Prayer is like Sample Carpet (part 2)

In the last post I suggested that like a sample piece of carpet is not the whole of your carpet but has aspects (colour, pattern, components) of the whole, prayer is the Christian life in miniature.

Think about the similarities between prayer and the rest of the Christian life as I lay out here where we’ve been in our recent sermon series so far.

1) The heart and secret of Christian prayer is knowing God as Father because you’ve been forgiven and made a child. We were by nature children of God’s anger, but because the Son of God, Jesus, died to bear our sin, we are traded places with. The son of God bears the anger, we become sons and daughter, children of God (John 1:12).  This is why our prayers work, this is why he listens, this is why we pray not to get acceptance, but rather, we pray because we have it.

And this is the heart of the Christian life as well isn’t it?! We who were dead in our sins have been made alive, forgiven, accepted and so now loved children of God our father

Prayer is like the Christian life as we approach God as Father and are sure of his goodness toward us only ever because of our Lord Jesus’ death on our behalf.

2) Again, we see that prayer is the Christian life in mini as we see that the reason we pray is to both walk humbly with God sharing our hearts and our lives day by day with him. The Christian life is not only about being forgiven but living a new life of communion with God. That is, in day to day relationship with him.

Prayer is like the Christian life as we live in day to day, moment to moment communion with him.

3) Part of our new life after forgiveness is to see God’s will in the world and to take part, to offer ourselves to his purposes and live for the Kingdom. Prayer is perhaps the most basic way that we do this, God has ordered things so that he likes to  work in accordance with his people’s prayers. When he goes to act, he does so because his people have prayed for him to do his will and for his kingdom to come.

Prayer is like the Christian life’s because in both we take part in God’s work.

 

 

Prayer is like a Carpet Sample (part 1)

I’ve recently started as Assistant Minister at Bondi Anglican Church and I’m 4 weeks into a 5 week series on prayer.

The series has gone like this:

Talk 1: The Secret of Prayer – Praying to God Because He is our Father

Talk 2: The Reason for Prayer (a) – Prayer as The Way We Walk Humbly with Our God

Talk 3: The What of Prayer (b) – Prayer as The Way We Take Part in God’s Work

Talk 4: The How of Prayer – What it is to Pray According to God’s Will

In thinking about prayer and reading the bible about it again I have noticed something that people have pointed out to me in the past. As we have talked about prayer, we’ve really been talking a lot about the basics of the Christian life. It is not just that prayer is basic to the Christian life but that prayer has all the basics of the Christian life in it.

Prayer is a little microcosm of the Christian life. Whatever is true about the Christian life, you see it in a basic form in Christian prayer.

It is like a preview of a movie. The preview is not the whole movie, if you only got the preview, you’d be missing out. But the preview gives you the shape and feel of the whole movie; it is the whole movie in a very concentrated form.

Or like a little patch of sample carpet you look at when choosing new carpet. The little sample is not a whole carpet and you’d feel a bit ripped off if all you got was a little patch. But it is a miniature version of the whole. It has the pattern of the carpet, the colour are shown and the threads underneath are how the threads will under the whole. This is like prayer and the Christian life.

In the same way, prayer is not the whole Christian life but it is the Christian life in-mini. Much of the Christian life is previewed and expressed in prayer.

 

Seventies Treasure!

I stumbled on a book called “Why I am Still a Christan” Edited and Compliled by E. M. Blaiklock. The book is a selection of essays by various academics about the intersection of their expertise and their faith.

In the introductory essay by Blaiklock himself, he draws on four things that confirm his trust in God. His own “encounter with God” as a youth, the seeming designed nature of our world, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (historically) and the fact that life works well when lived as a Christian.  It was originally an address given at the University of Auckland in 1965.

I found what he says about God revealing himself in history quite well put and so I am going to write it down here:

“David Hume was perhaps quite right, two centuries ago, when he pointed out that the gap between the small agitation in the brain which we call thought, and the measureless Intelligence which Christians call God, is so enormous, that what one  (end page 15) concludes about the other has little significance. Correct, but for the vital core, the central truth of Christian belief. Christ revealed God in terms understandable to man. I claim to be an historian. My approach to Classics is historical. And i tell you that the evidence for the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history, which I taught for forty two years as a university teacher with some confidence. I said that the Gardener’s Son was quite different from anyone I had ever seen. and as a figure of history,  Christ is precisely that. Four small books of simple Greek, called the gospels, picture a Person who was not the product of His times, but remote from human conception or expectation -so remote that His own men never fully understood Him, until an astounding even transformed them, enlightened them, and so launched them on the world that the dozen of them infiltrated the Roman Empire in a generation. Their successors beat the Empire to its knees in three centuries.

Here are the alternatives. Either four men, only one of them with any education in the liberal sense of the word, invented the Character who altered the whole course of history, or they wrote of One they knew or had heard about from those from those who knew Him, a Person so extraordinary that he could claim deity, sinlessness, all authority, and rouse no revulsion among those who knew Him intimately and experimentally. The religious leaders, collaborators with the occupying power, so feared Him that they betrayed and murdered Him, and in doing so, like doomed actors in an aristotelian tragedy, loosed forces which swept the world.

In Christ, I, like all Christians, find God, recognisable, involved, and redeeming. In Christ, God, God’s love, God’s wrath, God’s patience, God’s grace, all that which man’s mind can grasp of God, are rendered in terms which that mind can comprehend. It is possible, in an authentic record of history, to make a vital contact with a figure of the past, but contact with Christ is more than that. He defeated death. I believe in the resurrection, not as a poetic figure or a symbol of renewal, as some lamentable forms of post-Christian theology interpret it, but as historical fact.”

 

An Easter Confession

An Easter message from Blake…

SOMETHING REALLY HAPPENED AT EASTER
I feel the need to make an Easter confession. I believe something actually happened at Easter. And I want  to post something publicly like this because what I believe happened at Easter, if it did happen, changes everything for everyone. If it is true then it is the kind of thing you need to say publicly to all your connections: to your aunties, school friends, uni colleagues, siblings (and other random facebook friends who you can’t remember how or if they are actually your friends).

HOW COULD I BELIEVE IT
Before I get to what I think happened at Easter I want to tell you how I’ve come to think it at all. Because when people talk about God (yep surprise – it is to do with God) we often tune out because we think it is all just opinion. I mean there
are so many different beliefs out there, how could you be sure anyway. How can one persons opinion, their personal beliefs, be right.

This is a great question. I hope it is a question you’ve asked seriously. How could someone say something that is more than their opinion, how could anyone say something sure and certain about God? I think the only good way you could be sure about God is if he himself made himself clear. If he showed himself.

And this is the claim of Jesus who before the first Easter weekend said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Do you hear what he is claiming: because he is God with us, God on earth, then if you encounter him, you encounter God. What I am saying is this: you can be sure about God because God has made himself known in Jesus.

Now the next thing to ask me if you are a thinking person is, “yes but you and I haven’t seen Jesus Blake and so how can we know something about God?” Another brilliant question I would say. The Christian account is that we meet Jesus in the bible. That the eyewitnesses have written what they saw of Jesus so we can know him, so we can know God. Of course you need to work out whether you can trust the gospel accounts of Jesus and I think there is a great case to be made about their reliability. They are trust worthy. Google “John Dickson and the Christfiles” (if you want a compelling defense of them by a genuine historian who teaches at Sydney uni (Or talk to me and I’ll tell you about why you can trust what the gospels say about Jesus)).

What I am saying is that we can be sure about God because he has made himself known in Jesus.

HOW COULD EASTER CHANGE EVERYTHING
So what happened at Easter that changes everything? Well not only did Jesus come to show us God, he said he came to fix something.

He came to fix a problem and he spoke about the problem a number of ways. He said we’re “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”, that we’re sick and in need of a doctor, that we need ransoming, that we’re enslaved.

In each instance he was saying that you and I have issues with sin. Sin is a religious word but we’re all very familiar with it. We don’t love people like we are supposed to, we don’t hate the things we should hate, more than this we don’t love God. We have turned away from the God who made us by living lives that ignore him. I think we all know we as humanity are not perfect and that it is not just ‘out there’ but in us too. Jesus says we’re slaves of sin. Slaves who can’t help ourselves out of it and what’s more, that sin leads to death. Death now, in that life and relationships don’t work right, and death later, in that after we die, our sin will leave us separate from the life giver.

But Easter changes all that for anyone who will accept it. At the first Easter Jesus gave his life as the ransom for sin. He gave up his life so that we’d have life. The bible says that “he himself bore our sins, in his body, on the cross”. Jesus (God with us) chooses to let men crucify him in a way that takes away our sin. That is why Good Friday can be good at all. If it is just a death of an innocent man then it is a bad Friday. But if it was God in the flesh dieing to take away the sin of the world. Then it is a really, really good Friday that changes everything.

And there is more: the other part of the Easter message is that Jesus was resurrected on Sunday. That is, he came back to life. His appearance was not a hallucination, it wasn’t a ghost, it wasn’t resuscitation (people have asked whether it could be these things but the eyewitness accounts leave any doubt) it was resurrection from the dead. Death was not the end of Jesus.  Rather Jesus is the end of death. He has beat it. Easter Sunday means that Jesus is more powerful than death, he is in charge of life.

Easter changes everything because although I don’t deserve anything from God because I ignore him and don’t love people right, he has nonetheless forgiven me and paid for my sins on Good Friday and then rose from the dead on Easter Sunday to prove he is in charge of life and can give it to me. This is why he is able to say, ” I have come that they may have life, life to the full”.

HOW IT CHANGES THINGS FOR ME
This changes everything for me. As I said in the section above, I think it is trustworthy information but it is not just information that is interesting. It does something, it changes things.

It means I have peace, purpose and hope.

I have peace with God: because of what happened at Easter I am not an enemy of God or even just neutral in his eyes, he has made me his. He is happy with me. It’s not because I am perfect but because he took my sin away at the first Good Friday and rose to prove it on the first Easter Sunday. It is so good knowing your “good with God”, it makes each day a real joy. And of course peace with God means that I can be sure about what happens after I die. The bible says “there is no condemnation now for those who are in Jesus”. This is great.

I have purpose in life: God doesn’t just save us from our sin but for his purpose. It is an amazing privilege that I can get up knowing that I have things to do that have deep significance because they are for God. I love having a God given purpose to my life.

Easter gives me powerful hope: Jesus has shown he is in charge of death and life and so although the world is so crap so often I don’t need to despair. Jesus is in charge and he has promised to fix it all in the end. I know the one who is aware of the suffering of this world (he knows it well), has begun a project to fix it and is powerful to complete that work. The bible says that there is a day coming when the “dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

It would be wishful thinking except that Jesus has shown in his death on the cross for us that he loves us and in his resurrection on Easter Sunday that he is able to conquer death.

HOW IT (MIGHT) CHANGE YOU
I said at the start that I believe something about Easter that, if true, changes everything for everyone. Jesus death and resurrection was for all people, the whole world. If it is true then it can not be just interesting. It is too important to be just interesting, we either need to accept God’s offer of new life in Jesus or knowingly say “no” to the God who made himself known at Easter.

The way you accept it is by putting faith in him. Faith gets a bad wrap these days, but it just means trust (there is another page on my blog about it). You become a Christian by trusting Jesus as your Saviour and the King of your life. I’d be more than happy to talk with you if you want to know more or how to start.

If you’re unconvinced I’d suggest checking it out for yourself by reading the bible, it is where God makes himself known. The government has given us two public holidays this Easter weekend. Why not use 2 hours of it to read the eyewitness accounts of Jesus in the Gospels. If you don’t have a bible google “John chapter 1 on biblegateway” and read John’s Gospel. Also, as I said above John Dickson on the reliability of the bible is helpful on the history stuff.

And of course, you’re my face book friend (and maybe more: a real friend) so talk to me about it!

Regards,
Blake

Book Review: A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Paul. E. Miller. 2009.

Books on prayer.. booo

My pastor at Shellharbour gave me a book to read and I am surprised that I actually read it. I have enough books on my ‘to read’ pile and so a random one added not by me but someone else rarely makes it from the ‘to read’ to ‘reading’ pile. Especially one about prayer!

I don’t like talks or sermons on prayer and I don’t like books on prayer because I have never heard it done well. They ones I have come across are either boring or guilt-byes (its like a drive by but with guilt instead of bullets).

But for some reason gave Paul Miller a go. And I can now say that not all books on prayer are boring and or guilt toting. This is a top book if you’d like to read about the Christian practice of prayer. It is ueber basic and yet it was the most beneficial read I did in 2014 including all my college reading. This guys speaks to the heart and from the bible. He gets the gospel and so can show what a gospel soaked prayer life looks like. It made me cry and/or pray and/or change things millermultiple times.

The deal with this book on prayer

My aim here is not to summarise his book but just to say that if you want a refresher (or starter) on prayer this is it. That said, let me say a few things about his content.

  • The book is full of real life story. Not particularly of answered prayer but lived prayer life. There is a thread of stories and illustration from his own family and particularly life with his autistic daughter Kim. This keeps the book super grounded. Here is a family that knows slow frustration as well as prayer that sustains and works.

  • Maybe the biggest genius of the book is hammering (with the personal stories) that prayer is not a discipline or practice to get on top of but a thing between you and another person. That is a pretty simple little idea that changes everything for prayer. He takes his time making sure we actually get this and it is worth it.

  • Related to this is which person prayer is about. He also thoroughly works you through prayer as a thing we do with our heavenly father because of what Jesus has won for us. This point is what makes prayer Christian prayer and I have found that it is the only starting point (and middle and end point) that makes any content on prayer worth listening to. Miller expounds what prayer is at it’s gospel heart and it was so good for my life with God.

  • There are specific sections on those two above points but then he just wanders through heaps of various interesting topics and questions with this gospel ideal ever present.

Various sections that pleasantly surprised or got me thinking:

  • Parenting and prayer. Thanks Miller!

  • A helpful section that paints the picture of the life of prayer in times of frustration and mess. Forget lessons in prayer. This is one of those snapshots of another Christian walking humbly with God in the swamps of life that I need to see often.

  • A very careful section on the idea of listening to God. I’ve read some dodge stuff on this before and have perhaps gone too far in the other direction but Miller helpfully lays out the practice as a rich part of life with God.

  • Some cool ideas of tools etc. that he has found helpful.

For the next edition…

He is a bit trigger happy when it comes to tracing trends and values back to the enlightenment and
Greek philosophy but I guess it is helpful. Also there were just one or two points where I thought he overstretched a passage of scripture to make a point that didn’t necessarily need a proof-text.

There are HEAPS of stories, sometimes I thought too many but then actually, that is kind of the point of the book. Prayer in real life rather than in a text book.

Read this book!

If I could get a Christian brother or sister to read one thing to refresh their trust in Jesus this year it would be this book.

Book Review: Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good. By Ed Welch.

Welch, Ed. 2004. Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good. New Jersey: P&R.

Note: in this post I am trying to summarise a book and tell you the things of note that I learnt. That is, this post isn’t addressed to self harmers so much as guys like me who are pretty unfamiliar. If your self harm and want to talk please email me.

I read a pamphlet on self harm the other day. It wasn’t very good. It basically said that it happens more than you think and God will forgive you every time you cut. Both of these things seem to be true but I think the gospel has more to say.

Thankfully another author, Ed Welch has also written a small booklet on the topic. “Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D. is a counsellor and faculty member at CCEF. He earned a Ph.D. in counselling (neuropsychology) from the University of Utah and has a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. Ed has been counselling for over 30 years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions”.

welch bookCCEF is the Christian counselling and Educational Foundation. They put out some super helpful stuff about how Jesus grows people. It often works from the perspective of worship/ idolatry. “CCEF works to restore Christ to counseling. Each of us has personal and interpersonal struggles. Jesus Christ knows those struggles, cares about strugglers, and enters in. We see him bring about significant change in people’s lives every day.”

If you haven’t before: CHECK THESE GUYS OUT. http://www.ccef.org/. They have a journal (JBC) too.

Quotes and notes I made along the way:

“Self-abusers typically want to live; they just don’t know how to live with turbulent emotions” 4
It is part of a cycle that deals with an intolerable emotional circumstance often triggered by a stress. “Self- injury gradually becomes the preferred response because it works.” p5

“There is a logic to self-inflicted pain” p 6

“Your emotions can be like a newborn baby who cries non-stop; when you understand the meaning behind the cries, you can help. In self-abuse, the cries are sometimes highly expressive, revealing the complexties of the human heart. Other times they are fairly simple: “I can’t handle this feeling any more, and cutting eases the stress. If I don’t cut myself, I will…If this is all you understand about self injury, you understand enough.”

Purpose of self-harm? Welch lists a number of possible cries that lie beneath self harm:

“I am guilty. I must be punished”.. eerie echose of Leviticus.

“I am not perfect”… not sin but your own standards

“they are right; I deserve this”

“I am angry”… “I hate you is the refrain but the focus of rages switches from self to others and back again.

“I can’t feel this way any longer; hurting myself is the only way to stop my feelings”

“I feel out of control (an other people hav been in control). This way I can gain control (and no one can stop me)”

“Words cannot express my pain”
“Help!”

Welch shows that healing can come with God. Self-injury stems from either being wronged, feeling wronged, doing wrong or feeling like we have done wrong. Each of these is addressed in the good news that Jesus (God with us) came to reconcile wrong doers to God and each other. Welch highlights the love of God in Jesus expressed and given at the cross. He shows how so much of our cries are answered there in the death of Jesus. Please note what I am doing in this paragraph. I am making a broad sweep statement with no attempt to show you how it works out on the ground.

Welch shows us how ALL our internal dynamics relate to God. There are obvious ones like guilt and anger. But Welch points to God even when it seems so unrelated to him. The cutter that does it because “I can’t feel this way any longer; hurting myself is the only way to stop the feelings”. Welch says that “when we cry, but not to the One who hears us, we are saying that God doesn’t hear, care or love.” p16

To this, Welch says teaches us to connect with God through prayer and how to do that when we don’t have words. He points out the Psalms as prayers given to us to cry to God with when we don’t have the words to express our deepest pains and worries.

Next Welch addresses some more nuanced motivations for self-injury. Here he talks about shame, memories and victimisation. Of particular note is his section on physical and sexual abuse.

I think in the end Welch’s response is put succinclty in his words on page 26:

“You want to find home. You want peace and rest. You have looked for these things when you hurt yourself, but having control is not all its cracked up to be. Now, look away from yourself. The answers reside in Jesus. Seek him and he will be found.”