Am I Winsome?

Last week’s blog ended with the sentence, “What matters is whether you’re all in, extravagantly committed to the exultant, severe, demanding, fulfilling  journey of being a Jesus person.” Yes, I know, I’ve been saying this in various ways for a long time. Back in March I commented that this theme may be getting tiresome, and I think I’ve managed to avoid it at least some since then.

This week I wondered if I sound not only tiresome, but blaming, guilting. It happened like this. During the weekend I heard someone saying many of the things I’ve been saying. That the Christian life is purposeful, it’s demanding. More like joining the Marines than joining the local golf club.

You’d think I would have loved it. But I didn’t. It was an appeal to my head, not to my heart. I felt admonished, cajoled. I began praying, “Lord, how is it he was saying the things I have been saying, but he sounded so different?”

Oh! Oops! Oh! Did he sound different from me? Or do I also sound guilting, cajoling, blaming? I’ve been guilted for a good part of my life, so it would be upsetting to think I am still doing this myself.

This is what I have been musing and praying about. What do you think? Please let me know on the Facebook link. I think I at least need to describe more clearly what I mean as I talk about the Christian journey. That will be for next week.

GMB

Fatal Hypocrisy

I’ve been reading recently in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. Chapter Five begins strangely, with the story of early Christian believers Ananias and Saphira.

At that time, believers were selling property, and giving the proceeds to a common purse that supported the community of believers. The preceding verses tell of Barnabas who sold a field, and contributed its selling price. Others were doing the same with their houses and lands.

Enter Ananias and Saphira who sold a piece of property, then agreed between themselves to keep back part of the money, bringing only the balance to the common purse. Did they have a particular project that would need a little capital? We don’t know, but my guess is that they were hedging their bets, committing themselves to this new belief and way of life, but keeping some seed money just in case it didn’t work out.

Either way, keeping part of the money would have been fine if they had not pretended. It seems they wanted to be seen as just as generous as those around them, to be known as another couple who gave all they had. So when Peter asked them about it, they lied.

Peter’s supernatural knowledge that Ananias and Saphira were lying is noteworthy. He was already being recognized as a man through whom God was performing miracles, and here is a miracle of another sort.

But the curious thing is the penalty exacted for this hypocrisy. They were both struck dead. A little over the top? I can’t think of anything I’ve done that is quite the same, but I’m sure I’ve been guilty of cowardice and hypocrisy of at least the same order. Peter’s response to each was that they were lying not just to men, but to God. Yes, I’ve tried to fudge it with God before today. And God hasn’t struck me dead.

I’ve looked at a few commentaries, but the explanations don’t satisfy.

Here’s what I’ve come up with. It seems to me that this is just another example of God making it very clear, right from the get-go, that the Christian life is serious business. It doesn’t matter whether you have vaguely pleasant notions about God, whether you go to church occasionally, whether you’ve “accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior”. What matters is whether you’re all in, extravagantly committed to the exultant, severe, demanding, fulfilling  journey of being a Jesus person.

GMB

Is Faith Obscurantist?

Dr. Harold Sala’s column “Guidelines for Living”, May 21, brought to mind this quote from Augustine:-

Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.

The skeptic will leap on this immediately. See how these Christians will believe any silly thing, with no basis in fact, and call it “faith”!

Do Christians embrace rational thinking about a stable, structured universe? Of course. In significant ways, science grew out of Christianity. And Christians embrace principles of relationship, discovered at least in part by scientific enquiry. I work with those daily.

But Christians also embrace what Wordsworth called “intimations of immortality”, the things we apprehend, often without much comprehension. The things we can’t measure. (Do you think there will ever come a day when my delight at seeing a field of daffodils will be measurable? I surely hope not.)

And so in our relationship with God, we embrace something not completely understood, but enlivened by Holy Spirit promptings, we make the leap of faith. And find it fits. It increasingly clarifies our understanding of creation, of life, of relationships, of marriage, of the increasingly vexed questions a post-Christian world throws up.  And increasingly it deepens our love for the One who daily leads us on new adventures.

Nice one Augustine.

GMB

Attempts to Evade to Obvious

I have another matter brewing in my cranium, but it’s not quite ready. So for this week, just a brief reflection on the lengths to which people will go to avoid admitting that our world is a created world, and we are created beings.

Stephen Hawking opens his book A Brief History of Time with the story of a well-known scientist, possibly Bertrand Russell, who gave a public lecture on astronomy.  At the end of his lecture, a little old lady spoke up. She told him that his story was rubbish, that the world is really like a large plate, sitting on the back of a giant tortoise. The speaker asked her what the tortoise is standing on. After a moment’s thought she answered, “You’re very clever young man! But it’s turtles all the way down!”

But just a minute. Don’t laugh too loudly.

Two or three weeks ago I was chatting with a man at a wedding reception. The conversation turned to origins. He told me he used to be a young earth creationist. I didn’t quite catch why he had turned away from that position, but he moved to the idea of life on earth being seeded from an alien source. Life from outer space. He seemed to have done some reading and thinking on the issue, so I asked him about the origin of the alien life. He smiled apologetically and said, “Yes I know. But it’s the best we have, the explanation that best fits the data.”

Well, he’s not alone. Other keen minds have seriously proposed the same idea.

Turtles all the way down.

GMB

We Choose Our Experts According to Our Opinions.

Yes, we do.  Instead of the other way around.

We’re all subject to this habit. When an expert gives an opinion that differs from what I have believed, I will remain skeptical, disbelieving. But if the opinion is in line with my beliefs, I gladly, and perhaps uncritically, accept it.

Which is as it should be. I need to be appropriately incredulous.

But what if I’m wrong? It takes some courage to pursue and thoughtfully consider a contrary opinion. To begin with, I need some incentive to take it seriously. Perhaps I have external reasons for respecting this expert. Or perhaps I have a vested interest in showing his conclusions to be wrong, only to find in the end that it is I who am wrong and need to recant. Lew Wallace, Lee Strobel, and many others have walked that path in their attempts to expose Christian faith as rubbish, and have ended proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

Occasionally I have gone looking among authors espousing a humanist view of origins – origins of the earth, the universe, of life – looking for thoughtful critiques of young earth creationism. Those critiques are virtually non-existent. I find some creationism bashing, and some patronizing comment on how young people who have absorbed this “heresy” from their parents must be treated gently and with sympathy as they are slowly guided into more “orthodox” thinking. But finding such an author who has actually read and considered the best creationist literature is a difficult search.

To be honest, I’m not up to date in this area. Perhaps some honest critiques have appeared since I last looked. I have seen debate on the findings on Helium retention in Zircons, and some attempts to refute Robert Gentry’s work on Polonium 218 halos in primordial granites. It’s reassuring to see this kind of debate.

But most of us watch the experts from a distance, drawing our own lay conclusions. Let’s at least be aware of our inclination to choose our experts according to our opinions.

GMB

A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath, Well, yes, it does!

I’ve been thinking about last week’s post on Israel Folau’s comment made on social media. He said that drunks, homosexuals, adulterers and others are on their way to hell. The blog heading suggested Folau was not giving a “soft answer” to the people on his list. Perhaps my answer to him was not so soft either.

Oops.

After all, Israel was just giving a rather rough rendering of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. My impression was that his comment was made without much humility, and was not oriented towards building bridges. But I don’t really know that. And even if he was being inappropriately judgmental, he, and I, and those on his list are all in the same boat, all in need of grace and forgiveness.

I suggested that Folau was “shooting his mouth about other people’s sins”. Guess I was shooting my mouth about his sins. Oops. When will I learn?

I mentioned other Christian sports stars, “who really are growing as devout Christians.” Implying that Folau is not.

I guess my only excuse is that I’ve recently been reading about, and interacting with, people who tend to throw judgmental labels around, complacent in their own righteousness. Israel Folau sounded like one of them. Perhaps he is, or perhaps he is not.

Sorry Israel.

GMB

A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath

Israel Folau is a brilliant Australian rugby player. Or at least he was. Recently he posted social media comments on “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”, saying that all these are bound for hell. Rugby Australia was not amused, so it is probable that his days as a representative rugby player are numbered.

A category missing from Folau’s list was “those who shoot their mouth about other people’s sins.” Jesus had something to say about this when he commented, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

It’s true that Jesus did have some harsh things to say about some of those he met. But his verbal arrows were not directed at any on Folau’s list. No, those people were met with compassion.  Jesus’ anger was directed at the religious leaders, those satisfied with their own righteousness, and inclined to condemn others they deemed less righteous.

No sin can be taken lightly – Israel is right about that. As he falls more deeply in love with Jesus, humility will grow. He was described in the media as a “devout Christian”. Sad, because the mud of his immature rant will tend to stick on others, especially sports stars, who really are growing as devout Christians.

GMB

The Power of Logical Thinking

I was talking recently with a young man and the conversation veered toward the subject of abortion. He told me that he was pro-choice. I was a little surprised, but not too much. As we talked it became apparent that he hadn’t given the subject much thought, but adopted “pro-choice” because that was the attitude acceptable in his circle of friends. In fact, some of his comments didn’t sound very pro-choice at all, but I don’t think he’s going to give up the label any time soon.

The thing that really surprised me was his total inability to discuss the subject in a rational way. He would make a comment without having any sense of the proposition underlying it – it simply “felt” right, and that was that.

For example, he mentioned the case of a woman having an abortion because the child would seriously undermine the quality of her life. I asked about the case of a woman killing her abusive husband or boyfriend because his behavior seriously undermined the quality of her life. His answers didn’t address the question, but slid obliquely from place to place. But here’s the real problem – he didn’t seem to be deliberately evading an answer, but simply had no idea that he was missing the point. The notion of taking a principle posited in one situation and testing it against another situation was just beyond his experience.

This young man is no dummy. He’s been through the school system, and holds a respectable undergraduate degree. I know a little of his home background, which didn’t give him a good start. But clearly his education hasn’t taught him to think either.

In his novel 1984, Orwell coined the term “doublethink”, but this isn’t doublethink, this isn’t even halfthink. But it’s happening all around us in this post-truth world. For example at the Yale Law School (see Breakpoint 04/23/19). It’s just scary when you come across a face-to-face example.

 GMB

Anointed for Burial

Jesus accepts our service, even when we don’t get it quite right.

In ancient times, a body would be prepared for burial first by washing, and then anointing with aromatic spices. The purpose was to cover the odor of decaying flesh. For those who could afford it, the spices might be very expensive.

When Mary, Lazarus’ sister, anointed Jesus we’re told that the perfume she used was very expensive. A poignant outpouring of love and service, which Jesus associates with his burial. And he commended her highly – wherever the gospel is preached, this story will be told.

When Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body from the cross, the task of preparing him for burial would have been gruesome. His back was essentially torn off, his limbs dislocated, his side lacerated. What love, even awe, they must have brought to their task. The spices they used were aloe and myrrh, two of the costliest anointing perfumes. And the quantity was more than three times what was needed. What lavishness!

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and others with them came to the tomb early on the first day of the week. They knew of the anointing by Joseph and Nicodemus, but apparently wanted to contribute their own act of love with the spices they brought.

We don’t read of Jesus thanking Joseph, Nicodemus, or any of the women, but his gratitude to them could hardly have been less than it was to Lazarus’ sister Mary. Yet none of them had it quite right. They were confused, distraught, grief-stricken, not knowing that the anointing they offered would become superfluous by Sunday. They gave all they could offer, and it was gladly accepted.

GMB

Planned Parenthood

On Sunday my wife and I saw the movie Unplanned. Very sobering, moving. But is it authentic? Does Abby Johnson’s experience give a true picture of how things are at Planned Parenthood? And if it does, did the movie give an unbiased impression of what she experienced?

We talked about it briefly with an APRN who has often referred women to Planned Parenthood, not for abortions, but for the other services they provide. She speaks highly of them as a resource to low income women, especially in rural districts.

So what to think? The focus of the movie was on abortion, and the concerns that arise from abortion, though it did make clear several times that Saturday was abortion day, and the other days were entirely, or at least mostly, for other services.

I’ve done some follow up. My opinion is that Abby Johnson was not exaggerating. For example, that she and other directors were told to double their abortion quotas, because that is where the money is. That ensuring abortion is safe, available and rare is not Planned Parenthood’s real agenda. (Do the Clintons and Obamas of this world know this, or are they genuinely self-deceived? I think probably the latter.)

Then we have the fetal body parts scandal. A few decades ago, that would have brought down a government. But in today’s world, it seems no-one cares. So those making the exposé are pursued by lawsuits instead of Planned Parenthood.

We’ve heard of PP’s creative accounting practices designed to support the assertion that abortion is only a tiny part of their operation. And they have to peddle the thoroughly discredited notion that an embryo is just a clump of cells that can in no way be counted as human. And there’s the blatant euphemism of “women’s health” to describe abortion.

 So I think the mantle of infamy does fit on PP’s shoulders, though it sits uneasily over a much gentler, supportive cloak. I think there needs to be more acknowledgement of this.

I haven’t turned to the implications of these conclusions, but this will have to suffice for now.

GMB

The Link with Middle Eastern Hospitality

Was thinking this morning about Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” I reflected that in this Middle Eastern setting, sharing a meal establishes a kind of bond, almost a covenant. You’re saying, “We’re brothers, we’re a team, we’re loyal, we won’t let each other down. I’ve got your back!”

Wow! Doesn’t that add a wealth of meaning to this verse?

And so my thoughts went on to Judas, and his betrayal of Jesus. Not only was this treachery, but it was even more treacherous as Judas left that special Passover meal he shared with Jesus and the others, and went to carry out his betrayal.

The next step in my train of thought was to consider the “Communion” or “Lord’s Supper” Jesus instituted at that Passover. I have some reservations about the way this “meal” has become for us such a symbolic, token meal, but that’s another subject. Today’s point is that the hospitality tradition adds depth to that celebration too. When we share this meal together, we are in effect renewing our bond of loyalty to each other and to Jesus. Jesus is saying to us, “We’re bonded together! My familiar friend! I have your back!” So we are renewed in our gladness that our trust is in the One who is trustworthy.

In John 6:35 – 59 Jesus deepens the significance of the imagery even further. He says, “I am the bread of life. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” There’s shock value there! And many of those followers couldn’t take it – they left. Seems Jesus was deliberately separating the wheat from the chaff.

So what about me? What about you? Wheat or chaff? Meal-bonded brother, or deserter?

GMB

Is Christianity Performance-based?

I heard a remark this week from a solidly based Christian, that Christianity is a performance-based religion. There’s some shock value in that! We want to say, “No! Believing in Jesus is about grace!” And of course, it is. But it’s also about living for him. If faith doesn’t show, then maybe it doesn’t exist. James talks like that. Faith is a verb as much as it is a noun.

But I realized I’ve been beating this drum, or something like it, quite a bit. Am I beginning to sound tiresome on this theme? A bit judgmental? Why does it concern me so much?

I think it concerns me because I talk with so many people who believe a milksop version of the Gospel. They “accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior” years ago, though they have virtually no connection to him now. But that’s OK. They know that things “should” be different, but at least they once did the “get saved” thing, so they’re in the clear. And they think the same things about their children. They wish that their son or daughter would go to church sometimes, or pray or read the Bible sometimes. But at least young Mary or Joe is “saved.”

I think that evangelical preaching often supports this lifeless version of the Gospel. The sinner’s prayer usually begins with admitting one is a sinner, and thanking Jesus for taking the penalty. There’s a mention of Jesus as “Lord”, but no vision-raising, inspiring description of what that might mean. When did you last hear someone invited to the confusing, hair-raising, disciplined, rewarding, exuberant, oh so demanding journey of the life devoted to Jesus?

OK, I’ll try to leave this theme alone for a while. But no promises! It strikes at the heart of my own experience, as well as the lives of others around me.

GMB

A Small Matter, or an Important Matter?

This morning I listened to Ron Hutchcraft on my local Christian radio station. He was talking about choosing our battles, not wasting time and energy over small matters, when there are many huge issues to deal with.

Well, maybe it’s just me, but there are some issues that I think most Christian would regard as “small matters”, but which seem to me to have considerable significance. One such issue is the use of the King James Version of the Bible.

There is the “King James Only” camp which regards KJV as the only true English version, and all other versions as corrupt. This opinion has been disposed of in a courteous, scholarly way by James White, in “The King James Only Controversy”.

But there are many people who are not in the KJV Only camp, but who never-the-less continue to use this version. For example, most of the teachers featured on the above-mentioned Christian radio station.

My objections? Number one would be that using a quaint, “religious” language helps to make Christian life and experience something other than an everyday, market place affair. Secular people, and sadly enough, many people who think of themselves as Christian, tend to push all things religious into a special category, divorced from everyday life. Religion is all very well in an echoing cathedral, but has no place on my commute, in my office, with my sports team, or especially in my entertainment. So let it hide behind its quaint language, and stay away from the real things of life.

Secondly, KJV creates a social barrier. Bible translators around the world work heroically to give the local people a Bible in their own language. Why do we settle for a Bible in 400-year-old language? I think people need to hear the Gospel in their own language. Goodness knows, there are enough cultural barriers for a young Millennial to leap when he enters the local church, without adding ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and many, many other words found only in old works of literature.

The language we use at church tends to take on this quaint flavor in a more general way. For example, when did you last come across the word ‘supplication’ in one of your favorite authors? Yet such words may be heard frequently at your church.

Some say they just like the cadence of the sweet old words. That’s fine for your private use, but if you use the Scriptures in any public way, please don’t obscure the Gospel by using such an old dialect.

So what do you think? A small matter, or does it have some importance?

GMB

Is "Pure" the Right Word?

Christian young people are encouraged to keep themselves sexually pure. At a first pass, that seems like sound advice. But I’m not comfortable with the use of the word “pure”.

Suppose I’m taking a walk across a grassy hillside on a bright Spring morning, and I come by a lad and lassie making out on the grass. They’re having sex! Apart from the fact they haven’t taken enough care with privacy, I might be inclined to smile and discreetly walk on. Trouble is, their wedding isn’t until a week on Thursday. So I shake my head sadly, and say, “Impure”.

Three weeks later, I’m taking the same walk, and lo and behold, here they are again! Same place, same couple, same activity. This time with shiny new rings on their fingers. So this time I smile, and say “Pure”.

True, something fundamental has changed – they are now firmly installed in their covenant relationship with each other and with God. Let’s hope their sexual understanding and maturity will grow exponentially. But the use of the word “pure” doesn’t seem to work does it? The activity has not magically changed from nasty, grubby, tainted to holy and pure. It’s now appropriate, whereas before it wasn’t. But “impure” to “pure”?

The discussion is a subtle one, because there are places where these words do seem to fit better. A gang rape for example. Or a young woman being pressured, shamed, cajoled into sexual activity she doesn’t really want. These situations provoke our anger, so that “impure” becomes too weak a word.

Christian young people, and indeed the church as a whole, are sadly in need of renewed understanding and vision concerning all things sexual. Words and phrases like sexual integrity, relational integrity, respect, glad acceptance of my own body and sexuality, and many more need to gain currency and appreciation. But let’s be careful with “pure” and “impure”.

GMB

More on Christian dating, sex, romance ......

It’s been a week of discovery! I found another Juli Slattery appearance on Boundless, that gave a far more favorable impression than I reported last week. In fact, the whole episode was just excellent. I’ll give you the link - https://www.boundless.org/podcast/great-sex-pectations-episode-247/  An episode discussing preparation for the wedding night.

Then I discovered that this episode was from October 2011. It’s old! Where have I been the last eight years, while great material like this is going to air?? I tried surveying other episodes from back then, but their website seems to be needing a little repair for retrieving archived episodes. But apart from little details like that, the Boundless Show is nearly always good. The link is https://www.boundless.org

Juli Slattery and Linda Dillow’s ministry promoting a fresh new vision of God’s design for sexuality is Authentic Intimacy.  The link there is https://www.authenticintimacy.com

It’s so exciting to me to see the great material being produced – books, DVDs, Webinars, Podcasts. It’s a new discovery so maybe my praise will become more reserved, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s a big YES!

As I discussed two weeks ago, I think there’s more to be discussed about the Purity Narrative message young people have been given in the past, but broadly I agree that this message was misleading. As I also commented, many may see A Thousand Tears from Home as supporting the Purity Narrative. I would love to know what you think. Shoot me a message on Facebook!

GMB

 


The Purity Narrative

This is a continuation of last week’s blog on the “Chastity Cult”. I’m glad of what I wrote last week, though the discussion I began there is a subtle one, with eddies and counter-currents, fraught with invitations to misconstrue.

I came across an article by Juli Slattery on the Boundless webpage, entitled Promise Rings and Purity Talks Aren’t Enough. Juli coins the term “purity narrative” to describe the teaching on sexual purity promoted by the Christian community for several decades, identifying its message as simply “save sex for marriage.” I would agree that for 2000 years, the message of the church regarding sexuality has been chiefly “Don’t! Don’t even think of it, not until you’re married.” A legalistic, totally inadequate message, that has kept sex under covers of shame, hypocrisy and ignorance down the centuries. As described by Juli, the purity narrative is just a relatively recent expression of that obscurantism.

I think it has been more than that, and I regret Juli’s comment that its spokespersons have had “arguably good intentions.” How’s that for damning with faint praise? However, I agree that the purity narrative has not done nearly enough to make advances on the old “Don’t!” message. I agree with most of Juli’s criticisms.

I’m a marriage and family therapist, specializing in Christian sex therapy. As such, I have a huge focus on marriage and sex and romance. Part of my job is promoting a renewed, rich, Biblical vision of God’s gift of sex. As a story teller, I seek to inspire sexual hope, and gladness and wisdom.

It’s true, sexual purity is about much more than whether you’ve had extramarital sex – it begins in the heart, it’s rooted in your relationship with Jesus. It’s about being proud of your own sexuality, proud enough to set strong boundaries. And huge respect for the boundaries of others. But “save sex for marriage” is still an important message. Juli and others like her fail to make it clear enough that this message is not being discarded, but is being absorbed into something stronger, more demanding, more fulfilling and comprehensive. Juli makes a couple of comments affirming physical sexual integrity, but she fails to inspire me. The fairytale image of the virgin bride, in her gorgeous white dress, walking down the aisle to meet her strong man of integrity may be sentimental, but it’s loaded with idealism and values that mustn’t be lost.

GMB.

 

A Chastity Cult?

The foreword to A Thousand Tears from Home hints that this tale prompts significant talking points. One discussion point is around the notion that my friend Dr. Doug Rosenau calls The Chastity Cult, or The Virginity Cult.

Dr. Doug is close to publishing a second edition of the book he co-authored with Michael Todd Wilson, Soul Virgins. The new edition is called Single and Sexually Whole. Developing ideas raised earlier in Soul Virgins,he refers to the popular belief that sexual purity or chastity centers around penile-vaginal intercourse. If you have committed this act outside of marriage, you are not chaste. Otherwise you are chaste. Doug says the idea “that this hypocritical purity must be maintained at all cost is dangerous. We have created a simplistic virginity cult that is not working for singles!”

He argues rather that true virginity begins in the heart. “We need to paint a bigger picture of chastity that is not defined by banning one behavior and making it an idol. …. Virginity must radiate from the redeemed heart and be part of who we are – not simply what we don’t do.”

It isn’t that what we do and don’t do is unimportant – it’s very important, and loaded with consequences. But our behavior doesn’t flow from rules – it flows from a heart united with Jesus.

So ….. does A Thousand Tears from Home promote the Chastity Cult? I think many may say it does. I disagree. Grab a copy, and let’s know what you think!

 GMB.

Who or What is a Christian?

My wife and I were discussing that question this morning. Right across the spectrum of Christian expression, the answer seems to be, a Christian is a person who will end up in heaven after they die. For most people, that seems to be the underlying assumption. But how do you get to be included?

At one end of the Christian continuum, the answer is, make sure you’ve fulfilled all the requirements of mother church, like being baptized as a baby, being confirmed, trying not to be too mean or nasty and maybe going to church sometimes. A greater engagement might be nice, but so long as you’ve seen to those essentials, you’re good to go.

At the ‘evangelical’ end, the important thing is that you’ve accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If there’s a little Calvinism in the mix, this is initiated solely by God, signed and sealed by him – it’s irrevocable. A greater engagement might be nice, but so long as you’ve seen to those essentials, you’re good to go.

Both these assessments may seem like a parody of Christian belief, but it seems to me that many pews in many churches are occupied by people who believe roughly as I’ve stated.

You may guess that I’m not happy with either of these. Firstly, I don’t think that going to heaven when you die is the point. Yes, our destiny, living gladly for ever in the unimaginable presence of God is central to Christian faith, but that isn’t what it’s all about. C. S. Lewis commented, I think in Surprised by Joy, that he counts it among his greatest blessings that he was permitted to go a full year from his conversion without ever thinking of an afterlife.

And secondly, that bit about a greater engagement being a ‘nice to have.’ Nope, the Old Testament declares, and the New Testament shouts, that commitment to Jesus changes everything. It’s demanding to the max, it’s risky, often confusing, it’s exhilarating, fulfilling. Do not expect an easy ride. The Hillsong track Where Feet may Fail repeats over and over the lines, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever you may lead me.” The ultimately daring prayer. Do you dare pray it?

All the Christian doctrines, disciplines, service, hope of heaven flow from this.

GMB

Why is Prayer so Difficult?

At one level, it isn’t. Many of us chatter to God all day, turning to him at a moment’s notice. No, I’m talking about time spent waiting on God, seeking to deeply enter his presence, to worship, to listen to him. Dangerous prayer, that changes us.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve experienced just enough of this listening prayer to whet your appetite, to make you long for more. Yet there have also been many times when you’ve sat, your mind going in all directions, not much sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit, nothing that sounds much like Jesus’ words to your soul.

Why is it so difficult?

I’m privileged to be a Beta reader for a friend who is writing on soul formation. To be honest, it’s not an area that I’ve related to well in the past, though my friend has a different way of making her point – her book is drawing me in. Especially her section on listening prayer. So I’ve been inspired to reengage.

As part of that, I picked up  “Let’s Talk”, a booklet on prayer by Bill Crowder. I found him asking the same questions. “If prayer is so important ….   why do we so often find it so difficult? Why do we sometimes find it unsatisfying? Why do we struggle to experience the freshness and the wonder of our God when sincerely trying to enter his presence?”

It was the first phrase that struck me. “If prayer is so important ….” Yes, we know how important prayer is. Both personal and corporate. So, from what we know of the Christian journey, wouldn’t we expect it also to be difficult? Of course! It’s fairly obvious, but it came as a new insight.

Liszt’s piano piece “Campanella” is excruciatingly difficult, and excruciatingly beautiful. Is it worth the trouble? To the pianist who has won through to flawless performance, the answer is, “Oh yes! Oh  my goodness yes!”

So, a new engagement with listening prayer. Anyone coming with me?

GMB

A Tale of an Ordinary Saint.

A teacher who came to my Discipleship Training School in YWAM told this tale. It was about his experience attending one of the soul-formation camps headed by Neville Winger on Great Barrier Island, east of North Auckland, New Zealand.

“My work duty time usually had me outside, working on the grounds. Most days, as I weeded, or cleared, or trimmed, I would notice some camper trudging up the hill to Neville’s office, with head bowed, shoulders slumped. One by one, as God brought to the surface old issues to be healed, each would seek prayer and guidance from our beloved Neville. An hour or so later I would see the person emerge, back straighter, head held higher, hope stirring in their eyes.

“The day came when it was my turn. I too shuffled up the hill to knock on that door. Neville called for me to come in, then motioned me to a seat. He was sitting behind his desk, with Bible open. I sat in front of his desk. Neville said nothing for the longest time, but sat with head bowed over his Bible.

“Eventually, he began praying. He hadn’t asked me anything about what was on my heart, yet he began praying into exactly the issues that were weighing on me. I was amazed. Neville was so clearly a man who listens to God. About an hour later, I walked back down the hill from his office, with hope rekindled.”

How do you feel when you read of a saint who hears so confidently from God? A little skeptical? That he doesn’t sound real, not like one of us ordinary mortals?

Firstly, let me assure you that Neville Winger did not have an infallible hotline to God. None of us does. But he was a man with long experience sitting in God’s presence, waiting on him, listening to him.

Secondly, Neville’s close friendship with God doesn’t make him extraordinary, like an exhibit at a museum. No, God sees that kind of devotion as just ordinary. It’s what we’re all called to. Neville’s story might inspire us, but it doesn’t put him in a different category. Outrageous devotion to God is simply what the Christian life is about. The New Testament, indeed the whole Bible, makes this so plain.

Young person, or not-so-young person, are you becoming caught up in a Romance? The road you are taking is so loaded with significance, you dare not take it without waiting long and often in the presence of Jesus.