2018 RLT #28: ‘Hallowed’

“Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2, NIV 2011).

I once preached a Lent series called ‘Living your life as a prayer’. It was a series on the Lord’s Prayer, considered not so much as a prayer, but as a guide for daily discipleship. What would it mean to ‘put legs on our prayers’, and live our lives so that we are part of the answer to our prayer?

‘Hallowed be your name’ means ‘May your holy name be honoured’. How do I live my life in such a way as to make that happen? Or, as someone once put it, how do I live in such a way that God’s reputation in the world is enhanced, and not diminished, by my life?

Once when I was going to an Alberta registries office to renew my vehicle registration, the agent called up my driving record on the computer and was shocked to discover a list of drunk driving convictions! For a few minutes we had a rather tense conversation; then she tried to call the list up again, and was unable to do it; it had all been some sort of computer glitch! But for a few minutes I experienced what it was like to have your reputation in the world diminished and your good name dragged through the mud!

What am I doing to God’s good name? How can I live today in such a way that his reputation is enhanced, and not diminished, by my behaviour? Father, hallowed be your name in our lives today. Amen.


2018 RLT#25: Spirituality for the Road

At its best, Lent can be a wonderful opportunity to grow in love for God and love for other people. but all too often, Lent doesn’t reach its best. Sadly, Lent is often a self-centred time. We can spend six and a half weeks focussing on ‘my’ prayer life, ‘my’ spirituality, ‘my’ walk with God’, even ‘my’ sins. It can be all about me and God, and the neighbour never even enters into it.

A few years ago I read an excellent book called ‘Mission-Shaped Spirituality’. I love that title! Christian disciples are called to be in mission with Jesus – “Come, follow me…and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:17 NIV). There’s a spirituality that’s appropriate to this mission-shaped life, and we need to discover it.

Today in our prayer time Marci and I read this passage:

‘Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

‘These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

‘They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.’ (Mark 6:76b-13 NIV)

Obviously there are specific details in this commission that are particular to the time and situation: Jesus wants his message to get out to as many people as possible before the great crisis of his death and resurrection. But I think there are some points of connection with our own experience as we try to grow a ‘mission’-shaped spirituality’.

Mission-shaped spirituality involves growing in faith. If we disciples are going to be obedient to our master, we will sometimes need to go places and do things without a reassuring support-structure in place. If we have learned to trust God in the little details of daily life, it will be easier for us to trust God in larger things. This is why people who live in poverty are often better at living by faith than rich people (For a thrilling story of how an ordinary person learned to live by faith, I highly recommend ‘God’s Smuggler’ by Brother Andrew).

Mission-shaped spirituality is about delivering people from the power of evil. Whatever you think about ‘impure spirits’, it’s unquestionable that the spiritual forces of wickedness are alive and well on planet Earth, and many people suffer under their whip. Millions today suffer under the cruel hand of poverty, war, prejudice and injustice. Millions also suffer because they have never heard that there is a God who loves them and has come as one of us in Jesus to love them to the end. Gospel-shaped mission includes spoken witness, healing love, and deliverance from evil.

This Lent, how am I growing in mission-shped spirituality? Are my faith-muscles being exercised so I learn to trust God more and more each day? Am I looking for opportunities to be a blessing to the people around me through spoken witness, healing love, and deliverance from evil?

Lord Jesus, help us today to follow you, so that you can send us out to fish for people. Amen.


2018 Random Lent Thought #19: Fervour

‘Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.’ (Romans 12:11 NIV).

There are many advantages to being a little ‘longer in the tooth’ as a Christian. One disadvantage, however, is that our zeal and spiritual fervour can so easily flag.

This is a well-known phenomenon, right back to the earliest days of Christianity. How those early Christians loved the Lord! Think about the drive and enthusiasm that carried the Gospel across the eastern Mediterranean world! They had no money, very little organization, no ecclesiastical infrastructure, no seminary training. They had no missionary boards or support structures for travelling evangelists like Peter and Paul. These men and women provided their own support, lived in poverty, and went through tremendous hardships to spread the message of Jesus. and they did it gladly, driven by their joy in the power of the Holy Spirit. James says ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance’ (James 1:2 NIV).

When I look at my own Christian life, I sometimes get a wistful feeling about my early days as a follower of Jesus. The experience of the Gospel was fresh in those days! I had the maverick temperament, and being a young Christian in high school in the 1970s was a fine way of being a maverick! I was a shy introvert, but I wasn’t at all shy about being a Christian! Jesus was the passion of my life, and I didn’t care what other people thought about that ‘little eccentricity’ of mine!

Nowadays people like to talk about ‘moderation in all things’, but in the New Testament I don’t detect any respect for moderation about following Jesus. Sheldon Vanauken once wrote “It is not possible to be ‘incidentally a Christian.’ The fact of Christianity must be overwhelmingly first or nothing”. Moderate Christianity will not change the world – it’s quite comfortable with the world as it is. But full-blooded Christianity has a holy discontent with the world as it is; its prayer is ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done ion earth, as it is in heaven’.

How do we keep our spiritual fervour? I know of no other way than to be turning back to Jesus in prayer every day, reading the Bible and mining it for fresh truth, not being content with going over the same ground over and over again, but looking for the next step – the new thing the Lord is teaching us, the next challenge in our journey with him. And it’s also important to be with other Christian people, sharing our faith with each other encouraging each other, re-evangelizing each other. Lumps of coal glow red with flame, but take one of them out of the fireplace and put it off by itself, and the flame soon dies. We need each other.

Today, in my Lenten observance, I want to pray from the heart these famous words from St. Richard of Chichester, the 13th century bishop:.

‘Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen’.


2018 RLT #18: Together

‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place’ (Acts 2:1).

A couple of days ago I shared my witness about how I first came to conscious faith in Christ – the day I gave my life to Jesus as a young teenager.

Our parish at the time – St. Leonard’s, Southminster, in Essex – was going through a very joyful time of charismatic renewal. People were experiencing the Holy Spirit in very vivid ways. New people were coming to faith. God seemed to be very present in people’s lives; there were stories of guidance, of healing, of answered prayers. We were learning new worship songs (many of them ‘Scripture in Song’ choruses – King James scriptures, easy, catchy, folk-style tunes – or songs by ‘The Fisherfolk’ from the Community of Celebration). It was a very joyful time to be a new Christian.

The word ‘together’ stands out very strongly for me from that time.

When I first committed my life to Christ my dad had been attending a little midweek Pentecostal prayer meeting, so I started going along with him. In this group I first encountered extemporary prayer (some of it very long!), charismatic gifts, informal Bible teaching etc. After a while our Anglican church started ‘home meetings’, as they were then called – home based groups for study and prayer – and I started going to one of them. By then I was playing guitar and it wasn’t long until I was roped in to play for the time of singing that was always part of our meetings. In those days we had no song books; the songs were short and easily memorable, or we might print off little chorus sheets (using the good old Gestetner duplicator!) to pass around.

Toward the end of my time in Southminster (we moved to Canada in December 1975) I became part of the Thursday night home meeting that met at Ken and Kath’s house. 8.00 p.m. Thursday night became a very special time for me. I would get up in the morning and go to school with a sense of excitement – ‘Tonight’s the night!’ I knew I would meet God there when God’s people were gathered ‘together in one place’.

There might have been ten or twelve of us, including one or two teenagers like me. There would be singing, there would be teaching, and there would be extended times of prayer – half an hour, forty-five minutes. Sometimes during those times of prayer someone would sense that God had given them a word to speak to someone else, and they would share it. Someone might speak in a strange language, and another would be given the interpretation of what had been said. There would be prayers for healing, perhaps with laying on of hands. And the sense of God’s presence was strong.

Ever since that time I’ve viewed these midweek groups – whether you call them prayer meetings, Bible Study groups, or whatever you want to call them – as vital and central to Christian growth. Simply put, my observation has been that those who make time to participate in groups like this grow exponentially in their faith.

And I still believe that today, even though today’s schedules make it far more challenging for people to commit to these groups. Whether they meet early in the morning, over lunch hour, afternoon, or evening or weekend, I would strongly encourage everyone who wants to grow as a Christian to find a group like this and join it. Actually, you don’t need to find one – you can start one! Do you work in a downtown office tower? Why not find out if there are other Christians in your office tower who might be interested in a lunchtime prayer and study group? There are lots of resources out there to help you; you don’t need a priest or professional minister to lead it.

What should be part of it? Well, there are no rules, but I think it’s good if the group has something for the Head, something for the Heart, and something for the Hands.

Something for the Head: a time of study, probably Bible study. This can be the simple reading of a Bible passage and the discussion of a few questions to help people understand it. Resources for this sort of thing are easily available (I would highly recommend the ‘Serendipity Bible’ which has study questions in the margin for every single passage in the Bible – it’s out of print, but used copies are easy to find online).

Something for the Heart: the relational component. We express joy in our relationship with God through prayer and praise. We express love to one another as we pray for each other, listen to each other’s stories, and bear each other’s burdens.

Something for the Hands: our lives need to be changed because of our meeting together. The point is to grow as followers of Jesus, finding new ways of loving God and loving our neighbour in action. So it’s good to ask each other ‘What am I going to do differently this week as a result of our meeting?’ – and then to pray for each other as we go out and put it into practice.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them’ (Acts 2:1-4 NIV).


2018 RLT #17: Lent in Community

A few years ago I read an interesting statement on a friend’s blog. I’m quoting from memory, but I think what she said was that in times past (i.e. several hundred years ago) our modern church question “What are you giving up for Lent?” would have been meaningless. Lenten disciplines were set by the church and followed by all its members. For instance, no meat was to be eaten during Lent (this was actually a bigger sacrifice for the rich, since the poor could only afford to eat meat once a week anyway!). Everyone was making the same sacrifices and observing the same disciplines, and so they could support and encourage one another.

Nowadays we live in a much more individualistic age; everyone has heard Polonius’ advice (from ‘Hamlet’): ‘This one thing more – to thine own self be true’. And in many ways I rejoice in the freedom this gives me. I can think through the sort of Lenten practice thats meaningful for me, and leave you to do the same for yourself.

Except that we do miss some of the communal aspects of it. Have you ever noticed how many times the phrase ‘one another’ appears in the letters in the New Testament? ‘Love one another’, “encourage one another’, ‘bear with one another’, ‘be kind to one another’, ‘teach and admonish one another’. Individualistic Christianity would have been nonsense to the believers in New Testament times. Discipleship was something they did together.

In our church this Lent a number of people have signed on to read through the Gospel of Mark on a daily schedule (in fact it’s taking us half way through the Easter season as well – we’re using quite short daily readings). A smaller number have also joined a Google group where we can share our ideas and questions. I think people get a sense of support and community from the idea that others are reading and reflecting on the same verses as them, on the same day.

I don’t want to go back to the days when the church commanded Lenten observances and everyone had to follow them. But I wonder if we could encourage church members to covenant together to follow certain Lenten disciplines and practices in common? Those practices would not need to be many, or particularly onerous, but I believe we would get a deepened sense of fellowship in our Lord through sharing in them together.

And of course, we would also make ourselves accountable to one another. Accountability is another ‘no-no’ in this world of ‘Octopus’ Garden’ spirituality (‘We would be so happy, you and me, with no one there to tell us what to do!’). But I have a nasty suspicion that without some sort of accountability, discipleship becomes much harder. When St. Paul encouraged his first readers to ‘encourage one another’ and ‘admonish one another’, I don’t think he was expecting that the recipients of that admonition would reply with an angry ‘Mind you own business!’ I think he expected them to receive it in the spirit it was offered – a spirit of love and concern – and to be thankful for the opportunity to make progress together in the Way of Jesus.

What do you think?


2018 Random Lent Thought #16: Testimony

The Canadian Book of Common Prayer gives guidance for people who want to ‘frame for themselves a rule of life’ (see p.555). One of the things it asks us to consider is the boldness of our spoken witness to our faith. So ‘witness’ is a part of our Rule of Life and ought to be a part of our Lenten considerations too.

Today I will give my witness.

I was born in a churchgoing family; Mum and Dad took me to church every week, prayed with me at bedtime, gave me Bible story books and did what they could to grow faith in me. Later on, when he was in his thirties, Dad was ordained as an Anglican priest, so the ‘church’ element in my life got stronger.

I don’t regret any of that. I especially appreciate the musical heritage it gave me; I was a choir boy for part of that time and even today there are hundreds of hymns and anthems I know and enjoy. I never rebelled against church – and yet, at the same time I have to admit that God was not yet personal to me. I didn’t ‘know’ God or conceive that a personal connection to God was possible. Religion to me was institutional, and it was not central to my life; other things were more important to me.

As a young teenager I got confirmed (as you did), and although I don’t recall much about the confirmation classes, I do recall becoming friends with an older girl in the group who had a living Christian faith. This was clear to me: she was experiencing her faith in a way I was not. That intrigued me.

Dad also began to lend me religious books. He knew I was a reader and undoubtedly wanted to steer me in the right direction. Unfortunately I didn’t tend to read the books he lent me – just a few pages, and then I’d hand them back.

After confirmation our class (it was a big one – about twenty people I think) decided to stay together as a youth group. We met on Sunday nights for some discussion and study (I think – I have little recollection of the content of the meetings). But as was the way of such classes, it quickly began to drop off, and after a year it was a much smaller group.

About this time, Dad lent me Dennis J. Bennett’s book ‘Nine O’clock in the Morning’. Dennis was the first Episcopal priest in the U.S.A. to come out and share his story of a Pentecostal ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ experience. ‘Nine O’Clock in the Morning’ was the first Christian book I read all the way through – in fact, I read it in one sitting, from start to finish. I found it riveting. Here was a story of a man who experienced a real God doing real things in the real lives of real people. People could feel the power of the Holy Spirit flooding them. People could be healed of real physical illnesses. People could speak in unknown languages of praise to God without learning them. People could receive God’s guidance in direct ways. It was a million miles away from my rather predictable and mundane experience of the Church of England.

When I finished ‘Nine O’clock in the Morning’ I was on a quest. In the words of one on the characters in the book, ‘Whatever it was that these people had, I wanted it’. But I didn’t know what the next step would be for me.

On the evening of March 5th 1972 – a Sunday – our youth group met in Dad’s study. It was a very small group: me, Dad, and the older girl with a real living faith. I have no memory of the subject of the evening’s discussion, but at some point Dad turned to me and said, “You’ve never given your life to Jesus, have you?” When I think back on that question I wonder why I wasn’t embarrassed by it. The only answer I can come up with was that Dad had given me the answer to my question ‘What’s the next step?’

After the meeting was over I went up to my room, sat down on my bed, and prayed a simple prayer ‘giving my life to Jesus’. It was very undramatic; I had no vision of God, didn’t ‘speak in tongues’ or anything like that. It was very prosaic and mundane, in fact! But something real happened that night, because from the next day onward, the pursuit of a life with God had somehow become the central reality of my life.

I told Dad what I had done and of course he was pleased. He did two things to help me. First, he said ‘Tell someone else about it right away’ – which I did – and so got into the habit of being a witness before I knew enough to be embarrassed about it. Second, he lent me the booklet ‘Seven Minutes with God’ to help me get started on a daily Bible reading and prayer time – a habit I continue to this day.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this experience set the course for the rest of my life. I would not be the person I am today, the Christian I am today, the priest I am today, if I had not given my life to Jesus in response to Dad’s challenge. That was the day when Jesus first captured my heart. Since then, I’ve been trying to work out the implications of faith in him for every aspect of my life.

March 5th 1972 is forty-six years ago today. Today I thank God for this experience of conversion, which changed my life, and I thank God for my Dad who was willing to give me the challenge that led to it.

This is my witness.


2018 Random Lent Thought #15: Loyalty to Jesus Comes First

There’s a group of people at St. Margaret’s reading through the Gospel of Mark right now, and some of us are sharing responses on a Google Group forum.
Yesterday we read Mark 3:31-35. Here it is as translated by Eugene Peterson in ‘The Message’, which is nicely vivid !
‘Just then (Jesus’) mother and brothers showed up. Standing outside, they relayed a message that they wanted a word with him. He was surrounded by the crowd when he was given the message, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside looking for you.”
‘Jesus responded, “Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, “Right here, right in front of you—my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Tom Wright in his little commentary points out that we don’t hear this passage as shockingly as the first hearers would have. The family bond was paramount in Jesus’ day and most families lived close to each other, worked together as business units, and would have been in close contact all their lives. Nowadays we think nothing of moving thousands of miles away from family for work or school, where we form friendships which are often closer than family ties.
It occurred to me that if Jesus wanted to shock people today, he would have challenged us to put loyalty to the community of his disciples above loyalty to our nation. Nowadays (especially in the U.S.A.) it seems patriotism and nationalism is an idolatry second only to materialism. What if Jesus were to come to us and say “Who is my countryman or countrywoman? Whatever their skin colour, ethnic origin, place of birth etc., whoever does the will of God is my countryman or countrywoman”.
Today many Christians do not accept this; they put loyalty to nation or tribe ahead of loyalty to Jesus and his multi-national community. I think of the Rwandan genocide, in a country in which 95% of the population claimed to be Christians, but as someone said ‘the blood of tribalism was far thicker than the water of baptism’. As the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder put it, the greatest offence to Christian unity today is not so much that different denominations won’t take communion together, but that Christians from different countries think it is okay to put on the uniform of their country and kill their fellow Christian because their government says he/she is their enemy.
So maybe for a Lent exercise today we could spend some time in prayer for our Christian sisters and brothers in Russia – in China – in the occupied territories of Palestine – in Iran and Iraq. Maybe we could think about how we are all joined together by our loyalty to Jesus, God’s anointed king. What would it mean for us to put that loyalty ahead of nationalism and patriotism?