Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Spiritual Confidence

I’ll share a few more of peoples’ reflections on their participation in West Houston’s week of prayer and fasting, then offer some comments.

* My fasting diet consisted of vegetables, fruit, and water only…My second fasting was from television. I thought that this would be really, really easy for me. I used to watch maybe one TV show a week if I got around to it. Now I realize that I turn on the TV in the morning to listen to what I call "happy" talk shows. I use that to try to pep myself up for the day ahead. I used to find happiness within myself very easily, and now I don't. Being happy within myself requires work.

* This week has been great as a collective way to help hold me accountable for something … I am grateful to know I am a part of something much larger. This has also given my husband and me a great springboard to conversations about God that usually get lost in the hustle of day-to-day living.

* This fasting has been a blessing. I can't believe I just said that. I have never fasted before. Surprisingly, I am not hungry at night. I can't explain that…Many people think fasting is ridiculous. I would have never said that – I have just never tried it.

* I know for my husband and me, not watching TV and skipping one meal a day has left a lot of time for other, better things. We have spent more quality time with the kids at night, read and spent more time talking to each other! It has also been neat to encourage and help our Life Group and check on each other during the week.

* It has been incredibly encouraging to think about my WHCC family joining in this spiritual endeavor. I think that the spirit of fellowship and service in our church body are fantastic. I do not take this for granted….I hope that this becomes a WHCC tradition. Prayer, fasting, community, and encouragement are GREAT exercises for our church.

* Fasting from TV actually scared me at first because I thought that I would feel 'lonely' or something. I realize that I tend to use TV as a comforting mechanism more often than not. It's scary that TV has become that to me. I'm happy to report, though, that I have not missed TV much at all this week…This is my first fasting. Fasting is also something that I was never taught or encouraged to do when I attended other churches. I hope that this will not be my last fasting.

* Every morning I have stopped at the Church Garden to pray at about 5:15 a.m. And every morning I leave with closeness to God I don’t think I have ever felt as I started my day. It has governed my emotions through the day, which is a good thing, because every one of those people who irritates me or makes me mad has called this week…

As I read through dozens of testimonies and heard many people’s comments, several themes kept coming up:

1) Folks are more dependent on television for “filler” in their life than they would like to be. This is robbing them of meaningful time and conversation with their spouse and/or children. Less TV can be a powerful new subtraction from peoples’ family lives.

2) Most folks, even life-long church members, have not had much experience with fasting. This can be a powerful new addition to peoples’ spiritual lives.

3) Many people gained spiritual inspiration and confidence from fasting. They are wondering what else they can do with God if they try. That is powerful, period.

-- Matt Soper (3/2/08)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Our Week of Prayer and Fasting

This week many West Houston folks participated in some way in our five days of “Prayer and Fasting for Breakthrough.” I have been so inspired and touched to hear people comment on what this has meant to them spiritually. My hope and prayer is that each of us can take a stronger spiritual confidence and passion out of this week together, as well as new habits and an appreciation of how powerful it is to create space for God in our lives.

Following are a few of the many testimonies I have received:

* I am one of the ones fasting between sunup and sundown - and I am truly amazed that I have been able to do it...it is not like me at all to skip a meal, much less food all day - but the Lord has truly brought me strength and kept me busy all day long so that I don't have to even think about it. This is the first time I have ever fasted, and I really believe it has strengthened my faith.

* No food since Sunday. Only water, orange juice, Gatorade and my morning sugar-free Red Bull. I have been traveling. I have been content to sit in restaurants with employees and clients and drink juice. I hope the discussion will turn to "why are you doing this?" I am not any more hungry than I was on the first day. I have asked God to take the pains away. I have told him that I am doing this for him and I have faith that he will provide and "fill me" with so much more than food.

* My focus toward God, and more importantly my seeking of his direction this week has been in the forefront of my mind. The absence of food and the pains associated with it have allowed me time to reflect on the blessings in my life, and the call that I have received to be a true disciple and follower of Christ as opposed to just calling myself Christian.

* Being bitter and angry has come out this week for me during my fast and I tried to blame it on my hunger, until my husband pointed it out to me, that my attitude has been bitter and angry long before my fasting. It was like a punch in the gut, but it was the truth.

* I decided no meat and no sweets, no coffee past daylight, only water the rest of the time, and only raw fruits and vegetables during daylight. No television. And pray at least 3 times a day… Every morning I have stopped at the Church Garden to pray at about 5:15 a.m. I leave with a closeness to God I don’t think I have ever felt before as I started my day.

* Suffice it to say, this fast has definitely not been the easiest thing to do, but every hour I continue in it, it seems God reveals something else to me. As a family we have given up TV in the evenings and replaced it with reading and studying the Word. We've given up listening to radio in the car and replaced it with silence, prayer, or conversation when together. I feel more at peace.

* This week has shown me more about my 4-year old daughter than anything else. I told her on Monday that we would not be watching TV this week in order to give us more time to focus on God. Yesterday she told me we were not turning on the TV today. I told her that was right. She told me we were not watching TV because the man who stands up on top of the church told us not to watch TV and to just worry about God.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chocolate Cake and Steroids

How ironic that on the night I was teaching the 9th commandment (“Do not give false testimony against your neighbor”) in a Wednesday night class, Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee were wrapping up a day of false testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington, D.C. We don’t know for sure whose testimony was false, but everyone agrees that their stories are so contradictory and mutually incriminating, at least one of them is lying.

It is a sad spectacle, and a huge fall from grace for Clemens, one of Houston’s long-time sports heroes and favored sons. McNamee, Clemens’ longtime personal trainer, claims he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) between 16 and 21 times from 1998-2001. If McNamee is telling the truth, it is hard to regard Clemens’ athletic brilliance with anywhere near the same admiration. After all, for the last ten years part, of Clemens’ great appeal has been how he has seemingly defied the effects of aging through rigorous fitness and training. He has pitched superbly into his mid-40’s! If you believe McNamee is telling the truth, (and Clemens’ friend Andy Pettit’s testimony against Clemens is particularly incriminating because Pettit admits his own guilt in taking HGH a few times), it is increasingly painful and aggravating to hear Clemens’ strident denials.

When I was 19 years old, I walked into a dorm mate’s room, saw he wasn’t there, spied a delicious looking chocolate cake (already eaten from) on his desk, and took a slice back to my room. When he later asked me about it, I denied taking the slice of cake. Never mind that he would have been happy to share it with me! Never mind that there were chocolate crumbs leading from his room to mine! Never mind that our two suitemates joined him in saying, “C’mon, just admit it and we’ll forget about it!” Once I began denying it, my increasingly passionate defense actually precluded me (in my mind) from changing my story and admitting guilt. The Chocolate Cake Chronicle makes me cringe with embarrassment even a quarter century later. But I learned a good lesson: The longer you deny something, and the more people you deny it to, the harder it is to admit your guilt.

I am sure you can tell by now that I am suspicious of Clemens’ claims of innocence. But that is impossible to prove presently. We may never know the whole truth, and that is not my point for writing this anyway. My point is that if you are following the Clemens/McNamee story at all, I hope the singular lesson you take away is how much more honorable (not to mention simpler) life is when you conduct yourself honestly and tell the truth.

Some of the most powerful things in life are very simple like that.

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment (Proverbs 12:18-19).

P.S. David, I took the slice of cake. But then, you already knew that.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


From Monday through Friday February 18-22, West Houston will undertake a “Week of Prayer and Fasting for Breakthrough.” The purpose for this communal effort will be to call each of us to an individual time of consecration and prayerful reflection on our life with God, and to call our congregation to a mutual time of seeking God’s anointing and direction.

Prayer and fasting have a long history together in the Bible and in the lives of God’s people. People have prayed and fasted in a time of crisis (2 Chronicles 20:3), in confession and repentance (Daniel 9:3), while seeking direction from God (Acts 13:2), in anticipation of a new initiative for God’s work (Acts 13:3), and as part of the regular rhythm of the spiritual life (Matthew 6:16). There is something powerful that happens when we not only pray in a concerted way, but accompany that with the self-denial that is at the heart of fasting.

You might ask, what does “breakthrough” mean? What it means is a change for the better in an area of your life that is hindering you from experiencing spiritual vitality and impeding your relationship with God. For one person, it might be a marital difficulty, for another an ongoing temptation, an addiction, an estranged relationship, a besetting sin, a sense of despair and loss of hope, professional frustration, or a feeling of spiritual stagnation.

For our congregation, this may mean a greater willingness to venture out of our comfort zones to pursue God’s mission in the world, a greater engagement with the lost and hurting in our community, a deeper awareness of and partnership with the Holy Spirit, or a greater hunger to know and feed on God’s Word in the Scriptures. Or all of the above.

On Sunday February 17 each member and guest will receive a card with various options of ways to fast, from a “strict” fast of water and juice only to a fast that abstains from certain activities. We will each commit to participating in some way by turning in our cards and agreeing that the Fasting Police may check on us any time to make sure we are not violating our religious observance. That last part was a joke, friends.

Our chapel will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. each night for people to come in and pray alone or in groups. A few shepherds and staff will be there each evening to pray with people who feel a special burden.

On Saturday morning, our week will culminate with a breakfast in the gym at 7:30, then a day of “Servin’ the Burbs.” We have partnered with Cypress Assistance Ministries to line up multiple work projects to help people in our community. In addition, we will do some independent projects we have identified ourselves. Imagine hundreds of West Houston folks exercising our faith and serving our community in Christ’s name on this special day! It is going to be a powerful week.

I am spending three of the four weeks in February preaching from Amos, who calls God’s people out of their “gated communities” (figuratively) to engage with the world. It is a great challenge and also a great joy. Think about how you will participate.