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I have a few different thoughts I would like to share with people, each one probably worthy of a short article on its own. However, until or unless I get some spare time to do them as separate articles, I will just kind of mix them all in together in this letter, since there is a common theme between them. The theme is just an expression of concern about where people are heading spiritually, particularly in light of individual bases now being autonomous to one another.

My concern is that we may be going down the path that we have noticed all religious denominations going down, where they gradually become more and more lukewarm, insincere, and out of touch with God. So my first point has to do with the concept of autonomy in itself, and where it is leading.

Some people seem to have pretty much the same idea of autonomy that Annette had, which was that it was a promise by Dave that he would not make anyone accountable, and that people could pretty much do whatever they like. When a day came that Annette had to be accountable for things that she was doing (or not doing), she accused me of reneging on my promise not to make her accountable! But, of course, she had missed the point right from the start.

Autonomy, like life itself, is not just an end in itself; it is a TEST. What are you going to do with the freedom that God gives you. As we have learned in our Bible studies, some people use their liberty "as an occasion to the flesh". And I have seen this happening in virtually all of the bases. To counter this, we could say, "Let's scrap the autonomy thing, and go back to the old ways, with lots of reports and lots of checking up on people." But I don't think that would solve the problem. We recognised this very real possibility (i.e. that autonomy would be abused), and it was almost because of this weakness in the character of some individuals that we started the autonomy experiment in the first place. The idea is to give you enough rope to hang yourselves. Annette did it well and truly, and others are doing it as well. Whether or not you ever get kicked out by your local base, if you abuse your freedom, you are going to be hung spiritually when you stand before God. And for those who want to really grow spiritually, we are going to have to consider the possibility that we will need to start a whole new revolution if the rot sets in too much more deeply. In some ways, that whole new revolution has been going on in our lives for quite some time, anyway. That is because the real movement of the spirit is not the Jesus Christians organisation. The real movement of the Spirit is the relationship that we each have personally with God.

So now to my second point, and that has to do with prayer (and to a lesser degree, with fasting). I'm at a loss for words here, because the truth has already been said several times before in other articles I have written, and yet people continue to ignore the overwhelming importance of these truths.

Your relationship with God is only as good as your prayer life; and your prayer life is more than good intentions and past religious experiences. It is even more than ritual disciplines (although I think that for many of you, even ritual disciplines in the area of prayer are getting to be pretty rare).

We have this ethical dilemma with regard to prayer, where we teach that it should be secret (and the same with fasting). So there is no mechanism for leaders to "check up" on people, to find out if they have been praying. And yet it is incredibly easy to know whether a person is praying or fasting without ever poking your nose inside their prayer closet. Apart from insincere ritual prayer/fasting, which only makes a person religiously proud, real prayer and fasting will keep you in the spirit. If people are taking grievances against you because you are out of the spirit, then obviously you are not praying and you are not fasting. Easy, isn't it?

And the number of second and third stage grievances being taken within the community over the past few months seems to indicate that the MAJORITY of members in our community are not praying and fasting much at all. This definitely is one area of our spiritual life where good intentions don't count for anything. We can talk ABOUT prayer and ABOUT fasting, and have good intentions to change, but if we don't actually DO IT, (and keep on doing it), we are going nowhere spiritually.

When that couple joined us in Vihiga, one of the first things she pushed for was a "day of fasting" each week. We refused and said that fasting should be private and secret. When she could not get an audience for a fast, she lost interest in fasting altogether (and probably prayer too), and it was only a couple of weeks before they both backslid. It was very easy for us to see that they were not praying and fasting. But, you know, it is pretty easy to see that others of us are not praying and fasting either. And unless we do, we are headed for destruction spiritually (whether or not we manage to stay on as members of the JCs or to get a lot of lit out).

And now I come to my third point, which is "besetting sins". It seems that each one of us has some area of our life where we keep falling short over and over again. These are what we call "besetting sins". They are usually the topic of most grievances taken against us. We have people in the community who are habitually impatient (like me), grumpy, dishonest, lazy, proud, selfish, gossipy, etc. Hopefully by now you at least each KNOW what your besetting sin is. (Some may have more than one.) But one of the things that keeps us from making progress with our besetting sins is that we trivialise them. We tell ourselves (and others too, at times) that they are not really all that bad, that they are just foibles or weaknesses, that God made us this way, and sometimes even that they are almost virtues (like I often do when I am too harsh in correcting someone). We convince ourselves that at least we are humble, because we know that we have these problems; but then we don't bother to seriously declare war on the sin itself. It's easier to convince ourselves that we are better off holding onto it, because it keeps us humble. (And if the truth were known, we're probably not as humble as we would like to think we are either!)

All of this is just an extension of the common churchy perversion of the grace of God, where they more or less say, "Let us sin, so that grace may abound."

I want to relate this concept of besetting sins to my two earlier points: prayer and fasting, and the freedom that goes with autonomy. We are each (whether members of the Jesus Christians or not) free to give in to sin, or to take action to stop sinning. Actions to stop sinning are, of course, much harder than just giving in to them, especially considering that none of us is perfect. So no matter how hard we try to overcome selfishness, for example, there are still going to be times when we slip up, whereas giving in to sin yields no report cards at all. However, continuing to fight the good fight of faith is what discipleship is all about. (... contrary to the false grace teaching that says just saying "Lord, Lord, you have done it all and I don't need to do anything!" is what it is all about!)

So what is your besetting sin? Please, take time to answer that right now. Write it down if you have to, so that you don't let this article go to waste by just fizzling out with good intentions. And while you are at it, how much time did you spend in praying in the last week? Write that down too... not for anyone else to read, but for you to look at and think about. And how many meals have you fasted in the last week. Once again, just secret information between you and God.

You see, the fact that such stuff is personal becomes a good excuse for even hiding it from ourselves. So we just carrry on from day to day, quite indifferent to whether or not we are getting anywhere spiritually.

I know that there are such concepts as praying without ceasing, and fasting without ceasing, which deal with our attitudes more than the objectively measurable stuff. And I know that our failures CAN turn into victories, by making us humble if nothing else. I also know that real change is not going to come through the law, but through changes that can only originate from deep inside of ourselves. But all of that will never happen if we choose to run away from the uncomfortable truths about how little we are actually doing at the moment to change.

You have some answers now to the questions I asked (and hopefully at least SOME of us will have some answers that we are not totally ashamed of). The next step is to decide whether or not you need to make some serious changes in your life, especially in your prayer life. I think that if we can start making those changes, we will see things picking up in everything else that we do. You are free NOT to make those changes, but at least have the courage to admit that you have made such a choice, by examining your answers and making a decision to improve your prayer life or not to improve it.

Think about it. But more importantly, pray about it... and I mean REALLY pray about it.

Love, Dave

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