Jesus Only

“One of the first things we learn in experiences of fasting is how it reveals what controls us. You see, we cover up with food and other good things what is inside of us, but in experiences of fasting these come to the surface.”

Good morning. Today is Thursday, the third of March, 2022, in the season of Lent.

May the peace of Christ rain down on you today.

Day 23,366

I’m a little behind, this morning, apparently. It is almost 10:00 AM, and I’m just starting this thing. I actually slept until almost 8:00, this morning, which was nice. And I slept much better than the night before. I still had, typically, a couple of long awake stretches, though.

As soon as I finish this, I’ll be heading to Mineral Wells to bring Mama back here for an extended stay. We don’t know how long. That is TBD.

My first day of Lent went pretty well. I had no candy. I even resisted some Oreo cookies at work, but that’s not candy. I had some ice cream at home, that had chocolate flakes in it, but that doesn’t count as candy. Candy = M&Ms, Reeses, Heath bars, and so on. Pieces of chocolate in ice cream is not candy. As for the criticism, I did pretty well. I forgot myself for a few minutes, during a conversation with C, but was able to acknowledge what had happened and stop. (I was not criticizing her, by the way.) And I resisted talking about a scenario or two at work that would have resulted in me being critical or judgmental. So that’s good.

What needs to happen, though, in order for this “fast” to be effective, is that, when I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me . . .

Oops. Sorry. My fingers just took off on their own.

When I find myself being tempted or craving candy, or when critical thoughts pop into my brain and threaten to come out my mouth, I need to stop and be thankful for something; to consider my blessings and be grateful. The idea is to divert the temptation or craving or thought into something positive.

Enough of that, let’s get on with the devotional.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of GOD for the rest of my life.
(Psalms 23:6 MSG)

Today I am grateful:

1. for a good night's rest and a day off work; praying for a safe trip to Mineral Wells
2. that circumstances have worked out the way they have, so that I/we can do things for Mama
3. for the spiritual benefits of fasting, both from certain types of food, and from other things, like being critical
4. for the beauty and love of the Lord that chase after me every day of my life
5. that I am chosen to be one of God's children, and that is totally by His good pleasure, not for anything that I did to deserve it

I’m going to share Richard Foster’s reflections on the writing of Catherin Marshall on fasting.

“The central idea in fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity. Now, when we understand fasting from this perspective we see its reasonableness as well as its broader dimensions. The Catherine Marshall reading helps us see these broader dimensions by teaching us about a way of fasting that is not from food but from a critical spirit. Then as she chronicles her day we see the intense spiritual activity she enters, especially as it relates to the young man for whom she was praying.

“One of the first things we learn in experiences of fasting is how it reveals what controls us. You see, we cover up with food and other good things what is inside of us, but in experiences of fasting these come to the surface. Did you notice how true this was in Catherine Marshall’s experiment? She learned how dependent she was on criticism even to feel like a whole person and how utterly bankrupt her critical insights were at creating positive change in anyone or anything. She saw what was controlling her, and this released her to begin moving in a new direction, a direction free from a critical spirit. The same will be true for you and me.”

Two major points I see here. First is the idea that we find out what controls us when we embark on a fast. This is so true. What is harder for me? To not eat candy (difficult) or to not be judgmental (virtually impossible)? So what is it that controls me? Not so much the desire for sweet treats. I have proved before that I can squelch this. But this need to judge people . . . does it make me feel superior? I have prayed desperately that this is not the case. I have no desire whatsoever to feel superior to anyone.

Or do I? That is the big question, isn’t it?

The second major point involves the lack of ability to create positive change. Being judgmental or critical, especially in a negative way (judgment is rarely if ever positive, where criticism can be), I think it is safe to say, never creates any kind of change. One only has to look at social media for a few minutes to see that. Many opinions being forcefully stated, and no minds being changed, largely because both sides of any given issue insist that they are the only ones with any brains.

So this is where I find myself today, with a “promise” to God to try to eliminate candy from my diet for forty days, and to try to not be judgmental for forty days (that one I would prefer to be a permanent change).

The suggested activities and/or questions in the chapter involve enlarging one’s ideas about fasting. This is something that I have already accomplished, as evidenced by the two things I am fasting from for Lent. But I didn’t always think like that. Up until about a decade ago, fasting only involved food, in my mind. But if one is considering embarking on a fast, there are different types and lengths and concepts.

One suggestion is to consider a fast from criticalness for one day. Well, you can see that I’ve already gone beyond that one, looking for a complete life change in that regard.

But here is one that I find intriguing, and worthy of contemplation. “Pray over a particular personality trait of yours, one from which you would like to ‘fast,’ and consider writing in your journal about it. Express your struggle as a dialogue between you and the Lord.”

One such personality trait that I might find myself praying over is my tendency to be late, like I am this morning. Granted, I have no scheduled “appointment,” but I did have a self-imposed goal for leaving the house, and it looks like I may not make it.

(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

Jesus Christ is “the centerpiece of everything we believe” (Hebrews 3:1 The Message). “Our main and central task is to live in responsive obedience to God’s action revealed in Jesus. Our part in the action is the act of faith.”

But we tend to become “self-important along the way and decide to improve matters with our two cents’ worth.” This results in “Jesus-and” theology. When I was in college, we defined a cult as anything that added to Jesus. In other words, anything that produced “Jesus-and” thinking.

Sad to say, if we went by that definition today, almost every major “Christian” group would be classified as a cult, because very few of them are “Jesus only.”

In the book of Hebrews, according to Eugene H. Peterson, it was “Jesus-and-angels, or Jesus-and-Moses, or Jesus-and-priesthood.” Today, he says, “it is more likely to be Jesus-and-politics, or Jesus-and-education, or even Jesus-and-Buddha.”

But the unknown writer of Hebrews warns us:

Don’t be lured away from him by the latest speculations about him. The grace of Christ is the only good ground for life. Products named after Christ don’t seem to do much for those who buy them.
(Hebrews 13:9 MSG)

And, perhaps more importantly:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.
(Hebrews 12:2 MSG)

“When we do that, the focus becomes clear and sharp again: God’s action in Jesus. And we are free once more for the act of faith, the one human action in which we don’t get in the way but on the Way.”

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
(Hebrews 4:14-16 MSG)

(From Symphony of Salvation, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Still, when I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache . . . Until I entered the sanctuary of God. Then I saw the whole picture:
(Psalms 73:16-17 MSG)

How often have we struggled through a week’s events (or two years??), feeling defeated and, sometimes, useless. But then, we enter into that sanctuary, that place, whether it be a huge cathedral, a tiny church building, or a house, where God’s people gather, and it all comes together. “Fellowship occurs. Stability returns. The Lord is near. And I am blessed.”

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of GOD for the rest of my life.
(Psalms 23:6 MSG)

I’m asking GOD for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.
(Psalms 27:4 MSG)

(From Daily Guideposts 2022)

Today’s prayer word is “chosen.” It’s a dangerous word, true. We can get a little caught up in the pride of being “chosen.” It happened to Israel, right?

Tim Hughes, English songwriter and worship leader, is quoted as saying, “But at the heart of the gospel is this truth, we are called and chosen by God to join in with the dance of the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

For many years, now, I have loved the idea of our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being described as a “dance.” As stated by a writer known only as “Heidi,” “My part in this dance of faith is small, but important. Without me, God’s song would be incomplete. He chose me specifically for the part I play, and I’m honored.”

Yes, we are chosen. Whether this indicates predestination or not is not the topic of today’s devotional. But we are chosen by God to be His people. And He “needs” (that’s in quotation marks because God truly “needs” nothing) every one of us . . . okay, I’m going to change that. He requires every one of us for the picture to be complete. That’s why it takes all kinds of people to be the Church. That’s why we are so diverse.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, remind us, today, that we are chosen. Help us to remember this when we pray, not to produce pride, and make us think we deserve something. Rather, the truth should humble us and give us humility and grace in in our prayers. The idea that I am chosen for Your Kingdom makes me more humble and creates a greater gratitude within me, especially when I know that this choosing had nothing to do with anything that I possibly could have done to deserve it!

Help me in this fast, Father, to accomplish the purpose that You desire. Remind me, when I really want a piece of candy, to be grateful for something else in my life, or to pray for someone who needs prayer. Stop me when I’m about to be critical and give me something to praise about, instead. Help me to find positive things to say to and about people. Yes, even those people.

Lord, forgive us when we add things to Your great grace and action in Jesus. Please teach us and remind us that our faith involves Jesus only, not Jesus-and-anything. Remind us that, anytime we add anything, we “dilute the purity, clutter the simplicity” of Jesus and Your grace.

And thank You for Your Church, with whom I can always gather to help me figure things out and bring my focus back to what is important.

All of this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Everything comes from him; 
Everything happens through him; 
Everything ends up in him. 
Always glory! 
Always praise! 
Yes. Yes. Yes. 
(Romans 11:36 MSG)

Grace and peace, friends.