Monday, June 27, 2005

Celebration of Discipline - Fasting

Recap from last week's post on prayer:
I'm setting myself some targets to get on with prayer...30 minutes each day.
Well, I managed it for the first few days, though I was a bit silly and always left it to 12am ish just before I went to bed! Then I got a little slack over the weekend which isn't good. Am gonna try and keep it going this week though. There's no reason why I shouldn't be doing it anyway. Think I'll try and take the dogs for a walk each day in the early evening and fit it in then!

Moving on to this weeks topic of "Fasting". Foster gives us a good explanation and history of fasting in bible times. I particularly like,
"The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." Matt 9:15
I agree with Foster that its one of the most important statements on fasting in the New Testament. It assumes fasting will happen, and gives a mandate for it to happen - because the 'bridegroom aka Jesus' has left. It makes Christ the focus for the discipline as/when it takes place.
"Fasting must forever centre on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained."
So what's the big deal, why is it such an unfamiliar thing? Why is fasting no longer (or was it ever in Western society?) a cultural norm? Foster mourns,
"Have we become so accustomed to 'cheap grace' that we instinctively shy away from more demanding calls to obedience? 'Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.'"
Crumbs! He's hit the nail on the head. For me at least, this is a challenging statement. What areas of cheap grace do I wallow in? Reaping the benefits of a Christian life, but ignoring the hard-slog it also is at times. I think fasting will 'bring out' those items of cheap grace in me and help expose them, so its time to find out.

Smuggleablity Of Suitcase

My brother is coming out here to Hong Kong to visit me in a couple of days time. Its good to see that he's started packing already (I'm a really last minute packer!) But judging by this photo, it looks as if my sister would really like to come to!!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Lantau Waterfalls

Monday being our day off, we decided to head out to Lantau Island (one of Hong Kong's largest inhabited islands) to visit the area where my friends used to live and also to see the waterfalls!

So we get to the bottom of the waterfalls, dump our bags, and attempt to climb straight up it to the top. As with most climbing expeditions, once you get to the top, you then have climb another harder section to get to the real top, and so on. So, finally, having reached the 'real' top we soaking in the view - 'literally'.

Hong Kong is renown, like many other places in Asia (Bangkok for one), for freak, full-on rain storms. (None of that UK drizzle I'm used to!) Of course, we ended up with a massive downpour, while we were at the top. So unable to get to any form of shelter, we let the elements engulf us. You know that feeling you get when you're so wet, its just impossible to get any wetter - yeah, so we jumped in, fully clothed, shoes still on... GREAT FUN! as I'm sure the photos show.

Sailing Perspective

A couple of us went sailing the other weekend.

It was the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Holiday so we decided to have our own trip out to the sea, plus we really felt like we needed a break from work.

Here's a few photos as we headed out through Clearwater Bay and on into the South China Sea.

The first ones at a slightly odd angle, but I think it helps to show what it was like on the boat once we got the sail up. It was great to dangle our feet of the side as the boat tilted into the wind. The water was so clean and refreshing, even warm - totally not used to warm water, having been brought up in the UK.

We sailed out into the South China Sea, had we kept going another 15mins we would have gone out of Hong Kong waters. But instead we turned round and headed for a quite bay to take a swim and eat lunch.

On the way back we ended up with this group photo. The sun was just starting to set so everybody has a really warm glow.

We almost left DJ stranded out in the sea. But decided life just wouldn't be the same without him if we didn't bring him home.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The internet just got smaller

Some research suggests that if you take any two random people in the world, then you can link them to each other with an average of 6 people between them. So my friend knows this guy who knows this guy who...6 people later and you've found a connection.

I've heard of all this stuff before and it doesn't surprise me, especially in Christian circles where I think its probably more like an average of 4 degrees of separation.

Here's a random one that happened to me just the other day: There's this guy who works with me in the office called Mike, or "Dr Google" as I like to call him. Mike loves using google, in fact he spends most of his day doing it. He loves searching around finding the most random things on the net. So crazy is he about searching, that he even searches for other search engines! Which is why when google told him about Amazon's A9 search, he clicked through to Bagga's blog, which was running an article about it. Mike, along with a few friends including myself, is studying Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. He noticed Baggas was doing it too and thought "Hey cool, lets email my friends about it". So he did, and even got really excited when he noticed that a guy in Hong Kong (where he lives) was also doing it.

It just so happens that I'm studying the book with him and his friends and also with Baggas and the others at Anyways, some time later... he returns to the blog to read some more, realises that the guy in Hong Kong was me, realises that he works with me, in fact sits about 10m away. Tells us all his amazing find and we all have a good laugh.

OK, so it might not sound that remarkable but was amusing at the time, to see that I'd been 'found out'! Thanks Baggas!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Celebration of Discipline - Prayer

My apologies...I'm supposed to be posting the next part of Celebration of Discipline but I'm not feeling too well at the moment. Hope to get it done in the next couple of days. couple of days later...

Its been one of those weeks again, where there has been much for me to do and I also started getting a tad ill with a silly cold thingy. As a result, cultivating any sense of meaningful prayer has been a little difficult. Which is kinda ironic since the chapter we're studying in our blog group is all about prayer.

Foster starts the chapter by setting the bar high,
"Prayer - secret, fervent, believing prayer - lies at the root of all personal godliness. - William Carey"
OK, but do I really get the picture? He's saying that prayer is a crucial part of my walk with God, yet my actions this past week haven't characterised that. This is one reason why I found the following quote from Martin Luther so challenging.
"I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer." He held it as a spiritual axiom.
Axiomatics plays well with my mind since I was taught many a mathematical proof at university. They are the foundation or basis upon which a proof is constructed. They are the 'definites', certainly holding true in a particular space or field. And I agree with Luther, the same is true here. Prayer *has* to be the foundation upon which we construct our daily lives, if we want a solid, steady enriched life that follows the heart of our Maker. (note to self: I'm starting to feel rather guilty now at saying all these things but not doing them. Yikes! this is hard! And the quote below confirms this...)
"We must never wait until we feel like praying before we pray for others. Prayer is like any other work; we may not feel like working, but once we have been at it for a bit, we begin to feel like working."
Now I'm starting to understand. Prayer isn't supposed to be a struggle. Its supposed to be a delight to converse with our Maker, Creator, and Saviour, but for some reason its not. Sin is always trying to block my way into His presence; pure laziness, ignorance...the list goes on...all these things stop me getting on with it. But in the words of Stephen Curtis Chapman, "I'm diving in" its about time I got this sorted.
"I want a life of greater, deeper, truer prayer" - Archbishop Tait

I like that guy, he makes a lot of sense but its up to me to make these words real.

One last note, I've noticed a sense of guilt creep in on me this week. Each time I come to pray I feel guilty because I haven't been doing it enough, and immediately I don't feel like praying because of that sense of guilt. That kind of guilt is unconstructive. I only want to feel guilty if its going to make me do something about the situation. So this week, I'm setting myself some targets to get on with prayer...30 minutes each day. I want to be held accountable by all the others involved in this study...check up on me each day during the week and see if I've progressed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Funny pics

Came across this site on DB's site today. The photos labelled Why Women Live Longer really made me laugh. Check it out if you have 5 mins to waste!

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Discipline of Meditation

Its been a long week of deadlines (hence no blog posts), but thankfully I got chance to read this next chapter of Celebration of Discipline earlier on. My thoughts are recapped here:
"Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey his word."
Great! That sounds so simple...but I was struck by the reference Foster then makes to the Garden of Eden.

"Adam and Eve talked with God and God talked with them - they were in communion. Then came the Fall...Adam and Eve hid from God"
That got me thinking - just how many different ways do I try to hide from God? Too much work (particularly in my case this week), need to spend time with friends, too sleepy (often as a result of the previous two). I've listed some pretty lame excuses here, but the scary thing is - I've actually used them, and way too often. God isn't fooled by all this. What's needed 'down under' (I work with lots of Aussies!) is an attitude change. My heart needs to feast again on the delights of knowing God, to be struck once again by who he is.

I say the following with full-knowledge that I can only change with God's help. (But I know he wants to help me, so its time I got on with it!) Meditation is one way to get my heart straight. As Foster says,
"In meditation...The perpetual presence of the Lord (omnipresence, as we say) moves from a theological dogma into a radiant reality. 'He walks with me and he talks with me' ceases to be pious jargon and instead becomes a straight-forward description of daily life."
That's where I wanna get to. To experience the 'intense intimacy and awful reverence' of God, not some cheap idea of a mushy friendship which I seem to have been happy to settle with.

"For to be in the presence of God is to change." This echos the words on my heart.
"Regardless of how it is done, the aim is to center the attention of the body, the emotions, the mind, and the spirit upon 'the glory of God in the face of Christ' 2 Cor 4:6"
This will be my plumbline as I delve in deeper. Time to get on with it...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Pitfalls of Christian Disciplines

I couldn't resist a second post to list the 7 pitfalls that Foster warns about. I think they'll be useful for us to keep in mind as we go through the book.

Things to avoid doing:
  1. Turning the Disciplines into law
    - legalism chokes the heart
  2. Not understanding the social implications of the Disciplines
    - waging peace in a world of war etc
  3. Viewing the Disciplines as virtous in and of themselves
    - instead remember that they are there to bring us before God
  4. Center on the Disciplines rather than on Christ
    - He must be the focus of our attention, not a set of rules
  5. To isolate one Discipline and to neglect the others
    - the Disciplines are an "organic unity" - I like that quote!
  6. Thinking that the 12 Disciplines exhaust God's grace
    - God cannot be confined to any system
  7. Studying but not experiencing the Disciplines
    - abstraction, argument, debate draw us away from the real need - the need to change

The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation

Having just read the introduction chapter of Richard Fosters book "Celebration of Discipline", here are a couple of thoughts running around in my head.
"...the Disciplines are best exercised in the midst of our husband or wife, out brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbours."
I'm working my way through this study book with a group of bloggers from all around the world. In a sense they are my virtual brothers and sisters. But it is also important for me to allow my friends and family who can see me close up to criticise the way I implement these disciplines. I need to open it up to them and invite their comments and criticism - so feel free to do so!

It is important to note as I begin this study that the book is based closely on the disciplines that have been practiced by Christians throughout the centuries. Foster claims the "devotional masters have affirmed the necessity of the Disciplines" which are "central to experiential Christianity". So these are not going to be some strange new-age techniques to 'enhance' the mind, but rather affirmed practices that have stood the test of time.

The requirement for these disciplines is simply a longing after God. Their purpose is liberation. One caution which Foster gives, one which I can see myself a victim of, is not to make the doing of the discplines the main goal. The main goal is to meet with God, to delight in him, to develop my relationship. How many times have I fallen into the trap of trying to fix my life myself. I've learnt in my head that giving my problems to God works, but time and again I have failed in action, failed to let him help me. Foster quotes from Heini Arnold,
"As long as we think we can save ourselves by our own will power, we will only make the evil in us stronger than ever."
I think what he means is that, as long as I am trying to save myself from my sins, then I will fail, because salvation from sin can only be bought through Jesus - surely if there was another way, God wouldn't have sent him to die for us. So simply put, if I try to attack these bad habits of mine, or try to make my life better soley through my own disciplining, then I will fail. I have to give the disciplines over to God and let him become the focus of doing them. The disciplines cannot institute righteousness but they can help sustain it. The work has to be grounded in God first.

What I'm looking for in these next few months is to be able to say, quoting Foster,
"Divine Love has slipped into our [my] inner spirit and taken over our [my] habit patterns."

"To refrain from being good and kind would be the hard work because goodness and kindness are part of our [my] nature."

This sounds idealistic, and indeed it is. But its a good ideal - one that I believe can only be brought about by a total change in my inner spirit - and that is why Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit. I'm looking forward to seeing more of his transforming power in my life.

Here is Liz's roundup of the group blog.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong Island
Originally uploaded by Alan Blake.
I went sightseeing over the weekend with my mate Alan, who's come out to join me in Hong Kong for a few weeks. I really hate being a tourist, but always use the excuse of 'having friends over' to explore the usual places where tourists are seen.

Here's a shot from The Peak, looking down towards Central, Hong Kong Island. In the background you can make out the tallest building in Hong Kong, IFC 2, which also happens to be one of my favourites. And of course it was designed by British architect Norman Foster.

Came across this cool link that tells you the name of the famous buildings on the HK skyline - pretty handy when you want to show off your knowledge about each building in the photo. *cough*