Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The True Fast: Isaiah 58:6 - 7

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 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?”

Here the Lord shows His compassionate heart towards the poor, and says to us if we have the same heart towards them He will regard it as the fast that He has chosen. However this is not just to be words, but must be shown in sincere action. It begins with sharing with what we have ourselves, which involves a definite degree of personal unselfishness. But the Lord’s observation of the attitudes of our hearts goes deeper than that:

Often we help people at our own economic level or higher, because we think, mostly subconsciously, that later when we are battling, they will help us back. It can be a kind of insurance policy for a rainy day. But when we share what we have with the very poor, we know that they cannot pay us back, and this is the unselfish heart that the Lord loves. It emulates the love of His Son, and conforms to the new commandment he gave us in John 13: 34, “…that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you are to love one another.”

If selfishness and pride compose the root cause of all the consequences and suffering from sin in the world, then surely the antidote is found in the humility and unselfishness of Christ, expressed by His people on earth. This is the heart attitude in God’s people that He will use to break the yokes of oppression and injustice.

Value 3: Valued Children

Children are a gift and blessing from God. Jesus showed that children are significant people in God’s sight. They should be treated as valued members of the family. This includes girl children as much as boy children. Parents are responsible to bring their children up to know and love the Lord. Both father and mother should be active in this vital task God’s heart is for the hearts of fathers to be turned towards their children. God who is THE Father is the model and example for all parents. However, if a couple is not able to have children their marriage is complete in God’s sight and should be accepted as such in church and society.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The False Fast: Isaiah 58:5

Isaiah 58:5 “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”

The Lord here questions our approach and attitude in what we call a fast. God tells us that He is not so much looking at our outer actions when we fast, but at what is going on in our hearts. The crucial message that the Lord is teaching us in this passage, is that the Lord will not hear us or respond to our prayers if we fast and pray with a selfish heart. This is so serious that it is important for us to try and understand more about this unacceptable fast:

The Lord has abhorrence for all sin, and particularly towards selfishness. Selfishness epitomises all sin and Billy Graham has said that covetousness or selfishness is the root of all sin. Selfishness is the root of the pride and self-elevation that caused Lucifer/Satan to fall from heaven, and is the same root of the temptation he then brought before Eve and Adam in the garden, which then caused the fall of man. This selfishness is the root of the rebellion that He wants His prophets to shout out so loudly to His people.

If we do a root cause analysis for all the immorality, crime, corruption, violence, wars in this world, and try to find the foundational cause of all these things, we will find that man’s selfishness is behind it all. However I believe that the first fruit or causal effect of our selfishness that God notices on earth is the oppression, hunger, homelessness, nakedness and suffering of the poor. The poor are the greatest casualties of the whole wicked saga.

Selfishness causes the rich to get richer, and the poor to get poorer, and the powerful to get more powerful and lifted up, and the weak, weaker, hungrier and more oppressed. This is the great injustice and oppression that is abhorrent to God, and its root cause is selfishness. Perhaps we can begin to understand why He won’t hear us when we fast and pray with a selfish heart.

Value 2: Committed Couples

Marriage is God’s idea. He created men and women equally in his image to be companions and to help each other. The foundation for marriage is given in Genesis 2:24 " Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.":
1. a man will leave his father and mother. The marriage relationship comes before all others including our relationship with our parents. When a couple marry they set up a new family unit.
2. and be united to his wife. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman in intimate, life-long relationship and companionship.
3. and the two shall become one flesh. This refers to sexual intimacy which comes after leaving and being united and so is kept for marriage.

In our short life on earth, it is possible to bring God glory either in marriage or as a single adult. Neither is a higher or more spiritual calling because for both men and women our first marriage is to Christ. We are His bride.

The wedding of the Lamb has come. The Bible closes with the wedding of Christ and the church. Every human marriage points forward to that glorious day and every Christian, married or single, is fully part of it for ever.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Their Behaviour: Isaiah 58:4

“Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

The Lord is now explaining why He has not responded to their prayers in the way that they have desired. He describes what they have been doing. There is no change in the way they live; they just carry on doing their own plans and purposes that please them. This self-centredness leads to quarrelling and strife and exploitation of those around them. Their behaviour indicates the state of their hearts. Jesus said in Matthew 15:18-19, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."

Value 1: Everyone in Family

The Bible word for family is ‘house’ which means a physical building and then refers to all the people in a ‘household’. Household includes all living generations and all in the family such as servants, visitors and animals. It is similar to the traditional extended family of Africa where everyone belonged in family.
Today family life is changing and we need to make a special effort to preserve the strength of the extended family by caring for the relatives in our extended families and including everyone in the life of our families, especially single adults, orphans and widows.
BUT there is a limit to the demands of relatives. In the church family and the human family, people are required to contribute what they can - ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat’

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fasting and Prayer: Isaiah 58:3

“For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.”

There has been much fasting and praying in our churches for many years, yet the situation just gets worse as the years roll by. There have been distinct moments of promise and even euphoria, especially before the referendum on the constitution in February 2000 and at many of the subsequent general elections and at the formation of the Government of National Unity, and then again at the introduction of the American dollar as our national currency. Yet the captivity of our people and the plight of the poor continue to deteriorate. Surely verse 3 applies to us:“Why have we fasted, they say, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” And the Lord may well answer us, “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please…”

The objectives of Foundations for Family

The objectives of Foundations for Family are:

To mainstream family in the life of our churches
So that
Our families enjoy the blessing of Christ centred family life
The potential of family ministry in evangelism and discipleship is maximised
With the result that
Churches and communities are transformed to the praise of the glory of God

Our Five Family Values
Everyone in Family, Committed Couples, Valued Children, Sexual Purity & Christ Centeredness

God’s ideal for family is a strong marriage relationship between a man and a woman as the centre of an extended family network. Here are Five Family Values that sum up God’s plan for family in all cultures and for all time:

Hypocrisy: Isaiah 58:2

“For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.”

It seems that God is not only bothered by sin and rebellion of His people, but He is bothered by their hypocrisy. They are not only in sin and rebellion, but they are pretending that everything is alright. They are pretending to draw near to God by carrying out their rituals, which they think are meaningful, but as God searches their hearts He knows they are empty. Jesus said in Matthew 15:7-8: “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

This is such an important message for God’s people in Africa, and especially in Zimbabwe, at this time. The Lord has allowed us to go through many years of extreme difficulty, and we are all yearning for the time when the Lord will heal our land, yet things seem to continually get further and further away from this healing. Brian doesn’t know of any churches in Zimbabwe, who haven’t had 2 Chronicles 7:14 high on their list of requests before the Lord.

The urgency for this call to be given and the obedient response to the message of turning from our selfishness and our own plans to the Lord’s plans and our sincere demonstration of the unselfishness that pleases the Lord, the sooner will the suffering of the poor be alleviated.

Brian prays that readers from other nations will also study the Zimbabwean case closely, as the Lord deals with us, as a model in the context of the Lord’s Great Commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations."