Saturday, October 27, 2007

Book Preview: Everything Must Change

From reading reviews about Brian McLaren’s new book ‘Everything Must Change’ it appears to basically look at how Christians can engage in our culture to change the world. Brian sees Jesus message as one that is revolutionary to the world and has implications both sociologically and politically. It’s a great step forward for an American Christian to talk about fair trade and to attack the fast food industry. Where I hear caution about this book in the free use of ideas from Latin American Liberation Theology. I think he might be in danger of being dismissed by American fundamentalists as going liberal. I understand that his view of the end-times is what is called a transmillenial position so that he thinks that even the second coming and resurrection have already happened. I struggle with the implications of this for our individual eternal life. Perhaps he is merely redirecting the focus to a 'Kingdom Now' viewpoint. If so he's saying nothing more than many of us have said for a long time. Elsewhere Brian says that he does believe in the need for hope beyond death but as far as I can see he does not take this to be what salvation is all about. Perhaps he overstating the point but nevertheless this book does appear to be a very interesting landmark in Christian publishing that really does suggest ways of bringing in the kingdom at an international level addressing such areas as our damage to the environment, lack of peace in the world and the growing problem of proverty.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Spiritual Formation and Mission – Part 2

I am struck by the verse where Jesus pointed out that we are to love the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). I am to love God with everything I’ve got: my emotions, my thought life, my behaviour, my body, everything. Spiritual formation touches every part of me including those parts of my life that are on display to others. This is a normal response to such an amazing God that will appear abnormal to those who do not perceive him. God transforms me from someone who is controlled by his appetites and by guilt. He rewards me. He disciplines me. He shapes my behaviour and my thinking to be more like his own. He heals my body and my emotions. He encourages me when I am discouraged. He gives me the confidence to take risks again when I fail. He restores my sanity. He enables me to overcome my anxiety. I sometimes wonder what people who do not have this experience of God make of all this?

I cannot say that I have endured the trials and tribulations of suffering or persecution that some have. But sometimes in the pressures of everyday life as a teacher and a parent I have felt crushed. Yet somehow I have managed to cope. It is these uncertain situations that God often uses to develop me spiritually. And he does this in my workplace and neighbourhood in front of other people. One thing that I am learning is the way of shalom – the way of peace – the way of non-aggression. I still shout at people sometimes but God is showing me how to live at peace with all people slowly I think I am learning how to overcome my own natural tendencies to assert myself aggressively. God has had to teach me to unlearn some lessons I have learnt in life, to be different from the crowd and not to give in to the pressures around me. I hope that I am getting there. I hope that I am beginning to see how to be the man that he has intended me to be with my friends.

Yes, of course talking to our friends about God is vital too. I’ll discuss that next week.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Spiritual Formation and Mission – Part 1

'Spiritual Formation' and 'Mission' are a couple of terms that I have been thinking about recently and I am beginning to see how they are related. Spiritual formation is a term that is becoming increasingly popular in Christian circles and has always been an important aspect of Christian discipleship. It refers to how we develop spiritually whether for good or for bad. God wants us to develop for good and for Christ to be formed within us (Galatians 4:19). But influences from the world around us may be forming our spirits in different ways. Romans 12:2 says that we can overcome being conformed in this way by the renewing of our mind and so be transformed into God’s image. This refers to the whole of our life and behaviour. Worship, prayer, meditation, Bible study and fellowship all help this process yet ultimately spiritual formation is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual formation is not just an individual process but also as a corporate one. I am fortunate to be part of a church that is really a simple organic group of believers attempting to organise ourselves on New Testament principles. I have to remind myself that what we have as a church is very precious. Today groups like ours are flourishing even though the traditional church in the West appears to be waning. But there is still ground for us to take. For too long we have lacked an emphasis of interacting with our world and our culture. As Christians this is our mission on the earth today. I think that during the twentieth century the Western Church in an attempt to ‘not be conformed’ has withdrawn from the world and so we have neglected our mandate to transform those around us. This is a trend that needs to be reversed. The conclusion that I am coming to is that discussing spiritual issues with those who do not necessarily agree with our world view is a much neglected aspect of our spiritual growth as Christians.

To be continued…

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Time With God - Autumn 2007

Our church has just had our ‘Time with God’ - 24 hours of prayer. As usual I did a stint through the night. As before there was music, candles and art materials laid out so that I could chill out in an atmospheric environment while focusing my prayer drawing some graffiti - on paper I hasten to add not the newly painted walls! But this time the rooms were also swathed in sheets with pillows and there was a number of prayer stations. We could add a paper fish we the name of someone to pray for following the theme of being ‘fishers of men’. We could sit on some concrete slabs to pray for the persecuted church seeing a reminder of prison bars. There were plenty of places to write words or prayers or names of people to pray for all around the rooms. There were prompts on the walls pointing us to passages and a material cross on one of the walls. All this added to the experience. I felt that we stepped up a gear or two from the times when there was just flip chart paper to write on. The creativity in the rooms made praying through the night a breeze. Thanks to Andy and Emma who set the whole thing up. We are clearly moving on.