Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Ancient Practices

Having already read Fasting, I have just finished reading The Liturgical Year, a second book in a series called The Ancient Practices; and I loved it!

The series is edited by Phyllis Tickle and is an 8 book series on spiritual disciplines.

“Religion, wherever it is found, is more than a system of untethered beliefs. Rather, it is an intricate, interlocking lacework of physical laws, intellectual assumptions, and spiritual values that, held in common, are both the faith lived and its perpetuation,” remarks Tickle. “This series of seven volumes and an overarching introductory one is a reverent, grateful, and unabashedly Christian celebration of that heritage which has been with us from the beginning and will be with us until the end.”

The series begins with an introductory book by Brian McLaren (which I haven't read yet) and then follows with 7 books on different spiritual disciplines. Well worth reading. I'm trying to decide which one to buy next and devour?

In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson

Sabbath by Dan Allender

Fasting by Scot McKnight

Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher

Sacred Journey by Charles Foster

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

Tithing by Douglas LeBlanc

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Favourite Poem

I don't read a lot of poetry, or any actually. I do come across poems from time to time though in other books I read.

This would be my favourite poem by a million nautical miles though.

‘Tis the Set of the Sails - Ella Wheeler Wilcox

One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tells us the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through life:
‘Tis the set of the soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
* Are your sails set?
* In what direction are they set?
* Do you blame the wind or ride the wind?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why I Fast - Part 3 of 3

Today's Lenten reflection was on fasting so a good time to complete this little series.

I fast for lots of reasons, the following already mentioned...

* Fasting is an assumed biblical practice of Jesus' disciples
* Fasting is the most appropriate response to certain sacred moments we experience in life
* Fasting reminds me of how much I have
* Fasting focuses my heart on the hungry and the poor in this world
* Fasting urges me to resist consumerism, materialism, and greed
* Fasting saves me money which I can give to organisations working with people trapped in poverty
* Fasting reminds me of that which God has already spoken to me about
* Fasting is a tangible, physical, touch, taste, feel way of out working my faith (well not taste).
* Fasting is an expression of repentance, the turning from one way to another.
* Fasting affirms the reality that one cannot live by bread alone.

Here is a little more...

In life we must be prepared to give up some things if we intend to get things that are even more important. We understand this in regards to saving. The same is true in our spiritual development. Through fasting we chose to give up and focus on the pursuit of that which is more important than food. When we fast we pray and reflect and pursue God. Bodily comfort must not be allowed to soften the search for spiritual fortitude - Joan Chittister. Through fasting we embrace the reality that life is not about permanent and continual self-satisfaction. We learn to control our bodies and thus condition ourselves for control in more challenging situations. We master self-conquest and we become aware of what is truly necessary in life.

In sum...

I fast for a number of reasons. I don't always find it easy. I get hungry, but that's not really the hard part. Going without food is relatively easy. What's hard is choosing to go without food. Why am I doing this? Does it even matter, make a difference, do anything in my life? When those questions come I reflect on the many reasons that I fast. At different times different reasons stand out and I am strengthened in my resolve to follow Christ and live counter to the way of the world. It's only one way, but nevertheless it is a way in which my inner faith begins to truly be outworked in life. It aims my life in a different direction, in a Kingdom direction.

At times I'll fast longer than a single day but at present the rhythm of a regular weekly fast is significant in my life. I eat on a Wednesday and then not again till Friday. Another way of doing this could be to miss dinner on a Wednesday night through until having dinner on a Thursday night. That may be slightly less daunting.

Either way I'd encourage you to think about fasting. NOT in order to get something though, but rather as perhaps and appropriate response to something that God is doing in your life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why I Fast - Part 2 of 3

Appreciating that scripture points to fasting as something that Christ followers do and appreciating that as reason in itself to fast, why else would you fast? What are some rational reasons for fasting because at times (especially when you are fasting) it can often seem irrational? For me there are a number of reasons.

1. Fasting is the most appropriate response to certain sacred moments we experience in life.

Fasting is that which is done in response to a sacred moment of some sort. One experiences some sort of sacred moment (a burden for something from the Holy Spirit, conviction of the Holy Spirit, challenge of the Holy Spirit, call of the Holy Spirit and so on) and the most appropriate response is often fasting.

I’ve long felt the stirring and prompting of the Holy Spirit, in many different ways, in regards to so many in the world oppressed by injustice, trapped in poverty, dying from lack of food and clean drinking water. At the same time I’ve been greatly challenged in regards to issues of consumerism, materialism and greed in my life and in the western world. There are a number of ways in which I have responded and continue to respond to this such as changing my spending habits, adjusting my lifestyle, purchasing ethically when I need to purchase, giving more to projects and organisations that are dealing with these problems. As well as these things fasting is a natural response, especially a weekly fast. Each week I remember these issues even though I’ve moved on from the occasions where I particularly felt the Holy Spirit speak to me.

As I fast, in a small way I identify with those that are hungry and poor. In a small way I stand against consumerism and materialism. In a small way I stand against greed, gluttony and the lust of the flesh. In a big way though these issues remain on the forefront of my mind and are not forgotten as fads or ‘once upon a times.’

Scot McKnight describes three potential phases in regards to fasting.

A - Sacred moment
B - Fasting
C - Results

He describes fasting as a movement from A to B, not a movement from C to B. In other words we respond to the work of the Spirit by fasting rather than responding to needs or results we need in life and so fast in the hope of achieving them.

I have come to the conclusion about fasting; when the grievous sacred moment is neglected and instead we focus on the results, fasting becomes a manipulative device instead of a genuine Christian discipline. Scot McKnight

When people tell us they are fasting our question should be, ‘in response to what?’ rather than ‘what do you hope to get out of it?’ Scot McKnight

2. Fasting integrates the immaterial with the material.

I fast because it is a tangible, physical, touch, taste, feel way of out working my faith (well not taste). The Christian life is not simply and inner life of belief, an inner spirituality disconnected to our physical life. We are embodied beings. Prayer, faith, trust, repentance are all spiritual/physical immaterial/material realities. Fasting helps me to actually ‘live’ my faith.

Fasting is a tangible way of expressing and feeling repentance, the turning from one way to another.

Fasting is a tangible way of affirming one cannot live by bread alone.

Fasting is a tangible way of expressing hunger and thirst for God.

Fasting is a tangible way of identifying with the poor and developing God’s heart for the poor.

Fasting is a tangible way of denying the flesh and maintaining discipline, resolve, inner resolution and strength in your character.

For me, along with tithing, the practice of Sabbath, and other disciplines, fasting is a real life action, initiative, discipline, rhythm and way of living that ensures my inner convictions and Christian values and beliefs are continually established as reality in my life rather than so easily forgotten or overcome by the values of this world.

More to follow...

Gift & Grace

The more we know of life, the more we know that all we have is gift, all that we are is grace.

Thomas G. Long - Preaching from Memory to Hope

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why I Fast - Part 1 of 3

Lent is a traditional time for Christians to fast so I though it an appropriate time to share why I fast and hopefully encourage you to practice fasting.

Fasting is something I used to do a lot. Not long fasts, but for a couple of years I went every Tuesday without eating. After a while however I grew a little bit disillusioned with fasting. I wasn’t really sure why I was fasting or what it was supposed to achieve. My understanding was that Christians were meant to fast and that fasting would probably ‘take your relationship with God to another level’ and/or ‘bring God’s blessing and power into your life.’ This didn’t seem to be happening and I was just plain confused as to why I fasted. I stopped fasting for a few years but maintained throughout that time a real interest in fasting.

Last year after talking with a number of people about fasting and reading a couple of books on fasting, I was re-inspired to practice fasting again. Scot McKnight’s book Fasting was particularly helpful as were conversations I had with friends who were committed fasters. Since October or November last year I have been fasting regularly again; this time every Thursday. I eat on Wednesday as per normal and then not again till Friday break-fast.

This time round there are a lot more ‘whys’ surrounding that which at times feels like a crazy ‘what.’

Let’s begin with Matthew 6:16-18

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The first thing to be mindful in regards to fasting is that it is something that you do before God not before others. Fasting isn’t something that you use to emphasise your superior spirituality to that of people around you. Fasting is something personal. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it with other people and let others know you are fasting etc. Just make sure your not using your fasting to somehow place yourself above others or ahead of others. It just doesn’t work like that.

I’ll get more into why I fast in my next post, for now though, my first reason is that Jesus assumes his disciples will fast. In Matthew 6 Jesus talks about how is disciples are to give to the needy, pray, fast, store treasure in heaven, and not worry. All of those things are characteristics of the lives of those that follow Christ. So for me fasting is just something that Christians do. Next time we’ll get into some more of the ‘whys.’

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lent 2010

Next Wednesday (17th Feb) the Christian season of Lent begins. Literally millions and millions of Christians around the world will begin to observe the season of Lent.

Lent is the 40 period not counting Sundays that leads into Easter.

It is a season and period of time that is used to reflect on what it means to follow Christ and to resolve a fresh to live as a Christ follower in the world.

It is not so often observed in Pentecostal churches but is something we are encouraging our church to embrace this year.

In order to help you do this I’ve ordered in some Lenten Reflection booklets that have been prepared by World Vision that are available to anyone who would like one this Sunday morning.

Lenten Reflection Booklets
How the booklets will work... Basically there is a page for each day of Lent in the booklet. Each page shares a couple of thoughts and gives you the opportunity to reflect on something to do with your Christian walk.

Genius is not in the thoughts the booklet provides but rather in your willingness to pause and reflect and be open to the Holy Spirit speaking to you in regards to that which the booklet encourages you to contemplate.

A Time of Abstaining

As well a time of reflection Lent has traditionally also been a season of prayer, fasting and giving. Some churches observe a schedule of fasting on certain days though out Lent. Others focus more on charitable deeds and giving, especially in regards to the poor and their need for food, clothing and finance.

We’re not having any set times of fasting throughout Lent but would encourage you to consider fasting as you feel led and also of abstaining from something for the season of Lent.

Always Lent is a time of giving something up for a season. Meat, alcohol, sweets, other types of food, television, hot showers, watching sport, your cell phone, Facebook etc. Obviously the intention is that you abstain from something significant for you.

Throughout Lent I’m going to only drink water. No alcohol, no coke, no tea, no coffee, no juice, energy drinks, no milkshakes, no nothing other than water.
The significance of this is that it reminds me of how basic my needs really are, the goodness of God in that I have acess to fresh clean water, and the reality that while I am going without and having water, millions in the world literally do not have access to clean drinking water at all.

- I find in humility I am grateful and thankful before God for his blessing
- I’m mindful of so many who have so little
- I save money on what would otherwise be spent on other drinks which I can give towards helping others have water

So if you are going to celebrate Lent, I’d encourage you to think about what would be meaningful for you to give up.

Lent is also a time of prayer. Especially with a focus on repentance and the need for God’s grace and love in our lives.
It’s a preparation period leading into the celebration of God’s marvellous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians.

Lent may not be something you have ever heard of or observed in your Christian walk. It may be something a little different from what you have experienced before but it may also be something you would find particularly meaningful and fresh in your Christian faith.

Why don’t you join with me and millions of other Christians around the world and participate in Lent this year?
For more info on Lent click here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why I Tithe

I heard some people talking the other day about whether tithing is a New Testament command or not. It got me thinking about tithing again and about why I tithe.

I thought I would share with you why I believe in, practice personally, and encourage others to tithe.

First of all I think that the New Testament provides overwhelming encouragement for the Christian to tithe; to give 10% of their income to their local church. However I don’t think that this encouragement is found through particular passages to do with tithing but rather in a broader appreciation of New Testament teaching and the gospel narrative.

Therefore to me: tithing is a logical discipline in response to other convictions.

Tithing is a rhythm, a practice, a discipline, that in a tangible way reminds me of my convictions and aligns my living to my convictions, keeping my heart focused on ‘his will be done’ rather than ‘my will be done.’

I believe that the New Testament...

· Clearly expounds the value and importance of the local church. The church is a community, the church is a ministry, the church is to be light and salt in the world, a witness and an outreach which by the power of the Spirit exists to extend the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. At the same time the church in the Western 21st Century context is to a degree a ‘service provided’ and requires funds to operate. Because I believe so much in the local church I give to the local church. My heart is in the local church and my finance follows.

I believe that the New Testament...

· Promotes togetherness and that together as believers we are the church and are called to together build, finance, resource and be the people of God. Together we give to fund the work and ministry of the local church. The tithe is a way in which all can contribute together.

I believe that the New Testament...

· Makes it clear that all we have belongs to God. Our finances of course but also our time, gifts, talents, abilities, passions, affection, devotion. All these things and everything else is God’s. Not a percentage of, but them in their totality.

Methodists, among others, have always taught "tithing," giving 10% of whatever we earn to the Church. Their founder though, John Wesley, was opposed to tithing. He thought 10% was simply too little to give to the work of God and might create the foolish illusion that 90% of one’s money is one’s own! It all belongs to God. I conquer in that we should not allow tithing to create illusions regarding the rest of our finance and resource.

I believe that the New Testament...

· Teaches that Christian’s are to live counter to the way of the world. In the face of consumerism and materialism Christians are to practice simplicity, sacrifice and generosity. We are to put our faith in Jesus Christ not in our finances.

I believe that the New Testament...

· Highlights the practice of tithing as admirable and worthwhile. While at the same time emphasising that it is entry level and there is far more to generosity and Christian living than just the tithe. We are to seek justice, equality, shalom. We are to do good works, minister to the poor, bring hope to the hopeless.

With all of this in mind, for me tithing is and obvious practice of massive benefit to my Christian walk. Tithing is a natural and essential part of my Christian faith.

Tithing is a rhythm, a practice, a discipline, that in a tangible way reminds me of my convictions and aligns my living to my convictions.

Through tithing I take first steps in supporting, believing in and getting behind my local church, its ministry and work in our community and in the community.

Through tithing I partner with other believers who tithe and share a common practice with them which unites and brings us together in commitment to the way of the Kingdom.

Through tithing I take first steps in ensuring that I live out my belief that all I have is God’s, is for God, and belongs to God. I practice putting my trust in Him rather than possessions.

Through tithing I stand against consumerism and materialism and practice sacrifice, simplicity and generosity.

Through tithing I continue a practice that has been alive in many churches for hundreds of years, a practice that when removed of manipulation and grounded in freedom is life giving, life changing and kingdom expanding.

Why do you tithe? Why don’t you tithe? Got questions on tithing?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hello 2010.

It's good to be back into the year after a wonderful holiday. Some of the highlights included pulling a 1.5m Blue Shark out of surf with bare hands, a murder 3 doors down from where we were on holiday, running up Mount twice in a row, 85% in first M.Div exam, two zoos, time in Orewa, time in New Plymouth, 4 great reads nailed, all rust on 1967 HR fixed, in water 30m from pod of killer whales, got on tv @ Twenty20, good times with kids and Lisa, caught up with brothers Radler, Summer, and Black.

Am looking forward to blogging again and as always hope to be regular but promise nothing. I suggest you just subscribe to feed and then we can all relax.

I look forward to posting soon on why I tithe, why I believe it is essential we understand ourselves as embodied beings, and on well... I don't know... other really exciting stuff.