Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Week in Encouragement

On Wednesday morning I felt inexplicably funky. One of those days you're thankful for the liturgy because you don't have any more to offer than your physical presence and willingness to assent to the truth. Apropos that Martha G used the living dead as part of her sermon illustration. Eucharist, prayerfully received, always gives me a brief jolt of God's kindness. This week I also received prayer, which was from someone either insightful, listening to the Holy Spirit, or both. I mostly remember now that she prayed that God would remove doubt and fear from me. This helped me identify those thoughts as not from God and as barriers to his work, doubly so since he was pointing them out to me through her.

Friends of mind in Tallahassee sent the Trautmans and I a care package with encouraging letters, junk food and pictures of the Bodoh girls. Thanks friends! I remember my spiritual family in Tallahassee with deep fondness and appreciation. How many people get spiritual community like you during the quagmires of twenty-something pre-adulthood? I so covet all your prayers; I love it here at Trinity but it has still been a huge transition and this context is really helping me focus my spiritual growth. So I am not only coming into a new community, going back to school, learning Greek, becoming a member in a new church and trying to discern God's next step (with dramatic implications for the rest of my life)--I am also, with God's help, dredging the subterranean junk of my heart and dealing with it by his kindness and severity, providing a thick layer of spiritual warfare over it all.

Also, my sister blessed me with some prophetic encouragement the other day by sending me a list of attributes and promises the Lord spoke to her about me. It is good to be reminded of the good that God and other people can see in us; I am often my own worst critic. Especially meaningful was her connection of the Psalm 37:4 command/promise to delight yourself in the Lord and receive the desires of your heart with a specific desire of mine--more especially so since I haven often regarded that desire and that verse together! I love you Katie! :D

Last Saturday, before I left Jacksonville for Pittsburgh, some people close to me were sharply questioning my decision to move here. It was painful and frustrating. So I was in a weird mood as I went to board the plane and saw a mid-50s man with bushy eyebrows and carry-on luggage bearing the Anglican seal. I said to him, "Are you Bob Duncan?" He turned, smiled and said he was. I told him I was from Trinity and then we realized we shared both flights that evening.

When we disembarked in Charlotte, he was waiting for me at the gate and offered to buy me dinner during our layover. So for the next hour we chatted and ate Chili's. I really like him. We covered a wide range of subjects and covered a little of his personal history and a lot more of my own. I had the distinct feeling of being gently probed by the man who might ordain me in three or four years. After the discouragement before leaving, it was a blessing to have a "chance" encounter with the archbishop of American Anglicanism. It seems just one more step in the process of belonging to this new family. And speaking of my sister the prophet, she even said she hoped I would sit next to someone interesting after I wearily quipped that "There's never anyone interesting on commuter flights."

Lastly, I would like to point out that, save the archbishop, all this encouragement came by the way of women. Pick up the slack, brothers! Don't be outdone in the imitation of God. :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The spirits [and minds] of the prophets

Funny the things you remember. ~ Forrest Gump

I remember something Stuart Greaves said during my summer 2003 internship at IHOP.* He exhorted our group of young charismatic zealots not to "manifest" when we felt the Holy Spirit--not to shake and convulse and scream, as much as could be helped--by sharing a story from his youth.

During a certain season, the Spirit began to grip him intermittently and he would groan and shake in God's presence. These experiences interrupted the daily flow of his life, driving, being in church (I hope I'm remembering this correctly). When a leader who was discipling him spoke to him about it, the young Greaves replied, "I'm sorry--I just can't control it. It's God." His leader rebuked him, saying, "No. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (1 Corinthians 14:32). Greaves went on to instruct us, saying that wild manifestations are alright when you first encounter the spirit, but as you mature they really help no one. He exhorted us to, when we feel the weight or power or fire of God's presence, resist any urge to manifest but rather turn that spiritual energy back towards God by means of contemplation, prayer or some combination thereof.

These words returned to me this weekend at the conference I attended with some seminary friends. It was called "Dreams, Visions and the Mystical Realm" (they should add that subtitle to Urbana and see what happens). I think Greaves's instruction was relevant in two ways. The basic application occurred Saturday night, when I really did begin to feel God's presence in such a way that might have lent itself to convulsions (and it was happening as I was observing other people go through holy shakes, no less). Rather than whoop, shout, or shake (not that there's anything essentially wrong with such expressions), I focused that divine gripping into intercessions in tongues peppered with maranatha pleading ("Come, Lord Jesus!").**

The other application had to do with many times in the conference where my mind flat out rejected what was being said, but through stirring up my spirit through muttered prayers I was able to receive from the Lord and suspend my judgments. This is not to say that I because I was feeling spiritual I just accepted everything I heard uncritically, but I feel like I was able to be encouraged and provoked by God through this man's ministry. Without the extra prayer I just would have gotten a headache. In the first case, I restrained the fire, in the second I fanned the flame.

The truth that our spirits are subject to us speaks to the relationship of spirit and mind. The charismatic tendency (I speak as one reared charismatic) is to welcome the Spirit and shut out the mind, encouraging a kind of divine possessing where we lose control and God takes over. I contend that this has more in common with Eastern mysticism and Gnosticism than the spirituality encouraged by the Christian Scriptures. To have an active mind is not less spiritual, to turn off one's mind is not more spiritual.

I am reminded again of Psalm 27:4 (another mark of IHOP's influence on my life). It's words don't encourage mindlessness, but rather mindfulness. "Ask, seek, behold, inquire" are sensory words about a creator god who can be known, explored and given witness to in concrete ways.

The incarnation testifies that spirit and flesh dwell together, not one over the other. Jesus did not set us an example of self-emptying so that he could be remote controlled by the Holy Spirit, but rather he "became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). The life of worship ought to be characterized by a fiery spirit and an active, disciplined mind that daily yields volition to God's direction--not his usurpation.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect." ~ Romans 12:1, 2; emphases mine

*International House of Prayer
**I contend that shouting because of a mystical God moment does not "release" something abstract in the Spirit, as is common to say in charismatic parlance. I don't see that in the Bible.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kairos, anyone?

Next week is our fall reading week: no classes, no chapel, no advisee group, no nothin'. I'm flying to Charlotte on Monday afternoon and back to Pittsburgh from Jacksonville on Saturday afternoon. Woot.

I'm going to need the time to: see family, get out of Ambridge, study Greek, run on the beach in the Florida sun, read 4 books.

I received my new laptop last Friday. On Saturday the left speaker began omitting screeching static instead of any proper sound. Sunday night I spent an hour on the phone with India, troubleshooting--finally HP agreed to take it back and gimme a new one.

I also spent an hour on Sunday after service at a parish meeting where the rector explained the details of the recent court decision* on the diocese of Pittsburgh and fielded questions from the congregation. The bishop and standing committee will decide by Monday whether or not to appeal the decision. I would hazard to say the people at the meeting were about 80/20 in favor of appeal, but I have no idea how representative that is of the diocese at large. I commend all who might pray and lobby on this issue to the words of Fr. David Sandifer from when Calvary Anglican (Jacksonville, FL) lost their building: "I think it will be good for us." To everyone else: please pray! Pray that those making the decision will have the wisdom of much counsel and sensitivity to God's leadership.

This weekend I'm going to a prophetic conference at Shepherd's Heart, the charismatic-Anglican-homeless church in downtown Pittsburgh. It's been a while since I've been to anything really crazy (OneThing Montgomery was energetic, but not wacko. Not that all wacko stuff is bad...); I've got to walk that fine line of discernment and openness, I guess.

It's been a good week. Stress levels are down. Productivity up. Please pray against any Satanic attack against the peace I have right now, especially since I'm attending spiritually-charged meetings in a spiritually-charged part of town at a spiritually-charged moment of diocesan crisis this weekend. Hm. Kairos, anyone?

*The Pittsburgh Court of Common Pleas ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (over and against the EDoP [Anglican]), granting them legal rights to all diocesan assets. Millions in trust funds, property and buildings thus go to them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The High Today is 62

My new laptop is supposed to come today. By 4:30. So if I don't wait around at the house until then it will end up at the FedEx shipping facility and I'll have to go pick it up. This will be my first new computer since I started college seven years ago.

My sleeping pattern has been fairly irregular of late. I've had many late nights--some for good reason, others not--and many groggy mornings. Today was weird, though, since I was in bed before 12 but still did not want to get up at 8:30. I've got out of the habit of starting with breakfast each day, so maybe some dietary rectifications will help the situation.

Now that I've quit my job, I've joined the school football team. It's an informal, low-budget, female and male, flag-tackle team, and we have practice only once (twice?) a week. My first was on Tuesday--the first team sports practice I've had since I was thirteen. It was good to do something physical with other people for a change, since so much of my exercise this past year has been alone. And it turns out that if you're on the line you get to just stand there and keep the other guy from coming through--or, defensively, you can rush and scare the QB. It's fun to do something brute when you spend so much time being cerebral.

Other than football, I wish that I had more to report besides the goings on of chapel, class and community, but that's all that's really going on right now. This has the effect that most of the developments I'm experiencing are internal, whether intellectual, emotional or spiritual--except maybe to reaffirm that I am making friends quickly up here and am putting down roots in at least 2 different social niches.

One thing that is cool about classes is that, at least a couple of times now, there are deep congruences between the subject material. For example, on Monday I both read Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines and read about the crucial role monasticism has played in church history (these were readings for Spiritual Formation and Church History, respectively). So Willard provided a strong theology of grace, the body and discipline, while the monastics demonstrated the saving influence that disciplined lives can have on the world and history. After Monday, I decided that I would like to read something about St. Francis, and it turns out that Chesterton's book on him is one of the possible readings for Spiritual Formation. On another front, a Greek vocabulary word I've been having a hard time remembering showed up in an article for my Introduction to Mission to class. Not as cool as the monastic thing, but helpful nonetheless.

I've been asking people to pray for me to grow in discipline. And I've been asking God to grant me both his spiritual gifts and the fruit of the spirit (of which self-control is one).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mea Culpa

"The death we die as sinners in confession gives rise to new life. Something in fact has died--our social saint (more pernicious in some than others) as well as the power of the sin itself. But we become alive to Christ and his church as never before. We arise in Christ with the family of Christ. In the light of his resurrection, veils of shame, guilt and deception fall away, demons flee and sin's power begins to dissipate.

Forgiveness is the first expression of this resurrection power. Upon appearing to his disciples, the resurrected Christ sent out his disciples with the command to forgive sins. 'He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven"' (Jn 20:22-23). We as his disciples are thus imbued with his Spirit to proclaim forgiveness to those who confess sins. This is resurrection power, since the proclamation 'You are forgiven, in Jesus' name' resurrects a person from the death of the sin.

Assurance of forgiveness results from a priestly proclamation. The brother or sister who has heard our confession speaks the word of forgiveness. Without such a witness, we are prone to mumbling admissions of sin and absolving ourselves, neither of which can impart the power of new life to us. Only the forgiveness of God can. And this occurs with certainty through the priestly word of our brother or sister.

Bonhoeffer wrote, 'Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God? God gives us this certainty through our brother... The assurance of forgiveness becomes fully certain to me only when it is spoken by a brother in the name of God. Mutual, brotherly confession is given to us by God in order that we may be sure of divine forgiveness.'"

~Andrew Comiskey, Strength in Weakness: Overcoming Sexual and Relational Brokenness (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 101.

Quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1954), 116-117.