Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A 21 Day Fast

Last time I talked about the benefits of fasting, and my reasons for wanting to do an extended fast - to draw closer to God and to seek His help getting unstuck on a number of levels. On starting the fast I wasn't sure how long it was going to be. I told almost no one, and share this story only as an encouragement to others thinking about an extended fast, or thinking that it is impossible (especially for food lovers like me!) So here is a journal of my experience...

Day 1. The past few days leading up to this I was eating so much that I wasn't overly hungry and felt good to come off the feeling of continually being bloated. Still, by dinnertime, I was rather hungry and couldn't even be in the same room as the family eating dinner. (This would continue to be the main downside to doing this.)

Days 2-3. As I had experienced the one or two times I've fasted more than a day, I was constantly feeling hungry. I could barely stop thinking about food. One suggestion I heard was to spend time in prayer any time you felt hungry. Well wow did I have a prayerful time! :) Not having to spend any time preparing or eating meals allowed a lot of extra time in prayer and Bible study. I can't say this was particularly impactful yet. My mind was still very distracted and was racing at the pace normal for type A people who hate to slow down. I was starting to wonder if tomorrow would be worse and/or if I would need to bail!

Day 4. To my surprise, I was slightly less hungry than the first two days, with just a few minor hunger pains. My weight was down 11 lbs, another surprise. But I had read enough to know this was mostly water loss.

Day 5. Wow, incredible turnaround day. Mental clarity is way up (I would later find out this is a common side effect of your body being in a state of ketosis). This is the first day I'm actually feeling good :) My energy level was very even through the whole day and night, which is unusual because I was totally used to narcoleptic needs to nap or zone out periods. That said, the physical energy is definitely low and I'm easily winded moving around or upstairs. Honestly, that has been true since I hit my peak weight leading up to this fast.

Day 6. Feeling very good and to my joy, really feeling no hunger although the stomach does growl once in a while. I saw my daughter eating something delicious and did not attack her for a bite. More like "Oh that looks good" but no craving. Weight is down -15 pounds.

Day 8. Great to fit into a shirt too tight two weeks ago (still snug) and walk into church. They had donuts for Mothers Day at church but I had no interest! My wife kinda made me pay though, she wanted to go out to a special ribs place Mother's day lunch and I had to join them but eat nothing. To my surprise, it was really no problem.

Day 9. After some reading and after feeling a little too light-headed, I realized I was getting zero sodium and probably should. So I started taking beef broth once a day. 0 calories but a lot of vitamins and 750mg Na. I also read that lots of water and enough sodium are key for fighting off or avoiding the keto flu. Speaking of keto, I've been doing a ton of reading and research and am becoming very excited about starting a ketogenic diet following the fast. It has benefits for epilepsy, mental focus, acne, and PCOS which would help our family, so we decided to try keto together after the fast. (I'll have a future blog or two about Keto.)

Day 10. Made it to day ten! After some reading and cautions from others, I decided to shift my goal from 40 days down to 21. This would end things and have us start a new diet at a very convenient point in our summer schedule. I'm really starting to enjoy the extra time in prayer and solitude each day!

Day 11. I experienced some major breakthroughs in thinking and attitude today! Especially good was a strongly renewed sense of calling and direction in ministry. Woot! An extended prayer session today also gave me great clarity on next steps needed in each area I had started the fast where I wanted to get unstuck. More prayer and details needed, but today was significant. I'm really glad at this point that I didn't stop after "just" 10 days ;)

Day 12. I can't believe I'm looking through page after page of recipes and nutrition articles without feeling even slightly hungry. When I say I'm not feeling hungry at all, I mean it. This was by far the biggest surprise so far. (Weight is down almost 20 pounds.)

Days 13-14. Continued enjoying all the time in prayer and extra time in my day. I can now join my family at meals because of the lack of hunger. Yay! My energy levels are a little low to be honest, and sometimes feeling a bit dizzy when standing up too fast.

Day 15. Big downer of a day... my father in law has passed away unexpectedly. The main focus for this and the next several days is supporting my wife and spending more time with the kids. Otherwise the fast is going smooth. Took some decaf today, as a placebo :) No caffeine, cream or any additives, just felt good to drink that warmth while reading the Bible.

Day 17. I finally thought I better start researching how to best end a fast and found a ton of very conflicting info. After wading through a lot of misinformation, I thought the following tips would be most helpful.
- Many recommend a super slow, multi-day reentry to eating, but that's really not necessary unless you've fasted so long you're emaciated. I still am packing 50 pounds more than I should.
- For the first couple of eating sessions, think small and healthy. Salad and veggies, a little bit of protein, easy on the carbs.
- Bone broth is perfect. You want to bring your electrolyte levels back up closer to normal.
- I found the videos and articles by Dr. Jason Fung to be especially helpful. His advice on ending the fast was simple: don't get all worried, just use common sense; ease back into it letting your renewed sense of hunger guide you, and you should be taking a good daily multivitamin to avoid refeeding syndrome problems,

Day 18. I'm now down just a few pounds shy of 30 and would love to reach that target and/or day 21. I'm feeling the best I have in months, hands down, with good energy and mental clarity and no cravings. To be real, I'm looking forward to eating again, but not feeling at all like I'm missing anything. My main hope at this point is that the incredible sense of the presence of God and desire for holiness remains as strong after the fast. The sense of communion is so strong, I can't even describe it. I finally understand why people who have done 21-40 day fasts just love it and end up doing this regularly. I look forward to doing this again in the future :)

Day 21!!! Made it! Super excited to break my fast joining family for dinner! I had just a tiny dinner... 8 almonds, some broccoli smothered in butter, some kale chips, and a hard-boiled egg. Doesn't sound great but wow it was amazing :) I was also thrilled to see a 30-pound weight loss. (I know, a good bit of that is water, but still... I have had to pull in the belt a few notches) I'll leave the next part of the story, returning to eating and a new diet plan, for another time. But I will say that my appreciation for food and flavors was really great.

What did I learn from my experience with fasting?

  • I was shocked I could do it. As a very large person who overeats a lot, this long of a fast seemed completely impossible before I started. If not for the spiritual retreat which gave me a profound sense I needed to do this, I would never have even considered it.
  • Extended fasts are very, very different from skipping a meal or a 24 hour fast. Those are good things and they too have their place, but the benefits of doing this for an extended timeframe were incredible.
    • My bondage to food and overeating was gone. Busted. History. 
    • My passion for ministry was restored. 
    • The right direction and next steps were strongly confirmed in prayer. I was no longer stuck at a fork in the road. 
    • The sense of the presence of God was profound. Distractions and temptations simply had no draw on me; I had something much better. 
    • My prayer life was strongly reinvigorated. I hadn't realized just how shallow it had actually become. I would never have guessed spending a few hours in prayer, spread over the day, could actually feel normal. 
    • Emotionally, I felt way less stressed, and better able to cope with events. The "peace that passes understanding" showed up :)
  • It gets easier. It gets much easier after day 5. Trust me. I have seen this reported by virtually every story I've read about extended fasts, and I can confirm this. Also, people who do this routinely all say the first time is by far the hardest, and they enjoy making an extended fast on a regular basis (not always 21 or 40 days, sometimes 7 or 10).
  • You can do it too! I'm utterly convinced anyone can do this; I'm really not anyone special. In fact, I would highly recommend it for anyone feeling disconnected from God, in a "blah" spiritual state, or feeling stuck especially physically or mentally. 
If you have comments or questions, please let me know! I would love to help other people enjoy the benefits of extended fasting as well. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

What good is fasting?

The past few months have been a bit of a struggle. I was feeling defeated in a number of important areas of life, physically and spiritually, home and work. In a word, I was stuck. Recently Ratio Christi had a staff retreat at the Rest Ministries Retreat Center. On the first morning after arrival, our host shared a devotion on the importance of Sabbath rest, of prayer and fasting. I had read about spiritual fasts, struggled through a miserable 24-hr fast, and did not know anyone who practiced fasting on any kind of regular basis. My jaw dropped when he mentioned how greatly he enjoyed a recent 40 day fast (!) Not only that, he highly encouraged those who were stuck, who felt a need to hear from the Lord or deepen their relationship with Him to try an extended fast. Maybe a "short and easy" 7-day fast. (I had to choke down a desire to laugh out loud at that being a short fast.) The rest of the day I couldn't shake the idea this was something I really needed to do.

If you know me at all, you know how ridiculous it is to think of me going without food for a week or so. I can't even walk past a box of donuts without taking several. But one thing I've learned is that if you strongly feel the Lord is leading you to do something, you just do it. As soon as I got home, armed with some very helpful information on fasting by Bill Bright and CRU, I was ready to try fasting. The goal was a week, no longer than 40 days (ha!), but going until I felt I was ready to stop (or needed to stop!)

Why do Christians fast?

As Dr. Bright and others can attest to, when God's people fast with the right heart: seeking God's face, with a humble and repentant heart, God's presence and power are often felt in very significant ways. In the Bible, these two themes are given as benefits of fasting - healing, and power. It is a spiritual discipline very common in ancient days, done specifically to draw near to God and to seek His direction or wisdom or favor. Jesus and Moses both fasted for 40 days and considered it normal for their followers to practice fasting on occasion. It can also really strengthen a stalled prayer life.

Why was I fasting?

As I was struggling in several areas, I had to acknowledge my own limitations and to seek His face. While I was hoping for answers, what I really wanted was a closer sense of his presence and favor. My goal was to seek breakthroughs in several areas where I was feeling paralyzed:

  • Stuck physically - no energy, constant napping, overweight
  • Stuck spiritually - feeling like recently my faith was mostly going through the motions
  • Stuck mentally - caught up in negative attitudes and habitual sin
  • Stuck in ministry - at a fork in the road unable to make a decision on direction.

I was resolved to continue the fast for as long as necessary to get unstuck in each of these areas. But, um... could I even last a day without food?! Tune in next time :)

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Greetings! It's been a while!

Hello good readers, I hope you're doing well :)

I see it's been about six years since I have made a post on this blog. It's not been due to inactivity in ministry or a lack of things to share. But it's been a very challenging time for me personally, facing burnout, depression, and decreasing motivation on many fronts. While I can't say I'm completely free from those struggles, I do feel like I want to share more and come out of this period too long in seclusion. :)

The past few years in a nutshell...
... our four kids have gone from tweens to wrapping up their teen years (both the kids and wife and I have survived!)
... after getting an M.Div. from Rockbridge Seminary I'm back in school (again) pursuing a D.Min. in Transformational Leadership
... I came on staff with a local church, kind of a utility infielder doing whatever was needed, and have transitioned to a new national role leading the professor ministry with an apologetics-centered campus ministry, Ratio Christi.
... I love my wife of 32 years more than I did my wedding day, and would do it all over again
... I remain committed to encouraging and equipping Christians to step up to God's call for their life.

Next post I'll share a recent story I hope you find interesting. Peace.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review - Take the Lid Off Your Church

I just finished a newly released eBook - "Take the Lid Off Your Church: 6 Steps to Building a Healthy Senior Leadership Team" by Tony Morgan. Tony is a church strategy consultant, a former executive pastor, and a really smart guy. I really enjoyed the book, as it provided great clarity regarding the benefits and role of a senior leadership team within a church context. Many churches now are seeing the value in team-based leadership, modeled right from the top. However, for many churches it is a new or foreign concept.

The book addresses some critical questions such as:
  • When should you begin building a senior leadership team?
  • What are the roles of this team?
  • Who should be on the senior leadership team?
  • How does this team empower other leaders in the organization?
  • What should the senior leadership start and stop doing? What’s their focus?

This an e-book that is a quick and easy read. It is a great resource for church leaders, especially lead pastors and existing senior leadership teams who want to get it right. My favorite part was Tony's explanation of the seven essential roles of the team which cannot be delegated. Highly recommended - it's available for the Kindle at Amazon for less than three bucks.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tony Morgan Live for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising".

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Seven Vital Signs of a Healthy Small Group

I just watched an excellent video by small groups champion Mike Mack on the Seven Vital Signs of a Small Group (thanks to Randall Neighbour's blog). It's not a short video but an in depth discussion of some very important elements for small groups which Mike uses to help groups assess their health. These come from his book "Small Group Vital Signs".
Seven Vital Signs of a Healthy Small Group
1. Christ-centered Community
2. Overflowing Leadership
3. Shared Leadership
4. Proactive Leadership
5. Authentic Community
6. Ministry to Others
7. Discipling Environment

Here are some key notes or takeaways from this video for each vital sign above...
1. Christ-centered community - consistently focused on the presence, power and purposes of Christ in our midst. We recognize that He is our real leader; His mission is our mission. We don't place primary focus on leader, curriculum, people's problems, or issues like raising children. We seek first Kingdom of God... This vital sign is foundational for others.

2. A healthy group has a healthy overflowing leader - one with a vibrant growing relationship with God including consistent time spent with Him using disciplines such as Bible study, prayer, fasting, solitude, etc. He/she is a shepherd, leading out of the overflow of what God is pouring into their heart. Your main job as a leader is to stay very close to Jesus.

3. A healthy group shares leadership with a core team (2-3 typically, sharing in prayer, roles, using individual gifts and abilities).

4. A healthy group is proactive - it has developed and written God sized goals and plans for the next year or more. We know who are are, what God has called us to be and to do, and we know where we are going.

5. A healthy group lives in healthy authentic community - a group that is not only committed to meeting together regularly and consistently but in doing life together between meetings. We are friends who care about each other and want to grow together. Ask these questions of your group: Are you carrying each other's burdens? Building one another up? Admonishing? Taking off masks? Accepted for who you are?

6. A healthy group ministers to others - a group that is intentionally open and inviting new people, serving others outside the group on a consistent basis, praying for our friends and looking for opportunities to serve.

7. A healthy group is a discipling environment. (In a sense, this is the cumulative effect of all the above) Such a group is intentional about creating an environment where people are maturing in their faith, committed to growing spiritually through discussion and application of scripture. One-on-one accountability or Mentoring may be a part of this; there is spiritual edification. Your group has to commit to this. It should be a part of your goals. Discipleship happens when individuals are spending time with God on a daily basis. As groups we need to wrestle with the Scriptures together - it's where truth meets life.

How is your group doing?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review - Disciple

Bill Clem's book "Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus" is a little hard to describe. The foreword poses questions like "What is a disciple? What is their identify? Where is their community? What is their mission?" It then says the author does a "masterful job of answering these and other questions about what Jesus intended when he told us to make disciples. Then for the next 90 pages we read about the story of God, the nature of the Trinity (and the community found therein), the basis of redemption, the nature of Christ, missional living, the image of God common to all humans, mystery and wonder, our broken world, and identify distortions. Only then does he unpack the disciple as worshiper, the disciple in community, the disciple on mission. This is both the strength and weakness of the book. If you're looking for a clear and concise definition of a disciple and a detailed plan for making disciples, that's just not the goal of this book. On the other hand, if you're looking for a deeper treatment of what it really means to be a disciple, the biblical basis for who are we as a disciple, and how we live in the image of Christ when we worship, when we live in community, and when we join God in His mission, this is the book for you.

The main section of the book looks at those three key aspects of being a disciple: worship, community and mission. For each there is a chapter describing God's intention for the disciple, and another chapter looking at common distortions of each. The book concludes with a chapter on the plan for living as disciples and the plan for making disciples (multiplication). Even here Clem takes a strongly different approach from most how-to books on discipleship. The plan starts not with common basics of becoming a disciple, but rather with overcoming hurdles such as habitual sin, debilitating mindsets, and priority management. Overall I found it very interesting, though at times hard to follow. Disciple will be a very challenging and possibly difficult read for many, but a breath of fresh air on the subject for others.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from Amazon for this review as part of their Vine Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review - Sifted

Wayne Cordeiro, with the help of a few friends (Francis Chan and Larry Osborne) has just written a marvelous book called "Sifted: Pursuing Growth through Trials, Challenges, and Disappointments". If you are in ministry and haven't faced major challenges, hurts, trials and disappointments, you will. If you have, Sifted will help you process these. If you're in the middle of a season of trials and disappointments, it's a simply must-read. The authors have not only faced their share of trials, but they have helped many other pastors and ministry leaders make it through. The book will be especially encouraging to church planters.

Part one, "Heart Work", describes the process of sifting, why it is virtually inevitable for those who will eventually bear much fruit in ministry, and how to respond when you are being sifted. The writing here is compassionate, warm, challenging, and highly encouraging. Part two, "Home Work" covers some of the key areas we simply cannot ignore - our family, taking care of ourselves, and facing desperate times. You've heard this content before, but it's presented in a fresh and helpful way. Part three, "Hard Work", gives much needed balance in our approach to hard times and tough situations. The veteran authors strongly urge reliance on the Spirit but also note: "We place too much emphasis on spiritual gifts and too little on sweat and gumption." It also discusses the major role sifting plays in character development.

One of my favorite quotes from the book gives a flavor of the tone of the book and the encouragement to be found by those wondering when the pain will end, wondering if they will ever make a difference in the lives of others: "A sifted life is an influential life. Your greatest influence takes place after you have been sifted and have survived... Unsifted Christians won't have as much influence, and that's simply the way God has designed it to be." Do yourself a favor and read "Sifted." At the time of writing this review, it's actually on sale for the Kindle for just $2.99 (along with a few other titles in the Exponential Series). That's just crazy cheap - so go get your copy :)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from Amazon  for this review as part of their Vine Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising".

Friday, March 30, 2012

Greek Tools for Bible Study

It's been a busy month! I've been taking a fair bit of time investing in the study of Biblical Greek and in the use of Bible Software for Exegesis and Language Study. Perhaps more on that later, but I'm really loving Logos 4 Bible Software. Another resource I'm finding helpful are a series of lectures by William Mounce on Greek Tools for Bible Study.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Won't Accept My Worship?!

I was struck powerfully by this verse in my Bible reading last night...

Why doesn't the LORD accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! ..." (Malachi 2:14, NLT)

Hold on... did you just say the Lord sometimes won't accept my worship?! I better listen up for when and why!
I’ll tell you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Mal 2:15-16, NLT)
In this passage and in other chapters in Malachi, God is hammering his people for taking their vows lightly and failing to put Him first. They are shortchanging him and being disloyal in their relationships, their resources (robbing God by failing to tithe), and in their respect (animal offerings).

Guard your heart --> do not be unfaithful to your wife.

These are not two unrelated commands! If you do the first, you will be able to do the second, over the long haul. Fail to do the first... it's a nightmare waiting to happen.

Men... guard your hearts. Men of Calvary Baptist Church... join me in the Courageous Study starting March 13th - Honor Begins at Home.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review - NIV Life Application Study Bible

A good study Bible is one of the must-have's for the serious follower of Christ. The NIV Study Bible series from Zondervan has for a long time been one of the best study Bible's on the market. The Leather-bound NIV Life Application Study Bible does not fail to deliver - it's a very high quality and useful resource that will enhance your study and enjoyment of God's word. This particular version has a durable cover, a high quality binding that lays flat well, and a ton of special resources aimed not only at helping the reader understand the Bible, but apply it to their life.

Here are some of the key features of the NIV Life Application Study Bible which I liked: the ongoing study notes are the best feature of the Bible, explaining many nuances of the text right on the same page where you are reading; the introductions to the individual books of the Bible; the helpful "timeline" charts; book outlines; lots of maps and charts; abundant cross references for deeper study. The concordance in the back is a feature you will use over and over. I also really like the "character sketches" for a number of key figures in the Bible such as Abraham. There's even a reading plan to help you get on track with reading through the Bible in a year.

If you're looking for a high quality and easy to read study Bible with a ton of useful features, look no further.

The NIV Life Application Study Bible was received as a complementary Review Copy from the Amazon Vine program. The book is published by Zondervan and is available at and other retailers.