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Chris Paavola:
If you are going through something right now or you have experienced loss and you need connection, if you’re going through just something where you are feeling overpowered by someone or something and you need freedom, if you’re going through something where you just have confusion and you just don’t know what’s going on right now and you need some clarity, some answers, you picked a great day to be here because what you want for you is only a fast away as we’re going to be talking about this morning.

My name is Chris Paavola, by the way. I’m the senior pastor here at St. Mark and it’s great to be with you. We are wrapping up today, our Soul Detox series. This has been a gauntlet, man. But we’ve taken this season, what’s typically called Lent, where people prepare themselves for Easter, and we’ve been giving up different things each week as we’ve been trying to find freedom from a toxic world.

SERIES
We’ve done different challenges and fasts where you stop something, but then challenging you to start something in its place. And so each week we’ve done a different fast from things that we need a break from. And so week one we did a fast, a radio fast that also maybe included TV for some of you, but just finding this newfound silence and meditating on God in that space.

Then in week two, we did a shopping fast where we stopped spending money on ourselves and we took that money and then just gave it away to our neighbors in need. You guys were awesome. You did a ton of generous things that I’m so proud of you and honored to be a part of a church like that.

And then week three, we did a beverage fast and that was miserable. We fasted from all beverages and we only drank water. That coffee thing, it was not a Tylenol fast. And we used that time then to memorize scripture and that was exciting.

Last week then was a social media fast and we challenged you to get off of social media or maybe for you, just media in general. And then in that time, we told you every time you feel the urge or the impulse to check social media, to use that as a cue to give thanks for something. And it meant, anecdotally hearing back from you guys, this was harder for … This wasn’t that hard.

Okay, let me explain. Monday is my day off, okay? And so on Monday, I just had the urge, a ton, because I wasn’t doing stuff. I’m very much relaxing. I’m in shutdown mode and I just found myself reaching for my phone a bunch. And I’m like, “Dang it, I did it again.” 27 times on Monday, I gave thanks for something. 27 times I reached for a phone. I’m like, “Dang it. Okay, what am I thankful for?”

It was just so much muscle, but I got better and better at it. So Tuesday wasn’t as bad, Wednesday, Thursday. So I’ve only had to give thanks 41 times, I think is the number this week. So I’ve given thanks for 41 … But I’ve slowly found that I’ve checked and felt the urge to check Facebook less and less and less. And I think hearing back from you guys, you had the same. I heard back from folks who were like, “Man, I just had less anxiety this week. I just felt freer and just less troubled.”

One guy I was talking to, he doesn’t have social media, but he just stopped watching TV this week, and it was the State of the Union address. And then he didn’t watch Fox News or CNN afterwards, and he’s like, “Man, I just felt like, I wasn’t arguing, my blood pressure’s lower this week. This was awesome.”

And then I got an email from a gal who is watching online and she says that just laying in bed and not doing the scroll, she’s been sleeping better this week all because of the social media fast. So you’re welcome. You’re welcome for all the benefits.

FOOD FAST
But then we are onto our fifth and final fast. And there’s a reason it’s last, it’s because this one’s the hardest because this week we are going to do a food fast. You guys are looking at me just already like … I feel like public enemy number one, all series long. I’ve just been hammering you guys with a task master of things that we’re going to do. And then we’re onto a food fast.

Okay, so when I say food fast, by the way, I don’t mean fast food. We’re not going to McDonald’s. Food fast, there’s something that comes to mind when I say this, especially in our culture. Right now, super trendy right now is intermittent fasting, which is, you skip meals and stuff, or keto diets, you give up a certain kind of food. So this is not a diet, this is not like that. We’re not going on a diet together.

There’s a different reason for our fast, but there are, by the way, health benefits to fasting absolutely. The studies are being done right now and about 36 to 48 hours into a fast, your body goes through what’s called autophagy. And this is crazy, man, but it starts regenerating new cells and recycling bad cells and old cells. It’s kind of crazy. It’s almost like we’re designed to do this every once in a while. But that kicks in about 36, 48 hours into a fast and stuff like that.

This is also different. The fast we’re going to do is different than what you would hear about in other religions where it’s like, “I’m doing this thing to earn points with God and to get closer to God.” Our fast is different than all of that.

And to understand what followers of Jesus … And by the way, when Jesus talks about fasting, He says, when you fast, and He gives an instruction about it, not if you fast. Seems to be, especially when you look at scripture, you see how frequent and often and reoccurring it is that this is something that followers of Jesus do and people of God do that we’ve let fall by the wayside. And I’m not so sure that that’s a good thing, and so we’re going to be talking about that.

EDEN
But to understand why we’re about to fast, it’s helpful you see the reasons why, if we go back to the beginning of fasting. And really when I say the beginning of fasting, I mean the beginning-beginning, like the very beginning, Garden of Eden beginning, paradise. Okay, everything’s perfect. It’s the Garden Of Eden, nothing’s wrong, everything’s fine. And God makes the heaven and the earth. It’s wonderful. And He makes Adam and He makes Eve and they’re in bliss in paradise.

But then if you’ve ever heard the story, or even in pop culture, we understand things go south pretty quickly. And we read about it in Genesis 3, beginning of verse 1. Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Did God really say …”

And I could preach a whole sermon right there, “Did God really say …” That questioning, that’s the beginning of this deception. And just like, “Is that really what He said?” There’s a lot there, but just note that he’s being super subtle. It wouldn’t be deceiving if it was obvious. So anyway. Did God really say, “You must not,” say it with me-

Response:
Eat.

Chris Paavola:
… “eat from any tree in the garden”? But that’s not what God said. God said, “Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” And Eve tells him that and she says, “If we eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we’ll die.” And he’s like, “You’ll not surely die, because God knows when you eat from the tree of good and evil, your eyes will be opened and,” key phrase, “you will be like God.”

And we’ll get to that in a minute, but just put a pin in that. We’re going to revisit that. You’ll be like God. And so she looks at it and then in verse 6 we read, “When the woman saw that the fruits of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. And she also gave some of the fruit to her husband who is with her,” kind of complicit in all of this, “and he ate it.”

And when they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it was the first offense. It was a law broken and the world was thrust under the curse of sin. That’s what we believe is that at that moment, the consequences and effects and curse of sin begin. And so death, division, doubt, deception, disease, decay, all of this begins after the first sin. This is referred to as the fall.

And immediately when they eat, their eyes are open and they realize they’re naked. And so they make coverings of fig leaves to hide from one another. Then they hear the Lord coming and so they hide from Him in the garden. This is how the story goes. And they’re hiding, and the Lord calls out to them, “Where are you?” And they come out and they said, “We heard you coming and we were naked and we were afraid. So we hid.”

And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Why did you hide?” And then they say, “Well, the serpent.” And Adam says, “Well, this woman you gave me,” he’s deflecting and being cowardly, “The woman you gave me, she gave me fruit and I ate it.” And then the Lord looks at her and says, “What have you done?” And she confesses, “Well, I took some fruit and I ate it.”

And so then in mercy, and we don’t realize this, we think it’s a punishment, god cast them out of the garden. We think this is a punishment, “Get out of here. You don’t belong.” But there’s another tree in the garden, there’s a tree of life. And if they eat from the tree of life after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they will live forever in this fallen state. And that’s not what God wants for them.

And so in mercy, God cast them out of the garden lest they stay like this forever, and all of the consequences of sin just have their way with humanity. And when you look at all of the reasons God’s people fast, the dozens and dozens and dozens of examples we see in scripture, it’s all dealing with the effects of what happened when the fruit was eaten in Eden. To say it plainly and bluntly, we fast from food because all of our problems started from food.

Does that make sense? And so when you look at all of these examples of why people fast in scripture, it’s not just that they’re trying to get points with God. It’s not just that they’re on a diet. It’s that they’re fasting from something that’s a consequence from Eden as a vehicle, as a means, as a tool for something that was lost when the fruit was eaten in Eden.

FAST
And so the most common example we see people fasting in scripture is they fast from sin as a form of confession of that sin, a repentance, a change to life of that sin for the holiness that was lost when the fruit was eaten in Eden. And we see this right away in the garden though when Eve says, “I took fruit and I ate it,” with the smell of fruit still on her lips. It is a confession, “Here’s what I did. I have sinned.”

But that’s not the only reason we see fasting in scripture. We see people also fasting from pride, the sense of me-ism, it’s all about me and what I want and my platform and my pleasure and my indulgence, me, me, me, me, me, me, pride, and it goes before a fall. But that’s exactly what we see in the Garden of Eden, she wanted to be like God, pride.

And so in scripture, we also see people fasting from pride as a way of expressing humility. It’s a humiliating thing to go through a fast. Your body is reminding you that you have needs, you are fragile, and yet God has no needs. God doesn’t need any of this, and you’re reminding yourself of the proper valuation, He is God, you are not. Got it? Okay. So you’re fasting from pride as a sign of humility for value, a proper understanding of who you are that was lost when the fruit was eaten in Eden.

In scripture, we also see people fasting not just from sin and pride, but also from loss, loss of a loved one, loss of a battle, loss of a way of life, loss of health. This is what we see Nehemiah doing. This is what we see David doing after King Saul dies and after his friend Jonathan dies. It’s grief and sorrow.

And so we fast from loss. That is a consequence, a domino effect from the loss in the Garden of Eden. They lost community with God. They lost a loving relationship with each other. There was division. They lost access to all the blessings of God and the Garden of Eden. And so we fast from loss as a expression of grief for connection with God, a connection that was lost when the fruit was eaten in Eden.

And then we also fast from oppression. In the story, the devil is the deceiver. He oppresses and he tries to rule over and subdue Adam and Eve and subvert the kingdom of God. And so the people of God, anytime we deal with oppression or oppressors, something that’s too powerful for us, an addiction that we can’t break, we are fasting from oppression as an entreaty. This is like a passionate request. You’re crying out to God for deliverance, for freedom, freedom that was lost when the fruit was eaten in Eden.

And then last, but not least, speaking of the deceiver, his confusion, the confusion he sows in Eve’s mind. If you are confused right now, if you don’t know why God is doing what God is doing, you don’t know why, you’re looking for answers, you feel a lack of guidance, you don’t know what your next step should be, that’s all a result of the fall. Get in line. You’re fasting.

And so we fast from confusion as a means, as a sign of submission. I don’t have the answers right now, but you do. You know more. You see further. Let your will be done, God, not my will. And so we submit, “Give me your wisdom, give me your counsel, give me your insight, give me your discernment oh Lord.” So we fast from confusion as a sign of submission for clarity that was lost when the fruit was eaten in Eden.

STOP
So there you go. Those are all the reasons to fast. And as I talk about this, as you look at that screen, one of those words probably stands out to you, something you’re struggling with, something you need to do, or something you want. And as you look at that list and you look at the right side of what you’re actually really looking for, or as you look at the left side of what you’re feeling, what you want for you is only a fast away. You picked a great day to be here.

STOP EATING FOOD
Now that’s why the people of God fast and that’s why we’re ending our Soul Detox series with a food fast. We are going to do a food fast and we are going to stop eating food. And you’re looking at me like, “Wait, what are we?” If I could just take a picture of your faces right now, you guys are just like, “What is this guy doing?” I feel like, just like I said, I’m public enemy number one. Every week I’m taking away the things you love. My heart is what I want for you, not just trying to make life difficult. Okay?

So give me grace as we talk about this, but just like every week and every other fast we’ve done, I’d say if you’re thinking, “I’m not going to do that,” well, then maybe that’s all the more reason you should, just FYI. Two, this should be both realistic and challenging. So each of our fasts are customizable. Okay, we’ll get to that in a second.

The other thing I would say about a food fast is just give a couple medical disclaimers. And I need to do this, otherwise I could get in trouble. So if you have a low BMI, if you have issues with blood sugar, if you have a history of an eating disorder, if you are under the age of 18, you should not do a food fast, you should not do one. There was much rejoicing in the front row over here.

My suggestion to you, you can still do the thing that we’re going to start. Remember, we’re stopping, but we’re also starting something in its place. You can still do the thing that we’re starting in its place, you should just do it while you’re eating food so you can still have the same somatic experience that we do.

Also, if you are over the age of 70 I’d say, and you’re not sure if you should do this and you’re not sure if your body can handle this, please, please, please, please reach out to your doctor before you do a food fast. Seek medical professional counsel. I am not, repeat, not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV either. So just please just take care. Okay? So there you go.

TO START
Having said all of that, this is customizable. So the couple of different ways that you can do this is you can customize the time. So maybe you do a food fast on partial day, maybe you do a food fast the full day. So a partial day would be maybe skipping, like only during daylight. Full day would be 24 hours. You can do this several days in a row, again, and just figure out who you are and what your body can handle.

And then you can customize the food that you’re fasting from. You can do snack fast like, I’m not going to eat any snacks on a partial day, a full day, several days. You could say, I’m going to skip a meal, partial day, full day, several days. Or you could skip meals, plural, partial day, several days, full day.

All of that is customizable. And this is also where I would give another caveat. I didn’t want to have too many screens, because then it feels business presentation or something like that. But when you’re fasting, if you’ve never done a several day fast, don’t start there. If you’ve never even done a partial day fast or a one-day fast, don’t dive into the deep end.

Don’t do a several day fast. Your body needs to warm up to stuff like this. It’s like if you’re going to go running, you stretch first. You’re letting your body know like, “Hey, we’re doing this, it’s coming.” And your body’s like, “Okay.” Otherwise, it’s like, “What are you doing to me?” and it’s going to protest big time.

So don’t start with a several day fast if you’ve never done a one-day fast. And don’t do a one -day fast if you’ve never done a partial day fast or skipped meals or anything like that. Work your way up to this. Stair-step your way up. Make sense? Okay.

Second thing I would also say is be careful of what you eat before and after you do a food fast. So don’t eat a bag of Doritos as the last thing you eat before you start a food fast. Don’t eat a greasy pizza as the last thing you eat before you start a food fast. Your body processes that food differently. Processed food is bad to start a fast with.

The last thing you eat, eat something that’s not processed. Eat raw vegetables. Eat raw fruits. It’s also okay. It’s a little high in sugar and stuff, but raw vegetables are good. And avoid starchy things. So rice and pasta, bad, because that’s carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates we already know, my goodness, carbs just ruin us. But the carbs, your body processes the starch differently. Excuse me. And so it will get done with a starch and then just cry out for more food. That’s what happens when we eat starch. You’re going to make yourself really miserable if the last thing you eat is something from, what’s the pasta place over here?

Response:
Fazoli’s.

Chris Paavola:
Fazoli‚Äôs, yeah. If you go to Fazoli’s and that’s the last thing you eat, you’re going to be miserable. Okay? So that’s just my suggestion.

And then on the flip side, when you end the fast, same thing, eat non-processed foods. Don’t break a fast by going to Red Lobster. That is a recipe for a very unpleasant evening, I promise you. So break your fast gradually and gently, eat carrots or something like that. And by the way, after a couple days of not eating a carrot, when you eat a carrot, you’ll be like, “Oh my goodness, this is delicious. Have carrots always tasted like this?” It’s amazing. It’s amazing what happens when we’re hungry.

So eat unprocessed food when you’re ending it. You know the BRAT diet when you’re sick? That’s bananas, rice cakes, and stuff like that, that’s pretty good. And then chicken broth, great to drink chicken broth. That’s a quick way of replenishing those carbohydrates, or I’m sorry, those electrolytes. If you drink a Gatorade or a Prime, there’s a lot of sugars. That’s not the first thing you want to throw into your body.

STOP EATING FOOR TO START A FOCUSED TIME WITH GOD
So anyway, all of that being said, that’s just a how-to if you’re going to go, “Okay, I’m going to take a step forward and this is the kind of food fast that I’m going to do.” But I remind you though that in this series, we’re not just stopping, we’re also starting. And so I’m begging you do not do the food fast unless you are able to also in its place start time with God.

Our food fast is that we’re going to stop eating food to start a focus time with God. Remember, it’s not just the left side of the screen, the fasting from, and the fasting as, it’s fasting for connection, new life, holiness, clarity. You’re fasting for an intense time with God. And so the idea of being is when you would normally eat, that’s when you have your time with God. It is not listening to Christian music. No, no, no, it’s prayer. It’s scripture. Spend time with God doing those two things while you would normally eat.

And it’s amazing, the hunger pain is supposed to be drawing you towards God, like you hunger for Him more than even food. And that hunger pain becomes the cue to draw you into relationship with Him. And find out for yourself, but in my experience, when you’re with God and having communion with God and prayer in the Word while you’re fasting, the hunger pain kind of dissipates. It just does.

I think this is what Jesus meant when He said, and He quoted, “Men cannot live on bread alone, but in every word from the mouth of God.” And I think this is what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, who believes in me, will never thirst again.”

And I think this is what Jesus meant when He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled, hunger and thirst for righteousness more than even food for they will be filled.” I think that’s what He meant, but again, find out for yourself. Just find out for yourself and see what happens. So we’re going to stop eating food to start a focus time with God.

The best way I can explain this, the best way I can explain this or example I can give, it’s just such a simple illustration. But when I got out of college, I was interviewing at jobs and I went through a bunch of interviews with this company and then I had my final interview with the CEO of this company. And we went out to lunch and it was a place where a waiter brings a meal. We’re not standing in line getting burritos or something like that.

We were sitting down, waiter takes our order. We’re talking to each other about the job. He’s asking me interview questions. And then the waiter brings our food and the CEO pushes his plate aside and keeps asking me questions. Well, I’m not going to sit there … while he pushes his plate aside. I’m mirroring him. I’m showing I’m interested. So I push my plate aside just a little bit to the side and we talk.

And then as the interview went on, he grabbed his plate, pulled it in front of him and started eating. And I copied him, pulled the plate in front of me and I started eating. And in my mind, that’s what a food fast is. It’s saying to God, “What I’m talking to you about is more important than even food.” And then you continue eating once you’re done talking about it. Does that make sense? It’s kind of a simple illustration or example, but it’s the best way I can explain what a fast to start a focus time with God really feels like.

FAST
And then when you’re in your focus time with God in prayer and in scripture, talk to Him about the reasons that you’re fasting, the sin, the pride, the loss, the oppression, the confusion, the confession, the humility, the grief, the entreaty, the submission, the holiness, the value, the connection, the freedom and the clarity. Talk to Him. Spend time in His Word about those things, and you’ll find that what you want for you is only a fast away.

Now, I could wrap up here a hundred percent and be done, but I want to say one more thing. And so I’m going to ask you to just lean in and give me one more just last bit of your attention, just one more thing. And this is like pastor geek-out moment. This is a little bit like theologically, spiritual cool, insight kind of thing I’d like to share. Because I think it adds value for what we’re about to do because in just a few moments we’re going to celebrate communion. And communion is a really great way to start a food fast, but here’s why.

FEAST OF EDEN
All of our problems started with food, and specifically when our ancestors ate the fruit from a tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They ate the fruits and the world was cast under the curse of sin. This is what we believe. There was now distance between God and man because they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And in that garden is also the tree of life. And God cast us out as mercy because He didn’t want us to live forever in this fallen state.

And so we lived under the curse of sin until God came in the flesh and died on a different tree, a tree of death, not a tree of life, not a tree of knowledge, a tree of death, and He took the curse on himself. Scripture says that “cursed is everyone who hung on a tree.” He became a curse for those under the curse that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. This is the story.

But then after He dies on the tree of death, three days later, He rises to life and the tree becomes a new tree. It’s now the first tree of the new creation in a new garden. It’s now the tree of death becomes the tree of new life. And the fruits of the tree of new life is His body and blood and the bread and wine of communion. When you eat the fruits from the tree of new life, you will not surely die. Wow. Wow.

So as you come forward to receive the body and blood of Jesus we believe is in the bread and wine of communion, realize that you are tasting the fruit. He says, “Take and eat.” This tree, you can eat from this tree. Take and eat that you may live. I think it’s so great that we’re about to do a fast where we think about what we’re doing for God, but before we do that, we let God do something for us in communion.

PRAYER
Let me pray for you. Heavenly Father, we thank you for your son, Jesus, that you sent to bear the curse of our sin on a tree of death, that we might now taste the fruit from this tree and live. And God, I pray for every person in this room, every person watching online or people listening later on. What is it that you want them to fast from as an expression of what? And then show them what the fast is for. And God, I pray that you do what your Word says you will do, that you meet with them as they fast and spend time with you, and you give them what they are aching for, hungering for, and thirsting for.

And Lord, we begin this fast tasting the fruit from the tree of new life and in reverence and in honor for Him who became a curse for us. We pray the prayer using the words He told us to use as we say together: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.