Archive for July, 2015|Monthly archive page

Running on one leg?

I hate to admit it, but I have been running much of my Christian life on one leg.

I have lived much of my life acknowledging the importance of the Holy Spirit.  But I have not turned to him in dependence.  And I have not seen the great things that God can accomplish through people who rely on the Spirit.

Why is that?

Off the top of my head, I can think of two reasons:

  • I rely on my head, thinking I understand the world around me and what needs to be done; and
  • I am afraid of extremes – I am afraid of losing control.

I believe I am typical of many North Americans.  But, like many others, I am convinced that the church in North America is in decline because it lacks the vitality and power of the Spirit.

The story is different in Africa, Asia and South America where the church is growing at warp speed.  Part of the reason for that growth is that Christians face far bigger problems – economic, cultural, and political – than we do in our comfortable society. Christians in the Third World must rely on God much more than we do.

Last winter, our church small group studied Spirit Rising: Tapping into the Power of the Holy Spirit by Jim Cymbala, a book which includes stories of the Spirit’s working in the lives of people in Cymbala’s church in New York City.  Cymbala’s book is a cry for more of the Spirit in our churches.

I heard Cymbala speak at his church – the Brooklyn Tabernacle – a couple of years ago.  He said he relies on the Spirit’s guidance from moment to moment – even changing his sermon if he senses the Spirit’s leading as he speaks.

I am now reading another book Do What Jesus Did by Robby Dawkins, a Chicago pastor, who began his life as a pastor suspicious of stories of the Spirit’s power because he knew of extremes in the church.  Now, he sees miracles and healings that were typical in the Acts of the Apostles.

Like Paul and other apostles, Dawkins always points people to God when miracles happen.  And even criminals near his church have been so struck by the power of the Spirit that they have given their lives to Jesus.

I have never been convinced by arguments that miracles were only necessary until we received the written word of God – the scriptures.  I believe God is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow.  He does not change.

I believe that the Spirit cannot be shackled.  Yet, at the same time, I believe that God is a God of order.  Our world would collapse without Christ sustaining it.

These thoughts swirl in my head right now.  May the Spirit bring light into my thoughts.  May he change me and the world around me.

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Sharing the burdens

There is great comfort in sharing our problems and sorrows with other followers of Jesus.

Yet, many of us brood over our issues and cut ourselves off from others.  Many people who are depressed turn inwards and wall themselves off from people who care for them.

Pete Greig, founder of 24-7 Prayer International, suggests in a video course on prayer that sharing prayer needs with others is an important step to seeing God work in our lives.

I agree.  My wife and I have turned to friends at crucial times in our lives, asking them to pray with us and for us.

At the very least, we feel loved and cared for.  In itself, that can carry us through hard times.

But Jesus offered more in these words in Matthew 18: “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heave will do it for you.”

Of course, this raises questions about what kind of prayer God will say “Yes” to.  Elsewhere, Jesus makes clear that these prayers must be in line with his character and his will.

When praying for his needs, Greig searches the scriptures for God’s promises and then confidently prays these promises back to the Lord.  Sometimes the answers come back in unexpected ways.

As someone else said, trouble brings us to God.  Some wind up shaking their fists at the Father; others gain a new understanding of themselves and their Lord.

There is one great lesson no one should miss: Jesus is always there to help us carry our burdens – even if we won’t talk with anyone else.

Christ uttered these words of hope 2000 years ago:

“Come to me all you that are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This tells me that Jesus is offering to help carry my burden.  And as he is sharing my burden, he is teaching me more about himself.

That is an offer I cannot refuse.

Snuggling up to God

Does God care if you love him?

Christians know that the answer is yes.  But we feel that somehow we can’t do anything to show we love him.  We are puny and he is so awesome and holy.

But, shocking as it may sound, God has feelings.  He loves us deeply and is constantly seeking a close relationship with us.

Pete Greig, prayer leader for Alpha in England and founder of the 24-7 Prayer International movement, gave a charming illustration of how we can bring pleasure to God in a video prayer course I was watching this week.

He described how he had been working hard on a book which kept him from spending much time with his family.  When he was finished he called his young family together and they went out for a meal at a place where there were swings and slides for his two young sons.

He told the two boys to run out and enjoy the slides and swings and one of them shouted with joy and rushed out.  The other one started to go and then turned back and climbed into his father’s lap, saying: “I missed you, Daddy!”

Greig said you can’t imagine how much pleasure that gave him.  It “ministered” to him.  He did not love the other boy less, but the simple act of snuggling up to him brought him joy.

Greig was talking about adoration in that particular lesson which you can find at http://www.prayercourse.org.

In another story, Greig mentioned how a pastor friend’s son would come into his father’s study after school and just throw himself on a couch and just be with his father without speaking.  Then, after a while, he would get up and go about other things.  Greig’s friend said it meant so much to him that his son just wanted to be with him.

Greig’s point is that it is important for us to just spend time in God’s presence, adoring him.  It gives God pleasure and it brings us closer to him.  And intimacy with God helps us understand more about what he wants for us.

Thinking about God’s character can help us adore him.  One woman in our study this week mentioned how she becomes aware of God’s presence as she thinks about him, especially Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross.

So let us be like Pete Greig’s son and snuggle up to our Father.

The changing marketplace

Christianity began as a small voice in a tough marketplace for ideas.

Over time, it came to dominate in the western world, losing some of its vitality.  Now, it is in a battle once again – and that may well be a good thing.

The temptation, as believers, is to bemoan what is happening around us.  The U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, the abortion laws in western countries, the attack on religious rights – all these are signs that Christian values have lost their hold in the western world.

Like many Christians, I am sad that many values we hold dear are being swept aside.  But I am also aware that this is not new.

Early believers were routinely accused of undermining the state and the prevailing religions in the Jewish and Roman worlds. Many were jailed and many died for their beliefs.

But Christianity grew because of the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit changed people.  And their love and acts of kindness had an impact on the hard Roman world and later the pagan invaders.

Today we see Christianity thriving in Asia, Africa and South America where it has had to compete with Marxism, totalitarianism, Islam, other religions, and grinding poverty.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I have been reading A Wind in the House of Islam by David Garrison which speaks of many new Christians springing up in Islamic societies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.  It is the character of Christ – the love of Christ – that has won them.  They see Christ and they know he is God, a God very different from the one they were taught to follow in their societies.

In these places, Christianity is often underground.  Christianity was once seen as a conquering religion during the colonial years and Christians today have that memory to fight along with other prejudices.

In many ways, Christians in these countries are showing us in the western world how to live and reach out to others.  They are teaching us Jesus’ way.

We in the West are not yet living in hostile societies and under hostile governments.  But we are being called to stand firm in our faith –  in love.

It is a hard thing to do.  My instinctive reaction is to fight back when my values are threatened.  But Jesus stood for what he knew was right while at the same time winning many through love and the wisdom of God.

That’s a challenge for me in the new world I am living in.