The Fasting Experiment

”The idea had been building for some time.  Several months, actually.  But it nonetheless took me by surprise when it fully revealed itself to me on the Wednesday of Holy Week.  That idea was to fast.  That idea was to honor Jesus/participate in or at least symbolically reflect His passion by fasting from Thursday to Good Friday service.

This idea came from several sources.  One is that I had been thinking about fasting for some time.  I had been thinking about what it was for.  I knew it wasn’t just duty to perform (see Zechariah 7-8) and I knew it really wasn’t a way to manipulate God/put God in my debt so that He does what I want (this is impossible).  But I knew it was something Jesus and Moses and Daniel and a lot of other biblical figures did, something Jesus talked about us doing as if He expected us to do it or at least expected that we would do it, and I was wondering what it was for.  I got at least part of my answer to this sermon in which one of the Bible Project guys says that fasting is an appropriate response to changes in life.  He actually laments the fact that he has never fasted in the way many of the Bible characters did, and I likewise lament that I never have, either.

 

Another was a podcast I recently listened to in which a Christian teacher said that millennials are more interested in the practice of fasting than any other spiritual practice.  I am not one who thinks that Christian leaders should capitulate to anything millennials want; there are other generations out there and other generations to come, after all.  But I was interested in why they were so interested in it.

A third was Daniel 10.  I came across Daniel 10 is some podcast or another, and was really moved when I heard him say this:

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So I had been flirting with fasting for some time, having been influenced by these and a few other sources (some of which were not spiritual at all, were presenting fasting as merely a health-promoting discipline, not one to draw near to God).  And when this idea came to the forefront that Wednesday, I decided to give into it.  I decided to fast for all day Thursday and most of the day Good Friday.  I decided to participate in/at the very least reflect the passion of Jesus by denying myself not only choice food but all food.  I decided to experiment with fasting in this way.  And I did it.  I gave it my best shot, anyway.  As I did, I had the following reflections:

  1. You have to prepare for fasting.  My fast would have been easier if I had geared up for it a week in advance.  I didn’t.  Instead, I fasted on the fly.  And that made it harder.  Since I hardly ate Wednesday (only a couple bowls of cereal the entire day), I was already down several hundred calories.  That made not eating Thursday and Friday very difficult.  While I was able to do my daily workout Thursday before the fast really got going, I was not able to do so Friday; I was too weak to do so.  I also had a couple times when I almost passed out.  I eventually cheated, eating a banana and some grapes late Thursday night and ending the fast Friday at 4 rather than after the Good Friday service at 7 pm (this last one also had something to do with my schedule; I had my daughter whom I had to keep busy for a couple hours, and the playland at McDonald’s is the easiest way to do that).  If I could do it again, I would prepare better, making sure to fuel myself better the days before the fast and get my workouts in before as well.
  2. I was never as hungry as I thought I would be.  I thought I would be starving during the fast, but I wasn’t.  I felt a little empty inside and a little weak, but I didn’t feel the gnawing hunger I’ve felt at other times.  I’m not sure why this is.  But I did want to eat.  Most of that wanting to eat was psychological.  I just like snacking and wanted to snack whether I was hungry or not.  I regarded this as a weakness, the very kind of weakness I believe fasting is intended to combat.
  3. My normal diet made fasting harder.  I couldn’t believe how weak I became after just one day without food.  This was especially so considering Daniel fasted without choice food for three weeks and Jesus fasted with apparently no food at all for 40 days.  I can’t prove anything here, so my conclusion might be suspect, but I did wonder if this was due to my overall diet.  I eat lots of sugar.  I have refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup and gluten and a whole lot of things Daniel and Jesus never had period, much less never had to fast from.  I wondered if this diet, my regular, normal, everyday diet, was just such that it by itself (apart from willpower, apart from wanting to do right and not do wrong) made fasting far more difficult that it was for someone without such a diet.  I further wondered, then, if my daily spiritual diet (my TV watching, my going the mall, my consumerist, disposable, buying-and-selling, always-being-entertained) makes the “to live is Christ” lifestyle the Bible promotes equally far more difficult.  I think it does.
  4. Fasting was hard to talk about.  Jesus teaches that we are to behave no differently when we are fasting.  Because of this, I kind of feel fasting is something I need to keep to myself.  But the way I interacted with people throughout the day, and the way food is often part of such interactions, made it nearly impossible to do this.  I had to tell people I was fasting, and it felt weird.
  5. Fasting was appropriate.  It feels a little self-righteous and deluded to say that I was participating in the passion of Jesus by fasting; I’m fully aware of that.  And yet, to some small degree that is exactly what it was.  It felt right to fast from food, particularly “choice food” during that period as some small reflection of all Jesus did without and all Jesus suffered from during that exact same period.  And it was just fasting from food.  Video games was something else I fasted from; it just didn’t seem appropriate to be playing video games, particularly the bloody kind, during the latter part of Holy Week.  Sex was another; sex just didn’t seem right that weekend.  I had heard of people fasting from such things before, and I always thought it was weird, even legalistic.  I was always glad I was raised in a tradition that didn’t have such fasts.  But this time these fasts seemed not weird but right to me.

So that was my fasting experiment.  Did I do it right?  I’m not sure.  I did participate in the passion of Christ in some small way and/or respect the sacrifice that we commemorate that beautiful weekend, though.  I’m fairly convince of that.  I’m convinced fasting in the flawed way I did was a better way to observe the events of this weekend than not fasting at all (just as feasting is a better way to observe the events of the following Sunday).  Even more than that, I learned a lot from doing it.  My eyes were opened to some other important realities, particularly the reality that the way I routinely live, a way that does not seem wrong to me/seems normal to me, often prevents me from being in the flow of God.  I think that makes the experiment a success.

What I Saw – April 6, 2019

I listened to the Pray As You Go App devotional for Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 7th during the morning of April 6th.  I usually listen to the PAYG devotion around midday, but because my wife and I were going to be at a Forgiveness Ministries seminar all day, I listened to it early.

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The reading for that devotion was John 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery (which I know is considered by some to be of questionable authenticity but which I believe is genuine).

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What caught my attention as I listened to this text being read twice was that the woman did not (maybe even could not) defend herself but had to be and allowed herself to be defended by Jesus.  Conversely, I noticed that Jesus not only defended her but defender her ably and defended her in a way that did not obliterate her enemies but merely made them think.

This caught my attention because it applies to a clear need I have and have long had.  I have always been defensive.  For some reason (probably deep childhood wounding), I have felt the need to defend myself against any and every attack or slight.  I have felt the need to defend myself aggressively and with extreme prejudice.  One of my favorite (and most revealing )stories about this comes from my early high school days.  A group of us were hanging around in the cafeteria when a guy named Paul said something about me.  I can’t remember what that something was, but I do remember it was a joke rather than an actual attack and it was a small thing rather than a large thing.  I immediately attacked back; again, I can’t remember what I said but I know I said something and said it vehemently.  In reply, Paul said, “You’re too defensive, Doug,” to which I responded, “I am not!”  I realized with that ironic response that I was indeed too defensive and that I needed to stop being so defensive if I was ever to have happy and fruitful relationships with people.

Decades later, I’m still struggling with this defensiveness to some degree.  But when I heard this text read in the PAYG devotion, I realized I could escape it by allowing Jesus to be my defender.  My action step here is to remind myself that Jesus is my defender whenever I feel attacked and defensive.

Interestingly enough, my wife recently shared a song with me which teaches me this same thing.  I have been listening to this song incessantly ever since December.  It is appropriately-enough called “Defender”.

 

Jesus is my defender.  He is my great defender.  And His way of defending me is better for me and my enemies and the world than my way ever could be.  I will relinquish the drive to defend myself to Him.  I will allow Him to defend me rather than defending myself.  It truly is “so much better this way”.  It is so much better this way in every way.

That’s what I saw on April 6th, 2019.

New Sermon Site

My wife and I have recently decided to end our eleven-year ministry in California and return to Ohio.  It was a tough decision, but we believe it was the right one.  I’ve tried to do everything I can to bless our congregation as I make my way out (including finding my replacement!), but I need to do some things to bless me, too.  One of those was set up a new site for my sermons.  I wanted the congregation/new pastor to be able to use the former site, but I also needed congregations that are looking at calling me to be able to hear some recent messages.  So I created Doug McCoy at Sermon.net.  I’ll be putting my most recent messages here in hopes that interviewing congregations give them a listen.  I wouldn’t mind if you would give them a listen as well!

Moravian Daily Text App

Christmas just came early for me.  I was making plans for my 2019 Bible reading plan.  I read a Bible passage every day, and I usually like to follow a plan.  I will finish my current plan on December 31st (ending with Jude, I think), so I need a new one.

I did not find what I was looking for.  I am not concerned with reading the entire Bible in a year, which is what most plans are geared for.  I’ve already read the entire Bible many times and most benefit from something that gives shorter readings than those “in a year” plans.  I wanted something like what I get from the Moravian Daily Text.

That, in turn, got me thinking about the Moravian Daily Text.  I access this text every night, using their “Watchword” and “Doctrinal Texts” for my nightly prayers.  I have always wanted an app for the text, but have so far been limited to using the website.  But I decided to check the Google Play store (I’m an Android guy), and to my great delight I found there was a new Moravian Daily Text app on it!

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The app is listed as a 2018 app.  I don’t know if that means I’ll have to buy a new one for 2019.  If so, I’ll gladly do it.  It was only $1.99, and it is something I consult every day.  To be sure, it was no great hardship to use the website, but there is just something about having it as an app that I like.  If you want to check out the app, you can find it here, and if you would like to check the website, you can find that here.  I hope you will check it out in at least one of these ways.  The Lord has brought me some great words through these texts, and I know He will do the same for you.

What I Saw – December 4, 2018

A few pastors came over on Tuesday, December 4 for devotions.  Our text was John 21:1-14.

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This was a familiar text, the story of the resurrected Jesus meeting the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and giving them a second “miraculous catch of fish”.

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Familiar texts are difficult for me to receive a word from as they are too familiar; I think I know what they say and so I don’t look as hard.  Reading in a group often helps overcome this familiarity.  One thing that helped overcome it this time was the devotions leader, who said, “No detail seems unimportant to John.”  What he meant was that John records a lot of detail that seems superfluous to the “theological” content of the passage.  Here those details were Peter’s putting on his clothes and jumping overboard, the disciples struggling to get the catch of fish to the shore, Peter’s rushing back to help them, the number of fish caught (153), etc.  After the leader said this, I started looking at these details and realized that the disciples were acting chaotic.  Peter was jumping overboard and running around; I imagine the others were criticizing him for abandoning them and he was criticizing them for not being as devoted to Jesus as he was (imagination, to be sure, but not a huge leap based on what we know about the disciples); there was a huge catch of fish and a boat to take care of.

What I really noticed, though, was that Jesus was unaffected by this chaos.  The disciples weren’t.  They were in the middle of the chaos.  They were creating the chaos.  They were driven by the chaos.  But Jesus was unaffected by that chaos.  He stood apart from and above it.  He even had His own fish, which He was quietly cooking, and some bread as well (where did those come from?  I don’t know; maybe He created them, maybe He got them from some person not recording in Scripture; either way, I bet it is an interesting story).  He was moving slowly, calmly, confidently, and was just waiting for the disciples to drop down to His speed so He could speak with them.

What I see in this are three related things: 1) My Lord doesn’t need whatever it is I’m trying to bring Him (again, He had his own fish), 2) My Lord isn’t affected by chaos as I so often am, 3) My Lord is waiting for me to escape the chaos, slow down, and sit with Him.  This was a great comfort to me.  The truth that my Lord is not as “double-minded” and “tossed back and forth by the waves” (James 1) as I am encourages me with both the understanding of His power and the opportunities His power gives me.

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And that’s what I saw on December 4, 2018.

It’s Not That Important

This post is a point from a recent sermon which I thought was A) important and B) open to some elaboration.  I have taken it and elaborated on it here.

A fifth/final way to escape fear/live apart from anxiety is to see that some of the things we fear are not as important as we think they are. These fears aren’t as great as we make them out to be.

For example, I’m afraid of not being a good preacher and I have been for some time.  It was established very early in Bible college that I was a “good preacher”.  I’ve been called that or told I am that more times than I know.  And that was very pleasing to me when I preached my first few sermons at 14 & 15 years old.  Now, though, some thirty years later, it isn’t so great.  Once you get a title like that, you then have to live up to it.  Like the old gunfighter who has to defend his reputation against every young buck who wants to make a name for himself, I have to defend my reputation.

(When I preached this, I said I thought there was some movie about an old gunfighter defending his reputation.  Somebody shouted out The Shootist.  I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know if that’s it or not.  I do know that I’ve seen this idea in a slightly comic form in this Far Side cartoon.)

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After 25 years, I’ve gotten tired of defending that reputation.  I’ve gotten tired and discouraged of having to prove every Sunday that I am a “good preacher”.  I’ve gotten really tired of having to live up to that label, or, to put it differently and perhaps more poignantly, of having to earn that identity.

Fortunately, the Lord has shown me recently that I don’t have to do this anymore.  He has shown me that “good preacher” is not my identity.  He has shown me that “son of God” is my identity, and He has further shown me that this identity doesn’t have to be proven or earned.  He has, in other words, shown me that being a good preacher is not that important.  What’s far more important than being a good preacher is bringing His word, that is, bringing people a true message from Him.  That’s not the same as being a “good preacher” as that title is culturally understood.  It sounds the same but it is not.  Bring a word from God is far more noble and profound than being a good preacher.  It s also a  lot easier to do and a whole lot less stressful.

Let me give you another example of a fear I have which isn’t as important as it first seems to be.  I’ve always been afraid of visitors not being impressed with my church.  To that end, I’ve obsessed over how clean the carpet is, how good the worship is, whether or not there are any misspellings in the bulletin or the slides, if church members are friendly to the visitors, and any number of similar issues.  It suddenly occurred to me, though, that these worries are completely unfounded.  They are not unfounded in the sense that they don’t happen; they do happen.  But they are unfounded in the sense that they don’t mean much.  If someone rejects my church because there is a misspelling on a worship slide, they would leave my church for any reason.  Keeping such people pleased with everything today merely means they will become displeased about something tomorrow.  There is always the chance they will become displeased about something tomorrow, anyway.  It means such people aren’t and probably never will be in a real relationship with me.  And it is rather silly to worry about losing something that is not a real relationship.

I’m willing to bet there are some things in your life that aren’t that important as you think they are.  I’m willing to bet you are afraid of things that really aren’t as significant as they seem, which really won’t do the damage or aren’t the damage they portend to be.  I don’t know what these are exactly.  They may be like mine.  They may have to do with your reputation or identity in some way, with how people see you or think of you; whether or not they love you/you are loved.  But they could be something else completely.  I don’t know.  I just know we are frightened by things that aren’t really that frightening, and I further know that we won’t be frightened by them anymore if we realize they aren’t as frightening.

If you’d like to hear the entire message this post was taken from, you can find it here.  Enjoy, and may God deliver you from your fears!