Monday, October 31, 2005

Just found this...

I just found this from Richard Foster in the October Issue of RENOVARÉ Perspective (Vol. 15, No. 3)

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

Thinking About Community...

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...

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.

This from a word from Musa Opiyo ( –

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

Please read & pray...

Prayer Alert - Hurricane Wilma

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.

Francis Frangipane

Monday, October 17, 2005

A few more lines from Sophrony...

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!

Dem Bones...

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!

An admission!

I've only just found the little clock at the foot of the editing page, where you can set the time you posted! Some of you must think I keep very odd hours - well perhaps I do, but not that odd ;-)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sophrony again...

Very few apologies for another quote from Archimandrite Sophrony's His Life Is Mine (also I discover published by AR Mowbray & Co Ltd in 1977 - long out of print, of course, but they crop up on Amazon quite cheap):

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

Following that thought...

Gary Thomas, the founder of The Centre for Evangelical Spirituality, has an excellent book called Authentic Faith, and on the cover is a quote from the book which has always struck me so forcibly, “What if life isn’t meant to be perfect, but we are meant to trust the one who is?”

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!


I've at last linked in The Mercy Site to this blog, so I can put up regular posts in the reasonable hope that Mercy visitors will find their way here...

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.

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.

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)

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Second Post!

I've finally been persuaded to leave The Mercy Site well alone - almost! - on the "if it ain't broke" principle. So in the next few days I shall add a back link, and begin posting things regularly...

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)