A Progressive Fast

Lent has launched.

This past Wednesday (yesterday) was Ash Wednesday, and millions of Christians around the world have now begun a fast; not as a way to get God’s attention, but as a way for Him to get ours. Fasting serves to sharpen our focus and our attentiveness. It can quicken our spiritual sensitivity.

FastingBut this year, I’m planning something different…a progressive fast. I saw the idea recently (thanks Laura Anderson) and thought it sounded creative and helpful, perhaps especially for those of us who have engaged in Lent for many years and would find motivation in something fresh.

Here’s how it works. It’s ever so simple.

Start with something simple right now (e.g. Diet Coke; snacks; pre-work social media), then next week (or in two weeks) add something else, then the following week (or two weeks later still) add another item. By the time we get to Holy Week — the week before Easter — we’re at our full fast. I love the idea.

The “progressive fast” saves those of us who tend to start too big and find that we can’t go the seven-week distance. It lets us build up. You could “up the ante” every week (that would be ambitious), or just every other week, or just plan a single upgrade at the halfway point. Whatever suits you best. I’m opting for just two “escalations.”  🙂

Note that this is not a replacement plan, but an addition plan. In a progressive fast we don’t drop or exchange our first item of fasting; we add to it.

If you didn’t get started yesterday (Ash Wednesday), you could start tomorrow, no problem. There’s nothing magical about 40 days. Better to catch some of the fast than none of the fast. In fact, it might be a valuable part of the discipline (for perfectionists) to not get in all 40 days. That will stretch you.

If you like this idea and want to give it a shot, post “I’m in” in the comments. Perhaps we can compare notes and encourage each other as we face the transition points. Here’s a mantra for the season: Start simple; finish strong.

I’d love to hear your stories along the way of how you’re experiencing the Presence and work of Christ in your life.

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Front Cover ImageBy the way, thanks to the many of you who have purchased copies of my Lenten devotional Reflections Through Romans. That’s very kind of you, and I hope you find it a helpful companion during this season.

If you’re just thinking about joining the Lenten community right now — we’ve only just begun — you can still get a copy of the 40-day guide here. Blessings.

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ASH WEDNESDAY – LENT BEGINS TODAY

“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.” — R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God

Ralph Sproul pulls no punches. He calls it like he sees it. “Sin is treason!”

SinI recently asked an 18-year-old High School senior what he considered to be the greatest challenges facing his generation. At the top of his list? “The normalization of sin.” What a powerful insight.

When we minimize, rationalize, or normalize sin, we settle for slavery and bondage. Sin does not mind being misdiagnosed. Sin will not complain when we think less of it. Indeed, to lull us into complacency or apathy might be sin’s greatest victory.

Of course, those who experience the deepest darkness have no illusion about sin. They have experienced its destructiveness. They know its utter ruthlessness. They’ve felt its violence. They have witnessed its devastating impact.

But others of us have been far less concerned. We entertain sin with fascination. We can’t imagine that sin will eviscerate us. To the contrary, it titillates us. We gamble, tease, flirt, steal, gossip, and lie. “Minor infractions,” we tell ourselves. Yet, all the while, sin grips us ever more firmly in its talons.

Ralph Sproul’s declaration startles us. “Sin is treason!” But we have come to believe that sin is about us; about our woundedness, our brokenness, our weakness. Sin is about us; our choices, our actions, and our thoughts. We  think of sin primarily in terms of how it hurts us. But Sproul will have none of that. Nor did King David of old.

In Psalm 51, King David laments his sin. Stricken by his sexual immorality (with Bathsheba) and his deadly violence (against her honorable husband Uriah), David writes: “Against you and you only have I sinned, O God, and done what is evil in your sight.” (Psalm 51:4) But Bathsheba has endured shame, birthed a child that died, and buried a husband who was murdered. Is David’s sin not chiefly against her and her husband?

How do you think of sin? The story of the Bible is the story of God dealing with our sin, our rebellion and destructive willfulness. Our sin separates us from Him, and rips our lives asunder. It ruins our friendships, our marriages, our families, and our lives. It sucks dry our hope and joy, and afflicts us with guilt and shame instead.

“Sin” may be one of the Bible’s shorter words, but it’s one of the biggest words of our lives.

Three thousand years ago, King David continued his song, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

Sin is no small thing. We trivialize it and normalize it at our peril. But when we confess it and die to it, we can have great confidence that Christ hears us, cleanses us, and empowers us for freedom. Ash Wednesday invites us to these deeper reflections.

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The Finger of God

In Exodus 7-8, God sent a wave of plagues against the land of Egypt because Pharaoh would not release the Israelites from slavery. First, all of the major waterways of Egypt were turned to blood. The fish in the Nile died and smelled so bad that the Egyptians couldn’t drink the water (7:21). But Pharaoh’s magicians seemed able to replicate the miracle.

Hand of GodThen frogs invaded the land. They got into every nook and cranny; every home, everywhere. When they died they were piled into heaps, and the land reeked (8:14). Once again, Pharaoh’s magicians replicated the miracle, and Pharaoh would not relent.

Then something interesting happened. God turned the dust of the ground throughout Egypt into gnats; swarms of them, settling on all the people and animals. But the court magicians (spiritualists) could not copy this miracle, and they said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” At last they were beaten, and these sorcerers admitted the truth. But “Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen.” (Exodus 8:19)

When we refuse to acknowledge “the finger of God” something happens to our hearts.

This cuts two ways. Pharaoh refused to acknowledge the judgment or discipline of God. But how often do we ignore or refuse to acknowledge the blessings of God?

In Mark 3, the scribes accused Jesus of “casting out demons by the ruler of the demons.” They accused Jesus of being Satan’s puppet, and were willing to give Satan credit for the work of God (delivering people from bondage to demons). Jesus responded in a surprising way. He said: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:29)

An unforgivable sin?

The scribes in Mark 3 essentially did the same as Pharaoh in Exodus 8. They refused to acknowledge God, and gave credit to Satan for what God had really done.

Here’s a crazy thought: Might we do something similar when we say “Good luck” or “That was lucky” or “Knock on wood” or something similar — attributing to “the Fates” (not God) any good thing that might happen in our lives?

I wonder if our careless or thoughtless language (at times) might blind us to “the finger of God” and thereby harden our hearts just a little to His reality and presence? Are we lucky…or blessed? Fortunate…or graced?

When we fail to acknowledge “the finger of God” something happens to our hearts. Perhaps a subtle change in our language would yield a surprising change in our hearts. Will we see His hand in our lives today?

Just something to consider as “the Exodus” becomes our own story.

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Front Cover ImageMy final reminder: Lent starts next Wednesday. Ready? If you’d like a bed-stand or coffee-table book (a devotional guide for the 40 days) I invite you to take a look at “Reflections Though Romans.” There’s still time to get a copy. Just click this link.

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Be Different, to Make a Difference

Light dispels darkness, precisely because it is not darkness.

That sounds altogether too obvious, and simplistic. But the only way that darkness disappears is when non-darkness comes. Darkness has no power over darkness. Open the door between two pitch black rooms, and you’ll still be in a pitch black environment.

Light in the DarknessThis helps me understand the powerful statement by the Apostle John, speaking of Jesus: “In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) Of course! Darkness never drives out Light. Have you ever opened the front door of your home on a dark night, only to have your home suddenly go dark because the darkness washed in past you? Not at all. But Light? That’s different. And because it’s totally different, it makes a profound difference. Even a candle in a dark place can make a profound difference.

I suspect that the Apostle Paul had a little of this in mind as he wrote: “You (followers of Christ) were formerly darkness, but now you are Light because of the Lord; walk as children of Light.” (Ephesians 5:8)

It’s a call to be different … and thereby make a difference.

Is it not odd when we think that we can live just as the world lives and yet make a difference? When we embrace the same values, lifestyles, practices, and priorities as the world around us, we have nothing to say (of any consequence) to that world. We may see the brokenness, the pain, the anxiety, and the shame, but when we are both in the world and like the world we can make no difference to the world.

The Gospel fundamentally calls us to change. Grace beckons us to transformation. The Kingdom of God demands that we be different.

How? In what we watch, how we parent, and in our language. In our priorities, in how we treat others, how we lead, and what we wear. In service, in love, in hope, and in compassion. In forgiveness, in peace-making, in spending, in web-surfing, and in just about every way we can imagine.

Our spouse needs us to be different. Our children need it. Our workplaces need it. Our schools and communities need it.

This past Sunday, the Patriots and the Eagles played each other in the NFL Super Bowl. During the halftime show, Justin Timberlake invited the huge crowd in the stadium to turn on their phone flashlights. Small pinpoints of light began to beam all around the stadium, and the place was utterly transformed into a gorgeous sea of stars. It didn’t require searchlights or military-grade flashlights, just Androids and iPhones in unison.

If your marriage, family, workplace, or inner life feels dark, be Light. Be different. Begin to re-charge your spiritual battery, because until we are different we cannot make a difference. By God’s grace, change comes first to us … and then through us. Perhaps make a fresh resolve right now.

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Front Cover ImageJust a reminder that Lent begins next Wednesday. You might like to join the spiritual journey this year. I plan, Lord willing, to blog throughout Lent (as in past years). If you’d like a devotional book for your bedside table, with more background to Lent and space to make a few notes each day, you might take a look at my latest book. Here’s a link.

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My Latest Book (in time for Lent)

Dear friends –

Lent starts on Wednesday next week!

Front Cover ImageI’m delighted to let you know that I have updated, edited, and turned my 2016 Lenten series “Reflections Through Romans” into a 130-page book. This 40-day guide through Lent is now available. You might like to use it for this coming Lent or perhaps simply pull it out for a 40-day spiritual journey of your own at some other point in the year.

Copies are available on Amazon.com. Just click here, or type in “Reflections Through Romans.” By the way, these Lenten reflections are no longer available through the blog, and the book includes updated and new material.

I hope you find it helpful, and a worthy addition to your night-stand, coffee table, or kitchen table during this season.

Praying that these words might nourish your soul as you read (or re-read) them. I’m so grateful that we get to share this journey of faith together.

Blessings.

David Timms

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Comments from Colossians (3:5-6)

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. (Colossians 3:5-6; New Living Translation)

In a rampantly sexualized culture such as ours, sexual purity seems as rare as an albino rhinoceros, and as relevant as an abacus.

White RoseIn recent times, the mainstream news has poured out stories about movie producers, Hollywood actors, Olympic sports officials, state and federal politicians, and other public figures who have abused their position and power to manipulate others for sexual purposes. Social media has enabled the explosion of the #MeToo movement which has encouraged women (in particular) to chronicle their experiences of sexual misconduct by men.

Our sexuality is not only confused but confounding. Somehow we have come to believe that sexually-charged speech, entertainment, marketing, and dress is neutral; that what we watch and what we say — even the videos and images we preserve electronically (sexting) — should not make us vulnerable to exploitation. But it does.

Nothing can excuse sexual abuse, but it doesn’t require graduate research to understand the correlations within our culture. As a kid, I used to hear, “If you play with fire, you’ll get burned.” That cliche holds consistently true. And in a culture that plays very loosely with human sexuality, the innocent often get burned.

The genie is out of the bottle. The news is not creating this tsunami of sexual assault. It’s simply reporting it.

Christianity was born into a world just as confused and confounding as our own. And as the Apostle Paul wrote to young Christians and new churches around the Mediterranean, he was not writing to puritans. The Roman Empire and the ancient Mediterranean world had little affinity for purity or Judeo-Christian morality. Yet, Paul bucked the norm and urged followers of Christ to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.

If we want to make a difference, we must be different.

Those living in darkness cannot simultaneously be light. We cannot model freedom while we live in bondage. It’s time to change our minds and change our lives (by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit), so we can be genuine agents of change in a world that needs it desperately.

Secularists sense this pivotal point in our history. Movement after movement (Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Women’s Marches, and more) loudly and rightly declare “Enough!” In this moment of opportunity for the Gospel, Christian men and women must not only declare a way forward, we must model it; in our marriages, our families, our churches, and our communities. Will we step away from self-indulgence and step up to the plate, even today and this week?

#Hope #GoodNews #WeWill

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The First Noel

Have you ever read a word a thousand times and never checked what it actually means? Noel was one of those words for me. I saw it in store-fronts and on front lawns, read it on Christmas cards, and sang it in Christmas carols. It popped up every year, but I never pinned it down.

NoelNoel: early 19th century French word meaning “Christmas”; possibly from early Latin natalis, a word that could be translated “birth.”

Oh, that’s what it means!! Noel = Christmas. Noel = birth. I love that deep in its etymology, noel is not just about a date or an event but about beginnings and life itself; birth.

In the past 24 months, 24 million people have viewed the wonderful Pentatonix a capella rendition of The First Noel. All of a sudden, the song leaps out at me with fresh vigor and meaning. “Noel, noel, born is the King of Israel.” It’s a song all about birth and life and hope. “Born, born, born is the King of Israel!”

This coming Monday, the four weeks of Advent conclude with Christmas Day. Four weeks of declaring we desperately need a Savior; four weeks of waiting; four weeks of acknowledging sin and darkness; four weeks of anticipation. And Monday it all bursts forth with the greatest declaration possible. Born is the King. The wait is over. The Kingdom of God is among us.

Noel.

It’s really a dual declaration. His birth; our birth. We were “helpless and dead in our sin” (Romans 5:6; 12) , “without hope and without God in this world” (Ephesians 2:12), but the birth of Christ changes everything.

We typically wait until New Year’s Day to make resolutions, to start new habits, and to seek a fresh start. But it often gets tied purely to our own will-power, determination, and effort. Perhaps that’s why so much of it fails. But Christmas (Noel) invites us to new birth, because of the one birth that changed the world.

The babe of Bethlehem assures, enables, and empowers our own re-birth … over and over. That’s something to celebrate. Noel. 

On a personal note: THANKS to each of you who have so graciously received these posts throughout the year. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to continue this Journey of faith with you. BLESSINGS THIS CHRISTMAS! May the grace of our Lord sustain you and renew you, as we quickly head towards 2018.

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