Monday, October 10, 2011

Submitting Self to God

"Submitting self to God is the only real freedom - because the deepest slavery is self-dependence, self-reliance.  When you live your life believing that everything (family, finances, relationships, career) depends primarily on you, you're enslaved to your strenghs and weaknesses.  You're trying to be your own savior.  Freedom comes when we start trusting in God's abilities and wisdom instead of our own.  Real life begins when we transfer our trust from our own efforts to the efforts of Christ." - Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels by Tullian Tchividjian

Monday, October 3, 2011

No Fear

"The biblical writers were all on the same page when it came to believing that God is in control of all things and that nothing can happen that he doesn't first review and allow. He's never in a position of wringing his hands in confusion; he's never surprised at what occurs on earth; he's never wondering what to do next." - From Your 100 Day Prayer by John Snyder.

This gives me hope because it means God is taking into account every detail and working things out for the outcome that he already sees. In fact, I have nothing to fear because whatever the future holds, God is already there. His plan is for my good and for His glory whether I cooperate or not; whether I think getting from here to there is how I would like to do it or not. How much better to rest in peace knowing that he is in control and everything will work out. It takes the burden of worry off of me and that's how God wants it all along.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What Have We Become?

Excerpt from an article by Paul Proctor:

"I continue to be both saddened and disturbed by how many professional Christians there are today that are more interested in advancing their own ministries and agendas than they are the Word of God – and frankly, it shows because far too many spend their time and effort talking about we, me and mine – promoting and defending themselves, their feelings, their visions and their experiences with one another, week in and week out, rather than contending for the faith with Bible in heart and hand. (Jude 1:3)

...The Great Commission has not changed since it was given even though the so-called “church” and its hirelings have. What would the Old Testament prophets say to us today if we could hear them? What would the Apostles from the New Testament say if they were still with us?

More importantly – what is our Just and Holy God saying to us right now?

Look around – look in the mirror – and then look in your Bible for answers – that is, if you really want to know what they are. They’ve been there all along."

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” – Matthew 28:19-20

Friday, September 16, 2011

Nothing is Impossible

"The word impossible isn't part of God's vocabulary. It's a word we thought up on our own, and we think it carries lots of weight. But it does so only when we subtract God from the formula. If there's no God, the kind of God portrayed in the Bible, then we would have every right to think that there are all kinds of impossible things in the world." - from Your 100 Day Prayer by John I. Snyder

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Name is On God's Tatoo

"Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me."

"Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me." -  Isaiah 49:13-16

I read this in my devotional today and was reminded that no matter what happens, no matter how uninvolved God seems in my circumstance, He is still there and is actively at work.  He can't forget about me any more than I, as a mother, can forget about any of my children.

When God seems far away from my struggle, I just have to calm down and see that He is there.  It's usually my own worry that blinds me from His presence.  It's kind of like when a young child loses sight of her parent in Walmart and she panics, but her mom is just on the other side of the clothes rack and never lost sight of her child.  Once I am able to see past the anxiety of the situation, I discover the Lord never left and always had me within reach. 

In fact, this scripture says I am engraved on the palms of His hands and am continually before Him.  That's kind of like having my name permanently tatooed on His hand as a constant reminder that I am His.

That's a huge grace note for today.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Little of What You Like Does You Good...

"Little luxuries are more conducive to sustained well-being and pleasure than big ones.  These days, this philosophy of happiness is gaining popularity and, while I don't believe that happiness is an absolute state to which we all have a right, I do agree that a little of what you like does you good.

I would hazard a guess that most relatively contented domestic artists subscribe to this philosophy (both knowingly and unknowingly) and treat themselves regularly in small but significant ways.  The gentle arts offer such a wealth of little luxuries that it's not difficult to create a chain of small pleasures that link together to make a necklace of non-precious gems to adorn your life.  Pretty buttons, trimmings, ribbons, lovely yarn, half a yard of a beautiful fabric, a good novel or a book of poetry, a few squares of chocolate, a box of French macaroons - all are strung on my personal necklace of luxuries."

- From The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is it Just "Contemplative" Prayer?

I wish what I'm addressing here was called something else besides "contemplative" prayer because that is a good word and by true definition, very much applicable to how we pray and worship. There is definitely benefit in seeking quiet alone time with God and I think for most of us that is what "contemplative prayer" means.  However in my research for what this movement was all about, I discovered that at its roots it means something different and that is what this post and the previous one are about.  But don't make a decision for or against it on my say-so.  Read God's word for yourselves and seek discernment from the Holy Spirit, then proceed from there as you decide what or who to follow.  

I believe prayer is absolutely vital to faith and is a very important way God speaks to us and invites us to speak to Him. It is powerful and life-changing.  If "contemplative prayer" was just about praying according to the definition of "contemplate", I would have no problem with it. The dictionary defines contemplate as to look at or view with continued attention; observe or study thoughtfully, to consider thoroughly; think fully or deeply about: to have as a purpose; intend. 

Praying with purpose, thought, and attention is good.  Having times of solitude and silence to focus on what God wants to speak to our hearts through His word and prayer instead of listening to the distractions around us is good. But as I've continued to research what the contemplative prayer movement really teaches, I'm finding out this is not the kind of prayer they teach, nor is this kind of prayer taught in the Bible. 

So if it isn't Biblical, where does it come from?  It is steeped in the ancient tradtions of other religions and the occult, introduced to the church by men and women who were influenced by those other philosophies and embraced them.  And we're eating it up, hook, line, and sinker.  Why?  Because we yearn for intimacy with God (a good thing) but are willing to sidestep what scripture tells us about having it and will try anything that promises a different experience that will give us new insight and will get us closer to the mind of God; the very thoughts of "the Divine" himself.

All this is nothing new.  Eve fell into the same trap in the garden of Eden.  The seduction Satan used to get her to eat from the forbidden tree was the promise that if she did, she would be like God.  It wasn't enough that she got to walk and talk with Him every evening in the garden.  Why should she settle for that if she could be equal to Him, be like Him, and know His every thought?  That is the whole idea behind "new age" meditation and all the practices connected with it - to connect with and become like The Divine through contemplative prayer and spiritual practices.

Interestingly, those who are sounding the warning about contemplative prayer the loudest are those who used to be deep into new age religions, the occult, and meditation before they met Jesus as savior.  They clearly recognize it for what it is because it's what they used to practice.

So where do well-meaning Christians get the idea that this teaching is Biblical, other than the fact that it comes from respected sources such as Richard Foster, Thomas Keating, Beth Moore, Christianity Today magazines, mega-church-feel-good gurus, and many, many others? Here are a few references that have been presented as Biblical proof but in fact, these scriptures are taken out of context to apply to something that was never intended nor supported with other scripture:

Ps. 62:5: "My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him."
This verse is not an instruction on how to pray.  It is about depending on God for refuge and salvation, and waiting in expectation for God only.  Even if we assume the psalmist was praying, he is not suggesting we must approach God in silence.

Ps. 46:10: "Be still and know that I am God."
This is also taken out of context.  This psalm is actually a rebuke from God to those striving against Him. Some translations read "Cease striving and know that I am God."  In other words, sit down, be patient, and acknowledge that He is God. It is not instruction in prayer.

Any scripture that speaks of meditation is often used, but never is "meditation" in the Bible used in the context of the new age type meditation supported in contemplative prayer.  In the original Hebrew and Greek, "mediate" means to think about, ponder, speak, pray, consider, put forth thoughts, study, to consider something before speaking or acting, to attend to carefully, etc.  Nowhere in scripture does it mean seeking an altered state of mind, speaking a phrase or word over and over, or emptying the mind so something else to fill it.  The word meditate in scripture is always in reference to the study and consideration of the statutes, precepts and words of God.

Some say that the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and praying (Luke 4) was a time of contemplative prayer.  Scripture only says that Jesus was lead by the Spirit into the wilderness to fast and pray and be tempted by Satan.  There is nothing that indicates this was a mystical pilgrimage marked by silence.  It was to prepare Jesus for ministry.

Some turn to the account of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 when God passed by as a great wind, an earthquake and a fire but it was through God's "still, small voice" that Elijah heard Him.  Contemplative prayer proponents point to that as being evidence that God wants us to be silent to hear Him as a still, small voice.  However, it has to be noted that Elijah was hiding in the cave because he ran away in fear and was utterly spent physically and emotionally after taking on the prophets of Baal.  He was not there because he was on a pilgrimage to find God in silence. God found him and chose to speak to him gently, knowing Elijah's emotional and physical state at the time.

Matthew 6:6 is also used to encourage contemplative prayer: "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."  If we read the entire chapter, however, we see that Jesus was teaching about not doing things to show off.  Verse six is one in a series of admonitions against those who were giving tithes and alms loudly so people would notice, who were praying loudly to impress others, etc.  It isn't an instruction to seek something secret in prayer or to seek silence when praying, but rather to have a right attitude and motive for prayer that seeks the Lord instead of the approval of man.  And if we keep reading that chapter in Matthew, we actually find Jesus' own instructions on how to pray!  If anything, this chapter tells us to NOT get caught up in the repetition of words.  In the Greek, the word "repetition" means to babble, to repeat the same things over and over, to use many idle words, to stammer or stutter.

Sometimes the red flag is not in the misuse of scripture but rather the warning that comes with the teaching as is the case in Richard Foster's Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home. He writes, "I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on the nature of the spiritual world, we do know … there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! … But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection.… 'All dark and evil spirits must now leave.'"

I have to ask, since when does God lead us into a type of praying that puts us in danger and opens our minds to demonic influence?  It's also not true that the Bible doesn't give us a lot of information on the nature of the spiritual world.

Is there benefit to silence and solitude when praying and studying God's word?  Of course!  But silence can be obtained without opening ourselves to things rooted in eastern religion and the occult.  I like how author and speaker Marcia Montenegro says it: "Silence can be soothing and comforting; we can get deep insights when we are quiet. But simply trying to be quiet is not prayer, and there is no biblical basis for the belief that real prayer is wordless. After all, God has given us a written revelation, and God's laws and words are acclaimed throughout the Bible, such as Psalm 119, which extols God's word as a treasure and lamp. In Is. 40:8, we learn, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever," and Jesus declares to the Father in Jn. 17:17, "Your word is truth.""

The bottom line is, we draw near to God through Christ and through His word, not through new age techniques, silence, mysticism and meditation, or repetition of words.  To quote Montenegro again, "Do techniques bring closeness to God, especially when such techniques are parallel to Eastern religious practices? Ephesians 2:13 tells us, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." We draw near to God through Christ (Heb. 4:16), not through techniques. When First John talks about abiding in Christ, it speaks of following Christ's commandments and showing love for each other."

I'm not a scholar.  I'm a truth-seeker who happens to enjoy reading and studying.  Everything I've written in these two posts have come from studying scripture first, followed by other credible sources.  Blue Letter Bible ( includes the Hebrew and Greek meanings of words from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance which is a valuable tool in discerning what scripture means.  An excellent book that documents with scripture what is wrong with the teachings of contemplative prayer and the emerging church is A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.  

A helpful website about how new age thought is infiltrating the church is CANA (Christian Answers for the New Age) by Marcia Montenegro, who, before receiving Jesus as Savior, was involved with various new age, occult, and Eastern beliefs and practices, including Inner Light Consciousness, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Hindu teachings and meditation, and psychic development classes.  If anyone can see these things for what they are even if they are wrapped in biblical God language, she can.  I got some information for this post from her article entitled Contemplative Prayer: Is it Really Prayer?

As Christ followers we need to be diligent in studying God's word so we recognize the lies when they sneak in.  I want to be like Ezra who "set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances..." (Ezra 7:10)  The Hebrew for "study" in this verse means "to resort to, seek, seek with care, enquire, require, to frequent a place, to tread upon a place, to consult, to seek of God, to seek in prayer and worship, to investigate, to ask for, to demand, to practice, to follow, to seek with application, to seek with care."  Whew!  That's heavy stuff but we aren't dealing with fluff here so reliable armor is needed. 

2 Timothy 2:14-19: 
Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.  But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene....

Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness."

Monday, March 28, 2011

What is Really "Emerging" in the Church?

As a Christ follower I find myself at a crossroads of sorts as to who I am going to listen to.  There are so many voices within the church and sadly, not all are speaking truth.  Recent reading has opening my eyes to what some respected voices are really saying and I find myself with a lot of questions.

For example, as a Christian, can I support the teaching of a belief system that encourages induced altered states of consciousness and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but is now wrapped in Christian terminology as "contemplative prayer"?  A teaching that hints of pantheism (God is all) and panentheism (God is in all) and says that we need to empty our minds in order for "The Divine" to fill it up again?  

Do I allow myself to be influenced by a teaching that says in order to truly connect with our spirituality and God, we must reconnect with ancient, mystical forms of worship that says we can only connect with God in complete silence?  Or one that says if we all do this, no matter if we are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion, we will be connecting with the same god and thereby all be united which is what God intended all along?

Can I support a doctrine that says we can't know absolute truth and can only experience what is "true" for the community we live in, and since we cannot know absolute truth we cannot be dogmatic about doctrine or morals? 

Do I embrace a philosophy that says the Bible and the notion of heaven and hell is simply outdated for the emerging, more savvy generation of believers and everything we thought we knew needs to be reconsidered so that it is a better fit for where we are as a society? Or one that says in the end, everyone will eventually be saved and go to heaven even if they don't acknowledge Jesus as savior?

These are the root of the teachings of the popular contemplative spirituality and prayer movement and the "emerging church" which have influenced main stream denominations and many popular Christian authors and speakers. 

I'm trying my best to not be reactionary but I guess it amazes me that some of the most sought after and quoted teachers, conference speakers, and authors in the Christian community support tenents of these teachings, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Some are all-out promoters of it knowing what it is and others are just dabbling in it but it's there just the same.  It's even shown up in subtle ways in my own church, not as an outright teaching per se, but in referencing the works or words of some of these teachers in the sermons or Bible studies being taught.

But what amazes me more is that so few are questioning it, perhaps because they do not recognize it for what it is or are too enamoured with the messengers.  My knee-jerk reaction is to use my mommy voice with one eyebrow raised and finger pointing, saying to those close to me, "Wake-up, little missy!  Pay attention, little mister!"  If the mommy voice doesn't work, I may have to resort to imitating the robot on Lost in Space: "Danger, Will Robinson!"

Consider the following quotes and decide, without being influenced by who said it, whether it would it be a teaching you would embrace as a Christian. (I'll let you know who said them following the quotes.)

1.  "Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God's house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not.  Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God."

2. "I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian [mystical] traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own Christian traditions."

3. "Every distraction of the body, mind, and spirit must be put into a kind of suspended animation before this deep work of God upon the soul can occur."

4."The ultimate authority in my life is not the Bible; it is not confined between the covers of a book.  It is not something written by men and frozen in time. It is not from a source outside myself.  My ultimate authority is the divine voice in my own soul. Period."

5. "I'm looking for a second reformation.  The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs. This one is going to be about behavior.  The first one was about creeds.  This one is going to be about deeds.  It is not going to be about what does the church believe, but about what the church is doing."

6.  "Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love...For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required."

7. "Mysticism, once cast to the sidelines of the Christian tradition, is now situated in postmondernist culture near the center....Mysticism is metaphysics arrived at through mindbody experiences. Mysticism begins in experience; it ends in theology."

8.  "We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible. Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices."

9.  ‘... if we are not still before Him [God], we will never truly know to the depths of the marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s got to be a stillness."

10. “I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word--bibliolatry ... I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.”

11. “If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or, either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition…. But the open mind realizes that reality, truth, and Jesus Christ are incredibly open-ended.”

12. “God is a great underground river, and there are many wells into that river. There’s a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a Christian well, a Goddess well, the Native wells-many wells that humans have dug to get into that river, but friends, there’s only one river; the living waters of wisdom."

Who said it?

1. Henri Nouwen
2. Thomas Merton
3. Richard Foster
4. Sue Monk Kidd
5. Rick Warren
6. Henri Nouwen
7. Leonard Sweet
8. Basil Pennington
9. Beth Moore
10. Brennan Manning
11. Brennan Manning
12. Matthew Fox

Even if I don't actually study the works of these men and women, I can't ignore the fact that other contemporary authors not only study them, but endorse their teachings.  Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) endorses the writings of Sue Monk Kid, Henri Nouwen, and Thomas Merton, among others, in his books and joins alongside Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) for conferences promoting the emerging church and contemplative prayer.  Rick Warren endorses Leonard Sweet.  Beth Moore says of Brennan Manning in her book When Godly People Do Ungodly Things that his contribution to our generation "may be a gift without parallel" and calls his book Ragamuffin Gospel "one of the most remarkable books" and also shares the stage with Richard Foster and others at events.  Brennan Manning frequently quotes mystics Matthew Fox and Thomas Merton. A few of them started out sincere in the faith but have since turned away from God as is the case of Sue Monk Kidd, formerly a devout Christian author who now worships a goddess named Sophia. 

Even the online version of Today's Christian Woman magazine, endorses the contemplative prayer teaching as evidenced in this article in which the author quotes some of the authors mentioned above, and this article about Margaret Feinberg, a popular author and speaker at contemplative/emerging church conferences.  In fact, several of the Christianity Today publications support these things.

Apparently, it's not just the popular teachers and pastors themselves whom I need to be discerning of, it's who they study and endorse that is important as well.  Although some of the quotes are isolated from the actual writings they came from, they still reveal a lot about what the person believes. I guess what was most surprising to me as I started looking into this is how connected everyone was to the other. They study each other, they quote each other, so while I also want to give a measure of slack, we have to see that we each reflect the ideas and values of those we study. That's where the discernment is important. We need to know something about who they they are influenced by and who they follow before we join in.

I also have to mention the very popular yet questionable writings of authors such as  Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts), Sarah Young (Jesus Calling), Margaret Feinberg (Hungry For God) and emergent church guru Rob Bell (Love Wins).  Sadly, they are aligning themselves (knowingly or unknowingly) with teaching that isn't Biblical even if they put God's name all over it and it makes them feel closer to Him.  I've had to understand that the "ancient ways" and "mystical union" they are speaking of come out of man's traditions, not from scripture. It is wise for us to be wary when a woman claims to have received words from Jesus during times of meditative contemplation and puts them in a book written in the first person tense as him speaking to us through her. 

I know how it feels to really like a certain author or speaker or pastor and then find out something negative about him or her. Every part of me wants to protest and let the naysayer know how wrong they are. But I also know I have to at least take what is said and find out for myself whether it is true or not. That's what I hope anyone reading this will do. Don't take it on my say-so. Test anything you read or hear, no matter how endearing and popular the source, against what God really says in His Word, and decide for yourself who or what you will follow. 

I have often used the quote "eat the fish, spit out the bones" when referring to things I read that make me feel good and sound "right" even though they may have some questionable teaching mixed in with truth.  I'm questioning whether that is acceptable for me anymore.  It doesn't do to pick out the bones if the meat itself is tainted.  The only "meat" I can know is good and bone-free is the Bible itself and that has to then be the standard by which everything else is measured. 

Recommended reading: A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.  And of course, the Bible.