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 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Grace: nothing but acceptance

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. … It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance. Paul Tillich, Shaking the Foundations

Friday, January 05, 2018

Sweeter than honey

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭19:7-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬ 

Our relationship with the Holy Spirit breathed Word of God for the follower of Christ is not a routine exchange of information but a supernatural ecstatic experience that touches our whole being.
  • It revives the soul
  • It enlightens the eyes
  • It emparts wisdom
  • It enlivens the heart
  • It captures our desires
  • It enriches our lives
John Piper sums it up like this:

“God is wiser than any wise writer. God is more caring than any counselor. God is more creative than any artist. It simply stands to reason that what God says will be more useful to us than what anyone else in the universe has to say. Not to sit at his feet and soak our minds with his wisdom is sheer craziness.”

Let’s stop being crazy and let God’s, perfect, sure, wise, right, pure, true, righteous, fine, sweet & rewarding Word do it’s supernatural work in our lives.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Steadfast Hope

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. - ‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬ 

The Amplified version adds, that...we might have hope...and overflow with confidence in His promises!

Or to put it another way through the encouragement of scripture we discover the steadfast love of our God towards us, placing hope in our hearts to endure any and every situation.

We have a confidence that, “ALL the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies”. - Psalm 25:10

To us, who are all too familiar with wavering love and disloyalty, in ourselves and others, our cynicism shouts it can not be so. However in reading scripture God takes on our cynicism head on and defeats it time and time again, drawing us closer and whispering to us “steadfast love”.

In 150 songs recorded in the Psalms, many of which were songs of lament by individuals walking a difficult path, God’s steadfast love is mentioned 132 times. 

As we we walk through 2018 we do not know where the path will take us, but we do know that as we are encouraged by scripture, that it will be characterised by steadfast love, faithfulness & hope.

Draw me nearer!

Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord, 
By the pow’r of grace divine; 
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, 
And my will be lost in Thine.

- Frances J Crosby

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Day long Meditation

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭119:97‬ ‭ESV‬

Struggling with the concept of meditation I once asked a friend to help me understand what it was and how I could make it part of my life.

Do you worry, my friend asked. Yes, I realise I’m not supposed to but I do. Probing a little further he asked, what do you do when you worry, give me an example.

It usually is worst at night when I’m not as busy and start to relax, then my mind starts to wonder. I think, my boss called me today, he wants to see me tomorrow. I wonder what that’s about? I’ve been struggling a little at work lately maybe he’s not happy with my performance & he wants to talk to ma about it. But, I wonder, what will happen if I can’t improve? I guess he will let me go. At my age I’m going to struggle to get another job. If I can’t get another job I won’t be able to pay the mortgage, if I can’t pay the mortgage I will be homeless. My wife and family will think I’m a failure and will leave me. So now I find myself penniless, alone and on the street. All that from a phone call from my boss to set up a meeting.

My friend that’s right. You use a God given attribute to analyse a situation but you use it in a negative way. You think what’s the worst thing that can happen in this situation and you start the downward spiral of worry and despair. He said meditation is using the exact same ability but using it for good.

So meditating on God’s Word is taking time to muse over it and examine it from many different angles and asking it what does this mean for me in my life. Starting an upward spiral of assurance in our lives and circumstances.

If God’s Word says ___________ then it means __________ for me.

Joel Beeke lists at least 20 benefits of meditation on scripture in his essay, The Puritan Practice of Meditation :

  • Meditation helps us focus on the Triune God, to love and to enjoy Him in all His persons (1 John 4:8)—intellectually, spiritually, aesthetically. 
  • Meditation helps increase knowledge of sacred truth. It “takes the veil from the face of truth” (Prov. 4:2). 
  • Meditation is the “nurse of wisdom,” for it promotes the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:8). 
  • Meditation enlarges our faith by helping us to trust the God of promises in all our spiritual troubles and the God of providence in all our outward troubles. 
  • Meditation augments one’s affections. Watson called meditation “the bellows of the affections.” He said, “Meditation hatcheth good affections, as the hen her young ones by sitting on them; we light affection at this fire of meditation” (Ps. 39:3). 
  • Meditation fosters repentance and reformation of life (Ps. 119:59; Ez. 36:31). 
  • Meditation is a great friend to memory. 
  • Meditation helps us view worship as a discipline to be cultivated. It makes us prefer God’s house to our own. 
  • Meditation transfuses Scripture through the texture of the soul. 
  • Meditation is a great aid to prayer (Ps. 5:1). It tunes the instrument of prayer before prayer. 
  • Meditation helps us to hear and read the Word with real benefit. It makes the Word “full of life and energy to our souls.” William Bates wrote, “Hearing the word is like ingestion, and when we meditate upon the word that is digestion; and this digestion of the word by meditation produceth warm affections, zealous resolutions, and holy actions.” 
  • Meditation on the sacraments helps our “graces to be better and stronger.” It helps faith, hope, love, humility, and numerous spiritual comforts thrive in the soul. 
  • Meditation stresses the heinousness of sin. It “musters up all weapons, and gathers all forces of arguments for to presse our sins, and lay them heavy upon the heart,” wrote Fenner. Thomas Hooker said, It is a “strong antidote against sin” and “a cure of covetousness.” 
  • Meditation enables us to “discharge religious duties, because it conveys to the soul the lively sense and feeling of God’s goodness; so the soul is encouraged to duty.” 
  • Meditation helps prevent vain and sinful thoughts (Jer. 4:14; Matt. 12:35). It helps wean us from this present evil age. 
  • Meditation provides inner resources on which to draw (Ps. 77:10-12), including direction for daily life (Prov. 6:21-22). 
  • Meditation helps us persevere in faith; it keeps our hearts “savoury and spiritual in the midst of all our outward and worldly employments,” wrote William Bridge. Meditation is a mighty weapon to ward off Satan and temptation (Ps. 119:11,15; 1 John 2:14). 
  • Meditation provides relief in afflictions (Is. 49:15-17; Heb. 12:5). 
  • Meditation helps us benefit others with our spiritual fellowship and counsel (Ps. 66:16; 77:12; 145:7). 
  • Meditation promotes gratitude for all the blessings showered upon us by God through His Son. Meditation glorifies God (Ps. 49:3).
In a day when our senses are bombarded by messages from the moment we get up till we retreat to our beds, when many of us are uncomfortable with silence, there is a continual need for us to adopt a ritual of pause, dwell and ruminate on scripture. By doing this we allow the scripture to quiet our hearts and minds and grow us in strength and faith. 

The result of this meditation for the Psalmist was a deep genuine love for God’s Word which seeps out of the pores of each verse in his 119th song.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Gaining Wisdom

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them. If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” - ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭139:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

King David placed enormous value in knowing God’s wisdom over his own knowledge. We are living in an age where we are on information overload. A study in 2011 said:

“When you think that 100 years ago people were lucky to read the equivalent of 50 books in a lifetime but now most children have watched a couple of hundred movies.”

The researchers went on to say that there was now “295 exabytes of data floating around the world – that's 29,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of information. While this is enormous – 315 times the number of grains of sand on Earth – Dr Hilbert points out it is still less than one per cent of the information that is stored in the DNA of a single human being.”

So all the information in the world equates to an infinitesimally small amount compared with that of the creator! So it’s pretty clear where we should be going for our understanding of life and the universe. God the Holy Spirit has given us access to some of his wisdom through the Bible. Here is how John Piper talks about scripture.

The Holy Spirit is the divine author of all Scripture. If this doctrine is true — and it is — then the implications are so profound and far-reaching that every part of our lives should be affected. Because Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture: 

It is true (Psalm 119:142) 
It is altogether reliable (Hebrews 6:18)
It is powerful, working its purpose in our hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
It is not returning empty to the One who sent it (Isaiah 55:10–11)
It is pure, like silver refined in a furnace seven times (Psalm 12:6)
It is sanctifying (John 17:17)
It gives life (Psalm 119:37, 50, 93, 107; John 6:63; Matthew 4:4)
It makes wise (Psalm 19:7; 119:99–100)
It gives joy (Psalm 19:8; 119:16, 92, 111, 143, 174)
It promises great reward (Psalm 19:11)
It gives strength to the weak (Psalm 119:28)
It comfort to the distraught (Psalm 119:76)
It gives guidance to the perplexed (Psalm 119:105)
It reveals salvation to the lost (Psalm 119:155; 2 Timothy 3:15)

The wisdom of God in Scripture is inexhaustible.”

Monday, January 01, 2018

Don’t just flirt with God’s Word, marry it!

On this day of resolutions and firsts, there can be no better decision to develop our relationship with the Word of God. I love the phrase that John Piper uses in a sermon back in 1982.
Satan devotes himself 168 hours a week trying to deceive you and fill your mind with junk. 
He has seen to it that you are surrounded almost entirely by a Christless culture whose mood, and entertainment, and advertising, and recreation, and politics are shot through with lies about what you should feel and think and do. Do you think that in this atmosphere you can maintain a vigorous, powerful, free, renewed mind with a ten-minute glance at God’s book once a day? 
The reason there are church people who are basically secular like everyone else except with a religious veneer is that they devote 99% of their time to absorbing the trajectories of the world and 1% of their time to absorbing the trajectories of God’s word. 
 If you want to bring forth the will of God in your life like a mother brings forth a child, you must marry the Bible. For some of you, it is a stranger that you greet on the way to work but never have over for a relaxed evening of conversation, and seldom invite along to spend significant time with you on vacation. Do not, then, be surprised if you are ill-equipped to read the trajectories of God’s will for your own life.
John Piper (“He Will Send His Angel Before You”)

If nothing else this year determine to immerse yourselves in The Bible this year. It will solve an identity crisis far more effectively and finally that any diet or workout programme. Here are 5 things you can do to develop your relationship with God's Word.

Read it, Listen to it, Memorise it, Study it and most of all Apply it!

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