Monday, May 30, 2005

“Hearing God” Dallas Willard

I'm away on holiday for the week, and won't be able to post until I return. In the mean time, here are some notes from Hearing God by Dallas Willard.

Are you seeking guidance from God?

Willard quotes advice from James Dobson (p199) “ I get down on my knees and say, ‘Lord I need to know what you want me to do, and I’m listening, please speak to me through my friends, books magazines I pick up and read, and through circumstances.’”

Dallas Willard's recommendation having done this is then to go and do some kind of activity for the next hour that neither engrosses his attention nor forces him to be intensely focussed on the matter in question.

Dallas Willard's foundational steps in seeking God's guidance:

  1. Plan to do what we know to be morally right and commanded by God.
  2. We seek the fullness of the new life in Christ and venture in the proclamation of Christ and his kingdom.
  3. We meditate on the word of God.
  4. We are alert and attentive to what is happening in our lives
  5. We pray and speak to God constantly and specifically about the matters that concern us.
  6. Seek his guidance especially in those things you already understand.
  7. Using a plan listen carefully and deliberately to God

What if God does not speak?

  1. Ask God to inform you if there is a hindrance in you.
  2. Take counsel from two people.

If you find a cause – correct it mercilessly. If not – do what seems best.

And a final quote:

We will be spiritually safe in all use of the Bible if we followed a simple rule. Read with a submissive attitude. Read with a readiness to surrender all you are – all your plans, opinions possessions positions. Study as intelligently as possible with all available means but never study merely to find the truth. especially not just to prove something. Subordinate your desire to find the truth to your desire to do it,! Page 161

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Nothing new here today but....

Check my eikon ministry site for a new article publlished today and entitled; "What's pot and what's not pot."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The difference between silence and stillness.

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 131 ESV

If you want to walk more closely with Jesus, and if you want to be found more in the image of Jesus, then sooner or later you will need to make time to be in silence and stillness.

For many of us the first forays into silence can be terrifying. The noise and clamor of the world normally drowns out the anxious voices that cry from within. The routine and demand of daily life assures us that we are needed and valued, and silence can bestow a kind of nakedness of vulnerability, where voices within us cry out unmuted by the noisy world.

When I am silent I hear the cries from within myself “I desire.” “I want.” “I need.” “I worry.” “What next?” “Where to?” “How can I?”

Uncomfortable it may be, but necessary none-the-less. In a sense I am coming to suspect that these insistent voices must be first heard before they can be silenced and I can be still before God.

We know that God commands us to “Be still and know that I am God.” But do we know how that process of stilling occurs so that we can be obedient to his call?

The Psalm above describes a child of God in a place of stillness and contentment before God. He has “calmed and quieted his soul.” Here is a process that we need from time in order that we might be still. It’s a process of seeking God’s help to silence the internal nagging voices.

Does something within me cry out “I worry” then I must confess this to God and seek his help that it’s nagging tone might be replaced with the gentler note of “I trust.”

Does something within me cry out “I want!” then I must seek divine help that it in turn is replaced with “I am content”

The danger is of course that these noisy internal voices will, if allowed to remain un-silenced dominate any time of silence and the "still small voice" will be drowned out and unheard.

As I said silence can be uncomfortable, forcing us to confront who we are and what we are, but the reward of stillness is precious indeed. “Like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” The reward of Christ focused stillness is nothing less than loving communion with God.

Some additions to eikon...

If you look to the right...

I've added a Google search facility to the page. Someone was kind enough to say that they thought eikon would be worth having as their home page if there was a search facility. After scratching around for a while, I found out how to do it and there it is. If you do want to make eikon your home page and you are using Internet explorer, click on the "Tools" menu at the top of the screen, select "Internet Options" and click "Use Current" in the Home page section.

I also added an Amazon search box a week or so ago. For the sake of transparency, here is the deal. If you buy stuff at Amazon and you do it through my site, Amazon pays me 5%. Obviously I'm not going to get rich if people buy a few books, but I will spend any income on eikon. For example, it would be easier to promote the site if it had a proper URL rather than www.eikonhome.blogspot.com but that kind of thing costs cash so...

Obviously if I was out to make money I would be recommending items of higher value like the rather excellent Nikon D70 which is the finest digital camera... Whoops!

A quote for today...

The following is quoted in Dallas Willard's "Renovation of the heart." A.W.Tozer was one of the greatest writers on practical spirituality of the previous century. I think it's a quote that deserves slow reading, reflection and application!

That our idea of God correspond as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us. Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence. Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God.

A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.

From "The knowledge of the Holy" Notes: "Systematic theology" is basically what we believe about God. Ignoble basically means worthless.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Overcome evil with good...

It’s not fashionable to suggest that at least some of the problems of our world are down to the evil that comes from within us, but the Bible insists that there is a mucky well of evil inside each of us.

Yesterday morning we listened to the challenge of Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

There is a great tendency in the human heart to use the evil that is done to us to legitimise the evil that we do, but when I snap back at the rudeness of another, I am overcome by evil. When I angrily gossip the hurtful sin of another, I am overcome by evil. When I allow my woundedness to express itself in anger or resentment, I am overcome by evil. When I allow the wrong done to me by others to legitimise my character flaws, I am overcome by evil. When I allow the sin of others to cause me to distrust and hurt others by pushing them away, I am overcome by evil. To these behaviours, and to others, God says “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In the later verses of Romans 12, there are, outlined for those who would be Jesus’ followers, a number of areas in which we will be particularly tempted to be overcome by evil rather than overcoming evil with good. Here are a few notes on them:

  1. We are urged to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” V14 We might be faced by a temptation to despise and to hate. For many of us it will be internal and not expressed in physical violence but we will be tempted to cherish resentment and hurt.
  2. We are told "Repay no one evil for evil" v17 There is a great temptation to get your own back, and to seek revenge. For many of us the tools of revenge are quite sophisticated. We are tempted to use gossip, spite, or attempts to hurt emotionally.
  3. Paul continues; "but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all." v17 When we confront evil, we should never be tempted to use evil to overcome. Instead we have to do what is right if we desire to honour Jesus. When we are wounded, we need to be especially careful because we can be tempted to justify actions that we would clearly recognise as morally dubious at other times.
  4. "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." v18 One of the temptations we may face, is the temptation to schism. When we loose the sense of the importance to God of unity, we are entering spiritually perilous territory.
  5. "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" v19 When, on the receiving end of another’s sin, we are tempted to be overcome by evil, there is a parallel temptation to rely on our own capacity to seek justice and in so doing to implicitly distrust that God will ultimately see that justice is done. We need to trust that there is a day coming when all that is wrong will be made right.

So how do you overcome evil with good? Romans 12 quotes the Old Testament book of Proverbs and says: "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." v20 cf. Prov 25:21 I've always found this a bit of a paradoxical verse. Pouring burning coals on another's head is not a very loving act, however kind the means employed to do so! I think the point is that evil is overcome when it is responded to with unexpected love. Instead of indulging in vengeful and hateful acts God's people are to overcome evil by showing practical acts of love and kindness to their enemies.

Are there areas where we have been overcome by evil, and where we need to seek God’s forgiveness and help to be people who overcome evil with good?


(All scripture quotations from the ESV)

Friday, May 20, 2005

A quote from this morning...

I'm currently reading Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ By Dallas Willard. Here he is quoting Tolstoy:

There is the God that people generally believe in - a God who has to serve them (sometimes in very refined ways, say by merely giving them peace of mind). This God does not exist. But the God whom people forget - the God whom we all have to serve - exists, and is the prime cause of our existence and of all that we perceive. (p44)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Prayer for filling of the Holy Spirit...

I think every Christian should be reguarly praying for the fullness of the Spirit of God. Recently Geoff gave me a bookmark with this prayer on it: (I've altered it very slightly)
Lord Jesus Christ, I want to spend what remains of my life fulfilling your purposes and doing your will.

I want to be completely freed from any area of darkness where your light and life have not yet shone.
I turn away from all wrongdoing, and I will avoid everything that leads me into wrongdoing.

I ask you to forgive all my sins and I offer my life afresh to you.

I want to live my life afresh to you. I want to live my life as an obvious citizen of your kingdom and be an effective and relevant part of your body. I obey you as my Lord.

I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit, and release me in praise in a way that I have never known before.
If you want a pdf file that will print as three colour bookmarks click here. A great prayer to print out and keep in your Bible.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

If you go down to the woods today…

It’s wonderful how, as you walk with Jesus fragments of life that seem to lack meaning in themselves come together to form a meaningful whole.

I’ve been watching “The Monastery” (Tuesday evenings 9pm. BBC 2) The show tells the story of a group of men subject themselves to a 40 day period of following the monastic rule of life in the Benedictine Worth Abbey.

Let me make something clear, I’m not a monk, nor do I want to be a monk, but the program has stirred something inside deep me in a sense of the need for the contemplative way of life that can be lacking in our busy and hurried world. That was one fragment.

The other day, looking for some space and quiet to think and pray I walked into a local woodland. I didn’t at the time think it was a great time of prayer, but I think God taught me something, and the experience became another fragment that fitted with the first.

It wasn’t a great time of prayer, because I was distracted. As I stood in silence, the woodland came to life around me, and I became aware of a level of life and existence in the woods that I would never have experienced if I were with my (noisy) children, walking a dog, or just tramping along the pathways.

Standing still and silent in a woodland, I heard, and then saw, snakes and voles and squirrels, the normal life of the woods, normally hidden from the noisy.

I guess the two fragments together say something along these lines; In our noisy world we miss so much. Tramping through life at a pace, how many of the whispers of God pass us by unheard? How much more aware of him and his work would I be if from time to time I were to stand in stillness and quietness and just listen? Sometimes perhaps, I might hear nothing, but then at other times I might hear his whisper and know his presence and discern his voice. The question is will I seek him? Will I be still?

A final fragment…

Hebrews 11:6 says “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” ESV.

I’ve been giving thought to this verse recently. The stillness that I have commended is not an end in itself. God is the reason for stillness. One repeated injunction of scripture is “Be still”

The very nature of seeking is that for a time at least the object of the search is not found. There will be times when the search seems unfruitful, but faith insists that He rewards those who seek him.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Book: A Hunger for God.




What is the book?

The book is: "A Hunger for God" by John Piper published by IVP in the UK; Crossway in the US.

Where did I buy it?

At Pilgrim Discount Books in Portland Oregon. If that's too far to go you can get it from Amazon see above Or you can read it on line here.

Why did I buy it?

Having read "Desiring God" (Amazon/Online) surely one of the most significant Christian books of our age, I was eager to find out what the author had to say on the subject of fasting.

Who should read it?

Anyone who wants to understand the meaning of fasting better. Anyone who wants to grow in their delight of God. I highly recommend this one!

What did you underline?

Amongst other things:

Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our homesickness for God is so intense. The other half is that our homesickness for God is threatened because our physical appetites are so intense. p14

Quoting Richard Foster... More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other things. p 19

The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift; the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and glory in our willpower. p 21

...is the physical exclamation mark at the end of the sentence: This much, O God, I long for you and for the manifestation of your glory in the world. p 22

In other words in this age there is an ache inside every Christian that Jesus is not here as fully and intimately and as powerfully and as gloriously as we want him to be. We hunger for so much more. That is why we fast. p 38

We have tasted the powers of the age to come, and our fasting is not because we are hungry for something we have not experienced, but because the new wine of Christ's presence is so real and so satisfying. We must have all that it is possible to have. The newness of our fasting is this: its intensity comes not because we have never tasted the wine of Christ's presence, but because we have tasted it so wonderfully by his Spirit, and cannot now be satisfied until the consummation of joy arrives. p 42

The Son of God began his earthly ministry with a forty-day fast. This should give us pause. Especially we - who are not God - have moved into ministry heedless of the battle we may have to fight. Why did Jesus do this? Why did God lead him to it? And what about us? Can we really face the superhuman hazards of life and ministry without walking with Jesus through the wilderness of fasting. p 51

Fasting is a periodic - and sometimes decisive - declaration that we would rather feast at God's table in the kingdom of heaven than feed on the finest delicacies of the this world. p 61

...how can I maximize my enjoyment of him when every moment of my life I am tempted to make a god out of his good gifts? p 62

We fast out of longing for God's name to be known and cherished and honored, and out of longing for his kingly rule to be extended and the consummated in history, and out of longing for his will to be done everywhere with the same devotion and energy that the indefatigable angels do it sleeplessly in heaven forever and ever. p 78

Jesus connects Christian fasting with our longing for the return of the Bridegroom. Therefore, one of the most important meanings of Christian fasting is to express the hunger of our hearts for the coming of our king. p84

...we are less sensitive to spiritual appetites when we are in the bondage of physical ones. This means that fasting is a way of awakening us to latent spiritual appetites by pushing the domination of physical forces from the centre of our lives. p 90

...most of us run the risk of being overly 'sensualised' simply by having every craving satisfied and rarely pausing for a moment of self-denial to discover if there are alive within us spiritual appetites that could satisfy us at a much deeper level than food, and that are designed for he honor of God. Such is the appetite for the coming of King Jesus. p91

The absence of fasting is the measure of our contentment with the absence of Christ. p 93

But I see a danger. The danger is that we will subtlety slip from loving God in these moments into loving loving God........ ..... in other words we begin to savor not the glory of God but the atmosphere created by worship. p 132

Therefore He (God) rewards acts that confess human helplessness and express hope in God because these acts call attention to his glory. p 180

Sermon: Get along with each other. or... Go beyond nice.

Here is a brief summary of Sunday morning’s sermon. It’s intended for those who want to review the material, rather than to be read as an article.

Romans 12:13-16 E.S.V.

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.”

We have been asking how our lives can be a praise song to God, and this Sunday morning we came to Romans 12:13-16. Here are the seven ways in which God calls us to “go beyond nice” and in so doing live praise song lives.

  1. Go beyond nice in helping needy Christians. “Contribute to the needs of the saints” Love will be concerned to meet the real needs of the members of the fellowship of believers. We see this in the pattern of the early church. (Acts 2:45 and 4:34) We are right to share God’s concern for the poor in general, but must remember that we are especially called to show concern for God’s family. Gal 6:10 speaks for itself.
  2. Go beyond nice in showing hospitality. While “nice” does dinner parties, love turns a home into a regional headquarters for the building of the kingdom. The early church had to be prepared to show hospitality to people who they had never even met. This hospitality did not choose its guests. Today there may be less of a neeed, but is there less of an opportunity to show love in this way?
  3. Go beyond nice by blessing those who curse you. This does not mean saying ‘bless you’ through gritted teeth! The way to really less someone is to pray for God’s blessing on them. Here is a call to ask for God to pour down his blessing on those who hate and revile God’s children.
  4. Go beyond nice by rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep. There is a danger that envy or a competitive spirit leads us to reverse this!
  5. Go beyond nice by living in harmony. The NASB has “Be of the same mind to one another.” Niceness tends to do is keep people arms length. Niceness tends to avoid issues rather than confront them. Niceness smiles while the heart rages, but that kind of niceness cannot build community.
    Go beyond nice by refusing top be stuck up or proud. Pride is one of the great breakers of community. To be specific it’s wounded pride that makes it hard to apologize or to ask for forgiveness. It’s wounded pride that so often resists reconciliation.
  6. Go beyond nice when you make friends. The Message paraphrases this “make friends with nobodies.” We need to ask ourselves who Jesus’ friends were, and hear the call to be people who make friends with misfits, nobodies, oddballs, sinners, the difficult to love - Because Jesus did.
  7. Go beyond nice in refusing to be wise in your own estimation. Loving humility will be aware of it’s own limitations.

The truth is that when we come to verses like these, we are reminded of our need to be changed from the inside.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Angel Stadium Declaration.

On April 17 this year, 30 000 members of one of the largest churches in America came together to celebrate the 25th Aniversary of their church. The members of Saddleback Church read the following declaration together:

Today I am stepping across the line. I'm tired of waffling, and I'm finished with wavering. I've made my choice; the verdict is in; and my decision is irrevocable. I'm going God's way. There's no turning back now!

I will live the rest of my life serving God's purposes with God's people on God's planet for God's glory. I will use my life to celebrate his presence, cultivate his character, participate in his family, demonstrate his love, and communicate his Word.

Since my past has been forgiven, and I have a purpose for living and a home awaiting in heaven, I refuse to waste any more time or energy on shallow living, petty thinking, trivial talking, thoughtless doing, useless regretting, hurtful resenting, or faithless worrying. Instead I will magnify God, grow to maturity, serve in ministry, and fulfill my mission in the membership of his family.

Because this life is preparation for the next, I will value worship over wealth, "we" over "me," character over comfort, service over status, and people over possessions, position, and pleasures. I know what matters most and I'll give it all I've got. I'll do the best I can with what I have for Jesus Christ today.

I won't be captivated by culture, manipulated by critics, motivated by praise, frustrated by problems, debilitated by temptation, or intimidated by the devil. I'll keep running my race with my eyes on the goal, not the sidelines or those running by me. When times get tough and I get tired, I won't back up, back off, back down, back out, or backslide. I'll just keep moving forward by God's grace. I'm Spirit-led, purpose-driven, and mission-focused, so I cannot be bought, I will not be compromised, and I shall not quit until I finish the race.

I'm a trophy of God's amazing grace so I will be gracious to everyone, grateful for everyday, and generous with everything that God entrusts to me.

To my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I say: However, whenever, wherever, and whatever you ask me to do, my answer in advance is yes! Wherever you lead and whatever the cost, I'm ready. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyway. Whatever it takes Lord; whatever it takes! I want to be used by you in such a way that on that final day I'll hear you say, "Well done, thou good and faithful one. Come on in, and let the eternal party begin!"

Stirring stuff!

This article is printed from the website http://www.purposedriven.com/. Copyright 2005 by Rick Warren. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Sermon: Don't burn out.

This morning, I am going to talk to ministers. And no, that doesn’t mean that most of you can go home because that means all of us! Last Sunday we began a new series entitled “My life… …a praise song.” We looked at Romans12 1-2 and saw that Paul encourages his readers to offer themselves as an act of worship, and then we looked at verse 10 and saw that part of being an act of worship to God consists in the call to love from the centre of who we are.
This morning we are going to move on a bit and look at verses 11-12. Lets read them together from the NIV

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Let’s read those same two verses again, this time from The Message.

Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

I want to do two things this morning. First I want us to take some time together just to notice what these verses have to say about living a praise song life. When we have done that I want to share with you some thoughts based on my own experiences about how we go about obeying these verses.

So first of all then, I have a question for us all to think about. I am going to put the verse back up on the screen in the Message version and I want you to take a moment to ask yourself this question. According to the verse, who is responsible for my spiritual passion? Just look at the verse for a moment and see if you can work that out.

Did you notice anything? The verse says “keep yourselves fuelled and aflame” So who is responsible? I am! I am responsible for my spiritual passion. Can we say that together this morning “I am responsible for my spiritual passion.” Now I want to make something clear here. The spiritual life correctly understood is a relationship with God, and there are two partners in a relationship. I did not get you to say that I am solely responsible for my relationship with God, but the verse does make it clear that some of the responsibility rest with me.
Lets take a few moments just to go through the verses and notice six aspects of the spiritual life that need to be maintained.

  1. Keep busy. I think it can be quite helpful when you are trying to understand a verse to look at a couple of different versions. I find that this can help me get the idea into my head. For this bit of the verse, The NIV has “never be lacking in Zeal,” The Message “Don’t burn out” The NASB has not lagging behind in diligence. The Good News has Work hard and do not be lazy. There is a sense here of the need to keep busy in the pursuit of the spiritual life.I think one of the things that can stop my life being a beautiful praise song and turn it into an off key dirge is what I would call spiritual apathy.
  2. Keep burning. Keep your spiritual fervour, says one translation. Keep yourselves fuelled and aflame in another. Now there are flames and there are flames! How is your spiritual passion right now? Are you a damp squib or a forest fire, or somewhere in between. Now I am going to come back to this idea later because it seems to me there are a number of reasons for the flame of spiritual passion burning a little low, and we want to think about how we obey and keep ourselves fuelled and aflame.
  3. Keep serving. We are told to keep your spiritual fervour serving the Lord. I said that I was going to talk to ministers this morning. It’s really important this morning that we recognise that our service for the Lord can become a real obstacle to our passion for the Lord. The Good news says “serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion.” There is a sense here that is not about how hard you work for God, but the heart that works for God. It’s really important for us to think about how we can serve God and keep our hearts passionate and right before him. If you have an unhealthy lifestyle you will run the risk of heart disease. If you have an unhealthy spiritual lifestyle, you will run the risk of spiritual heart disease.
  4. Keep joyful. We are told Be joyful in hope, or cheerfully expectant as the Message has it. What a tragedy when the life that should be a song of praise becomes a sad song in a minor key. Joy is commanded of us as God’s people, it’s an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. These Christians that Paul was writing to, frankly I don’t thin they were having too great a time when Paul wrote, but he says to them be joyful. Now how do you do that? It was vital for these Christians and it is vital for us that they recognise the right basis of joy. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. If you set your heart on any other happiness you will have settled for second best. The next bit is related:
  5. Keep going. Do you ever wonder how Christian faith keeps going in the face of the most awful tragedy? “Patient in affliction” has the NIV, “Don’t quit in hard times has the Message,” but it probably needs to be a little stronger, “persevering in tribulation” has the NASB. This is not putting up with difficulty this is about keeping going. Steadfastness and endurance. This year we called the Men’s weekend “Man enough to follow Jesus” There is a sense here of real guts and determination in keeping going after God.
  6. Keep praying. The NIV has “faithful in prayer”, the Message “pray all the harder” The NASB has “devoted to prayer” Here is a challenge that confronts me from time to time. The idea that good prayer can be hard work, tiring work, good work, satisfying work, but work that you might want to give up from shear weariness. The idea is keep up the hard work of prayer.

So there you have it six more notes that make up the praise song life. Keep busy, Keep burning Keep serving, Keep joyful, keep going and keep praying. Now let me share some reflections about what I have discovered so far.

  1. I once heard of a pastor of a group of believers who would disappear for hours on end to walk in the hills. When the congregation faced a major Crisis, he went on holiday and he would cause immense frustration to his team by disappear just as it looked like revival might be breaking out, and his name was Jesus. So there is the first point Regularly ask yourself HDJL rather than just WWJD. Don’t reckon on being able to do what Jesus did if you don’t put in place some of the answers to the question “how did Jesus live?”
  2. Don’t overestimate the value of passionless service. I think really I just wanted to say it matters when we are not burning as hotly as we could. This is not simple because frankly I think life has seasons, and different seasons of life feel different, and there could be anyone of a number of reasons why our passion has burned low.
  3. Find your best rhythm and pace. This is just a basic life principle. You don’t run a Marathon like a sprint.
  4. Find helpful spiritual disciplines that feed your spiritual life. For example; prayer and Bible reading and meditation. Recently I changed my Bible reading for a time because I felt that I just needed to soak in some particular words of scripture. I’m not as good at it as I should be but I think that scripture memorisation can be of great value here as well. Also consider fasting.
  5. Recognise that you are a whole person and live a disciplined life. I am a physical, emotional and spiritual being and issues in one area can have a knock on effect in the other.
  6. Regularly seek out people and places that stir up your spiritual fervour. We need regular opportunities to feed our souls. We need to be regular in worship. There is value in retreat, in books, and in sermons.
  7. Make sure that you maintain unproductive spiritual space. We have a production orientated culture. Time doesn’t count unless it is spent productively. I think if you spend all your time doing something productive that can contribute to a hurried feeling that is like a fire extinguisher on spiritual passion.
  8. Remember that spiritual self sufficiency neither glorifies God, edifies the church or sustains ministry. I’d hate for you to get the idea that you have within you what you need for a healthy spiritual life.
  9. Remember that a passion for God and his glory is more fulfilling and enduring than a passion for anything else.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Reading through Ruth

I read through the Old Testament book of Ruth not so long ago. What struck me this time through is the way in which Ruth differs so much from many of the heroes from that time in Israel’s history.

The book of Ruth is set in the Old Testament alongside the book of Judges, and that is full of heroes. There you can read of Ehud, the left handed deliverer, of Deborah, Gideon and Samson. They were all famous for great feats, but Ruth is different.

For one thing she wasn’t even a Jew, which is a big deal in terms of the story of the Old Testament. How many heroes of the Old Testament can you name who were not Jewish? (Yes there are a few, but not many.)

Ruth was from Moab and related to God’s people only through marriage, and by the time she is introduced in the Biblical narrative, she is a widow.

And yet Ruth is someone who plays a key role in the purposes of God. Ruth became the great grandmother of David, Israel’s greatest king, and himself the ancestor of Jesus.

How does a Moabite widow get to be so central in the purposes of God? It seems that one of things that the book of Ruth does is answer that question. The process that leads to her marriage to Boaz, the great grandfather of David, begins with a simple albeit costly act of kindness.

Her mother-in-law Naomi is herself widowed and alone in an alien land. Ruth’s act of kindness was to remain with Naomi as she travelled back to her own people despite being released by Naomi to stay with her own people. From the there the story unfolds and we read of her meeting with and eventual marriage to Boaz.

It’s really a simple act of kindness that propels Ruth into the arena where God’s purposes are being worked out. It’s that act that places a very ordinary lady in the hands of a very extraordinary God and ensures for her lasting significance and a place in salvation history.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Whom will God honor?

I tend to keep a look out as I read through the Bible for verses that stress the importance of honouring and glorifying God.

Recently, I’ve begun reading through the book of 1 Samuel and am following the story of the life of Samuel the prophet.

Early on in the book, it becomes apparent that the sons of Eli, the incumbent priest were not going to provide Israel with any kind of Godly leadership. In fact their reputation for evil doing was spreading far and wide.

Its into this mess that God speaks. In the middle of a prophecy spoken to Eli, concerning his sons, come these words from God:

“For those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” 1 Sam 2:30

As I read these words, I was reminded again of the call to be someone who cares about the glory and reputation of God and seeks to honor him in the multitude of decisions that face me in life.

These words come with a remarkable promise. It’s quite something to be honored by people, but something much more to be honored by God, and yet this is the promise that God makes. He says that he will honor those who honor him.

The irony is that so often we are tempted to words and actions that do not honor God as way of seeking the approbation of those around us. The pressure to conform is a powerful thing!

Those who want to be found in Jesus image will need to remember that though he was popular for a time, his determination to live a life that honored the Father made him the object of scorn and derision.

I guess we need continually to remember to ask ourselves “which is of greater value?” Being respected by people or honored by God?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Sermon: Love from the centre of who you are

We are beginning a new series this morning. Would you look at the screen and we are going to read Romans 12 and verse 1.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. (NIV)

And again, lets read, this time from “The Message.”

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

Over the next couple of weeks we are going to be looking at some verses in Romans 12.

Verses 9 to 21 contain a list of Christian behaviors or virtues, and it’s those that we shall look at, but first I want to show you how Paul introduces this section of his letter.

Paul has written a long theological argument all the way to the end of Romans 11 and now at the beginning of Romans 12 he turns to talking about how Christians should behave, and he has a big idea, and it’s the idea that we have read together.

Because of all that God has done, Christians are to offer themselves as living sacrifices.

Now I want to give you a moment to think about something. Let me ask you a question. How can you best worship God?

Now notice with me what Paul does. He takes an idea about worship, that was a common part of his culture, the idea of sacrifice, and he says to his readers, not bring a sacrifice, but rather now you be the sacrifice.

So here is the reason for the title for the series over the next week. Most of us are used to worshipping God with a praise song, so we are going to be asking how can my life be a song of praise?

And Paul goes on to tell us right through to Romans 16, but I want to draw your attention especially to verses 9-20 over the next couple of weeks, and this morning, we are going to look at verses 9 and 10, so lets read them together.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. (NIV)

And again we will read in “The Message.”

Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. (MSG)

This morning I want to just break that verse down into three bits, and they are all about love. Here’s the first:

Love from the centre of who you are.

Now the first thing I want you to notice s what the passage goes on to say. Hate evil. This is not sentimentality, being lovely and nice.

But more importantly, remember that the NIV said Love must be sincere. The NASB has Let love be without hypocrisy, which is a great translation. Hypocrites were the actors of the age. The wearers of masks, and this is what makes this passage so challenging.

You see it’s one thing to love with the mask on, quite another to love with the mask off.

You see we get so used to putting on masks. Let me paint you a little picture and see if it rings any bells for you.

You are out with some friends trying out a new restaurant and you order you food, which is delivered in due time and you tuck into your meal. It’s not long before one of you friends remarks that their chips are soggy and another says that their steak is overcooked and so on. Before long your waiter comes over and asks if everything is OK with the food, and most of us in this room would do the same thing, out come the masks and on they go and we say oh yes everything is lovely thank you!

It’s so easy for us to put the masks on.

And Paul says love from the centre of who you are. Do you get this? Pretending to love doesn’t count, acting in a loving way doesn’t count, and some of us are struggling already because loving with masks is pretty much all we know how to do.

And Paul says it doesn’t count, you’ve got to love without the mask, you’ve got to love from the centre of who you are, and how do you do that?

Now I am going to leave time this morning to try and answer that question a little later this morning, but first lets go on and notice what else these verses say about love.

So secondly, we are told

Be good friends who love deeply.

The NIV has be devoted to one another in brotherly love, now what does that look like.

You know maybe it’s just me, but I know that I can read verses like this and think that they are a restriction rather than a prescription. So I read be good friends who love deeply and in my head I hear don’t be mean to others.

But what happens if instead of reading these words as a restriction I hear them as a prescription? I suddenly find them a whole lot more challenging.

To put it another way when I stood in church and pledged my love to my wife, I didn’t do it by listing the things that I wouldn’t do, I won’t leave my dirty clothes unfolded on the landing, I won’t criticize your driving or map reading… but I did something much bigger by listing the things I would do. I will love you, cherish you, honor you and obey you…

So what could I do, what could we do to be good friends who love one another deeply?

I want to give you a practical example and opportunity this morning. This came up during the week and I realized that it illustrated this point.

Over the next couple of weeks there are a number of things going on in church life where there could well be a need that could be met in a loving way. We have an Alpha weekend coming up and a mission trip to Romania, and there may be some other similar needs as well. And there are some frankly for whom being involved is a financial challenge, and we thought that one way we could practice being good friends who love deeply is by just providing an opportunity to give financially to support those projects (and others that might be coming along) So there is an opportunity this morning as you leave to make an offering or pledge towards that need, and we will entrust that money to the SOT to use to show love and help out those involved with those projects.

Finally, the verses say

Practice playing second fiddle.

The NIV has honor one another above yourselves, the ESV outdo one another in showing honor. Love, means honoring others and humbling yourself.

I’ve noticed that there is a stage that boys go through where they like to outdo one another. While that’s nothing I can hit 100 meters, I scored eight goals. It’s a stage that starts at about the age of seven and lasts till a boy is about seventy.

It cuts across the way in which we are conditioned to behave, and the way in which we are to push others to prominence while choosing a back seat for ourselves.

Again we are challenged to be the one who points the spotlight rather than being the one who stands in the spotlight. And yet that’s what love will do.

So there you are three was of being a song of praise to God. Love from the centre of who you are, Be good friends who love deeply and practice playing second fiddle.

Now I promised that I would try and answer the how question. Now it’s a big question, but here is one big answer.

Now as I try and give you an answer, I want us to be still for a moment and listen to something that the Bible says about the nature of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (NIV)

Now some of you are thinking, you just made it worse! In a moment, I’m going to read these verses again, but I’m going to alter them slightly as I read them. You see I think perhaps one of the most important things for us if we are going to be loving people is that we experience the love of God. The Bible says that we love because he first loved us.

Now it could be that as a result of this morning you need to confess that you have been unloving. It could be that you need to ask for God’s help to love from the centre of who you are. But for all of us, I am confident that a greater revelation of the love of God will realeas in us greater love for others.

So what I want to do is remind you of the most perfect example of love, the love of God, and so I want to read this passage not in a way that reminds us of what our love should be like and yet fails to be, but as a reminder of the love of God for us.

So I want to pray and then we will be still and I will read the passage to you as a prayer.

Prayer

Jesus, your Love is patient and your love is kind.
Your love is never envious or boastful. Your love is not proud.
Jesus at times your love is challenging, but it is never rude. Your love served me at tremendous personal cost.
Your love is slow to anger and you loving forgiveness keeps no record of wrongs.
Your love does not delight in my sin or my pain but rejoices with the truth.
Your love always protects me, yourlove can always be trusted. Your love always hopes,your love always perseveres.
Your love will never fail