Friday, 28 February 2014

THE HABITS OF BORING BUT EFFECTIVE PEOPLE

"But He would often withdraw to desolate places and pray."
Luke 5:16
Regular timeExciting people claim to detest routine and habitual behaviour. They thumb their noses over their sidewalk skinny decaf soy latt├ęs at those boring people whose lives are regulated by such plain things as habits. But, on behalf of the boring people of this world, I feel it is time to offer a defence of habits and say something positive on behalf of its boring cousin: routines. You see, Habits and its cousin Routines have saved my life more than once. I have them to thank for my amazement that I can get anything done.
¶ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.John 6:15
PlannerJesus had two outstanding habits. He often went out by Himself to pray. Dr Luke tells us that He often went out at night to pray to His Father all night. Jesus made spiritual disciplines a habit. From about the age of 15, over these past 35 years I have tried to copy Christ's practice of making certain spiritual disciplines a habit. I honestly cannot recall a day in my life in all that time when I have neglected the habit of reading Scripture. I confess, there have been times when I have practiced this spiritual discipline because it was a habit rather than for more noble reasons. But I can also say that in not just a times I have received delightful illumination that has nourished both my soul and mind.
"Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place."
John 5:13
Christ's other notable habit was to withdraw when He was crowded. Jesus made it a habit to be alone. He didn't build His identity or worth on what the crowds thought about Him. (I wonder if Jesus would have had a Facebook account if it was available then?) The Son of God withdrew when crowded by people to be alone, but not just alone - alone with His Father. This is a great habit to develop for those who feel their emotions are somehow determined by others.

DANIEL AND HOME

In the account of Daniel we learn that this exiled statesman developed habits which were well known. He habitually prayed. "Habitually" means that he adopted a certain place and a certain time to pray. His enemies knew it and attempted to use it for their advantage. This of course led to Daniel being thrown into the lions' den. But even with knowledge of this threat, Daniel maintained his habit of prayer - in public view (in front of his window!).
¶ When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
Daniel 6:10
I have a habit of Bible reading as a first thing in the morning practice. I have a habit of praying when I move. If you ever embark on a car trip with the Corbetts, you'll discover that we have a habit that we always practice (you'll have to ask my children what that is). The other day, my 22 year old son came home from University. He got in our family car and immediately initiated our family habit. 

At our family dinner we continue to welcome Habits into our home along with its cousin. In fact, we have made Routine an adopted member of our family! Each night at 6PM, Kim has our family dinner on our dining table. Our family assembles. We hold hands and give thanks to God for our food and blessings, and ask Him to provide for our sponsor children. Then we eat. Bt while we're eating we have Habits remind us of its presence at our dinner table. We then answer then 'the question of the day'. (If you're familiar with our Romans Bible Studies you will see that we have included many of our family's questions of the day at the start of each of these Bible Studies.) 

BAD HABITS

The New Testament warns against bad habits. One in particular the writer of the Hebrews raises where he states that some believers had developed the habit of neglecting to assemble on Sunday for the church meeting. Conversely, he reminds his readers that attending church each Sunday was a spiritually good habit because it resulted in strengthening, encouraging, and ministry. He seems to say that some had made it a habit to neglect church because they were ruled by their feelings, whims, and energy levels - rather than by doing what was right. Attending church because we love Jesus and want to love what He loves is the noblest motive for church attendance, but attending it because its a good habit is commended by Scripture.
not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:25
Jesus habitually withdrew when corwded in - but He habitally went to the synagogue each Sabbath to worship with God's people - even when that Synagogue was full of people who wanted to kill Him! (Luke 4:28-29) To follow Christ is to form the habit of attending church each week. 
Good habits save you time (putting your keys in a regular place). Good routines save your life (washing your hands before eating, brushing your teeth after meals). The Bible encourages both. The Scriptures offer examples who developed good habits of prayer, Bible reading, and corporate worship. 
As many of you know, I have a lot of demands upon my time: a live weekly radio program; production of a weekly audio podcast; a major sermon each week; an article each week; the producing of a documentary on FW Boreham; supervising dozens of Bible school students undertaking their diplomas and degrees; organising the Tasmanian tour of Dr Hugh Ross; coordinating the Launceston Easter Community Festival; hosting the Bass Meet Your Candidate Forum; managing105.3WayFM; pastoring our church; being involved in junior tennis development in Tasmania; completing a graduate course in Biblical Greek; and consulting to various organisations. The only way I can manage each of these is by developing habits and routines. The only way. 

"But Habits and Routines are boring!" you scoff. "Yes they are", I might reply. But sometimes 'boring' looks good compared to the ups and downs of trying to be "random" / "spontaneous" / "exciting". As Warren Buffett said, his method of saving and investing his money was way too boring for most people. Warren Buffett recently retired with a net worth of $60Billion! I think there is a similar spiritual application. It might be 'boring' to develop the habit of daily reading your Bible. But it will build the wealth of your soul. The routine of taking time to pray each day might seem to be tedious and dull, but it's what our Lord did and it too will add wealth to your spiritual bank account. This is why I say "Thank you" to everyone who compliments me with the accolade, "You're boring!" Of course, not everything I do is "boring". I'd like to say more about this, but I have to meet Bert at a routine meeting of The Button Collectors' Club so I'll just leave you at this point of exciting suspense in our conversation. 

Ps. Andrew

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Oceanic Journeys Through Sovereignty, Striving, Love

NAVIGATING THE OCEAN OF LIFE

"The LORD will reign forever and ever."
Exodus 15:18
Have you ever considered how differently someone would live if their life utterly loved God? Every decision they made would be filtered through their passoinate love for God. The use of their time, talent and treasure would be reprioritised to maximise their love of God. They would be difficult to offend and yet easy to disappoint. They would not be able to remain indifferent or even silent when others are being hurt because of God dishonouring decisions. They would rest in the knowledge that the God they love utterly is incomprehensively powerful and in sovereign control of His universe, and in particular: them. But there is a mystery that those who love God are often left to ponder.
But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.Deuteronomy 4:29
How much of your life do you control? What, with circumstances, people, accidents, weather, opportunitites, all being often unpredictable variables in the shaping of your brief life, how much do you actually control? It's one of the great mysteries. How much of our life direction do you actually control? Our lives are not merely shaped by our actions and decisions, but by other even more immediate factors such as, upbringing. This is why sarcasm says a person must choose their parents well! Our lives are also shaped by the decisions of others, including corporations and governments. This is why sarcasm pipes up again and adds its sage advice:choose your country of birth and upbringing carefully! With so many factors not in our control how can we possibly order our lives in the direction and shape we want them to go and become? Here is part of the answer.
"Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
Luke 13:24
Because God is Sovereign and directing His universe, it might sound like we are merely pieces of flotsam and jetsam being tossed about by the waves of life's ocean. I doubt that this is either an accurate or helpful way to look at our lives though. Life is like an ocean. We are like a captain of a vessel attempting to navigate this ocean. The captain cannot control the waves, weather, traffic or obstacles. But he can control his vessel and the direction it needs to go. But to do this, he must strive with waves, weather, traffic, and obstacles and his vessel. Thus, to navigate across the ocean of life he must do two things: steer his vessel and adjust to the conditions he faces. Both require striving.

THE STRIVING OF JESUS

Jesus told us to enter into 'life' (eternal) by striving to enter through the narrow gate. When you love you strive. Christ didn't say to His followers, "Hope that you float on over and drift through the narrow gate." Jesus clearly demonstrated what striving looked like. He strove because He loved His Father.
The word "strive" conjures up an image of a pathway beset with adversity, opposition, and even strife. Jesus strove toward His ascension. He had to overcome adversity from governments, crowds, His followers, the Devil, and even His longing to return to His Father. It seems that the most valuable things are both earned and kept through striving. This is certainly the case for the most valuable thing: a relationship of eternal peace with God.
¶ I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf
Romans 15:30

THE STRIVING OF PAUL

Modern ShepherdingThe Apostle Paul had to strive. He strove in prayer for the Colossian Christians. He strove to  fulfil his ministry as a servant of Christ.
To this end  I labor, striving according to  his power that works powerfully in me.
Colossians 1:29
Paul describes his life journey and the ministry that fulfilled along the way as "pressing forward" (Phil. 3:12) in order to accomplish it. This doesn't sound as if Paul was unacquainted with striving!

NAUTICAL LIFE STRIVING

While we strive to navigate our ship across the ocean of life, every wave, every obstacle, every storm is yielded to God's sovereignty. When the caterpillar strives shortly after making its cocoon, I have it on good authority that when it tries to then break free from its cocoon, it is an utterlyunenjoyable experience! yet, it is this very act of striving which builds the strength it needs for the use of its wings.

When God gave Israel their Promised Land He designd for them to strive to take possession of it. When God used Samuel to anoint the sixteen year old shepherd boy, David, to be the next king of Israel, David could have been forgiven for thinking that it would be a walk in the park stright to the Throne. But yet he had to strive for it!

When Kim and I lived in Williamstown, Melbourne, we had a yacht moored in Hobson's Bay. Prior to solo-sailing it in Port Phillip Bay, I did a sailing course at Royal Mebourne Yacht Club. In this course I learned how to strive the yacht so that it could virtually sail into the wind. Striving through life sometimes like this sailing technique - it requires facing the winds of adversity head-on.
And if the Bible might be viewed nautically as the 'Captain's Log', we might notice that it is God who directs, guides, and inspires the striving involved is sailing the oceans of life. To me, it's both a mystery and an undeniable fact that God even uses those who strive against Him for His glory!
But for this purpose I have raised you [Pharaoh] up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth."
Exodus 9:16
It's an undeniable fact because it's so obvious. At the height of the Evangelical Awakening, the period around the 1960s to the 1980s (known as The Charismatic Renewal) the Church lessened its striving to take the Gospel into the world and simultaneously ceased striving for the truth in the Public Square. Europe seemed to fair worst. The result of this apathy (lack of striving) was not immediately apparent, but twenty to forty years later it is now painfully obvious. The rise of militant secularism capturing the political and academic landscape where policy decisions were made so that the populace were hoodwinked into accepting the assumption that atheism meant: "rational", "unbiased", "reasonable" (and conversely "Christianity" meant "biased", "irrational", "unreasonable"). Thus, in the last few years atheists have been emboldend by believing their own irrationality and have launched brazen attacks against the Church. But God had not only foreseen this, He had designed this for His glory! What these atheists did not count on, was that the Sovereign God would stir in the sould of those few who utterly love Him, to strive for His glory.

This Sovereign stirring to strive shapes people and societies. I hope that this will awaken a new awareness in parents, teachers, politicians, pastors, business people, students, and the retired, of the need (and benefit) to strive. History mournfully warns us that ground given up is not easily won back.

As I ponder this mystery of how God's sovereignty interacts with my ability to choose and even strive while I write this sitting in seat 5C of VirginAirlines VA1380, on the screen in front of me pops up a movie trailer where the character, Spiros, says-
Some day, somebody's going to have to take a stand.
Some day, somebody's going to have to say, "Enough!"
Indeed! Somebody's going to have to take a stand. Children need parents who strive to take a stand. Congregations need pastors who strive to take a stand. Electorates need politicians who strive to take a stand. Schools need teachers who strive to take a stand. And students need their God-loving fellow students to strive to take a stand. Parents must discipline. Pastors must instruct. Politicians must explain. Teachers must inform. Students must dialogue. And if this striving be for the glory of God it must be motivated by a fresh, passionate, fearless love for the infinitely Magnificently One. Somebody's going to have to say, "Enough!" and this means that someone who loves God is going to have to strive. This won't solve the mystery of how God's sovereignty interplays with your freedom, but it does help you to celebrate this wonderful mystery and gladly strive for the One you love.

Ps. Andrew

Friday, 14 February 2014

HOW TO BE REFRESHED

REFRESHING THE WEARY

The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
and good news refreshes the bones.
Prov. 15:30
Tired and unable to sleepEver wondered why you feel more drained when you experience setbacks and/or people are letting you down? There is a little discussed connection between what we feel and how it makes us feel. Rather than being thanked for our efforts we are criticized causing us to feel hurt and leading to us feeling physically drained. Someone makes a mistake and looks to you for help and while you're helping them get out of their mess they do it again ... and again ... and you soon feel tired ... drained. But this connection between what we feel (emotionally) and how we feel (physically) goes two ways. Our physical energy levels are bolstered by positive emotional experiences.
Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest
is a faithful messenger to those who send him;
he refreshes the soul of his masters.
 
Proverbs 25:13
Your soul facilitates your mind, your 'heart', your drive. Today we have a growing phenomena in the West. People are feeling increasingly weak and weary. This has given rise to growth the modern 'gym' ('fitness centres', 'work-out stations') industry. Yet people still feel weary. Perhaps it's because in the West we generally take such little regard for our soul. When your soul is well nourished and refreshed through God's Word, your soul is restored.
He takes me to lush pastures,
he leads me to refreshing water.
Psalm 23:2 NET
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Psalm 23:3 ESV
AutocorrectChurch is a 'gym' for the soul, a 'fitness centre' for your spirit. It is in the assembling of the church that the believer joins in worship. This act of devotion is refreshing to the soul. We live in a world where individuality is prized. This can be healthy. But the way it is practised in the West, it is rarely good for our souls. It fosters self-centredness, selfishness, and hyper-introspection. These things are spiritually carcinogenic!

HOW TO BE REFRESHED

Your soul longs for strength. The Bible reveals that strength for the weary comes from encouraging words, encouraging company, and encouraging others. Your soul is designed to be nourished by those things which God has designed to enrich it. This includes not only His life-giving Word, but good literature, beautiful music, beatiful art, harnessed nature, and periods of rest. At the height of his ministry, Dr. F.W. Boreham would go to the National Gallery of Victoria and sit for hours in front of particular paintings and be refreshed by them. He often shared why he was so refreshed by particular paintings in many of his essays.
¶ So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Acts 9:21
Facebook ConfessionalIt's possible to be refreshed even in the midst of deep distress. In Acts 9, the Church was experiencing persecution and distress, yet it was refreshed bywalking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. In actual fact, the best time to be refreshed (have your soul nourished, rested and restored) is in the midst of distress!

In Daniel 7:25 (NLT), it predicts that the Enemy would attempt to "wear down the saints". What a devilish strategy. One of the most predictable strategies of our Enemy is to wear people down and have them think that it is purely physical tiredness. But what a glorious solution and preventatitve cure the Lord has provided: be refreshed in God. This is why one of the sweetest and surest ways to be refreshed in your soul and thus (somewhat) revitalised physically is to take up Christ's offer- 
¶ Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light."
Matthew 11:28-30
Ps. Andrew

Friday, 7 February 2014

IN THE SPIRIT

AN INCREDIBLE DIFFERENCE

¶ You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,
if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ
does not belong to him.
Romans 8:9
Christianity is often popularly thought of as being basically the same as all other religions. To the informed this assertion is literally: incredible. There are three outstanding reasons why Christianity is incredibly unique in the world of religious thought. The first is that Christianity alone has a divine Saviour. The second is that this divine Saviour graciously bestows God's favour on those He redeems. And the third is far less known outside of Christian circles...
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.Romans 14:17

NOT MERELY ABOUT DEVOTION

All religions require devotion - a deep commitment to certain beliefs and practices. Christianity is certainly no exception in this regard. But there is a world of difference when it comes to how and why this devotion is done. Unlike every other religion, Christian devotion is supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Christian is uniquely enabled to live their devotion in the Spirit. This is the secret of the Christian life. To be in the Spirit is to have "power" to be devoted to God.
[That you might know...] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.
Ephesians 1:19
In fact, becoming a Christian begins by a transforming work the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)A person cannot become a Christian by merely by turning over a new leaf. It requires a deeply transforming work by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's work in the heart of the redeemed is often referred to as being "born-again". When a person is born of the Spirit, their life-focus changes; their priorities are dramatically re-organised; and they become aware of things previously unnoticed.

FOCUS, PRIORITIES, PERSPECTIVE

The Christian journey begins uniquely. While other religions have "rights of passage" or "initiation rites" or ceremonies, Christianity begins with a profoundly supernatural transformation. It translates the redeemed from being lost, purposeless, and blind to in the Spirit. This causes the redeemed to be focussed, prioritised, and spiritually enabled to hear and see spiritual things.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet
Revelation 1:10
In 65AD, the Apostle John had just been banished to the Isle of Patmos by order of Caesar Nero. This followed a failed attempt to martyr him with boiling oil. Now on this rocky, isolated, outcrop, John had every reason not to 'feel' particularly spiritual or even glad to be a Christian! But he took the steps to be in the Spirit (Rev. 1:10). Being in the Spirit changes your focus. Rather than looking at what was going wrong and making his life uncomfortable, John chose to be in the Spirit through prayer, stillness, and worship. On the Lord's Day, John went in the Spirit. This Sunday, as you prepare to meet for worship, get in the Spirit.
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.
Rev. 4:2
Being in the Spirit changes your priorities. After our focus is shifted off us, our problems, our circumstances, our priorities are re-ordered to The Throne of God and we are left to do what we can only do when confronted with the Throne of God's presence: worship. You can tell when someone is in the Spirit because they are worshipping. As the Apostle John set himself to be in the Spirit amidst his negative circumstances, he was once again in the Spirit when he witnessed the most dramatic scene of worship the universe has ever hosted.
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne...¶ "Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created."

Revelation 4:2, 11
When someone is in the Spirit their life is re-prioritised. The unappreciated important things now become appropriatedly important. People are no longer problems to be avoided but objects of consideration, care, and blessing. Difficult circumstances which previously determined our mood undergo a gaussian blur as they give-up their foreground position and retreat unnoticed into the background. Words offered thoughtlessly and uninvited increasingly become words of profundity, life and encouragement.

This might give the impression that living in the Spirit makes a person weird. I guess this is why people striving to appearspiritual end up looking and sounding spooky. But living in the Spirit is utterly natural - in fact, supernatural. When King David wrote Psalm 110 I suspect he was offering an idea bouncing around his head. But when Jesus cites David at this instance He says, "How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying..." (Matt. 22:43). Being in the Spirit doesn't make you strangely weird, but it does make you strangely natural.
And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.
Revelation 17:3
After John's time on Patmos, he was able to return to Jerusalem. Being in the Spirit his perspective of Jerusalem had now changed. He saw it as "Sodom and Egypt...where they crucified their Lord" (Rev. 11:8), and in the language of Jeremiah, as "Babylon...the Harlot" (Rev. 17:5). He was now aware of true reality. In this instance, what many people thought of as pure, holy, God-approved, John, in the Spirit, now saw for what it really was. Discernment is not just a special gift of the Spirit, it is theperspective of the Spirit. Being in the Spirit makes you aware of spiritual opposition so that you maintain your focus on worshipping God! People who discern evil at work and get distracted by it are not fully in the Spirit. John was made aware of Jerusalem's Spiritual Leaders being like a Prostitute who was full of 'blasphemous names' but he remained in the Spirit to continue to focus on God - His glory, and His plan of redemption.
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God
Revelation 21:10
While it seemed like 'all hell' was breaking loose against the Church of the Apostle John's day, he was able to be in the Spirit and thereby given a different perspective. Does life feel like 'all hell' is breaking loose at the moment? Walk in the Spirit. A major component of this is opening yourself up to God to be in the Spirit is others. When you arein the Spirit you adopt a concern for others despite what you are going through. Note what Paul the Apostle says happens when a believer 'prays in the Spirit' -
praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
To that end keep alert with all perseverance,
making supplication for all the saints
Ephesians 6:18
The things that help a believer to get in the Spirit are the things that a believer is led to do when they are then in the Spirit:
- Prayer
- Openness to hear God (note the constant exhortation in the opening chapters of Revelation, "...let him who has ears, hear what the Spirit is saying...")
- Yielding to God and asking to be used by God.
Ephesians 6:18 starts off in the Spirit and ends with supplication for all the saints. Once in the Spirit the believer becomes focussed on God and His glory, reprioritised to worship, and spiritually aware. They way they speak becomes life-giving. Their acts of kindness for others become divinely-timed - all because they are in the Spirit. This is the incredible difference between Christianity and all of the world's religions. While Christianity is a unique religion because it is birthed and lived out in the Spirit, what is largely unknown, is that this unique difference can only be accepted by someone when there is a work of the Spirit in their heart. And while we can see that following Christ is religiously unique and a profoundly divinely-spiritual enterprise, this does not justify the redeemed taking a posture of arrogance. On the contrary, the incredible difference that Christianity makes to a human soul also tames pride and infuses child-like humility.  
¶ In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
Luke 10:21
It is my hope that every believe can only show theoretically how (in)credibly different Christianity is from other religions, but that by living in the Spirit they make this incredible difference incredibly obvious.

Ps. Andrew