plastic fingers over the spray bottles, we're the cleaning dream team hiking up the stairs; and I just need to do some cleaning today.

It's therapy.

Corn Flakes and Comet
So, I've been paying attention to the everyday ways God shows His love for me. It's an attentiveness that sort of just happens as I track down demonstrations of faith.

I snap the green rubber gloves sharply in the air and pull them on. I've been a faith hunter for years now. I look for the evidence and substance and the tangible reasons for hope which is not seen, yet; and I document them on scraps of paper or in my iPhone notes which I, eventually, record in my journal.

It goes like this-

"Morning, Lord!" I greet Him as I begin looking around; sometimes in my Bible, sometimes in my backyard. "Where is it?" I turn pages to find the string of yesterday's conversation with Him, and pick up there; or I look up at the sky, the trees, the ground, at the insects and webbing; and I listen to everything till I hear sounds I wasn't aware of, at first. He knows what I'm after. And He knows that I'm not moving till I find the evidence. I've become stubborn like that.

"Well, g'morning Li'l Bit!" I feel His grin. He says that His mercies are new every morning, and sometimes His grinning presence is all the morning mercy I need to anchor my soul.

I feel His grin. My soul is anchored. It's documented.

White paint flakes off the wooden blinds as I draw them up. They've baked in afternoon sunlight for nigh twenty years up here in my daughter's room, and the slightly water-warped wooden sills beneath them catch the paint flakes. An upward yank on the blind strings, I see the flakes filter downward till they rest at sill and, "Ha! What's this, Lord?"

"A Mourning Dove," He states the obvious.

Slowly I move my hand from the blind's strings. Dove and I stare at each other, startled. I hold my breath, and she's probably holding hers, too.  "Yeah, but Lord," my breath returns, "wow! She's beautiful! She's nesting! She's," I don't have words, except for "Thank You for this surprise."

Now I know why He was grinning as I climbed the stairs with cleaning crate full of my therapy tools. I don't dare clean the sill. I don't need that kind of therapy when there's a nesting Mourning Dove just there on the brick ledge.

"Remember what we were talking about yesterday?" He prompts.

I remember.  I was treking through my Bible and stopped where I often stop- Psalm 145. "I will extol You, my God, O King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever" (Psalm 145:1-2).
Mourning Dove

Then, a songbird collided with the window pane. She fell just on the other side of where I sat, and a part of me wanted to take my words back. To take His words back. "They're not my words, God. They're Yours." I just want to go check on the bird.

She's fallen and lays beside the barbecue grill on the patio. Beautiful life gone from her song.

Thing is, I've never trusted myself to be faithful enough to be true to the "every day I will bless You" part of these verses. And now even more so. I know He feels my reticence. Feels me pull away.
"Why?" I whisper to Him. "Why? Just as I'm praising Your forever name-who You are-and then this?"

His Spirit stirs mine with no more that the lightest feathered breath, "Her song is mine." That's how I hear Him say it, and I know it's true. Sometimes songs are revealed most soulfully beautiful when transferred away, as hers was.

"I know I'll bless and praise Your name forever and ever, Lord." I do  know this, because I'll be perfected-fully resurrected-in the forever and ever.  But now? Every day? "How can I say this with the same confidence?"

I don't know why I've never come straight out and asked Him this before yesterday morning. I guess I just schlepped by those words, hoped to deny my doubts. But now? There's no denying now. Somewhere between "I will praise Your name everyday," and "Her song is Mine," I ask.

"You can say it because," He began His answer. I held my breath then, as I am now. Because nested yesterday, as Dove nests now on the ledge, with life beneath it. I didn't want to miss His next words.

He paused, gave me room to anticipate His life-giving words, then began again. "You can say it because everything I say of you, I have fulfilled it."

"Ha!" I breathed then, sharp inhale, as I have now breathed. He knew I'd find Mourning Dove with life beneath her, nesting on the ledge today. "I will bless Your name every day!" I said it freely yesterday, and again right here, upstairs in my daughter's room with green rubber gloves pulled up to my elbows.

He grinned then, as He grins now in the morning light.

Song Bird  

Slowly, I reach for the nearest thing to write on. Dove keeps her eye trained on me, and doesn't move a muscle. There's a ripped paper lunch sack from last week and, bless this messy room, an eyeliner pencil on the floor beside it. Symbol of peace nests on window ledge. Hatches life. Faith for hope. Why is she named Mourning Dove? I scratch the broken phrases in eyeliner, then, "Thank You, Lord." He's given my more than faith and hope this morning. He's given me a message of love.

"See how I love you?" His voice is as dove's song.

My own eyeliner smears a little wet. His words wipe the old paint from the weather-warped sill of my soul and I needed His washing like this just now. It's why I'm wearing green rubber gloves and why I've made the cleaning solutions and why I'm in this bedroom unoccupied for seven months because my daughter has a place with her husband, now.

Inside, I'm kind of still curled up a little. Inside, my emotions are still a bit beneath shell. A bit lonely.

His words are my life.

They birth my soul.

"I will never leave you alone in this twiggy world." He assures. "Nothing will scare Me off."

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig