Monday, 21 April 2014

Fasting and too much

Reflecting on my change of eating pattern recently - and my consequential loss of weight - I suddenly realised that I am not only enjoying eating less - an odd thing to say I know - but also the benefits of doing so. For example I don't get out of breath climbing hills, I am thinking more clearly, fitting my clothes and enjoying the food I do eat a lot more. I generally feel lighter and more healthy.

I think the answer as to why this is so is because God designed us this way. We are not designed to do anything to excess. Whether that is alcohol ("do not get drunk with wine" says Paul rather than do not drink wine at all), or sex, our country, our hobbies or anything that can take over our life or become enthroned in our heart in the place of God. This is why fasting - exercising control over something to bring it back to moderation - is good. It ensures that whatever we are obsessed with then gets dethroned so that God is once again Lord alone. Fasting is a way of reminding ourselves that the only thing that we should ever get obsessed with is God himself. And I don't mean the things of God either - Church, prayer, the Bible etc - because they are not God Himself but a means to getting closer to Him. Its a subtle difference I know but that is where we are at our weakest, discerning the difference, and that is where the devil strikes.

That is why Jesus says what at first appearance seems rather odd to us in Matthew 7:21ff: "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord,'will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." When those whom he addresses then give a list of good things to do - prophesying, driving our demons and performing miracles even - Jesus is unimpressed. His answer however drives to the heart of what I have been saying: "I never knew you. Away from me you evil-doers."

We may be prophesying, demon-driving, miracle- working Christians but unless our main focus and obsession is Jesus then all the rest is just window-dressing.

So we need to be wary always - "keeping watch" the Bible says - against all possible idolatries, even the good things of God, lest they take the place that is reserved for Him only. Fasting - not just from food, but everything that can overly preoccupy us (supporting the Swans for example) - is therefore a good way of putting into their rightful place those things that can, if we are not careful, take the place reserved for God alone. He is the only One we can or should love with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Even our neighbours we must love only to the level of ourselves and not beyond.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Not dying, changing

I owe everyone in St. James an apology for my last post as it was ill thought through and almost entirely negative. The church in NOT dying but changing. I made the mistake, as is so often the case for people of my church background, of confusing numbers for growth and more full churches for fruitfulness. Of course numbers are not good at the moment and we need to see more people come and worship with us, giving generously to the work of God in time, talent and money, but the fact that we are struggling a little at the moment is not necessarily a sign of decline but more likely a sign of change and transition.

Sometimes I am a glass half full guy and when the sun is out, the Swans are winning and I have had a full night's sleep everything is well with the world. A few nights lack of sleep, a run of bad results and cloudy skies then watch out, the glass is half-empty and it takes a lot to convince me otherwise.

Add into the mix the fact that generally the Church in Wales - and in Britain - is going through a time of change and transition from the old to the new and I don't, believe it or not, think ALL that is new is necessarily good (e.g. gay marriage) - then it is difficult to emerge unscathed and always positive.

There is another dimension too which we - or should I say 'I' - don't always take into account and that is the spiritual dimension in all this. I mention this as a second consideration because it can, all too often, become an excuse for something we need to take personal responsibility for. But nevertheless it is a factor in all of this and Paul hits it head on in his letter to the Ephesians Chapter 6: 10-12

"10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

This battle was all too real to Paul and he wants to raise the awareness of the Ephesian Church so that they can be on the alert weave it into their daily prayers. (Note: It was also a significant inclusion into the Lord's Prayer which Jesus gave us: "Deliver us from evil...")  Of course not all depression is spiritual, but some is or can be the product of a spiritual attack, and leaders are probably more exposed than many. Jesus once warned "strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered." (Matthew 26:31). He was of course speaking about himself just before he was to be arrested and all his disciples did a runner, but it has a wider application and no one can deny that without a fully-functioning leader churches can decline and die.

So we mustn't neglect the spiritual dimension to the difficulties leaders face in today's church. However this does not take away from the apology earlier but rather adds to the fact that I, personally, should have been on guard against a negative spirit and a pessimistic outlook. My apologies therefore to everyone who was down, angry or disappointed with my last post. And please pray for me.

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

There is an old religious joke that has been doing the rounds for years which goes like this:`` I was walking across a bridge one day, and ...