I laid a challenge before the congregation this past Sunday after hearing my wife teach from the book of Nehemiah. She preached a timely word and Holy Spirit was speaking to me a lot during it. After she was done, I challenged the people to what I’m now calling an Inverse (or Nehemiah) fast. Before I say more, let me quote the passage Dani taught from:
They (Ezra and the Levites) read from the Book of the Law of God, making it plain and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of The Lord is your strength.’
In this text, Nehemiah and Ezra gather the Jewish remnant who were freed from captivity and are now rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple. Ezra opens the Book of the Law and begins reading and great conviction falls upon the people as they hear God’s standard for their lives and realize just how far they’ve fallen short. That seems completely natural, doesn’t it? Conviction, repentance and grief are natural responses when we discover just how sinful and rebellious we have been. But God desires something else.
God, through Nehemiah, commands the people to knock it off – to stop mourning and grieving and repenting for it was a holy day in God’s sight. Nehemiah commands the people to do the exact opposite of their feelings and culture – he commands them to feast and celebrate and party for an entire week! It was only after this time of celebration that they gathered together for a solemn assembly to confess their sins and show their repentance. But what gave them the ability to repent so whole-heartedly was the time they had spent celebrating the goodness and kindness of God. It was His joy at their return that enabled them to make the necessary changes in their lives in order to live in accordance with the Law. How beautiful is that?
It is just like God to flip things on their head. The King of the upside-down, inside-out Kingdom loves to take us outside of ourselves and into His Reality. And what I felt He was speaking to me was this – Lent is “traditionally” the time when we as the church enter into a time of fasting, confession and repentance. We spend 40 days (46 actually) in supposedly strict discipline in order to identify with Jesus’ trials and temptations in the wilderness. We then break our fast on Easter morning with a huge celebration. And before Lent, on Fat Tuesday, we’re supposed to gorge ourselves on all the stuff we can’t have during Lent and that is supposed to “see us through,” and give us the resolve we need to make it those 40 days. I’m going to call baloney here.
Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, has become a worldly spectacle. There is more drunkenness, loose sexuality and rebellion on this day than I care to imagine. What was supposed to be a beautiful picture of the Lord’s joy in His people has been turned into a day of debauchery. What was supposed to be 40 days of purification and separation to The Lord has become an excuse to try out the latest fad diet. The rituals and traditions of the Church have been corrupted by the world and it’s time to take it back through spiritual violence. And when I say spiritual violence I mean a day of fasting followed by a 40 day festival of joy where we eat real, good food, invite our friends over more and generally try to celebrate one another and enter into the joy of The Lord.
So my challenge is this: fast today, Fat Tuesday, and repent, on behalf of our nation, for what it has become. Then, starting tomorrow and ending on March 29, don’t stop dancing, singing and celebrating The Lord. Where others are going through the motions of religious discipline, call their bluff. Religion benefits no one, love benefits all. Then, on March 29, Good Friday, we are going to gather together for a solemn assembly. I can think of no better time to confess, repent and re-up than on the day we remember Jesus’ betrayal, torture and crucifixion. We’ll fast on Saturday and have a blow out party on Easter to celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death and our hope for everlasting life. Sound like a plan? Good. I’m looking forward to dancing with you before The Lord and entering into His enjoyment of us.
Leave a comment if you think of any fun things we can do during this time to help us celebrate more fully. Thanks!