Sunday, May 31, 2020

Picking on Preachers


This week's reading will pick on preachers a bit. It's okay. The words of wisdom that challenge our use of colloquial language, our incessant need to quote to sound informed, and our desire to use big words to impress needs to be attended to.

We're beginning a lengthy (5 week) section on "The Use and Abuse of Good Books."  It will be challenging reading for those stuck in the muck and mire of Romance novels, Dimestore westerns, Hysterical (Historical) fiction, Fantasy Literature and other such silliness.  Tozer cuts to the marrow on the time we waste in doing things, even like reading simply for our prurient interest. And he begins by slicing and dicing up the preachers who are supposed to be feeding the sheep. See if you can't find a preacher you've heard sometime in this week's descriptions and drill down on what it says about each of us.

Hang on to your hats and feel fee to comment, just keep it civil!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Chapter 5 Questions

Revival and Me: Week 5 What About Revival? Part IV Chapter 5


1. In what ways am I not thoroughly dissatisfied about sin in my life?


2. How might I further develop my hunger for righteousness?


3. What aspects of my life are not being lived in clear obedience to the mandates of scripture?


4. Am I willing to assume the role of a servant, where I am?


5. What is God saying to me about this?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Five More Things

Put yourself in the way of blessing - as Tozer suggests, for us to desire revival while neglecting prayer and devotion (and, I would hasten to add, scripture reading, obedience, etc) is to wish one way and walk another. God is always at work around us, as Blackaby reminds us. We need to find Him and join Him where He is.

Do a thorough job of repenting – the consciousness of our sin needs to do it’s work and that requires a conviction. The world would ask us to repent of anything and everything that makes others uncomfortable. When conventional social standards determine our sin we miss the gospel conviction that only the Holy Spirit can bring. This takes time, and must be a work of the Holy Spirit, not unholy society.

Make restitution whenever possible – clear your indebtedness to others, this is related intimately to repentance. Where we owe we must needs pay. Settling our accounts with others is a part of renewal. 

Bring your life into accord with the Sermon on the Mount – and this is a work in progress, what we do along the pathway or revival, but we must learn that, in God, the life of blessedness is prescribed. It is defined. It is laid our for us, hence our inability to live a good and  godly life apart from a deep knowledge of scripture.

Begin to witness – attempt great things for God, in word and in deed.

Have faith in God – Expect great things from God and follow as He leads.

We will be talking in specifics in the chapters to come. We'll talk about movies, the use and abuse of good books, too much of something or the wrong kind? and other matters but for now these nine items are a good framework for our consideration. 

I'm thinking I need to make a list for some of these matters, things I will need to address over time. People with whom I may need to have a conversation; habits I ought to develop; work I can and should be doing; steps I might take to demonstrate my trust in God.

But for now, I'm tapped out.  A lot to think about, pray about, consider for action...

Chapter 5's questions will be posted early tomorrow morning, before we start the trek back south.  We've had a good visit in the 'boro but are anxious to get back to work on the house.  Changes are a comin'!!!




The First Four Things...

The first four things that grabbed my attention in this chapter were these:

1.  Get thoroughly dissatisfied with yourself...

It seems only logical that if there is not a longing for more, a hungering and a thirsting, that nothing will change, that nothing can change.  Complacency seems to be the twin brother to contentment.  Too often contentment can keep us unchallenged, comfortable.., and even lazy, spiritually speaking.  As Tozer points out contentment is a comment on economics not spirituality. And contentment itself is to be accompanied by godliness if it is to be counted as gain.

"But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." [1 Timothy 6:6-8]

2.  Set your face like a flint toward a sweeping transformation...

One thing I have found to be a certainty in life - that we rise of fall in accordance with our wishes, we accomplish that which we truly set our minds upon.  When we want something bad enough, we do whatever is necessary to achieve it. But too often, as Christians we are too busy working on our careers, providing for our families, wasting our "me time" on me.  We go to great lengths to achieve professional certifications, accomplish academic goals, develop a clear career path, such that we perceive we don't have time for our spiritual lives. And we will never, ever, soar like eagles, walk and not grow weary until we seek the Lord with all that is within us.

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ... I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me...straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize. [Philippians 3:8,12,13]

3.  Be serious minded...There must a radical change in your habits or there will not be any permanent improvement in your interior life.


We tend to take our spiritual lives less than seriously.  There is no more important work in our lives. Nothing we can ever do professionally will approach the level of importance of our walk with the Lord. No influence on our children is of significance that is not the result of the influence of our faithfulness. Our minds and spirits waste away on social garbage, time spent listening to music that does nothing to focus our attention on God, irrespective of how it might make us feel.  We waste our time watching shows and movies that counter the very standards God has set for us, as exhilarating as we may find them to be.  We waste our time on friendships, family relationships, social groupings that do no more than help the unsaved fell comfortable with us when they might more appropriately feel uncomfortable, awkward, and even possibly intimidated by the strength of our conviction.

Follow God’s example...among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed...nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking...for of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God...Therefore do not be partners with them. [Ephesians 5:1ff]


4. Deliberately narrow your interests...

Put plainly and simply - unless or until we take the time and make the effort to renew ourselves in Christ, it's not going to happen. God will not simply bestow some great work of faith upon us that we have not consented to, that we have not sought out, that we have not worked toward.  We are not talking about God's election of us as believers but of our faithfulness in Christ, our response to his call to come and follow Him, His exhortation to count the cost, and, having done so, to seek the pearl of great price.

  • Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. [Colossians 3:12]
  • For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.[Romans 8:5]
  • Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. [2Timothy 2:15]
  • Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us... [Hebrews 12:1]
I'm not a great fan of quick-n-easy step programs, just a do this and do that and your problems will be solved. But it is obvious that without a process, without some kind of program, some concrete actions to change our lives, we are destined to get exactly what we've gotten before. And frankly, I don't find that enough.

Once taste God and nothing else will do!


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Transparency


In the interest of transparency, and hopefully encouragement, I am sharing my answers to this week's questions.
  1. Obedience is a maligned word these days. Do I consider myself obedient? To whom or what?

    I do consider myself to be obedient in the ways in which I discern I am being challenged to be obedient. But there is so much about which I am uncertain.

    I am trying to discern more clearly the way in which I should go. In the midst of a rather challenging professional situation there are many possible responses, many ways I might address the situation, and a lot of input being received. I am praying, spending a lot of time contemplating outcomes, and attempting to discern, as prayerfully as possible, which of those outcomes might be God’s plan and therefore determine the correct path of obedience. My obedience to Christ must be the priority. Counting the cost isn’t difficult. Rather, it is discerning which end would be most pleasing to Him.

  2. What has been the most difficult act of obedience I have ever had cause to regard personally?

    There have been many challenges - leaving my life of sin and losing most all of my friends in order to go into ministry; leaving a beloved congregation, twice, to go into, and then to return to, the mission field (with all of the family challenges and other implications thereof); losing relationships with colleagues as I continue to abide in Biblical fidelity amidst a “progressive” denomination; and several other such events that force my own choice between acceptance or popularity or friendship and obedience to scripture. But the most difficult has been a decision that I have made this week which will not become public for some time and that time frame will create it’s own stress on some of my relationships.

  3. In what, am I not now being obedient?

    Most likey in the area of forgiving those whose actions have cost me and so many others so much. I REALLY need to work on forgiveness. But, events this very week have opened up some new possibilities for this.

  4. In what ways will my future ability to perceive God’s call depend on my obedience today?

    Wow! Just wow! I believe that my future ability to discern His call, is so intimately dependent upon the decisions I have made this week, and even today, that I would need to write volumes to explain it. The train is leaving the station!

  5. What is God saying to me about this?

    I can without any reservations affirm Matthew 5: 12-14

    Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Tozer writes in this week’s chapter: “It is nature’s last drastic effort to rouse the imperiled life to seek to renew itself...How can he find that after which his soul is yearning?”

He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. [John 14:21]


And that is the end game of the hunger, the last drastic effort to rouse the imperiled spiritual life; to ask that one might receive; to seek, that one might find; to knock that it might be opened.

  1. Keep His commands and thereby love Christ; and

  2. thereby be loved by the Father;

  3. which enables Christ to love us; and

  4. thereby manifest Himself to us.

Greater is He who is at work in me than he who is in the world!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Chapter 4 Questions

  Revival and Me: Week 4 What About Revival? Part III Chapter 4


  1. Obedience is a maligned word these days. Do I consider myself obedient? To whom or what?


2. What has been the most difficult act of obedience I have ever had cause to regard personally?


3. In what, am I not now being obedient?


4. In what ways will my future ability to perceive God’s call depend on my obedience today?


5. What is God saying to me about this?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

When Prayer Isn't Enough

My wife and I are engaging in a modified Keto diet. One of the tricks we've learned on this diet is that one must consume a certain amount of fat in order to feel full. And of course there are good fats and bad fats. We could eat salads all day and night and just keep eating and we would not feel full for very long.  Fat is necessary. Protein is also necessary.  The trick is to keep all of these things in proper balance.  It's more difficult when one is also trying to keep a low fat, low carb diet. 

So too the life of a healthy Christian faith is one that needs and should crave a delicate balance of  prayer, service, teaching, learning, rest, etc. 

Tozer writes in chapter 4 "The religious urge that is not followed by a corresponding act of the will in the direction of that urge is a waste of emotion."

I well recall such a "waste of emotion".  I had finished my time with the US Navy and had returned to college, in Houghton, MI. It was the end of October and a final fling was in order before the snow flew. A few of us more adventurous types had gotten together and rented some canoes to paddle the Keweenaw Waterway (which cuts clean through the Keweenaw Penninsula, from Lake Superior to Lake Superior).  It's a shipping channel with a very strong current at both ends.  Unfortunately one of our lot, a less experienced boater. panicked as we drew near to the Lake and he saw the waves. In the end all three canoes were capsized as he jumped into the water and then tried to climb back into the different canoes. We were in the water close to 30 minutes because we had gotten trapped in the dangerous inflow current from the lake and couldn't swim to the shore. Fortunately a pleasure craft (which wasn't supposed to be on the canal that late in the season) came by and dredged us out.


We had all taken an oath in the 43 degree waters, that if God saved us we'd be in church the very next day and every Sunday thereafter.  We had gotten religion in the moment. The emotion was high. But Sunday came and went.without any follow through.  It would be another 2 years and several more "less than desirable situations" before the Lord would get through this thick skull and hardened heart.

"The religious urge that is not followed by a corresponding act of the will in the direction of that urge is a waste of emotion." Wanting revival but not taking action to bring our lives in conformity with God's will is a lot like that spurious commitment in the waterway.


Tozer also makes the point: ""A dead body feels no hunger and a dead soul knows not of the pangs of holy desire". So, the fact that there is a true and abiding hunger for revival is a good indication, but if, as in Chapter 1, we have only been converted to mediocrity then our commitment to revival may likewise be mediocre. Today's world and the events unfolding even now should move us to great hunger and thirst for Him.

"In nature everything moves in the direction of its hungers. In the spiritual world it is not otherwise." And so the die is cast. It is our nature as believers to seek renewal, to seek obedience, to seek faithfulness, growth, and yes, revival. Prayer is not enough. How could it be?

We'll get into the particulars next week, but for now we need to rest in the hungry stage. There is nothing wrong with being hungry.  However, too often we can confuse a desire to eat (arising from habituated snacking) and an actual need to take in nourishment (being hungry).  This week we sit and check to make sure we really want that nourishment. We can't afford to have it become just a snack to "keep us" until we can partake of the world again.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Where once a well-traveled path...



Where once a well-traveled path existed, trees have fallen, leaves have decomposed, and plant life has again sprung up. It's a beautiful sight, unless you are looking for that well-worn, the tried, true, and expedient way to get where you want to go. It causes you to find a new way. It doesn't deviate too much from the old way, but just enough to keep you attentive, to witness new things, different joys and challenges.

I love wandering aimlessly in the woods.  The first book I ever really read on nature was a gift from my grandfather Hallead, Woodcraft by Gorge Washington Sears, better known as Nessmuck. George retired and lived out the remainder of his life in Wellsboro, PA where Carol and I first served a congregation after returning from Ghana. I remember the excitement I felt on seeing the sign.


The Book has remained in printing since 1884 attesting to the significance and beauty of its content.

I try to remember some of the great life lessons in that book, but they stretch so deep and wide, having become so much a part of my life, that it is hard to tell, where the book ends and my own story begins.

I want that with scripture.  That is my longing in this Tozer study - to experience the emotions, the exuberance, the flames of those passions I once felt but which seem to have grown faint in recent years.  Perhaps they've become too familiar, perhaps I am not living in close enough proximity to them.

In outdoor life, I realize that sleeping on the ground is getting to be more and more of a challenge.  In Wellsboro, I would occasionally sleep out by the fire pit. But bones do grow weary. I wonder if my spiritual life is dealing with issues of fatigue or aging. Have I become a doddering old Christian? And if that is the issue, what is the cure? For spiritual life CAN be renewed, and we can rise up with wings like eagles. We can run and not grow weary.
 

I know that I have grown too dependent upon the conveniences of life.  And I fear it interferes with my spiritual life - a nice church building, with good people, and solid teaching; friends and neighbors who speak the same language, whose inferences are easy to comprehend; the ability to order almost anything on Amazon and have it here in a few days; a dependable vehicle with good gas mileage and gas stations close at hand... I wonder if  each of these aren't actually a hindrance to spiritual vitality.  When things are easy and convenient, I think I tend to get lazy or focus on things that really don't matter, like what color to paint the house, which way the water feature should curve, what color stone I should use - all lipstick on a pig.  I know I won't have problems that push me into prayer mode.  I have a pretty good sense I will arrive at my destination and then again, home safely.

Don't get me wrong. I pray. Every single day, with hands joined together with my wife, out loud, for our family on Mondays, church on Tuesdays, etc. and I keep to my devotional plan - reading and praying in the quiet of my reading room.We have close to 50 prayer partners - from Vietnam to California, and South Carolina to Ghana, who company with us.But it's not enough.
 
What I miss most about camping, wandering in the wilderness, and serving in mission, etc is the unknown element, the inability to predict what is coming, the dependence upon the Lord for provision, putting into practice the book learning.  I think, self reliance, safety, freedom, and other "virtues" are anything but virtues, rising perhaps even to the level  of maleficence. They rob us of our need for God, our dependence on Him, of our ability to trust, of faith itself.

I remember the Sunday night in Kenya, 3 hours north of Nairobi, when the battery came loose from it's mount on the 20+ year old Land Cruiser and broke the distributor cap.  It was getting dark. We had 19 people in the vehicle and a nervous family.  We hadn't been there long.  There was no way we were going anywhere. A friend led in prayer. And then a man walked out of the forest with a distributor cap for the Land Cruiser. Yes. 

I also remember scouring around trying to find a way out of Thailand for my son who had been inappropriately accused of a vehicular crime involving a local drunk driver, and wondered what I would do do keep him out of jail, if it came to that. I had agonized as the case carried on for weeks. We had prayed and prayed and prayed. And, one day, voila, the wife of the Bangkok Chief of Police came into my office and took me to the court to get the charges dropped. I had no relationship with this woman, and she had flown up to take care of this.

I remember our friend, house helper, and language/culture tutor, Noi, in the center of a prayer circle with Stage 4 Non-hodgkin's lymphoma, and a terminal diagnosis. I remember the prayers of healing and the laying on of hands by our small group, and her next appointment when it had completely disappeared.  And our joy in seeing her each time we visit Thailand...and of my own father's healing from his "greatest generation" era prejudice as a tear rolled down his face when he kissed her bald head and told her she was beautiful. (My mother had recently died from Leukemia and he had come to visit.) These aren't everyday stories any more.


I want them to be.  There is an unquenchable longing in my spirit. And I think that that is the beginning of revival.  We need to hunger and thirst for righteousness, more than we do air, or food, or life itself.

This week we begin Chapter 4 - What About Revival? pt III and the chapter begins:
Prayer is Not Enough  These words are addressed to those of God's children who have been pierced with the arrow of infinite desire, who yearn for God with a yearning that has overcome them, who long with a longing that has become pain...

I'm hungry, are you?

I mean, REALLY deep down hungry?


Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Prayer and The Apple

Why is it that when we speak to God, we are called pray-ers but when He speaks to us, we are called schizophrenic?

Lily Tomlin



It was just an apple that had fallen from the tree.  I wasn't using pesticides so it showed the marks of scabbing some powdery mildew,maybe some flyspeck.  It simply wasn't an attractive apple. But the word was clear, "pick up the apple."

Carol and I were serving a delightful rural church amidst the corn and soybean fields.  In the evenings, when the corn was out of the field you could see the blinking light at the four way 4 1/2 miles south. It was an agricultural community from start to finish.  If you missed the exit off the freeway, the next exit was miles away.  People were friendly, they loved one another, they were passionate about their church and active in their community.  We had left the church for Kenya and when that didn't pan out well for us, this loving community excitedly and lovingly received us back and reinstalled me as pastor. 


Things were going well.  The church was healthy.  But something was bothering me.  There was an unsettledness, a stirring of my soul, a longing that wouldn't leave me.  Carol and I had been praying, diligently about the matter wondering if it was from the Lord or something to distract us from our work. 

And so we cranked up our prayers.  We engaged in something called a listening prayer.  These prayers are dangerous and I do not recommend them for those without a strongly developed prayer life. We fenced our prayer, requesting protection in the matters we would be covering, and committing to acting immediately and without hesitation upon what we heard.  We ask the question, "is this a legitimate calling, are you asking us to leave, things are so good here, what do we make of this?"  And then we waited. I sensed I needed to go out and walk in the yard and so I left Carol sitting on the couch to attend to what she might hear.

"Pick up the apple!" It wasn't attractive, there were bruises and scabbing, as described earlier. But it came again, "pick up the apple."  It wasn't an audible voice but it was distinctly discernable. It was a "voice" I recognized. And so I picked it up.  "Cut into it."  I responded, "it's nasty Lord, it's not a good apple." "Cut. Into. It." And so I did.


It was perfect.  I couldn't figure out how such a miserable apple could be cut and be so beautiful. And then the voice, again. "So will be your next call. It may look ugly on the outside but it will be perfect when you get into it."

This was followed by an interaction with my son Zach whose simply words "did you ever think it was Asia and not Africa?" And another encounter with a local pastor friend who said it was time to stop thinking about what Glen wants and ask what the church needs. And a visit to the Head Office of the denomination and a conversation with someone who expressed a very specific need, in Asia. And we left, amidst tears, a sense of confusion, a hospitalization for pneumonia, and the threat of Y2K.

Prayer is a wonderful and dangerous matter, but one thing I have learned and which has been confirmed time and time again, is if I am not willing to act immediately, decisively, and obediently to what I hear, without reservation, I have no business attending to the business of asking anything of God.

The Psalmist declares of God: "He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea." [Psalm 141:2]. So how is it that so many of us don't hear God's clear voice? Are we not destitute enough, that is, are we not sufficiently hungry for the answer, or maybe do we not want His answer but our own?

Driven by the Holy Spirit, Paul writes to the Romans in anticipation of a visit and admonishes them: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."  [Romans 12:2] Is our failure to hear from God a reflection of our standing, suggesting we are too worldly? Or perhaps it is that we aren't ready to make the necessary sacrifice. Are we unable to test and approve what His will is with confidence and certainty because we have not been fully transformed?

Living in such a trustful and obedient relationship is risky. It may mean leaving a job. It may mean moving out of state, or out of the country. It may mean going back to school, or ending a relationship. And I am certainly not counseling anyone to do such without a VERY strong conviction that one is hearing directly and specifically from the Lord.  But if we train ourselves, if we are transformed, if we are destitute, we can know one thing for certain. God is trustworthy. Do we dare count the cost and still step out in faith?

That's what revival is all about, reviving our faith in the One who is always faithful.


p.s. Listening prayer is NOT to be confused with contemplative prayer.  Here are a couple of links to sites which you might find helpful if you want to know more about the process.


God Guides - The book that transformed my prayer life and taught me the process of listening prayer.


In honor and memory of Mary Geegh, missionary extraordinaire.


Habits and Addictions


I had to come to terms with the reality of having an addictive personality disorder many years ago. (Yes there is such a disorder.)  It may be defined as:
...difficulty in managing the stress of life a “normal” way resulting in behaviors that are often destructive in nature to help to release the stress. In addition to being hypersensitive to stress, individuals are often also prone to impulsive behavior and may show a significant lack of self esteem. For these individuals, engaging in addictive behaviors is a way to help to try to alleviate the negative emotions being felt as a result of all of these factors.
These are the hard worker-hard drinker types, that engage in angry tirades and fights. So too these are drug addicts who find relief in a needle, or  joint.  These are the types that find relief in shopping sprees and dig themselves into debt in keeping up with the Joneses".

As a young man, unaware of this tendency within, I succumbed to a variety of addictive behavioral issues.  I understood it just to be a wild streak oftentimes applauding myself for surviving such reckless behavior. Others assumed I would "grow out of it."  It wasn't until I  hit rock bottom that I even understood there was an issue.  It took an intervention of the Holy Spirit to draw my attention to this issue.

As with many of our "disorders" these days, there is a tendency to label things in order to draw attention to them so that we might better manage them. A "disorder" label may also be used as an excuse for a behavior without ever addressing the issue, or as an attempt to simply draw attention to oneself - like all those claiming to have OCD, who have just developed some weird habits but which are not necessarily dysfunctional.

Addictive Behavior Disorder comes in many sizes and shapes including:
  • Drug/Alcohol abuse/addiction
  • Gambling Addiction
  • Shopping Addiction
  • Sex Addiction
  • Eating Disorders and Food Addiction
  • Overworking and Work Addictions
  • Over-Exercising/ Exercise Addiction
...you get the idea.

It appears to me that we have become an "addicted" culture, or at least, creatures of habit who are lost without particular things. We're addicted to our television shows which we binge-watch, or for which we have to be home by a certain time on a certain day of the week.  We're addicted to our evening glass of wine. We're addicted to our online shopping, online porn, online FB/Twitter/Instagram. We're addicted to our news feeds, our social media feedback, our gossip, rumor, and innuendo sharing. We're addicted to our work sometimes in order to avoid the responsibilities at home...

I'm not going to delve into the deeper question of "is it just a bad habit or a full blown addiction?"


Rather I just wonder if some of the anxiety that so many people are feeling during this COVID-19 "lockdown" may not, in fact be due to some of the habits, or addictive behaviors we have developed.

Our culture seems to place a priority on busyness. If you're not busy, you're not important, you're lazy, you're not a productive member of the team. Go. Go.Go.

As a Youth Pastor fresh out of seminary, I found myself serving a large, wealthy congregation.  Youth sometimes spent their summers in Europe. (The high school choir toured Europe every summer.) Some were given imported sports cars for their 16th birthday. Their parents were steel magnates, CEO's, and Senior Management.  The youth were constantly busy with music lessons, sporting activities, travel, and private tutoring to get ahead.  Community theater, orchestra, and clubs occupied most every waking hour.  And when there wasn't something of that sort going on, partying was the answer.  Whoever's folks were away, that was the party house. Every year, I helped to bury high school kids who were killed in drunk driving accidents, and then counsel their friends, who would be back to the same habituated behavior in a couple of weeks.

When one of the students came down with Mononucleosis, depression came with it. And hard.  Suicide was attempted. The parents were at a loss. In working with this student it became clear that the issue was non-productivity.  The student didn't know how to sit still, how to just read a book and relax, how to shift attention, to manage a different type of setting.  There was an addiction to a particular pattern of living that had been disrupted.

Jump ahead to today. Couples are having difficulty spending so much more time with each other due to the "lockdown." Parents are challenged by the constant presence of their children rather than other adults.  Many feel trapped in their homes. 


I don't have any answers, except that, over time, I have learned that there is only One who can help. And there is no replacement for this One who can help us see the true priorities in life (hint: IT ISN'T YOUR EMPLOYMENT/JOB!)   The struggle is real. We all face a different setting than we are used to.  And the question of character, true character always arises in these times. How will we adapt? Not, why me? Not, why now? But what now? How can we make use of the changes we face, to show forth God's glory?

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? [Psalm 137:4]
 
How can we, with the prophet Habakkuk proclaim:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
[Habakkuk 3:17-18]

Praising the Lord in a foreign setting or in unusual circumstances or when things seem to be going all wrong, is the very type of obsessive behavior that is not a disorder. 

Giving thanks to God in all circumstances is the type of habituated behavior that we ought to long for. 

Worshiping Him is spirit and in truth, is addictive in the best way. 

I pray that we will find a way, today, to make the shift in our habits and addictions, in our patterns and disorders, to give glory to the One who so desires to make a difference in this world, today. It's time to renew our faith, to revive our souls, and this is the kind of ground on which growth takes place!

The rewards are out of this world!!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Thoughts on Individuality...

Chapter 3 in Tozer's The Size of the Soul" focuses us on the individual aspect of revival.  Groups don't experience revival. Groups of individuals experience revival  There is a collective experience which moves congregations and communities forward. But it is as individuals share that experience.

Our questions this week address the issue of how we are known as Christians.  My first reaction in considering these, is that rather trite response which quotes the old camp song, They'll know we are Christians by our love..."


But I am immediately struck by what I think should be an obvious question - What is love?  I think too many folks tend to get lazy here and talk in terms of some nonsensical 1960's hippie sort of "be kind", "tolerance", "don't judge", et cetera, none of which conveys the fuller Biblical concept of love.  We aren't talking the affectionate kind of love between a husband and wife, so much as a brotherly/sisterly love (phileo) or even better a godly (agape) kind of love.  In this type of love we look out for each other's best interest, which means, at times, even being willing to be rejected for our honest correction of one another, of being willing to speak the truth even when it isn't sought out, of being willing to embrace, hold fast, and receive the kicks and blows of the petulant child that those around us seem to be emulating in their behavior, in addition to be kind. Sometimes it means not being liked in order to be loved. 

How do the people we encounter on a daily basis experience that kind of love? Do they receive our correction? Do they perceive that we are willing to receive their correction? Do they believe we have their best interest in mind? Do they believe we trust them to have our best interest in mind?  How do they experience our faith? And how do we answer this question without becoming egotistical, self congratulating, arrogant snobs, applauding ourselves for how well we are doing while, perhaps, even denying how poorly we actually are doing?


Jesus loved, and was rejected, even by his disciples? How much more so us as we fail to give him proper place in our daily lives? He is the perfect embodiment of love, who turned over tables, and chased people around with a whip. Zealousness for His Father's house consumed Him.  Blind people saw again, lame people walked, those with skin diseases were made clean, deaf people heard again, dead people were brought back to life, and poor people heard the Good News. Is that what people experience in our lives, from us?

Jesus said that we would do even greater things then these? So where is our fruit? Are we known by such fruit?  How might we produce such fruit?

...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control... [Galatians 5:22-23]

I don't know about you, but I would love to produce such fruit. And in order to do so, I need a fresh work of the Holy Spirit.

In 1997 Jim Cymbala wrote a book entitled "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire," emphatically making the case for making prayer a bigger part of every Christian's life. It seems to me that one of the most neglected parts of people's spiritual lives is their prayer life.  We say a hasty grace before meals. We bow our heads on Sunday mornings, as the the worship leader, pastor, or lay person speaks on our behalf.  We might even mutter something as our heads hit the pillow. But conscious, concerted, 30 minute prayers, hours in prayer, a prayer chair set apart for nothing but prayer? Purposeful time, when we refuse to answer the phone, even if it is a family member, or our "boss" or someone connected with a job we have applied for? A time when no one, no thing will disturb us?  That sort of commitment escapes us. And yet Jesus is constantly shown to have gone aside, into the hills, to pray.


I recently saw something that I considered rather strange on the internet about how God comes to women, while men have to go to the mountains to meet with God.  The concept was that women were and are too busy to take time to go aside and spend time with God.  I think that without getting into the bitter controversy of who works harder men or women, we can all agree that there is nothing more important than meeting with God, wherever it is. And while it may, at times, need to be in the busyness of the day-to-day activities, taking time out, saying "no" to every other one and every other thing will be necessary if we truly want to fully understand and experience God's goodness.  How would our friends feel if we never stopped what we were doing to talk with them? Or if they were met with a casual "hey, how ya doin?" without waiting our to hear their response? How many hours do we spend rotting our brains watching television or movies, listening to music or talking on the phone, reading fantasy or fiction but ignoring His word? And how much time and attention do we direct toward the One who loves us more than anyone or anything else? The One who stands ready to dwell with us? To direct us? To speak to us?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [John 15:4]

Bearing fruit. How's your fruit bearing going? And how might it be impacted by more urgent, attentive, purposeful prayer? And how might a more concerted effort to pray lend itself to renewal, to revival, to growth?

I ask these questions based on 32 years of ordained ministry experience, having seen the amazing things God has done with those who pray and the incredible talents wasted by those who fail to pray.  I've seen folks experience great earthly success without much of a personal prayer life, but watched as their spiritual lives wasted away, their never really knowing the depth and the breadth of what God might have done in their lives if they had but taken the time to know Him more fully. Even worse, as they seem to think they have gotten along perfectly well without wasting all of that time, when they might have done SO much more! Or at least so much more that actually counts, eternally.

I also ask these questions knowing the difference my own personal prayer life has made when I've taken the time, and the difference that hasn't been made when I have neglected  it.  What is keeping us from making the time, taking the time, at any expense, to meet with out Lord, not  even more importantly just to talk but to listen? Do we even recognize His voice?

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27]

Do you listen to Him? Do you recognize His voice above your own, or that of the world? Can you say with certainty that you know His voice, when He calls? Can you follow Him without recognizing His voice and following where He alone rightly leads?

These are my rambling thoughts as I contemplate the questions. How 'bout you?

More on this and the prayer that directed me to an apple that took me away from a wonderful ministry, changing my life powerfully...tomorrow.


Chapter 3 Questions

  Revival and Me: Week 3 What About Revival?


1.  “The world knows who the Christians are” (p.13). How?

2.  How am I known to the world around me now?

3.  What might I need to do to make sure those around me know that I
       am a Christian? 

4.  What are the implications for my work?
                 My social relationships?
                             My community?

5.  What does it mean to walk as a transformed person in the
                  congregation or denomination with which I am affiliated?

6.  What is God saying to me about this?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Maxie Dunnam Interview on IRD


On May 8th I posted a  blog which made reference to The Workbook of Living Prayer by Maxie Dunnam, who after servingin a variety of capacities in the UnitedMethodist Church, servedmore recently as Chancellor of Asbury Seminary and currently as president of the Confessing Movement board of directors of the UMC.  The link HERE will take you to an interview title "Born of Conviction" in which he discusses his rising from rather extreme poverty through salvation at local Baptist church up to the question of theological orthodoxy which is currently such a major issue in many of what we used to consider our "mainline" denominations.  The interview, with supporting info, can also be found on the Institute for Religion and Democracy's website: Juicy Ecumenism . It's worth listening to this "wise old sage."

The Church Invisible?

The vague notion that there is somewhere a mysterious Body of Christ
whose members are unknown, an invisible company upon whom the
Holy Spirit can fall in answer to prayer, is a grand fallacy. A.W.Tozer

One of the great inhibitors to revival is the very thought that we can pray, pray , pray, and God will either bring revival or withhold it, or that it will mysteriously fall on some unidentified, mystical body of people that cannot be identified.

Salvation has always been absolutely specific and always individually particular; revival likewise.  Any group of people who have experienced a revival of their faith have always done so first as individuals who comprise that group. A group only experiences revival due to the plurality of individuals who experience it. And it takes the expressed will, the participation and ardent desire of an individual. In other words, we have to WANT it!

As Joshua begins the great pilgrimage of leading God's people into the promised land, there is a dramatic pause. And in this regard the entire 24th chapter of Joshua is well worth the reading. It is referred to as the Covenant Renewal Ceremony.


Joshua speaks to the people on God's behalf, reminding them of what He has done for them, how He has saved them, how He has delivered them from enemies, given them safe refuge. and fought the battles for them.  He has now given them a land with resources they have not toiled or worked for.

And then the central point that Joshua makes to the people of God:

Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. [Joshua 24:14-15]

"CHOOSE!"  It is a conscious decision as to whom they will worship, whom they will serve.  Their future is ultimately dependent upon this choice, and their eventual loss of the promised land is due to the abandonment of this covenant.  Prophets, remind them again and again of their need to return to Him.  He has never abandoned His people. It is ALWAYS the people who abandoned God. Ever wonder why the prophets were able to talk so decisively, so authoritatively? Because they remained faithful. They were attentive.  They were obedient, so that they might call the people back to that faith, to experience the renewal, the revival of their covenant commitment.

The disciples were gathered in that Upper Room when the Holy Spirit came upon them.  They had been directed to wait upon that event, to be in Jerusalem for it.  Each one gathered there had been obedient in getting in position for that blessing. The Holy Spirit did not fall upon some unknown, undetermined crowd of people. These were specific people. Those in the Upper Room were anxiously, eagerly waiting.

Nothing can prevent the spiritual rejuvenation of the soul that insists upon having it.  Though that solitary man must live and walk among persons religiously dead, he may experience the great transformation as certainly and a s quickly as if he were in the most spiritual church in the world.
A.W.Tozer


The man that will have God's best becomes at once the object of the personal attention of the Holy Spirit.  Such a man will not be required to wait for the rest of the church to come alive.  He will not be penalized for the failures of his fellow Christians, nor be asked to forego the blessing,till his sleepy brethren catch up.  God deals with the individual heart as exclusively as if only one existed". A.W.Tozer

And the disciples, having been renewed in their faith, having received that outpouring of the Holy Spirit, went forth...to preach...and to be persecuted, being enabled to face the most horrendous of circumstances with the kind of joy that only those revived in their faith can demonstrate.

Every prophet, every reformer, every revivalist had to meet God along before he could help the multitudes...The plain Christian of today must experience personal revival before he can hope to bring renewed spiritual life to his church. A.W. Tozer

The question remains, as it always has been, how badly do we want it?  What are we willing to sacrifice to get it?Are we truly willing to work for it? Do we perceive that it is so to be desired (like the pearl of great price) that we will sell all we have for it?


Friday, May 8, 2020

Psalm 27: 13-14



 

     The goodness of the Lord is to be found in the myriad of small things in life. One of the first Christian groups I joined after coming to faith made use of Maxie Dunnam's The Workbook of Living Prayer."  One of the exercises we were asked to conduct during the study was to keep track of how many times per day we purposefully paused and gave God thanks.  The first week, I think I recorded 2. The next week passed without much of anything. The third week, 1. Over the course of about 12 weeks, it grew to a more conscious level of giving thanks, but not what it is today, some 39 years later. My faith, though it had been constructed in Sunday School attendance, Confirmation, worship participation, etc, was like this house's old bones - once well constructed, but tired. The foundation was secure, but it needed some serious rehabilitation. All that I had been taught, all that I had seen in the lives of people who had professed faith, all the "good work" I thought I had done, the few sins I had managed to avoid, were worthless without that new birth, without that coming to an abiding faith and a personal knowledge of Jesus as Savior and just as importantly, Lord.

     Then one frigid cold, snowy night at 23 years of age, in a single wide trailer in rural Weidman, MI, water pipes frozen, a divorce behind me, and a bleak future before me, I threw myself down on my bed and prayed the prayer that only a person facing total despondency and hopelessness can pray. I heard "open your Bible." (It was a Bible given to me by Rev. Andrew Route of the Grosse Pointe Woods Presbyterian Church, on his last Children's Day as my minister when I was in the third grade.)

     To give you a picture of my state of mind at the time, I wrote this poem reflecting on those feelings, just a few short months later:

Cold brick walls surround me as I search to find the opening
that leads out to the unknown place of which I dream.
The gray cement brings out in me the feeling of impending doom,
of death or even worse of life inside this fortress strong.
I wander out to see that walls are gone
and I am left alone to face the sun which melts my skin.
Cringing, writhing, burning on the sands which have no end
I cry for help but only find the pain is worse and so I seek the only refuge left.

As I went to open my Bible, it fell open, as if moved by some strange, mysterious presence, to Zecharaiah 3 and I read:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.

     I was immediately struck to the very core of my being. Tears flooded my face, uncontrollable, volumes of pent up regret poured forth.  I still well up when I reflect on this bitter cold and lonely January evening when everything changed. My life would never be the same.

     Now I wish I could say that I was perfected in that moment, that life was a cake walk of grace and joy and peace, but that's not generally how the Lord works.  But he began a work in me that continues to this day.  It ebbs and flows, largely in accord with my willingness to be continually "transformed by the renewing of my mind," not intellectually, but spiritually.


     It's kind of like this old house. I paint for a few days and then switch to some indoor project. I get distracted and make a pathway that isn't quite as straight as it should be. I try to correct it but still don't get it quite right.  I do some more painting.  I look at the window sills that need to be repaired, the need for just 5 more straight boards from Lowe's, the deck that needs to be power washed and stained...and wonder if I will ever get the work done.   And then, every once in a while, someone will say something, the pastor will preach a sermon, I will feel a conviction in prayer, and I get a profound sense that "God will do just what He says, in His time"

     And then one day "voila" the Spirit producing the fruit of renewal, flowers spring forth in your spiritual life, or that of your church, or in your family or place of work, maybe even in your neighborhood. They may be small or large but they will grow and show forth glory, if it is indeed the work of the Holy Spirit and not our own.


     These are the moments of revival in my soul.  The assurance that, if I persist,if I remain in Him, He will abide in me.  And I am reminded of a song that Tracy Keenan (Missional Presbyter, New Castle Presbytery) wrote back in the 1980's while she was a member of the Westminster Presbyterian Church where I served.

It went something like this:

I would have despaired unless I had believed
that I would see the goodness of the Lord.
I would have despaired unless I had believed
that I would see the goodness of the Lord, in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord. Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage.
Wait for the Lord. Wait for the Lord. Let your heart take courage in God.

It was based on Psalm 27:13-14.

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

    So my life has been a "punctuated equlibrim" type of experience with revival.  Spurring me on enough to get me to the next level, to get me to the next place.  It has never been predictable, but has always been reliable.  And it so often seems to take place when I give up my need to control, my need to address, my need to determine, my need to accomplish.  It is precisely when I sit, when I still my heart, when I focus my attention on His desires, on the unclaimed territory of my life which He is yet to rule over, because of my self-confidence, that He speaks so vivdly and strongly.  And so my daily prayer, in this time of renewal and revival is "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!"




MIA

         November 23-27, 2020 for Thanksgiving!