August 20 Letter From Chairman and President
August 20, 2010
Dear Fellow Elders and All Brethren,
As chairman and president, we want to write to you today regarding our Church-wide fast on Aug. 21 or 22, for the purpose of seeking God’s will in our lives and in His Church.
Romans 12:1-2 presents a strong framework for seeking the will of God. Let’s review how the New International Version renders this passage:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
In His great mercy, God sent His only begotten Son as payment once and for all for our many sins and shortcomings. In the hours leading up to Christ’s suffering and death, He possessed the power to endure the agony He was about to face. He yielded in obedience to God’s plan for us, praying “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42, emphasis added throughout).
Christ set us the example, which is reflected in Paul’s urgent direction. Just as Christ did, we are to offer ourselves as “living sacrifices.” To sacrifice means to completely give over and give up something of great value. In this case, our living sacrifice represents our minds, our hearts and our actions. Do we do this daily? Do we bring our thoughts and wills into the subjection of God?
Our thoughts are the place of origin for all of our words and deeds. What do we think about? In offering ourselves as “living sacrifices,” are our thoughts without blemish, free of resentment, fear and self-centeredness? That leads us to the next point.
Paul writes under inspiration that we are to “be transformed” (verse 2). The Greek word used here is the same verb that is used in describing Christ’s awe-inspiring transfiguration in Matthew 17:2. There Jesus was “transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light.” The Greek word here for transfigured is transliterated as “metamorphoo,” which is a root word for our modern word metamorphosis.
By using the same verb, the Bible dramatically illustrates just how complete our transformation is to be. The bar is obviously very high and unattainable except through God’s mercy and strength.
Yet a complete and utter commitment to this level of transformation is exactly what is required to “test and approve what God’s will is” (Romans 12:2, NIV).
We are to utterly reject the patterns of thought and behavior of this present world, which happens as a result of the daily “renewing” of our minds. This occurs through focused Bible study, meditation and reflection on what God shows us in His Word, putting into action what we hear in sermons and sermonettes, and, of course, intense prayer for the strength, commitment and wisdom to achieve real change.
We know from the Bible “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Through the physical and somewhat unpleasant weakness resulting from fasting, we are directly reminded of just how dependent we are on God. Just as we must have daily physical nourishment and refreshment to continue to live our physical lives, so must we have spiritual nourishment and refreshment to achieve our ultimate goal of entering the Kingdom of God.
In using fasting as a way to discern and act on God’s will, we have virtually an entire chapter in Isaiah to help us. In chapter 58 of Isaiah, we learn what an acceptable fast is and why some fasts seem to have no effect on our daily lives, while others do.
Jesus Himself warned of the dangers of fasting to appear self-righteous, and the prophet Isaiah was inspired to warn that if we are fasting to “get our way” or somehow convince God to act in a certain manner, physical fasting is of little or no value (Isaiah 58:4-5). A fast that is focused on seeking God and yielding to His will has the opposite effect: We find new ways to serve, to individually reflect God’s love through action and to express real love one for another (Isaiah 58:6-7). As verse 9 points out, a fast that results in us changing our behavior is a fast that produces good fruit.
A real and lasting change in our behavior and a change in how we think represent the key goals of any spiritual fast. Paul makes these goals clear in Ephesians 4:22-24. He tells us to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt…and be renewed in the spirit of your mind…that you put on the new man which was created according to God.” A true spiritual fast will result in us “forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (verse 32).
The more we in the Church are attuned to God—the more we are aligned with His will—the more we will be blessed and the more we will personally experience the awe-inspiring miraculous power of God.
In Revelation 2 and 3 we read accounts of seven churches that existed in western Turkey during the first century. There were, of course, many other congregations of the true Church of God scattered around the Mediterranean and in the Roman Empire at the time, but God chose to profile the good and bad points of these seven churches. We understand that the attitudes, achievements and challenges faced by these congregations present messages to the Church throughout the years and centuries leading up to the return of Jesus Christ. According to these accounts, which will make for good reading in this current fast, many lessons—even stretching from Old Testament times in the form of the sin of Balaam (Revelation 2:14)—have yet to be fully learned throughout the present human age.
But there is supreme hope for us as we read these passages. We are directed to overcome our human nature and our challenges through the direct help available through Jesus Christ, our soon-coming King and Elder Brother. Through the reconciling sacrifice of Christ, who as Head of this Church is responsible for seeing to our spiritual needs, we have direct access to God the Father and the energizing power of the Holy Spirit.
As we fast, do we realize that through overcoming—surrendering our wills to God’s—we are actively engaged in preparing ourselves to serve and rule under Christ for all eternity?
During this—or any—spiritual fast, we do so that we may “seek the Lord while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6). As this familiar passage goes on in chapter 55, God reminds us that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (verse 8). Through transformation and the renewing of our minds, a miracle can happen. We can become more like God, and we can begin to think God’s thoughts instead of ours. When we actively forsake the ways of the world and thoughts stemming from unrighteousness, returning to the principles that we know from the Bible, then we see that we will again receive mercy, and through Christ’s sacrifice, God “will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
Romans 12 warns us that the knowledge of God’s will can be obscured if we begin to think of ourselves too highly (verse 3), that we can begin—even after years within the Church of God—to become filled with pride. As Paul states in verses 6 to 8, we all have gifts from God, and we are all expected to use those gifts to achieve the will and purpose of God.
The physical weakness of fasting helps us adopt and sustain a spirit of godly humility. Being filled with a spirit of humility doesn’t mean that we rip ourselves to shreds emotionally. It means that we are “right-sized,” even as Job realized his physical and spiritual position in Job 38. He was nothing in comparison to God, and God used an unrelenting trial to smash the harmful attitude of self-righteousness that compromised Job’s relationship with God. Fasting can help us achieve a right attitude and a spiritual readjustment without going through a serious physical or mental trial. We will likely feel deep remorse, even revulsion, once we better understand the magnitude of our sins, but that is soon replaced by serenity, then joy, when the eyes of our understanding are enlightened and opened to know God better (Ephesians 1:18).
As Galatians 5:16-26 shows, our spiritual state is openly reflected in how we act. If we truly transform our minds and hearts and give ourselves daily as living sacrifices, then that transformation will be reflected throughout the Church.
As Paul writes in Romans 12, each of us has a role to play in the Church. Each of us has a role to play in preaching the gospel and preparing a people. When we embrace those roles in a renewed spiritual relationship—evidenced by real change in the form of active love and good deeds—then the Church as a collective body can be healed and filled anew with God’s precious Spirit. It is then that strife and anguish can be overcome with love and a transformed godly focus will dominate each and every thing that we do. We do not seek to “fix” an organization through fasting. We seek to restore and improve our personal relationship with God. If we do that, other things will take care of themselves.
We are to look to God through Christ for healing and restoration. The opportunity for our personal reconciliation with God is before us.
Through this and every fast, through daily prayer and yielding to God, may you individually and the Church collectively be blessed as we seek God’s will and His Kingdom first in our lives!
Melvin Rhodes, chairman — Dennis Luker, president