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Prayer as The Way of Silence

“Solitude and silence are the most radical of the spiritual disciplines because they most directly attack the sources of human misery and wrongdoing.” So says Dallas Willard, in his foreword to Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

The monastic movement experienced and taught prayer as the way of solitude and silence. They saw it as a journey into the silent desert of surrendering love.

We follow Jesus in our conversion through the waters of baptism, confirming our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters. Then the Spirit leads us, as with Jesus, into the desert of prayer.

If we follow and obey, we enter the inner desert of the heart through solitude and silence with God. That is the sacred space of testing and purification that transforms us for fullness of life with God.

The monastic practice of stillness (hesychia, quiet rest, tranquillity) was the essence of this life of prayer. It was a way of death and dying to live eternal life here and now. That’s why the monks taught prayer as “the remembrance of death”, discussed in my book Doing Spirituality (I cite the sources, p.250/1).

They called it the remembrance of death because the daily practice of being alone with The Alone is a progressive self-stripping from idolatrous attachments, false dependencies, and selfish preoccupations, to be lovingly attentive and responsive to God – as Jesus was.

Such silence is a desert of spiritual warfare. Though we greatly need it, few want to go there. Because it presses our buttons and reveals who we are. Totally naked and utterly dependent on God. We learn, however, to let go, to relax and be still. To release control by surrendering our faculties to God, the Transcendent Reality of Perfect Love.

In fact, the monks went so far as to say that prayer, the way of stillness, was a regular rehearsal for the day of our death. On that day we (will have to) surrender the whole of who we are, all our faculties, to God, in one final act of faith. No one will escape the spectre of death that enfolds us in its shroud of silence.

Evagrios the Solitary (345-399) said, “The way of stillness (of silent prayer) teaches you to remember the day of your death… visualise the dying of your body… and the day of your resurrection”.

This is not a morose religious exercise, but a facing of death. We break denial of death by dying daily through silent prayer, to live eternally in each moment of every day. Because God, in Christ, has defeated death through resurrection.

We participate in Jesus’ silent stripping – naked on the cross alone with the Alone – by which we die to our false self and rise to our true self in Christ, to hear God’s voice in each moment of each new day. We rise to live the Transcendent Reality of Perfect Love. We echo silence, like Jesus.

In summary, solitude and silence with God is a daily dying to the distractions and clamourings that demand our attention, that hook and feed our “uncrucified flesh”, that constitutes our false-self (Paul speaks of “dying daily” in 1 Corinthians 15:31, Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:36). And so we learn to die well, to let go and let God be God.

By trusting God in our ‘little deaths’ through prayer-full silence, we will “never die” as Jesus said (“not taste death”, John 11:25). We will seamlessly pass from this world into the next. It will take us some time to realise we have died, due to the quality of God’s abiding companionship in the silence of surrendering love.

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South African Crisis: Open Letter to my Church

“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
The Lord is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne.”
(Psalm 11:3-4)

“Cry the beloved country” – AGAIN – our nation is in crisis! A serious moral, political and socio-economic crisis. As your pastor it would be sinful if I did not speak out in this hour, speaking truth to power, and giving guidance to our congregation: What must the Church do?

Last night at midnight, under the cloak of darkness, President Jacob Zuma announced a cabinet reshuffle. He fired Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, and kept poor performing and corrupt ministers – clearly ‘Zupta Supporters’ in his system of patronage. He has made Malusi Gigaga, a corrupt Zupta supporter, the new Finance Minister. Gigaba is known to frequent the Gupta residence in Saxonwald, infamously called ‘Saxonwald Shabeen’. This is the most shameless blatant ‘state capture’ to control the national treasury and further rape the country’s resources. Pravin Gordhan’s response to this extreme act of state capture is simple: The nation must rise up for truth and justice, and organize and mobilize to resist – get on the streets and stop this evil taking over – else we will suffer the consequences.

Those who support Zuma in the name of “remove Gordhan because he protects ‘white monopoly capital’ and works against the radical transformation of the economy”, are blinded and captivated by the ideological defenses of Zupta corruption. Even Julius Malema, the most radical proponent of decolonization and justice for the poor (rightly so), does NOT buy this ideological deception – he fully supports Gordhan and Jonas’ integrity and competent work.

Our nation right now teeters on the edge. This can snowball into serious destruction, or be a turning point for good. How do we think Biblically, and not ideologically, about this situation? (Ideology means a system of thought and argument that justifies certain group interests over against another group – the ‘lenses’ through which we see, interpret and react to reality)

The Biblical idea of crisis is captured in the word kairos: a moment in time in the history of the nation that is a turning point one way or another, depending on our corporate choice. Kairos is both judgement/disaster, and opportunity of God’s merciful intervention, at the same time. We lived through a kairos in 1994 and chose a miracle of peaceful change in SA, defeating evil powers that threatened civil war. We are at the same place again as a nation. What will you choose? Truth or corruption? Good or evil? Action or passivity?

When the foundations of our nation, of our lives, are being shaken, what can the righteous do? King David’s answer is clear: See Yahweh, the Creator-God of the nations, on his throne, still in charge of his universe. Compare Psalm 11 with Psalm 2 and see what the Church must do:

  1. Not to panic, not be intimidated, not be psycho-emotionally defeated, not get all negative and depressed, and talk ourselves and our nation into a hole, into the hands of the devil.
  2. But this does not mean that we cannot, and must not, call it for what it is: pure evil. Some Christians bury their head in the sands of ‘positive confession’ believing that to say anything negative (to name, describe, unmask and rebuke evil) is wrong – that is Gnostic belief.
  3. It means, while we face reality full on, without denial and ideological blindness, at the same time we continually look up to see God on his throne. God is ultimately in charge, though he has delegated spiritual powers to rule over nations. These ‘powers’ become corrupt, as seen or ‘manifested’ in national leaders and governments. God can judge and discipline them.
  4. It means seeing things from God’s point of view: “Yahweh observes everyone on earth, his eyes examine them, the righteous and the wicked – who love lies, cheating, stealing, violence – which God hates with a passion” (11:4-5) God sees and knows it all. We can pray with his passion, that he exposes and judges and defeats that evil, as David says in 11:6.
  5. But it also means, we not only reactively pray for the downfall of evil, but we proactively love justice (11:7). We must model and do justice in our circles of influence, in our nation. We must show a different way of being the new South Africa that we all want. What this looks like practically must be discussed and implemented and lived. THIS is collaboration with Messiah to advance his rule of righteousness in the face of ‘the powers’, as in Psalm 2 (God laughs at presidents who chuckle while doing evil, thinking they will get away with it, 2:4).
  6. Why the above five points on prayer? Because we have direct access to God, the Ultimate Power over nations! To pray is to trust God and live in peace. If we pray for principled leadership, good godly government, as in 1 Tim 2:1f, God will give it to us.
  1. What more can Christians do? We must live our prayers daily by speaking up and standing up for truth. STOP lying, stop cheating, stop stealing, stop all corruption – expose and challenge it. Confront injustice; shout it out from the roof-tops.
  1. We can pour out into the streets to besiege parliament in the hundreds of thousand, NOT in the name of a political party, but in the name of Jesus, justice, righteousness, truth. The Koreans and Brazilians recently dethroned their corrupt presidents by occupying the streets with a million people. Mass non-violent resistance and public protest has great power for change in national histories, where injustice gained the upper hand.
  1. Vote the ANC out of power. It’s not about Zuma per se, it’s about the ANC that has allowed the Zuptas to capture the state for self-enrichment. The ANC, from Cyril Ramaphosa and Gwede Mantashe and all them, must take responsibility. They have lost the right to rule this country. Their credibility is down the drain. Vote them out of power! Don’t vote ANC!

I trust this gives perspective as to a Christian response.

Here is my FaceBook post:

“I call on all people of truth and integrity in South Africa, who love righteousness and justice, who believe God still controls the destiny of nations – the God who can bring either judgement or blessing through wicked or righteous leaders – to pray up, speak up, stand up, march up, and shout from the rooftops, against the firing of Gordhan and his deputy, against Zuma’s shameless blatant ‘treasuary capture’ to further pillage and rape the nation’s resources for his own ends of security and power. The conspiring of evil to hold onto power has played its card, may righteousness and truth defeat it.

If the leaders and people of principle, of truth, of justice (including the Christians) WITHIN THE ANC, WITHIN THE CABINET, WITHIN THE ANC ELDERS & STALWARTS, WITHIN LUTHULI HOUSE, do not stand up right now and confront and discipline and recall Zuma, they will have lost all credibility. NOW is the time, NOW is the hour for them to be counted, to intervene, to put their bodies on the line for the sake of the nation, to stop this naked shameless corruption of power. Pray for the leaders who now step to the fore over the next few days to confront this madness of Zuma, because they could lead us to a better place over the next few years. Above all PRAY, and speak up, and engage in whatever non-violent resistance that can confront the corrupt powers of Zuma and his cronies, his whole system of patronage that he’s built up… MAY IT FALL FLAT IN THE NAME OF JESUS!”

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Call of Pastoral Vocation & Spiritual Leadership

Today (1 April 2016) I was supposed to be in Cape Town addressing the Vineyard pastors and leaders of the Western Cape, South Africa. I injured my back on Wednesday and had to cancel my trip. But I had written my teaching earlier in the week, so I thought I should upload and share it. For all who read this, especially pastors and spiritual leaders, what do you think of the following?

What is the essential call (vocation) and work (leadership) of the local church pastor?

It’s a vast subject, but scripture teaches that pastoral leadership is a life-calling and gift-ministry from the Ascended Christ (Eph 4:7-11, the ‘pastoring-teacher’). In the OT the king and leaders were (supposed to be) the servant of YHWH as the shepherd of Israel. Jesus fulfilled that calling as The Good Shepherd of God’s flock, YHWH’s Suffering Servant. This Chief Shepherd and Ultimate Servant is the model to be emulated by his ‘under shepherd-servants’. He’s also the means, by his Spirit, by which we fulfil this vocation to which we are called – continuing HIS vocation by HIS Spirit. And yes, this means suffering and rejection… true pastors enter into and exercise the love of God in Christ, by the Spirit, suffering people’s sin and brokenness. There is nothing like pastoral leadership to bring out one’s insecurities, our deepest unresolved ‘stuff’! So, to be a pastor, a spiritual leader, is not something you do, it’s who you are and are becoming. It’s not a role or job per se, it’s a way of life – Jesus’ way!

The nature of this “perplexing profession” (Eugene Peterson) has been analysed and explained in various ways.[1] Over the years, through theology (study) and praxis (my personal experience), I have come to my own summary of the pastoral vocation: The sevenfold nature or key responsibilities of pastor-leaders. I assume the definition of pastor as the leader of a faith community, whether it’s 15 people in a house church, or a congregation of 80, or of a large church with multiple staff, where the team of pastors each specialise in one or more of the responsibilities below. However, the lead-pastor in whatever size church is overall responsible to see that these seven key roles are faithfully fulfilled. There is a progressive order – they build on each other. And like any good preacher, I’ve used alliteration hoping it might just stick in our brains!

  1. Prayer: To be a person of The Presence, bringing God’s presence to people and bringing them into God’s presence. If you are first a full-on follower (disciple… a disciplined learner) of Jesus for yourself, then those around you will naturally be led and pastored into following Jesus. Prayer is your primary spiritual formation, the fuel that fires – and keeps fanning into flame – your passion and love for God and his people. On a recent visit to Mexico Pope Francis said to the bishops and priests, “Pastors are not God’s employees to dispense and administrate the Divine. Our identity is prayer: we work with God – pray living and live praying.” It’s what Jesus said, in effect, regarding his life principle: “Though I am the Son of God I do nothing on my own initiative; I only do what I see the Father doing, I only speak what I hear the Father saying” (John 5:17-21). Prayer is co-working with God in what he’s doing, leading his people in true worship and community, ministry and mission. This is (your) spiritual formation. It is the foundational cornerstone of the vocation of the pastor and leader, on which all that follows is built.
  2. Purity: To grow in purity before God. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matt 5:8). The heart is the essence – the core and the whole – of who we are, out of which all of life flows (Prov 4:23). Danish theologian-philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Our divided and disparate, fragmented and over-stimulated focus on many demands, is the impurity of idolatry. David prayed, “give me an undivided heart to fear your name” (Ps 86:11). Life, leadership and ministry, depends on our cultivation of integrity of being, purity of heart, integration of focus – the simplicity of the unhurried life doing the “one thing (that) is needed” (Luke 10:42). The one thing is moral character, formed by gazing on God’s beauty (Ps 27:4) in the face of Jesus Christ, as Mary did. Then we see God ever more clearly each day, in all things, in every person, circumstance, happening – learning to work with him in the sacrament of the present moment. This is what makes us pastors and leaders. We require this purity of heart because God entrusts us with HIS Word, Purposes, People, and World. Whether we know it or not, we all live, lead and pastor, in real terms from “the weight of glory” (C.S. Lewis) on/in us, or lack thereof. To the degree we lack in Christ’s glory – his pure character – we depend on other idolatrous dynamics and resources to live, lead and pastor.
  3. Preaching: To proclaim God’s Word to his people and world is a most awesome privilege and responsibility.[2] We are called to faithfully study, teach and proclaim the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) without fear or favour, forming God’s people “under the authority of The Word” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer), teaching them how “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20; Wimber’s “the meat is in the street”). The Apostles stated their priorities: “We will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Don’t ever underestimate the privilege, priority and power of preaching God’s Word as a pastor and leader.
  4. Purpose: To lead God’s people into their inheritance: God’s Kingdom purposes. I.e. to give a clear vision of the Kingdom, keeping it before the people, with the spiritual direction needed to achieve it. We are called to lead by example, by vision and proclamation, by discipling and implementation. Pastors must lead the church into God’s purposes – break new ground – or it will meander in maintenance mode.
  5. Pastoring: To care for God’s We are called to love, to be tender, merciful, compassionate, as Jesus was. Prayer & purity will keep us from burnout, from becoming cynical with people and their pain. Pastors gather, heal and grow God’s people to wholeness, by patient and persistent love in the discipline and governance of the Lord. Shepherds naturally smell of sheep, they get involved in people’s pain.
  6. Personnel: To train God’s people in their callings and gifts. Proclaiming God’s purpose gathers people to be cared for, AND to be equipped to do ministry and mission (Eph 4:12). Pastors grow and equip people, forming teams and leaders, by the Vineyard mantra: “IRTDM” – identify, recruit, train, deploy, and monitor.
  7. Program: To organise God’s people into a cohesive community of worship and witness, creating programs and structures of ministry (in the church) and mission (in the broader community, and to the nations). Minimal organising and administrating ability is required for a pastor-leader to be effective – it’s a discipline of character! 

We lead by being led – in these seven dimensions – by the Spirit, in the sacrament of the present moment. So, be teachable, accountable, honest, humble, hungry for God…

[1] The classic by Seward Hiltner, Preface to Pastoral Theology (Abingdon, 1958). Also Henri Nouwen, Creative Ministry (1978) and The Living Reminder (1982). See Eugene Peterson’s four books on pastoral ministry, all by Eerdmans, Working the Angles (1987), Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (1992), Under the Unpredictable Plant (1992), and The Contemplative Pastor (1993).  

[2] See the chapter, “Pastors as Teachers of the Nations”, in Dallas Willard’s Knowing Christ Today.

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Finding Sanctuary Talk 3

To listen to the audio teaching of these notes click on this link

http://followingjesus.org.za/sermons/finding-sanctuary-talk-3/

I’ve taught “Finding Sanctuary” from David’s amazing Psalm 27: Praying our Sanctuary. English “sanctuary” comes from Latin sanctus, meaning holy: a sacred space (our heart) set aside for God, to encounter him in safety and sanctity. Sanctuary is essentially escaping into God’s presence (his heart), to be with him.

David’s instruction is simple (v.4): Wrestle down your life and lifestyle to do one thing above all others, “One thing have I desired: that I may dwell in the Lord’s sanctuary all the days of my life, to gaze upon his beauty, to seek him in his sanctuary.” To build your heart/life into a sanctuary for God, where HE is our sanctuary, is THE most important thing in life! Carve out a time and place for personal sanctuary in your daily life. Jesus said of Mary, “Only one thing is needed; she has chosen it – it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42).

This theme is inspired by Abbot Christopher Jamison’s book “Finding Sanctuary”, on how St Benedict’s Rule of Community (6th century) helps us to build sanctuary in our hearts, from which all of life flows (Prov 4:23).

How do we do this? We build/find sanctuary via 7 steps. Before we begin step one we have to slow down to make a decision to build sanctuary in our busy lives. Then we find and enter the Door of Virtue – the door to our hearts – which doesn’t mean becoming morally pure. Rather, Jamison says, “if we see virtue as simply the right way to live, no matter what the cost, then virtue is sacred. Virtue is recognising the sacred in daily life”, seeing God in all things (Matt 5:8). Enter the door of virtue to build sanctuary by doing these steps… Continue reading Finding Sanctuary Talk 3

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Following Jesus by Practicing Holy Spirit Administration (Part One)

To listen to the audio teaching of these notes click on http://followingjesus.org.za/sermons/being-the-beloved-21-practicing-holy-spirit-intimacy-or-administration-part-1/

Recap & Intro: Prayer and Holy Spirit 

The third spiritual practice in following Jesus is prayer, both the right and left foot of walking with Jesus, as in a) set time of daily prayer as Jesus taught in Luke 11:1-13 and Matt 6:5-15, and b) continual prayer-interaction through the day, as Paul taught in 1Thess 5:17. This week I focus on the latter, but in terms of practicing the abiding presence and leadership (“administration”) of the Holy Spirit. I ended last week on Luke 11:5-13: Jesus taught persistent perseverance (Jewish “chutzpa”) in prayer on the basis of faith and confidence in God’s goodness, that he will give us what we need and ask for. Jesus ends the passage with the key, v.13: “how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him and keep on asking, seeking and keep on seeking…” This joins prayer and the gift (ministry) of the Spirit, whom the Hebrew prophets promised God would be poured out in the last days (Joel 2:28-32).

Why the Holy Spirit? What is the practice of Holy Spirit Administration? 

John the baptizer announced the coming of the Messiah-King, The Anointed One, the Spirit-bringer in fulfillment of the prophets (Matt 3:11). The Spirit came on Jesus at his baptism (Matt 3:16-17) enabling “Be-Loved” relationship with his Father, in exquisite intimacy, via ongoing prayer-full interaction. This was the source of his life, ministry and miracles (Luke 4:18). Jesus said, “Though I am God’s Son, I do nothing on my own initiative. I only do what I see my Father doing, I only speak what I hear my Father saying” (John 5:19-20, 12:49-50). Jesus lived and ministered by the koinonia (intimate friendship) of the indwelling Spirit, empowered and led by the Spirit in all things. Continue reading Following Jesus by Practicing Holy Spirit Administration (Part One)

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Following Jesus by the Practice of Prayer – Part Two

For the audio of this teaching go to http://followingjesus.org.za/sermons/being-the-beloved-20-the-practice-of-prayer-2/

Following Jesus by Practicing Prayer – The HOW of Prayer 

Why pray? What is prayer? We pray because prayer is essentially relationship with God, being companions and co-workers with God. It’s easy, most children instinctively pray. Yet the more we pray the more we find it’s a serious challenge! Jesus’ Jewish disciples, well practiced in praying the Psalms, one day watched Jesus praying and asked him, “Teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples to pray!” (Luke 11:1f). The How To?

There are two basic ‘modes’ of prayer: ‘Closet Prayer’, regular time and place alone with God; and ‘Ceaseless Prayer’, continual interactive relationship (1Thess 5:17). Today we focus on the former, Jesus’ teaching on how to pray (in Luke 11:1-13 & Matt 6:5-15). If we practice the former then we naturally develop the latter, continual prayer.  Continue reading Following Jesus by the Practice of Prayer – Part Two

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Following Jesus by the Practice of Prayer – Part One

Our vision is to become like Christ, to be “The Beloved” we already are in Christ.
Our highest value in pursuing this vision is to follow Jesus in relational intimacy.
We do this by engaging in daily practices that are “means of grace” in our spiritual (trans)formation toward Christlikeness. These spiritual exercises should not be a burden, rather a joyful means of spending focused time with the Lover of our soul.
We all need mutual support and accountability in two’s/three’s friendships to help us in this life journey: Do you meet regularly to ask the 5 questions of the circled-triangle?

To live our highest value of following Jesus in relational intimacy we practice…
The Word: we imbibe/meditate on God’s Self-revelation – the Way, The Truth, The Life.
Worship: our response to this God is surrender in acts of adoration and a life of service.
Prayer: this naturally leads to growing relationship with God – the practice of prayer.
Holy Spirit Ministry: resulting in the practice of the leadership and ministry of the Spirit.

We ask why pray? What is prayer as a daily practice for spiritual formation? Next week we look at the how of prayer: how do we actually pray… daily? Continue reading Following Jesus by the Practice of Prayer – Part One

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Following Jesus by Practicing the Word – Part Two

Recap: The Practice of The Word and Daily Devotions 

Our highest value is our relationship with God: following Jesus in daily intimacy.
Our first priority and practice that makes it a reality is the discipline of The Word of God. Why ‘The Word’? Because it’s God’s self-revelation to us. Jesus is the Living Word, God’s full self-revelation. The Bible is God’s Spirit-inspired written Word or self-revelation – having power to transform us as we daily read, study, meditate, and memorize it.

We ‘do the Word’ in these four ways – placing ourselves under the Word’s authority – by having daily devotions or “quite time” with God. Do you have a specific time and place set apart to encounter God in prayer and The Word? To the extent we consistently engage in that time and activity the Spirit progressively transforms us. The affect of a long obedience in the same direction accumulates into fruit-full growth in Christ’s mind and character.

HOW do we have a regular “quiet time” with God? HOW do we make it meaningful? There are two major reasons why many Christians don’t have daily focused time with God: they don’t know what to do (“it’s boring!), and due to lifestyle choices (“I’m too busy”). CS Lewis says it’s laziness: we allow other people/things to determine our REAL daily priorities and practices because we are too lazy to set our own – life lives us, we don’t live life! The deeper issue, of course, is spiritual sickness, lack of hunger, loss of love for Jesus. As Pedro Arrupe SJ says: “What or who are you in love with determines everything: what gets you out of bed in the morning, what you read, how you spend your time, who you relate to… fall in love with Jesus, stay in love with Jesus, and it will determine everything in your life!”

LECTIO DIVINA

The Latin Lectio (reading) Divina (Divine) refers to a tried and tested Christian practice of encounter with God in the Word and prayer. It means “spiritual reading” or “reflective and responsive reading of the Bible”. It gives a simple framework to spend 30 minutes of daily quality time with God. Rooted in the Hebrew tradition of Torah prayer-meditation, the monks from the 4th century began to practice Lectio – some for hours a day. Monk Guido II (14th century) was the first to record the framework of Lectio Divina in the four steps of lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. I will add a few NOTES… here we go… Continue reading Following Jesus by Practicing the Word – Part Two

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Being the Beloved: The Framework

Last week I introduced our year theme for Following Jesus: Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation. We launched this theme with a week of fasting and prayer. Please feed back to our office or to me if you feel God is saying something to us – we want to hear and obey the Lord! Today I present the Big Picture, or the Overall Framework, of Being and Becoming God’s Beloved.

The Centrality and Heart of Love 

GOD is love, whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him/her” (1John 4:16). We dare not reverse it, “Love is God.” Then we make love (whatever we mean by it) god, as many do today in a popular postmodern “spirituality of love”. We love only because God first loved us (1John 4:19), enabling us to love as he loves. How so? God created us in his image in love for love. To love is godly. But our sin, our fallen nature, rejects the ultimate source of love, God. BUT God overcame sin in love. He came to save us in his Son Jesus, his enfleshed love, his sacrificial gift of Self. In Christ we receive and live in the Father’s love – which he knew so profoundly (John 17:23-26). Father confirmed Jesus’ identity as “Beloved” at his baptism, in the Spirit of Love: “You are my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). This is the center that centers us: God’s love, giving us our identity in Christ as “Beloved.” Paul says it so well: “Be imitators of God, as his beloved (born again) children: live a life of love, just as Jesus loved us” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Continue reading Being the Beloved: The Framework

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Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation

Last year was about replanting and restoring health to our church, as “Following Jesus”. This year is about laying a firm foundation for a) spiritual growth, b) healthy community, and c) service to our world. This letter is not only my preaching notes, but sets the tone for the year as we begin laying the foundation, being guided by our chosen theme…

“Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation”

It might sound weird! Being the what… ?? The word/idea of “Beloved” is significant and powerful in the Bible. It’s all about “be-loved” or “being loved”, which is difficult for most people. We have to learn how to be loved, how to receive love, and thus to love. They say, “Love makes the world go round!” Pretty close! God IS love… so, love is the center of the universe, making all things work – that is IF we receive his love and learn to love as he loves – then that’s heaven on earth! But if we don’t, we make hell on earth!

Being the (God’s) Beloved is about discovering our true selves. It’s about our identity as human becomings. The deepest source and definition of our identity is God’s love for us – not the myriads of other means of identity imposed on us, or that we choose. And it’s not the “feel-good-flowery-luuvvv” from Hollywood! It’s God’s love from eternity, enfleshed in its costly demonstration in Jesus of Nazareth. He lived and died for YOU, for ME, for our sin, our rejection of God’s love, so that we may turn and receive God’s love. In fact, Jesus was who he was, and did what he did, because he came to know how deeply God loved him as his Father – confirmed at his baptism in water when Father spoke from the heavens, “You are my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased”

That voice, that Spirit of Love, opened the heavens for Father’s love to flood and fill each one of us, so that we may learn to live in his love as Jesus did. All of life flows from that. It’s the source of healing and spiritual growth, community formation and social transformation – our focus for this year as we follow Jesus together. Why not take this journey very seriously and commit to Being (becoming) the Beloved? In effect, we will be unpacking our calling as a church, our Mission Statement: Following Jesus and making followers of him, learning to live a life of love just as Jesus loved us.

To begin this journey we are calling our church to a full week of FASTING and prayer, from 20-26 January. Here are some guidelines to help us. Continue reading Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation