Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Potluck or Pot Bound

I remember as a child building a dam on the beach, attempting to impede a stream of water as it made its way to the sea. It was no grand project. All I wanted to do was construct my own little pool that I knew would eventually be washed away but I hoped, at least, to be able to admire my handiwork if only for a moment. But all was in vain and as soon as I'd fixed one breach another would appear. My sister came to help me as I was reduced to tears through frustration. She knew it was a hopeless exercise and persuaded me to join the rest of the family as they were building a more solid structure further down the beach with stones and seaweed. My tears vanished and my frustration evaporated as together we successfully completed our family project.

We all have our own pet projects and rightly want the satisfaction of saying "I did this". In passing exams, attending interviews or taking a driving test there comes a point when we are on our own and, in the final analysis, stand or fall on our own personal performance. Persistence and determination are admirable qualities yet stoicism can often verge on plain stubbornness and attempting the same futile strategies reduces persistence to plain stupidity. It's easy to learn from the beach where lessons are swift and fleeting but in the complex activities of our lives consequences are often far-reaching and sometimes far off. We are adept at finding a cause to fit an effect rather than facing our actions head on and instead of honing our skills of deduction, as we grow older, more often we learn obfuscation, simply masking our mistakes.

It seems to me that one of the root causes of our frustrations in life is our obsession with self-determination. With most obsessions its not what we do but why we do it that is the issue (obsessive cleanliness has little to do with being clean). We seek to take control of that in which we feel we have little control but all we are doing is building dams with beach sand. What we need to establish is what we can control and what we can't and if there is something we can't control we need to let it go because it will simply sap our resources. To make matters worse we often put our efforts into controlling something that doesn't exist: bearing grudges when no offence has been meant; imagining the worst outcome; chasing pots of gold.

For me the issue is one of agendas and deciding how the problem is going to be solved when I don't have the tools to analyse the problem in the first place. Before remembering the beach incident I pictured myself clearing autumn leaves. When its dry and there are high winds it's a futile exercise so is a perfect example of frustration. Before that I was thinking of seasons, which brings this discussion full circle. A wise man will do things in season. He will dig when it's the right time to dig, sow when it's the right time to sow. He has no control over the seasons and therefore takes no care that winter is coming. Likewise, the deciduous tree doesn't hold on to its leaves for fear of being exposed, it sheds them knowing it will grow more in the coming spring.

Going with the flow just means taking potluck with your life but taking control when you have none is worse. You will just go round in circles.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Revival Regurgitated

or Revivalism is OT

Round Table Christians Part IV

According to the Online Dictionary, revival means to restore to life, vigour or strength. The word 'restore' indicates bringing something back to a former state that presumably was glorious but has since died, decayed or fallen into disrepair. The dictionary specifically defines a spiritual revival as an awakening of interest relating to personal religion. When Christians talk of revival reference is often made to the Old Testament but unfortunately this is fraught with difficulties as the church is not Israel in revival. Jesus teaches that new wine must be put in new wine skins and that you cannot restore an old wins skin with new leather. We can therefore only draw lessons from Israel's history and infer what God might be saying to us because the church was started from scratch.

The New Testament is largely concerned with the birth of the church and spans less than a century so we have little chance of seeing a church in decline or restoration. Its probably only in Revelation that God speaks directly about revival as we understand it today. The church in Ephesus is called to return to its first love or be snuffed out and the church in Sardis is told to strengthen what remains and is about to die. However, we are not informed as to the response of the churches and, anyway, the focus is normally on the book of Acts. The problem here again is that the church in Acts is being born, not restored. Many will say that the New Testament church is a model that we need to return to; they will point to the power and effectiveness of the early church and, moving on to the new Testament letters, will say that these are the guidelines for how the church should look, with the five-fold ministries beginning with apostles. This warrants a great deal of study and debate but I would suggest that there is a common denominator amongst the restorationists and revivalists that both defines and contradicts their thinking.

Going way back into the Old Testament God told Moses that there would be a prophet just like him that would guide Israel into all truth. It was Moses who gave Israel their Law but it would only be the prophet who was like, but would supersede, Moses who would fulfil the Law and give his people the ability to live a godly life. That, of course, was Jesus. The problem I see with revivalism is that it is an Old Testament paradigm. While it holds that the new is come and the old is passed away it has, in effect, restored the old rather than replacing or superseding it. By citing the book of Acts as a model and Paul's letters as manual, it simply gives us new rules. Instead of putting the Old Testament in context, the New Testament becomes The Bible Part II. It could be argued that the Bible (proper) ends with the Gospels and the rest is a God inspired commentary because everything is summed up in Jesus - he is the alpha and omega.

In short, while revivalists go on about God doing a new thing, what they teach and prophecy sounds rehearsed and regurgitated. Instead of looking forward and seeking fresh ground they continually look back to what has been. You hear talk of a new wave, times of refreshing, "you ain't seen nothing yet". Anyone who is serious about the Great Commission that Jesus left us with will want to see the outpouring of God's Spirit but there is a God chasing mentality that troubles me. If there is one lesson to be learnt from Jesus' teaching it is that we must lay everything down in deference to him. That means scrapping our own agenda no matter how noble it may seem. God knows we need stimulating and if he doesn't put zest into our lives we will find excitement elsewhere but if we have faith that God will meet our every need at the opportune time we have no need to chase anything.