Since it is the beginning of Lent, some good words on “Spiritual disciplines” (especially in this case, “fasting”) from Dr. Scot McKnight

Lent’s Faux-Fasting (click to the left for the original posting of this article)

Too much of the fasting during Lent is faux-fasting. Here’s why.

Fasting — tis the season. Because it is the season a good question can be asked: What is fasting?

What is fasting?

Try defining it, and I’ll make a suggestion. Go ahead — in your mind define it.

Here’s my suggestion: If, in defining fasting, we are tempted to define fasting as something we do “in order to” get something, I suggest we need to look again at the deepest wells of the Christian fasting tradition: the Bible. In my book, FastingI suggest that in the Christian tradition we somehow got sidetracked.

We turned fasting into an instrument for personal spiritual formation, and in doing so lost one of its — if not its — key element. Fasting is not so instrumental in the Bible as it is responsive.

Fasting done to get something is faux fasting. Abstinence and fasting are not the same thing, so giving up chocolate for Lent is faux fasting.

Fasting done to get something is faux fasting. Abstinence and fasting are not the same thing, so giving up chocolate for Lent is faux fasting. I can hear the grumbles, so give me a chance here.

Instead of seeing fasting as a discipline we use, do, or practice “in order to” get answers to prayers, “in order to” become more attuned to God, or “in order to” become more spiritual, the Bible’s focus is on fasting as a response to life’s sacred, grievous moments. If in defining fasting you get quickly to the “in order” element… I suggest look again at the Bible.

So, how can we tell if we are fasting? Simple answer: Are you grieving or are you looking forward to something happening for you? If the former, fasting; if the latter, not fasting.

The Bible urges us to move away from seeing fasting as something done in order to get something, and exhorts us to learn to see it as a response to some grievous or sacred moment/event. (I use a letter system.)

A (grievous moment, like death and sin) –> B (act of fasting) –> C (benefit)

I hear too many suggest we should fast (B) in order to get (C). I suggest in my book that the biblical pattern is much more A (grievous, sacred moment) triggering the natural response of fasting (B), whether we get C or not. Furthermore, fasting is an act whereby we enter into the pathos of God regarding that grievous moment.

And one more element to think about as we enter Lent. To be sure, Lent is a time for fasting, but I suspect most of those who speak of “fasting” are talking about “abstinence” (not the same as what the Bible means by fasting). Fasting is suspension of all food (and sometimes drink) for a designated time — not the suspension of kinds of food (or internet, or social media). What happens when we use the word “fast” with “Twitter”? I suggest we are losing fundamental elements of fasting — the response to grievous, sacred moments.

The Church calendar is designed to embody the gospel itself on an annual basis: we begin the birth of the Messiah and then through a season called Epiphany and then we move into Lent and Holy Week with focus on Good Friday and Easter, and then we head for Pentecost and the rest of the year is called Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is designed to focus on various elements of the Christian faith and mission. Lent prepares us for the gospel events — the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.

How do you prepare for Lent? Or how will you prepare for Lent? Or, from another angle, why do you not prepare for Lent?

Well, some will say, the NT doesn’t teach a church calendar and so there’s no need for it. To which I (really not “I” but the Church) say, “Hold on, dear friend.” God so ordained Israel’s life so that it would re-live and embody the great saving events in God’s relationship with Israel. So, let’s begin right there: God evidently really does care to institutionalize saving events into a calendrical form. The Christians, from very, very early, wisely restructured the calendar to be shaped by the saving events in the life of Jesus. (And I don’t say this to snub my messianic friends who are Jewish. I see no reason why we can’t combine the Christian calendar with Israel’s calendar.)

So, if we are going to fast, let’s fast.

Fascinating Article by Scot McKnight…for those of you who love Biblical “trivia”

Dr. Scot McKnight, Professor and prolific blogger, notes today in his most recent posts that there good reason to suspect that when Acts tells us that there were 1000’s of baptisms that occurred on the day of Pentecost, that they most likely took place in the “mikvahs” in Jerusalem.  For those of you who love to explore some of the “details” of the Bible, here’s some interesting reading:

3000 Baptisms: But Where in Jerusalem?  By Scot McKnight

We suggest they were baptized in mikvahs south of the temple.

One of the fascinating new scenarios our tour guide (Yoni Gerrish) brought to light concerned where the Christians were on the Day of Pentecost and where the baptisms could have occurred when 3000 suddenly were in need of baptism.

It takes a lot of water, or at least time, to baptize that many.

From Acts 2:29-42

“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being, therefore, exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’ Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

How can you baptize 3000 in Jerusalem in one day? Water is scarce in most of Israel, especially in the Jordan Valley. The nearly perfected approach was cisterns that collected water through a series of small paths or channels, but it is only very remotely possible the first Christians were baptized in a cistern.

So, how was is possible to baptize so many? I see three possibilities: (1) in the Pool of Siloam at the bottom of the City of David (see picture at bottom), (2) in the pool of Bethesda on the north side of the temple, or (3) in ritual immersion pools called “mikveh” (singular) or “mikva’ot” (plural).

On this photo (below): I took this of a picture on wall next to the pool Siloam (blue pool at bottom) but the picture oddly is a mix of 1st-century walking path and the modern Muslim temple mount (mosque next to the southern wall and the Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome, closer to the northern edge). Kidron Valley is to right of the eastern wall, the Western Wall just to the right of the east-west wall in the middle of the temple area.


If you look at the map you can see a road from the bottom to the southern edge of the temple (it is the “cardo” and runs along the Western Wall into the area at the top of the temple mount).

Along that path from Siloam to the temple, and especially along the southern slope of the temple, were as many as 500 mikva’ot.

The picture (below) of a mikveh is one I took three years ago at Qumran. You can see the steps down into the immersion pool so the person could immerse herself/himself. Such mikva’ot were often next to an “unstepped” pool filled with water, which could help create running water from one to the other.


Where did they baptize? Yes, it is very reasonable to think they were baptized in these already-existing and already-about-purity mikva’ot. If you would like to read a solid explanation of the mikva’ot, see E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, 364-378.

Some 500 mikva’ot means it would not have been difficult to find water for all 3000.

Who baptized them? One can guess that it was (1) Peter and John and the apostles, (2) the apostles and other leaders, or (which is likely) (3) they self-administered their baptism with their own confessions (self-administration was how mikveh immersions occurred). What about the babies? (That’s another discussion.)

Where was Peter preaching? Perhaps in that very area, too. Perhaps he was preaching to folks as they were ascending to the temple.

Why go to Church? Best reasons why!

3Last Sunday, I was looking out on the “crowd” at both of our faith communities…I was praying for our journey in faith together as well as the mission that Jesus has given us all to serve, love and share the good news of His kingdom. As I was thinking about you and praying for you, I thought I would quickly give you encouragement on WHY you should consider worship participation weekly one of your highest, personal priorities. In spite of all that goes on in ALL of our lives, there really are good reasons for you to be at worship weekly:
So, what are good reasons for you to go to church?
First of all, start with the absolute right reason – the briefest reason – and at very least, the right biblical reason:
God has showered his creation with His unconditional love – we are made by His own hand – we are his masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) and because of that truth, you and I want to respond to that gift by praising Him, learning more about Him, and by surrounding myself with people who will encourage one another in our walk with Him.
Sounds good huh? If that’s true for you, and I imagine it is at least in part, that’s a great reason!
Reason number one on WHY to worship regularly in our faith community is this – the only appropriate response to the gift of life is worship. Do you know what that means? Worship is an acknowledgment that what we have in life, all of it is a gift! And because of that, God is WORTHY to be praised! God is worthy to be praised because of the gift of mercy, grace, forgiveness, breath, health, family, friends…list goes on and on.
The second best reason for you to be at worship has to do with your spiritual journey. For some reason that we can only attribute to God, you realize in the depth of your gut somehow that HOW you are believing is not complete and that you are on a journey. You realize, like I do, that you are not perfect and you need to be at worship so that God can remind you of that fact and draw you to Himself in love.
Friends – this is how it is:
We journey through life…daily life…24 hours….we live, work, sleep, eat, do our jobs around the house. We discuss, we relax, we do our daily stuff and we do it day after day after day. We just go about our daily life and work. We wake up to a dog eat dog world with growing dis-ease and unhappiness and loneliness and stress. Yet over time, the truly honest and reflective among us start to wonder that there has got to be MORE to life than anxiety, doing stuff, making money, etc. Sooner or later every person comes face to face with a question – “is that all there is?”
Some refuse to go “there” or flippantly blow past that question in their pursuit to master reality or at least be the master of their OWN reality (which they will never do). But most of us would intuitively say, “NO – there’s got to be more.” For most, if not all of us, we know that there’s got to be more because when we’re doing other, less mundane activities – resting, dreaming, painting, making music, telling stories or simply playing, something inside of us comes alive.
I bet you don’t know this but scientists are telling us these days that there are inexplainable realities of human existence that are hard-wired into our sense of being. They are saying that there is meaning beyond the mundane and daily existence that we all live. Could it be that God has hard-wired for a spiritual journey? I believe so! That something inside of us, what the Bible calls our spirit/heart, betrays our narcissism and our belief in a “reality only” world. Our spirit, our heart gives us another world to investigate, explore and to live in because there is more to life than just what we see on a daily existence level. What is kind of amazing (at least this is my guess) is that most of our neighbors think that we go to church because we believe in something. For many of us that is true…I believe in things – you do too. BUT what many of our neighbors DON’T know is that in our church gatherings, we stand on and rely most of the time on just the opposite – we adhere to and hold on to the fact that being together, praying, reading, singing, opening ourselves up to the Mystery of God’s presence and love shapes what we believe. Participating in church leads to believing; practicing our faith bolsters our faith; the rituals of our faith change what the world means and how we live in it. Our trust in Jesus creates new worlds and those worlds alter the everyday world.
Although we share everyday life with many people whose story is mostly based on fear, limitation, and scarcity, Jesus reminds us that a person living fully in God has few fears. To be “in Christ” means to experience a kind of freedom from the tyranny of our ego or other’s egos. To be “in Christ” means more fully becoming the children of God that we were created to be. To be “in Christ” affirms our baby steps through life as a journey of discovery of more and more of who God is and can be in this life. It is providing us each and together with a sense of security in insecure times and giving us a sense of freedom that can’t be given to us by any other means but Jesus.
What are we doing in worship? We are sorting through our mixed motives and mysterious desires. We are learning God’s story again. We freely admit we are on a journey together and that we need each other, we need community in order to experience the world the way that God created it to be experienced. We are returning home so that we can go with power into the everyday world.
The third and final reason (at least for this letter of encouragement) we go to church because it is our CHOICE – we are proactively shaping our lives by acting on a God-sized vision of who God is creating us to be.
A number of years ago, a good friend put a book into my hands that addressed how our lives are formed in a positive, healthy manner. The book said, “we all need to A.C.T.”
ACT – Awareness, Create a vision, Take Action on that vision
Every week at church – that’s exactly what we do. Biblically, our confession is our awareness that we are broken. It is our sharing in public that we need healing…that we need love and we need Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we have received a Godly vision, one given to us by God to “love God, love others, live like Jesus.” We want to make life complicated, but Jesus doesn’t. He has a vision of grace that He gives to us …a gift of forgiveness offered freely for the receiving. That’s what we do regularly in worship. But more than that, we challenge each other to understand (and own) that God empowers us through His Spirit to act on that vision. You see friends, faith is a gift given to us by the Holy Spirit so that we can take steps of belief. We are, in many respects, just like the apostle Peter walking on water – we are always beckoned by Jesus to take our steps out of the boat of security. Friends, faith is a gift of God but it is also an act of the will, That’s why it is an act of the will to attend church so that we can continue to have that faith explored, nurtured, and strengthened.
The closest friends that Jesus had were the most doubtful, fallen, confused bunch of dudes that you could ever imagine. We can easily come to the conclusion in reading the Bible that absolute adherence is NOT the gospel way. Faith working itself out in love – faith and action – taking steps out of the boat side by side – sinking and being raised again – growing in our trust of Jesus with each other – learning His will, His truth, and His ways – that’s what we do in worship together.
Think about this as I close this note of encouragement – faith – there is a cognitive aspect to it but it is not PURELY or dependent upon the intellect. That is why we have things we call the Sacraments – because the mysteries of God pull us into another reality. Jesus is present in Communion? Really? How? Well, we really don’t know…but we know by virtue of His promises that He is and because of that, we know He is calling us, just as He did with Peter, to take steps together out of the boat and into the swirling seas of life, depending on nothing more than His presence and promises.
Here’s where I want to end because I don’t want you to EVER DOUBT what I am all about when it comes to why I do what I do. I want to do life in Jesus with people. I want to do what I just have been talking about – taking steps of faith, responding to God’s amazing grace and love. And I especially want to act on this vision – I want to create with you a space for ALL people to contemplate God and their lives, to explore the love of God and the need they have for love in their hearts, to consider God and their pain in a space of freedom and acceptance and then to journey together to encourage others to do the same. We need to be building rooms for people to explore the journey of faith. We need to be building a faith community where we give people space to NOT be certain but to figure things out in the presence and grace of Jesus Christ and in the company of the Holy Spirit. We need to be building a faith community that is dedicated to telling the “old, old story – of Jesus and His love.”
You may not be able to fully articulate it – but you should be drawn to weekly worship! Yeah, you could download a sermon, listen to podcast, and get together with people to share life. Jesus did say, “where two or more are gathered, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18). But you know, deep in your heart, that of which the Spirit of God has been convincing you, true living and true meaning and true belonging is not passive. True belonging isn’t about fitting in or selling out but rather it is a practice that is open, vulnerable, at times uncomfortable, where you are learning how to be present with Jesus and other people.
Friends, never doubt this – Church attendance isn’t about cowardliness and it is never a crutch – it is rather a HUGE act of courage. Yes, courage where you are choosing what is right and meaningful over what is easy or convenient or that which only brings pleasure to your senses. Jesus followers want to be in a place regularly and enthusiastically where you are a partner in creating safe spaces for people to explore abundant life in Jesus and to do life together in Jesus. That’s why I pray you make a commitment to weekly worship! That’s why I pray we will be encouragers of people to join our journey. For to convert them, that’s Jesus’ job. But we can walk with them in discovering more and more of the life that God intends for ALL of us to experience.
Where will you be THIS Sunday?
Sincerely shared with you in love…