Friday, September 10, 2010
A Life Long Fast
I sit in a country infested with poverty.
I can literally feel it...and some times it seems like I can see it.
When I stop and think about what the streets of Haiti would look like if I had eyes to see things spiritually, I imagine darkness...evil imps dancing a wicked jig as they wrap heavy chains around and around the people
of Haiti. In their shrill voices they hiss and chant, "Hopeless. Trapped. Forgotten. Forsaken. Dirty. Broken. Useless. Ugly. Unloved. Unwanted."
It's like a heavy, hot, itchy blanket.
I've been reading and rereading Isaiah 58. In the beginning of the chapter God is angry with His people.
They are rebellious. They have sinned.
He says His people act like they want to hear from Him. They pretend they want to be close to God.
The Israelites argue with their Father. Like a bratty child they sass God and say things like, "Why have we fasted and you haven't seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?"
They are quick to yank out their lists of Christian deeds...the list that proves they are godly. I think we're all tempted to keep that list in our pocket, aren't we? We're even quicker to whip it out and shove it in God's face or in each other's faces.
In Isaiah 58, God's people are quick to reach for their list.
God firmly addresses their perverted views, particularly when it comes to their idea of fasting.
God tells them they fast...do all the physical aspects of not eating...and yet their hearts are not changed. In the middle of their so called "service to God" they do evil things.
And then God says something that I'm trying hard to understand these days...
"Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself?"
One day. One act. One token. One religious act.
God is infuriated by the idea that serving and loving Him could ever be boiled down into an event that begins and ends.
God doesn't seem to be a big fan of our "This makes me a Christian" tokens. He doesn't seem pleased with the thought that we can divide up our life...chop it up into sections...keep most of those sections for ourselves and hand God a sliver. He seems even more annoyed that we'd think He should be pleased...stand and clap that we were so generous offering him a tiny piece of the life that He already paid for in full.
It doesn't seem like God digs the one day fast. The "this makes me an acceptable Christian" check list.
The fast God finds good, right, and acceptable seems like it would take more than a day to accomplish. It could quite possibly consume our lives. He says He wants us to fast in a way that looks like this...
loose the chains of injustice
untie the cords of the yoke
set the oppressed free
break every yoke (anything that enslaves)
share your food with the hungry
provide the poor wanderer with shelter
clothe the naked
spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
satisfy the needs of the oppressed
Maybe we all need to ask God what this looks like. Maybe hard questions are in order.
How are we, our families, and our churches fighting injustice?
How are we, our families, and our churches setting the oppressed free?
How are we, our families, and our churches clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and providing shelter to those who need it?
Are our lives being spent...spent...let's let that word sit on us for a little while.
How are our lives being spent caring for the hungry?
I hate it as much as the next person, but I think if our lives were truly spent to care for the poor we'd feel it in some way every single day. Would people say we are individuals or people or churches who spend our lives on behalf of the poor? Spending our lives on something may look way different than throwing money at a problem every once in awhile, donating shoes to the yearly shoe drive, or even coming to Haiti for 9 months. While those are good things, if that's all we're doing, I think that may be the one day fast God is so disgusted with in His children.
This is important because Isaiah 58 seems to say that somehow our righteousness, our intimacy with God, our healing, our ability to be a light in dark places are all interwoven and connected in some way to caring about the things that God cares about.
The tokens. The one day fasts. Our loose change. Those things are frustrating to the Lord.
I've been reading this passage every day.
I seem to be at a crossroads spiritually. One part of my heart is in Haiti. A giant part of my heart wants to go home in nine months.
I stand at the fork in the road. One path takes me back to the US. To a cute home. To nice furniture. To hot water. To clean, safe streets. To friends. To family. To comfort. To 16,000 choices of cereal.
The other road is hard. It smells. It's sad. It's hot. Uncomfortable. Frustrating. A little lonely.
I'm asking myself...what does it mean to fast forever in order to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, and free the oppressed? Not fast from food. I'd fall over dead. But what about fasting from comfort? From Target? From nice neighborhoods? From nice tile? What does it look like to fast from the things that prove I'm living for this present life instead of seeking first the Kingdom of God?
What if we're called to fast every day of our lives to care for the hurting? What if we fast every day on earth because we believe so deeply in the kingdom that awaits us...in the kingdom that is coming? A life time of fasting because this life does not matter.
I want to be clear. We do not care for the poor because we are trying to earn our salvation. We could spend every moment of every day caring for the poor, and yet if we do not belong to God, we'll sit in hell one day next to people who have never even given a few quarters to the bell ringers at Christmas. The Bible is clear...salvation is a gracious gift and God gives it to people who are ridiculous, selfish, undeserving, and wicked. And yet He calls us to use the life that we have received from God to care for the poor and the dying...to live out the beauty of the gospel towards our fellow man.
What if I never get to go home to the US and have my old life back? What if this fast lasts indefinitely while I live on this earth?
What if you're called to do the same thing or something similar?
What if you're called to live in such a way in the United States of America that you are spending your life for the poor? Fasting from that bigger house, that new car, from buying clothing made by enslaved children on the other side of the world, etc? Fasting from the American Dream so that you can give more and join God in what He's doing all over the globe. Fasting from "the next new thing" to buy medicine and food for 24,000 children who will die today from preventable diseases. Fasting from this world so that the gospel goes out.
What does it mean to fast in a way that means we consider the poor...remember them every time we reach for our wallet at our favorite stores? What does it mean to fast in such a way that we feel the weight...the friction between how much we have compared to how little most people have. What does it look like to fast in such a way that we open our eyes, keep them open, start fighting poverty and injustice instead of hiding from it? To fast like God describes, we'd have to take comfort in Jesus' words..."And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29).
It would take an awful lot of faith to live like God seems to want us to live. Suddenly "Do not love the world, or anything in the world" takes on new meaning (1 John 2:15). Suddenly Jesus' words take on new life when He says, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life"
Right now I don't have the kind of faith required for a fast like God describes. I like the tokens too much. When I consider the fast God is describing, my soul is immediately flooded with doubt. Stay here in Haiti? Give my entire life to care for the poor, the orphan, and the oppressed? Fast forever from the American Dream? What if heaven isn't even real. What if Jesus isn't real? What if this life is all there is?
A fool. I'd be a fool.
I almost despise situations in my life that show what I really believe. It's way more enjoyable pretending and lying. The moment I quit judging myself on a human scale and begin examining my life according to scripture and the person and work of Jesus, things get really sad, really quick.
I'm asking God what it looks like to spend our life carrying for the poor. Maybe you can ask God that question with me.
I sure wish God was talking to one man in Isaiah 58. I wish with all my heart today that God's hard words were for one person. Then it would be very easy for me to say, "Spending your life to care for the poor, the hurting, the oppressed, the enslaved and the fatherless are for some people, but God doesn't call everyone to do that."
Instead, God tells Isaiah in the beginning of chapter 58 to shout these things..yell them...holler them out loud so that ALL His people will hear.
When God is calling for a fast that requires spending our life for the poor, He's talking to every one who claims to belong to God.
So maybe we should ask God what He means and what this looks like in our lives. Like everything else, God isn't trying to be a bully or a jerk. He loves us. He wants good things for His children. Somehow us understanding these truths translates into us loving and knowing God better...to us enjoying God and delighting in Him.
Isaiah 58 ends with sweet promises from a loving Father...
The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings...then you will find your joy in the LORD.
Today I sat and talked with a man who has lived in Haiti for over 20 years. In the area where he is working the mortality rate for babies is 50 percent. That means 50 percent of the babies born die within their first couple of years.
Let's ask God what it looks like to fast in such a way that we prevent every other baby in some parts of Haiti from dying next year.