Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

Courage

Yesterday, I watched a woman in a video describe how an angry mob attacked a bus she was in that was trying to rescue modern-day slaves somewhere in India.

She said the people in the bus prayed and then, amazingly, God seemed to sow confusion among the attackers and they allowed the bus to go.

I was struck by the courage of the woman from the International Justice Mission and her colleagues who are ready to put their lives on the line in order to free people who are literally slaves in today’s world.

Not for the first time, I asked myself whether I have that kind of courage.

More likely than not, we comfortable Christians in the West would likely say: “No, I am not courageous.”

I am not so sure.  It all depends on whether we rely on our own bravery – or on God.

The apostle Peter was sure he would stand up for Jesus if Jesus were ever attacked.  But he denied Jesus when people accused him of being Jesus’ follower.

Yet only a short time later, Peter was boldly preaching the gospel publicly and defying the authorities who jailed him.

Of course, the difference was what happened between the two events – the resurrection of Christ and the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus told his disciples:

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,   for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

Naturally, that means I need to rely on the Spirit when I am under attack.

It also means that I must not value my own life and reputation above God and what he has called me to do.  That is one of the hardest things a human being can do – surrender his hold on life and give it to God to use as he wishes.

But that is what makes people like the woman at the International Justice Mission so powerful.  That is how God moves through people like that.

I realize that in my own life, I so often fail to stand up for what I believe.  But God is patient with me – and with others like me.

He is nudging me along his path, teaching me that courage comes from him.

Don’t attack! Bless!

What a surprise it would be if the American presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stopped attacking and started blessing each other.

Sound ridiculous?  Well, Jesus asked us to do just that.

In Luke 6:27-28, he says:

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

My first thought on reading this is to say to myself: “That’s a very nice thought.  But it’s not practical.”

But isn’t it?  Did Jesus just say that to catch our attention?  Or, did he mean it?

I think he meant it.

I was reminded of this recently while reading Prayer Evangelism, a thought-provoking book by Argentine-born evangelist Ed Silvoso.

Silvoso urges us to pray God’s peace and blessings on those around us, even people we don’t like.  He says this can be life-changing – for us and for the people we pray for.

At the end of the book, Silvoso tells of a Christian conference he attended in Manila in the Philippines in the late 1990s.  Many pastors had gathered together to discuss reaching the nation for Christ.

During the meeting, the participants agreed to pray for the President of the Philippines and to write out blessings which would be given to him.  Most of those present had not voted for him and were even critical of him.  There were questions about his character.

A huge pile of written blessings was given to a cabinet minister who came to accept them.  She asked for prayer for the president.

The following day three members of the president’s family came to the conference and became believers.  The President himself invited Silvoso to come to the presidential palace to talk about prayer the next time he visited Manila.

I am sure this whole experience changed how the pastors thought and prayed about their leaders.  It certainly changed the lives of some members of the president’s family.

Jesus spoke those words directly to me about loving my enemies and blessing them.  He is not saying that I will change someone else by doing this.

Yet a life of blessing others can’t help but show.

I have heard stories of people who were transformed as a result of friends and neighbours praying blessings upon them.

Jesus’ words are 2,000 years old – but they’re as life-giving today as they were then.

 

 

 

Choices

Every day, we face choices – sometimes life-changing choices.

From a Christian viewpoint, the biggest choice is what we do about God.  But sometimes we Christians make a mistake, thinking that our choices end when we make our initial decision to believe in Jesus.

We can still decide to put God in the closet when it isn’t convenient to follow Him.

That is especially true in Western nations like Canada.  We live an easy life compared to most places in the world. Often, we don’t want to disturb our easy lives by standing up for what we believe – or speaking out – if it will mean trouble.

Or, we simply blend into the general lifestyle around us and mentally refuse to question it.

But, it is not like that for Christians living in states which are hostile to Christ.  A Christian convert in some nations stands a good chance of being cast out of his or her family and perhaps even put to death.

When I see that kind of courage, I am humbled.

Joshua faced that kind of decision when he and Caleb took part in a spying mission in Canaan to see what was there before the children of Israel were to march in and take over the land.

He and Caleb could go along with the majority who said how impossible it was to conquer the land promised them by God.  But they went against the majority and said they could win.  They believed God’s promise  (Numbers 13-14).

At the end of his life, Joshua recognized the tendancy of many Israelites to abandon God when life’s pleasures and problems pressed in on them.  These are the pressures that we face every day – the pressures that discourage us or draw us away from God.

Joshua laid out the choice before the people in a celebrated statement:

“But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve.
Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will
it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”

It is a choice I face – and you face – every day.  Whom will we serve?

One city, one church

A Christian rock concert, put on by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Ottawa last weekend, was a genuine success, drawing 8,000 people the first night and thousands the second night.  Hundreds gave their lives to Christ for the first time.

For me, the most encouraging thing was that churches across the city pulled together behind this two-day outdoor concert, aimed mainly at young people.

For one weekend, we believers were close to being one church in one city.

Why can’t it be that way all the time?

Increasingly, Christians are asking that question around the world.  After all, that’s the way the church began.

That’s not to say that all believers must have the same worship style or that we must agree on every doctrinal detail.  But why can’t we pray together and work together?

I have been reading Prayer Evangelism, a fascinating book by Ed Silvoso which urges Christians to join together to reach their cities for the Lord.  Argentine-born Silvoso has a lot of experience with this concept, working with churches in North and South America and Asia.

One example he uses is the church in the city of San Nicolas in Argentina in 1997.  Christian delegates from around the world came to San Nicolas to pray with church leaders there against the cloud of evil and sin that had settled on that city.

After that,  pastors in every denomination in the city reconciled with each other, prayed together and laid the groundwork for a massive outreach to the city.  That included such innovative efforts as a “prayer fair” where residents of San Nicolas came for prayer for everything from broken marriages to drug abuse.  Thousands became believers.

The Transformation films tell a similar story in cities and countries where there was serious crime, political oppression, and the church was under attack.  The films document modern stories of churches coming together to pray, seek God’s face, and ask for forgiveness from each other.  The results are always striking as the spiritual climate changes and churches are revived.

Of course, there is  much more to it than the brief description I have given of Silvoso’s book.  For example, he urges Christians to offer mercy – not condemnation – to those who don’t believe and are struggling with sin and life.

But his argument for “one city, one church” is powerful.  Rivalry and back-biting among Christians have turned off non-believers for centuries.  Loving each other wins every time.

In most cities, groups of pastors do get together to talk and pray.  There are some joint ventures.  In our city, there is a group that does promote sharing and working together.

But, in most cases, it seems to me that this touches only a few.  The vast majority of Christians continue in their own small worlds without reaching out to others.

Christ and the apostles emphasized spiritual unity – unity in the Holy Spirit.  Surely that can extend to our brothers and sisters in the Lord in other churches in our own cities.

What a difference that would make!