Tag Archives: Zechariah 7

Hats, Fasting, and a Couple of Important Questions

“Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?”
Zechariah 7: 5 (NIV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. I was kicking off a series of messages on Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth. And so, I’ve been mired in studying the letter and the situation in Corinth around 55 A.D.  One of the themes that bubbles to the surface over and over again are instructions that Paul gave which are rooted in contemporary Corinthian culture. Other instructions are universal to human culture in all times.

I find myself asking, “What instructions were for the Corinthian believers at that time (that don’t fit our current realities)? What instructions may speak to me in 2018 (that the Corinthians couldn’t fathom almost 2000 years ago)? What instruction are ours (they apply to anyone, at any time, in any culture)?”

For example, one set of instructions is about covering your head. In first century Corinth there were layers of meaning in the cultural and religious aspects of whether you covered your head and when. Some of it came from Jewish law and tradition (which the Greek believers probably thought silly) and some of it was the practical differentiation of woman broadcasting in publicly that she was not one of Aphrodite’s temple priestess-prostitutes.

The truth of the matter is that until a generation or so ago, the tradition of women covering their heads in church and men removing their caps/hats was still a big thing culturally. The local Costume Shop has hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous women’s hats with cute little veils that locals have donated over the years (see featured photo). There was a time just a few decades ago when a woman would not go to church without a hat on. Today, in our culture, if a woman does so it’s simply a fashionable novelty.

Likewise, my dad and I have a good-natured, on-going feud when we’re gathered for family meals and it’s time to pray and eat. My dad gives me grief if I have a cap on. I have never been able to discern a good reason for having to remove my hat when the family is  informally ordering a pizza and watching the game. I joke with my dad that it’s actually more sanitary if I keep my cap on. He always wins the argument on his authority and my respect, but I’ve still never heard a good reason.

The bottom-line question is: “Why (or why not) are we doing this?”

That was the exact question God had for the prophet Zechariah. Zechariah and company inquired of the Lord whether they should continue to observe traditional months of fasting. God replied, “Why are you fasting?” God then goes on to point out that what Zac and the boys are not doing are things like being just, showing compassion to people who are different, looking out for the needs of orphans, widows, and the oppressed. The implied question God is asking as I read between the lines is this: “Why would I care if you self-righteously starve yourself in some public display of your religiosity when you’re missing the heart of what I desire from you — to love others as you love yourself?”

Good question, and a good question for those of us who claim to follow Jesus and have wrapped ourselves in religious traditions of all kinds over the years.

“What does God care about? What, therefore, should I really care about? What in my religious practices, rituals, and cultural rules do I make a higher priority than the things God truly cares about?

Chapter-a-Day Zechariah 7

God-of-the-Angel-Armies gave me this Message for them, for all the people and for the priests: “When you held days of fasting every fifth and seventh month all these seventy years, were you doing it for me? And when you held feasts, was that for me? Hardly. You’re interested in religion, I’m interested in people.” Zechariah 7:4-6 (MSG)

A few years ago, my daughter went on a missionary journey to Morocco. She spent several months in training and preparation, then went with a team to the country with the motivation of loving people for Jesus. While most of these types of experiences can be the proverbial mountain-top spiritual experience, Taylor’s experience was exactly the opposite. Her team lacked decisive leadership that resulted in frustration and conflict within her team. She experienced physical sickness and terrible sexual harrassment the likes of which drives a father mad when he’s a half-world away and can’t be there to protect his precious daughter.

Skyping from an internet cafe, Taylor would share what I came to realize was a sanitized version of the reality she was experiencing. Among the stories of frustration, Taylor shared that one of the members of her team was an atheist who had gone on the trip because his parents, well meaning I’m sure, had basically bribed him to do so. Taylor liked this person tremendously and found herself distraught that the one member of her team who did not believe in Jesus was the person who seemed to love others with the most sincere acts of love and kindness. Perhaps he understood the teachings of Jesus better than all of those who professed to be followers.

The older I get, the more clearly I understand the words of Jesus when he said it is our acts of love that we will be known as His followers. It is not by our attendance at church, the giving of our money, my Jesus wristband, or the cheap and pithy sayings we hang on the walls of our homes. It is by our pure acts of love and kindness.

Today, God, I’m convicted by the words of Zechariah and the testimony of my daughter. I don’t want my faith to be hollow. I don’t want to be religious. I want to love others more deeply, more actively, more effectively. Show me your way.