Wednesday Wanderings

I’ve two pressing matters uppermost on my mind today. The first derives from a book I’m reading. I posted earlier that I was enjoying this book. Now, all of a sudden, I’m not enjoying it anywhere near as much. The problem? Carnal Christianity versus Spiritual Christianity.

The passage of Scripture usually cited regarding this dilemma is 1 Corinthians 2.14–3.4, more specifically, verse 1-3 of chapter 3.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1Corinthians 2:15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 1Corinthians 2:16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

1Corinthians 3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 1Corinthians 3:2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 1Corinthians 3:3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 1Corinthians 3:4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4 ESV)

The author of the book takes these verse to imply that there are three types of people: non-Christians, carnal Christians and spiritual Christians. Obviously, the non-Christians are the ones more accurately described in 2.14 – “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to undestand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This one is relatively easy: a person without the Spirit of God is an unbeliever. No debate here.

The problem arises in 3.1-3, where Paul speaks of those who are fleshly, or “of the flesh.” Clearly, they are believers. Paul addresses them as “brothers” and he never does this for non-believers. Yet his concern for these “believers” is that they are acting like babies, “infants in Christ.” They’re not ready for solid teaching, but still “drinking milk,” even thought by now they should be well past that (that’s the tone of his remarks in 3.2).
My question for Mr. Baker (who is very clearly a student of L. S. Chafer and his “He Who Is Spiritual” teaching is this: how long can one be considered a “carnal Christian”? Does he ever “grow up?” And what if he doesn’t? What if a “carnal Christian” dies in this state of “carnality?”

In order to preserve your attention on this matter and not get lengthy here, I’ll keep a running post on this matter. I’ll also be posting a review of the book, Spiritual Maturity early next week (most likely on Monday; that’s my book review day).

Let me return to my opening: I stated that I had two problems that were uppermost on my mind. The second is a more pragmatic matter – How does the leadership of a church motivate said church to pray together? On the one hand, I’m sure some would simply say, “Lay out the commands that we should pray. Let them feel and sense their disobedience.”

I could do that, but my elders and I knew we’d appear like Moses descending from Mt. Sinai, with tablets in hand and a new 11th commandment inscribed upon them, “Thou Shalt Pray Together or your prayers won’t count.” That might work for a few people and it might work for a short time, but it hardly creates genuine pray-ers with a heart’s passion for seeking God.

On the other hand, we could just let grace rule and hope for the best. However, the struggle I have with that approach is this: that’s where we’re at now and I don’t think it’s biblical or helpful.

So there must be another hand here somewhere. I’ll leave you with this quote and address this issue at another time very soon:

Francis Schaeffer once asked his wife:

“Edith, I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible. I don’t mean just ignored, but actually cut out—disappeared. I wonder how much difference it would make?” We concluded it would not make much difference in many board meetings, committee meetings, decisions and activities.

—Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Waco: Word, 1981), 356.

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We ought always to give thanks to God for you…

Last evening, Thanksgiving Eve, saw a small handful of the faithful gather at Cornerstone EFC to give thanks to God. We gather every Wednesday to pray, but this night was different. I had taken every household’s name and put it on a small slip of paper. Included on these slips were also every missionary family we support, every leader of our congregation, others in teaching positions, as well as service positions at Cornerstone. All these slips of paper were placed in a basket and stirred around a bit. Then, after I began leading us in prayer, we’d just pass the basket, take a slip and pray. Our prayers were short and concise – we simply wanted to thank God for each person/family/leader represented there. As we went on, it seemed the Spirit was pleased to work in us to produce such a sweet harmony of praying these notes of thanksgiving that no one was aware of the passage of time (a rare thing these days within the church). When we finished, we gave thanks to God for His many blessings upon us and our little church and headed off to our homes, in order that we might prepare to do the same again today.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Some Thoughts on Prayer

93E6B3F5-AE77-4AA0-8ECE-89AC94E794B2.jpgI’m reading a wonderful book entitled, A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller. I’m not reading this book because a publisher asked me to review it (although I’d be glad to do so). I’m not reading this book because a group of pastors is reading it together and going to discuss it in so many days (although this would be a very worthwhile exercise and a wise use of time). I’m reading this book because I need to.

My prayer life isn’t very good right now. This is due, in part, to my pouty behavior (yes, I pout; when things don’t go well or someone says something that crushes a large part of my spirit, I pout; it’s sinful, I know and believe me, it’s been confessed repeatedly… I need to fully repent, however; God give me the grace to do so). A few weeks ago, someone, right after finishing a time of prayer together, said that our times were in need of something. To use his exact words, he said “We just don’t seem to pray ‘in the Spirit’.”

Now, I think I know what it means to pray in the Spirit. This past Sunday, in preaching my next to the last message in a lengthy series from Ephesians, I was dealing with prayer. Ephesians 6.18 says, “…praying at all times in the Spirit…” I think I did the passage justice in expounding what that phrase means. Yet, I’m still haunted by the statement, “We just don’t seem to pray in the Spirit.”

How does he know? How can he tell? How can I tell? It’s stuck in my theological craw right now. I’m working on it. But am I letting God work on it within me? That’s probably the better, yet more difficult question. I’m holding out hope that God will just send me a letter, an email or a text message saying, “Here’s what it’s all about.” But that would be way too much like Gideon and his polar fleece jacket testing of God in Judges 6 (even if I’m not actually asking for this kind of sign, I’m still expecting it).

So, I’m reading a book on prayer and praying. I’m hoping it will answer my question, “How do I know if I’m praying ‘in the Spirit’?” So far it has not answered my question. What it has done is stir up lots of other, different thoughts. It’s also very humbling.

In the section on praying like a child, Miller shares anecdotes from his own life with a daughter who is autistic. From these experiences, he’s learned what it is to be helpless – both as a parent and as a child. This is how we’re to come to God in prayer: helpless and needy. I must confess that too often I want to come in my own strength, on my own terms and in my own way. In other words, I want to talk to me, not to God. So now, in my acts of repentance, I must embrace weakness. I must grab on to my helpless state and come running immediately to God. He’s not asking me to clean myself up before I come to Him. How could I do that and to whom else could I go?

You’d think I’d know this by now, but somehow, in the sinful stubbornness of my heart, weakness is not something I want to glam onto. I’d rather avoid it. No one else should know that I have them (ha! that’s laughable; when I think about it, it’s really all too apparent to them that I have glaring weaknesses). So, I’ll keep reading. I’ll seek to understand and learn experimentally what it means to come as a helpless but trusting little child to my heavenly Father. Maybe, just maybe, in the midst of all this, God will show me what praying ‘in the Spirit’ is really all about.

I want you to go here and read Stephen’s post on weakness. No, go. Don’t tell me you’ll do it later. Go now and read it. It won’t take you more than five minutes.

Then come back (just hit the ‘return’ button) and read this.