more about this sight

"you're packing a suitcase for a place that you've never been...a place that has to be believed to be seen"...'Walk On' by U2

WATERSHED: A voice in the wilderness. DARYL UNDERWOOD.

 

The concept of Centerpoint Christianity briefly stated is:

Christianity from the centerpoint outward.

Christianity from the climax forward.

This blog constitutes concepts for a new view of Christianity that begins with what is foundational and moves forward from that point. It is based on the assumption that we are being pulled towards something unseen and pushed from a place that once was.

What Centerpoint Christianity attempts to do is bypass some of the constraints imposed by metanarratives by using the life of Christ and particularly the climactic actions of Christ as beginning points.

It supports the conviction that God is essentially timeless. From this beginning point we endeavor to move outward from the definitive moment of the parousia (visitation) of Christ and forward to the future which functions as a type of magnet to "what can be--and is coming".

When we begin at the life of Christ and move outward as from the centerpoint of a web, rather than in a linear timeline of history, another wide picture emerges.


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Monday
Nov292010

fasting...what's the point

This morning in church the pastor spoke about fasting which got me to thinking. What is the point of fasting anyway? I mean 'what is the spiritual reasons for a fast?' It seems we are adept at considering what I might term 'personal reasons of piety' for fasting, that is, what can it do for me or my own personal spirituality, but miss entirely the key point of the fast that God seeks.

Fasting is not so much about spiritual discipline in my own personal walk with God as it is an act which causes us to consider what our 'how then shall we live' life is in relation to God's dream, hope, and desire. Fasting is designed to shake us from apathy and drive us to empathy and ultimately compassion towards those who have less or in some cases 'nothing'.

The key passage which is foundational to this topic is Isaiah 58. The background is simple. The ones who have power are being called to 'govern' in a generous manner. Whenever we in the West hear the word govern we think of government or politics. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, it is exactly what God is referring to when he proclaims that the Messiah 'will have the government on His shoulders'. To govern is to rule, to lead, to have sway. There is, in the heart of God, no separation between church and state in the way we have prescribed. Government is a spiritual matter that we all must be aware of. How we govern, or reign and rule, is important to God.

These affairs are significant because they call out the best and the worst in us. When we have power or control over others we are responsible to govern with a soft heart. The term soft heart is in contrast to a callous or hard heart. A hard heart is a resistant heart or an arrogant heart. One might recall the description of Pharaoh in the Old Testament. This time of year one might think of the Ebenezer Scrooge character before and after. He is hard the night before Christmas but when faced with the experiences of the long night arises again on Christmas day soft and generous. He uses his influence and resource to reach out to others.

Many times we are tempted to govern in a way that mostly benefits us first. We consider what is best for 'me' and then consider what is good for others. Unfortunately, the others are often left with the scraps or perhaps the proverbial 'crumbs from the table'. When we do this we are 'in the wrong', our actions are crooked (which is an accurate description for sin) and need(s) to be made straight. This is the backdrop for God's address through the prophet of protest in Isaiah 58. The people are religious but they are not soft. They do not 'wear' compassion. The are not 'clothed in righteousness' but are cold to the plight of others amongst them who are in want.

While the entire chapter is instructive the key verse answers the question: What is God desiring from the fast?

"Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (Isaiah 58:7)

What God is looking for is the malleable heart. The soft heart. I have noticed that most people are relatively unaware of how something 'feels' until they experience it and have to deal with it personally. In ministry, for example, I have met many people, parents often, who were at one time quite harsh on homosexuality. They often alter their view or heart when they experience a loved one, perhaps a son or daughter, who through tears and deep chagrin confess to mom and dad they are homosexual. As the parents struggle through this new thing in their life the pain often softens their heart. They become less judgmental and more compassionate to the plight of homosexuality because it has lit on their own doorstep. It has become to them a personal matter rather than simply a 'moral issue'. The same can be said of a person who has a family member who has been victimized by cancer or racial prejudice or job discrimination or any of a plethora of maladies in society. They are in the words of Jack Dawson on the deck of the Titanic 'involved now' because it has come to touch their own personal space. They are more apt to care about these issues and become active in these causes. Prior to the experience they may never have given these issues much more that passing attention.

The 'fast' which God initiates works in a similar way. When we fast we become acutely aware of what it feels like to 'not have'. It doesn't take a leap for us to begin to have empathy (which ultimately should lead to compassion) on those who may live in a state of 'not having'. It is what Jesus had on His mind when he said the people are like 'sheep without a shepherd'.  That is to say, people who are not cared for by their caretaker, a condition or plight which moved him to compassion. If we are Christian it should move us as well.

The 'fast' is intended to remind those who have to be reminded or mindful (that is having it on your mind rather than distant from your thoughts) of others' plight. Often the plight of the sheep are a direct result of the actions of the shepherd. In other words the condition of the 'have nots' is sometimes actually caused or at the least influenced by the personal wealth of the 'haves'. The fast implores us to consider not having so much so that others might have just enough.

It was Dr. Charles Birch who once said, "The rich must live more simply that the poor may simply live."

Perhaps we should keep this in mind the next time we are tempted to build a new church with all the bells and whistles while others barely have food to put on the table assuming they even have a table at all. Perhaps we should consider this when we are looking for a church with the slick programs and paid staff when our neighbor is being foreclosed on just down the street. Perhaps we should stop supporting this notion that we have to have the 'biggest and best' church and continue to support that 'crooked' thinking with more cash in the coffers of the general budget or building fund at a time when so many are in want. Perhaps we should become as one voice the prophetic shout of the words of Isaiah 58. Perhaps we should stop hiding behind personal piety at the expense of community compassion.

Perhaps we need to hear this.

Fasting reminds us of bieng 'without'. When we don't have we know what it is like to 'have not'. And we need reminding in order to have compassion. This is no small matter for God and certainly central to understanding Jesus. In one of the few parables of judgement Jesus refers to the fast of Isaiah 58 and our participation in that 'fast'. It is found in Matthew 25 and is predictably not about my personal piety so much as it is about the malleable heart of care and compassion.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

   34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

   41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

   44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

   45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

   46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

 

Reader Comments (3)

Hey Daryl,

Ever since Cherith preached on Isaiah 58 last year I have been haunted by this passage. The particular section that has captured my heart starts at verse 8 "Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear;" It seems to me that it is actually good for the wealthy to share their possessions. My suspicion is that the wealthy (of whom I'm one statistically when compared to the world) can easily be possessed by our possessions and they can squeeze out our love for God and people. So giving creates space in my heart for God and others.

November 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn West

Daryl - great post. The child lept inside my womb as I read it (metaphor). Seriously, your life over the last couple years may not be easy (I know I sometimes long for the comfort I once felt), but I wonder about significance that lies hidden beyond the surface and even beyond our own ability to see it. My 30's were very difficult, at times seemed unbearable, but I like the person I have become, even though it hasn't come with money or security or respect even. I say this just to relate to your post, fasting is not always for a day or a week or a month. Sometimes we fast for years by making choices that are subversive to the dominant ideologies in our culture.

John - thanks for a good advent teaching on Sunday.

November 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJason Anderson

Jason,

You 'get it'...and have really good insight.It feels good to be understood. I really like this from your post: 'Sometimes we fast for years by making choices that are subversive to the dominant ideologies in our culture.'

This was a very well thought through statement. Thanks.

November 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdaryl underwood

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