Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

What matters

Like many other believers, I find myself getting caught up in the unimportant in church life.

What matters is my relationship with Jesus. Out of that flows a life that touches others for the kingdom of God.

It is easy to get passionate about peripheral things – whether we use worship bands or choirs or whether we change the church decor. In some churches, people leave over these things.

Like most people, I have my opinions on these matters. But I need to remind myself that Jesus did not concern himself with buildings or budgets. His focus was on people – their need for God.

I think of Jesus preaching to thousands outdoors without the help of a good sound system or worship band. I think of his healing people and miraculously feeding them.

I think of Paul travelling from city to city and talking to people in the street after being kicked out of synagogues. He was powerful because of his relationship to Christ – not because of a spectacular organization.

Yes, the apostles had to deal with disputes, some of them major such as the attempt to make new non-Jewish converts conform to Jewish practices.

It is true that the early Christians were just as human as we are. Paul had to rap them on the knuckles for such things as immorality, unloving treatment of fellow-believers, and petty personal clashes.

But no one could question where Paul’s heart lay. In Philippians 1:21, he said: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” His passion was Jesus – in this life and the next.

Typically, I get wrapped up in my own ministry efforts. Good as that may be, it often takes my mind away from my relationship with Christ.

When I take my eyes off Jesus, I am often judgemental. Jesus spoke out against that kind of behaviour.

In John 15, Jesus talks about himself as the vine and believers as the branches. He tells us that we cannot bear spiritual fruit apart from him.

In effect, he is telling me: “You are a channel of my love to others. Don’t let anything stand in the way of my love.”

The only way I can do that is to cling to Jesus.

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Christianity: Supernatural – or not?

This week, I was telling friends about our son hearing stories of Muslims having visions of Jesus during his recent visit to Lebanon.

One friend asked why that doesn’t happen in Canada.  The other friend said that Canadians have the Bible.

I didn’t comment.  But it seems to me that many of us North American Christians are missing what is happening in our Western world.

Two weeks ago, I heard Pastor Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle Church in New York say: “Christianity is supernatural or it doesn’t exist.”

That comment made me think: Doesn’t God work through supernatural means in everything he does?

When he uses a Bible verse to cause our hearts to melt, isn’t that the Holy Spirit at work?  Isn’t that supernatural?

People’s lives have been changed by dreams and visions – here in North America.  Jack Deere, former Dallas Theological Seminary professor, documents cases in his book Surprised by the Voice of God.

There are stories of people hearing the audible voice of God.  Years ago, I heard a United Church minister say that he heard God audibly calling him to the Christian ministry while he was a police officer. Until that moment, he hadn’t been thinking about it at all.

There are many stories of people who have been supernaturally healed.  We often try to explain them away – but some are impossible to explain away.  Medical doctors have been stumped by such things as cancers and tumours disappearing suddenly.

Of course, the Bible is full of all these things – the prophet Samuel hearing the audible voice of God, Jesus and the apostles miraculously healing people, and so on.

But for several hundred years, much of Western Christendom has accepted as truth that these supernatural events are no longer needed in our world – not since the completion of the Bible.

Is this scepticism part of the reason why we don’t see these supernatural events as often as people in the developing world?

We often say that the greatest miracle is someone giving his life to Christ.  That is true.  But if God can work that miracle in our lives, why can’t he work in other supernatural ways?  Isn’t it all to his glory?

I agree with Jim Cymbala.  If Christianity is simply a set of writings without supernatural power, it is only a philosophy.

I cannot say I have seen the Lord work dramatically in my life.

But I am more and more convinced he is working supernaturally in my life and every believer’s life – even if it is in small ways like nudges and promptings.  All I need to do is open my mind and heart to what he is doing.

Love and hate

I like some people and dislike others.

Most people would excuse me for disliking some people.  They would say, “That’s normal.”

But not God.  He calls me to love everyone because he created them all.

Sometimes I try to justify my feelings of dislike towards someone.  I tell myself it isn’t hate.  I simply find some things about him that bother me.  Or, he fails to measure up to a certain standard I have set.  Or, he’s too different.  Or, I see him as a competitor.  Or, he hurt me.

Yet in my more honest moments, I know that I’m deluding myself.  Dislike is only a lighter shade of hate.

Jim Cymbala, author and pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Church in New York City, touched on this lightly in a talk he gave to pastors and prayer leaders at his church just over a week ago.

He told the pastors: “Be faithful in presenting the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit in the atmosphere of love.”

He was urging pastors to love from the heart, something that can only come from the filling of the Spirit.

This reminded me of a story Pastor Cymbala shared on another occasion.  He said he had just finished an exhausting Easter service years ago and was sitting on the edge of the platform when he saw a homeless man sitting and looking at him.

The man came forward towards him and he had an overpowering smell.  Cymbala thought he wanted money and reached for his wallet to give him something.  He felt drained and just wanted the man to go.

But the homeless man saw what he was doing and told Cymbala he didn’t want his money.  He wanted Jesus – he was desperate for God’s help.

Cymbala wept before this man, realizing all his sermon points meant nothing when confronted by a man in need. The homeless man wept too and they embraced each other.  And God gave Jim Cymbala a love for this man so that his bad smell became a sweet aroma.

The man gave his life to Christ, entered addiction therapy, and became an associate pastor of a church planted by the Brooklyn Tabernacle.  The full story can be found here: http://dailysermonillustration.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/jim-cymbalas-easter-story/

The truth is, God loves me even though I fail him constantly.  That’s the kind of love he wants me to have for others.

I know I can’t love on my own.  I need the Holy Spirit’s help.

 

Moments of grace

This week, I was lost in the labyrynthine New York subway system – a hick in the vast metropolis.

I survived – with the help of a clutch of very helpful New Yorkers.  It has left me thinking about the kindness of strangers and the grace of God.

I was in New York for a conference on prayer at the Brooklyn Tabernacle which, of course, is in Brooklyn, across the bridge from Manhattan.

Since I had a little time after arriving, I decided to take the train from Newark International Airport to New York Penn Station and the subway from there to my hotel in Brooklyn.

What an adventure!

I have visited New York only a handful of times in my fairly long life – and never used the subway.

Arriving in Penn Station, I looked for a subway ticket window where I could get the right ticket and good directions to my Brooklyn destination.

I had trouble finding a subway ticket office and when I did, the ticket agent didn’t know anything about my subway stop or the right line to take – and he had no subway maps.

That’s when the kindness of New Yorkers started kicking in.

A flower seller pulled out his cell phone and found the station on his subway map.  He suggested the line I should take and where to get it.

When I got on what I thought was the right line, I couldn’t find a map in the subway car showing where I was to get off.  Someone directed me to another line.

After getting on and off a couple of more lines, an old man took me to the right stop, led me upstairs in the subway station, and pointed out Atlantic Avenue where I was heading.

The next morning, I decided to take the subway to the church.

Unfortunately, the ticket machine would accept my credit card only if I had an American zip code.  My Canadian zip code wouldn’t work.

Seeing my struggles with the machine, a couple of young women asked me what was wrong.  When I explained the situation and said I didn’t have small change for the machine, one of them let me through the entrance gate with her own subway card – something I now realize cost her money.

My impression of New Yorkers has risen sky high.

Surely, this is the essence of grace – undeserved kindness.

As a believer, I am also convinced that God was arranging these encounters – probably with an indulgent smile on his face.  He is a god of grace.