Monday, December 17, 2012

Zombies

I've been pondering zombies. Why in the heck are people so fascinated by zombies? This is a question that actually has ancestors. Why were trekkies fascinated with the BORG? Or an even older question. Why is there a market for horror in entertainment at all?
Two thoughts come to mind. The first raises yet another question that the second attempts to answer. So firstly, it's worth mentioning that all of our various horrors are more or less absurd. And we know they are. Zombies. Think of it. An army of mindless brain eaters. Where's the precedence for that? It's as laughable as the Addams Family. Looks to me like we're trivializing and then debunking our fears as a way of hiding from ourselves the source of our real fears. Question: What is the source of our real fears?
You're not going to like this: I think it's God. Do you remember that feeling that comes when your parents have assigned you a list of jobs to do on their weekend away and you've done half of one of them and now they're coming home in half an hour? That's a legitimate fear. Now multiply that by about a jillion and we've got a serious reason to mask that fear with stupid zombies.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Optics: Timothy and Church Structure

For many hundreds of years now, Paul's writings to Timothy have been understood to provide for us a template for the structure of church polity and leadership. Overseers, (variously Elders or Bishops) and Deacons are described in some detail, as to their character and reputation and from that we would understandably tend to derive that all churches must have those offices in some form or other. But there is one facet of the text that might modify that somewhat. I alluded to it when I mentioned reputation.
You see, I believe that one of Paul's primary motivations is that the message of the Gospel would not fall into disrepute. And therefore the optics of how the church conducts itself are very important. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, because of his calling as an apostle (read: missionary!) he has an abiding desire that the church should grow. Secondly, the first century church was already being maligned by people who didn't understand their message, (for example, the communion service was thought by some to be cannibalistic) and from that misunderstanding persecution was mounting against us. There is obviously no need to make that situation worse.
So, although reputation (optics) is alluded to only twice, (that I saw) I believe it to be an underlying motivation or theme of much of what he says to Timothy, especially because one of the prominent references is an instruction to slaves. Now from our position in history, it might look as if Paul is endorsing slavery. But what we are really seeing is something very subversive. He's actually treating slaves as people, equals, who are enjoined, for the sake of the Gospel, to continue in their labours, almost as undercover agents, to allow the message to spread --the culture around is not ready for them to seize their freedom. I believe the same underlying concern for optics is at the root of the rather troubling instructions Paul gives about women: this is what the culture around will understand; this is the cost of change that the cultural market will bear.
Fast forward to today. If we used that message to slaves to keep on practising slavery, our reputation in the world would be terrible. Similarly churches that literalistically suppress their women likewise suffer censure from a culture that has evolved (and not by chance either --much of that evolution has come from the Church itself!) past first century values.
Taking it even further, based on the same legitimate desire for good optics, I would argue that even the church structure promoted by the writings to Timothy, comes into question in the present day. In my last post, oh Theophilus (I couldn't resist that!) I complained of the idea of trying to be 'biblical' and adhering to the Societies Act only as window dressing. What I argue here is that it seriously looks to me as if for the sake of good optics, so that the Gospel can continue to spread, we should govern ourselves in a way that is understandable by the culture around us, and not cling to a structure that is rooted in the past. And I think Paul would back me up.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Dangerous Church

I've said before in my musings that much of what we do is based on a story. Try this example. In the early to mid eighties I believe there were stories circulating of church boards and governmental structures "quenching the Spirit" as pastors would experience renewal and want to bring new life to their congregations. These power groups in their church would use all their clout to bear on the pastor to control him and stop him from saying what they didn't want to hear and stop him from leading the church in a direction they didn't want to go. Many of these stories felt very "good versus evil." Will the noble pastor prevail or will the evil board quench the Holy Spirit and stop the pastor from releasing the captive congregation from the spirit of religion? Will God be allowed to continue to transform the whole congregation or will the noble pastor be forced to lead forth the remnant to find some other promised land? Very exciting. And for the most part back in the day, through the perspective of the time, quite true.

And as we looked back to our "apostate" (yes, I'm stretching it a little) churches we thought how horrible to force our leaders to kowtow to such unbiblical structures as boards. The apostle Paul and those he appointed to rule the various churches didn't need boards. Why would we? But wait. What about the cherished tax credits we receive when giving to church? Oh I guess we'll have to still comply with the letter of the Societies Act. Guess we'll have to have a sort of board for that. There. That's done. Now we can be truly free and biblical. And in the flush of a new movement of churches, it seemed to work. With many more people always coming, the people who left weren't really missed.

But, as I've said before, taking the first century solutions to building church in a patriarchal, hierarchical society -- a society which perfectly accepted the idea of the Philippian jailer choosing Christ on behalf of his whole household -- and bolting them onto the twentieth and twenty-first century is not biblical. It's just dumb. We are not the same people. We have not the same worldview. And the safeguards we've evolved to govern societies are there because of values that are actually important to us. And they are there to actually to keep people safe. (Who knew?) I alluded to people that have left this kind of charismatic church. Why did they leave? Well I don't think they felt safe. Ultimately the attraction to be in the centre of the whirlwind of the Spirit (especially after it died down somewhat) wasn't enough to overcome the sickening awareness that they would never really have a voice in this community, built, as it was, on our perception of first century values.

So there's got to be some sort of road back. And I don't really know what it is. I read a helpful book recently; not dynamic, but helpful (A Guide to Governing Charities by Ted Hull.) Maybe we can embrace change. Maybe we can tell a new story...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What's Your Wish?

I like Netflix. You can peruse old episodes of bygone TV shows and see stuff that maybe you missed when it was current. I ran across a really goofy over-the-top X-Files episode that made me laugh. There was this Genie you see and yes, everyone that unrolled her rug got three wishes. But those wishes always backfired. Of course they obviously backfired for the trailer park boys who first found her. This pair of caricatured idiots eventually blew up their trailer and died from the unintentional side effects of their wishes.

But in the course of the show even Special Agent Mulder becomes the recipient of the three wishes. Talk about someone trying to beat the system! He figures that if only he asks for something altruistically, that he will escape the backfire effect. So he wishes for peace on earth. Instantly there is no one but him and the Genie on the planet. So that was a waste of two wishes, because he had to use up his second wish to undo the first.  The Genie asked him what he expected. Did he think that she was going to change the hearts of everyone? No. She amorally chose the most expedient way of achieving what was asked.

Couldn't help wondering if you could formulate a wish for world peace that would work. Something like, "I wish for a new tendency in governments and cultures to choose peaceful, non-violent solutions to problems, perpetrated by small groups whose influence would slowly spread and permeate their nations..." and then, "Hold on. Isn't there an all-powerful person who is already in the business of doing this very thing?" Yup. and he's no fantasy. So Lord, I do pray all that... because you're doing this already... Amen

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

There's Love and Then, There's Love...

Popular worship song lyric:

"...In death and in life I'm confident and covered by the power of your great love. My debt is paid there's nothing that can separate my heart from your great love ..."


Pretty nice, yes? But something bothered me about it and I looked up the context. The love that is presented there, is not a feeling you sense with your heart. It's God acting on our behalf -- "working all things together, " justifying, interceding -- in the face of persecution and perhaps, not to stretch it too far, adversity.

Much could be said about a paradigm shift that has happened over time from decision/action based virtues to feelings, but if that discussion starts, here's a case in point.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Halloween is our day...

Attention all Christian paranoids and neo-druids. All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day are Christian holidays. Christians do not have to initiate imitation Halloween celebrations, calling them "harvest festivals" as if the word Halloween was tainted. And Wiccans and the like have no business reclaiming the "true" heritage of the ancient Celts and calling it their day.

So for a moment, set aside the undeniable fact that as Creator, all days (and nights!) really belong to our Father and no one else. This one's all about story. Those who think of Halloween as a devilish holiday think of the Church co-opting pagan holidays in some ineffective and paltry manner to try and woo primitive and medieval societies away from their true heritage. How silly to take the great festival of Samhain and call it All Saints Day. At least that seems be the way it's been told.

Let's try a different story. The Celts had the druids, the real druids. The genuine article. And guess what. When the light of Jesus shone in their culture, they turned to him and rejected them. Their nature-religion-based worldview was uniquely transformed into one of the most beautiful expressions of the Faith ever known. No one who is exposed to even a small part of what they bring can deny the powerful genuineness of their whole culture conversion. And they had the total right to re-purpose whatever holidays they wished. Done deal.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Oversimplification

There's a trend in today's theologizing that is starting to bother me a bit. We're  looking at God and the only lens we may use is his love. If something especially some traditionally held belief doesn't fit with our idea of love, we start to question it and start to downplay it because now we are uncertain of it. And this isn't necessarily a bad process. If we don't reevaluate our beliefs with some level of frequency, the tendency is to become dyed-in-the-wool dogmatics whose only anchor in faith is their unreasoning inflexibility.

But there's this niggling difficulty I have with the "only love" (and I have to include "only our understanding of love") view of God that we have. It's actually not what God says about himself. Moses asked God to show his glory and God's response was to proclaim his name. And what is the name of God?

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

Do you see what I see? This is not a "love only" God. In his very name he reminds us that he justly punishes the guilty. Is this a horrible thing? No. The mercy he extends to us is not mercy at all if our actions, nay our whole lives don't really deserve punishment. I think that these two facets of God's nature feed into each other beautifully. In fact the one makes sense in the context of the other. Yes, this is God speaking to Moses in the context of the Old Testament and yes, the fuller revelation comes in the person of Jesus. But this is still in my books, red letter text -- God talking about himself. And we ignore it at great risk. God is loving. God is just. In the past, the church could be accused of oversimplifying on the just side. But don't let's commit the opposite error.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Not a Democracy

Have you ever heard someone declare in the context of church governance, "The kingdom of God is not a democracy!" I thought I would unpack that one a bit.

First of all, motive. The situation which typically brings up this say is one in which some people object to a decision by leaders in their church and some others, maybe the leaders themselves, want them to shut up, knuckle down, and toe the line (love that string of idiomatic metaphor phrases.) So what's really meant by "the kingdom of God is not a democracy" really means is "somebody else, somebody merely earthly, that is, is your boss, so deal with it." Motivation seems to point to coercion.

Secondly, how it is true. Because obviously it is true. We have one king, Jesus, who, if you follow Nebuchadnezzar's dream in the book of Daniel, has a kingdom that 1) was not given to him by any man, 2) is an everlasting kingdom (I suspect that is because he's never going to die again) and 3) beats the best, most glorious, and strongest kingdoms man can produce. So yes, it's not a democracy. It's a monarchy with an utterly deserving king as its head.

Thirdly, what's being left out. Our monarchy, the kingdom of God has a feature that is different from every single earthly kingdom ever. That is the ability, nay, the pleasurable obligation of all of the subjects of the kingdom to engage in frequent bi-directional communication with the king himself. It's almost as if people can sometimes experience the kingdom as if it was populated by just two, the king and you. So you can and ought to be ruled by the king here and now, with no go-betweens.

Fourthly,  the inherent error. When people say a thing like "The kingdom of God is not a democracy!" (and you really must include the exclamation mark) what they are envisioning loosely as alternative to democracy is something akin to feudal rule. In a feudal system, the dukes hold their rule as a gift of the king, the earls' holdings are assigned them by the dukes, and the lords and baronets receive their right to own land and rule from the earls. Or something like that. At the bottom of the ladder are serfs. They have no rights. All they receive are orders from the lords above them. For those who wag their finger in your face and decry democracy in the church, you are the serf. Shut up and obey (for there's no other way?) But hold on a minute, whose subjects are we? Not theirs. We have (as I said before) one king, Jesus. So then if everyone can and ought to hear from our Lord, then we have something very much akin to democracy after all. Except that ideally it is not the will of the people being expressed, but rather His will expressed through all his people. That's probably what he meant when he told leaders not to lord it over their people. 

Finally, if they really meant it. If the feudal, hierarchical view of the church implicit in the way this is said, was really the last word in church government, that means that nobody should ever disagree, or should ever have disagreed to the point of parting ways, with any leader in the church. This means that Martin Luther was wrong, Ulrich Zwingli was wrong, John Calvin was wrong and Menno Simons was really wrong. After all, they all disagreed sharply and finally with the Roman Catholic system and their feudal lords, the bishops, the cardinals and the Pope and instead went what they understood to be God's way -- we will obey God rather than men -- away from their rule. But if they are really as wrong as this phrase implies, then those who are against democracy in the church should ultimately undo that wrong and accept spiritual serfdom in a kingdom exactly like one they envision. Needless to say, few ever will.

I like our brother Paul's phrase, "What shall we say, then?" In this case I would say, "Listen to the King." He will not lead us into useless dissension. He will not lead us into quarrels. He will lead us into servanthood. But he will not lead us into servitude. And he will not lead us into prostrating ourselves before our brothers and sisters as if they were more representative of the King than we are ourselves. The kingdom of God is not a democracy, but when his people gather, I believe there should be an element of democracy there, or we are not honouring his relationship with each of our fellow subjects.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

More on Prayer

(INSERTION) I'm somewhat ashamed of this post. I obviously wasn't thinking that clearly. I stand by some of it, but some of it has to be addressed (END INSERTION)

This week I was forwarded an announcement of a prayer conference/seminar that's happening in my area. Now besides the tone of the brochure itself, which was as sad an example of Christian grandstanding and namedropping as I've ever seen (here's the brochure, have a look at the blurb about the speaker. See if you agree with me. It seems to be all about who she's associated with and what "Apostolic" councils she's on) , it's the focus of the whole thing makes me wonder.

The focus of the conference is 'Strategic Prayer.'  Alright, I'm going to have to be careful what I say. I just recently posted a "howto" on praying for healing and some of it has an if not strategic, then at least a tactical element to it. Why would strategic prayer be any different. Well it's just this. Prayer is something we do with our friend, our Father. The strategy would seem to be on his end, not ours. Strategic prayer gives me the impression of an exercise in which we try to get around him by making darn sure we only ask for the right stuff at the right time with the right words... Well if you can't take it further on to "... with the right circles and diagrams traced on the floor at the zenith of the waning crescent moon..." I know I can. It looks to me like Christian magic.

(COMMENT)
I'm actually all wrong in my impression. I'm making a semantic error here. My impression is actually about tactics, not strategy. Yes, there is an element of Christian magic (you might say wacky tactics) in some of our prayers that I would like address. But strategy is an overarching direction, a focus, that could legitimately be communicated by a prayer leader in the context of a meeting. Heck, I do it all the time.

So on sober second thought, I'll have to do some research on the strategy that will be apparently be presented at this conference, the "seven mountains." I've heard of it off and on for a few years now, and what I heard did not impress me much, but I'll have a look.
 (END COMMENT)

Praying is where encounter God and he lets us in on what he's doing and we add our prayer to action, not that he needs our help, but he graciously lets us get involved. "Daddy, can I try?" It's not primarily  about strategy, but rather intimacy.

(COMMENT)

What I'm doing here is actually promoting one strategy over another. The strategy of listening first appeals to me a whole lot more than taking on the seven mountains.
{END COMMENT)

But, you might say, if you're into the strategic prayer thing, "what about binding demons over my home town?" or "What about conquering the seven mountains?' to which I can only answer, if God has led you  into praying that way, go ahead. But if you're going to teach prayer, try to stay within models found in scripture, especially the one given by Jesus. "When you pray, pray like this..."


 (COMMENT)
Still fuzzy about tactics and strategy here. Binding demons is a tactic; conquering the the seven mountains is a strategy. I still think that both tactics and strategy should arise from the life, practise and teaching of Jesus primarily and everything else is open to question.
(END COMMENT)

I'm sure I don't have the whole picture. But after reading that brochure, I'll pass for now.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stuff to Remember

Last night I was part of a conversation that included a side reference to observing remembrance day in church (since it actually falls on a Sunday.) Last two years we've reeled off names of Canadian soldiers who died that year for us to remember. I think there are possibly a number of other things to remember as well. Here's my list. I should mention that this has been heavily influenced by a coworker's impressions of a history of World War II -- a book that demonstrates conclusively to his mind, and I think that he's got a pretty good one, that there were no good guys in that war. So, the list.

People first.
Several categories of victims come to mind.
Let's start with those whom the military arrogantly call collateral damage. Innocent bystanders who die because of war. Simple. Remember them.
Then let's remember the homeless and orphans through war, and their suffering. Finally let's remember the children of the future who will simply have less through the wanton wastage of resources by the armies of the world.

Along with victims, I'd like to remember the courageous and faith-filled ones who refuse to bow to the god of war. They, just like the young Hebrew men in Daniel, believe that God is able to save his people without resorting to carnal force, and resolve that even if He doesn't, they will not sacrifice their consciences to their countries or the forces of culture around them. Some of these have suffered horribly for their righteous stand throughout the centuries. Read this.

Other stuff.
Try the law of unintended consequences for example.
The fact is that war seldom accomplishes what it sets out to do. Every treaty contains the seeds of the next conflict. Every military ally has the possibility of becoming an enemy next. The evil Taliban of the present and the gallant, freedom fighting Mujahadeen of the past are, as I understand it, the same people. World War II, the popular no. 1 example of a just war, was a weird trade off where we took out Hitler by enabling Stalin.

Remember the adage that says that the first casualty of war is the truth. The implication is that people who believe the government's story about the state of the world and therefore enlist are perhaps not firstly heroes but dupes. Let us hope not. I have friends who have had military careers and they're not. But whole nations have been duped. No doubt about that.

Remember that today's generals march not into the front with their men. Soldiers who enlist as men are reduced to being someone else's pawns. Ugly but true.

Finally my choice for a remembrance day hymn.
The coda from Bruce Cockburn's It's Goin' Down Slow suits my mood for this Remembrance Day.

God, damn the hands of glory
That hold the bloody firebrand high
Close the book and end the story
Of how so many men have died
Let the world retain in memory
That mighty tongues tell mighty lies
And if mankind must have an enemy
Let it be his warlike pride
Let it be his warlike pride

Monday, September 10, 2012

Defense in Depth

I took a course on computer security last May. Lots of review. Some new concepts. Some stuff repackaged under a new name. Language is fascinating that way. If you have some idea you want people to remember, an alliterative phrase is a means to that end. A very prominent example from this course was "Defense in Depth." Isn't that catchy? It's a simple, and ideally speaking, pervasive, way of looking at computer security. It means you don't depend on only one way to keep your computers secure. Anti-virus software protects against one kind of attack. Firewalls protect against other kinds of attacks. Good passwords protect against other kinds of attack. Building security protects against yet another attack vector. Defense in Depth means you do your level best in each area. (Do All the Things)

I thought of it the other day when I was praying with a friend of mine. He was seeing a negative pattern developing in his life and at some level he wasn't just needing to help himself (i.e. to simply stop it) -- he also needed help, and in fact he was planning to go to counselling about the problem. But as it turned out, another dimension of help was also needed. As we prayed we discerned that there was a demon involved. We invited Jesus to deal with the demon and He did. Gone. Freedom. Hurrah! But my friend still planned to go to counselling, and furthermore we talked through some thought-based strategies to avoid the negative pattern in the future. Defense in Depth.

It came up again at a prayer meeting last Saturday. The raison d'etre of the meeting is essentially to pray for revival in our church. but typically at the end people bring up personal needs as time allows. Someone had a back problem and when we prayed, and, I might add, for only a short time, the pain went away. (When healings are that easy, it says to me that God is on the move.) But that wasn't the end of it. One of the group praying brought forth some counsel for our friend in the area of nutrition. Defense in Depth.

Point is, there's no one magic bullet. Jesus heals a man, and tells him to stop sinning to keep from further injury. He also talks about demons being driven out but coming back later to see if there is anything hindering a re-occupation. Life is a complex thing. Build on a good foundation in every respect. Defense in Depth.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Atheism Is Only a Symptom

There's a story I read as a child that still fascinates me. A town in China was expecting to "receive" a new allotment of "foreign devils," missionaries that is, and some discussion arises as to where they would be housed. "Why not put them in the house at the end of such and such a street. It's  haunted by demons-- they won't stay here long." "Good idea." So the western (American, British, Canadian, I don't know) family arrives and they are oblivious to the demonic realities around them. Realities that everyone in the town can see, know how to see, have known how from birth. The missionary family blithely moves into the haunted house and the towns people wait to see the demons attack. What they see instead is the demons fleeing through the windows, fleeing from these blind westerners, who for all their unawareness, carry the presence of Someone the demons fear. Some in town convert to Christianity on the basis of this obvious demonstration of power, and they tell the missionaries, only to be surprised that the missionaries never even knew what had happened.

I chatted about this story with someone who was recently as missionary in an Asian country, who said it's still this way. Haunted houses are cheaper to rent, and you sometimes have to pray through them to clear away the spiritual cobwebs.

Here's the deal. What I've just related has no place in the materialistically oriented minds of my generation. We don't see, don't sense, don't believe in ghosts, demons or anything. Whatever unseen organ in us that senses, intuitively understands, grasps, gets whatever is spiritual around us has, through that materialistic worldview, atrophied to the point of amputation, such that for us to actually experience God or anything else spiritual, is oh so close to impossible. And the ironic thing is that although we are a blind minority in the world, we think of ourselves as having grown up past all the superstitious "idiots" who actually still can sense what we can't. And we think we are the advanced ones.

I mentioned in an earlier post about materialism and Christianity. Materialistic Christianity is a ludicrous thing. On one hand, you have a world, real because that's all we will allow in our minds, of nothing but what you can see, or test for empirically. But, oh oh, we still believe in God, so we will tack on to our lonely universe the idea of a Creator. (I'm not even going to explore what our impoverished worldview has done to the story of redemption. That would make a study!) We read the Bible and ignore the stuff that makes us nervous. Call them fables. Or, if our tradition won't let us call them fables, let's dichotomize. At all costs, let us avoid being confronted with our foolish notion of a materialistic-only world. Let's teach that all of those miracles were for a different time. God's not doing that kind of thing anymore...

And this is the kind of Christianity many of my friends grew up in. No wonder some have turned to atheism. At least two I know, have, after a period of asking God to make himself known to them, so that they could really believe, given up completely and concluded he's not even there. But it's like trying to use a radio that has only a transmit and not a receive channel. The ingrained materialism has made it impossible to hear God's answer. Furthermore when they are around people who really do communicate with God, they are to inclined ignore them as foolish and superstitious. Human nature is not naturally humble. Instead of regretting one's own blindness, it's easy to switch over to superiority-- "We've outgrown superstition..." As C.S.Lewis put it, we've "seen through what [we] haven't even seen."

 Where does this leave us? Well as far as I know the only thing that changes worldview is experience. Let us continue to pray for miraculous signs and wonders, just like the first church in Acts did, so that the blinders are shaken off and even our materialistic generation can be saved.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Healing, Ornery Style

I like praying for healing. Especially when it works. Thursday I got to pray for a co-worker who has some kind of chronic pain. She checked back with me about an hour later and it was about fifty percent less. Another co-worker (I do work in a faith-based agency after all) commented that my prayers were "more effective" than hers, because she hadn't seen the same results praying for healing for the same situation. (Co-worker number 2 wasn't really being fair to herself, actually. The two of them pray together regularly and that is a greatly sustaining force in both their lives.) But what she said about effectiveness made me think. Could it be that in my crazy ongoing attempts to see God's kingdom come through healing, I have stumbled upon something that works, something that could work even better if put into the hands of that multitude who are holier and closer to God than I ever could be? Well if so, the attempt to transmit it should be made. So here goes. This my take-it-or-leave-it subjective and ornery guide to praying for physical healing.

 1) Be aware of the Holy Spirit moving through you. How you do this is your business. Just thinking about the Spirit sometimes is enough, A spoken invitation might be your thing. I think it just as valid to invite the Spirit as to make yourself specially aware that he's always with you. Really there's not much functional difference. Ultimately the goal is to be a conduit for his power to flow through. Yes, you're going to have to feel something. I get a sort of tingly feeling. Some people feel heat. (Did I mention this is subjective?)
2) With the permission of the one being prayed for, lay your hand on or near the part of the body with the problem.
3) Tell the body part to get better, tell the pain to go away, something like that. Believe that God has actually given you the authority to heal. That means it's your job to call it. Use the imperative mood -- tell the thing to happen. Keep it simple, though. As soon as you start discussing medical conditions with God, you are praying for healing in a way that Jesus never did. And try not to experiment with catchphrases that you've heard. "Come into alignment", and "I plead the blood." are near useless as far as I'm concerned.
4) Wait. Relax your hand. Expect, feel God's power flowing through your hand. This is something I've picked up recently. I used to imagine that I was a wizard or a Lord (see the 1st Thomas Covenant Trilogy) directing fire from my hand at something and burning it up. This is pretty well the opposite operation to ministering God's power. Funny thing about the wizard thing is that my hand tenses up and it seems to choke off the flow of God's power. On the occasion I mentioned, when I relaxed, I actually felt the tingling move down my arm and it seemed to enter the body of my co-worker.
5) You can't pray forever. (It's just not feasible) so if you have no, or incomplete results, you have to conclude with something. I usually ask God to remain in the location where the problem is and complete the healing.


Lots more could be said.  But this is stuff that (I think) I've learned.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Don't worry about the big E.

The idea that evolution might be proved strikes fear in many Christians' hearts. But not so. If evolution were conclusively demonstrated, the only thing that would really change is that we might have to take the Genesis account less literally. So what. Assuming that it's completely proved, what would we have? A phenomenon of gradually improving life over billions of years. That's all it would be. A phenomenon. A feature of our mysterious universe that can tell us nothing about how it came to exist. A feature void of interpretation. The interpretation is still up to you.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Worldview with a Hole

Houston, we have a problem.

Back in the early days of the 'third wave' charismatic renewal (OK, to be more precise, the Vineyard) there was a new paradigm, a new worldview that asserted itself to correct what we of the western materialist bent had believed all our lives. Materialism says there is nothing, and no cause but that which is material, physical, empirical. It's the prevalent view in many countries and we Christians have largely unthinkingly accepted it and tacked on our idea of God on to it. It was this worldview that gave us a basically non-miraculous, functionally deistic lifestyle. After all, the thinking goes, why would God want dirty his hands messing about with the material world he created to run a certain way. The paradigm shift we experienced back in the day, taught us that this materialism plus God wordview had a major component missing. That component is what is generally referred to as the 'Spiritual Realm.' It contains the whole gamut of angels, demons and of course God in the person of the Holy Spirit, and once you include it in your worldview you can allow for and experience miracles like never before, because you can start to grasp the idea of  multitudinous forces exerting pressure on the physical, empirical reality -- forces you don't understand, that naturally need prayer and the constant interaction from our Father who reigns in that realm as in all realms.

So what's the problem? Well it looks to me that materialism has largely reasserted itself, and we have ceased to be aware of the spiritual in our day to day lives. Now I grant you this has not happened in a vacuum. We have been in reaction. We don't like to be people who see "a demon behind every bush." We have found that people really do have chemical imbalances in their brains, which may or may not be demonically influenced. The medical profession has made great strides even in our life time to solve problems that in the past would have needed a major miracle. I think we also find physical factors and causes less scary and every time we have been able to attribute something to the physical there's been a false sense of comfort. But above all, there has been a dearth of the gift of discernment in the church by which all spiritual entities are perceived. Have we marginalized discerners? Have we in our reaction, made it unattractive to discern spirits, angels, demons? Maybe. But it looks like we are flying blind. The spiritual realm hasn't gone anywhere, for all our eyes are shut. It's time to pray for the gift of discernment. It scares the heck out of me, but I think it's something we need. Again.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Polish - A personal red flag

Ever think that something is just too good to be true? I seem to be plagued with this thought all the time. Especially in the Christian realm. When something, anything, worship music, teaching, website, is produced with too much polish, I have a hard time believing it. Some months ago, I saw a video of a worship time produced from Bethel Church of Redding, CA. It was amazing, if you could believe what you saw. I was ambivalent. Yes it seemed authentic, except that the video production and the facial expressions were so perfect as the camera passed, it was hard to imagine that 1) the thing hadn't been rehearsed like any other music video, although it purported spontaneity and 2) that the performers and non performers were unaware of moments when they were in view.

Several years back there was a movement on for Christians to perfect their art and not be 'mediocre.' I don't know whether this ties in to this or not, but I hope that the result of this hasn't been more polish. This pilgrim doesn't handle polish well.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

It's Sunday. Let's pray for the church.

Something in me cries out for change. "There must be more than this" is a phrase in a current worship song. Maybe it should be "There must something different than this." What will it take to actually be agents of the kingdom of God? What will it take for us to 1) Walk in the power and presence of Jesus all the time, producing fruit in season (i.e. results!) and 2) be solid, trustworthy, dependable people. Why do I list these separately? Because there's a perception out there that if you seek after 1) you will probably not qualify for 2).

There are, I'm certain, other dichotomies out there. "If you want this, you can't have that." But I reject them. I want the whole enchilada (as the saying goes.)  I want a church filled with thousands of people, all disciples of the Messiah, (not of anyone else!) in proper, healthy, relationships with each other, worshipping God in his fullness with all their hearts, producing fruit in all areas of ministry through the power of Him who dwells with us, walking in love for each other and all around them, with leaders who are not the focal point or the motivation of the church's activity, but rather who faithfully keep the whole already moving entity from straying from God's path which is clear to all. This is my prayer for my church. Pray it for yours, too.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Utility

In the previous post, admittedly in a very oblique way, I touch on an idea that has been becoming more and more clear to me. It's something I've used in the past but not really given a name. But I have one now and that name is utility.

Utility as a principle is a criterion for judging any theory, theological, philosophical or otherwise. I've used it in the past to choose open theism over classic theism, because one of the problems I have with the idea that every bit of minutia about my life is foreknown and therefore (people who ignore this 'therefore' are just being dishonest, in my books) predetermined is that it's no damn use to me. Such a view precludes prayer or any effort at all. Why would I involve my heart or passion in anything I do under such a scheme? Indeed most devout classic theists live like thoroughgoing open theists, praying to move the heart of a God that technically they believe to have already been in the future and decided it by knowing it, but willing to dichotomize and follow their hearts. Thus partly based on the non-utility of the theory of God existing outside a time that also already exists, I find I can't espouse it.

The post 'in other news' pokes fun at the atheistic religionists that I frequently encounter on my favourite tech news site, Slashdot. They pillory ad infinitum, at nauseam, all who refuse to espouse the idea that the complexity of life we see every day as merely a product of chance. Intelligent Design for them is an epithet, synonymous with stupidity. And yet, when we encounter complexity, as the character, Alison Blake, did in Eureka, (Series finale is next Monday!) it's of no use at all (no utility) to assume that it's a mere product of chance, and we just don't. The researchers who discovered Flame and Stuxnet, based on their findings of complexity, did not immediately assume that the right combination of operating system, hardware and atmospheric conditions had caused these targeted malware attacks to simply evolve. Rather, they theorized a concerted effort by technologically enabled government departments. And it appears they were right.

So also every investigative agency on the planet. Nothing complex and seemingly concerted can be viewed as random coincidence. CIA or NSA analysts would lose their jobs if they started with the assumption of randomness. So also everyone else. The most thoroughgoing (I love that word) atheistic evolutionist would not assume that time and chance produced a nasty prank against his daughter in school. And yet we are told, against all that we intuitively know, that underlying all of the universe there is a phenomenon of chance producing the complexity of life we see around us. Can it be? Written into the fabric of the universe is a basic principle -- evolution caused by chance alone -- that runs counter to all our method of living? Nuts. So I reject the idea. It has no utility. Oh wait, I forgot. It does have a use! It's a handy-dandy way of ignoring and helping others to ignore the uncomfortable idea that Someone might have caused me!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

In other news...

The slashdot council on doctrinal purity (SCDP) has threatened to subject itself to a taste of its own medicine and resign en masse over failing to censure 'Eureka' writer Bruce Miller for an apparent 'Intelligent Design' slip of the pen. In episode S05E11, 'Eureka' character Dr. Alison Blake, observing the effects of a mysterious computer glitch was made to utter the blasphemous words, "it can't be an accident -- it's too complex!" When asked why there was not an immediate and caustic post on slashdot on the night of the show's airing SCDP members admitted that they had been too interested in the plot to notice and, in an unguarded moment, one even guessed that the story might have been less interesting should the glitch have been of completely random origin.

It was only later, after extensive reprogramming, that SCDPers have turned their usual inquisitional fervour on themselves and threatened to resign because of their failure to shield young minds from the pernicious idea that one can infer design from complexity. Earlier today, the SCDP released a statement admitting that its formerly unimpeachably pure scientific outlook had become tainted with mere common sense and begging, on behalf of all members, to be released from their essential slashdot duties. The release explained that although the members knew that slashdot could not function without their input, they would rather see it temporarily crippled rather than 'endanger the minds of the impressionable.' Faced with this crisis, the slashdot high directorate (SHD) has not accepted the resignation of the SCDP but has instead instituted regular beatings for SCDP members. We are assured from inside sources that SCDPers have found this quite acceptable and that in future, no such further slip-ups will occur.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Songwriting -- Canto I: The Struggle

I've had a dream of mine come true -- at least partially, but even the part that has come true astounds me. So in gratefulness, I'm going to document it here.

I refer to songwriting. I'm privileged to lead worship approximately once a month at my church and last Sunday four of the songs we (not just we the worship group, but we the congregation, you understand) sang in worship of our Lord were of my own making -- and in the context of my struggle to have my music recognized by my own church, that is nothing short of amazing to me. I dreamed it long ago. It has happened. Got to say thank you.

It may be a bit silly of me to try a thing like songwriting. 'Why?' seems like an appropriate question. Well, if you've spent any time reading this blog, or if you know me from elsewhere, you'll know I tend to try to swim upstream. If the trend is one way, I will try to buck it if I can. So probably that's in the mix. It's a challenge. Probably also I'm admirer of good music (a loaded phrase, laden with objective and subjective overtones) and I want to produce some, too. The inclusion of the 'too' in that last sentence, reveals a competitiveness, godly or not, that also drives me. On top of that justice also drives me. I recently watched a talk by Bret Victor, a noted software developer,  (I gather that if you are an iPhone user, you see his work all the time) who says that life is not as much about following your dreams as having strong principles, which, when they are violated, drive you to do something about it and correct the situation with whatever creativity you have. Church music is my situation. When I see it, a voice in me says, "There's something we lack in our songs, something missing, something that is slipping away, or some way in which we have stagnated by not having original new songs" and I must do my part to try and rectify that.

There. I've just articulated more about my reasons for songwriting than I've ever done to myself before. Conscious choices, in black and white. But it wasn't always this way. When I started on this particular journey I was the starry-eyed admirer of Vineyard worship and the wealth of new music which came forth from this movement, which I joined and have stayed with (long after the initial bloom has died and we have to see what fruit the tree will yet produce.) My prayer was, "God, let me write songs, too." I would pray that frequently, and pick up my guitar and try. And nothing would happen, or, nothing that I could honestly identify as an answer to a prayer for new songs. (This is not really accurate: I wrote one or two but there was no sense that it was possible that I could ever write any more than that) But I kept praying and I kept trying, and suddenly, it seems, in retrospect, at a retreat (an Alpha "Holy Spirit" weekend, if you want to know...) I wrote a song (we sang it last Sunday) which seemed to uncork the bottle. After that for a time, I wrote new songs nearly every day. God had really answered my prayer. But there was a hitch, a missing component, a thing without which the blessing of being able to write songs at all was somewhat sour.  Maybe I never thought to ask for this also. Maybe God just wanted me to gain what nobody wants the bother of gaining, that is, character, so he withheld this other blessing at the time. I refer to what some have called 'favor.'  There. I said it. Favor. Now I have to resist the temptation to digress into a rant against super-spiritualized Christian code words. But whatever you want to call it, the truth was that few people saw anything particularly special in my songs. I tried submitting them to some who had oversight of that sort of thing in our church and their response was akin to "Don't call us. We'll call you." Yeah. That felt real good. But it didn't stop me from writing even more songs. And I didn't stop. I have slowed over time, but I still haven't stopped. Anyway, it was pretty frustrating. Truth is, if you don't have the opportunity to teach others your songs, no one will get to love them and I certainly didn't.

I'm not going to chart my whole journey from there to here except to mention that some people actually believed in me and my songs. My brother, for one, and a few others -- very sustaining and more than in a small way. So now they let me lead worship and they let me teach my songs and they seem to like it. I thank God. It's a load off my heart. It was always supposed to be a gift to share. I hope to keep sharing.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Someday... Yesterday

Yesterday,
This revival seemed so far away
Now it looks as if it's here to stay
Oh I believed it yesterday

Suddenly,
There's a power coming over me
More than twice the man I used to be
Oh something new came suddenly

Why it took so long, I don't know
I couldn't say,
Then he came so strong
Like we longed for yesterday

Yesterday
Praying, crying for it everyday
Now it looks as if he's come to stay
Oh I believe I bless this day!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Myth of the Theological 'Alone'

It happened in the context of an argument. It often does for me, so I'm used to it. A group of people who all disagree when I bring forward an alternative view that I'd been brewing, and yet I didn't think they needed to. My alternative view didn't rule out anything they said, though they treated it that way. I was merely emphasizing something that I thought had been neglected. So I've been pondering how things like that happen. It came to me that Martin Luther might have started it. Since his 'Justification by Faith Alone' it's possible that the use of the word 'Alone' has been an expected feature of all theological debate. It speaks of entrenchment. It speaks of either-or, it rules out both-and.

Look at Luther's cockeyed down-rating of the book of James -- a mere straw epistle he called it. James, that wonderfully practical view of the Faith, mere straw? And why? because Luther could not reconcile James' emphasis with his own now entrenched position. Yes, I know he got to this position through divine revelation. I don't even doubt it. But it seems to me that revelational experience is a double edged sword in theological pursuits. We need fresh ideas and paradigms and that's one edge, but defending your private revelation is apt to entrench you in your own ideas and not allow for balancing views. 

Bad Theology And God's Love for His Children

Yesterday at prayer meeting we prayed for some specific people, that God would heal them. There was a bit of a discussion in that process that turned up some bloggable material that I'd like to hash through here.

Point. There's not one bit of God that is bad. He's all good. He never intends evil to anyone. Even though he is never caught off guard by evil and can and will go to extravagant lengths to redeem his creation in face of evil, his intentions never include it. (So yes. I'm a thoroughgoing open theist. God made Adam and Eve with every intention of a joyful eternity and did not 'know' that they would fall. I speak here of a timeless 'knowledge' that would make him out to be a twisted person who would see all the horror awaiting his children and create them anyways. I just don't -- God help me -- accept that.)

From this we understand that God's plan, although, he will work with and around our sickness is never our sickness itself. He doesn't wantonly damage his creation: he restores, he redeems, he heals it. Suffering in the context of the kingdom battle that is still happening will come, but not from God afflicting his children with sickness.

So what do you do about stories where people who receive their sickness as from God and suffer and die with a glorious sense of the presence of God all around them? I realized (again, probably, because I'm sure it's not the first time I've thought this) that God's love for his children supersedes bad theology. "According to your faith be it done to you." or something like that. If someone has a problematic idea that blocks God from doing what he does naturally, i.e. heal, he will still love them and dwell with them, sometimes gloriously. But don't let's, as Christians have in the past, build a theology around it and bless sickness itself as a 'gift' from God.

Yeah, that sounds a bit militant. Whatever.