Monday, April 02, 2018

God’s key note!

To the early church fathers unity seems like a big deal:

And do ye, each and all, form yourselves into a chorus, that being harmonious in concord and taking the key note of God ye may in unison sing with one voice through Jesus Christ unto the Father, that He may both hear you and acknowledge you by your good deeds to be members of His Son. It is therefore profitable for you to be in blameless unity, that ye may also be partakers of God always.

 Ignatius to the Ephesian Church (4:2)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The roaring lion prowling around us has not been de-fanged...

One of the authors I love to read is Scot McKnight. I’ve just finished his thoughtful book on the subject of fasting. It is well worth a read and has helped me win back a great spiritual discipline which to be honest I had parked up. 

My experience growing up in a pentecostal / charismatic environment was a contest between my understanding of a sovereign God and the practice I experienced in my church community. I struggled with how “thy will be done” and fasting to tell God how seriously I was about what I wanted and, by my display would prompt or manipulate God into giving me my prize. To my young mind at the time, “fasting” as it was demonstrated to me, seemed more about getting, in the words of a famous song, “my way”. So I exited the fasting arena. But Scot’s simple definition of biblical fasting has pulled me back to reclaim this ancient spiritual discipline.

“Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.” - Scot McKnight.

I guess many of my pastor & church friends can’t believe I have been hung up on this but, I have, so all I can be is honest. At 54 my journey continues to surprise even my self. Then today I read an article on Scot’s website by Michelle Van Loon on spiritual warfare. Her story resonated with me so much. It feels like my story my journey. So here it is posted in full. (Scot’s original article)

I once sat in a prayer meeting where a well-meaning woman prayed to cast out a demon named “The Spirit of Menopause”. Apparently, the afflicted woman was having a difficult time with hot flashes, and the pray-er diagnosed her as dealing with a case of spiritual warfare. 

 My family and I spent many years in Charismatic churches: both second-wave and third-wave congregations. My husband and I appreciated the passion for God and the sense of expectancy that we would witness signs and wonders just like ones described in the book of Acts. At the same time, we struggled with the faddishness, the anti-intellectualism, and the times when we saw displays of spiritual power pursued over fidelity to Scripture. 

 One other area in which we felt tension was the heavy-duty focus on spiritual warfare. It seemed at times as if some of our fellow congregants formed their theology around the topic by a close reading of Christian author Frank Peretti’s wildly-popular supernatural fiction series first released in the 1980’s. This series includes This Present Darkness, Piercing The Darkness, and Prophet. As a result, I saw what can only be classified as superstition, such as the person praying against an evil spirit deemed responsible for hot flashes, or those who constantly worried about only speaking forth positive-confession “words of life” lest they bring a curse upon themselves. 

 When there was a disproportionate emphasis on spiritual warfare, some ended up with a dualistic worldview, as if the world was caught in a war between two equal competitors, God and Satan. Though our sung worship in church services clearly celebrated Jesus’ victory over sin and death, when there was a heavy focus on spiritual warfare in the congregation, some spoke as though that victory was experienced most accurately in the trenches of spiritual battle. 

 This isn’t to say that everything was emotional excess and drama. I am humbled to have witnessed some true miracles in the area of deliverance. Specifically, I can think of a few occasions where a believer entrapped by hitherto-unconfessed, deeply-entrenched sin experienced new freedom after deliverance prayer. The experience of deliverance didn’t negate the need in the person’s life for ongoing discipleship, but it freed them to follow Jesus more fully than they’d found themselves able to do before. 

 Deliverance was a sign that the kingdom of God was at hand. After Jesus faced Satan in the desert, Scripture tells us he returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and made his way to Nazareth. On Shabbat in his hometown synagogue, he was handed the scroll of Isaiah to read aloud. The portion he read included these words from Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) He then rolled up the scroll and sat down, communicating his mantle of authority to the surprised crowd. He told them that this prophecy was now being fulfilled.

Indeed, throughout his ministry, he cast out demons from many who were being oppressed by them. And he told his disciples just hours before his arrest that they would be empowered and equipped to do what they’d seen him do throughout his ministry – and more: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) Continualists, including our former co-religionists in Charismatic churches, believe that supernatural gifts, signs, wonders, and miracles continue today live with heightened expectation that those “greater things” to which Jesus referred should be happening regularly in the Christian life. 

I remain in the continualist camp theologically, though it’s been more than a decade since we worshipped regularly in a Charismatic congregation. My husband and I appreciate the relative calm of worship structured around formal liturgy. At this point of my life, I don’t have the energy for the emotionalism and occasionally-wacky theology of the Charismatic churches of my past. 

 But not long ago, I realized I’d quietly drifted from considering spiritual warfare as a factor in my present life. A friend faced a cluster of life-threatening health issues, unexpected financial challenges, and family crises just as he was about to step into much greater ministry responsibilities. He confessed he felt a sense of darkness enveloping him. I empathized, I prayed he and his family would endure – and it was only days later that it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, the intensity of these trials was compounded by spiritual warfare. I’ll confess that my burn-out from some of extremes and abuses I witnessed in the past have made it easy to shelve the topic. 

However, reality is that the roaring lion prowling around us has not been de-fanged. I recognize my drift away from even considering this as a possibility is a reaction – a swing to an opposite extreme.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fasting because not for

I have been reading Scot McKnight’s book, Fasting: The Ancient Practices  I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to understand and take your first steps into this spiritual discipline.

Being brought up in Pentecostal church teaching on fasting was peculiarly absent. The picture I had assembled in my mind was, if you are asking God for something, you could turn up the heat on God by fasting. Although I’m sure this was not what people believed, fasting equaled a sort of manipulation on the divine. Even a way to control the will of an allmighty God. 

Scot encourages to look at fasting in a slightly different way: A > B > C

“If one wants to see the full Christian understanding of fasting, one must begin with A, the grievous sacred moment. That sacred moment generates a response (B), in this case fasting. Only then, only when the sacred moment is given its full power does the response of fasting generate the results (C)—and then not always, if truth be told.”

Scott suggests we are not fasting FOR something but more we are fasting BECAUSE of something! Answering the WHY rather than the WHAT.

I loved the way Thomas Ryan, Roman Catholic priest, describes fasting in his book, The Sacred Art of Fasting:
“Fasting is one of the ways the servants [of Jesus] keep themselves alert in this future-oriented waiting until the bridegroom returns. To what could you liken their discreet, mysterious joy as they wait? You could say it is like the quiet humming or whistling of a choir member earlier in the day of a concert. It’s like a mother and father cleaning the house and making up the beds in anticipation of the kids’ coming home at Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s like standing in the airport terminal or train station, waiting for your loved one to appear. It’s like a fiancĂ©e patiently addressing the wedding invitations: The long-awaited event is not here yet, but it will come, and this is necessary preparation. In each case the energy is upbeat, forward-looking, and marked by the quiet joy of anticipation.”

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

To find ourselves we first must find Christ

“But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away "blindly" so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. 

Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. 

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. 

Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

C S Lewis, Mere Christianity