Friday, December 23, 2005
There must be a time of day when the man who has to speak falls very silent. And his mind forms no more propositions, and he asks himself: Did they have a meaning?
There must be a time when the man of prayer goes to pray as if it were the first time in his life he had ever prayed; when the man of resolutions puts his resolutions aside as if they had all been broken, and he learns a different wisdom: distinguishing the sun from the moon, the stars from the darkness, the sea from the dry land, and the night sky from the shoulder of a hill.”
From No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton – Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, New York, 1955. Page 260.
[see previous post for source]
Monday, December 19, 2005
“This then is what it means to seek God perfectly: to withdraw from illusion and pleasure, from worldly anxieties and desires, from the works that God does not want, from a glory that is only human display; to keep my mind free from confusion in order that my liberty may be always at the disposal of His will; to entertain silence in my heart and listen for the voice of God; to cultivate an intellectual freedom from the images of created things in order to receive the secret contact of God in obscure love; to love all men as myself...”
From New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1972. Pages 45-46.[From the Merton Foundation Newsletter http://www.mertonfoundation.org/merton.php3?page=guestbook.ext]
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned ...
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:2, 6 (NIV)
Christmas is above all the time when God's mercy in the gift of his Son is celebrated.
What exactly is mercy? We all know the word so well that maybe a redefinition is in order. Easton’s Bible Dictionary puts it like this:
MERCY: compassion for the miserable. Its object is misery. By the atoning sacrifice of Christ a way is open for the exercise of mercy towards the sons of men, in harmony with the demands of truth and righteousness (Genesis 19:19; Exodus 20:6; Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 85:10; Psalm 86:15-16). In Christ mercy and truth meet together. Mercy is also a Christian grace (Matthew 5:7; Matthew 18:33-35).
The object—i.e. what it is directed towards—of mercy is misery. Think about that a moment. What does a life of misery look like? A life broken, unhealed—maybe a life with embarrassing problems like addictions, debt, social dysfunction. Certainly messy, and possibly dangerous.
God is calling us to minister—to each other certainly—but far more than that to people with whom you wouldn’t normally think of getting along. People who live lives of misery aren’t comfortable, respectable people. They’re not guaranteed to enhance our lives, and they certainly aren’t guaranteed to enhance our reputations! They won’t always accept our help, and if they do they won’t always be properly grateful. What’s more, they are likely to be perennially needy, always coming back for help, unless and until God does something amazing in their lives.
Remember Jesus’ pattern of mercy? He helped people first, and then recommended lifestyle changes. The perfect example of course is the beginning of John 8, the story of the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery. Or take the time Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Jesus didn’t instruct her to get her messy life straightened out before he’d talk to her. In fact, he allowed her to minister to her people as an evangelist (John 4:28-30; 39-42) even before she’d sorted out her tangled love-life. (Re-read the passage if you don’t believe me!)
Jesus’ ideas are not like our ideas (cf. Isaiah 55:8) and he doesn’t give a fig for our respectable ideas of who is or isn’t fit company for a proper Christian (Luke 5:30; Luke 7:36-48)—in fact it’s those who are in trouble, who are living lives of misery, that he came specially to save.
This Christmas, and on into this New Year of 2006, let us live in the expectation of our Lord’s return: let us live lives of such mercy that all those we meet and minister to will meet Jesus in the love we show them, as we reflect the love he has for us—“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Friday, November 25, 2005
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord... Acts 3:19 (NIV)
Repentance is a term some of us have difficulty coming to terms with. There’s a tendency to think of it either as a synonym for guilt-trip, a wallowing in the past, endlessly replaying in our minds the things we’ve done wrong, unable ever to forgive ourselves, or else an unhealthy scrupulousness, figuratively or literally (medieval penitents with knotted cords and hair shirts?) beating oneself up, often over things no normal person would take any notice of...
We associate repentance with long faces, miserable expressions, a hollow, churchy voice. We unconsciously imagine those given to much repentance to be either hypocrites or sick – quite possibly both! In the age we’ve all grown up in, or into(!), we’ve unconsciously taken on board Frank Sinatra’s lyrics (well, actually Paul Anka wrote them, but it’s Ol’ Blue Eyes we remember) where nearly at the end of the song he sings, just before the break, “For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!” To kneel, to admit that we’re wrong, makes us less than a man, somehow – or a woman, I guess... makes us, in fact, pathetic.
Of course, suffering can in itself be redemptive, but search the Scriptures as I may, I can’t find any examples of deliberately self-inflicted suffering being redemptive. Paul, James and Peter may teach that one should rejoice in one’s sufferings, but only because they produce good things, and only in sufferings, persecution for example, inflicted from outside...
And yet in Peter’s second recorded sermon, where he stood up and addressed the people in Solomon’s Colonnade, after he and John had healed the beggar crippled from birth, he said, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord...” “Times of refreshing...” Doesn’t sound too miserable, does it? Doesn’t sound much like hair shirts...
So what is this word, anyway? The Greek is interesting – sorry for all this Greek stuff, but really, this is a whole new way of understanding the word, a way of undercutting all our prejudices and assumptions, a way of seeing what Peter would have meant, and what his listeners would have understood. The word is metanoeo – literally, to think differently afterwards. After what? After our sinful life. Not just after individual sins – naughty thoughts or actions – but after living for ourselves and not for God, that whole way of life that began in the Garden when the serpent said to Eve, “You will be like God...”
As such, repentance is something God calls us into, by his Holy Spirit – directly, through Scripture, or through the words of another Christian, as Nathan called David to repent after his affair with Bathsheba and it s tragic consequences. It comes by God’s mercy, and it is an operation of grace. The call to repentance is, ultimately, what Jesus calls us to, what he’s getting at when he says, in Matthew 9:13, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV)
Repentance is not just saying sorry for some sin or another, still less trying to make amends for that sin by causing oneself emotional or physical pain. Repentance is a way of life. Not a way of life that involves going around in a hair shirt, looking miserable enough to curdle milk, but a way of life characterised by our sins being wiped out, not brooded over, and by those enticing “times of refreshing”!
Repentance is freedom.
Repentance is lightness of heart.
Repentance is joy and clarity and sanity.
Repentance is turning to God in the freshness of the morning.
Repentance is early morning dew on spring grass, larch flowers in the misty woodland.
It is our sad, sweaty, self-obsessed sin-lives that are the miserable thing, scratching in the mud for worms when all the glory of the morning sky is spread out above us. That’s pathetic, if you like.
Repentance is lifting our gaze from that mud, and looking instead into the clearest light of dawn, where “...for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2 NIV)
H’mm, perhaps I shouldn’t get so carried away, but after the last fortnight or so – which has been one of those pastoral high spots we all hope won’t come too often, if at all – I need something to remind me of what this craziness is all about!
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday, when we meet to remember before God all those who gave their lives in war that we might know peace.
We remember especially the dead of the two Word Wars – but we must never forget those who died in countless smaller conflicts, some of which are all but forgotten by any but those who served, or who lost relatives: Aden, Radfan, Suez, The Falklands, Northern Ireland, Omar Dhofar, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, two Gulf Wars... the list goes on...
“Blessed are the poor in spirit...” (Matthew 5 - the Beatitudes)
But who are the poor in spirit?
If you know your OT you will know how often God’s people, people after God’s own heart, are called “the poor”: “Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay.” (Psalm 40:17 NIV) – “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.” ( Isaiah 41:17 NIV) In Hebrew they are the anawim, the ones with nothing...
Clearly God is talking about the economically poor here – and that’s not inappropriate: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5 NIV) God plainly has a soft spot for the hard up, and we’d better not forget that when we pull up in our new car alongside some tatty old heap, and are tempted to give them one of those Clarkson looks...
But not just the economically poor... there are those like the poor in Isaiah 61 (the Hebrew is 'anaw – the same root as anawim – that Jesus famously came to preach the good news to, and the ones in Rev 3:8, whom God knows have little strength, but who have kept his word, and have not denied his name.
We have to know we are poor, that “before God we are void of everything” (JFB). If we don’t, our hands can’t be open to the riches Jesus wants to pour into them – if we do, then we are in the fitting state for receiving all spiritual supplies... like the people Jesus met who were at the ends of their tethers – Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46ff), the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3ff), the tax collector who became a Gospel writer...
So the poor in spirit are those who know they have nothing ultimately worth having, nothing they can “take with them when they go” as the saying goes. And it is the economically poor who are so often open to know that – those of us who are more comfortably off all too often cover over our emptiness with good food, good wine and good times, not to mention “cool stuff”! (I have a weakness for cool stuff myself – usually it’s either musical or electronic – ideally, both!)
But what about those who have lost what made life worth living for due to the cruel hand of war? The just-married lads who walk on a landmine (you know the main explosive force, and the spread of shrapnel, is directly upwards?), those blinded, with no hands, the mysterious Gulf War syndrome sufferers, who have to live with not being believed, on top of their debilitating condition? The wives without husbands, sisters without brothers, fathers without sons... Some live out lives of unrelenting bitterness and anger, some lose their minds, some lapse into despair... but some realise themselves as Biblically poor, the ones who have given all they had, lost all they’d longed for, laid down their lives for their friends...
When we sign up, or are called up, to serve our country in wartime, we lose the freedom to decide our own lifestyle. We are no longer “masters of our fate, captains of our souls...” to misquote William E Henley. We are men or women under authority, frail in the face of fate we cannot master... and our only strength lies in our ability to do our duty, to obey other captains entirely... we are suddenly anawim... and God is with us, if only we will know it.
So today let us remember all the poor, all the anawim – yes, especially those who gave their lives in war that we might know peace – but also all those who have nothing, those Jesus said he had come for, when he unrolled the scroll to Isaiah 61 and read:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)
Don’t let us ever forget the poor, whether poor in economic fact or poor in spirit – or both – and never ever let us forget that they, not the fortunate successful, are the ones God will call his “oaks of righteousness”. God knows their deeds. He has placed before them a door that no-one can shut (Rev. 3:8). It is through them he will display his splendour – it was on Jesus at his poorest, as he hung on the Cross, that God’s glory fell – and still falls today.
Monday, October 31, 2005
This living Word of God, this debar Yahweh, is the "Thus saith the Lord" of the prophetic tradition. The prophets were not really religious soothsayers or social critics or village cranks. They were ordinary people who encountered face-to-face the One who, as Amos puts it, "made the Pleiades and Orion" (5:8). Old Testament professor Howard Macy says that these "encounters were blind-siding, breath-sucking, gut-jarring; they were full of energy, creativity, and crazy surprise; they intermingled fear and attraction, tenderness and amazement." Abraham Heschel writes, "To the prophets, God was overwhelmingly real and shatteringly present. They never spoke of Him as from a distance. They lived as witnesses, struck by the words of God . . ." They fed off God's living word to them. God was shatteringly present to them; the debar Yahweh had come to them; and their entire lives became oriented around this stunning reality. As a result they received what Walter Brueggemann calls a "prophetic imagination," the capacity to see what is yet possible through the power of God, "It is the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to bring people to engage the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God."
"And here is the really shocking news: all Christians are called, in some measure, to prophetic life and witness. Out of the humility and generosity of his great heart, Moses had wistfully exclaimed, "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!" (Num. 11:29). Well, with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost God did exactly that. The prophet Joel had promised a day when the Spirit would enable all God's people to dream dreams, to have visions, and to prophesy, and on that Pentecost day Peter declared that Joel's promise had indeed come to pass. At Pentecost God initiated a universal, revolutionary community of prophets. In Inviting the Mystic, Supporting the Prophet Katherine Marie Kyckman and L. Patrick Carroll write, "All of us Christians, not just some `specially chosen' are called to be deeply united to God in prayer and to speak out of that prayer with some strand of prophetic voice. Everyone is called to be both mystic and prophet."
What we need to understand is that God is still speaking. The debar Yahweh is still active and alive, creating and recreating, forming and transforming. God is "our Communicating Cosmos," as Dallas Willard puts it. Now, I am fully aware that there are those who feel that with the full Scriptural canon we no longer need the living voice of God, the Kol Yahweh. And while I can appreciate such a position I will simply respond with the words of William Law, an 18th century Anglican writer, in his book The Power of the Spirit, "to say that because we now have all the writings of Scripture complete we no longer need the miraculous inspiration of the Spirit among men as in former days, is a degree of blindness as great as any that can be charged upon the scribes and Pharisees." My friends, God is a continuing, communing, speaking Presence with his people. Here. Now. The Word of God living.
Wow! Amen! (& stuff like that...)
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Thomas Merton once wrote:
“…community is not built by man, it is built by God. It is God’s work and the basis of community is not just sociability but faith. This is what we need to see very clearly, because it is very important… what really starts fighting is possessions. And people get into fights by preferring things to people. This is well developed in Christian theology, and therefore, for us, the importance of detachment from things, the importance of poverty, is that we are supposed to be free from things we might prefer to people. You can extend that to any limits you like – wherever things become more important than people we are in trouble. That is the crux of the whole matter. Figure it out for yourself!”
Thomas Merton in Alaska, New Directions, 1989. p. 97
We are here, as a church, and as individuals, to serve God and to serve God in the community in which he has placed us. But there’s more... our church is itself a community, and we are part of a community of churches, both within the Vineyard (Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist – insert your own flavour!) community and as a church in our village, town, city, nation.
Jamie Watters, preaching last Sunday at Glasgow Westend Vineyard, made the point that servanthood is very far from merely trying to keep others happy... In Christ we cannot expend one ounce of energy on pleasing people. We are called to servanthood not subjection. We serve where the need is vital... we don’t wait for the opportunity to use our own special gifts. Living in the world is living in wartime, and all our service is emergency service.
How are we doing according to Merton’s and Watters’ criteria? Preferring people to things doesn’t just mean what value we feel we place on them, but the degree to which we are prepared to serve them, and to sacrifice our own interests for them. Do we choose service to our neighbours above the opportunity to make money? Do we choose service above position, kindness above reputation?
Jesus put it like this:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:25-28 (NIV)
Friday, October 21, 2005
Just off to Scotland tomorrow for a Vineyard meeting. I’ll be back next week, and I want to explore further this sense I have that God is bringing to birth things in some of us through difficult times, things we’d have been all too willing to ascribe to attacks, oppression, call it what you will.
For many of you have been in the desert where you have been tried and tested by My Spirit. You have come to know that it is “not by might or by power but only by My Spirit” that you can live, breathe and have your being. You have, by experience, come to know My Spirit as your Sustainer and your source of Strength. That I AM your Provision. That I AM your everything. Yes, you have come to understand the concept of Me being the vine and you being the branches and the fact that without Me you are disconnected and without stable ground. It has not been easy, but I have led you by My wisdom as you simply trusted in My ability to lead you day by day...
As I quoted the other day from Teresa Seputis (Linked – Saturday 15 October) –
If you watch and see what I am doing in your life, you will notice a pattern as I put you into the same type of faith-producing situation over and over again. I am explaining it to you clearly so that you don't become confused and think you are under the attack of the enemy. Understand that this is My hand upon you to cause your faith to grow and not an attack of the enemy. So instead of looking to war in the spirit, cooperate with Me in the area of trusting Me and stepping out in faith.
There have been several other words, documents and so on that have turned up over the last fortnight that convince me that this is definitely something God is wanting to being not just to my attention (he’s got that all right...) but perhaps to the wider community of prayer?
More of this next week...
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Hurricane Wilma is currently the strongest category 5 storm to form in the Atlantic. For the sake of our southern neighbors and also for our friends along the Florida Gulf coast, we need to step up again and pray. I know many are weary with the unfolding trauma. Jesus called these earth events "birth pangs." Even while we pray, let us also be aware: something holy is in the birth canal. Therefore, let us not passively stand and watch destructive events as they occur, but rather let us stand in faith as priests before the Lord. Grace was released during Hurricane Rita and it was far less destructive. Let us intercede that Wilma would rapidly diminish in strength.
Dear Friends, let us kneel before God in humility, in prayer and repentance for ourselves and the sins of our nation. But let us also rise in authority and confidence as we approach the throne of God's grace to find help in time of need.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Just read these today, in His Life Is Mine:
Prayer offered to God is imperishable. Now and then we may forget what we have prayed about but God preserves our prayer for ever...
When it is given to man to know the overriding value of prayer as compared with any other activity, be it in the field of science, the arts, medicine or social or political work, it is not difficult to sacrifice material well-being for the sake of leisure to converse with God. It is a great privilege to be able to let one’s mind dwell on the everlasting, which is above all the most splendid achievements of science, philosophy, the arts and so on. At first the struggle to acquire this privilege may seem disproportionately hard; though in many cases known to me the pursuit of freedom for prayer becomes imperative...
Intense prayer can so transport both heart and mind, in their urgent desire for the eternal, that the past fades into oblivion and there is no thought of any earthly future – the whole inner attention is concentrated on... God. It is a fact that that the more urgent our quest for the infinite, the more slowly we seem to advance. The overwhelming contrast between our own nothingness and the inscrutable majesty of the God Whom we seek makes it impossible to judge with any certainty whether we are moving forward or sliding back. In his contemplation of the holiness and humility of God, man’s spiritual understanding develops more quickly than does his ability to harmonise his conduct with God’s word. Hence the impression that the distance separating him from God continually increases... Prayer becomes a wordless cry, and regret for the distance separating him from God turns to acute grief...
I can’t think when I’ve ever come across a writer who seems to see more keenly into my own adventures and misadventures in prayer than Sophrony!
Ezekiel 37:1-14 has to be one of my favourite OT texts – the mystery and the wonder of the dry bones coming together, bone to bone, the sheer beauty and strangeness of the language…
But what does it all mean? In the original context, Ezekiel was recording God’s promise to restore Israel, the desolate Northern Kingdom, while even Judah was still in exile in Babylon. In our own time, the passage is often taken as a pretext for preaching on revival, and as a prophecy of God’s restoring work in the Church. In the churches of the Anglican tradition, the text is often taken in the context of Lent, and made to reflect the Father’s work in raising his Son from the dead, frequently illustrated with reference to Jesus’ own raising of Lazarus in John 11.
Which is right? Or have I found another interpretation, a fourth way? Not really. I want to look at the common factor in all these strands of thought, and then look at where God himself was going with all this.
God has many names in the Bible – according to Lambert Dolphin’s list, somewhere around 38 in the OT alone – and one of the most evocative is ‘Yehovah shalom’ – God is our peace (Judges 6:24)
But shalom means more than just peace, as in absence of conflict. It means whole, finished, fulfilled, perfected. Shalom means that kind of peace that results from being a whole person in right relationship to God and to one's fellow man.
I think it’s out of this quality of being that God is promising to act. “Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:13-14 (NIV) God’s God-ness restores, makes whole again, brings into shalom…
And God in Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever – the God who promised to re-shalom Israel is the same God, who hears our prayers for healing, renewal, for the restoration of the church… The God who would bring those dry bones together, bone to bone back in the days of the Babylonian exile, 600 years before Jesus was born to Mary, is the same God who sends his Holy Spirit on us in power today, the same God who does heal, does restore broken people and broken relationships, does make all things new, just as remarkably today as he did for Ezekiel.
God doesn’t change – James tells us how “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 (NIV) God is faithful: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23 (NIV) His promises are as bright and undimmed today as when he made them, and just as trustworthy for us as for those whose ears first heard them.
We mustn’t forget this – God’s promises are neither empty nor outdated. “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it: it will certainly come and will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:3 (NIV) And as Peter said, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
So God is promising wholeness, restoration, making right, whole, finished, fulfilled, perfected. Shalom means that kind of peace that results from being a whole person in right relationship to God and to one's fellow man. He plans to make all things all right again, to dry every tear:
“[God himself] will wipe every tear from [the] eyes [of all his elect]. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev. 21:4 (NIV)
But we must not mistrust God because things haven’t happened according to our own timescale – we mustn’t lose confidence in God’s promised because he’s haven’t happened yet. God is waiting: he is waiting for the wheat and the tares to come to full growth before he risks damaging the harvest by prematurely trying to pull out the weeds. Anyone who’s old enough to have pulled wild oats by hand will remember the principle!
So let’s watch and pray as Ezekiel watched in chapter 3 of the book that bears his name – remember the passage?
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.
“Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling-block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.” Ezekiel 3:17-21 (NIV)
God hasn’t left us to do this all alone, religiously observing all those instructions in our own strength. Hear again his words from the book of Joel: “And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-29 (NIV)
It was through Jesus’ return to the Father that this happened: “…I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7 (NIV) Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18 (NIV)
Amen! Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Real prayer, of course, does not come readily. It is no simple matter to preserve inspiration while surrounded by the icy waters of the world that does not pray...
Of all approaches to God prayer is the best and in the last analysis the only means. In the act of prayer the human mind finds its noblest expressions. The mental state of the scientist engaged in research, of the artist creating a work of art, of the thinker wrapped up in philosophy - even of professional theologians propounding their doctrines - cannot be compared to that of the man of prayer brought face to face with the living God. Each and every kind of mental activity presents less of a strain than prayer. We may be capable if working for ten or twelve hours on end but a few moments of prayer and we are exhausted.
Prayer can accomplish all things. It is possible for any of us lacking in natural talent to obtain through prayer supranatural gifts. Where we encounter a deficiency of rational knowledge we should do well to remember that prayer, independently of man's intellectual capacity, can bring a higher form of cognition. There is the province of reflex consciousness, of demonstrative argument; and there is the province where prayer is the passageway to direct contemplation of divine truth.
Direct - that's the point. Letting down the shutters of preconception, of the "religious clothing" of the mind - praying naked, as naked to God as Psalm 139 describes, as stripped as the tax collector at the Temple (Luke 18) or Bartimaeus in the crowd (Mark 10)...
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Now, I want you to hear me clearly here, and to hear what Dr Thomas says inside the covers of his book: God never intended, never created, the world of pain and grief in which we find ourselves. He created a whole, perfect world, and “saw that it was good” as Genesis repeatedly reminds us. God never created, nor intended us to be the frail, fallible, sinful beings we now are. He created whole, perfect men and women – “male and female he created them” – who were fit to rule over the earth he had made, and all the living creatures he had made to live in it in harmony.
It was only when we had sinned, when we had disobeyed God and chosen to trust the smooth words of the serpent, that the world as we know it came gradually into being. (Remember the ages of the sons of Adam and their descendants, in Genesis 5? It wasn’t till after the flood that we started living lives that ended in double figures...)
But now that we, and our world, are in the state we’re in, God doesn’t intend for us to live everlasting lives of perfect peace, health and harmony, once we had become changed by our transaction with the enemy – which is why in Genesis 3 God decided to throw us out of Eden in case we ate from the tree of life as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – until we had been cleansed by the blood of Jesus.
These two trees were really a matter of whether mankind would be obedient and trust God. When considered in this light, the fruit of the tree of life is “life itself”. The choice of the tree of knowledge of good and evil represents mankind’s desire to decide for themselves what is to be considered good and evil. In a spiritual sense, the “fruit” of the tree of knowledge would be “death.” God said, “for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”
So, now that we find ourselves out of Eden, “we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14 (NIV) We can never be at home in time and place as we know them, and all that we know is partial, and temporary, and broken.
Jeremy Cook, president of Vineyard Music Global, and pastor of Hull Vineyard, has this to say in an article in Worship Together magazine:
“We desperately want to experience the glory of God, but we want to avoid the vehicle by which it often comes – pain and difficulty. Because Jesus, our model, embraced suffering in light of the glory to come, we as Christians must be prepared to embrace suffering. Outside of the western world, the Church has had to embrace suffering in significant degrees, and these brothers and sisters will attest to the transformation of the heart that occurs in the place of trial. In my view, it is in the embracing of suffering that the revelation of the glory of Christ increasingly comes to us.
His glory is the fullness of His revelation.
The celebration that awaits us is worth enjoying now, in the midst of earthly struggle. When we embrace our suffering, we are embracing the hope of heaven even before we can see it. Fix your eyes on Jesus, and join in the dance.”
Our accepting Jesus as our Saviour, our risen Lord, has brought us life; but what is going to undo the poison of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, the result of our falling for the enemy’s line about “you will be like God”? By his grace God may in some people’s lives remove not only sin but the stain of sin seemingly without struggle – but for most of us it requires discipline, the gradual reshaping of ourselves according to God’s plan: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Psalm 119:71 (NIV)
Through suffering – maybe in the end only through suffering, we can enter into the glory of the presence of God: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Cor. 4:17 (NIV)
We may not understand why we suffer, but what we can understand are God’s promises related to suffering: Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV) Paul’s understanding of God’s promise in Romans 8 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18 NIV)
It has been said that for those who sincerely believe in Jesus Christ this short, trouble filled life on Earth will be the closest thing to Hell we will ever experience... but for those who don’t believe, this life will be the closest thing to Heaven...
So, no matter who we are or what we are, the Bible says our path to Heaven is all the same. We are saved from Hell through our love for God and faith in Christ Jesus.
Our perception of God and Heaven may now seem a little hazy, but then (as soon as this body dies) we will see everything clearly. We’re told nobody on Earth will fully understand all these things. As the Apostle Paul tells us we will not see clearly until after this body dies... “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12 NIV)
One day we shall know – one day we shall see the front of the tapestry. You see, life is like a tapestry that is being woven continually. It is being woven by God on the one hand, and by choices that we make on the other hand. It is like we are knitting. God has one needle and we have the other and together we knit out our life.
When some of us look at this tapestry, we believe in God. There are people who look at a sunset and say that God exists. There are people who birth a child and are converted at the birth. There are people who have had their heart suddenly changed in some kind of a conversion experience. But there are also people who look at that tapestry and say, “I see no proof of God.” This is common in the “scientific world” that most of us grew up in. There are those who look at evil like the London bombings or the horror of 9/11 and say, “No God would allow this.”
Here is the problem: We are only seeing one side of the tapestry. We only see what our senses apprehend. We never get on the other side of the tapestry. We never see the back side.
God starts all of our prayers, prompts us into prayer by his Holy Spirit, but we contribute by cooperating with grace. Prayer is like a thread going into that tapestry. We might pray for someone who has cancer. The thread goes into the tapestry where our that person is, but where that thread comes out, we have no idea. We have no way of knowing. Threads that go into the tapestry do not necessarily come out in the next spot; they may travel underneath. For all we know, our intercession this morning about our own church is helping a church in Thailand. Perhaps our own lives are sustained by people that live in a different time zone and are doing church, or sitting alone having their quiet time somewhere else around the world.
I am quite sure that when we die and get to see on the other side of the tapestry we shall see that no prayer, no matter how brief, no matter how little or insignificant it seems to us, is ever wasted.
All of those prayers, all of that energy, all of those threads that went into the tapestry, came out somewhere. When we die, all of those little prayers that we prayed will be our treasure. The Lord will lay them at our feet and say, “There, that's what you did!”
We will be in some unknowable way rewarded for all those times that we prayed for people. We will see that none of our prayers were wasted. All of our prayers were answered, but perhaps in ways that we could never imagine in this life.
We know so little – we cannot work it out, and in fact I think that the brains of even the best of us, the greatest thinkers and scientists, could not begin to compute the warp and the woof of that tapestry. We’re not supposed to try and work it out. That’s why God gave us Scripture, why we have his promises. We don’t know what it’s all about, but we know where it leads: to glory!
Do leave a comment if you like - especially to let me know if you found the link through sufficiently obvious without getting in the way.
A colleague forwarded to me a wonderful word from Teresa Seputis - the full text can be found here - this is just a highlight:
Child of Mine, I am taking you through a series of situations to cause your faith to grow. These situations are designed to push you past your comfort zone and force you to trust Me in an area without pushing you beyond your ability to believe. Then, as you step out where I push you, you will see Me come through for you. As you experience My faithfulness in that situation, and it will cause your faith to grow. Then I will push you a bit further. I am going to take you through experience after experience that are designed to grow and mature your faith.I don't know about you, but this explains so much I encounter day after day - and God does take one deeper like this, painful though it is... "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)
If you watch and see what I am doing in your life, you will notice a pattern as I put you into the same type of faith-producing sitaution over and over again. I am explaining it to you clearly so that you don't become confused and think you are under the attack of the enemy. Understand that this is My hand upon you to cause your faith to grow and not an attack of the enemy. So instead of looking to war in the spirit, cooperate with Me in the area of trusting Me and stepping out in faith.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Meanwhile, look up and read everything you can by Archimadrite Sophrony. Try this for starters:
“Christ said, ‘I came not to send peace, but a sword’ and ‘division’.
Christ summoned us to war on the plane of the spirit, and our weapon is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ Our battle is waged in extraordinarily unequal conditions. We are tied hand and foot.
We dare not strike with fire or sword: our sole armament is love, even for enemies. This unique war in which we are engaged is indeed a holy war. We wrestle with the last and only enemy of mankind – death.
Our fight is the fight for universal resurrection.”
from His Life Is Mine ( St. Vladimir's Seminary Press March, 1997)
Saturday, August 13, 2005
This is a first post from The Mercy Blog, the blog that goes with The Mercy Site - Contemplative Prayer for Christians; as yet there is no link back from The Mercy Site , and I'm just putting this first post in to make a start... watch this space would be the obvious comment.
The Mercy Site brings together links, resources and teaching on praying according to Romans 8:26 - "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us. . ."
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10)
"You have exalted above all things your name and your word." (Psalm 138:2)
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)
"Contemplation is for all Christians. . . [It] means essentially our being with God, putting ourselves in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind move towards him; with the needs of the world on our heart." (Michael Ramsey)