Giving Up Meat For Lent

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Giving Up Meat For Lent

 Ro 15:1 “We then who are strong.” Here ends our text. (Let’s look around here today. Who are the strong? Am I the strong one here? Are you the strong one? Is the person next to you the strong one? Of course you know, we aren’t talking about armpits here, we are talking about spiritual strength.)

“We then who are strong.” With the use of the word “we” we know that the strong include the Apostle Paul. But what makes Paul and others like him strong? Daniel said in Daniel 11:32, “but the people that do know their God shall be strong.” Paul knew his God, He was strong.

How did he get to know God? Well we could say, by getting into the Word. But, as a Pharisee, he was a student of the Word. He knew the Word of the Old Testament backwards and forwards, but he still didn’t know God. He know of Him and about Him, but He really didn’t know Him. We can only get to know God through Jesus Christ.

 Mt 11:27 "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  (NKJV)

Of course we know the story of how Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus and how he knocked him off his high horse of pride and began to reveal Himself to Paul. Once stricken by the love of Christ,  the entire Old Testament took on new meaning for Paul, and he finally saw how the Scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus.

And with this revelation, given to him by the Holy Spirit, he began to know God. This is how he became strong.

Some of us are like Paul. We too have known the Scriptures, we have had them pounded into us in our youth, we know of God, we know about God, but we still do not know God, because we have neglected the great grace given to us at our baptism. We have moved away from what He has done for us into the realm of what we think we need to do for Him.  

And as we have tried to do for Him, we have become exasperated and our peace and joy have been taken away.  Let me read from “The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz.

 “the way of obedience has no end.”  It lies endlessly before you, bringing continually severer demands and constant indebtedness. If you seek peace on that road, you will not find peace, but the debt of ten thousand talents instead. But now Christ is the end of the law; the road ends at His feet, and here righteousness is offered to everyone who believes”

You cannot know Christ by seeking to do for Him, you only come to know Him, when you come to the end of yourself, and there you the foot of the cross.

 The Holy Spirit is the great revelator and He has been with us since our baptism, but we have resisted Him as we have been content with knowing of God and about God, but not really knowing Him on a personal level. This liberating “knowing” of God only comes through humble submission to Jesus. Humbly receiving Him as our righteousness alone.

It’s getting to that point where we understand that it’s not what we do, but what He has done for us.

Ga 2:16 "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

 Tit 3:5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,

1Co 2:11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.  12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
So our strength begins in simply knowing Him, not racing out and doing for Him. I mean that’s what Paul thought he was doing. He was racing out and doing for God. He was eliminating those blaspheming Christians. He was doing God’s work, or so he thought. But he did not yet know God.

 Let’s see what else the Scriptures say about being strong in the Lord.

1 Jn 2:14 says, “I have written unto you young men because you are strong and the Word of God abides in you.”

Spiritual strength comes from the Word of God abiding (living) in us. We will not be strong as long as the Word of God comes in one ear and out the other. We may get some temporary nourishment from it, but nothing long lasting, nothing capable of building spiritual strength.

What happens to a body if it’s nourishment consists of nothing but milk.  It simply comes in one end of the body and out the other. And I fear that we have many Christians these days with a bad case of the spiritual runs.  We run after this doctrine and the next doctrine, this fad and that fad, because we have no spiritual strength.  

2Ti 3:7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Here’s the thing about milk, it is gulped, slurped, chugged, but never chewed. Meat must be chewed, and so the writer of Hebrews says:  

 Heb 5:13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.  (NKJV)

So we see that when the Word abides in us, we actually learn to put it into practice, we use it not to earn our salvation, not to beat us up over our failings, but to guide our lives and our decisions. We begin to learn to choose right actions over wrong actions. And we begin to become strong.

There is a place for milk, and we must not overlook it. Milk is the starting point for all new believers, and I fear a starting point that as your pastor I have overlooked here at Living Word.   1Pe 2:2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,  3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. (NKJV)

Christians need the milk of God’s Word and indeed ought to be as hungry for it as a newborn babe hungers for milk. If the lack of thirst for God’s Word is present in your heart, then “indeed” you have not yet tasted that the Lord is gracious! Or certainly have forgotten it anyway.

I don’t mean to say that in a legalistic way, I just want God to help you examine your own heart. If you have no desire to feed on God’s Word, His great promises of what He has done for you, then you have not yet tasted of His grace, or have forgotten it. Be honest about this! Are you thirsty for God’s Word? If not, then ask God to give you a taste of His grace!

My prayer of late has been that I would be a better preacher in this area of grace. That in my preaching you would all get a taste of His grace.  

I have been much to “law orientated” in my preaching and I am praying that God will help me get back to a proper imbalance of grace. Oh yes, I said imbalance. If we could weigh aspects of God’s character, we would find that His grace and mercy far outweigh His characteristic of the angry judge.  Oh how He longs for each of you to taste of His grace and mercy!

The order seems to be, taste of God’s grace! Get His unconditional love for you settled once and for all. Then with His patience and timing, move on into the meat of discerning right actions from wrong actions as He speaks to you in His Word. Let God be your spiritual strength coach not Pastor Matz!

Many times I fear that I have tried to take charge of your individual spiritual conditioning and have tossed 500 pound barbells out to you week after week and expected you to lift them. Forgive me, for that is not the road to strength and maturity, but rather the road to despair. That is the road the Pharisees took.
 Mt 23:4 "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

In Bo Giertz’s classic novel The Hammer of God a wisened older pastor counseled his understudy by challenging him on the way he read his Bible. Listen in on the conversation and be challenged as well.

“I read the Bible every day.”
“I believe that. But how do you read?”
“You mustn’t be so critical Ole of everything a poor fellow does. I try to read devotionally and for edification so that I take to heart that which I feel is meant for me.”
Feel! Feel! That is just what is wrong. Don’t you believe the Bible is God’s Word just as truly, no matter how you may feel?  Don’t you see brother, that this won’t do? Here you are with your sore conscience and your awakening by the law, and you are as sensitive to every single threat of that law as a sore tooth to ice water. But since the conscience is as dead as clay toward all the gospel promises, you feel nothing when God’s Word speaks about Jesus, who died for us sinners, and about the righteousness that comes from God and which one may believe in spite of every accusation of one’s conscience.  Because you make your feelings your barometer, you pass by the gospel and are held fast under the law. Look in your Bible and see if the passages you have especially marked are not just those that speak of what you shall do. But you have not given half of the attention to that which tells what Christ has done through His atonement.”

We are in the midst of Lent brother, said the rector, read God’s Word now as God’s Word, without skipping anything. Underline heavily everything about what our Savior has done for us. And if you like, write “For me” in the margin. You need this yourself and it is your duty to preach it to your congregation as well.”

Friends, we may need to start over with new Bibles. We may need to go back to the sweet milk of God’s grace, before we press onto the meat.  We may need to solidify in our own hearts and minds the depth of His unconditional love for us.

Doesn’t that sound like a great place to start especially during this lenten season?  Maybe giving up meat for Lent isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Let us again learn what it is to be weak, let us return to the fountain of grace, so we can then press on to the matter of growing strong. The writer of Hebrews in recalling the exploits of the heroes of the faith said that, “out of weakness they were made strong.”

Paul speaking of all his various trials gave another hint to the source of his strength when he said, “”when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And when writing to the young Timothy said, “ my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

Strength proceeds from grace. Our position in God’s grace must be strengthened and anchored in our own hearts and minds before we move on to meat. Believe me, our position does not need to be strengthened on God’s part. He knows how much He loves us. We need to slow down and see it for ourselves....perhaps for the first time.

Listen again to our readings for today and see how much is what God does for us, rather than what we do for Him. In fact if you have your Bibles with you today, why not highlight that which He has done for you.  

First of all in Isaiah, we read of what the Father did for His Son Jesus.  Isa 49:8 Thus says the LORD: "In an acceptable time I have heard You, And in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You As a covenant to the people, To restore the earth, To cause them to inherit the desolate heritages;

Then we read of the great commission He gave to His Son. A commission that we are direct recipients of.. This is God’s grace to you and me.....this is what He has done for us. Receive it children.  

 9 That You may say to the prisoners, 'Go forth,' (Let Jesus release you from the prison of performance based Christianity.)
  To those who are in darkness, 'Show yourselves.' (Leave the whipping post of the dungeon and come into the light of God’s grace!)
"They shall feed along the roads, And their pastures shall be on all desolate heights.
 10 They shall neither hunger nor thirst, Neither heat nor sun shall strike them; For He who has mercy on them will lead them, Even by the springs of water He will guide them.
 11 I will make each of My mountains a road, And My highways shall be elevated.

(Stop making it so tough on yourself. It’s not,  what must I do, but what has been done for us by God! Open yourself up to His tender doings!)

 13 Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.

Rejoice!  God has provided and offered you comfort and mercy for your afflicted soul without charge!

And in our reading from Exodus, we read of God providing bread for His children, every one supplied with what they needed, a foreshadowing of the bread of life that Jesus spoke of in our Gospel lesson.

 54 "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (Jesus will raise you up, not your “doings.”

 57 " As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven...not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead, He who eats this bread will live forever.”

Is there anything in these verses that speak of what we must do? Only to taste and see that the Lord is good. He does all the rest for you, for me. Oh beloved, don’t you see? It is all because of Jesus. He endured the cross for you and me. He endured the lashings for our sins, and by His stripes we are healed.

What’s been happening with my preaching is I have lashed out repeatedly with the law of God, while ignoring His grace. I have given you meat before milk and have been choking the spiritual life right out of you.  And out of this congregation

I quote again from The Hammer of God.

“If one whips the flock of God with the scourge of the law instead of guiding it to the springs of living water, everything will eventually go wrong. No one can endure unlimited lashings.” .

Amen. it was Jesus who endured those lashings for us. This morning, as you come to communion, would you allow me to apply balm to the wounds I have inflicted on you.  Would you allow Christ to come to you in a new and living grace filled way? To heal the lashings of the Law?
No strings attached, simply believing His grace, understanding again or maybe for the first time the depth of His love for you!

Jn 6: 54 "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

This is where the secret of our strength the free gift of His body and blood for you and me. It begins with the Word abiding in us. It begins with our true knowing of the Father through the Son. It is always about what He has done for us, not what we think we have to do for Him!

I don’t know about you, but I think I am going to give up meat for Lent. I’m going to stop concentrating on what I feel I must do and take in that which He has done.

Now that may frighten some of you. Some of you have left churches because all you were getting was milk, but trust me on this. As we slurp up the gospel of grace, the Lord will bring the meat in His timing, and if we are too demanding of meat, He will provide us with so much quail that we will become sick of it.

Yes we need meat, but never at the expense of the milk of God’s grace. That’s really what this first portion of Romans 15 is all about.
The patience of God and His Word in turning us into the strong, God-reliant Christians that He desires us to be.