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Monday, January 25, 2010

A challenge for 2010...

Many Christians are familiar with the period of Lent; a period of preparation for the celebration of Easter. This period in the Christian calendar, commencing on Ash Wednesday (this year February 17, 2010), is a reminder of the need for repentance in the Christian life. Fasting from a particular food during this period is commonplace. Traditionally, this is meat and for many Catholics they will also only have one complete meal during the day and two smaller ones at other meal times, with nothing else in between. This is not just a time of repentance and self-denial (it is no mistake that The Salvation Army's Self Denial Appeal occurs at this time of year), but also the opportunity to take stock of our lives and remove that which is unnecessary, in order to learn to live more in complete reliance upon Christ. Recently I got to make a new friend who is a Canadian missionary currently serving in France. He has made a conscious decision to live by faith. He refuses to take a salary for his position, having felt compelled by the Spirit to live this way. He has a wife and young child, and God has proved himself faithful in his life. He has not missed a meal yet, he has a roof over his head, and the family has all that it needs, whilst my friend also has a thriving ministry to the poor and destitute. I recognise that not all of us are called to live this way, but in reality those of us who live in the West (in particular) really don't know what it means to live "by faith" - daily, desperately relying on God for our every provision. I know I don't and I was certainly challenged by my friend's example. Which is why this Lent I am taking the opportunity to fast from something that I take for granted everyday... caffeine. I drink coffee every day, sometimes several times, and also drink caffeinated soft drinks regularly, so this will be a challenge for me. But I'm hoping that I will be reminded of the example of Jesus Christ, who "humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! (Phil 2:8). Interestingly, though, having just finished N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope, I have also been challenged to take up something new at Easter... This action of "new life" and "new creation" is designed to be an effective counterpart to the "self-denial" of Lent... Calvin might have referred to this in terms of mortification (killing off the old self) and vivification (raising to life the new). As yet, I don't know what new thing I will take up and try, but I'm looking forward to God doing a new thing in my life at that time... Stay tuned for that one. So... I lay down this dual challenge to you as well. Firstly, what can you give up for Lent this year? What will you fast from? Secondly, what new thing will you take up at Easter? It could be something very simple, like more exercise, or a new hobby, perhaps try your hand at poetry, painting, or some other craft. Or a decision to call a distant family member once a week. Maybe it could be to invite someone for lunch from your church whom you would not normally associate... The possibilities here are endless... Remember, this is not meant to be an added burden, but rather the opportunity to intentionally live the "new life" that Jesus Christ has provided for all of us through his life, death, resurrection, ascension and expected return. As we participate in his resurrected life we are new creations. Lent is the opportunity to remind ourselves to discard the old ways of life... Easter, to take up the new. Will you accept the challenge?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

J.I. Packer on Spiritual Disciplines

"As the children of this world, fired by personal ambition, set themselves career goals and then work very hard to adchieve them, so God's children, fired by the greatness of divine love, should have before their minds the goal of discipline in daily living, and work equally hard, planning, praying, and trying things out, to make it a reality. The alternative is to live like a pilot flying blind--always being taken by surprise and tyrannised by the immediate, the urgent, and the unexpected--experiencing life as a succession of emergencies that one is never ready to meet." J.I. Packer "A Passion for Holiness" (Leicester: Crossway Books, 1992), 115.