Perhaps Another Not-So-Catholic Pope?

I was reading Alan Creech’s interesting blog today and read something he quoted from the newly ordained Joseph Ratzinger, now known to the world as Pope Benedict XVI. He is quoted as saying …

"All of us long for a pentecostal church: a church in which the Spirit rules, and not the letter; a church in which understanding breaks down the fences we erect against each other. We are impatient with a church which seems so unpentecostal, so unspiritual, so narrow and fearful."

If the Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church recognises our need for such a church, maybe we’re further along than I thought. Or perhaps he, like so many of us, is sharing a dream, but remains unwilling to rock the religious boat or to make a stand that could change the face of (little c) catholicity for generations to come.

Having said that, the fact that men with the influence of Pope Benedict XVI are thinking this way gives me a great deal of hope for the church’s future. It’s kind of comforting to think that in some way we are of the same heart and mind in this regard. Now if only we could get some of our Protestant leaders to start thinking this way ……..

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Life is Terribly Time Consuming

A few years ago, the Government of Ecuador embarked on a punctuality campaign. The theory was that if all citizens were on time for work, the country would save $2.5 billion annually. The nation’s only Olympic gold medalist, race walker Jefferson Prez, was enlisted to head the campaign to combat Ecuador’s chronic lateness. Even President Lucio Gutirrez, infamously unpunctual, vowed to participate. Unfortunately, his spokesman, going on TV to announce this vow, arrived at the studio several minutes late.

The campaign seemed doomed from the start.

Actor Peter O’Toole, on the other hand, is obsessed with being on time. He was once once asked why he was wearing two watches at the same time, as he often did. "Life is too short to risk wasting precious seconds glancing at the wrong wrist," he said. When we are obsessed by time clocks and watches can be dictators. Hurry destroys souls. As Carl Jung wrote: "Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil."

We hardly ever take time to wonder. And without wonder, life is merely existence.

In his book The Discovery of the Amazon, explorer John Adams told of forcing his indigenous porters to double their walking pace to reach the source of a river before the coming rains made progress impossible. One morning he found that the porters squatting outside his tent, unwilling to continue the journey that day. "We have been moving too fast," they explained. "We must now wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies."

A friend, who has just experienced the death of a loved one, wrote this week: "Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savour, not to endure." She said since the death of her friend, she was "reading more and dusting the house less." "I’m spending more time with family and friends and less at work," she said. "I’m not saving my good perfume for special parties, but wearing it for clerks in the hardware store and tellers at the bank. I’m learning to cherish the moments in my life that are not perfect. I want to see, hear and feel my life to the fullest right now. Every morning when I open my eyes, tell myself that it is special because every day, every minute, every breath truly is a gift from God."

The gifted comic George Carlin said he thought dogs lived happy lives because "you never see a dog with a wristwatch". "They don’t worry about time like the rest of us," he said. Novelist Ivan Turgenev said time "sometimes flies like a bird, sometimes crawls like a snail. But a man is happiest when he does not even notice whether it passes swiftly or slowly."

British Field Marshal Harold Alexander had a curious way of dealing with unfinished business. At the end of each working day, he would empty the contents of his "In" tray into his "Out" tray. Asked about this strange habit, Alexander said: "It saves time".

Author Klauss Isler wrote about how he found delight in "wasting time with God". He wrote of a period in his life as a seminary student when he felt he was too busy to spend much time thinking about God. Once he was temporarily blinded in one eye for three weeks and thought it a waste of time. Yet it was in that time that he he learned to lean more on God.

In his book The Freedom of Simplicity, Richard Foster told he was working at a boring job when a friend visited him one day. "He loitered about for nearly an hour, perched on the edge of the table, smoking a cigarette and talking occasionally of nothing in particular. When he had gone I was filled with a special joy because I realised that he had deliberately wasted an hour with me. It was not that we were discussing something of importance or that I needed consoling: it was a pure and unsolicited gift of time. We only deliberately waste time with those we love – it is the purest sign that we love someone if we choose to spend time idly in their presence when we could be doing something more ‘constructive’".

Everywhere is within walking distance, if we have the time. So relax today and count your blessings – one at a time and slowly.

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Embracing a Rule of Life

To most Protestants, the term "Rule of Life" would most likely be something new, or at least largely unheard of. It certainly was for me until a couple of years ago. So, if you haven’t heard the term, you’re not alone.

If I was to help my fellow Protestants understand what I’m talking about, I might illustrate that a Rule of Life is an ancient form of the modern teaching that suggests each of us needs to have a personal vision. Now, before you respond with an "Oh, now I get it" .. let me tell you that there’s a major weakness with that comparison. The difference is subtle at first glance, but it is a difference that has massive ramifications the further you "flesh it out".

In essence, a personal vision is generally a set of goals outlining what you want to achieve with your life, while a Rule of Life is essentially a structure in which spiritual formation is facilitated. And therein lies the difference. A personal vision is mainly about "doing", while a Rule of Life has its primary focus on "being".

ImageThe Latin term for "Rule" is "regula", from which we get our English word "regulation". It is also the root of the word "trellis". In other words, a Rule of Life is meant to be a framework upon which growth takes place and fruit is developed. But, as Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians having gotten free of "religion", the last thing that most of us want are rules that restrict us. Right? But stop and think about that for a minute.

For most of us in Pentecostal or Charismatic churches who have been taught all about leadership, authority and submission, we have ultimately found ourselves confusing obedience with asking for permissions. Likewise, the way we exercise authority generally does not serve life. Rather we tend to create repressive dictatorships, full of polite manipulation protected by an institution, invoking what is sacred in order to strengthen our control. How is that reality not restrictive?

The difference between what so many of us have been conditioned with in our Pentecostal or Charismatic faith traditions and the adoption of a Rule of Life is, that the Rule is not meant to tie you up and stunt your growth by loading you up with Pharisaical practices. Rather, like a young sapling tied to a stake, a Rule of Life is intended to guarantee you safe and consistent growth through the storms of the world, rather than simply creating "storms" inside the hot-house!

You might be interested to know that the Catholic church has seen the benefit of Rules of Life for almost two thousand years. Most monasteries and convents operate by one of them, such as the most commonly known Rule of St Benedict, upon which, incidentally, most of the practices of the Anglican church has been built. But there are other Rules of Life, such as for the Carmelites, the Jesuits, the Franciscans and other Catholic orders. Sadly, however, for most Protestants, the minute there’s the mention of anything Catholic, we tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I would like to think by now, that many know me well enough to not publish anything that could mislead or be in error. I only desire that what’s published here should be to your benefit. Therefore I urge you, please don’t just write this off because it may be outside your experience. Rather, as the Scripture says, "Test everything. Hold on to (only) what is good." 1 Thessalonians 5:21

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We Talk Too Much …

Jesus taught us, saying: ‘Make a tree sound and its fruit will be sound; make a tree rotten and its fruit will be rotten. For the tree can be told by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can your speech be good when you are evil? For words flow out of what fills the heart. Good people draw good things from their store of goodness; and bad people draw bad things from their store of badness. So I tell you this, that for every unfounded word people utter they will answer on Judgment Day, since it is by your words you will be justified, and by your words condemned.’          Matthew 12:33–37

During prayer this morning, these words struck home for me. In recent months, I have been busy investigating monastic wisdom, principles and values because I’ve sensed a deep call from God that there is a place for their employment in our everyday lives as non-cloistered people.

The concept of being silent as a human being is anathema to many and just plain weird to most. However, most monastics live a largely silent life for two reasons. The first is that, through quietness, they might hear the soft, still voice of God speaking to them from within their hearts, and the second is to be found in the Scripture quoted above .. in particular, the last sentence. If it is by our words we are justified and by our words we are condemned, it then makes perfect sense to live life using an economy of words and to not entrap ourselves in idle chatter, for which we will have to give an account to God.

Now, as a professional broadcaster, this may seem to force me to live a contradictory life .. and that may be so. But in recent years, I have discovered the value of silence. As a prophetic ministry, my vocation has been filled with words, but still, a lesson Paul Cain taught me some years ago rings even more true as I allow the power and value of quietness to pervade my heart and life. He said, "The more mature a prophet becomes, the more silent he becomes." What a treasure that statement is!

But I think the same ought to be said for all human beings. The more mature we become as people, the less willing we ought to be to have an opinion about everything. The more mature we become as people, the more self-disciplined we ought to be, able to mind our own business and hold our own tongues. The more mature we become as people, the more we can follow the admonition of the Apostle Paul, who said …

"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need."          1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Silence truly is golden!

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What are We to Do?

Today’s Scripture reading completely blew me away …

‘. . . everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all. Then fixing his eyes on his disciples he said: ‘How happy are you who are poor: the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry now: you shall have your fill. Blessed are you who are weeping now: you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, look!—your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets. But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have plenty to eat now: you shall go hungry. Alas for you who are laughing now: you shall mourn and weep. Alas for you when everyone speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.’        Luke 6:19–26

I was moved deeply to pray for all those Christians in our churches who have been sold a lie, that the pursuit of material prosperity is a Godly goal. If we believe Jesus’ words to be true, then what are we to do with prosperity doctrine when it flies so contrarily in the face of Christ’s own words?

How much more plain must Jesus be, that we finally get it?  "How happy are you who are poor: the kingdom of God is yours."  "But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now."

Why would you want your consolation now, when your coming reward is intended to be so great?

If we profess to follow Christ, if we profess to believe His word, and yet live lives contrary to His plain and simple language .. what are we to do?

Editor:  Be sure to read the comments on this to see it unpacked further.

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The Ancients Knew the Day We’re In

I was just praying the Evening Office from the Northumbria Community and read this Celtic expression of faith that speaks deeply to the day we find ourselves in .. particularly the final stanza. Perhaps it might become a "seasonal creed" if there were such a thing. A statement of what we believe (credo) for the "God appointed season" (kairos) in which we find ourselves.

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

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