It is time for a renewed hunger

I am working my way through a book by Andy Lord called Transforming Renewal: Charismatic Renewal Meets Thomas Merton 

The book is a comparison of the teaching of David Watson and Thomas Merton. I know a David Watson, so I quickly discovered they’re not the same men… mainly because the David Watson in Lord’s book died several years ago. (I’m pretty quick in my deductive powers that way.)

There is a chapter on the process of renewal that has challenged me personally. Most of the following notes are thoughts from Lord on Watson’s writings. Not so much on Merton (for this post). Being a reader of Merton, this book has fascinated me. And this chapter is really challenging me.

There is an ongoing life in the Spirit. There is growing vitality, love, and power that we witness in the NT. We have to KEEP GROWING.

Watson calls believers to a consistency. This is enabled through the infilling of the Spirit.

HOW TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT.  (David Watson)

  1. Preparation

Search the Scriptures. Explore. Ask questions.

Explore a biblical theology that will enable the mind to be renewed in with a true knowledge of God as revealed in Scriptures. It is also about a review of the commitment made to Christ. ARE WE SAVED? ARE WE FOLLOWING CHRIST? These are tough questions to ask!

  1. ASK

It is rooted in our awareness. We have to KNOW we have a need. We have to search… and thirst. We need to be continually exploring the Scriptures and allowing a holy thirst to be developed. We often don’t know our need. Our heart for the Scripture is dry. We don’t have desire to engage. Thirst can’t be cultivated. We don’t even KNOW our thirst! But when we realize we have a need… we begin to ASK. We begin to SEARCH.

We need a new searching. We need a hunger rising. But that hunger rises up out of a disciplined life found in Scripture. If I am reading Acts, there is a better chance for my soul to get hungry and say, “HEY! I’m not experiencing that! WHY NOT?” It’s a far greater chance I might get hungry doing that than NOT reading Acts.

CULTIVATE THIRST.

Begin to realize that the power of the Spirit is REAL and you will start to long for more.

Thirst can be cultivated. When we are around people who have found that deep well, we get thirsty. There have been times I’ve been around men like Henry Blackaby and Dallas Willard and just being with them created thirst. I heard from them and there was a deep calling to deep. I had to know more.

I think of a missionary, Calvin Olson, who walked with God. To be with him was to want God more!

We need to ASK for more. We need to LONG for more!

  1. Give Thanks

We need to give thanks to God for answering our prayer. Psalms are filled with forward affirmations: places where they gave thanks IN ADVANCE for God hearing their cry. It is a step of confident faith.

It is time to get HUNGRY for the Spirit!

Renew Our Minds

 Renewal is a process of thought, will, emotions, prayer, waiting, and faith.

We need to get away from a one time experience mentality. Conversion is not a punctiliar action. Neither is renewal. We need permission to EXPLORE. We need to give people not yet in faith permission to explore. We need to have a hunger stirred. Create thirst.

Don’t be afraid of the journey.

It’s the same way in renewal. We have to STAY ON A JOURNEY.

We stagnate too easily and too often. We don’t keep renewal a priority. We don’t keep an expectation for thirst a priority.

Renewed churches flow out of a people whose hearts are being continually renewed by the Spirit. It’s a messy process. People move at different speeds. Not everyone progresses the same. Yet, it is VITAL we all move! We have to do it in community. It is impactful to the world!

Renewal happens even in tough times. Dare we say it? ESPECIALLY in tough times. We have to know our need of God!

Renewal is not a gentle pursuit for quiet times but a risky journey in times of pain, sin, and challenge as the Spirit breaks in afresh in visible ways. 

 For David Watson, he wanted believers to have a LIFELONG learning process. Let us be nourished throughout life. Let my own ministry be that model! Let me continually call out to my church to have them keep on growing. Don’t settle in.

How I would love to find a way for ministers in my own “tribe” (the Assemblies of God) to keep on learning. To find ways to grow. They need to keep on being challenged. We don’t just need pragmatic principles but a call to deep spiritual formation and a way to keep on expanding their theological training. We don’t have to have expensive education to grant ongoing degrees, but we should have a higher level of expectation so that we work to TRAIN our ministers.

If we can have conferences to talk about the nuts and bolts of church planting, why not have conferences to center in on how to develop a spiritual life? Bible study? Theological reading? How to read theologically? When we will ENDORSE those moves and PLAN those kinds of conferences (or at least tracks within those conferences), the rank and file will raise their levels of expectation as well.

CREATE THIRST.

Create LIFELONG thirst!

The importance of renewal with Watson and Merton is found in cultivating continual learning. Don’t stop. What’s more… as leaders of leaders we should RAISE that level of expectation. We should EXALT a hunger.

I don’t want to just relate what is the latest I’m learning from John Maxwell or Andy Stanley. How about what I’m learning from NT Wright or Amos Yong or Dallas Willard? Why NOT raise that standard? It just might create that necessary thirst.

Call us out, O Lord! Call us out to THIRST!

It has to be cultivated. It has to be modeled. It has to be PLANNED OUT. We can PLAN thirst. We can PLAN the cultivation of hunger. We can take people on a Curriculum of Christlikeness that is a lifelong journey.

 

The desire to desire

A prayer of Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I cannot see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But, I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart form that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

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One vocation

I am finishing Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. 

His call was ultimately to the monastic life. He became a Cistercian monk and led the way in contemplative life that has served as example for generations of believers following him. His writing has paved the way.

The simplicity of vocation isn’t about giving up everything and entering a monastery. Simple vocation, for Merton, was this:

“…in practice… there is only one vocation. Whether you teach or live in the cloister or nurse the sick, whether you are in religion or out of it, married or single, no matter who you are or what you are, you are called to the summit of perfection: you are called to a deep interior life perhaps even to mystical prayer, and to pass the fruits of your contemplation on to others. And if you cannot do so by word, then by example.”

This is our lack. We do not have interior lives any more. We live shallow, bumper sticker motto lives. We live in the world of 140 characters that shows the “depth” of our conviction. We think a hashtag can bring girls out of slavery in Nigeria.

We need the depth of interior life in our nation. If not the nation, then the church. We need a conviction of soul once again.

We don’t even need to ask God for it. He is willing to welcome us in. Our task is to cultivate that life. Thankfully, we don’t need to pack up and ship off to a monastery. All we need is to utilize the “off” switch in our lives.

“Off” to the noise of the world. “On” to the power of his presence.

White. Male. Evangelical. Pentecostal.

A CALL TO AMERICAN EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS

I very rarely read a book than once. Outside of the Bible, there are a handful I’ve made a second attempt at. Beyond that, it’s been Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy and one more: Thomas Merton’s autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Those of you who read me enough think I’m a Willard nut? (And I am.) I’ve read Merton’s book at least twice as many times. It is like Augustine’s Confessions to me. I love Confessions as well. When he finally gets to the passage of “Pick up and read” I am in tears. 

 
But Merton’s autobiography is the pinnacle for me. There is a richness to his writing and story that captures me. I find myself returning to this old friend yet again. As I read of his conversion, then his slow process of discipleship, I am struck by some thoughts in relation to the current situation with racism in America. We are at boiling point again. And this week, with the horrific killing in Charleston, there is a tipping point, I believe, for evangelical Christians to understand the deep seated need to act. Quite frankly, as I watch movies like “Selma” and “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” I am baffled somewhat by the silence of the evangelical church in that time period. But in light of how things are now, I can see how this is such a hard issue to dive into. So… we’re afraid. 
 
I do not wish to be afraid any longer. 
 
Merton came to faith at the end of 1938. He describes 1939 as a “grey year.” He muddled along not doing much to grow in faith. America and the rest of the world muddled along as Hitler propelled everyone toward war. 
 
Everyone dreaded war, but no one wanted to do anything about it. 
 
Merton writes this:
 
“… the dread of war is not enough. If you don’t want the effect, do something to remove the causes. There is no use loving the cause and fearing the effect and being surprised when the effect inevitably follows the cause.”
 
He had finally come to the realization that the cause of war was sin, but it’s his thoughts that followed that jolt me. 
 
“If I had accepted the gift of sanctity that had been put in my hands when I stood by the font in November 1938 (when he was brought into the Church), what might have happened in the world? People have no idea what one saint can do: for sanctity is stronger than the whole of hell.” 
 
Alas, he was muddling along in faith and did nothing in prayer. He leaves these haunting words:
 
“But the world did not get very much … out of me.”
 
I wasn’t born when Dr. King led the march at Selma. I am alive now, though. 
 
And I’m wondering in the midst of all this upheaval… what is my voice? What in the world could I possibly do? 
 
It’s a world that devolves quickly into bumper sticker arguments. We argue about gun rights. We argue about the virtue, or lack thereof, of the young black man that was killed. We argue about hating the police or liking the police. 
 
We draw our lines and stay there. 
 
And hatred builds. 
 
So, I have to keep asking, “What good is my voice?” 
 
I poke at the bear, showing the weakness of phrases from conservatives and liberals alike (because I am an equal opportunity offender), but what else? In my part of the Cities where I pastor, we have ethnic churches, but not many black churches. My hometown had a higher percentage of black population, so I was friends with many black pastors. But this area where I pastor is a bit different demographically. 
 
I feel like I muddle along. 
 
And then I am challenged deeply by Merton’s words. He truly felt if he had lived in power that year of 1939, the war might have been different. One man. Praying. 
 
“People have no ideal what one saint can do: for sanctity is stronger than the whole of hell.”
 
That is why this week has the possibility of becoming a tipping point for evangelicals. And since that is my “tribe”, and I know all of maybe three people will actually take time to read this far on a very marginal blog, I will speak harshly. We need a good talking to. 
 
I am angry at liberals and conservatives alike, but I save that for another day. I am tired of muddling as an evangelical and I am tired of evangelicals missing the obvious boat to be in during a time like this. 
 
First of all, give up the standard conservative arguments and let me be as abundantly clear as possible: That means whatever FoxNews is touting… ignore it. 
 
Ignore the whole thing of, “If someone had been packin’ in that church, this might not have happened!” 
 
Ignore, “Well, the gunman was a loner.”
 
Ignore, “Well, the gunman was on medication.”
 
Ignore the bumper sticker answers. (I would plead with liberals to do the same thing.)
 
Let us THINK through this moment. 
 
A young white gunman walked into a black church with hatred in his heart. He wrote about his hatred. He waved a Confederate flag in defiance on his web pages. He burned an American flag on his web pages. He celebrated Hitler. He did not walk in there on accident. He walked in with the intention of killing black people. With hatred in his heart, he shot black believers in a Bible study because they were black. 
 
And here is why Charleston could be our tipping point as white evangelicals: Charleston didn’t erupt in violent protest. They prayed. Blacks and whites together. They prayed. 
 
Everyone has witnessed the arraignment hearing where the killer was standing in the holding cell on video and family members vocally FORGAVE the young killer for what he did to their family members. FORGAVE him. 
 
No fire bombs. No burning cars in the streets. 
 
A deeply wounded community, torn to shreds once again by the violence of a racist rose up and forgave that racist. He will still be held accountable for his actions. But the community rose up to be bigger than the racist who tried to tear them up. 
 
This is why I think we’ve reached a tipping point. And I want to jump into action, quite frankly. 
 
I won’t hate all police. I won’t hate being white. I won’t hate anything. 
 
I will work to build communication better with black churches, even if they aren’t directly in my community. I will try and hear their needs and see what I can do to help. I will advocate for better laws and speak out more boldly when a law really is unjust toward people of color. 
 
If we will take this moment to consider what is before us, this is a moment we, as white evangelicals, don’t have to miss. 
 
Acknowledge we have a deep problem with racism STILL in this country. 
 
Mourn with the city of Charleston. 
 
ASK how you can help a black church or black community leaders. 
 
Watch your language. 
 
Don’t jump to bumper sticker answers so quick. 
 
Pray. Pray. PRAY. 
 
And when you’ve done all that… pray some more. 
 
“Sanctity is stronger than the whole of hell.”
 
May it not be said of me (at least) in this moment, “The world did not get much out of me.”
 
 

No fear of the topic of hell

“Why should anyone be shattered by the thought of hell? It is not compulsory for anyone to go there. Those who do, do so by their own choice, and against the will of God, and they can only get into hell by defying and resisting all the work of Providence and grace.” — Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Running from God? Good luck

“(The hard experiences) were only graces in the sense that God in His mercy was permitting me to fly as far as I could from His love but at the same time preparing to confront me, at the end of it all, and in the bottom of the abyss, when I thought I had gone farthest away from Him… For in my greatest misery He would shed, into my soul, enough light to see how miserable I was, and to admit that it was my own fault and my own work…” — Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain 

The perseverance of prayer

My goal this year is to attempt to re-read some key books that have influenced my life and to slow down on the number of books I read this year to try to read deeper.

I am not sure how the “slower” is going to go, but I did finish Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain as my first book. If I do a project where I re-read things, I start with Merton because his book (besides Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy) is the only book I’ve read multiple times. Merton writes in a way where I grab something new, or am challenged again, every time I read his story.

The lesson I am always challenged with in Merton’s life is prayer. We make the mistake in our Pentecostal circles (and Western evangelical circles) that motion is godly. You have to have ACTION.

What Merton teaches me is PRAYER is action. Withdrawing to a monastery is not retreat from spiritual warfare.

His spiritual mentor gave him incredible words of advice when Merton first entered the monastic life:

“Who knows how many souls are depending on your perseverance in this monastery? Perhaps God has ordained that there are many in the world who will only be saved through your fidelity to your vocation. You must remember them if you are ever tempted to leave. And you will probably be tempted to leave.”

We need to understand the weight of our intercession. There is truly a great battle we undertake when we stay at the task of prayer.

 

Withdrawal is not the same as retreat

Several years ago I was sharing with a historian in our denomination my work on the monks of the 4th Century in Egypt and what I was learning about their “Pentecostal” experience. He dismissed it quickly, saying that he wasn’t interested in people who retreated from culture and the world instead of engaging it.

We really need to give up this “either/or” thinking, but when it’s embedded culturally over hundreds of years, it’s tough.

Not giving that up is what keeps this nation divided politically and culturally.

Not giving that thinking up also keeps us from learning the value of “both/and” when it comes to “engagement” with this world and particularly this culture. To withdraw is not necessarily the same as to retreat from this world.

Thomas Merton is the one who taught me this lesson. In Seven Storey Mountain he comes to a place where he is trying to understand vocation for his life and thinks he is not called to the monastic life. Nevertheless, he feels led to go off for a week to a monastery in Kentucky. As he enters the monastery he begins to see the life of sacrifice this particular order was called to, but it was not a retreat from the world.

This was 1941. The world was exploding in war and the U.S. was racing toward involvement. It would be easy to think these monks were retreating from the cause. They were ducking their responsibility. The Lord taught Merton another lesson.

“… these men are dying for Me. These monks are killing themselves for Me: and for you, for the world, for the people who do not know Me, for the millions that will never know them on this earth…”

Merton came to realize that their life of withdrawal from “culture” was a life entering into deep spiritual warfare, especially in that time period. He is fundamentally convinced that their prayers kept the world from destroying itself. He even ponders what would have happened if more people had heard that call to prayer…

To withdraw is not necessarily retreat from responsibility in this world. It may be the most responsible thing to do. The primary task is to hear the call of God and respond.

Merton and “Conversion”

What has attracted me to Seven Storey Mountain over the years is the process of coming to faith. Merton sees his life in process and even when he “comes to faith,” it’s a process.

The passage of his confession and baptism into the Catholic Church is still one of the most moving passages I have ever read. He details the weight that is lifted off his shoulders, the confession of faith, the renouncing of the devil, the exorcising of demons from his life (and he knows they left), and so much more.

When he knew he needed to come to faith and decided to become Catholic, it wasn’t our typical “altar call.” He sought out the priest he knew and the priest gave him three books, telling him to read the books, consider what he was doing, then come back.

That’s just not “godly!” 😉

We could use far more consideration of what God may be doing in our lives and less “spur of the moment” activity. We need to recognize what God is doing all along the way, and even when we have someone come and say, “I want to come into the Kingdom,” we still need to have the fortitude to say, “Let’s consider this.”

I think it may help us from erasing all those notches on our “gospel gun belt.” You know… we have our “gospel gun” like the old West and when someone comes to faith because of our “sharing the faith,” we put a “notch” on our belt. Trouble is, we “shoot” so quick, a lot of those “notches” don’t seem to “stick.”

Lord, help us consider the cost of following you.

 

Merton and Seven Storey Mountain

My goal for reading this year is to read slllllooooowwwwweeeerr… and repeat some books.

Repeating books: check.

Slower: ummmm.

The one book I have read multiple times… okay… a second book I have read multiple times is Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography of Thomas Merton. This is my first read of the year. This book is very easy for me to read every year or two. This is much like a modern Confessions by Augustine. And the writing is wonderful.

Merton tells his story of coming into the monastic life after he comes to faith. As he weaves his story he also drops in marvelous insights into culture. It is amazing to me how someone describing something in the 1930s sounds so much like today.

He has a critique of all manmade social systems. So, he IS critical of capitalism… and communism. He sees their weaknesses. It’s not that one can’t live in them… but he sees the cracks.

“We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension… to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.”

It is really hard to believe he was observing life in the 1930s with that paragraph and not our current culture.

And for communism:

“The chief weakness of Communism, is that it is, itself, only another breed of the same materialism which is the source and root of all the evils which it so clearly sees…”

The book is far more than observations on man-made systems. He looks back and sees the hand of God drawing him all along the journey. He recognizes key points where he is saved from really stupid choices and wonders about the power of prayer.

The search for God, the restlessness of his soul, the coming to faith, then to the monastic life… it’s a wonderful read.

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