Monday, 23 December 2013

My back, the kingdom of Heaven and a one storey universe - part 2

Following on from part 1, in saying that the "kingdom of heaven is near/at hand" John, and later Jesus (Chapter 4:17) are both saying that God should no longer be perceived as up there or in some way apart from us, but now through Jesus is right here alongside us and, through spiritual birth, within us. In fact Jesus tells his disciples one time that "the Kingdom of heaven is within (them) you ." (Luke 17:21)

"20 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is in your midst (within you).’"

Jesus is quite clearly educating his disciples to think differently and recognize God's immanence, crucial if they are to evangelize the world for God. And maybe that was the source of their effectiveness in the first several centuries, this living out of their lives in His presence or should I say, more importantly, living out of His life which was within.

And every 'revival' of this notion - the immanence of God - over the centuries, has brought with it a new fruitfulness as the Church rediscovers this truth and experiences a renewal of its mind on the matter (Romans 12:1-2) or as John and Jesus put it, repentance (a change of mind). I think that this message is particularly pertinent at this juncture in human history in the West which worships the mind over the heart and spiritual intuition.

Here is Bishop Jonah again from the foreword to Fr Freeman's book:

"The real Christian task is to integrate our lives and our consciousness by the awareness of God, to overcome the compartmentalization dictated by our culture, and to sanctify all creation by the remembrance of God, awareness of His Presence. In truth, there is nothing that is not permeated by God, and there is nowhere we can flee from the Presence (Psalm 139). We live, as it were, in the womb of God. It is not God who has absented Himself from our awareness. Rather, we have shut Him out and become forgetful of His Presence, intentionally oblivious to reality Himself."

He continues:

"We are faced with the task of overcoming the delusion of our own autonomy and surrendering to Him who rules over all things. Indeed, the compartmentalized world is a delusion of our own creation.It is the ascendancy of the rational mind over spiritual intuition, of the head over the heart. It creates a comfortable world with the safe borders of our own very limited perceptions and narrow vision, an illusion that we can understand and control, because it is not God who has created it."

These words need to be read and re-read slowly as they contain such deep truth and touch on so many fundamental weaknesses that we, as Christians fall into, embracing all kinds of subjects such as idolatry, worldliness, superficial worship etc. I believe that both Bishop Jonah and Fr Freeman have put their fingers on the real weakness that we as Western Christians suffer from, the notion that we are in control of our own world and our own lives, except when things get a bit difficult for us, when we run out of our own finite resources and then feel the need to call 'in' God because it isn't working for us. The results of this false understanding is that the church is in free-fall decline in many places as the momentum of Christendom slows down and we begin to realize that the whole of our faith was really a human construct predicated on a deistic (God started things up and then left) rather than a theistic (God started things up and works within his creation) understanding of God. To test this ask any church leader about the importance of prayer in their church. How does he/she perceive it? As a kind of 999 call in emergencies, asking God to step down and intervene. Or as an ever-present partner in the work of the Kingdom. Or what about Holy Communion? God present - the body and blood of Jesus - or God absent, symbols of what once happened in an upstairs room on Passover night when God in Christ paid us a visit before returning to the safety of his heavenly home.

We say we believe in God, but what do we believe about Him, and how does it affect our Christian lives? How does it affect our relationship with him and our availability to Him every day? How does it affect the way we do - or don't do - evangelism. If I believe God has left His creation, even though He watches it on some kind of interested by hands off way, then we will see that Church growth is down to our own ingenuity and hard work. If however we believe in a God who is intimately involved with His creation and partners us in the growth of His Church then prayer and listening, spiritual alertness and the belief in the importance of the Holy Spirit will drive all that we do (and don't do).

Do I believe in a single-storey universe? I should do, because is clearly what Jesus taught and the Bible bears witness to. I should do or what I will build is a kingdom centred on me with a man-made foundation, rather on the foundation which is Christ, incarnated, crucified, died, risen, ascended yet present now and always in and through His Spirit.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Apathy Rule K.O.

I am not always one to get greatly involved in politics and tend to sit on the sidelines and moan. However I am not sure that that is a very Christian thing to do especially given the kinds of things that are happening in society for example in the NHS, the growth of food banks and the growing volume of homeless people. At the same time MP's are meant to represent us and we should therefore hold them accountable for what they do. But how many people know who their MP, AM or local councillors are? And how many know how to contact them or do something to help make them sit up and take notice in between elections? These are questions I have been pondering when I received an email asking me if I would like to sign a petition about the recently proposed MP pay rise which was something like 11% (recently revised down to around 9.5%).

This opened the door for me to take action and speak on behalf of those who feel that Government is laughing in their face as they struggle with rising food and fuel bills. And so anyone out there who would like to take action too here are two useful sites you may want to use.

The first one tells you who your local MP etc is. Click on this address and follow the guideline:

ttps://www.writetothem.com/

The second is the site which occasionally invites me to sign a petition calling for change etc:

https://www.change.org/en-GB

As Christians we must pray and take action on behalf of the poor, weak and vulnerable. Here is our chance to make a difference.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Worship - how others do it.

When I have a chance, which is not often, I like to see how other denominations worship God. Having been brought up in a middle of the road Anglican Church, experienced evangelical and charismatic worship, I wanted to look at how other Christians worship to see if I can learn anything from them. So a few weeks ago I sat in on a Roman Catholic midweek Mass and soaked up the silence and the remains of the aroma of incense and must say that I enjoyed the measured devotion of the service with its recognizable liturgical shape and its gentle ritual and deep reverence. Looking further afield I have looked Eastern Orthodox worship and was struck by the explanation behind it. So here is a video of an Orthodox priest talking about his latest book and Orthodox worship. Food for thought.

Friday, 13 December 2013

My back, the kingdom of Heaven and a one storey universe - part 1

Backs are handy things. They help you stand upright, lend strength to lift things and give you something to lean against a seat with when you are tired. One unintended use, I am recently discovering, is that when they 'go' you have little option than to stay still and rest, two things I am particularly bad at. That is the position I find myself in after yesterday when, having come out of the shower, I innocently leaned forward to pick up something from the bed to experience something I have not had for about a year or so now, a painful spasm which had the unusual consequence of causing my whole body to lean painfully to the right as it tried to cope with the hyper-tense muscles in my lower back. This worsened as the day wore on and left me in the state I am in today popping Nurofen (I don't like the strong stuff) and sitting upright in my pyjamas and dressing gown typing away this blog.

But the 'good thing' about this, as referred to earlier, is that I have been forced to stop and rest, and therefore think. And the result is the opportunity to put onto my blog some of the things I have been mulling over the last week or more.

It all started with reading the first part of a book I recently came across written by an Eastern Orthodox priest called Fr Stephen Freeman. The book is entitled "Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe." The first part of the title comes from the following prayer to the Holy Spirit I learnt from the Orthodox Prayer book:

"O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth who art everywhere, and fillest all things, the treasure of blessing and the Giver of life, come and abide in us. Cleanse us from impurity and of thy goodness save our souls."

I learnt the prayer - among others - because I was sick of my own rather superficial prayers and needed something deeper and more profound to 'borrow' and use. Well Fr Freeman has taken this prayer, and especially the phrase in italics, in order to examine his own heart and the Christian Church and question if it really holds to the truth of that statement which is/should be the basis of what it is we as Christians believe.

He calls this belief, the belief in a' single storey Universe' where God is 'here' and 'everywhere' and not just up 'there' in heaven (a two storey view of the Universe and God). To quote the Foreword written by Fr. Freeman's (then) Bishop - Jonas - and mentioned in an earlier blog:

"One of the most fundamental principles of the Christian vision of reality is that God is present everywhere, filling all things. This underlies the essential Christian task of becoming consciously aware of that Presence and bringing that awareness into every aspect of our life."

I am sure all of us can say 'Amen' to that. But do we really believe it? A sure sign of whether we do or not is seen in our daily practice or in our attitude to prayer or the sacraments. The bishop continues:

"Secularism is the compartmentalization of God and religion, and everything else, into autonomous and unrelated parts of our lives. Secularism does not deny that God exists, but rather states that He has His place and does not necessarily affect other areas of our lives."

How does this insidious belief work out in practice? Let's take the Eucharist or Holy Communion. Those who believe it is a sacrament believe that somehow, in some way, when the bread and wine is blessed God is present 'in' them, that somehow and in some way Jesus's body and blood and the bread and the wine become 'one'. The more secularist Christian - if I can call them that - believe that this is superstition or nonsense and will tell you that the bread and wine are mere symbols of Christ's body and blood. What they have done in taking this line, however, is to banish God from His world and say that all that Jesus has left us with is an idea rather than his actual presence. And yet, as plainly as he can say it, he tells us that "this is my body which is broken for you....this is my blood which is shed for you..." In other words "I am fully but mysteriously present in the bread and wine as you eat and drink it".

Another evidence of the secularization of our faith is prayer. Of course not all prayer is like this, but sometimes the way we pray, inviting Him  to act, seems to imply that He is either in another place or far away and needs to be summoned. Okay we must allow for the fact that language is not always exact and sometimes prayer in this way is just another way of saying 'help'! But it can also betray a mindset that sees God separate from His world and needing to be called in like some heavenly emergency service or rescuing cavalry. But isn't God always here? Isn't that what Jesus came to tell us? Isn't prayer therefore an acknowledgement of that?

This came home to me more recently as I was preparing to preach on Matthew 3: where John the Baptist preaches: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near" (or "at hand") something Jesus takes up later in Matthew 4:17.

Let's look at this. The word "repent" is often associated with sorrow, confession of sins and a desire to put things right that we have done wrong. All that is true. But the word also means "to change one's mind" or even "to think differently". Put all this together and you could say that to repent means that action of God at work in you which leads to a change of mind about Him, sorrow for having thought and acted the wrong way and a resulting change in direction of your life that brings it back into line with God and his intentions for you.

We see this played out in the passage that follows as people have been struck by that fact that they are wrong in what they have been doing and thinking about God, and confessing this, they have undergone symbolic baptism for the washing away of their sins in the River Jordan. And the fact it is the Jordan is itself a powerful symbol referring back to the Israelites crossing over the River (see the Book of Joshua) from the old life of slavery to the new life of freedom, form the old kingdom of Pharoah into the Promised Land, the Kingdom of Israel.

Later in the passage John is unconvinced of the Pharisees' intentions as they came to hear him, as their refusal to be baptized (inferred in the passage) demonstrates that their thinking is unchanged and therefore their lives are set firmly on the (wrong) path that will ultimately reject Jesus and His teaching.

The second part of John's message is a reference to something the Israelites may have had an inkling about. Every Jew knew that one day God was going to finish His work in the world and bring everything to an end. At that point their belief in Him would finally be vindicated and He would come and finally establish - or re-establish  - his Kingdom founded by their greatest King, David. Evil - in the form of unbelieving gentiles - will be done away with and all the believing Jews will share in a great banquet with God in celebration of His victory and the defeat of evil. So thinking that that is what John the Baptist was announcing - and that he may be the long awaited Messiah - people flocked to him to prepare for God's imminent arrival.

But this belief was predicated on the idea that God was somehow "up there" and was coming "down". This was further underlined by the way it worked in the Old Testament. There Moses had to go up a mountain to get the commandments Exodus 19-20) and Elijah too (1 Kings 19)  to get his head right again and his mission back on track. And when God did turn up it was usually in the form of angelic visitors (see Genesis 18) or in one of the several theophanies in the Books of Genesis (Chapter 14:18ff) and Daniel (Chapter 3). In other words God was generally considered absent from His world unless He turned up for some special purpose or summoned His leaders/prophets to a special place (Temple) or special mountain (Sinai).

But here John was actually taking the idea and adding a new twist. In saying the Kingdom of heaven was near he was saying that God is now drawing near, but not in order to end something but start something new. And this something new referred to his 'moving in' to stay with us.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

As an Evangelical - albeit an Anglican one - I have long struggled with the concept of the "Wrath of God". This came to a head in recent months over the modern hymn "In Christ Alone" where the stand out verse in this respect talks about how the "wrath of God was satisfied". I have swung both ways on this, wanting on the one hand to acknowledge that there is such a thing as the Wrath of God, and that it is a biblical concept, while on the other hand being very wary that this does not become the predominant feature of God's character.

It was interesting to read Angela Tilby's article in the Church Times a little while back on the subject as mentioned in the above hymn. I am not sure what Angela's churchmanship is but I suspect that it is not evangelical. And yet she writes in defence of the line and the theology behind it. You can read the whole article here.   But here is what she says about attempts to correct the 'offending' line:

"So how should we react to the theology of the cross in "In Christ alone"? I am unconvinced by the attempts to "correct" the authors, for example by substituting "love" for "wrath" in the critical line. Worthy, wimpish, and ultimately patronising, it refuses to allow them to engage with one of Christianity's most potent metaphors. Penal substitution may not be found in scripture, but it does have an honourable pedigree. It is crucial to Anselm's understanding of the Atonement; Calvin developed it, and it still moves individuals to tears of repentance.

Yet this deeply disturbing, even cruel, conception of what happened on the cross works because it is a metaphor. Taking it literally as a forensic analysis of salvation is simply a mistake. It should be seen alongside, for example, John Donne's "Batter my heart, Three Person'd God".

As paradox, penal substitution has great force. To imagine Christ standing in for me at the place where I am most guilty and in need brings about the kind of insight that can change a life. We should not try to conform genuine poets such as Townend and Getty to our theological mediocrity."

By contrast an evangelical, Tom Wright, makes a case for changing it. Here are a few of his quotes on the matter:

First on the doctrine of the Wrath of God:
“The biblical doctrine of God’s wrath is rooted in the doctrine of God as the good, wise and loving creator, who hates — yes, hates, and hates implacably — anything that spoils, defaces, distorts or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures. If God does not hate racial prejudice, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not wrathful at child abuse, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not utterly determined to root out from his creation, in an act of proper wrath and judgment, the arrogance that allows people to exploit, bomb, bully, and enslave one another, he is neither loving, nor good, nor wise.”

However he warns against oversimplification which makes God's wrath or anger His most prevalent characteristic leading to a tendency to split the Trinity making God the bad cop and Jesus the good cop as it were:
“This is what happens when people present over-simple stories with an angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God who demands blood and doesn't much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent.“ You’d have thought people would notice that this flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God: not ‘God was so angry with the world that he gave us his son’ but ‘God so loved the world that he gave us his son’. That’s why, when I sing that interesting recent song ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’, and we come to the line, ‘And on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’, I believe it’s more deeply true to sing ‘the love of God was satisfied’. I commend that alteration to those who sing that song, which is in other respects one of the very few really solid recent additions to our repertoire. So we must readily acknowledge that, of course, there are caricatures of the biblical doctrine all around, within easy reach — just as there are of other doctrines, of course, such as that of God’s grace.”

Wright is concerned to avoid caricatures of God as being ONLY wrathful and angry - as Richard Dawkins would have us believe - and quite rightly points to the fact that His wrath is an expression of His love. What he and Angela Tilby are saying therefore is this, don't emphasize the one over the other but put them together as two aspects of the same thing. Unfortunately I do wonder if "satisfied" is the right way to describe what happened to God's wrath when Jesus died on the cross? But what other word would do? Placated? Quelled? Deflected? I do not doubt that somehow God's wrath was answered by Jesus' willingness - and therefore God's willingness - to die on the cross for our sins, but to put those two words together "wrath" and "satisfied" does evoke so many unhelpful and therefore inaccurate images that if I were to lean any way it would probably be towards Tom.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

America today, us tomorrow?

A Non-Theistic Christian Now Running the Washington National Cathedral

Rev Gary Hall, the new Dean of Washington National Cathedral believes that teaching people to wait for marriage to have sex is “unrealistic.” He isn't too keen on the idea of life-long commitment or fidelity in marriage, either. But he agrees with gay marriage and has personally assured Dr Richard Dawkins that he also “doesn't believe in the God” that Dr Dawkins doesn't believe in. (Note: Dr Dawkins has made it abundantly clear that he doesn't believe in any kind of deity).

From the Washington Post:
Life experiences informed Hall’s unconventional views on marriage. (His parents were married seven times between them.) “We have this cartoon in America where you grow up, get married and stay the same person,” he says. “For the church to say, ‘No sex before marriage,’ is not realistic,” he argues.
… Under Hall’s leadership, the cathedral announced it will start performing same-sex marriages.
… He tells of sitting next to the renowned atheist Richard Dawkins at a dinner and discussing God. Hall told Dawkins, “I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in either.”
“…I don’t want to be loosey-goosey about it,” he says, “but I describe myself as a non-theistic Christian.”
taken

Christian Atheism

It seems at the moment that all the challenging thinking is coming from outside my tradition. Recently an Eastern Orthodox writer challenged me on worship. Now another writer - Fr Stephen Freeman - has challenged me about my tendency to act as if I live in a two-storey universe. Here is an excerpt from his book "Everywhere present":

"What has been an integrated vision of God and humankind, of the divine and the created, in the "one-storey universe" has become a dualistic segregation of God from human life in the "two-storey" model, in which God is absent from the first floor, and people begin to wonder if there is Anyone home up there..... God has not disappeared from our world, but we have tried to exile Him to the second floor.

One of the most fundamental principles of the Christian vision of reality is that God is present everywhere, filling all things. This underlies the essential Christian task of becoming consciously aware of that Presence and bringing that awareness into every aspect of our life. Secularism is the compartmentalisation of God and religion, and everything else, into autonomous and unrelated parts of our lives. Secularism does not deny that God exists, but rather states that He has His place and does not necessarily affect other areas of our lives. But soon the compartmentalisation leads to an exclusion of God altogether, as we create a world in which we live by our own reasonings. Thus is born a kind of Christian atheism, where we operate as if God were absent, perhaps even non-existent. This kind of functional atheism then degrades into faithlessness."

From introduction to book by Fr Stephen Freeman called "Everywhere present: Christianity in a one-storey universe "

Friday, 6 December 2013

Interview with Professor Rosario Butterfield

I have recently been reading an interesting and provocative book by Professor Rosario called "The secret thoughts of an unlikely convert" which tells the story of a woman who, at 28 boldly declared herself to be a lesbian and then, later, through her conversion to Christianity had a radical rethink. The following is an interview where she talks a little about what happened. This can also be found, along with other interviews, on a website which looks into people who have wrestled with their sexuality as Christians. It is called: www.livingout.org

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The power of prayer

I have returned to the topic of prayer and the power of prayer many times and each time I look at it I feel as if I haven't quite discovered it's secret. Here is a short article that sets out to explain how we should pray for the church. I will offer a short comment at the end.

HOW TO PRAY FOR YOUR CHURCH

Did you know there are about 650 prayers recorded in the Bible? This is because prayer is important. Throughout Scripture, God repeatedly invites his people to pray to him in all kinds of circumstances for all kinds of reasons. God especially delights in his people praying for the church.

So how should we pray for our church? Let’s explore several sections of Scripture to see how prayers for the church are modeled in the Bible.

1. Pray for unity in Jesus for the Church
In John 17, Jesus sets the example of what it looks like to pray for the church. And what does he pray for? Unity. Jesus prays that his people “may all be one,” united together in God. From John 17:20–23 and what is known as the High Priestly Prayer:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

2. Pray for God's will within the church. 
In Colossians 1, the Apostle Paul displays his heart for the church by praying that the people within the church be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, so that they can live for Jesus. From Colossians 1:9–13:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.

3. Pray for the Holy Spirit to move in the Church. 
In Ephesians 1 and 3, the Apostle Paul prays that God the Father would give the Spirit of God to the people within the church.  He prays that God would strengthen them in the Spirit, so that Jesus dwells in their hearts and they are rooted in the love of Christ. Here’s Ephesians 1:16–20:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.

And Ephesians 3:14–19:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

4. Pray for the fruitfulness of the Church. 
In 2 Thessalonians 1, the Apostle Paul prays for a church that is growing in faith and love while enduring persecutions. He wants them to know that Jesus will one day return to earth and that, until that day comes, it is very important for the church to be faithful and fruitful, working diligently to provide for their families and help expand God’s kingdom. Here’s 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us be encouraged that our God invites us to call upon him in prayer at all times for our church.

Bubba Jennings is the lead pastor of Mars Hill Federal Way.

Comment.
First, the above are random texts in the sense that they don't form one continuous argument that teaches us that prayer is central to Church growth. It is important and part of the picture but isolating it from everything else gives the (false) impression that all you need to do to grow a church is pray>

Second, we read THAT Paul etc prayed and encouraged prayer, but none of the texts actually tell us HOW to pray. I get the impression that prayer was something natural to Paul and the apostles and something they did, but I am no clearer about the sort of prayer that was offered. Was it request-based, was it as part of the Jewish daily prayer pattern? As with many such passages as above the author perhaps is seeing the passages through the lens of his own particular way of praying. However I am not convinced that his was the New Testament's or Paul's.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

City of God

“I have undertaken to defend the most glorious city of God against those who prefer their own gods to the founder of that city. The King and founder of this city…has made clear the meaning of the divine law in the Scriptures of his people, in which it is said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
St Augustine

Monday, 18 November 2013

Prayer and Mission

The following is an excellent video introducing a series on prayer and mission. I was struck particularly by the first part of the video where 'God' interrupts a prayer meeting.

Prayer Course

Typical me, advertise a new prayer course and forget to say where it can be found. So for those who are interested, here is the link: http://www.prayercourse.org/

It is free with videos to watch and outlines to follow.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Heart of the Scriptures

I am always keen to listen and learn from other Christian traditions, especially those who have been around a lot longer than my own. One such tradition that continually fascinates me is the Easter Orthodox Church. Here is one of their best writers Frederica Mathewes-Green talking about the heart in the scriptures:

What does the bible have to say about the heart?

 “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” Luke 2:51

“The word of God…[pierces] to…the thoughts and intentions of the heart” Hebrews 4:12)

“Out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19)

 Surprisingly, the Bible treats the heart as the place where we do our thinking—we think in our hearts, not our heads. And, as Matthew 15:19 shows, those thoughts are not always noble. In our culture we regard our ability to reason as one of the highest aspects of human personhood, but forget how often we employ that faculty in less-than-noble pursuits. The biblical Greek word for thinking actively, like when you’re thinking something through, is dianoia, and it includes selfish fantasies, plotting, and scheming:

 “The imagination [dianoia] of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21)

“He has scattered the proud in the imagination [dianoia] of their hearts” (Lk 1:51)

 So if the heart is where humans do their thinking, where do they feel emotions? The strongest emotions, as well as the deepest thoughts, are said to arise from “the inward parts,” the bowels and kidneys, as we might refer to “gut feelings.” That sounds coarse in our culture, though; so modern English translations usually substitute something more polite, located higher up in the body.

 Psalm 16:7 in Hebrew: “I will bless the Lord who has given me understanding; in the night also my kidneys instruct me”

King James Version, 1611: “My reins also instruct me” (reins being an archaic term for “kidneys,” as in “renal function”)

Revised Standard Version, 1952: “In the night also my heart instructs me”

New American Standard Version, 1971: “My mind instructs me in the night”

 Apparently, over the centuries, everything’s been rising. Maybe in a hundred years we’ll read, “My hat instructs me”!

 But it’s not a matter of substituting “bowels and heart” for “heart and head,” for the Scriptures don’t share our view of emotion as an equal-and-opposite alternative to reason. Our assumption is that people tend toward one function or the other, and we deplore the waves of emotion that undermine reason, or the coldness of solitary reason that stifles the heart. But the Scriptures don’t view them as opposed or parallel faculties.

 In the Scriptures, having emotions is not a function or action, parallel to dianoia thinking. A specific emotion, like anger, might prompt a biblical character toward an action, but the person wasn’t engaged in a distinct process of emoting at the time, as opposed to thinking. He just got angry, and acted it out in a particular way. He probably was thinking, actually. He was thinking about something that made him mad.

 This makes sense, when you think about it. Reason and emotion actually are not separate. When we feel an emotion, it is because of a thought we’re having—often enough, a completely logical thought. And we all know how our emotions subtly influence our reasoning. These are two aspects of a single process, not opposites or alternatives.

 Here’s another difference. The Scriptures’ use of “heart” is much broader than ours today. The heart was seen as the center of a person’s entire being. It was the place inside where thoughts, emotions, memories, fantasies, will, and desires all bubble together as in a cauldron. (While the deepest thoughts and feelings are registered in the “inward parts,” the usual source of both is the heart.) The heart includes both good and bad elements; as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” The heart is the home of our inner self, and the place where Christ must rule.

 You might well ask why this difference of viewpoint matters. It’s because, when we agree with the cultural assumption that human beings are composed of two opposite functions, reason and emotion, it damages our witness. If human beings don’t have anything but reason and emotion, there is no way God can communicate with us. All our claims about God can be ascribed to emotions.

 We often hear people say, “You can’t reach God with your mind, only with your heart.” But, as those terms are defined today, it means that any claim of contact with God has no rational basis and is merely emotional. Something like St. Paul’s conversion cannot be claimed as real in an objective, “true for everybody” sense. It’s real only in a subjective, “true for me” sense. Maybe he just had an emotional crisis and hallucinated the whole thing. No prophets heard the voice of God. Moses thought he saw a Burning Bush because he was lonely and discouraged. When the whole population of the Hebrews drew near the smoke-shrouded mountain, and saw lightning, heard thunder and “the sound of the trumpet growing louder and louder” (Exodus 19:19), it was a case of mass wishful thinking.

 When we agree with our culture that all experiences of God are solely emotional, it seriously limits our ability to speak the truth of Jesus Christ in the public square.

 But the New Testament offers us a different understanding of the composition of a human being, and, as a result, a different understanding of human contact with God. I began to glean this after I became Eastern Orthodox, twenty years ago. When I started reading Eastern Christian writings, from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Slavic countries (reaching back to the first century), I had the feeling that something here was really different. It was hard to pin down just what it was. One thing I noticed was that a Greek word, nous (pronounced “noose”), kept popping up. It would appear just like that, un-translated and undefined. Apparently translators thought there was no accurate equivalent in English. It was a concept we just don’t have.

 This was in the days before Google, so to figure out what it meant I kept writing down whatever I thought the definition was, as I read along. At one point I had six definitions. But eventually I grasped that it means the human faculty that understands, discerns, or comprehends.

 This is something we do with our minds, all right—when nous appears in the New Testament, it’s usually translated “mind.” But it’s not active dianoia thinking, like thinking through a problem. It’s the receptive faculty of the mind.

 You can picture the human mind as having two gears, forward and reverse. Forward, dianoia, is when we’re thinking something through, actively reasoning. Reverse, nous, is when we are grasping or comprehending something. This is our faculty of discernment, comprehension, understanding, perception, awareness. It’s how God can make contact with his people, can convey something to them directly, and it has nothing to do with their emotions.

 Forty years ago I had a miraculous conversion to Christ, kind of like St. Paul’s. I was a new college grad, hitchhiking around Europe, and at that time calling myself a Hindu. But when I was touring a historic church and stood looking at a statue of Christ, I suddenly heard a voice speaking to me—not with my ears, but interiorly. It spoke with such authority that doubt was impossible. What the voice said was, “I am your life.”

 When I tried to describe this to people afterward, the best I could describe it was, “It was like there was a little radio in my heart that I never knew was there. Suddenly it switched on and I could hear a voice.” When I met the word nous in Eastern Christian writings, at last I had a name for it; the nous is that “little radio.” And every one of us has one. We are made that way. Because God wants to be in communion with his people.

 Let’s look at how the word is used in the New Testament. When Christ appeared to his apostles, after the Resurrection,

 “He opened their nous to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45)

 He didn’t render the apostles better at thinking logically about the Scriptures, but opened their understanding. Suddenly they could see his Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection foretold throughout the Old Testament. St. Paul says,

 Christians “have the nous of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16)

“Be renewed in the spirit of your nous” (Ephesians 4:23)

“The peace of God which passes all understanding” is actually “The peace of God which overflows the nous” (Philippians 4:7)

“Be transformed by the renewal of your nous” (Romans 12:2)

 The nous is not a special spiritual faculty; it is how we perceive everything. It is how the mind receives and assimilates information. If you open the door and it’s raining, your senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch all transmit their perceptions to the “central office,” the nous. You then process that incoming information and discern that it is raining.

 This first-hand, direct experience of something, which we register by means of the nous, precedes thoughts and feelings. To put that another way, after we perceive something we may well have rational thoughts and feelings about it, but the actual perception came first. After you realize it’s raining, you may have some rational thoughts (“I’d better take an umbrella”) or feel some emotions (“I get sad when it rains”). But both came after that primary perception of rain. The perception itself was not due to your thoughts or feelings, but was derived from objectively real phenomena.

If God communicates with us, we are likely to have a number of thoughts and emotions afterward! But that doesn’t render the experience itself unreal.

 As if the heart-mind confusion weren’t enough, we also have a linguistic tangle because, in English, we use the word “feelings” to mean two different things. We can “get a feeling” and perceive something, or sense something. Maybe we have a “gut feeling.” That would be “feeling” in the sense of the nous. The old Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker had to learn to “feel” the Force; he had to learn how to perceive and tune into something that, in the movie’s world, was objectively real.

 But, unfortunately, we use the same word “feelings” when we mean emotional reactions—hurt feelings or sad feelings. Star Wars villain Darth Vader should have resisted his vengeful feelings. For Luke “feelings” are perceptions, and for Darth “feelings” are overwhelming emotions. Same word, different meanings; no wonder we’re confused.

 But if everyone has this capacity to hear God’s voice, why don’t we? Because the nous is fallen. Just like everything else in Creation. It perceives inaccurately. How many of the conflicts between people are caused by simply not understanding each other accurately—misreading what others say and do. Your damaged, darkened nous might tell you that someone is looking at you funny, when they’re not looking at you at all. The devil makes a playground of this. St. Paul says of nonbelievers,

 “Their very nous… is corrupted” (Titus 1:15)

“[They live] in the futility of their nous” (Ephesians 4:17)

 The nous doesn’t much want to hear God’s voice. It would rather keep itself distracted with a ceaseless stream of incoming sensory data—images, sounds, physical experiences, favorite foods, and so on. When people say that you need silence to hear God’s voice, it doesn’t mean that you should try to be vacant and empty (which would be a spiritually dangerous, actually). But we need quiet at times of prayer because all the busy-work our nous wants to chew over keeps it filled to capacity, and not sensitive enough to register the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). If you were at a noisy party and someone asked you a very important question, you would want get away someplace quiet to think about it. That’s why we need silence, when we pray. We’re trying to listen, to learn how to listen.

 I didn’t know all this when I joined the Eastern Church. I thought it was just a matter of changing to a different denomination. But to my surprise, the Eastern Christian tradition turned out to be not merely an ecclesiastical institution or set of theological doctrines, but an active science or program of inner healing. In the Christian East, we are seen as sick with sin, rather than merely guilty of it; sin pervades us and our world. Like air pollution, it damages everyone, including the innocent, and gives power to the evil one. Sin is death.

 So there’s a sense of urgency about overcoming this creeping toxin. We don’t need only to be forgiven for our sins, but also to stop sinning and stop contributing to the misery of the world. Christ came to take away our sins (1 John 3:5)—not just the penalty for our sins, but the sins themselves. Sin is infection, not infraction. It matters, when we resist it.

 Eastern Christianity is a method or program of strength-training, so we can gain power over our compulsions to sin, and continuously grow in union with Christ. It shows us how to fast, pray, and love others such that the damage of sin begins to be healed, and the light of Christ begins to spread. Though I had no idea that’s what I was getting into when I converted, it turned out to be what I had sought all my Christian life.

 Now most of my work is aimed at helping Christians of all denominations understand and implement this “science” of transformation in their own lives. A significant part is recognizing that our “head-heart” division is not Biblical or true, and learning that the nous exists and needs healing. This alternative understanding of the makeup of the human person restores to us the possibility of authentic communion with God. That’s what the world is longing for.

http://70school.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/read-heart-of-scriptures.html

Advice on prayer

Reading the magazine Christianity recently and in an article about Pete Grieg the man behind the 24-7 Prayer initiative I came across the following question and answer about prayer:

"Justin Brierley:  Any advice for those who want to start praying, or want to pray better?

Pete Greig: Keep it simple. Don't try and pray your way to the top of the staircase - pray the next step. Keep it real, especially if you're the one suffering. God can handle anger. He can handle honesty. The Bible is more honest than most churches.

And then, keep it up - Jesus explicitly says your're going to have to persevere in prayer. Sometimes prayer is like stacking dominoes, and you pray the same prayer that you've prayed 1,000 times before and the whole lot comes through, and it was just that you didn't give up too soon. So keep it simple, keep it real, and keep it up."

Keep it simple. Keep it real. Keep it up.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

New Prayer Course

The following is a music video promoting a new prayer course. The information can be accessed here:

http://www.prayercourse.org/

Here is the promo:


White and black sheep

I came across the following story (and comment) in a recent book by Trystan Owain Hughes which was told him by an elderly vicar at his local church:

A North Wales shepherd is happily grazing his large flock of sheep, when an English tourist stops to admire them. "That's a wonderful flock you have,' he says. 'How much would you say your sheep walked each day?'

The shepherd answers, 'Which ones, the white ones or the black ones?'

The white ones,' replies the Englishman.

'Well the white ones walk around five miles each day,' says the shepherd.

'And the black ones?' asks the tourist.

'Yes the black ones too,' comes the answer.

'And how much grass would you say they eat daily?' says the Englishman.

'Which ones,' says the shepherd, 'the white or black?'

The white ones,' answers the tourist.

'Well, the white ones can eat about six pounds of grass each day,' asserts teh Welshman.

'And the black ones?' asks the tourist.

'Yes the black ones too,' comes the answer.

And so the tourist continues further. 'How much wool would you say they give each year?'

'Which ones, the white or the black?' retorts the shepherd.

'The white ones,' comes the response.

"Well," he explains, 'I'd say the white ones give some six pounds of wool annually.'

'And the black ones?' asks the Englishman.

'Yes, the black ones too,' comes the answer.

By now the passer-by is curious, so he says, 'I'm sorry, but can I ask why you divide your sheep into white ones and black ones every time you answer my questions?'

'Well' said the shepherd, 'you see that's only natural, because the white ones are actually my sheep.'

'Ah,' says the Englishman, 'and what about the black ones?'

And the shepherd answers, 'Yes, the black ones too.'

Trystan writes: "I can't recall exactly why the elderly vicar told me this tale! But I think it can teach us something about how easily we fall into the trap of relying on the labels that we foist on people around us. The way we see people defines how we act and how we treat each other. As the philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote: "The question is not what you look at, but what you see." In other words, we are constantly wearing spectacles through which we make judgements on people and which distort our attitudes towards them.

The book by Trystan id a good one for the season of Advent. It's called "Real God in the real world."

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Defining Moments

The following is a very moving video from the Billy Graham fold and gives a powerful evangelistic message which needs to be heard.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Finding a home in a liturgical Church

Something strange is happening among evangelicals. They are beginning to sense that not only have liturgical churches got something to offer, but that what they do offer is an ancient deep wisdom whose roots reach all the way down into the New Testament. I write this as one who has not really appreciated this over the 40 years I have been an Anglican but who, as I wrestle with the current situation in the Church in Wales decline is now beginning to appreciate its real, true riches.

Partly my thinking has been affected by asking questions about the Church. What did it look like in the early centuries, especially in the immediate aftermath of Jesus Ascension into heaven?  Who decided which books were included in the Bible and which books left out? Why were some books considered in the first place and on what basis were they left out, and what, if anything, have they to offer us now? Also what did the undivided Church look like up until it first split in 1054 and then again in the 15th century?

But my thinking about the subject has also been piqued by the articles that are being written on the internet and in various Christian magazines like Christianity Today, about evangelicals who are starting to drift and gravitate towards the more liturgically ordered denominations like the Anglicans, or in some cases the Roman Catholics (I have been reading two books by former evangelicals who have become Catholics) or Eastern Orthodox.

Here are some excerpts from a recent article on Christianity Today which illustrate the examples I am thinking about.

In a 2007 a conference was held in Wheaton, that bastion of American Evangelicalism on the them of "The Ancient Faith for the Church's Future." Here, the words spoken 15 years ago by Drew University theologian and CT senior editor Thomas Oden rang true: "The sons and daughters of modernity are rediscovering the neglected beauty of classical Christian teaching. It is a moment of joy, of beholding anew what had been nearly forgotten, of hugging a lost child."

The conference's Call for Papers likewise rejoiced:
"One of the most promising developments among evangelical Protestants is the recent 'discovery' of the rich biblical, spiritual, and theological treasures to be found within the early church." In particular, it said, evangelicals are beginning to "reach back behind the European Enlightenment for patterns and models of how to faithfully read Scripture, worship, and engage a religiously diverse culture."

Baylor University's D. H. Williams, author of Evangelicals and Tradition, testified at the conference to the recent upsurge of evangelical interest in patristics (the study of the church fathers in the first seven centuries of the church):
"Who would have thought, a decade ago, that one of the most vibrant and serious fields of Christian study at the beginning of the 21st century would be the ancient church fathers? There has been an opening of new avenues, especially among free-church Protestants, by the almost overnight popularity of bishops and monks, martyrs and apologists, philosophers and historians who first fashioned a Christian culture 1,500 years ago."

In 1978, Robert Webber begun his groundbreaking 'Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity' by throwing down the gauntlet:

"My argument is that the era of the early church (A.D. 100–500), and particularly the second century, contains insights which evangelicals need to recover."

Twenty-five years later, he could rejoice in the pages of his Younger Evangelicals that they "want to immerse themselves in the past and form a culture that is connected to the past, a culture that remembers its tradition as it moves into the future." Webber observed—with what we now know was not mere wishful thinking—that evangelicals had entered the new millennium by surging into the past.

In 1977, upon the urging of Robert Webber, Donald Bloesch, and Thomas Howard, 45 evangelical academics and leaders gathered to pen "The Chicago Call: An Appeal to Evangelicals," whose prologue declared evangelicals' "pressing need to reflect upon the substance of the biblical and historic faith and to recover the fullness of this heritage." This historic document began by issuing a "Call to Historic Roots and Continuity":

"We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scripture and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures. … We dare not move beyond the biblical limits of the gospel; but we cannot be fully evangelical without recognizing our need to learn from other times and movements concerning the whole meaning of that gospel."

One person speaking about his own experience of coming to faith in an evangelical/charismatic setting and yet feeling that "something was missing" writes:

I gave my life to Christ in a Canadian charismatic church. It was a modern-church setting with a giant, auditorium-like sanctuary that someone had decorated to look like a suburban living room, complete with sea foam green carpeting and rubber plants. On Sunday mornings, I would walk in and feel the palpable presence of the all-powerful and all-loving Lord. On Saturday nights, at cell-group prayer meetings, I was mentored by wise "fathers and mothers in the Lord." On Monday nights, I participated in the music ministry of a dynamic youth group.

Yet through the years, though this wonderful church formed me in the joy of the Lord that was my strength, I felt like we were missing something. As a stalwart outpost of the kingdom in a threatening world, our faith seemed somehow precarious. We stood, as we faced that world, on a foundation made of the words of our favorite Bible passages—our "canon within the Canon"—and the sermons of our pastors and a roster of approved visiting evangelists. There was utterly no sense of the mystical massiveness of a church that had stood firmly for 2,000 years. No sense that our foundation actually stretched down and back through time. I didn't have a clue who John Wesley, Martin Luther, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius of Antioch were. I just knew that I felt like I was part of a church that was in some ways powerful, but in other ways shallow and insecure in a threatening world that did not share our faith.

I now see that my early sense of the church's insecurity stemmed from what J. I. Packer has called evangelicalism's "stunted ecclesiology," rooted in our alienation from our past. Without a healthy engagement with our past, including historical definitions of "church," we are being true neither to Scripture nor to our theological identity as the church. Though Packer doesn't put it this way, it is easy to see ways in which their stunted ecclesiology has led evangelicals to allow the world to shape the church."

Journalist Colleen Carroll Campbell discovered through her research among young Christians that the informal, spontaneous style of many free-church Protestant groups does not give these young adults enough of an anchor. In Massachusetts, Campbell spoke with Sharon Carlson, a young woman raised in the Plymouth Brethren movement, a free-church tradition that eschews liturgy, tradition, and hierarchy. Carlson described the Communion experience as "tearing up bread and passing around cups of grape juice after men in the assembly spontaneously stood and repeated the words that they felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to say," and she felt that was no longer enough. As Campbell reports, " 'I want to be more connected to history, the history of the Christian church,' said Carlson, who relishes the knowledge that she is worshiping the way Christians have for centuries. 'There have been generations of people before me saying the same prayers.' "

Carlson found it difficult to attend emotional, upbeat, and impromptu services on those days when she did not feel the fervour to worship. When she encountered liturgical worship as a student at Gordon College in Wenham and during a year in Oxford, England, she noticed herself gravitating toward the Anglican churches, where she could reaffirm her beliefs with a creed, regardless of her feelings. She also liked following a church calendar that connected the seasons of the year with the seasons of Christ's life. Now Carlson uses the Book of Common Prayer regularly and worships at Christ Church, a theologically conservative and highly liturgical Episcopalian church.

In this shift, Carlson is not alone, writes Campbell. Her new church has attracted "throngs of students and faculty" from evangelical Gordon College. Many of these became full-blown "converts" to the liturgical style of Episcopalians. This, despite the misgivings many share about the theological directions of that denomination. Surely something is afoot among the younger evangelicals.

You can read the entire article here but the points raised are interesting ones and touch on the kind of thinking that is occupying me at the moment. As an Evangelical I want to remain true to the bible and the core doctrines of the faith, but I am more than aware that that concern was the Church's well before the 15th century and Luther and Calvin and continues to be the concern of much of the Church I have been wary of because of the way that they "dress it up" in liturgy. The truth however is that the liturgy, far from dressing things up actually helps preserve, communicate and protect the faith handed down (2 Timothy 1:1-14). True it can be repetitive and perhaps less "exciting" than some of the worship you find in the Pentecostal and other free churches, but what it lacks in excitement it makes up for in depth, consistency and importantly orthodoxy.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Salvation explained

"Are you saved?" is a question I have occasionally been asked over the years, as some have wondered if, as an Anglican, it was possible. Here is the answer from an Orthodox Christian's point of view, that Christian being an Orthodox Bishop, Kallistos Ware. It's a very clear, and at times funny, insight into the different approaches to the subject which I found very enlightening, interesting and challenging. Plus it reminds me that as an Anglican I am a "Johnny come lately" to the history of the Church.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Effective Church Growth

I have spent my ministry thinking about what makes churches grow, and next week I will be attending a course "Leading Your Church into Growth" in England, so it is something that has been, and is, very much on my mind. There is no secret formula to how to do this. In fact I suspect that it comes very much under the category of "the wind blows where it wills" (John 3:1ff) meaning that it is a work of the Holy Spirit . But there are from time to time things that strike an inner chord and the following article by Church Lawless (see here) is one such thing:

Praying Pastors—A Non-negotiable to Effective Church Growth By Chuck Lawless 

The famous English pastor Charles Spurgeon once wrote words that still demand our attention today:

“Do not restrain prayer. . . . For only through prayer can the prosperity of a church be increased or even maintained.” (1)

We know that healthy church growth does not occur without God’s blessing, yet how easy it is to talk about church growth ideas, methods, goals, and strategies, while missing this most significant component of church growth: prayer! The goal of this article is to call us to prayer as we lead churches toward growth. (2)

Characteristics of Praying Churches 
Think for a minute about praying people in the Bible. Abraham prayed for a city (Gen. 18:20-33). Moses prayed for God’s people (Exod. 32:11-13). Joshua prayed for guidance (Josh. 7:1-26). Hannah prayed for a child (1 Sam. 1:1-20). Solomon prayed for wisdom (1 Kgs. 3:1- 15). The prophets of God prayed, too, for various reasons (e.g., 1 Kgs. 18:36-39; Jer. 20:7-18).

The early church—dependent on God as they were for all things—prayed fervently (Acts 1:14, 3:1, 4:31, 6:4, 10:9, 12:5, 13:3, 14:23, 16:25, 20:36, 28:8). The apostle Paul prayed for believers (e.g., Rom. 1:8, 1 Cor. 1:4), and he expected them to pray for him (Eph. 6:18-20, Col. 4:2-4). Jesus, of course, modeled a life of prayer for all of us (e.g., Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42, 5:16, 6:12, 11:1; John 17).
Here’s the point: prayer matters, and praying believers lead to praying churches.

Praying Churches Admit That They Are Powerless on Their Own 
Almost twenty-five years ago, I became the pastor of a small church in southwestern Ohio. I had little formal education and no pastoral experience. I had never baptized a person, officiated a wedding, or led a funeral. What I did have, though, was a church family that knew  (2) how to pray. I think of Sonney and Christie, Paul and Edna, and Red and Gloria—all who understood that God alone could grow their little church. They knew they were powerless without him. In fact, I’m convinced they trusted me as a twenty-year old pastor simply because they knew that effective church growth was not dependent on me. 

Here’s the reality: churches grow effectively—that is, by reaching and discipling lost persons—only by God’s power. That power is available to us through prayer. Until we are willing to admit that our churches cannot make a dent in a lost world without God’s power, we will not pray enough.

Praying Churches Put Their Focus on God 
One of my favorite verses in the creation story is Genesis 3:9—“Then the Lord called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (NAS). This verse grabs me because God came looking for Adam and Eve after they had sinned against him. They had rejected his Word, but he sought them anyway because he’s always been an outward-focused God. Prayer is about a relationship with this God, and praying churches focus on him.

A church simply can’t focus on God through prayer and remain centered on themselves. Some time ago, I spent an exciting weekend with an evangelical church in the western part of the United States. When I walked into their building, I immediately saw the flags of several nations hanging in their worship center. The flags represented countries to which the church had sent missionaries. It was not surprising that that same church had committed the weekend to fasting and praying for God’s will to be done in their congregation. God-centered churches are praying churches.

Praying Churches Learn to Persevere Patiently in Faith 
Effective church growth is not an easy process. We preach the Word, and we must then  (3) wait for God to move a heart. We share Christ with a lost person, and often that person does not respond immediately. Visitors attend our churches week after week, and we wonder why they never officially join.

What do these stories have to do with prayer? Have you ever wondered why the Bible so often calls us to wait? (e.g., Isa. 40:31, Psa. 52:9, Acts 1:4). One reason must be that we are often impatient—we want God to respond to our needs in a microwave fashion. We church leaders want God to change our churches right now. Sometimes it even seems like we want the answers to our prayers before we ever pray the prayer!

Praying churches realize, though, that God’s timing seldom matches our timing. He does not always respond as quickly as we would like—but we can still trust Him to accomplish His plan.

A Basic Principle for Developing a Prayer Ministry 
 Elsewhere I have written extensively about developing a prayer ministry in the local church.(3)  My goal in this section is simply to describe the most basic prayer ministry principle described more completely in these other works: the pastor must set the example. Listen to these words from the pastor of a growing church in Texas:

For thirty years I preached more about prayer than I prayed. But it wasn’t until people started seeing praying in my life that my words made a difference. We are fighting on the wrong battlefield. The battle is to be won on our knees. Then we go out and do what God tells us to do. There is no substitute for praying preachers. (4) (emphasis added)

Most church leaders want a ready-made program for prayer, but almost every prayer study indicates that a praying church begins with a praying pastor. Pastor, take a moment to answer this question honestly: “If all of my church members prayed as much and as fervently as  (4) I do, should I expect my church to grow?” If your answer is “no,” you know where to begin.

Here are a few steps toward becoming a praying pastor.
1. Hold yourself accountable to someone. Find someone who knows you well, and who cares enough about you to confront you with this question: “have you prayed today?” The age of email makes it possible for someone to ask us this question every day, and most of us need daily accountability for our praying.
2. Pray with your spouse and family every day. Even a few minutes a day is a starting point,
especially if you have small children. You will emphasize prayer more and more forcefully challenge your church to pray if you know that prayer in your own home is consistent.
3. Do Bible studies on great prayer warriors. It is difficult to read the stories of prayer in the early church without longing to pray as they did. More specifically, how hard it is not to pray more when we read how much Jesus prayed (for example, in the book of Luke). Spend some time studying the stories of prayer noted earlier in this article, and you will likely pray more.
4. Be comfortable with small daily improvements. Few persons become prayer warriors overnight. If today you pray for ten minutes longer than yesterday, thank God for that improvement. If tomorrow’s prayer is simply more focused than today’s, be grateful for the progress. Daily growth eventually means long-term growth.
5. Pray today. You get the point—nothing will change unless you begin by praying today. May God help you to start today in becoming the model prayer warrior for your church.

NOTES 
 1. Charles Spurgeon, The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life (Lynnwood, WA: Emerald Books, 
1993), 105. 
2.  Much of this article can be found in Thom S. Rainer and Chuck Lawless, Eating the Elephant 
(Louisville: Pinnacle, 2003). Used with permission.  5
3. Charles Lawless, Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003); Chuck Lawless, Discipled Warriors (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002). 
4. Glen Martin and Dian Ginter, Power House (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 45. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Advent coming

Advent is my favourite time of the year. I love the Advent carols, the services and even the name 'Advent'. Here is a website which makes us think about what lies at the end of it, Christmas. It is from America but is nonetheless relevant to Christians everywhere.

The website can be found by clicking here.

God is at work in the Anglican Church. But...?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Breathe into me, Holy Spirit

I came across this beautiful prayer the other day by St. Augustine of Hippo:

Breathe into me, Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.

Move in me, Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.

Attract my heart, Holy Spirit,
that I may love only what is holy.

Strengthen me, Holy Spirit,
that I may defend all that is holy.

Protect me, Holy Spirit,
that I may always be holy.
Prayer of St. Augustine 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Sacred Pauses

As someone who is always in a rush I am learning to slow down as in my hurry I am continually missing out on what God is saying and doing. The following video is a promo for a book which speaks to the manic nature of life today and says "slow down".

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Post Eucharist Celebration?

I had to post this, a celebration after a Eucharist in USA. Not sure if it will catch on here or that any of us has the energy to anyway!

BASIC

The following is a trailer for a series on Christian Basics by Francis Chan. It's for home study and you can download notes - and the videos - for home groups. Francis Chan is an amazing speaker and communicator who speaks from the heart.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Ravi Zacharias Interview

One of my favourite speakers, Ravi Zacharias being interviewed:

Afterlife exists says top brain surgeon.

A prominent scientist who had previously dismissed the possibility of the afterlife says he has reconsidered his belief after experiencing an out of body experience which has convinced him that heaven exists.

While in a coma the neurosurgeon says he was met by a beautiful woman in a 'place of clouds, big fluffy pink-white ones'  Comments Dr Eben Alexander, a Harvard-educated neurosurgeon, fell into a coma for seven days in 2008 after contracting meningitis.

During his illness Dr Alexander says that the part of his brain which controls human thought and emotion "shut down" and that he then experienced "something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death." In an essay for American magazine Newsweek, which he wrote to promote his book Proof of Heaven, Dr Alexander says he was met by a beautiful blue-eyed woman in a "place of clouds, big fluffy pink-white ones" and "shimmering beings".

He continues: "Birds? Angels? These words registered later, when I was writing down my recollections. But neither of these words do justice to the beings themselves, which were quite simply different from anything I have known on this planet. They were more advanced. Higher forms." The doctor adds that a "huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above, and I wondered if the winged beings were producing it. the sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but doesn't get you wet."

Dr Alexander says he had heard stories from patients who spoke of outer body experiences but had disregarded them as "wishful thinking" but has reconsidered his opinion following his own experience.

He added: "I know full well how extraordinary, how frankly unbelievable, all this sounds. Had someone even a doctor told me a story like this in the old days, I would have been quite certain that they were under the spell of some delusion.

"But what happened to me was, far from being delusional, as real or more real than any event in my life. That includes my wedding day and the birth of my two sons." He added: "I've spent decades as a neurosurgeon at some of the most prestigous medical institutions in our country. I know that many of my peers hold as I myself did to the theory that the brain, and in particular the cortex, generates consciousness and that we live in a universe devoid of any kind of emotion, much less the unconditional love that I now know God and the universe have toward us.
"But that belief, that theory, now lies broken at our feet. What happened to me destroyed it."
 The original article is in Newsweek. Click here.

Lee Mack on the Bible

Bible Sunday is coming up soon and so the following quote from the comedian Lee Mack on desert Island discs after being presented with the Bible is a good one to get people thinking. he said:

"I'm glad you get the Bible, because I would read the Bible. I think it's quite odd that people like myself, in their forties, quite happy to dismiss the Bible, but I've never read it. I always think that if an alien came down and you were the only person they met, and they said, 'What's life about? What's earth about? Tell us everything,' and you said, 'Well, there's a book here that purports to tell you everything. Some people believe it to be true; some people [do] not believe it [to be] true.' 'Wow, what's it like?' and you go, 'I don't know, I've never read it.' It would be an odd thing wouldn't it? So, at the very least, read it."

The "unreported catastrophe of our time"

On October 5th the Spectator ran an article about something the Church has long been praying about, and doing its best to draw attention to, the persecution of Christians. Now figures have been released that tell us on what scale this is on.

According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet.

According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a ‘situation of witness’ each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.

In effect, the world is witnessing the rise of an entire new generation of Christian martyrs. The carnage is occurring on such a vast scale that it represents not only the most dramatic Christian story of our time, but arguably the premier human rights challenge of this era as well.

The article makes disturbing, but necessary reading. You can access it here.

We need to make praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ one of our priorities and support such organisations as the Barnabas Fund or Christians Against Torture (the Welsh site is here).

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Pray for your school

We are all concerned for our schools and whether our children are getting the right education or not. but another concern has crept in especially in the light of a recent government report about standards of RE teaching especially in relation to Christianity. Here is what was written:

"A report by Ofsted, the school inspectorate, has found that a third of primary school children had an ‘inadequate’ understanding of Christianity. Inspectors, who visited 185 secondary schools and more than 30 primary schools, said teachers were both fearful of ‘saying the wrong thing’ in classes.

Michael Cladingbowl, Ofsted schools director, said: ‘Inspectors found that very few children were being taught in school to get to grips with religion. They had little understanding of why religion is important or of how different religions could help them make sense of their own lives.’

He added: ‘Lots of children we saw understand Jesus is a key figure in religion. They understand he is really important. But what they could not say was why.

They knew about the resurrection at Easter, but they did not understand that it represents the power of hope over despair, the transcendental nature of the crucifixion in Christian belief.’

The report also found that standards were weakest in classes for 11 to 14 year olds and showed that 250 schools and academies not a single pupil was entered for an accredited qualification in RE in 2011.

‘Ofsted's report tells us what many teachers and schools already know,’ said Mary Bousted. The General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers added: ‘RE has become a forgotten “poor relation” in the curriculum. Yet good religious education is vital for our young people so that they understand the role of religion and belief in society’."
From the Bible Society website

In the light of this and other concerns we, as Christians, need to do something. The first thing is to pray. Can  recommend you visiting the website www.prayforschools.org  This gives clear guidelines about how to go about praying for and supporting your local schools.

Dallas Willard - a great teacher

The following is a video featuring Dallas Willard talking with John Ortberg about his book The Divine Conspiracy:

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Saint Lucy - 283–304

I find the lives of saints and holy people utterly fascinating and although some of the sceptics love to pour cold water on some of the more miraculous aspects of their lives I believe that Jesus' promise that his disciples and followers will do "greater works than these" (John 14:12) i.e. the ones Jesus did, is true. Of course there may well have been some exaggeration in the retelling, but there must have been something to exaggerate in the first place.

Anyhow, here is a short talk I gave as the Church remembered Lucy and her faithful witness:

"Lucy's name means "light", with the same root as "lucid" which means "clear, radiant, understandable." Unfortunately for us, Lucy's history does not match her name. All we really know for certain is that this brave woman who lived in Syracuse lost her life in the persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Her veneration spread to Rome so that by the sixth century the whole Church recognized her courage in defense of the faith.

Maybe because people wanted to shed light on Lucy's bravery, various legends grew up. The one that is passed down to us tells the story of a young Christian woman who had vowed her life to the service of Christ. Her mother tried to arrange a marriage for her with a pagan. Lucy apparently knew that her mother would not be convinced by a young girl's vow so she devised a plan to convince her mother that Christ was a much more powerful partner for life. Through prayers at the tomb of Saint Agatha, her mother's long illness was cured miraculously. The grateful mother was now ready to listen to Lucy's desire to give her money to the poor and commit her life to God.

Unfortunately, according to the legend, the rejected bridegroom was unhappy at losing his dowry and his wife and betrayed Lucy to the governor as a Christian. This governor tried to send her into prostitution but the guards who came to take her way found her difficult to carry away as she became very stiff and heavy. Finally she was killed – one legend has it that her eyes were put out (she is the patron saint of blind people).

As much as the facts of Lucy's specific case are unknown, we know that many Christians suffered incredible torture and a painful death for their faith during Diocletian's reign. Although the exact facts are unknown Lucy – along with many other Christians – faced the ultimate test of faith.

A few comments:
1. Whatever the fact to the legends surrounding Lucy, the truth is that her courage to stand up and be counted a Christian in spite of torture and death is the light that should lead us on our own journeys through life.

2. Lucy was keen to share her faith with others and set out to convince her mother of the reality of Christ. Her belief in the power of God saw her prayer of faith answered and, as we see in the life of Jesus, the Gospel message was confirmed by “signs and wonders”.

3. Lastly, Lucy’s ‘light’ - that is her faith - shone in dark and difficult times helping keep the light of Christ burning. As the most recent census tells us, the numbers of those who are willing to call themselves Christian have dropped from 71% to 59% over just a decade. We need to follow the example of Lucy and keep shining for Jesus.

The H+ Course

Over the past decades, anecdotal and statistical evidence has pointed to a decline in biblical literacy amongst churchgoers. An increasing number of Christians (both church leaders and those in the pews) are expressing a lack of confidence in the Church’s core text, and difficulties with understanding how the Scriptures bear any relationship to their Christian discipleship.

As a response to this problem, Bible Society has developed the h+ Making Good Sense of the Bible course to help Christians grapple with some of the key questions that arise when we come to the Bible.
The programme is not about providing answers, but demonstrating the range of approaches that are taken, so that participants can grow in their awareness and confidence of what is known as ‘Biblical Hermeneutics’, and how our Bible reading is directly related to our growth as Christian disciples.

The h+ course is designed to help you:
grow in understanding and experience of how people interpret the Bible
understand the different ways that the biblical text can be approached
harness these approaches and thereby grow in Bible confidence
Over ten sessions, you and your h+ group will unpack the most challenging questions that emerge when we read the Bible. Together you will explore different ways of responding to the questions the Bible provokes. There is expert advice from a range of theologians and practitioners; there are guided discussions and practical exercises, and there is input from a trained facilitator.

For more information go here.

Prayer Shawl Ministry

In my visits around the Deanery as the Area Dean of Swansea I came across something called the Prayer Shawl Ministry. Here is the history and story of it's genesis:

"In 1998, Janet Severi Bristow and Victoria Galo, two graduates of the 1997 Women's Leadership Institute at The Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut gave birth to a ministry as a result of their experience in this program of applied Feminist Spirituality under the direction of Professor Miriam Therese Winter, MMS. Compassion and the love of knitting/crocheting have been combined into a prayerful ministry and spiritual practice which reaches out to those in need of comfort and solace, as well as in celebration and joy. Many blessings are prayed into every stitch.

Whether they are called Prayer Shawls, Comfort Shawls, Peace Shawls, or Mantles, etc.., the shawl maker begins with prayers and blessings for the recipient. The intentions are continued throughout the creation of the shawl. Upon completion, a final blessing is offered before the shawl is sent on its way. Some recipients have continued the kindness by making a shawl and passing it onto someone in need. Thus, the blessing ripples from person-to-person, with both the giver and receiver feeling the unconditional embrace of a sheltering, mothering God!"
From the website

The lady behind the ministry in St. Thomas, Bronwen, told how much those who have received one have appreciated receiving one and speak about the comfort and assurance of God's love they have felt after putting it around them. They have spoke of a sense of God's love for them, or a renewed sense of his abiding presence. Some of these people have been desperately ill and one has since died, but not before the shawl has brought a real sense of peace in time of need.

For more information visit the website here.

"Shawls ... made for centuries universal and embracing,
symbolic of an inclusive, unconditionally loving, God.
They wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace,
mother, hug, shelter and beautify.
Those who have received these shawls have been
uplifted and affirmed, as if given wings to
fly above their troubles..."

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Fr. Mychal Judge

On September 11, 2001 Fr. Mychal Judge, Chaplain for the New York City Fire Department, was going about his daily routine when he heard that a plane had struck one of the buildings of the World Trade Center. He grabbed his gear and went right to the scene.

The Chaplain usually stands at the Command Post to be available to the scene commander and also to be available if he is needed by one of the guys working the fire ground.  Fr. Mychal was in the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center giving last rites to many of the dead.

At 9:59 am when the Tower collapsed, debris went flying through the air and Fr. Mychal was hit in the back of the head and killed instantly.  His body was found by a NYPD Lieutenant and 2 fire fighters, and they carried his body to nearby St. Peter’s Church and placed there before the altar.

Fr. Mychal died doing what he loved, “Serving Those Who Serve”. There is a short prayer that is attributed to Fr. Mychal:

“Lord take me where you want me to go:
Let me meet who you want me to meet:
Tell me what you want me to say:
And keep me out of your way.”

Church for beginners?

In her book "The Word on the Wind" Alison Morgan makes reference to a young woman Sharon who was a respondent to a survey about ...