Fr. John shares how three life crisis led him to read the Bible and discover the Holy Spirit, healing miracles and the demonic. He discovered how our minds deceive us and how Jesus can free people from:
- Description of the book
- Downloadable Chapter 8 "Developing a Spiritual Life"
1. Description of the Book
- Guilt and shame
- Sexual abuse
- Identity confusion
- Demonic oppression and the
- Mental strongholds of intellectualism, liberalism and denominationalism that blind people to spiritual truth.
Available From:Going Spiritual is available in paper ($ 19.95) and Ebook ($ 4.95) format from the author, Amazon and bookstores worldwide on the Ingram network. ISBN 978-1-775212713 (includes shipping in Canada) from Gishler Group - contact email@example.com. Electronic payment available.
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3. Sample: Chapter 8: Developing a Spiritual Life
This is just the beginning. As we mature in our spiritual life, we discover our personal spiritual gifts:
The most diﬃcult part of developing a spiritual life is ﬁnding a local church community which can provide a healthy balance of authentic Bible teaching, experiences of the Holy Spirit, emotional encouragement and a meaningful purpose. It is arrogant and foolish to think we can discover, develop and heal our spiritual life outside of a nurturing church community.
As a cradle Anglican I have been nourished by Bible reading, teaching, worship, and the sacraments of baptism, confession and holy communion. I enjoy the gasps in some Anglican churches when somewhere in a sermon I wake everyone up, by sharing that I was a cradle Anglican until I went through a divorce crisis, read the whole Bible myself, experienced the Holy Spirit, and became a serious Christian. There is always a great deal of sucking in of air, and whispers about whether or not I said what I just said. The implication is that they probably have not yet “got it.” They too may need to read the whole Bible and experience the Holy Spirit to become a serious Christian.
It is a challenge to go deeper in Bible study and prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit in developing their spiritual lives. My Bible reading experience was followed by a short time when I was a bit like one of those Bible thumping evangelicals on TV. Extreme evangelicals often fall into the religious trap of the Biblical Pharisees. They know all about the law of God, but not about the love of God. This is the trap of a Religious spirit of judgement, for which I later had healing. Like many former evangelicals I was emotionally and spiritually starving in this environment.
Then I was drawn to the love and sense of community of more theologically liberal churches. My time as a theological liberal was short lived. Their long theological debates over same-sex blessings and marriage pushed me back toward what I consider a more healthy theological balance between the law of God and the love of God. The key to developing a healthy Christian spiritual life is ﬁnding a nurturing church that balances community, orthodoxy, relevance and outreach.
In 1993, two years after ordination, I was able to attend a workshop on church growth in Toronto which examined both why Canadians leave churches — and what are the criteria of a spiritually thriving church in Canada. The workshop was led by Don Posterski, who worked with Irwin Barker of the polling ﬁrm Angus Reid to develop and conduct statistically reliable research on eﬀective Protestant churches in Canada.37 They used 26 focus groups across the country to test survey questions. Next they conducted a statistically rigorous survey of Canadians in thriving churches, to determine what they like about their churches, what would justify them leaving a church and what they would look for in a new church. The survey results, based on 761 returned responses from lay people, clergy and academics, identiﬁed the four pillars of an eﬀective (i.e., spiritually nourishing) church as:
After bumping around a few other churches, we decided we should try Christ Church, Calgary. This should not have been hard. We knew several people there and have listened to a CD of their magnifcent choir every morning for the last 10 years while having breakfast. This was a big challenge for me. They have had a history of very theologically liberal clergy and were about to get another. On our ﬁrst Sunday I was praying for a sign that this would be ok. As we walked in we were handed a leaﬂet and a ticket for a draw which I put in my pocket. After the service we walked into the coffee area just as they were calling out some numbers for the draw. I heard them call out “762.” I looked in my pocket for my ticket, read the number 762, and held it up as I claimed my prize! It was a three day pass to the Welsh Music festival in Calgary. This was a good sign! The next week I came prepared with an idea from the Alpha Course Leaders Training video. Nicky Gumbel, who developed the Alpha Course, shared his ﬁrst experience of the Anglican Church in England as a young man. He had attended a Bible study, asked a question and was riding home on this bicycle, pondering the priest’s answer. The priest (a Ph.D.), had responded “That’s very interesting. Nobody has ever asked that question before. Let me think about it till next week.” Nicky was so proud of himself. Imagine, he who had never read the Bible or attended church, had asked a theological question this highly educated priest had never heard before. Nicky wondered if he had found his gift. Perhaps he should become a priest? As he continued peddling, another thought entered his mind — “or …that was the dumbest question anyone ever asked, and the priest did not want to embarrass him.” I resolved that no matter how oﬀensive the teaching I was going to smile and only think and say “that’s very interesting.”
Sure enough the main point of the next sermon at Christ Church turned out to be not about the faith example of the Centurion (as the text says), but the BIBLICAL FACT, that he was of course in a homosexual relationship with his servant “whom he loved.” I felt the hair rise on my neck. Then I calmed down, smiled to myself and thought to myself “that’s very interesting I have never heard that before.”
What I learned during our ﬁrst few weeks was that community may be just as important as orthodoxy in nourishing spiritual life. From the moment we walked into thisChurch, we felt at home. We already knew half a dozen people at coﬀee time, and every Sunday were introduced to more. What is most important is that we sensed they were our kind of people. They were well educated, interesting to talk to, successful in business and professions, well travelled and caring about people. This was warm (spiritually nourishing) love as opposed to the cold love we had often experienced in more evangelical churches. We had found a community where our emotional needs were being met. This is consistent with what Posterski found in his survey of what people in eﬀective Canadian churches wanted:38
- 82% Sense of belonging
- 70% Building self worth
- 69% Opportunity for involvement
- 60 % Emphasis on family
- 50% Meeting emotional needs
We have also found community attending and leading the 12 week Alpha Course several times.
My sense is that most people in our Canadian culture are not really happy. My suspicion is that a signiﬁcant reason for this is that they are emotionally empty and lonely inside. They do not have a spiritual life in the sense of a deep emotional relationship with other people and Jesus Christ. They are hungry for an authentic experience of Christian community.
8.2 Orthodoxy: In Touch With The TruthOne of our baptismal promises in the Anglican Church is to remain in the Apostolic teaching and the fellowship. Orthodoxy may be deﬁned as teachings consistent with the earliest and most reliable Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible. Many people do not realize how much reliable and consistent information is available. There are over 6,000 fragments and copies of books and letters, some as early as 300 AD. I have seen a fragment of a copy of Paul’s Letter to the church in Philippi, dated from 330 AD, in the British Library. There is more physical evidence available for the man Jesus than for Julius Caesar.
The Acts of the Apostles and letters of the Apostle Paul date from the First Century. They remind us that conﬂicts over doctrine and with false teachers were the norm. Most of the earliest church leaders died for their faith. False teaching was to be resisted at all costs, including torture and death. Anglican clergy must publicly sign a statement that they believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain everything needed for salvation before ordination. “… Do not go beyond what is written…” (1 Corinthians 4:6) Any new prophecy or teaching that is contrary to the clear meaning of the Bible is by deﬁnition heretical — even if approved by a pope, church council or synod.
Orthodoxy is the good news of the Bible that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners through faith in His sacriﬁcial death on the Cross as a way to forgiveness of sins, and an eternal spiritual life of joy. Jesus mission statement in Luke 4.18-19 describes exactly what Christians are to do in following His example:
- Be anointed by the Holy Spirit to preach this good news to the poor (those who don’t have), so they can
- Proclaim freedom for the prisoners (including those imprisoned in false teachings), which leads to
- Recovery of sight for the blind (spiritually as well as physically), which leads to the
- Release of the oppressed (spiritually and politically)
- To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (God’s blessings)
Jesus’ Mission Statement teaches us we have to be serious, not dabblers, in our spiritual life. The purpose of preaching the good news is to proclaim freedom for prisoners. Proclaim is not a suggestion or a hope. Proclaim means we must (not may) try to free people who are imprisoned physically, mentally and spiritually. Jesus spend a great deal of his time proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God to free the Pharisees. They had imprisoned themselves and others in a rigid religious practice of 615 teachings or regulations related to keeping the Ten Commandments. The bottom line was that the Pharisees, like some modern teachers, were guilty of idolatry because they were honouring their interpretation of the Law, more than the Law-giver (God).
Powerful preaching and proclamation leads to opening blind eyes. Some people are physically blind and Jesus was able to heal them. But many more of the people Jesus talked to, were spiritually blind. They were blinded by false and obscure Hebrew teachings and could not see the truth about God.
The physically imprisoned may need to “see” the error of their ways, repent and change their ways before they become spiritually freed. The mentally and spiritually imprisoned (see strongholds above) may need to see the truth about God, repent and renounce false doctrines to become free.
When Jesus talks about the oppressed, he is not just thinking of the Roman occupation. As we “go spiritual,” our spiritual eyes are opened and we see a whole new level of meaning in the Bible.
We see that Jesus is often talking about the spiritual, not the material aspects of life. The oppressed in the mission statement include not just the poor and the politically oppressed. Some people are oppressed spiritually by demons and evil spirits. This is what many people discover as they develop their spiritual life through healing experiences as described in Chapter 12 on page 165.
This mission statement is a timeless prophecy of God’s plan of salvation (from Isaiah 42.7, 49.8-9, 58.6). The orthodox text we are to proclaim is in writing. The consistency of theology through all the 66 biblical books, written by diﬀerent people in diﬀerent countries between 550 BC and 200 AD, could only be achieved by the inspiration of a single divine author (God or the Holy Spirit inspiring people). Posterski found that this orthodoxy is an essential characteristic of an eﬀective church that helps people develop a spiritual life:
I ﬁrst became aware of this modern decline in orthodox teaching through Pierre Burton’s The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look At the Church in the New Age, published in 1965. Burton criticized the Canadian Protestant churches (he was Anglican), for trying to adapt Christianity to the culture to maintain the privileges and prestige of the bishops; instead of challenging the secular culture with the radical Christian Faith of the Bible. Sadly our stronghold-blinded Anglican and Lutheran bishops failed to hear this warning (see self-deception and strongholds above) and continued down the politically correct path of deconstructing the authority of the Bible. The consequences of this decline in orthodoxy has been a steep decline in church attendance in direct proportion to the degree of unorthodox teaching over the last 50 years:
- Roman Catholic (most orthodox) down 20%
- Anglican (Episcopal) down 40%
- United Church of Canada (least orthodox) down 60%
In the absence of orthodox Christian proclamation in many of our churches, our North American culture has degenerated into a post-Christendom, and now “post-truth” society. Instead of determining orthodoxy or truth through the clash of serious ideas and rigorous debate, conﬂict is avoided by the haze of liberal respectfulness. This requires a mind boggling (self-deceiving) acceptance of ideas on both sides of a debate as equally true. Opinion has been elevated to the status of truth, without the traditional checks and balances to weed out misguided opinions. Now, avoiding intelligent debate and conﬂict is sadly, more important than truth.
We seem to be living in a narcissistic anti-truth culture of self-deception. This is very confusing for everyone, and very destructive to orthodoxy and the development of spiritual life. Going back to my childhood tree house story, it seems like the “tree house”of Christendom has been dismantled, and now we are discovering that the theological liberals, like my childhood friend, were lying when they said they knew how to build a better one.
8.3 Relevance: In Touch With The TimesNot accommodating the culture does not mean not trying to understand it. Posterski found that 53% of respondents thought understanding the culture was “very important.”41 Churches that become a holy huddle, for protection against pagan outsiders, soon become irrelevant cliques. Eﬀective churches that nourish spiritual life have a balance between the four pillars of community, orthodoxy, relevance and outreach. Relevance is about being in touch with the times: knowing where people are in their hopes, fears and needs. What people need is exactly what Jesus oﬀred:
Teaching that opens their spiritual eyes and leads to the recovery of their true identity and purpose as beloved children of God and signs of His glory in the world.
Teaching and healing experiences that give freedom from the mental and spiritual prisons of false teachings, sin, guilt, shame and un-forgiveness.
Teaching that explains why things go wrong and how things really work in this life and in the spiritual dimension.
People need a genuine personal experience of the Risen Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This experience is what makes Jesus relevant and opens their spiritual eyes to the possibility of forgiveness, healing and an eternal spiritual life of joy.
Many people in our time are confused. Their lives seem to be without purpose or meaning. We seem to be living in a time that is between times. Christendom and the shared values of an older generation have been largely replaced in Western cultures by a vague new progressive liberalism (a stronghold). This liberal progressivism knows what it is against – Christian moral teachings that limit their sex lives. But it has no clear meaning or purpose beyond vague platitudes about love, inclusion and freedom. I am reminded of my tree house experience in Chapter 3. I had just built a very nice tree house in our back yard in Ottawa. A friend was jealous and said he had an idea for an even better tree house. The problem was that we had to dismantle the one I had just built, before we could build his better tree house. When the original tree house was dismantled, he grinned at me and admitted he did not really have a better idea.
My sense is that this is where progressivism and liberalism have taken western culture. They do not really have a better tree house or better set of religious or philosophical beliefs that give people in our culture meaning and purpose. The legacy of liberalism is the destruction of what has stood the test of time and created our great progressive Western civilizations. You can see the unhappy result all around in sad faces, addictions, broken marriages and stress, as people try to ﬁnd happiness in drugs, alcohol, material possessions and sex (the deception of false love). Many of the those who came to us for healing ministry had lost their real identity as beautiful children of God. The culturally relevant issues that people need Christian teaching on and healing ministry for are:
- Un-forgiveness (the un-forgivable sin)
- Sexual immorality and abuse (it’s rampant)
- Personal identity theft (I am no good, a mistake, unlovable)
- Addictions (Alcoholism, Materialism, Sex, Power and Control)
- Truth and lying as murder of the truth
- Spiritual oppression, cults, pagan religions, idolatry and mental strongholds
Posterski found that 85% of the people in eﬀective churches agreed with the statement that “a church is not worth attending unless it provides practical guidance for expressing one’s faith in the world during the week.”42 Christians that work in challenging environments need the support and guidance of a spiritual church community. They need regular nourishment in the form of shared stories, personal experiences of the Holy Spirit, and relevant biblical teaching. This means a church where the preaching helps them come to know and experience Jesus personally. They need to know how to connect their experiences of prayer and the Holy Spirit to their daily lives. They need practical as opposed to vague, intellectual religious teaching.
My own spiritual life developed from a combination of reading the Bible and praying at home daily, studying and attending healing ministry workshops and then having relevant experiences of the Holy Spirit and healing. I found relevance as people shared their faith experiences in church fellowship groups. Bible study and prayer groups always lead to the development of trust and sharing of life experiences. The Alpha Course and Cursillo Weekends are speciﬁcally designed to teach people how to share practical experiences of the Holy Spirit helping them in their daily lives. After 12 weeks of meeting for intimate sharing, everyone on an Alpha Course knows, trusts and misses the group ifit ends. Cursillo is organized as a network of people who are “grouping” in small groups every two weeks to be accountable for their study, piety and action. The Weekend is designed to prepare people for this grouping. The monthly “Ultreya” is a gathering of the whole community for more sharing and fellowship.
One of the best ways churches can be relevant and help people go spiritual in the workplace is through dealing with diﬃcult social issues in their sermon times. Posterski found that 26% of respondents thought it was important for churches to be open to talking about tough social issues.43 Churches often have to choose between “going political” —aﬃrming what is popular; and Going Spiritual — proclaiming the deep truths of Biblical wisdom. I often ﬁnd it refreshing to attend the more evangelical churches, which seem to know where they stand on abortion, sexual confusion and marriage. The New Wine (Alpha) churches in England and largest evangelical churches in Calgary and Vancouver are crowded with hundreds of young people at multiple services on Sundays. Young people are starving for relevant spiritual teaching and experiences that will help them develop a spiritual life in a post-truth culture.
In our time we have the strange paradox of many confused people who want to be spiritual but not religious. Many have been blinded by the mental strongholds of liberalism, homosexuality and progressivism. They are often the ones exploring Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga and Islam. They want to get away from the irrelevant academic and political conﬂicts in Christian churches. They want to ﬁnd relevant and authentic experiences of spiritual love, joy, peace and happiness. My heart breaks when they talk excitedly about having meaningful religious or even supernatural experiences in pagan religions. The bad news is that Satan can counterfeit the gifts of the Holy Spirit and deceive people like Siddhartha, Mohamed and me (see above) who are searching for a personal experience of God.
8.4 Outreach: In Touch with the Needs of OthersOutreach is the work of God and the basic mission of the Church. The Bible begins with the Creation story and then continues for about 4,000 years of the history (His story), the story of God reaching out to diﬀerent men and women in diﬀerent times and places including:
- To Noah to save human life from destruction by a ﬂood
- To Abraham to leave his home in Iraq and form a holy people
- To Moses to rescue those people from Egypt
- To Kings Solomon and David to form a holy nation
- As Jesus, His only begotten Son, to give up His life to redeem His people
- To Luther and later teachers and prophets to guide His people
Throughout this history the message and mission has been the same: to reach out and tell all people that God loves them, and to bring them into a holy covenant relationship of faith and love. This work of outreach is what gives the church community its relevance, meaning and purpose. Outreach nourishes people by bringing meaning and purpose to their lives. Many people are emotionally wounded, lonely, discouraged, sad and depressed because their lives do not have this sense of meaning and purpose. They are the poor (in spiritual life) that Jesus came to proclaim the good news to. This good news opens spiritual eyes, so people can see and understand the truth about God reaching out to them.This truth frees people from the mental prisons of fear, depression, hopelessness and ignorance about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This truth frees people from false identities such as being “a failure,” “not wanted” or the “wrong sex.” The good news of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives people new hope and joy.
When Lucille and I pray daily for all the members of our families, we pray that they will ﬁnd some spiritual meaning and purpose for their lives. This is the most diﬃcult challenge in life because our lives are ﬁlled with distractions, we have an enemy (Satan) and God has given us complete freedom to accept or reject His outreach of love.
Posterski found that “…70% of Christians surveyed rated ‘a strong commitment to local evangelism’ as a high priority in selecting a church to attend.”44 In what will be news to evangelicals, this interest in evangelization was not primarily for numerical growth. Sixty-two percent of respondents thought numerical growth was “not important.”45 Rather this work of outreach needs to be motivated by the internal needs of the community, for orthodoxy and relevance. Outreach is also a natural part of the Christian concern for social justice. “Three-quarters of Christians… felt that eﬀective churches will address social problems like domestic violence, child abuse and racism from the pulpit.”46 What makes churches eﬀective, and leads to personal spiritual growth, is the careful balance between these pliers of orthodoxy, community, relevance and outreach.
Figure 8.2 illustrates how some churches become out of balance and fail to provide a healthy nourishing environment for developing a spiritual life. The horizontal axis illustrate the tension between the inward focused St. Worship’s which is over emphasizing community but may be irrelevant to the culture, and St. Works’ which is over emphasizing outward focused works of love, possibly without much orthodoxy or sense of community.
The vertical axis illustrates the tension between St. Fuzzy’s which is over-emphasizing relevance to the culture and fuzzy love, and St. Judge’s which is over-emphasizing orthodoxy and God’s law. All four of these extreme churches are seriously out of balance and limited in terms of helping people develop a spiritual life:￼
I use this model to help church leaders visualize where their community is now and see if their community is centred or out of balance. I explain the four pillars as above and then hand out a the diagram and ask them to mark an X to indicate where they are on the vertical and horizontal axis:
- Draw an X where you think your church is along the left -- right axis of the inward vs. outward focus of your church.
- Draw another X along the up - down axis to show your church leadership where you think they are now in terms of being in touch with God vs. the local culture.
- The distance from the mid-point of balance among these two tensions indicates how out of balance the church may be, and which direction the church may need to move in, to be more effective in helping people develop their spiritual lives.