Thursday, 25 August 2011

Quotes on prayer


In his book on prayer called “Prayer: Does it make a difference” Phillip Yancey makes the following point:

“Newcomers to prayer often worry that they are not doing it right. Perhaps they have heard eloquent prayers from the pulpit or read them in books. They would never pray out loud in a group, and even shy away from private prayers for fear of saying the wrong thing, of offending a perfect God. Meeting a celebrity sends most of us into a tongue-tied state; what can we possibly say that would merit God’s time and attention? I have one word of advice: Relax.”  Prayer p181

“The rector at my church suggested that when you pray for someone, envision taking that person by the hand and presenting them to the Lord.” Prayer p181

Martin Luther who averaged two hours a day in prayer, counselled others “The fewer the words, the better the prayer.” Indeed two of the Bible’s shortest prayers, from a tax-collector and a crucified thief, proved most effective.” Prayer p181

“Apart from the requirement that we be authentic before God, there is no prescribed way to pray…. As Roberta Bondi says, ‘If you are praying, you are already doing it right”   Prayer p181

“Jesus taught a model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, but otherwise gave few rules. His teaching reduces down to three general principles: Keep it honest, keep it simple, and keep it up.”  Prayer p181

“Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”   Dom Chapman

Jesus died for me


I dreamed I stood at Calvary
And saw three crosses there;
On left and right were nailed two thieves,
The cross between was bare.

A soldier took his sword in hand,
Then pointing it at me;
He said,"You there, prepare to die.
That cross is meant for thee."

I quickly fell upon my knees,
For mercy did I cry;
As strong hands grabbed my hands and feet,
I shouted, "Why, oh why?"

And then a voice both soft and sweet
Was heard above the din;
"Let this one go, take me instead.
I’ll pay his debt of sin."

With his body torn and bleeding,
And thorn marks ’round his head;
With face bruised where they beat him,
He stepped into my stead.

Then Jesus laid upon the cross,
His life to freely give;
That all my sins be washed away,
And through his death, I’d live.

He stretched his arms out open wide,
No struggle did he make;
As they prepared to nail him there,
His life to gladly take.

They drove the spikes in hands and feet
And slammed the cross in place;
His bones were shaken out of joint,
And blood flowed down his face.

"Forgive them, Father"’ was his cry,
They know not what they’ve done.
They do not realize that you,
Have sent your only son."

Deep darkness filled the noonday sky
And trembling shook the ground;
As God, the Father, turned away,
While God, the Son, gazed ’round.

"It’s finished now", the Saviour said.
"The door stands open wide;
Into thy hand’s my spirit comes."
And then they pierced his side.

The graves were bursting open,
And dead men walked around;
The temple veil was rent in twain,
And I fell to the ground.

When I awoke, the night had passed
And sunshine flooded in;
I cried, "Dear Lord, forgive me please,
And cleanse me from my sin.

For you sent down your only son,
A ransom for the lost;
And I see you included me,
When counting out the cost.

Take o’er the reins that guide my life,
Remove my wilful pride;
Sweep clean my heart and enter in,
Forever, there abide."

Yes, I dreamt I stood at Calvary
And saw those crosses three;
Yet no longer do I look with fear
Where Jesus died for me.
Author unknown

Communicating not covering up, the Gospel

I have always been an advocate of doing all we can to communicate the Gospel as clearly as possible even if it means the risk of offending the traditionalists who are trying, at all costs, to preserve the faith, a bit like butterfly collectors who pin their specimens onto boards for display in glass cases. It was heartening therefore to read C.S.Lewis' reply to the translator and clergyman J.B.Phillips who had sent him a copy of some of earliest attempts. Here is part of that reply which underlines for me the need to avoid the sort of super-spiritual pomposity that puts preservation before propagation:

"Dear Mr Phillips, hank you a hundred times. I thought I knew Colossians pretty well but your paraphrase made it far more significant - it was like seeing a familiar picture after it's been cleaned....I hope very much you will carry on your plan doing all the epistles. Of course you'll be opposed tooth and nail by all the "cultured" asses who say you're spoiling "the beauty" of A.V. (King James)  - all the people who objected to Green Pastures and Man Born to be King and who are always waffling about reverence. But we must kill that! I hope you'll add a little plain preface - all popular theology, no gas about St. Paul's "personality" or the wild flowers of Palestine - and a really full analytical index. The index by itself will blow to bits all the modern exaggerations of the difference between Pauline and Johanine theology. Heartiest good wishes, yours sincerely C.S. Lewis. "

C.S. Lewis, as a master communicator, obviously recognised in Phillips a kindred spirit.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Europe to rise from the dead?

Brother Yun, of "The Heavenly Man", addresses a full-to-capacity audience at the Christian Resources Exhibition, Wednesday 14 May 2008. (Christian Today)

“Europe does not need any brilliant preachers or any more teachers of the Word. There is an abundance of these people available. What Europe needs is that there will be people who will stand at the gap on behalf of the nations and pray in tears and repent on behalf of the land. That’s why I believe that Europe is going to be raised from spiritual death.”

These were the words of Brother Yun, the persecuted Chinese pastor at the heart of autobiography “The Heavenly Man”, to a packed conference room at the Christian Resources Exhibition on Wednesday.

“When I stepped from my airplane and landed in this country my prayer was immediately, ‘God may Your Kingdom come again upon this nation and may Your will be done in this nation and in the lives of the believers of this nation as it is in heaven,’” he told the audience.

The Heavenly Man documents Brother Yun’s miraculous escape from the Zhengzhou maximum security prison in 1997, when the Lord told him to walk out of the prison, and upon obeying, he discovered each door open for him, including the main prison gate. He is believed to be the only inmate to have ever escaped from the prison.

He shared his experience: “Jesus walked into my solitary cell and He said, ‘Brother Yun stand up and walk out…I was so frightened and I said, ‘Jesus this is a top security prison, I have a lot of experience about prisons!’ But when Jesus takes action it is faster than your own thoughts. Immediately Jesus said to me, ‘Your prison is real but I am alive and I am the truth.’”

Brother Yun’s second book, “Living Water” is a collection of the messages he has preached around the world in church meetings, conferences, and during radio and television appearances.

“It brings a challenge to Western Christianity to return to discipleship and truly be disciples of Jesus. To be a believer of Jesus is the world’s simplest thing. Just believe in Jesus and you will receive eternal life. But if you want to follow Jesus as His disciple you have to get ready to pay a high price for that obedience,” he said.

“[You will] receive a lot of opposition, pressure, misunderstandings, complaints and pain into your life. Still, how many of you want to follow Jesus and carry your cross? That is the opportunity for transformation for our nation. It comes from here.”

In 2001, after years of persecution, arrests and numerous spates in prison for his faith, Brother Yun took asylum in Germany, where he continues his ministry. He likened his early years to being in a different kind of prison.

“When I came to this prison it was really hard for me to survive. I don’t know where I got the idea that God’s most powerful church is in the West, because they are the ones who sent the missionaries and the Word of God to my nation.”

Choking back tears, he continued, “When I went to the big cathedrals in Germany on Sunday morning I was surprised, such huge big buildings and only four, five, maximum ten people on Sunday morning worshipping God.

“I didn’t understand a word they were saying at the church but I understood the need. I said, ‘God have mercy upon this nation, Lord do something in this nation.’

He told of how he went to the main railway station and started to shout aloud, calling God’s mercy upon Germany.

“Sometimes I was on my knees in tears shouting, ‘God have mercy and compassion upon this nation, Lord give once again your glory upon this nation, send the presence of Your Kingdom upon this nation.’ I was in tears, so many tears on behalf of Europe and the nation of Germany…The Western world is filled with different kinds of prisoners.”

He exhorted European Christians to go beyond lukewarm Christianity and become streams of living water.

“We visited [Europe’s] empty churches and the churches were having an internal meeting together but the river was not flowing out of the church and I became really worried and concerned in my spirit,” he told.

“And I was speaking in conferences and meetings with tens of thousands of people that were so crowded but there was not even a word that challenged about missions and going out and bringing the world to salvation.

“So once again the Lord started to challenge me and said you have to preach out the message about how to bring the church out from the lukewarm Christianity to become true disciples of Christ.”
He said, however, that European church leaders have lost hope in revival.

“Europe is going to be raised from the dead but many of these leaders can’t believe that. They are shaking their heads.”

He continued: “There is a great need of one thing at the church in Europe. Everything except the presence of the living water and the possibility for the living water to run out of the church – that is the only thing missing from the church.”

“Your church may be the wealthiest church but when God is looking at that church God is saying you are poor, you are naked, you are sick. And I think God is going to call smaller groups of people who start to repent in tears and pray and ask God to have mercy upon our nation and mercy upon our city and they will bring the Kingdom presence back upon that society.”

Brother Yun challenged Europe’s Christians not to remain lying at the pool of Bethesda like the paralysed man for 38 years.

“Jesus is the source of living water. You are still lying there,” he told the audience.
“You have to receive the same faith as the blind man at the Gate of Jericho who cried out, ‘Son of David have mercy on me,’ or the woman who came behind Jesus and touched His cloak and her life was totally changed.

“Your need is to get hold of Jesus, not to get hold of any famous pastor or anybody else. You need Jesus.

“And if a new generation of believers rise in this nation who say we only want to get hold of Jesus, we need Jesus, that is the beginning of resurrection for this country.”

He concluded with the assurance that Europe was on the cusp of revival.
“I see very clearly Europe is going to be raised from the dead and is going to break out a revival. As I have been travelling around Europe and visiting the different denominations and churches I have understood that there is a time right now when the compassion of the Lord is coming upon Europe.
“We need this stream of living water to come into our midst and bring change. Do you have this desire and prayer in your life: ‘May I become one of those who are flooding out the river of god, make my church to be the one where the stream of living water is flooding to the needs of the world.
“Jesus is unchanged. He still says if somebody is thirsty come to Me and drink and anyone who believes in Me as Scriptures say, streams of living water will flow from within them.”

The Furious Longing of God

Back in the late 1960s, I was teaching at a university in Ohio and there was a student on campus who by society’s standards would've been called ugly. He was short, extremely obese, he had a terrible case of acne, a bad lisp, and his hair was grow¬ing like Lancelot’s horse – in four directions at one time. He wore the uniform of the day: a T-shirt that hadn’t been washed since the Spanish American War, jeans with a butterfly on the back, and of course, no shoes.

In all my days, I have never met anybody with such low self-esteem. He told me that when he looked in the mirror each morning, he spit at it. Of course no campus girl would date him. No fraternity wanted him as a pledge.

He walked into my office one day and said, his lisp evident, ''Ah, you’re a new face on campus. Well, my name is Larry Malaney and I’m an athgnostic."
I said, “You're what?”
He repeated himself and I said, “Wow, congratulations! If you ever become an atheist, I’ll take you to dinner and we'll celebrate your conversion.”

The story I’m about to tell you is what Larry got for Christmas one year.

Christmas came along for Larry Malaney and he found himself back with his parents in Providence, Rhode Island. Larry’s father is a typical lace-curtain Irishman. Now there are lace-curtain Irish and there are shanty Irish. A lace-curtain Irishman, even on the hottest day in summer, will not come to the dining room table without wearing a suit, usually a dark pinstripe, starched white shirt, and a tie swollen at the top. He will never allow his sideburns to grow to the top of his ears and he always speaks in a low, subdued voice.

Well, Larry comes to the dinner table that first night home, smelling like a Billy goat. He and his father have the usual num¬ber of quarrels and reconciliations. And thus begins a typical vacation in the Malaney household. Several nights later, Larry tells his father that he’s got to get back to school the next day.
“What time, son?”
“Six o’clock.”
 “Well, I’ll ride the bus with you.”

The next morning, the father and son ride the bus in silence. They get off the bus, as Larry has to catch a second one to get to the airport. Directly across the street are six men standing under an awning, all men who work in the same textile fac¬tory as Larry’s father. They begin making loud and degrading remarks like “Oink, oink, look at that fat pig. I tell you, if that pig was my kid, I’d hide him in the basement, I’d be so embar¬rassed.” Another said, “I wouldn’t. If that slob was my kid, he’d be out the door so fast, he wouldn’t know if he’s on foot or horseback. Hey, pig! Give us your best oink!”

These brutal salvos continued.
Larry Malaney told me that in that moment, for the first time in his life, his father reached out and embraced him, kissed him on the lips, and said, “Larry, if your mother and I live to be two hun¬dred years old, that wouldn’t be long enough to thank God for the gift He gave to us in you. I am so proud that you're my son!”

It would be hard to describe in words the transformation that took place in Larry Malaney, but I’ll try. He came back to school and remained a hippie, but he cleaned up the best he could. Miracle of miracles, Larry began dating a girl. And to top it off, he became the president of one of the fraternities. By the way, he was the first student in the history of our university to graduate with a 4.2 grade point average. Larry Malaney had a brilliant mind.

Larry came to my office one day and said, “Tell me about this man Jesus.” And for the next six weeks, in half-hour increment I shared with Larry what the Holy Spirit had revealed to me about Jesus. At the end of those six weeks, Larry said, “Okay.”

June 14, 1974, Larry Malaney was ordained a priest in the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. And for the past twenty years, he’s been a missionary in South America, a man totally sold out to Jesus Christ. Do you know why? It wasn’t because of the six weeks of sitting in Brennan Manning’s office while I talked about Jesus. No, it was because of a day, long ago, during a Christmas vacation, standing at a bus stop, when his lace¬-curtain Irish father healed him. Yes, his father healed him. His father had the guts to get out of the foxhole and choose the high road of blessing in the face of cursing and taunts. His father looked deeply into his son’s eyes, saw the good in Larry Malaney that Larry couldn’t see for himself, affirmed him with a furious love, and changed the whole direction of his son's life.

Lodged in your heart is the power to walk into somebody’s life and give him or her what the bright Paul Tillich called "the courage to be.” Can you fathom that? You have the power to give someone the courage to be, simply by the touch of your affirmation. (…)

What did the Lord say the night before He died? If any one of you loves Me, you’ll be true to My word and My Abba will love you, will come to you, and make a home within you. Jesus spoke of the life of Grace, amazing Grace, not as some theological abstraction or concept; for Jesus, Grace was relationship, the presence of Abba Himself in our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This is the same healing spirit that dwells in the human soul of Jesus Christ that enables the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk again. That’s the identical healing spirit that dwelt in the great soul of Larry Malaney’s father, empowering him to resurrect his son to newness of life. (…)
  
There’s only one healer in the New Israel of God and that is Jesus the Christ. The only question is will we allow the healing spirit of the risen Jesus to flow through us; will we reach out, and touch Him?
Brennan Manning: The Furious Longing of God

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Longing for God

There's a story of a young disciple in India who left home and traveled in search of a spiritual master whom he at last found sitting in prayer beside a river. The young man begged the master to teach him. The master rose slowly and suddenly grabbed the younger man and dragged him into the river and under the water. Seconds passed, then a minute, then another minute. The young man struggled and kicked, but still the teacher held him down until at last he drew him coughing and gasping out of the water. "While you were under the water, what was it you wanted?" the teacher asked, when he saw that the other was at last able to speak again. "Air," the young man said, still panting. "And how badly did you want it?" "All . . . it was all I wanted in the world. With my whole soul I longed only for air." "Good," said the teacher. "When you long for God in the same way that you have just now longed for air, come back to me and you will become a disciple."
Told by John A. Huffman, Jr., "Essential Qualities for a 21st Century Faith: Worship," 22 November 2001, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, California

Monday, 22 August 2011

The disciplined life

I think one of the things that will make the difference as to whether the Church can rise to the challenge of the times or not, is whether our future leaders will be people of discipline or not. Will they be regular church goers, people of prayer and the Word? Will they be self-disciplined in the way they order their lives and find the balance between work and rest, family and church, study and pastoral work. It was this self-discipline that marked John Stott as the leader that he was. Here is what Rev. Dr. Chris Wright, the international director of London-based Langham Partnership International, wrote about him recently:

“He was a very disciplined man. He was a single man so he did not have a wife and family. He was extremely devoted. Until his later life, he usually rose between 5 and 6 each day and spent a lot of time in prayer,” said Wright, who has personally known Stott since 1978. “He has a long list of people he prayed for, and that is one reason why he remembered people so well, because he was regularly praying for hundreds of people. For that reason also, he tended not to stay up very late.”

Not only was Stott’s daily routine strict, but his year was structured with a razor-sharp focus on maximizing his effectiveness in various ministries. For 25 years, Stott spent three months out of the year in international travels, speaking at conferences and preaching around the world; three months in writing; and six months in ministry.

“He was extremely disciplined in his personal life and very simple in his habits. He lived in a one bedroom, one living room with a small kitchenette, and that was his life. He did not have any great wealth or style. He was very simple and frugal."

John Stott is, for me, the model we need to follow if we are to win this nation for Christ again.

Changed within

Some sixty years ago a parish priest, J B Phillips, sent a copy of his translation of Colossians to C S Lewis. He wrote back with great encouragement: 'It's like seeing an old picture after it's been cleaned.' Lewis suggested he should translate all Paul's epistles, and offered a possible title - 'Letters to Young Churches'.

This suggestion was accepted and Phillips went on to translate the whole New Testament and then wrote a short book, Ring of Truth, expressing the profound impact the experience of translation had made on his life.

In it he wrote this astonishing passage:
"One letter which really struck me a blow from which I never recovered was 1 Corinthians. I was reminded that Corinth was a byword for every kind of vice and depravity. I had a fair picture of the sort of place it must have been for the founding of a Christian church, when I suddenly came across 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11. Paul writes: 'Don't be under any illusion. Neither the impure, the idolator or the adulterer, neither the effeminate, the pervert or the thief, neither the swindler, the drunkard, the foul-mouthed, or the rapacious, shall have any share in the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.'

Out of his whole translation, Phillips puts this one sentence in italics. 'I realised', he wrote, 'what an astonishing piece of Christian evidence this is, to Paul and his fellow apostles. It was plainly the invasion of the human spirit by God's own spirit.'

I recall a recent conversation I had with someone who, although they do not believe in "organised religion" nonetheless want to bring their children up on Christian principles because they believe that these would be good for their children. While I have a lot of sympathy for this approach and would certainly recommend it rather than try and make up morality as you go along, I can't help but see that it will, ultimately lead to disappointment and frustration. Why? Because as Paul points out in the above passage, the sort of moral behaviour that is consitent with the Christian Faith comes not from keeping rules or from apeing good behaviour - no matter how well-intentioned that is - but from God Himself, living within us by His Holy Spirit. The Corinthians were thoroughly immoral people in every way until they embraced Christ Himself and were invaded by his Holy Spirit.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Better something than nothing I suppose. But how much easier - not easy, 'easier'- would it be if only the whole truth were grasped and not just a very small part of it.

J.B.Phillips and prayer

I am at present reading J.B.Phillips' autobiography called "The Price of Success" and in Chapter 4 I came across an interesting passage about prayer which prompted me to think a little more on the subject. In Chapter 4 Phillips talks about his early days as a Christian powerfully influenced by the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church. He describes himself, aged 19, as someone "with a newly acquired faith of an almost literal kind." It was a time, he writes, hwen "the promises of God recorded in the Bible were true and meant to be apprehended by any believer." On this particular occasion Phillips writes: "..I found myself almost literally penniless, and certainly unable any longer to pay the very modest fees of our mission houseparty." (He was running a beach mission at Overstand, Norfolk, with members of the Christian Union). He continues: "I was wandering on the beach one evening and I suddenly thought, Christ said, "Ask and it shall be given you," so why not ask? So I did, with simple naive childlike faith, and within two minutes I saw an unusually bright sparkle shining on a bank of shingle in the setting sun. I ran forward and picked up a ring with a very large sapphire mounted on it. On my way back to the house in which we were staying I had to visit the village post office. And there, for everyone to see, was a large notice offerng "£20 reward for teh recovery of a valuable sapphire ring." My heart leapt in thankfulness and I went straight to the hotel of the owner of the ring. Needless to say he was delighted, and on hearing that i intended to give half the reward to the mission, he unhesitatingly increased it. It must have been a very valuable sapphire indeed, but much more valuable to me was the fact that God Himself had heard mu desperate prayer and had immediately answered it. I have had many answers to prayer since but none so rapid and demonstrable."
The Price of Success: J.B.Phillips pages 61-62


A few reflections:
1. Phillips seems to be a little disparaging of his "newly acquired faith of an almost literal kind" yet at the ame time acknowledges the "simple naive childlike faith" that it elicited.  Isn't there a connection between the two? Aren't we in danger sometimes of missing the point of the Bible and reading it academically when it is meant to be read with "simple naive and childlike faith"? That is not to pay down the need for some care with some passages of the Bible, but to acknowledge that "too much analysis can lead to paralysis" when it comes to stullifying faith and damping down zeal.
2. The point is that Christ's promises in particular should be taken at face value much of the time, for the "kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (children)" (Mark 10: 14-15)
3. One of the major problems is of course what to do when we do take prmises at face value, show naive childlike trust in God, and then find that nothing happens? We can, as i have done, over examine things and interrogate myself whetehr the conditions were right, my motives wrong or, as all too often is the case, the Bible actually can be understood in that way. I wonder if that is, however, the right approach? Is that the way trust runs between child and Father? Better surely to shrug our shoulders, say "Father knows best" and just carry on, regfusing to allow ourselves to stop trusting Him and asking Him to show us if we went wrong or it was a matter of "no" or "not now" or of "keep praying"..
4. Sometimes I wonder whether our early prayers, when we first started to believe, so encouraged us that we matbe began to become a bit selfish? "If God answers prayer I can ask for anything" sort of approach. Certainly sin can creep in and adulterate our faith and our subsequent praying.

Ultimately we should "keep praying and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1) although most of us do sadly, or simply put down our early efforts as just coincidence or a foolish and childlike reading of the Bible. How much prayer and power is lost in the process? How much more could God have accomplished if we had just, at least in respect of prayer andthe Bible, stayed little children?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Victory of Justice


One of my favourite writers and speakers is Tony Campolo. He is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. Tony has authored thirty books and is Founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education. He’s ordained in the American Baptist Church. Here is a talk/sermon he gave on the theme of The Victory of Justice.

"I often ask my students at Eastern [University], why did Jesus come into the world? Why did he leave the glories of heaven and break into history? What was he out to do? If he were to write out his mission statement, how would it read? Good question! Everybody is writing out mission statements. What would be his?

I get a lot of good answers. People tell me he came to bring a revelation of God, he came to die on the cross to take the punishment for our sins, he came that we might have joy, that his joy might be in us. It goes on and on and on. But they seldom come up with what Jesus really would have said. I do know what Jesus would have said and did say. The first thing out of Jesus’ mouth when he started his ministry—Matthew, Mark, Luke, check it out—the first thing he says is, “I have come to declare the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus came declaring the kingdom of God. All of his parables are about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is like a man who does this or a woman who does that. When he told his disciples how to pray he said, “Pray for the kingdom. Pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” Note: no pie in the sky when you die! He’s talking about a kingdom in this world. He wants to change this world into the kind of world that it ought to be. That’s why Jesus came, to create transformed people who in turn will live in a transformed world.

We get a good view of that in the 65th chapter of Isaiah. When we go to the Bible, it says this in the 65th chapter, starting at the 17th verse: The kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, the new society that God wants to create, will be marked by justice. It will be justice in this sense: everybody will have a decent house to live in, everybody will have a good job and have a good opportunity to earn a decent living in the vineyards of this world, children will not die in infancy, old people will live out their lives in perfect health and not have to worry about who’s going to take care of them. Read the chapter. It’s fantastic. It says when boys and girls are growing up, parents aren’t going to worry that their sons and daughters are going to end, “in calamity.” Girls getting pregnant before their time and boys being blown away in gang warfare. It even ends on an environmental note. It says when the Kingdom comes people will not hurt the Earth any more. It’s all there. It’s all there.

Now, the question that has to be raised is what makes people of faith so different than people who aren’t religious when it comes to social justice? I have a lot of secularist friends who are very, very committed to social justice. What makes religious people different? Well, there are a couple of things. First of all, we’re motivated by biblical imperatives. We read the Bible. I don’t know whether you realize this, but there are over two thousand verses of Scripture that call upon us to stand up for the poor, to feed the poor, to bring justice to the poor. Two thousand verses that really direct us to concern ourselves with the poor. You know it bothers me because churches invest in stained-glass windows and organs and carpets and all kinds of stuff. They don’t understand that the Bible primarily says none of this means anything if you haven’t committed yourself to the poor. The Bible deals with the poor over and over again. Beyond that, the word “righteousness” in the Scripture. If you were a Greek scholar you would know that that word which was translated “righteousness” could better translated “justice.” Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice. That’s what Jesus said because they are the ones who are going to live satisfied and fulfilling lives. The Bible just overwhelms us with all of this stuff about justice, about helping the poor, about standing up for the oppressed, about being a voice for those who have no voice. And I’ve got to tell you this: if you think that being religious, being Christian, being spiritual is getting ready for the next world, you’ve missed the message of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come here to get you ready for the next world, he came into this world to transform you into people through whom he could do his work in this world.

The second thing, of course, is prayer. We not only are into the Bible, but we are also into praying. We pray in the Scriptures for empowerment. We pray for inspiration. I myself start off every day by getting down on my knees and in the early morning I don’t say anything to God. I don’t say a word. I just center down on Jesus. I say his name over and over and over again because, as my good friend Bill Gaither says, there is something about that name. It drives back the dark spirit. It creates what the Celtic Christians called a “thin place.” And in the quietude and in the stillness of the morning, not asking God for anything, I simply surrender and wait for the spirit of God to invade me. To be Christian is not just to believe in Jesus, but to allow Jesus to invade you, to penetrate your being, to saturate your personality until you begin to think like God. That’s a strange thing to say, but being a Christian is having this mind in us as the Scripture which was also in Christ Jesus, our Lord. That means that the things that outraged Jesus, outrage you. You are as upset by the things that are going wrong in this world as Jesus himself was and is. Jesus weeps, Jesus cries.

When Katrina took place, he was the first one who wept. He was the first one who cried. He was the one who was outraged because we didn’t build levees strong enough to hold back a hurricane force wind. He was the one who was outraged by the fact that there was so much poverty in New Orleans. To be Christian just isn’t just to believe in Jesus, it’s to allow Jesus to invade you, to change your emotions, your feelings, your thinking. That’s what prayer is all about. Prayer is surrendering to Christ so that Christ can transform you into his likeness, to be transformed into his thinking.

But there is another factor I want to bring up and that is this: when we come to being people of faith, we have to recognize that the great social reformers of history have tended to be people of faith. John Wesley. I mean his revivals so transformed England spiritually that Henry Steele Commager, the great historian says, “England never had to go through the upset of a French Revolution. The revolution took place spiritually and then socially because people were changed by the spirit of God.” And they got rid of the abuses of the time. Child labor would have never ended had it not been for the Wesleyan revivals. One of his followers, Wilberforce, the same thing. Wilberforce ended slavery. He was the member of Parliament that pushed for an end to slavery and he did that for year after year after year inspired by prayer, empowered by Scripture, believing what the Bible says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bonded nor free, Scythian nor Barbarian, but all people are equal. These great people like Martin Luther King, like Wilberforce, and most of all for me, Charles Finney, in the 1800s, who started the feminist movement, who started the abolitionist movement because of a deep, deep prayer life. Faith is essential in generating a hunger for social justice.

Now, there is one more thing that I need to say. This will involve us in politics. There is no question about that. I mean we’re going to have to start asking questions. Is it right? Is it just that there are huge tax breaks for the rich while the poor get neglected? Is that right? In order to finance this tax benefit we ended 50,000 programs for inner-city kids who are getting tutoring after school. To finance what, a bunch of rich people? I don’t think that’s the justice of God. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is all about. I go to Scripture and I find a Christ who calls upon us to concern ourselves with the poor. You say, what do you want me to do? Give away my money to the poor? Good idea! Jesus suggested we do exactly that. He says if you have this world’s goods—check it out, John 3:17 and 18—if you have this world’s goods, you see brothers and sisters who are in need, you keep what you have while they suffer. How can you say I have the love of God in my heart? Good question. To be Christian and rich means that you have to use your wealth to help the poor, to help the oppressed, to help the needy.

We have to begin to ask questions about our system of justice. You know there is one kind of justice for rich people and another kind of justice for poor people in this country. Not right. If Jesus Christ is in you, you’ll be outraged over that inequity. You will be angry over that inequity. And the national budget. Do you know that of the twenty-two industrialized nations of the world, the United States is next to last in the proportion of the national budget that we set aside for poor people in the world? We give away less than two tenths of one percent. That’s not even one percent! To put it in perspective, for every dollar we Americans give to our national budget to help the poor of the world, the people of Norway give seventy. We’re six percent of the world’s population. We consume forty-three percent of the world’s resources and we give away less than two tenths of one percent of our national budget to help the poor of the world. That’s not justice. I believe in a loving God but I believe in a God who can get very, very angry when justice does not flow down from the hills and overpower us like beautiful water.

Let me just say this. I’m a city guy. And in the book of Zachariah, the 8th chapter, it says this: when justice comes to the city, once again, old people will come out of their houses, sit on their front steps, lean on their canes, watching the children playing safely in the streets. The image of the kingdom, a just society where there’s safety and well-being for everyone. It’s the will of God. Pray today: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. "
Tony Campolo

The greatest drama ever staged

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.

That drama is summarized quite clearly in the creeds of the Church, and if we think it dull it is because we either have never really read those amazing documents or have recited them so often and so mechanically as to have lost all sense of their meaning. The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a single central problem: What think ye of Christ? Before we adopt any of the unofficial solutions (some of which are indeed excessively dull)—before we dismiss Christ as a myth, an idealist demagogue, a liar, or a lunatic—it will do no harm to find out what the creeds really say about him. What does the Church think of Christ?

The Church’s answer is categorical and uncompromising and it is this: That Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the God “by whom all things were made.” His body and brain were those of a common man; his personality was the personality of God, so far as that personality could be expressed in human terms. He was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; he was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be “like God”; he was God.

Now, this is not just a pious commonplace; it is not commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that, for whatever reason, God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he [God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace, and thought it was worthwhile.

Christianity is, of course, not the only religion that has found the best explanation of human life in the idea of an incarnate and suffering god. The Egyptian Osiris died and rose again; Aeschylus in his play, The Eumenides, reconciled man to God by the theory of a suffering Zeus. But in most theologies, the god is supposed to have suffered and died in some remote and mythical period of prehistory. The Christian story, on the other hand, starts off briskly in St. Matthew’s account with a place and a date: “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King.” St. Luke, still more practically and prosaically, pins the thing down by a reference to a piece of government finance. God, he says, was made man in the year when Caesar Augustus was taking a census in connection with a scheme of taxation. Similarly, we might date an event by saying that it took place in the year that Great Britain went off the gold standard. About thirty-three years later (we are informed), God was executed, for being a political nuisance, “under Pontius Pilate”—much as we might say, “when Mr. Johnson-Hicks was Home Secretary.” It is as definite and concrete as all that.

Possibly we might prefer not to take this tale too seriously—there are disquieting points about it. Here we had a man of divine character walking and talking among us—and what did we find to do with him? The common people, indeed, “heard him gladly”; but our leading authorities in church and state considered that he talked too much and uttered too many disconcerting truths. So we bribed one of his friends to hand him over quietly to the police, and we tried him on a rather vague charge of creating a disturbance, and had him publicly flogged and hanged on the common gallows, “thanking God we were rid of a knave.” All this was not very creditable to us, even if he was (as many people thought and think) only a harmless, crazy preacher. But if the Church is right about him, it was more discreditable still, for the man we hanged was God Almighty. So that is the outline of the official story—the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull—this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.

If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.

True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; he assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.

He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had “a daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,” and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.

“And the third day he rose again.” What are we to make of this? One thing is certain: if he were God and nothing else, his immortality means nothing to us; if he was man and no more, his death is no more important than yours or mine. But if he really was both God and man, then when the man Jesus died, God died too; and when the God Jesus rose from the dead, man rose too, because they were one and the same person. The Church binds us to no theory about the exact composition of Christ’s resurrection body. A body of some kind there had to be, since man cannot perceive the Infinite otherwise than in terms of space and time. It may have been made from the same elements as the body that disappeared so strangely from the guarded tomb, but it was not that old, limited mortal body, though it was recognizably like it. In any case, those who saw the risen Christ remained persuaded that life was worth living and death a triviality—an attitude curiously unlike that of the modern defeatist, who is firmly persuaded that life is a disaster and death (rather inconsistently) a major catastrophe.

Now, nobody is compelled to believe a single word of this remarkable story. God (says the Church) has created us perfectly free to disbelieve in him as much as we choose. If we do disbelieve, then he and we must take the consequences in a world ruled by cause and effect. The Church says further, that man did, in fact, disbelieve, and that God did, in fact, take the consequences. At the same, if we are going to disbelieve a thing, it seems on the whole to be desirable that we should first find out what, exactly, we are disbelieving. Very well, then: “The right faith is, that we believe that Jesus Christ is God and man, perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Who, although he be God and man, yet is he not two, but one Christ.” There is the essential doctrine, of which the whole elaborate structure of Christian faith and morals is only the logical consequence.

Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God, find him a better man than himself, is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.

Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that at least once in the world’s history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the Resurrection.

Dorothy L. Sayer (1893-1957) was one of the most prolific and influential British Christian intellectuals of the twentieth century—a category that she shared with literary greats such as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Most widely known for her mystery novels involving the famed detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, one cannot also overlook her success as a playwright, a translator (of Dante, no less), an apologist, a poet, and a literary critic.

A highly creative individual, she had a way of imagination that made everything of which she wrote truly come alive. To her, being created in the image of God meant using her creative capacity to its fullest. In his elegy of Sayers, C.S. Lewis wrote, “She aspired to be, and was, at once a popular entertainer and a conscientious craftsman: like Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, or Moliere…it is only such writers who matter in the long run.”

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Jesus blood never failed me yet

I came across the following song on YouTube which moved me when I first heard it. The story behind the song is recalled here by the composer Gavin Briars who recorded it and arranged a simple accompaniment:

"In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism."
Gavin BriarsThe YouTube link is here.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Intercessory Prayer 2

The following is one artcle about praying for others which, while not answering my questions, at least offers some guidelines. Bear in mind it is written in an American context:

Many of us - if not all of us , owe our conversion to friends and family who prayed us into the Kingdom. Prayer is the big weapon for the salvation of souls. Argument and debate without prayer is dry and fruitless. Do not spend all your time bashing your head against the arguments of people. Instead bash into Heaven with strong prayers on behalf of those you want to be saved.

Why should we pray for the lost?

1. Out of love - if we love our neighbor as ourselves we will want him or her to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour too.

2. Out of holy fear - if we realize that Hell is for real and for eternity then we will not want our friends, family or neighbors to go there.

3. Out of knowledge of the nature of God - who loves to be merciful and desires that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

4. Out of knowledge of the power of prayer - prayer often succeeds when all else has failed. It is the only way we have of asking God to move in someone's life and heart. We know that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. We know that prayers according to God's will are answered. This is not spiritual manipulation from a distance. Rather prayer grants the person the ability to see clearly and make a free and informed choice, free from the manipulative bondages and blindness that the Devil tries to impose. We can legitimately pray that a person may be able to freely choose between the mercy and glory of God and the temporary trash of this world. We can pray that their blindness be removed and Christ shown to them convincingly and clearly. Imagine if we could present every non-Christian with a clear convincing presentation of the facts. Imagine they were made to choose between the love of Jesus Christ, eternal glory, a magnificent resurrection body , life in heaven etc. versus pain and torment and death and disgrace for all eternity . Only a crazy person would choose to remain a non-Christian. Prayer allows the unbeliever to glimpse the facts for what they are and to make a sensible choice. It is not unfair or manipulative -it is the fairest, most freeing way we have.

Praying for Structures

Paul writes to Timothy about his FIRST PRIORITY in 1 Tim 2:1-8

1 Timothy 2:1-8 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men--the testimony given in its proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle--I am telling the truth, I am not lying--and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles. 8 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

God wants us to pray - for kings and all those in authority..... in order that people may be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. This points out a sometimes forgotten aspect about praying for the lost - that governments can do a lot to help or to hinder the process of evangelism. For instance in Albania, one of the world's most atheistic communist states a generation of people has been raised without the remotest awareness of Jesus Christ or the gospel. Albania is in ruins as a result and is without the social services or human compassion that the influence of the gospel brings. On the other hand Samoa and some of the Pacific nations are very Christian and the Government actively encourages participation in Christian activities. Everyone has some knowledge of the gospel and many are saved.

God wants "all people everywhere" - that means the lot of you without exception - to pray for those in authority so that we may openly have permission to preach the gospel without hindrance. Please pray that:

Our school system may remain open to Christian chaplaincy and R. E.

That tax concessions for some areas of Christian work may remain in place and that more areas e.g. donations to missionary societies may be made tax exempt.

That anti-Christian laws in some States may be repealed.

That the Government recognize the contribution that true Christianity can make to Australia .

That we change from being a secular country to a Christian nation.

That we may remain able to proclaim Christianity , in all its truths, in all areas of our society.

That people such as nurses who have difficult issues of conscience be allowed to be truly Christian and abstain from practices they consider inappropriate to their faith.

Also as issues such as pornography laws etc. pop up from time to time we can make them a matter of prayer by "all people everywhere". I look upon such praying is as paving the way for the gospel - it is very hard to sow the seeds of faith in a mind filled with pornographic trash. Pornography greases the path to Hell and banning it is a positive action not a negative one.

So part of our praying for the lost is praying for structures that block the spread of the gospel to be removed. The second part of praying for the lost is praying for individuals / families/ villages and nations to be saved.

How To Pray for The Lost

The following ideas have been pinched from a small pamphlet called "How To Pray For The Lost" which I discovered years ago and have found very useful. I have also added in a few practical hints of my own.

The first thing you need to understand when praying for the lost is that the price has been paid. When Jesus died upon that cross He paid the price for every single sinner on the earth. When you are praying for the lost remember that the price has been paid and make that the starting point for prayer.

"Lord you bought Joe Bloggs at Calvary, he is yours and so is his wife Joanne Bloggs and now we are asking You to claim Joe and Joanne for yourself, to remove the chains that bind them. Don't let the Devil have those you have bought Lord, be glorified in them and through them Lord. Take them back to yourself , set them free, Christ has done it, now we claim it . Amen "

Knowing that Christ has paid the price gives us confidence to pay boldly. It is not as if we have to bargain at all. The price is paid - that person rightly belongs to God who has bought them back out of slavery and sin. The technical name for this is "praying on the basis of redemption" or in some circles "praying for the lost in the power of the blood of Jesus" . Stand before God, confident that He wants your friend saved and confident that He has already paid the price for that to happen.

PERSISTENTLY AND REGULARLY - praying for people to be saved can at times be a very long battle. We need to pray persistently and regularly for those we want to be saved. In Luke 18:1 ff Jesus makes it clear that persistence pays off and tells us that we ought to "pray and not get weary.."

PRAY WATCHFULLY - It pays to be alert to the spiritual state of the unbeliever and to pray appropriately - are they curious about God yet? Are they convicted about their sin? Are they attracted to Jesus? Are they involved in something they would find very difficult to give up if they became a Christian? Pray specifically for where the person is at spiritually so they can take one or two steps closer to faith in God. "Lord you know how Joe finds it hard to believe your Bible - please show him it is true and that it can be relied on..."

SPECIFIC THINGS TO PRAY FOR:

1. That God will make them curious about spiritual things. The first hurdle is often sheer apathy with regard to the truth. Pray that God will stir them up to search out the truth about Life, The universe and Everything -for themselves.

2. Pray that God will surround your friend with witnessing Christians. Pray that they will feel absolutely surrounded and unable to escape from God. This forces people to consider Christ and the difference between their lives and the lives of true Christians.

3. Ask that they may clearly grasp that they are sinful. Unless there is a clear perception of sin there can be no true repentance from sin. They must know that they are in the wrong.

4. That God will grant them an almighty thirst for God's Word. That even as unbelievers they will want to read the Bible especially Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah and the Gospels.

5. Plead for a clear understanding of Jesus as Savior and Lord. With some of the heresies abroad today Jesus is often misunderstood. Pray that your friends may see Jesus as real and historical and also as divine. Pray that God may clear up any misunderstandings in these areas and be prepared to answer questions. Be clear about Jesus being the only way to a true and favorable relationship with God.

6. Intercede for your friends at any points where they are being held under Satan's power. Ask for release from wrong ways and bad influences. Their friends may be a real obstacle to their salvation, pray that they may not give in to them but may instead have the courage to believe in God. There is today an increasing interest in the occult and some people are badly hooked -pray for their release from this dark addiction so that they may be free to believe.

7. Ask for grace toward your friends so that they may develop godly tastes which lead them toward God and salvation. Pray that they may start liking Christian music or if they are literature buffs that C. S. Lewis, John Donne, Milton and T.S. Elliot may hold a fascination for them. If classical music - pray that the great Christian works of Bach and Handel may intrigue them. If rock music that the contemporary Christian rock bands with good messages may become their passion. Pray that in everything from bushwalking to building models that somehow their tastes will be drawn to that which witnesses to Christ.

CHALLENGE I am going to leave you with the challenge of making a list of people you will pray for . Also get your home groups to buy a small notebook, rule it up, "Person," "What We Will Pray", "When It Was Answered." We can really see things happen when we persistently pray for the lost on the basis of what Christ has done on the cross.
The website can be accessed by clicking here.

Intercessory prayer 1

To me one of the great challenges and impotrant tasks for me as a Christian is to fulfil my responsibility and pray for the salvation of friends, family and those whose lives brush up against mine. But as muchas I take this seriously, I struggle with just how to go about it. What do I pray for? What do I say? Here are the kind of things that tend to slow me down:

1. If I pray that God will change a person's mind and make them more open to Him, wouldn't He be wanting to do that anyway? "God desires that all be saved and come to a knowledeg of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4). SO why do I need to pray? What can I add to that.
2. Besides, doesn't God uphold our free will and our right to say no to Him. Won't my prayer contradict that? How does God's desire and our free will fit together with prayer?
3. What do I say anyway? And how do i know it's the right thing to say? I am only a mere human being, how can I tell God to send someone to speak to them or arrange circumstances so that they will be prompted to ask those vital questions that can lead to faith? God knows what to do better than I do, so why try and out-do God?
4. And how long do I pray for, and when do I know when to stop? If that person is not going to respond, isn't it a waste of time barking up the wrong tree?
5. Isn't asking these questions about prayer having a negative effect and stullifying faith?
6. How specific should my prayers be? Isn't 'bless' them too little and other more prescriptive prayer too detailed?

So you can see that praying for the lost is not straightforward but full of pitfalls and problems. And reading the masters on prayer does not really help because if you read, for example, Andrew Murray he majors on the 'why', or the 'what' and even the 'when' but seems to take for granted the 'how' or just leave it out altogether.

So over the next few blogs I will be attempting to eiether answer the above questions, or try and discover some advice that will show me just 'how' I am to do it.

Andrew Murray 1828-1917

"May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love, and joy of God's presence."

As a young man, Andrew Murray wanted to be a minister, but it was a career choice rather than an act of faith. Not until he had finished his general studies and begun his theological training, in the Netherlands, did he experience a conversion of heart. In a letter to his parents, Murray wrote, "Your son has been born again. … I have cast myself on Christ."

This "casting of the self" became Murray's life theme. Sixty years of ministry in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, more than 200 books and tracts on Christian spirituality and ministry, extensive social work, and the founding of educational institutions—all these were outward signs of the inward grace that Murray experienced by continually casting himself on Christ.

"May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love, and joy of God's presence," was his prayer. "And not a moment without the entire surrender of myself as a vessel for him to fill full of his Spirit and his love."

At age 21, Murray received his first appointment as the only minister in the Orange River Sovereignty, a 50,000-square-mile territory in remote South Africa. Constant travel to distant parishes and outreach to the unevangelized soon depleted his strength. A bout of illness so weakened him, he was forced to return to England for rest.

When he returned to South Africa, he took a position in Worcester, where he became involved with the newly opened Theological Seminary of Stellenbosch. His passion for Christian education prompted him to found a succession of institutions, such as the Bible and Prayer Union (which encouraged Bible study and prayer) and the Huguenot Seminary, where young women could prepare for educational work.

From Worcester, Murray accepted a more prestigious preaching position in Cape Town and then, seven years later, the pastorate of a church in Wellington, a more rural parish. Here Murray honed his preaching skills and led a holiness revival (historian W.Hollenweger considers Murray a forerunner of Pentecostalism). Through his preaching and writing, Murray slowly became an international figure.

Murray wrote to interpret the Scriptures in such a way that Christians were free to believe and experience the grace of God. He believed that God had done everything necessary for people to live rich, productive, meaningful lives that participated in the life of God. The obstacles to such lives included half-hearted surrender to God, a lack of confidence in the anointing of the Spirit, and a deep-rooted skepticism about the power of prayer.

One of his most popular books, With Christ in the School of Prayer, takes New Testament teachings about prayer and illumines them in 31 "lessons" designed to help the reader move past shallow, ineffectual prayer into a fuller understanding of the work God has called them to do. According to Murray, the church does not realize that "God rules the world by the prayers of his saints, that prayer is the power by which Satan is conquered, that by prayer the church on earth has disposal of the powers of the heavenly world."

He strove to align his spiritual insights with his Reformed theology, but he was accused by Reformed critics of teaching free will and that God wills the redemption of all.

In the face of criticism, though, Murray insisted that the believer can expect to receive the fullness of the Spirit. As Murray put it, "I must be filled; it is absolutely necessary. I may be filled; God has made it blessedly possible. I would be filled; it is eminently desirable. I will be filled; it is so blessedly certain."

The Power of Persevering Prayer

And the Lord said, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint...

There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:1-8)

Of all the mysteries of the prayer world the need of persevering prayer is one of the greatest. That the Lord, who is so loving and longing to bless, should have to be asked, time after time, sometimes year after year, before the answer comes, we cannot easily understand. It is also one of the greatest practical difficulties in the exercise of believing prayer. When, after persevering pleading, our prayer remains unanswered, it is often easiest for our lazy flesh, and it has all the appearance of pious submission, to think that we must now cease praying, because God may have His secret reason for withholding His answer to our request.It is by faith alone that the difficulty is overcome. When once faith has taken its stand on God's word and the Name of Jesus, and has yielded itself to the leading of the Spirit to seek God's will and honor alone in its prayer, it need not be discouraged by delay. It knows from Scripture that the power of believing prayer is simply irresistible; real faith can never be disappointed. It knows that just as water, to exercise the irresistible power it can have, must be gathered up and accumulated until the stream can come down in full force, so there must often be a heaping up of prayer until God sees that the measure is full, when the answer comes. It knows that just as the peasant farmer has to take his ten thousand steps to sow his tens of thousands seeds, each one a part of the preparation for the final harvest, so there is a need for often repeated persevering prayer, all working out some desired blessing. It knows for certain that not a single believing prayer can fail of its effect in heaven, but has its influence, and is treasured up to work out an answer in due time to him who perseveres to the end. It knows that it has to do, not with human thoughts or possibilities, but with the word of the living God. And so, even as Abraham through so many years "who against hope believed in hope" (Romans 4:18), and then "followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:12)

To enable us, when the answer to our prayer does not come at once, to combine quiet patience and joyful confidence in our persevering prayer, we must especially try to understand the words in which our Lord sets forth the character and conduct, not of the unjust judge, but of our God and Father, toward those whom He allows to cry day and night to Him: "I tell you that He will avenge them speedily." (Luke 18:8)

He will avenge them quickly, the Master says. The blessing is all prepared; He is not only willing, but most anxious, to give them what they ask; everlasting love burns with the longing desire to reveal itself fully to its beloved and to satisfy their needs. God will not delay one moment longer than is absolutely necessary; He will do all in His power to expedite and rush the answer.

But why, if this is true and His power is infinite, does it often take so long for the answer to prayer to come? And why must God's own elect so often, in the middle of suffering and conflict, cry day and night? He is waiting patiently while He listens to them. "Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain." (James 5:7) The farmer does, indeed, long for his harvest, but knows that it must have its full amount of sunshine and rain, and he has long patience. A child so often wants to pick the half-ripe fruit; the farmer knows how to wait until the proper time. Man, in his spiritual nature too, is under the law of gradual growth that reigns in all created life. It is only in the path of development that he can reach his divine destiny. And it is the Father, in whose hand are the times and seasons, who knows the moment when the soul or the Church is ripened to that fullness of faith in which it can really take and keep the blessing. Like a father who longs to have his only child home from school, and yet waits patiently until the time of training is completed, so it is with God and His children: He is the patient One, and answers quickly.

The insight into this truth leads the believer to cultivate the corresponding dispositions: patience and faith, waiting and anticipating, are the secret of his perseverance. By faith in the promise of God, we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him. Faith takes and holds the answer in the promise as an unseen spiritual possession, rejoices in it, and praises for it. But there is a difference between the faith that thus holds the word and knows that it has the answer and the clearer, fuller, riper faith that obtains the promise as a present experience. It is in persevering, not unbelieving, but confident and praising prayer, that the soul grows up into that full union with its Lord in which it can enter upon the possession of the blessing in Him. There may be in these around us, there may be in that great system of being of which we are part, there may be in God's government, things that have to be put right through our prayer before the answer can fully come: the faith that has, according to the command, believed that it has received, can allow God to take His time; it knows it has prevailed and must prevail. In quiet, persistent, and determined perseverance it continues in prayer and thanksgiving until the blessing comes. And so we see combined what at first sight appears contradictory--the faith that rejoices in the answer of the unseen God as a present possession and the patience that cries day and night until it be revealed. The quickness of God's patience is met by the triumphant but patient faith of His waiting child.

Our great danger, in this school of the answer delayed, is the temptation to think that, after all, it may not be God's will to give us what we ask. If our prayer be according to God's word, and under the leading of the Spirit, let us not give way to these fears. Let us learn to give God time. God needs time with us. If only we give Him time, that is, time in the daily fellowship with Himself, for Him to exercise the full influence of His presence on us, and time, day by day, in the course of our being kept waiting, for faith to prove its reality and to fill our whole being, He Himself will lead us from faith to vision; we shall see the glory of God. Let no delay shake our faith. Of faith it holds good: first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. Each believing prayer brings a step nearer the final victory. Each believing prayer helps to ripen the fruit and bring us nearer to it; it fills up the measure of prayer and faith known to God alone; it conquers the hindrances in the unseen world; it hastens the end. Child of God, give the Father time. He is patiently listening to you. He wants the blessing to be rich, and full, and sure; give Him time, while you cry day and night. Only remember the word: "I tell you that He will avenge them speedily." (Luke 18:8)

The blessing of such persevering prayer is unspeakable. There is nothing so heart-searching as the prayer of faith. It teaches you to discover and confess, and to give up everything that hinders the coming of the blessing, everything there may not be in accordance with the Father's will. It leads to closer fellowship with Him who alone can teach us to pray, to a more entire surrender to draw near under no covering but that of the blood and the Spirit. It calls for a closer and more simple abiding in Christ alone. Christian, give God time. He will perfect that which concerns you.

Let it be thus whether you pray for yourself or for others. All labor, bodily or mental, needs time and effort: we must give up ourselves up to it. Nature discovers her secrets and yields her treasures only to diligent and thoughtful labor. However little we can understand it, in the spiritual farming it is the same: the seed we sow in the soil of heaven, the efforts we put forth, and the influence we seek to exert in the world above, need our whole being: we must give ourselves to prayer. But let us hold firm the great confidence that in due season we will reap if we don't give up.

And let us especially learn the lesson as we pray for the Christ's Church. She is, indeed, like the poor widow, in the absence of her Lord, apparently at the mercy of her adversary, helpless to obtain restitution. Let us, when we pray for His Church or any portion of it, under the power of the world, asking Him to visit her with the mighty workings of His Spirit and to prepare her for His coming-- let us pray in the assured faith: prayer does help, praying always and not stopping will bring the answer. Only give God time. And then keep crying out day and night. "And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?" (Luke 18:6-7)
Dr. Andrew Murray Click here for more Murray

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Dangerous Love

I am a Christian Muslim woman. There is no other way to say it. It is difficult to describe what it’s like. Believing Jesus is dangerous for many of us in the Middle East. I am a Believer but if you were to meet me and follow me around for a day you probably wouldn’t know it. I go to the mosque with my family. I pray five times a day. I utter words only Muslims use. But these rituals mean nothing to me now that I know Christ.

I came to know Jesus through a radio broadcast. As a Muslim, I heard a lot about Christians but never understood what they believed. I have always thought of myself as an enlightened person so listening to the radio show was supposed to merely provide education.

The speaker shared about God pursuing us through Jesus and about the free gift of salvation. I tried to rationally process these ideas and look for how these Christians had it all wrong. But the more I tried, the harder it became. Something was drawing me to this story of Jesus. Free forgiveness! I could not believe it. Everything I ever learned about God told me that a price had to be paid to earn paradise. But that night I understood that Jesus paid the price for me.

I continued to listen to these broadcasts and wrestle with questions. Then one day, with sudden clarity, I sensed the power of Jesus and of true freedom. I’ll never forget the moment I gave my life to Jesus. On my knees beside the kitchen table, I surrendered to His incredible gift.

It was painful for me not to tell anyone about this important moment but it is not custom here for a woman to make a decision without the approval of her husband. It has been three years and it is hard. I constantly pray for my husband – in fact, I love our five daily prayer times more than I used to because I can talk to Jesus freely about my family. My husband does not understand this person of Jesus or the gift of forgiveness, yet. This gift of Life was free but the Relationship comes with a cost. I am a Christian with a Muslim home. This is my price for following Christ.
The author can not be named for safety reasons.

Church in crisis (again)

Last month the following article was written about the Church of England on the Daily Mail online following a Generla Synod in York:

"The Church of England could be virtually extinct in 20 years as elderly members die, an Anglican leader has warned. The average age of worshippers has risen to 61 as the Church has failed to attract younger followers, its National Assembly was told. Church leaders now face a 'time bomb' as numbers 'fall through the floor' over the next decade.

Bleak projections for the future came during exchanges at the General Synod in York yesterday. The Rev Dr Patrick Richmond, from Norwich, told members of the Church’s national assembly that they were facing a 'perfect storm' of ageing congregations and falling clergy numbers. He said: 'The perfect storm we can see forming on the far horizon is the ageing congregations we have heard about - average age is 61 now, with many congregations above that.' Rev Dr Richmond said: 'These congregations will be led by fewer and fewer stipendiary clergy ... 2020 apparently is when our congregations start falling through the floor because of just natural wastage, that is people dying.

'Another 10 years on, some extrapolations put the Church of England as no longer functionally extant at all.'
Andreas Whittam Smith, the first Church Estates Commissioner, said the demographic 'time bomb of 2020' for Anglicans was a 'crisis'. 'One problem may be that decline is so slow and imperceptible that we don’t really see it coming clearly enough,' he said. 'We know about it in theory but we don’t really know about it in practice. I wish that all of us would have a sense of real crisis about this.'

The stark warnings came after an internal report called for a national recruitment drive to attract new members."

I have talked, written and preached warnings with regards to the above and the future of a church in an effort to wake up my parish to the coming crisis that I am on the point of giving up altogether. All but a few seem interested in what I have to say and I suspect that even as the church actually reaches the tipping point where it keels over altogether these same people will cry out in utter surprise as if no one had said anything to warn them of the possibility.   I very much sympathize with Soren Kierkegaard the Danish philosopher who tells a parable about a clown who tries to warn the audience that the theatre is burning down.  It comes from the first volume of his pseudonymously written Either/Or.  In response to the question, “What happens to those who try to warn the present age?” Kierkegaard offers the following:

“It happened that a fire broke out backstage at a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.” - Either/Or, vol. I, p. 30

The theatre, which is the Church of England/Wales, is burning down around our ears and no one can smell the smoke or see the flames. The only thing they seem to hear is the voice of the clown at the front. But are they really listening?

Christianity is Christ

In his book "Focus on Christ" John Stott issus this challenge to Christians in the pluralistic West. He writes:
"Christians need to be clear that the chief distinctive characteristic of Christianity is Jesus Christ himself." He then goes on to summon three witnesses to this truth, European, African and Asian. He writes:

"In his book 'Christian Faith and Other Faiths', Bishop Stephen Neill writes: 'The old saying "Christianity is Christ" is almost exactly true. The historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth is the criterion by which every Christian affirmation has to be judged, and in the light of which it stands or falls."

He then quotes Professor John Mbiti of Kenya who Stott says "expressed the same conviction even more succinctly in teh words: 'The uniqueness of Christianity is in Jesus Christ".

Lastly he calls as his third witness Sundar Singh, who was born into an Indian Sikh family but after his conversion became an itinerant Christian Sadhu. Stott writes: "He was once asked by an agnostic professor of comparative religions in a Hindu College what he had found in Christianity which he had not found in his old religion. 'I have Christ,' he replied. 'Yes, I know,' said the professor a little impatiently, 'but what particular principle or doctrine have you found that you did not have before?' 'The particular thing I have found,' he replied, 'is Christ.'
From 'Focus on Christ' by John Stott published by Kingsway

Life is a mission

Sir Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer. On one expedition his ship, The Endurance, got caught in pack ice and  sank. He had to leave 22 men behind and go off for help with five companions.  Together they made a 1,200-mile journey in a 22-foot whaleboat through the stormiest ocean in the world to South Georgia, an island off the coast of Argentina. After four attempts, the 22 men who’d been left behind were rescued more than ten months later. Shackleton’s whole life was a life of exploration, pioneering, adventure, and challenge. Before taking one of his trips to the Antarctic, he assembled his crew by putting the following ad in a London newspaper: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger,safe return doubtful." It was signed: Sir Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic explorer. Amazingly, this ad drew thousands of applicants, all eager to sacrifice everything for the prospect of a meaningful adventure.

James Houston in his book: Joyful Exiles. Life in Christ on the Dangerous Edge of Things wrote: “How strange is it that human curiosity impels us to explore distant lands, to climb mountains, even to probe the depth of the  oceans, which are all external things. Yet how little concern for the inner life before God.” Why do we Christians often lack motivation when we have a commander we really can count on? Christ, our King, gave His life for us and always has our best interests at heart. 

Let’s be adventurous explorers and pioneers not so as to conquer creation, but to represent the creator through our attitudes and actions. Let’s show our beliefs through our behaviour. Let’s be bold and adventurous and do something new this week.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Spiritual Disciplines

Alan Hanson, football pundit on Match of the Day and former Liverpool defender and Scottish international was once asked what made him such a good footballer—good enough to play at such a high level. His answer? Kicking a ball against a wall over and over again with either foot. Monotonous, boring, but ultimately fruitful, making him able to control the ball and be proficient at kicking with both feet.

Just as there are no short cuts to becoming a good footballer, so there are no short cuts to becoming a good Christian. Both require commitment and discipline. That is why the first Christians were called ‘disciples’ because they were committed to both their Lord, Jesus, and to the disciplines of the Christian life which included, among others, prayer, fasting, giving alms, and regular worship. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians brings this home when he writes: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it for a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25). He is not talking about earning salvation but rather working it out “in fear and trembling”. (Phil 2:12) The disciplines of the Christian life, then, help us to work it out, so that we are not passive receptors, but active co-workers with God.

In Dallas Willard's introduction to his book "The Spirit of the Disciplines" he writes:

"To perform appropriately in the moment when you're "on the spot" you must be preparing when you're "off the spot." We understand this principle when we think of great athletes or musicians, but rarely see it's application in our own efforts to be a "good Christian." The Spirit of the Disciplines presents a way of living that enables ordinary men and women to join with God and realize their highest aspirations of well-being and -doing. The key to this self-transformation resides in the practice of the spiritual disciplines. Readers will learn why the disciplines work and how their practice affirms human life to the fullest."

I suspect that our struggles in the Christian life are sometimes as much to do with our lack of discipline as about the difficulties of being a Christian in a secular and anti-pathetic society. If our faith fails is it because we don't feed our faith through Bible reading? If we worry or feel overwhelmed by circumstances, is it because we don't spend enough time in prayer or solitide? If we struggle with our weight or with besetting sins of covertousness or anger, is it because we don't fast? God has given us the spiritual disciplines to help us enjoy the "fulness of life" Jesus speaks about in John 10:10. how much we want is depends on us.

An Orthodox perspective the atonement

I am sure that any one view of the atonement (why Jesus died for our sins) does not cover the whole of the truth and so it's always interesting to consider other theories. The following is from the Orthodox Church which I find myself very much warming to. It's expounded by the excellent Frederica Matthewes-Green from an article called "Christ's Death: A Rescue Mission, Not a Payment for Sins."

"Because we don't owe a debt of guilt for Adam's sin, Jesus' suffering wasn't a payment to the Father. Every day, Christians pray "deliver us from evil," not knowing that the Greek original reads "the evil," that is, "the evil one." The New Testament Scriptures are full of references to the malice of the devil, but we generally overlook them. I think this is because our idea of salvation is that Christ died on the cross to pay His Father the debt for our sins. The whole drama takes place between Him and the Father, and there's no role for the evil one.

But for the early Christians, the evil one was a very real and malevolent presence. Temptation coaxes us toward sin, and sin leads to sickness and death, and ultimately confinement in the realm of the evil one. The devil's main purpose is not to scare us, in a horror-movie way; when we're scared of him we're alert to him, and that might undermine his plans. Instead, he wants to quietly, subtly lure us into stepping away from God. Sin leads to death, but death also leads to sin. Hebrews 2:14 explains that the evil one has always controlled the human race through fear of death; that's what most deeply terrifies us and makes us grab at earthly security. But "whoever would save his life will lose it" (Matthew 16:25). That's the bitter trick. Desperate, selfish clutching lands us in the realm of death.

But God sent Christ to rescue us; He took on human form (showing us that these humble human bodies can bear the presence of God, like the Burning Bush bore His fire), lived a sinless life, went into the realm of Hades like all human flesh, and then blasted it open by His power. Death could not contain Him, because He is Life. When we join ourselves to Him and begin to assimilate His Life, we too are freed from the control of the evil one.

This is not a "ransom" paid to the Father; the Father wasn't holding us captive. It is an offering, but not a payment. Look at it this way. Christ suffered to save us from our sins in the same way a fireman suffers burns and wounds to save a child from a burning home. He may dedicate this courageous act as an offering to the fire chief he loves and admires. He may do it to redeem the child from the malice of the arsonist who started the fire. But his suffering isn't paid to anyone, in the sense of making a bargain. Likewise, God redeemed His people from the hand of Pharaoh when He rescued them in the Red Sea. But He didn't pay Pharaoh anything. He Himself was not paid anything. It was a rescue action, not a business transaction, and our redemption by Christ is the same.

There are some things that developed in Western Christianity that don't appear in this account at all. As you can see, there's no concept that our sins put us in God's debt legally: No idea that somebody has to pay something before He can forgive us. He just forgives us. When the prodigal son came home, the father was already running toward him with his arms open. He didn't say, "I'd like to take you back, son, but my hands are tied. Who's going to pay this Visa bill?"

This means that something else is missing—guilt. Now, of course we are responsible for our sins, and guilty in that sense. But we're not born carrying the debt of guilt for Adam's sin. That's what the fourth-century theologian Augustine of Hippo meant by the term "Original Sin." But his theory was not widely accepted in the early church (in fact, not all Eastern Christians call him a saint, and he was far from the towering figure that he became in Western thinking later on.) The idea of inborn debt compelled Augustine to say that, logically, a baby who died before baptism would have to be damned.

Instead, although early Christian spiritual writings are continually focusing on sin and repentance, the concepts of guilt and debt rarely appear. St. Andrew, like most writers of the age, views sin instead as a self-inflicted wound. Likewise, he sees God as compassionate rather than wrathful. God is always described as rushing to meet us like the father of the prodigal, or coming like the good Samaritan to bind up our wounds.

In Orthodoxy, there is less of an emphasis on discrete, external acts of sin, and more a sense of it being a pervading sickness. Christ didn't come to save us just from the penalty for our sins, from death and eternal misery. He came to save us from our sins, now, today--from the poison that flows in our veins, that alienates us from the Light, that marches us toward death. He saves us like the fireman carrying that child from a burning building. We are as helpless as that child; nothing we do saves us. But as we gradually creak open the rusty doors of our hearts, we begin to discover the faint sense of His presence. He was there all along, as He is present in every person He creates. Attending to that flickering flame, we nurture it and allow it to spread, until we are filled with His light and glory."

Church for beginners?

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