Fasting

Fasting is one of the things Christians are supposed to do. And it’s something I’ve never done except on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) when it’s strictly commanded. I’ve never even studied it because I didn’t want to be convicted on the subject (a rather embarrassing admission, but an honest one). But faithful followers of God fasted in the past, it’s counted right alongside prayer as a way of drawing nearer to God, and I suspect I should take it more seriously.

One of the churches I attend with recently called a church-wide fast, which had me thinking on the subject again. In this church, it’s generally accepted that “fast” means abstaining from food and drink for 24 hours (unless you have a medical reason you can’t do a full fast). In my Messianic group, though, I’ve heard people talking about different kinds of fasts using phrases like “full fast” and “Daniel fasts.” Having avoided studying the subject in the past, I had no ready answers for the questions this brought to mind about whether or not there really are different types of fasts and what sort of fasting God expects. Hence, this Bible study.Fasting: exploring the what, why, and how of the Christian fast | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Types of Fasting

The Hebrew words for “fast” are tsum (H6684) and its derivative tsome (H6655). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament defines it as “depriving the body of nourishment.” In Greek, the basic word for “fast” comes from a compound of ne (not) and estho (to eat). Spiros Zodhiates says nestis (G3523) means “not having eaten” and its derivatives nesteuo (G3522) and nesteia (G3521) mean “to fast or abstain from eating.”

There are three main types of fasting that Christian groups as a whole typically recognize. They all involve not eating food for a set period of time. Some churches/writers also add a fourth kind of fast for abstaining from certain activities (such as watching TV or having sex, which they get from 1 Cor. 7:3-5).

  • A “full,” “absolute,” or “dry” fast means no food or drink.
  • A “normal,” “regular,”  or “liquid” fast means no food, but you can drink water or sometimes juice (some incorrectly refer to this as a “full fast”).
  • A “partial” or “Daniel” fast involves abstaining from a specific meal or certain types of food.

These are also the types of fasts that secular resources discuss when they talk about fasting for health reasons. But does the Bible support these distinctions in fast types? Continue reading

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Our Atonement Today

A blessed Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement to you all. Earlier this month, I subscribed to Bible Gateway’s newsletter Holy Land Moments with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. It’s described as a way to learn about the Jewish background of Scripture by exploring the High Holy Days.

I’m finding it fascinating. I grew up keeping these Holy Days, but not always with much understanding of the Jewish perspective on them. While some of the Jewish tradition doesn’t relate to Christian observance of these days, they often teach a perspective that deepens my understanding. Take the Days of Awe for example. Using the 10 days between Trumpets and Atonement for self-reflection and repentance deepens the meaning of and my engagement with this holy time. And sometimes, the Jewish perspective sparks a thought about how my Christian perspective differs, such as today’s comment in the Holy Land Moments newsletter:

The central part of the Yom Kippur service is missing today. Chapter 16 of Leviticus is dedicated to the description and instructions for the Yom Kippur service that was performed when the Tabernacle and later the Temples stood. Today, we no longer have a high priest, nor do we participate in ritual sacrifices. So how do we achieve atonement?

Those who believe Messiah has come have a different answer to this question than those who don’t. Rabbi Eckstein writes,”There are three keys that take the place of the service performed in biblical times” and they “can undo our wrongdoings and change things for the better.” These things are “repentance, prayer, and charity.”

Our Atonement Today | marissabaker.wordpress.com

original photo credit: Nick Fullerton, CC BY via Flickr

While those things are important, I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord that I’m not trying to atone for myself. There’s no way I could ever do enough or be good enough to undo my own sins. Today, we do have a High Priest and He has filled the ritual sacrifices with His perfect sacrifice (Heb. 7:23-28). The “central part” of Yom Kippur isn’t missing for Christians who keep this Holy Day — it’s more real than ever. Continue reading

Top 5 Reasons for Christians to Keep God’s Holy Days

Today we celebrate Yom Teruah, also called Feast of Trumpets and Rosh Hashanah. But why? After all, I’m Christian and most people think of this as a Jewish holiday. Same goes for Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, which we’ll observe 10 days from now, and Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles that starts in two weeks.

I believe these festival observances, along with others already completed this year, are for Christians today. When Jesus came to this world, it wasn’t to set up a new religion. He was the next step in God’s plan for the world and these days are part of the covenant He makes with His family. He’s still inviting us to gather for “reunions” at certain times of the year.Top 5 Reasons for Christians to Keep God's Holy Days | marissabaker.wordpress.com

1. They Belong To God

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.” (Lev. 23:1-2)

The holy days aren’t Jewish or exclusively Old Testament. They belong to God Himself. We talk about Leviticus 23 as the chapter where God gives Israel the Feasts, but that’s not quite accurate. God doesn’t say, “Here are your holy days, Israel.” He says, “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times” (Lev. 23:4). Continue reading

Rhythms of Worship

The people of God are set apart, with different priorities, habits, and festivals than the rest of the world. We may celebrate national holidays of our homelands, such as July 4th for Americans, but those are not the observances that shape our identities as God’s people. The kingdom we belong to under Christ’s authority has a different calendar.

A couple months ago, I read Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. In Chapter 5: Practicing (for) the Kingdom, he discusses “rhythms and cadences of hope” that Christians observe in weekly and annual practices. For him, this means Sunday, Easter, Lent, Advent, Christmas and others. He connects the observances to a rich history of “a people gathered to worship the Messiah, who does not float in some esoteric, ahistorical heaven, but who made a dent in the calendar — and will again” (p. 157). Rhythms of Worship | marissabaker.wordpress.com

But when you read the Bible, you won’t find those days he talks about on God’s calendar. Even the one mention of Easter in the KJV is a mistransltion of pascha, or Passover (Acts 12:4, Strong’s G3957). Rather, we find the church from the Torah to Revelation on a calendar even more unique than the one Smith claims for Christians. I know it puzzles many Christians that I would keep the “Jewish holidays,” but I find it equally puzzling that they would continue a tradition of co-opting pagan holidays and attaching them to Biblical events God gave no instructions to observe. When we search the scriptures looking for God’s version of liturgical rhythms, we find a worship pattern far more richly layered and deeply rooted in God’s plan than what man has invented. Continue reading

Thirst

I woke up this morning and reached for my water bottle. It wasn’t there, of course, since today is Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and we started fasting last night as the sun set. What struck me was how automatic the gesture was — I always have a bottle of water nearby, and grabbing it when I feel thirsty is almost unconscious.

So I asked myself, “Do I long for God the way I crave water when fasting?” Jesus called Himself the “living water.” Just as we need water to survive physically, so we need Him to survive spiritually. And yet somehow, I don’t think we are as attentive about drinking Him in as we are physical water. We should keep Him even closer than I usually keep my water bottle, and turn to Him at every reminder just like we take a drink whenever our throats feel a bit dry.

The Jews consider Yom Kippur the most solemn and holy day of the entire year, and I’m inclined to agree with them. This isn’t to belittle any of the other holy days or the weekly Sabbath, but God does seem to put a special importance on this day. For one thing, it’s the only day when He strictly specifies “you shall do no work at all.” The other holy days are also days of rest, but He uses a different phrase for that: “you shall do no customary work” or “No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you.”

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.” (Lev. 23:26-32)

On the Day of Atonement, everything stops. We stop eating, we stop drinking, and we stop doing any work. Usually, my morning routine goes like this: pray, feed fish, make breakfast, read a book, Bible study, yoga, then start working. On the Sabbaths, I usually only do the first three and then head off for per-services dance practice. But today, the only thing I have to think about is thirsting after God. I took a minute to feed the aquarium fish, but that’s it. I don’t have to worry about making breakfast or scheduling my day. I can listen to Hillsong music, pray, study, and turn my thoughts into this impromptu blog post.

I wonder if my younger self would have believed she’d learn to look forward to the Day of Atonement. Fasting doesn’t make me terribly ill, but it’s not really easy for me either, and I often thought of it as something we just had to get through before the Feast of Tabernacles. But, God be praised, I’m starting to learn more about how amazing this day is and why He considers it so important.

I pray each of you has a blessed, refreshing Yom Kippur that draws you closer to God.

G'mar Chatimah Tovah -- traditional greeting for this season. Literally," A good final sealing" or idiomatically, "May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good"

G’mar Chatimah Tovah — traditional Hebrew greeting for this season. Literally,” A good final sealing” or idiomatically, “May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for good”

Shabbat Shuvah

The fall holy days are yearly reminders that this world isn’t permanent. Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) pictures Jesus Christ’s return and signals preparation for His arrival. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) reminds us of the price paid to redeem us and points to a day in the future where Satan is finally locked away. Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) looks forward to the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.

Peter talks about this day of the Lord’s return in his second epistle, and asks a very important question.

Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? (2 Pet. 3:11)

We know what’s coming, at least in part. We don’t know when, but we know the world isn’t sticking around. We also know that God expects certain things from His people if they want to receive a reward of righteousness in the final judgement.

Return To God

Shabbat Shuvah | marissabaker.wordpress.comIn traditional Jewish teachings, this Sabbath between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuvah — the Sabbath of Return. It also plays on the word “teshuva,” meaning repentance, since that’s a central theme of these days. This is a topic dear to Zechariah, who comes next in my study of the minor prophets.

Like Haggai, where we spent so much time a few weeks ago, Zechariah wrote his book of prophecy during Zerubbabel’s temple rebuilding. More than Haggai, he also writes about future events pictured by these holy days. Even with a focus on the future, though, the first thing recorded in this book is a plea for immediate action.

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, “The Lord has been very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.”’ But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the Lord. (Zech. 1:1-4)

God is telling these people, and us along with them, that it’s not too late to learn from past mistakes. They can still wake up and turn their lives around by returning to God. They don’t have to repeat the mistakes of past generations who ignored God’s warnings, and neither do we.

How to Change

Peter answers his question about what type of person we ought to be in the verses following what we already quoted in the introduction.

Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless (2 Pet. 3:13-14)

This is a description of who we can become in Christ — a goal to strive for. If we go back to Zechariah now, we find some specific instructions for how to become holy, blameless and at peace.

In Zechariah chapter 7, the Lord reproves Israel for a number of sins. They did everything for themselves rather than to exalt the Lord (Zech 7:5-7). They ignored God’s simple commands and outright rejected His law (Zech. 7:9-12). This rebellion resulted in punishment, but God planned to turn it around to blessing when Israel returned to following Him.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Just as I determined to punish you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And I would not relent, so again in these days I am determined to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear. These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ says the Lord.” (Zech. 8:14-17)

If we want to get right with God, we can’t keep doing things He hates. We have to turn our lives around and get rid of deception, squabbling, unrighteousness, vengeance and all forms of evil. These are simple commandments, but truly keeping them can seem like a tall order. Thankfully, we don’t have to do this alone.

By God’s Spirit

Like ancient Israel, we’ve spent far too much time looking to something other than God for answers. We try to fix ourselves with self-help books, center ourselves with meditation, protect ourselves with prepping, and listen to talks about all we can accomplish on our own. None of things I used as examples are inherently wrong, but they always have to come after our relationship with God. If we try to use them as a stand-in for things only God can supply or look to them first when we need help, they become idols.

Ask the Lord for rain in the time of the latter rain. The Lord will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, grass in the field for everyone. For the idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd. (Zech. 10:1-2)

All we have to do to start seeing results is return to God. He’s eager to give us good things if we’ll only ask Him. This doesn’t mean everything will start going right and trials will disappear immediately, but God does promise to work good in your life if you’re walking with Him. A relationship with God always yields better long-term fruits than seeking answers elsewhere.

A couple weeks ago, we talked about obstacles we face today when trying to build up God’s temple — both the church as a whole and ourselves as individuals. Like Haggai, Zechariah delivers a message from God of encouragement to Zerubbabal to persevere in building the temple. It’s a famous verse, and applies just as much today as it did back then.

So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’” (Zech. 4:6-7)

If we, too, are walking in the spirit of the Lord and following His will, we can fill in our names here. Jesus told us faith can move mountains, and I don’t think He was joking. Whatever your “mountain” is, stop trying to shove against it by your own might and power. Turn back to the Lord, and He’ll turn that thing into a plain — even ground so you can move forward to keep building and singing His praises.

Shabbat Shuvah | marissabaker.wordpress.comCredits for photos used in blog images: