Spirituality

As we come to the end of the weekend (a long one for those living in Victoria and Tasmania, Australia), another work week awaits for most people. It is interesting that in the ancient Hebrew mindset, the day begins in the evening - with rest (see Genesis 1 where it repeatedly says "... and the evening and the morning were the first day"). We are to fill our tank (with physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy) and then work from this position of fullness. This is in stark contrast to the common Western worldview that sees the evening or the night as recovery time after a day's work. It's only a slight paradigm shift but what a world of difference... Read more →


A few years ago, when I was on a week-long prayer and silent retreat, I had just finished dinner and I walked out to the retreat centre's garden area. A lot of it was over-grown and unkept but there were some beautiful spots. Great places to sit, meditate, reflect and pray. I had this image of being invited into fellowship with the Trinity. I put 3 chairs in a semi-circle in front of where I was sitting - one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Spirit. It was quite impacting. I could feel their warmth and love. [See the photo below which I took] I had a few reflections at the time: This is the... Read more →


Many years ago, not long after moving to Chicago into a new fairly high pressured ministry position, John Ortberg asked his mentor, Dallas Willard, “What do I need to do to stay healthy and alive spiritually?” Long pause. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life”, he said at last. Another long pause. “Okay, I’ve written that down”, John told him, a little impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” John had many things to do and this was a long distance conversation, so he was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least time possible. Another long pause. “There is nothing else”, Dallas said. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life.... Read more →


A Few Important Qualifications Here are a few important truths about ‘spiritual disciplines’ (from John Ortberg): “Spiritual disciplines are not the barometer of spirituality”. The true indicator of spiritual well-being is growth in the ability to love God and people (see 2 Thess.1:3). The real issue is what kind of people were becoming NOT the exercises of spiritual disciplines we may be engaging in. We engage in spiritual disciplines not because they prove how spiritual we are but because they can lead us into God’s life. “Spiritual disciplines are not necessarily unpleasant.” Sometimes, we wrongly think that for an activity to count as a spiritual discipline it must be something we would rather not do. However, if we are training... Read more →


Here are some more spiritual disciplines ... 6. Solitude. Solitude is intentionally spending time alone with God away from people and from busyness or distractions. We choose to be alone. It is one of the most important and fundamental of the spiritual disciplines, especially if we are to do some of the other disciplines well. Jesus spent a lot of time in solitude throughout his life (Mt.4:1-2; 14:23. Lk.4:42; 5:15-16; 6:12). Jesus taught his followers to do the same (Mk.6:30-32). Take some regular time for solitude, preferably each day. Begin the day with some time alone with God. Take breaks during the day and end the day reviewing the day with God. It is also good to have occasional extended... Read more →


Another spiritual discipline ... 5. Serving. A very important discipline is the discipline of ‘serving’. It helps us to work hard against our ingrained bent towards self-centredness. Naturally, we’d all prefer to ‘be served’ than to ‘serve’. However, in the kingdom of God, God calls us all to be servants – to take on the nature of Christ and to choose to serve others, willingly and joyfully (Mt.20:25-28. 1 Cor.12:7. 1 Pet.4:10). We are called to serve - at home, at work or school, in our neighbourhood and in our church family. When we don’t adopt the posture of a servant we continue to live life centred on ourselves and as a result we can tend to become self-absorbed, proud... Read more →


Some more spiritual disciplines ... 3. The Bible. The Bible is the Word of God. It contains his thoughts about life. It is our guidebook for life – how we are meant to live in the kingdom of God here and now (2 Tim.3:16-17). God’s Word is given to us not just to give us ‘information’ but to help bring about a ‘transformation’ in our life. Paul speaks about us being cleansed by ‘the washing of water by the word” (Eph.5:26). Read, study, memorise and meditate on the Word of God (Ps.1:1-3). Get his thoughts into your heart and mind. Ask God to speak to you as you read. Your goal is to encounter God through his Word. Have an... Read more →


Spiritual Disciplines Spiritual disciplines are like ‘habits of effectiveness’ for the spiritual life, much like exercises, are used to develop habits of effectiveness for other areas of life (sport, music or language). Richard Foster says, “The disciplines place us before God so that God can transform us.” They get us in God’s presence so he can grow us. A ‘discipline’ is an activity within our power that enables us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort. The effect of the discipline is to enable us to do what needs to be done when and as it needs to be done (see Mt.26:41. Josh.1:8. Ps. 119:9, 11). Today we want to talk about a number of spiritual ‘disciplines’ or... Read more →


Spiritual Growth is a Process When we commit our lives to Christ, a new life begins (2 Cor.5:17). We are “born again” or have a chance to start over. It’s not just turning over a new leaf. It’s getting a new life and a fresh start. We now have a new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit. God then begins a process of change in our lives (Gal.4:19). This reality shouldn’t make us slack but it should make us both patient and persistent in our spiritual journey. Spiritual Growth is a Partnership Spiritual maturity occurs through a team effort between God and you. Believers are to ‘work out’ their salvation while God is at work within them, enabling each one... Read more →


This term we are doing some training with our staff on genuine spirituality. I'd thought I'd put a summary of our teaching up on the BLOG for everyone's benefit. Spiritual Growth As we get to know God, his desire is to transform and change us to be like him. We were created in God’s image and likeness. Through sin that image was broken. God is now restoring us to his original intentions. This process of change is what the Bible describes as ‘sanctification’. To ‘sanctify’ means to set apart for holiness, to purify, to make free from sin. To be made holy is to be made in God’s likeness, to be conformed to his nature, and to reflect his character.... Read more →


John 15:1-6. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain... Read more →


Luke 5:16. As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer. The Message Bible This is an amazing description of how Jesus lived and did ministry. He loved solitude - by the sea or in the country, on a boat or in a garden. This required withdrawal from people, busyness and activity. It was his home base - the place he continually returned to. He spent as much time there as possible. Out from here, he left to do ministry and serve the people God had sent him to. His life was full of conversation with God - Father and Spirit; a dance of divinity. Maybe this was the key to not only his survival from the pressures... Read more →


Prayer and Praise When our kids were little, we used to drive the whole family north from Melbourne up to Queensland in the summer holidays to visit their grandparents. It was a multiple day trip and one of the things I hated to do was stop for petrol. After all, all those trucks, caravans and slow pokes I had been passing throughout the day, would now be passing me. My wife, Nicole always fills up for petrol with about 1/4 tank remaining. I tend to see how far I can go on a tank of petrol. I’ll never forget one night, as it was getting dark, looking at the red ‘empty’ fuel night wondering if we would make it to... Read more →


Jesus told his disciples to “abide” in him (John 15:5). They were to stay “connected” at all times. The apostle Paul’s one goal in life was to “know God” (Phil.3:7-11). His prayer for the church at Ephesus was that they might “know Him better” (Eph.1:15-17). But how do we get closer to God? How can we experience God in a more intimate and meaningful way? Different people give different answers: “Get up early and spend hours in prayer”, “Stay up late and write in a journal for hours”, “Fast regularly”, “Go on spiritual retreats all by yourself”, “Memorise lots of Scripture” or “Speak in tongues for an hour each day”. Well-intentioned people often tell us that their way is the... Read more →


God’s kingdom is often described in an organic way and is seen as growing larger and stronger (Mark 4:26-29. Luke 13:18-19). The church is also seen as growing and maturing (Ephesians 4:15-16). Individual followers of Christ are also called to grow in their relationship to God (Colossians 1:9-10; 2:6-7). Personal and spiritual growth occurs over a period of time and always involves a process that is very much like a journey. Many people find it helpful to have a roadmap or at least a loose guide for their journey of faith. In their insightful book, The Critical Journey, authors Robert Guelich and Janet Hagberg, propose the following six stages: Stages in the Life of Faith 1. Recognition of God. This... Read more →


Lessons from Jesus’ Temptation Yesterday, we looked at Jesus' showdown in the dessert. Today, let's glean a few lessons for our own lives from this story. 1. We are in a spiritual war. We live in a spiritual battle zone between God and Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We will either overcome or be overcome. The battle will intensify as history proceeds from this time until the return of Jesus. Before the world was created, a number of theologians believe that one of God's archangels was cast out of heaven and thrown to earth because of rebellion. This being became 'Satan' or the devil. In the Garden of Eden, Satan... Read more →


Jesus has prepared well for impacting his world through total surrender, a strong relationship with his Father and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The final aspect of his preparation is a showdown with the devil himself. Immediately after the “mountain-top” experience at his water baptism, Luke describes Jesus as “full of the Spirit”. The Spirit then “led” Jesus into the desert or wilderness (in comparison to the garden paradise where Adam and Eve were tempted). Jesus fasted (ate no food) for 40 days. During these 40 days he was also tempted or tested by the devil. The three specific temptations recounted by Matthew and Luke seem to have occurred at the close of this period - when Jesus hunger... Read more →


Jesus' Empowerment by the Spirit

During Jesus' baptism in water, the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove (Luke 3:22). This implies a sort of “anointing” for ministry. Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) and was then “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) into the wilderness where he overcame the devil and returned in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). Jesus lived his life by the Spirit’s power. We too need the power of the Spirit to help us live a life of purpose and impact, an abundant joyful and victorious life. The disciples separated themselves to God, developed a relationship with the father and also received the power of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The evidence of... Read more →


Jesus' Relationship with His Father

As Jesus was being baptised, Luke notes that he was praying or talking to his heavenly Father (Luke 3:21). Throughout his gospel, Luke makes a special emphasis on Jesus’ life of prayer – one of close relationship with his Father (Luke 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1; 22:41). After being baptised, the Father spoke to him Jesus and said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). This is probably a private and personal experience between Jesus and the Father. The voice speaks directly to Jesus. Luke does not record any reaction or response from the crowd, as in other cases when such events occur more publicly (e.g. Acts 9). Jesus has developed a close... Read more →


The Denial (Mark 14:27-31, 66-72) The theme of abandonment overshadows many of the Stories Around the Cross. Jesus was abandoned by betrayal (Judas), by indifference (the disciples sleeping three times in Gethsemane), and by denial and desertion (Peter and the Twelve). When Jesus needed them the most, his friends left him alone. They all participated in the supper (Mark 14:23), they all confessed their allegiance (Mark 14:31), and yet they all deserted Jesus (Mark 14:50). Peter is as impetuous as ever – opening his mouth first and thinking afterwards. But he is hard to condemn and impossible to dislike. He has demonstrated nothing but reckless courage to this point - drawing his sword in the garden prepared to take on... Read more →


As we move towards Easter, let's take a look at the supper from Mark 14:12-26. Part of our God-given humanity is the instinct to celebrate significant moments with significant meals (e.g. Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries). Sharing a meal bonds a family, a group of friends, a team, a collection of colleagues together. The meal says more than words - about who we are, how we feel about one another, and the hopes and joys we share together. It’s not just about the food; the meal says something, it does something. We become a people who shared that meal together, with all that it meant to us. The Jewish Passover celebration was such a meal, linking together generations of families... Read more →


As I read the Gospels, there is a refrain that continues to play throughout the stories of Jesus. Jesus is actually not this ministry machine, who is always teaching, praying, healing and helping people. He regularly slips away ... to be by himself. Matthew 14:13. When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. MB Matthew 14:23. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night. MB In solitude, we often find perspective for our life, as well as restoration for our soul from the rigours and pressures of daily life and relationships. Is it time for you... Read more →


Some encouraging advice from Jesus today: Matthew 10:41-42. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing. The Message Bible Sometimes we can easily get lost in reaching for big dreams and huge visions that we lose the importance of the everday and the ordinary. Jesus wanted his disciples to take the good news of the kingdom to the world (that's BIG!) but he wanted them to do so by taking simple steps each day - as... Read more →


Jesus tells us that we have a Father who pays attention to our lives - down to the very details. Matthew 10:29-30. God cares what happens to it (a small canary) even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail — even numbering the hairs on your head. Numbering the hairs on our head (an easier task for some of us than others!) is not a statement of God's mathematical prowess but rather of his caring attention to even the minute details of our life. The priestly blessing says this: Numbers 6:24-26. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;... Read more →


Today, some words from Jesus as recorded in Matthew 6:31-34 (Message Bible translation). What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when... Read more →


John tells us that when Philip and Nathanel met Jesus he gave them an invitation - "Come and see" (John 1:39). Jesus does not offer them an argument but an opportunity to enter into a daily relationship with him. Here are some more profound comments from Jesus: Matthew 11:27. The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I'm not keeping it to myself; I'm ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen. Think about that. The God... Read more →


The apostle Paul spoke a lot about a 'clear conscience' back in the first century. Here are two examples: "Friends, I've lived with a clear conscience before God all my life, up to this very moment." Acts 23:1. MB "I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people." Acts 24:16. NLT "The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith." 1 Timothy 1:5. NLT "Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked." 1 Timothy 1:19. NLT A deep awareness of... Read more →


One day, when Jesus and his disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking over the boat. Jesus was asleep. Matthew tells the rest of the story this way, in his Gospel (Matthew 8:25-26): The disciples went and woke him (Jesus), shouting, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. There are many 'storms' in our world today - political storms, racial storms, economic storms, and relational storms. We also all have internal 'storms' - emotions, thoughts and feelings that rise up... Read more →


Each time I read the Gospels, I never fail to see something new about Jesus and the way he brought transformation to people who he came in contact with. After Jesus calmed the storm, he said to his disciples, "Why can't you trust me?" (Luke 8:25. Message Bible) That's a good question to consider after God brings you through a tough time. Luke goes on to say: Luke 8:26-27. They sailed on to the country of the Gerasenes, directly opposite Galilee. As he stepped out onto land, a madman from town met him; he was a victim of demons. He hadn't worn clothes for a long time, nor lived at home; he lived in the cemetery. Message Bible I started... Read more →


Fuel - Focus - Faith

At our staff prayer meeting a few weeks back I was prompted to think and pray about three things as we began a new term of ministry: Fuel, Focus and Faith. Fuel In Ephesians 5:18-20, the apostle Paul tells us to, "Be continually filled with the Holy Spirit." Like a vehicle whose petrol tank gradually moves towards empty and like a technological device whose battery gradually dies down, we too have limited capacity and energy. It is vital that we stop and fuel - allowing ourselves to draw on the un-ending strength God provides. See also Renewing Your Energy Focus One of the wisest person who ever lived said this: Proverbs 4:25-27. Fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful... Read more →


Yesterday, we looked at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Before teaching that pattern or pathway for prayer, Jesus gave these important instructions: Matthew 6:1-8. When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and... Read more →