Ruth Moon at Christianity Today has started a discussion on whether Christians should show affinity with Muslims and fast during Ramadan. (“Should Christians Fast During Ramadan With Muslims? ” – CT 26 Oct 09) 

Beyond the responses from the 10 church leaders contacted for their opinion, there is discussion on the topic in the blogosphere, as there is every year during this annual fast.  What should the proper response be?

The answer seems to be:  “It depends.”

Proponents of religious tolerance say we should make accomodation, especially for Eid, the celebration that ends Ramadan.  Some even offer an ecumenical solution, that we join with them as a sign of solidarity and frinedship, out of respect for their religion.

At the other end of the ideological spectrum, responses include:

  • Not in a western country. On the contrary, they should pretend to eat so as not to offend me.
  • Let’s fast when the Saudi’s do, which is 10pm – 6am our time.
  • No. This would indicate solidarity and some sort of compatibility with Christianity.
  • No. Christians should only observe Biblical fasts, such as Yom Kippur.

I come down somewhere in the middle, and always with a motivation qualifier.  What is the purpose of the fast, and are you strategic about it?

The Muslims I knew fasted out of duty, abstaining from food and tobacco and caffeine during the day, but partying hard at night.  Then they’d go to bed late and have an even harder time functioning at work the next morning, with no coffee or breakfast to ease the headache, and no cigarette to calm the nerves.  Fasting that way, as a ritual, is not effective.

But if you observe fasting the way the moderate Imams suggest, spending time reading the Scriptures, doing acts of kindness, etc, then it is appropriate to match them, so long as you either engage them in spiritual discussions on the meaning of the Quran, especially the person of Issa (Jesus), assurance of Paradise, and the need for personal peace.

If you are not near any Muslims, then take the time during Ramadan to fast and pray for missionaries that are, and that the work of the gospel not be hindered. 

Fasting for the sake of fasting is empty religion.  Fasting for the purpose of strengthening your prayers for the salvation of the Muslims is however a commendable goal.

 

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Everyone wants the secret to keeping their church vibrant and growing.  What one thing to add to their program that will amp up the return on time investment and send visitors crowding into the sanctuary?

Those whose congregations are dwindling will settle for a moment of triage to stop the bleeding, to stabilize the outflow of members and attract fresh members.

For both cases, one simple answer is to stop focusing on yourself.  Packing the pews or gaining a big donor is not the answer.  The answer lies in the geography of Israel.

There are two main lakes large enough to be called seas: Galilee and the Dead Sea.  The first is a vibrant body of water, with vital fishing and irrigation industry.  The second will not support life.  Both have an incoming source.  Only one has an exit.

What keeps Galilee productive is the constant outflow of water.    The outflow is not the result of water coming in; water leaving drops the level of the lake, creating an imbalance, an opening for new water to rush in from upstream to correct for the drop. 

What the church needs is a viable outflow.  Note I said viable.  This is spirit-filled activity that engages the congregation in ministry and evangelism in ways that expend physical, spiritual and financial energy, without having to sever membership ties. 

For some, it is taking on a social cause:  a soup kitchen, a thrift store, an after-school program, a kids’ athletic league.  While good to do, they will generally not achieve a level of spiritual return commensurate with the energy expended.  The Return on Investment isn’t strong enough.

I’d suggest more purely spiritual tasks.  If you want a spiritual – and not jsut social – return, you need a spiritual investment.  The easiest is prayer walking.  Walk through the neighborhood and pray for each household.  Go door to door and offer to pray about needs they might have. (Write the need down, but don’t leave without praying on the spot.)

Missions is also a good approach.  Adopt a missionary or unreached people group and commit to specific, focused prayers for a substantial time (daily for a month, weekly for a year, etc.)  Pray for spiritual victories, for salvation of the people, for protection of the missionary.  Make contact with a missions representative about the region and learn what to pray for, and then be super-specific.

In praying this way, you will model Jesus to them, the way His disciples asked to be taught to pray.  They will grow spiritually.  The congregation will grow in unity of purpose.  The church will develop spiritually mature leaders.  And the drop in available spiritual energy will allow God to refill the reservoir with fresh resources.

Thom Rainer, currently President of Lifeway, the Baptist resource publishing house, took time this week to reflect on how to be a better pastor.  He’s pastored 4 churches, and is a student of what makes a healthy church.

In the post titled If I Were a Pastor Again, Rainer lists five thing he would do differently:

  1. Pray more
  2. More time reading the Bible
  3. More time loving the critics than worrrying about what they said
  4. More time “hanging out” with church members
  5. More time getting to know the unchurched

These look like no-brainers, but we need to remind ourselves of the basics our the job from time to time.  We forget that “prayer is the work” instead of a prelude to the job.  We get so pressured to prepare the sermons and do the rest of the job that we forget to take time to read the Bible for our own benefit.

The other 3 points deal with our relationships with others.  We are to be shepherd of the church, not just the hired help to speak and administrate.  We are to have our ears open to the hurt behind the accusations (think of the kids who “act out” jsut to get attention).  And we need to know people to witness to, and lead our people by example.

This is not an all-inclusive list, of course, but it’s a good start.  As I’ve said before, you start where you are and move forward, no matter where that starting place happens to be.

(See the article here.)

The books of Edward McKendree Bounds remain the definitive sources for why and how to pray.  Of the hundreds of books about such a simple topic, his stand high and are effective not just for his home denomination (Methodism) but for all modern Christendom.

The Christian Classics Etherial Library has collected  his eight books on prayer in  one location, to be read on-line or purchased.  Here are the titles:

I commend them to you.

I attended a seminar today by Sam Nadler, who is President of Word of Messiah Ministries. He is in town to provide training to the leadership of B’nai Avraham Messianic Fellowship.

Sam explained 1 Timothy 3:5, which says a leader should manage his household well, because “if one does not know how to conduct his own house, how shall he take care of the assembly of God?”

This passage is not about being a good manager. It’s not even so much about disbarring a leader who’s kids turn against the faith. Sam says that’s looking at the problem backwards. Instead, he told us that we are to interpret the passage as “do at home what you do at church.”

Do you pray at church? Pray at home. Do you study the scriptures at church? Study them at home. Do you worship at church? Worship at home.

If you do not lead your family in the business of the Gospel at home, how will you lead the church in the business of the Gospel at church? If your family is not praying with you, providing testimony of your faith, who will?

And this is more than simple mealtime grace. It is fervent prayer. It’s prayer about the missional focus of your family. (your neighbors, your ethnicity, your chosen people group).

This is the kind of active prayer that caused four men to lower their sick friend through the roof.  It was the combined faith of all five that moved them to action, to bring their friend to Jesus, and that faith moved Jesus to heal the man.

Sam Nadler said that effective prayer moves us to action even as it creates action by God. What he actually said was “If your prayer doesn’t move your heart, why should it move God’s?”