There's a Trick of the Light I'm Learning to Do

This is a collection of songs I wrote and recorded in January - March, 2020 while on sabbatical from ministry. They each deal with a different aspect or expression of the Gospel. Click on the image above to listen.

Three Hands Clapping

This is my latest recording project (released May 27, 2019). It is a double album of 22 songs, which very roughly track the story of my life... a sort of musical autobiography, so to speak. Click the album image to listen.

Ghost Notes

Ghost Notes
A collections of original songs I wrote in 2015, and recorded with the FreeWay Musical Collective. Click the album image to listen.

inversions

Recorded in 2014, these songs are sort of a chronicle of my journey through a pastoral burn-out last winter. They deal with themes of mental-health, spiritual burn-out and depression, but also with the inexorable presence of God in the midst of darkness. Click the album art to download.

soundings

soundings
click image to download
"soundings" is a collection of songs I recorded in September/October of 2013. Dealing with themes of hope, ache, trust and spiritual loss, the songs on this album express various facets of my journey with God.

bridges

bridges
Click to download.
"Bridges" is a collection of original songs I wrote in the summer of 2011, during a soul-searching trip I took out to Alberta; a sort of long twilight in the dark night of the soul. I share it here in hopes these musical reflections on my own spiritual journey might be an encouragement to others: the sun does rise, blood-red but beautiful.

echoes

echoes
Prayers, poems and songs (2005-2009). Click to download
"echoes" is a collection of songs I wrote during my time studying at Briercrest Seminary (2004-2009). It's called "echoes" partly because these songs are "echoes" of times spent with God from my songwriting past, but also because there are musical "echoes" of hymns, songs or poems sprinkled throughout the album. Listen closely and you'll hear them.

Accidentals

This collection of mostly blues/rock/folk inspired songs was recorded in the spring and summer of 2015. I call it "accidentals" because all of the songs on this project were tunes I have had kicking around in my notebooks for many years but had never found a "home" for on previous albums. You can click the image to download the whole album.

blogs I follow

Readings, 2020

Readings, 2020
Paradise Lost, John Milton

Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson

The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson

Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado

Halos and Avatars, Craig Detweiller, ed.

Fool's Talk, Os Guinness

Brendan, Frederick Buechner

The Screwtape Letters

Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis

The Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis

Becoming Whole, Brian Finkert and Kelly Kapic

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis

Voyage to Venus, C. S. Lewis

That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

random reads

Thoughts on the Discipline of Fasting

Sometime in the second century AD, the Roman Governor of Asia, a guy named Arrius Antonius, encountered one of the strangest cases of his political career.

A group of Christians asked him to execute them.

Now, at this point in history, early in the second century AD, Christianity was still an illegal religion. The Christians refused to worship Caesar, so officially being a Christian was a capital offense, punishable by death.  But many of the Roman governors didn’t enforce this law too strictly.  Don’t get me wrong, they found Christianity to be a strange, distasteful movement that they didn’t know much about and didn’t think much of, but still, they didn’t want to shed innocent blood for no good reason.

Antonius was one such governor.  He was pretty lax, it seems, when it came to enforcing the anti-Christian laws.  He must have been, because one of the things history remembers him for is that time, like I say, when a bunch of Christians came to him asking him to execute them.

But, you gotta understand:  the early church considered martyrdom—the honor of actually dying for the Lord Jesus Christ—to be the highest privilege of the Christian life.  They called it “the crown of martyrdom,” and as far as they were concerned, there was no crown more glorious.  So you can imagine if, let’s say, if a governor like Antonius was denying Christians this highest honour, it’s no surprise, maybe, that a handful of Christians came to him and demanded that he do his civic duty and have them executed.

Antonius, the history books tell us, was flummoxed.  He actually did have a few of them executed—I think he was hoping this would maybe cool their jets a bit—but it didn’t so he turned to the rest and said the one line that even Wikipedia remembers him for, 2000 years later:  “You wretches,” he said, “If you want to die, don’t you have cliffs or ropes you can use?”

This would actually become a growing problem for the early church—Christians who were so on fire for Jesus that they went around actively seeking martyrdom.  Eventually the church would make a pretty sharp distinction between Christians who died as a result of genuine persecution, and those who went out looking for death.  Only the first kind counted, they said.

But the problem (if you want to call it a problem) was that, as Christianity became more and more mainstream—I mean, by 313 AD it had become the offical religion of Rome—as it became mainstream, real genuine martyrdoms were harder and harder to come by.

It became such a problem, that sometime around 400 AD, a guy named Saint Jerome suggested that there could be two kinds of martyrdom—a “red martyrdom” where you actually literally died for Christ—but in place of that a Christian could have a “white martyrdom.”  In a White Martyrdom, you didn’t literally die, but you took on some special vow that amounted to a spiritual “death-to-self.” White martyrdoms might include things like joining a monastery, becoming a hermit, stuff like that.

This idea caught on.  One of the earliest recorded sermons we have from Medieval Ireland comes from around the 7th Century.  It’s called the Cambrai Sermon, and it adds a third color to the colors of martyrdom: you could have a red martyrdom, where you actually, literally bled for Christ; you could have a white martyrdom, where you took on some life-long vow of piety.  But, for everyday folk like you and me, who still want to die for Christ but don’t have these options available, you could have a Green Martyrdom.

A Green martyrdom was a particular act of self-denial, where you died, spiritually, in the moment, you died to the desires of the self, so that you could live more fully and freely for Christ.

And this brings me, at last, to the point of this post, because one of the main forms of Green Martyrdom (there were others, to be sure, but this was one of the main ones), was fasting. Intentionally going without food—or in some cases, certain kinds of food—intentionally going without for a limited, specified period of time, so that the body’s hunger teaches us to hunger for Jesus.

This may seem strange to some—that the early Christians would have associated fasting with the highest honor of the Christian life—the honor of dying for Jesus.  It doesn’t to me.  There is, after all, something profoundly spiritual about food.  Practically, it’s the stuff of life.  You can’t live without it; and the body—physically—our bodies are wired naturally to respond to it, to long for it, to need it.  (I mean, all I’d have to do is spray some “fresh-baked-bread” room odorizer into the air, and your body would tell you, wouldn’t it?)  We need it; our mouths water for it; we can’t do without it.

And what if our spirits watered for Christ, like that?

Really: what depths, what heights what lengths of life with God would be discovered if we learned to hunger for him the way our bodies hunger for food?  I mean: that’s what fasting was about for the early Christians—learning to hunger for Christ by dying to self.  And biblically, I think that’s what fasting’s about, too: the life with God we will discover as we learn to die to self.

That has been my experience, anyways.  This month at terra incognita, we've been looking at some of the spiritual disciplines of the Christian Life that don't often get a lot of attention in the practical, results oriented culture of the modern (and somewhat cushy) North American Church.  Last week we talked about silence; today we're considering Fasting.  There are lots of places to look for practical tips on fasting, so I won't share any here (for concrete tips, I'll refer you to this very succinct and helpful guide prepared by my friend, Pastor Derek Spink).  What I'd like to do instead is challenge you to, quite literally, to put your money where your mouth is, when it comes to your witness to Jesus, and consider exploring, if you've never done so before, the practice of fasting as part of your martyrdom for him.

To get you thinking more creatively about how this spiritual discipline might be part of your Christian practice, let me also share a few reasons why I fast (I shared these with my daughter the other night when she asked me about fasting).

1.  To sharpen my spiritual hunger for God. (When I'm fasting for this reason, I let the hunger I feel through the fast point me to God, and, whenever I do feel it, I ask myself if I'm as hungry for him as I am, in this moment, for food).

2.  To strengthen my solidarity with the suffering or the hurting.  (There are times when I've fasted for people, or for specific issues, and during those fasts, whenever I feel hungry, I use it as a prompter to pray, in the moment, for the person or issue I'm fasting for).

3.  To deepen my dependence on God.  (During this kind of fast, whenever I feel weak, hungry or tired during the fast, I use that as a reminder that I am as dependent on God for sustenance as I feel in this moment, for food; like it does on bread and water, my life literally depends on him.)

4. To ignite my passion for evangelism.  (During this kind of fast, whenever I feel hungry for food, I sort of think-- God is as hungry for people to come into relationship with him through Jesus Christ, as I am for a snack right now-- and that thought deepens my own heart for evangelism).

There are other reasons, too, but those have been the most meaningful in my practice of fasting.  I'd encourage you to consider areas of your own spiritual formation that the intentional practice of fasting may sharpen, strengthen, deepen or ignite.

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Practical Tips to Biblical Fasts (Prepared by Pastor Barry Taylor)

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that Christians practice as a way of expressing how “hungry” they are for God’s grace in their lives.  It’s a way of focusing our hearts and minds on God in specific ways.  It usually involves refraining from eating for a specified period of time, though it can take a variety of forms (see below).  Fasting is usually pared with prayer, and most fasts include a specific plan to increase or intensify one’s focus on prayer during the fast.

There are many Biblical examples of fasting that we can consider:  the Ninevites fasted after hearing Jonah’s prophecy; David fasted when his son was close to death (2 Sam. 12:16); Jesus fasted when he was tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:2) and Paul fasted after meeting Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9).

John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Movement) identified regular fasting as one of the Christian “means of grace” – i.e. one of the spiritual disciplines that God uses in our lives to help us grow deeper in his grace. In the early Church, the first Christians fasted every Wednesday and Friday.

Some suggestions and help:

Fasting is always to be God centered.  Fasting is God-led, and should be the Holy Spirit’s prompting.  Jesus’ counsel to his followers in Matthew 6: 16 – 18 was to be more concerned about what God thinks than what other people think.  Only fast if and as you sense God’s Spirit directing you to do so.

CAUTION:  Though fasting is encouraged no one should risk their life to fast.  Certain groups of people are better to hold off from fasting; pregnant women, nursing mothers, anyone with a heart condition/ heart disease, diabetics. 

Do not binge before you fast or after.  Some people think because of going without food for a time, better to eat a huge meal.  It is better to begin eating lighter meals leading up to your fast and after, especially of fruits and vegetables.  This helps shrink your stomach and get your body used to less food.  After a fast for any period do not eat a big meal, start with juices and soups then move to add milk and yogurt, then fruits and vegetables. 

Drink plenty of water.  We always need to drink water; most of us do not drink enough.  This becomes even more important when fasting.  Be careful of how much caffeine intake you have.  If you drink a lot of coffee/pop, try to cut back before you fast, and while fasting avoid drinking coffee/pop.    

  1. Begin with a fasting one meal. If you have never fasted before then start by fasting one meal. If your daily practice is to skip breakfast, then perhaps try fasting lunch or supper. Remember again the point is to sacrifice to learn from the experience.

  1. 24 hour fast.  Most people find that starting lunch to lunch works best.  Eat lunch one day then fast through supper and breakfast the next day eating lunch again.  Try this type of fast for several weeks to get yourself used to fasting.  Then try a regular 24 hour period where you don’t eat all day.  Better to walk before you run.

  1. 2 or 3 day fast.  Once you have experienced the 36 hour fast for a few weeks try to fast longer as the Lord leads.

  1. Daniel Fast.  For some people who cannot go completely without food, Daniel abstained from any meat or wine or “choice” food and eating only things that “came from the ground.”  Much longer fasts can be done eating only fruit and vegetables for prolonged periods, 3 or 4 weeks.

  1. Personal Fast.  For some people giving up something that is important, sometimes a food item other times a habit, help to repent draw closer to God and exercise self-discipline.  Giving up things like sweets (chocolate), television, video games (works well for children who want to try fasting). 

Other Notes:
    • If you are following a liquid only fast, white grape juice and peach juice are good during fasts.  Citrus juices and apple and tomato juice are more acidic and can be harder for a stomach that has no food in it.
    • Vegetable juices and broths are good.
    • 1 cup of tea or coffee is fine, but avoid too much caffeine since it is a diuretic (causing you to lose water).