Word and Spirit

A pastor born in 1935, now with two doctoral degrees, views his life work in this way. You are in here somewhere.

Our premiss is this. It seems to us that there has been a ‘silent divorce’ in the church, speaking generally, between the Word and the Spirit. When there is a divorce, some children stay with the mother, some stay with the father.

In this divorce, there are those on the ‘word’ side and those on the ‘Spirit’ side. What is the difference?

Take those of us who represent the Word. Our message is this: we must earnestly contend for the faith ‘once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3), we need get back to expository preaching, sound doctrine such as justification by faith, the sovereignty of God and the internal testimony of the Spirit as taught by men like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. What is wrong with this emphasis? Nothing. It is exactly right.

Take those whose emphasis has been on the Holy Spirit. What is the message? We need to rediscover the power that was manifested in the Book of Acts, there needs to be a demonstration of signs, wonders and miracles; we need to see the gifts of the Spirit operating in the church – that the world will once again take notice of the church so that people are left without excuse. What is wrong with this emphasis? Nothing. It is exactly right.

We believe that the need of the hour is not one or the other – but both! It is our view that this simultaneous combination will result in spontaneous combustion! And then, but almost certainly only then, will the world be shaken once again by the message of the church.

This was the message I have preached over the years at Westminster Chapel in London. This is what we are endeavoring to preach in America and around the world. This is not all we preach but it is certainly one of the main things we preach alongside the need for total forgiveness and learning to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

YOUR TURN: Where does your spiritual journey fit into this descriptions? What seems accurate about this assessment of Christianity and its message? What seems in accurate?

Leave a reply–your input betters this post!

When Worship Keeps You From God

I have deceived myself into believing that I love to worship.

Man-Driving-AloneThis epiphany has arrived (and re-arrived) in my car. Given the choice to drive somewhere with friends or alone, I will often reveal my introverted portions by selecting solo. One of my simple pleasures is to sing along with a worship album, transforming my little Pontiac into a 21st-century Tabernacle on wheels.

When Worship Isn’t

On one particular drive, it dawned on me that the song I was singing was authentically and deeply prayerful. However, a second dawning followed: Minus the music of that moment, I found it very difficult to pray.  This is coming from a guy who thinks driving alone is one of the best available prayer times. This is also coming from a guy who believes that deep and personal interaction with God is essential to spiritual transformation. This is even coming from a guy who, on a significant level, enjoys that level of interaction with the One I call Father and Master.

hard-to-pray1But on that evening, silence made me squirm. I realized that I was wielding worship as a wand to make me–the real me–disappear.  The music was my mask, and the harmonies were my hiding place.

What do you do when worship is keeping you from God?

You strip.

Strip down the worship–it’s got too many layers.

large_19_agent_orangeTraveling Vietnam in 2008, we were amazed to see the lingering impact of Agent Orange. Most notably, the human toll of this wartime herbicide is seen in lingering birth defects and health damage, now five decades down the road. Geographically, it is observable by the obvious lines in the forests where all previous growth was killed off in the deforesting attempts at flushing fighters from their lush cover.

Beneath the ugliness of chemical warfare, there is a sound strategy here: Strip off the layers, and hiding becomes hard.

If your worship–whatever its form–has created enough nooks and crannies that vulnerability and honesty can be easily avoided, it’s time to strip down your worship. It has become a stumbling block.

And that’s the easy step. Step two…

Strip down the worshiper–he’s got too many layers.

Even more key than your habits is your heart, though be aware that you may need to hit your outer expressions in order to target your inner essence.

Somehow unguarded openness needs to be fostered. For many, this is where journaling becomes a powerful habit. Some will even say, “I wasn’t actually sure what I felt until I started moving my pen.” That’s a writer’s way of saying, “I know a way to strip myself down.”

Writer or not, do you have a way of unveiling yourself?

It might involve visiting with a mentor or trusted friend–somewhere where hard questions are asked and honest statements are made. It might be through music or solitude or exercise or gardening. I see few limits on method, but a means is mandatory. ChangeMinus some thought here, the average person will merely move with the worship currents of assemblies or masses. While important, these frequently fail to strip us down to a place where life-altering intimacy with our Maker unfolds.

And if worship isn’t changing you, it’s time to change your worship.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever felt the limitations of your worship to connect you with God? What do you do to create or foster authentic interaction with God? How do you combat the inclination to hide or limit vulnerability?

Leave a reply–your input betters this post!

 

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email for future posts. Or follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) for 3-4 quotes or links each day to spur on your Wandering.]

Six-Pack (46)

After an unscheduled blog break, it’s good to be back at it.

From a small stockpile of articles that had collected, here comes the latest Six-Pack of faith-focused or ministry-minded pieces with enough room for some who-knows-what!

If you need an easy in, start with the *Picks of the Week*, and move from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Would You Know a Revival if You Saw One?
Justin Taylor shares this clip and video from J.I. Packer. For anyone craving revival in their here-and-now, there are some great thoughts here on what to desire and how to discern it.

2) An Atheist in the Pulpit (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Plenty of the tone in this piece makes suggestions I disagree with. Even still, there are enough fascinating descriptions of the movements between faith and doubt to make it well worth the read.

3) Why Fewer Churches Offer Vacation Bible School
It all appears to come down to one word.

4) Ten Things I’ve Learned about Pastors
Thom Rainer highlights a list of things he’s learned about pastors over the past couple years. Any what you’d expect? Any that surprise?

5) Why MLB Hitters Can’t Hit Jennie Finch
This SI piece breaks down reaction time and why baseball’s best can’t touch fastball’s first lady.

6) Stunning: Comparing US and World Covers for Time Magazine (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Well, this brief and picture-filled piece is disturbing, if not slightly expected.

Pleasure to be back with you, friends. Enjoy the Six-Pack, and may your final week of August be wonder-filled!

YOUR TURN: Which link above was most intriguing–why that one? Direct others readers to the best of the bunch. Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Six-Pack (45)

Welcome to the holiday edition of the Six-Pack. It’s not likely your holiday, but it is mine. This Six-Pack is being delivered late from the airport, a slot of time I knew I could sit to share some of the best piece I’ve recently read online.

As per usual, most pieces are faith-focused or ministry-minded, with a sprinkling of who-knows-what!

Need further direction? Start at my *Picks of the Week*, and move from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Why All Churches Should Have a Birth Plan
I’ve never been part of a church with a birth plan. Here are a list of reasons why that’s not a good thing.

2) Matt Slick on The Daily Show (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Matt Slick was asked to be a guest on The Daily Show, as a Christian voice on the topic of homosexuality. He thought he should say no. He ended up saying yes. Here is why he regrets that move.

3) Communion on the Moon
If you ever get to commemorate the death of Jesus on the moon, you won’t be the first one to do it.

4) An Atheist Chastises Evangelicals Who Don’t Evangelize
Magician Penn Jilette tells why he feels indignation toward Christians who keep their faith to themselves.

5) Jonathan Bender Turns Inventor
I once drafted this next-Michael-Jordan in a fantasy basketball league. Crippled by knee problems, he has turned his career-ending affliction into a second career.

6) 27 Best Tolkien Quotes (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
I do love me some quotes. And I do love me some Tolkien. And I am sharing this post!

Another Six-Pack served.  Have at it!

May your weekend be full of awareness and enjoyment of the One who loves you deeply. Grace and peace, my friends.

YOUR TURN: Which link above was most intriguing–why that one? Direct others readers to the best of the bunch. Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Spring Renewal

Last weekend, our church held a sharply focused prayer evening. It was aimed at last night, when we kicked off Spring Renewal 2013 with a night of significant worship and seeking of God. Full details of the event are HERE; if you’re in the city, it isn’t too late to join us.

The past week has been absorbed in the final preparations for this weekend, so no Six-Pack will be posted today.  Back to normal to next week. As well, my series of posts on Losing Faith will continue in the week ahead.

Blessings upon you, loved people!

Losing Faith (Part II): On the Road

These are unique days.

Between jet-hopping and mouse-clicking, one can interact with every view and value under the sun. Ancestors who were confined to the the village or the house where they existed from conception to death would be stunned. In fact, it is stunning, even to those of us living in this age. Never in history has the human mind had so much to sift and sort. In past days, the avenues for exploration were so inaccessible to the average person that it was simply expected that one’s worldview would remain largely unchallenged by outside voices because such voices may have been a million miles away, even if they were waiting just over the next hill.

These days are not those days.

Beyond the vastness of ideological terrain to explore, there is also a conviction today that the true failure is to not explore. Closed-mindedness is critiqued; narrowness is just plain nasty. And for today’s experience-hound, travel is the trophy to be hoisted. A worn passport is the diploma of choice for many, and I can personally attest to logging miles as one powerful, albeit luxurious, ingredient toward personal growth.

In my previous post, I alluded to the blog of my friend Nic, who has amassed a shocking number of air miles in his young years. He mentioned travel’s enormous impact on his spiritual journey, and I can hardly agree more.

I recall when I returned from Zambia in 1997. At 20 years old, I was living a dream of visiting Africa. After a month in the countrysides of Zambia and Zimbabwe, I returned home to Canada, a week late for my third-year of college. On the first evening home, I was asked to share about my trip at a church’s Young Adult gathering.

disorientationI recall being utterly garbled, hardly able to string two sentences together. So overloaded where my processors by the intensity of that trip, combined with the contrasting deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana that had dominated headlines on our way home, that I could hardly determine which way was up.

This has been travel’s consistent impact upon my life: Disorientation and destablization. At some point, we do reconstruct “life as we know it”, but its design cannot go unaltered. Revision and renovation are forced upon those trained by travel.

Life Magazine coverEven without leaving home, Steve Jobs felt this truth. The cover of Life magazine (July 12, 1968) featured a disturbing photo of two children from a war-torn region of Nigeria. More than one million people died there during that period, from Civil War or famine. At age 13, Steve found it impossible to reconcile the picture with the lessons drawn from his local Lutheran church. Steve’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, describes what happened next:

“Steve took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor. ‘If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?’

The pastor answered, ‘Yes, God knows everything.’ Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, ‘Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to these children?’

The answer he received was less than acceptable, and that conversation marked the last time Steve went to church.

What does a story like that tell us?

It tells us that it is possible for an unusually sharp mind to step back from God as a result of his interpretation of new information.

BobPierceBefore Steve Jobs was born, Bob Pierce was in China on an evangelistic effort with Youth for Christ. Witnessing extreme poverty and overt persecution in the late 1940’s, Pierce felt the same weight that Jobs or any traveller today can feel when confronted with such realities. But where Jobs was driven from faith, Pierce was pressed in farther, in the process, birthing the organizations World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse before his death in 1978.

What does a story like that tell us?

It tells us that it is possible for an unusually sharp mind to step toward God as a result of his interpretation of new information.

And you know what? Either movement can feel like the losing of one’s faith.

More on that in the next post.

Sunday Six-Pack (34)

Saturday escaped me, but the Six-Pack is rolling out before this weekend passes me by, all the same!

The best ministry-minded or faith-focused articles I could find this week? Here they are, with some grace space for a bit of who-knows-what.

If six options stuns you, start with my two *Picks of the Week*, and pick up steam from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Providential Accidents
Edward Fudge was writing about the doctrine of hell long before it became trendy. Here is an interview, with Scot McKnight, on his path and findings.

2) 42 Successful People Share the Best Advice They Ever Received
The Business Insider offers this pile of wisdom, much of which your mother may have shared with you back before you were paying attention.

3) Three Ways to Go Further, Faster (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Michael Hyatt offers the single most important move he’s made toward gaining on, and accomplishing, some of his life goals.

4) Why are Some Words More Persuasive than Others?
Lifehacker offers this piece on the psychology of language. Fascinating read for any communicator who cares about getting their point across as effectively or powerfully as possible.

5) The Most Overlooked Key to a Growing Church (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
In this short piece, Rick Warren reminds of a simple, easy-to-forget characteristic that should never be forgotten.

6) John Wesley’s Secret to Making Disciples
Gary Thompson‘s post shares the list of questions that used to guide Wesley’s “accountability groups” before the term even existed. Could this still work today to mature followers of Jesus?

Blessings on you, my friends.  May the week ahead be filled with God in ways that you can sense. Tune yourself in, and walk on!

YOUR TURN: Add a line below to direct other readers to the best stuff above or to highlight the piece that gave you something worth keeping.

Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Saturday Six-Pack (33)

After a week away, we return with our Easter edition of the Six-Pack.

So find a seat and a few minutes. It may be that one of these ministry-minded or faith-focused articles is just what you need today. If not, I’ve attempted to include enough who-knows-what to fill the gaps.

If a half-dozen options paralyzes you, begin with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Twelve Ways to Keep Your Church Small
If you are looking for fresh ways to limit the attendance or participation in your church, Don Nations offers a dozens ways you may not thought of before.

2) Failure as Necessity (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
In this video, Seth Godin is interviewed on why he sees failure as such a powerful experience. One of his lines: “If I fail more than you, I win.”  If you like the idea of “winning”, this interview is worth a listen/watch.

3) Ten Reasons Why We Struggle with Creativity (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Some great insights (via Psychology Today) await any who wish creativity flowed more freely.

4) 9 Things You Should Know about Duck Dynasty
I confess I have never watched an episode of this show. But I have numerous friends who love it. For those who wish they knew more about the show and its bearded wonders, the Gospel Coalition provides this nine-course meal.

5) Everyday Idolatry: Amused Apathy
What is expressed in our addiction to entertainment and our fear of boredom? Jonathan Storment tackles that one here.

6) Are Leaders Made or Born?
Forbes Magazine offered this piece, addressing one of the most common leadership questions they receive. If you think you are a leader or you wish you were a leader, it’s a quick and useful read.

Blessings on you, my friends.  May your weekend be refreshing in rest, play, and worship.

YOUR TURN: Add a line below to direct other readers to the best stuff above or to highlight the piece that gave you something worth keeping.

Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

My First Ash Wednesday

Ash WednesdayToday I attended my first Ash Wednesday service.

For a guy raised within a Christian heritage that paid minimal attention to the Christian calendar, this was noteworthy.

At a local Anglican Church, I joined a “crowd” of fewer than twenty. For a moment, I wondered if I was in the wrong place. The masses pour forth when the life of Easter is dished out; I suppose it is expected that discussions of dying will thin the crowd.

Service opened with this prayer together:

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our brokenness, may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Fire and Ashes

After further Scriptures and prayers, the priest shared a few thoughts. He highlighted the season of Lent as a time of spiritual cleansing, a period during which we make choices on how to create extra space: for God’s special arrival and for our sharpened attention.

In speaking of the ashes about to be smudged on each forehead, he pointed out that the upcoming Easter message of resurrection, by its nature, must be preceded by a message of death. Crosses comes before crowns, and fires come before ashes.  Steelmakers use repeated burnings to strengthen and solidify their metals. The blacksmith known as Yahweh subscribes to a similar strategy. People of faith are purged toward purity and hardened toward holiness through seasons of fire. To live out Lent is to willingly enter the flames. It is to mark oneself with ashes, convinced that every burn of self-death will be honored by the One in whom abundant life dwells.

All the Same

There is a beautiful solemnity in the imposition of ashes. The priest approached each of us, smudging (or “imposing) a dull black cross on our foreheads as he spoke one simple sentence, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” I watched the first worshipers receive this moment, eyes closed or heads bowed or eyes locked on the priest’s. My turn came and went, and by the end of the semi-circle, all of us bore the mark of mortality. The woman to my right would likely dine at a soup kitchen later that day. The gentleman to my left was a federal judge from Ottawa, in town for the week. The priest himself had been marked by a church member. High and mighty, meek and meager–all lines are erased when dust and ashes are the theme. Most in the room wore silver hair that betrayed the fact that they were further from the dust-birth than I was, but charcoaled crosses now reminded that none of us knew who was closest to their dust-return.

One might take exception to the Ash Wednesday mantra. “I’m not just dust; the part of me that is really me isn’t that.”  True enough, but even the objection serves to highlight the point: None of us contain life. We do not generate it or guarantee it. There is One from whom it flows; He is its fountain and its founder.

And if the wearing of a greyed facial mark helps drill that in, then smudge up, my friends!

A Two-Word Spiritual Secret

prayer_0If God would answer any one prayer of yours, what would you ask for?

What if He gave it to you? Removed it for you? Placed you there? Granted your request?

How satisfying would that be? How fulfilling or relieving? How would you revel in the experience of God’s obvious blessing upon you?

In the past year of life, two words have come to be key in my understanding of how AND why God works in our lives. The words are SO THAT.

SoThat

Spoken another way, God works in YOUR life for way MORE than YOUR life.

Scripture attests to this.

abraham baby hope smallAbraham longed for a child, for an heir. And God responded, but not merely because Abraham’s possessions needed a landing spot after his death nor because Abraham and Sarah’s home would be happier, filled with the cooing and cuddling that an infant brings.  No, God spoke of all the nations receiving blessing through this longed-for child. He blessed Abraham SO THAT…

moses-and-the-burning-bush-the-bible-27076046-400-300Moses should have been a grateful man. Shrewd scheming by his mother and sister allowed him enough life to learn how to walk. Then compassion in the heart of an Egyptian princess entitled him to a privileged upbringing within the ruling house of an ancient superpower. All of this was far beyond earning; it appeared to gifted, for no obvious reason. Then surprisingly, a wilderness exile helped him escape a murder charge and enrolled him into a forty-year leadership course, under the tutelage of father-in-law Jethro, numerous sheep, and the patient instruction of the desert. And all of this appears to be kindness spent on Moses for his sake until a shrub ignites and the Sacred Infinity says otherwise: “Your life, Moses, has not been about your life. All of this has taken place SO THAT…

pentecost1The first disciples were terrified. Their leaders had crucified their Leader, and there was no telling how many of them were destined for similar fates. Drowning in despair and filled with fear, they locked themselves away to weather the storm. But the drama of an untimely death was about to be vaporized by the reality of resurrection. Appearing among his followers, Jesus provoked in them a reinterpretation of all they thought they knew. He then urged them to wait in Jerusalem for the further wonder of the Spirit. God made these moves in the lives of the inner circle, with His eyes beholding a whole lot more… than the inner circle.  Fire fell from heaven as more than an encouragement to Jesus’ friends. God was moving SO THAT…

By nature, our gaze is narrow. But the tightening of our focus upon ourselves actually serves to rob us, for the glory of what God is up to is typically brightest in the “SO THAT” seen far beyond the borders of our lives.

To be sure, God IS working in your life. But the more wonderful truth is that He is working in your life, not merely for your life. The Holy One is the master of the SO THAT!