Archive for December, 2017|Monthly archive page

Evangelism and the power of God

Stephen D. Elliott says evidence of the power and presence of God is more important than great church programs in bringing people to Jesus.

Elliott says in his book By Signs and Wonders: How the Holy Spirit Grows the Church that he reached this conclusion after pondering why the Christian church is declining in North America.

He himself tried all kinds of programs to reach people for Christ in a new church he and his wife planted in Ottawa, Canada.  The church grew slowly but the surrounding community was growing far more rapidly.

Over time, Elliott began studying the New Testament in depth to determine why the young church expanded by leaps and bounds.

He realized that Jesus and the apostles combined talking about the good news of Christ with demonstrations of the power of God.  These “signs and wonders” – miracles -confirmed the message they were sharing with non-believers.

“The Holy Spirit’s power made all the difference in the evangelistic efforts of the first century.  The reason the Christian message was accepted and spread like wildfire throughout the Roman Empire had everything to do with the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.”

Elliott says that part of the problem the North American church faces is neglecting the Holy Spirit.  Christians have focused largely on God the Father and Jesus Christ while passing lightly over the Spirit.

But Jesus clearly said that he was sending the Holy Spirit to believers to continue the work he began on earth.

While the North American church is stagnant or declining, the Christian church is multiplying rapidly in Asia, Africa and South America.  In those countries, the work of the Holy Spirit is evident, particularly through miracles.

“I believe the number one reason people go to church is not out of need or desire to connect relationally with others, but out of a deep-seated longing to experience and encounter the God of the universe,” says Elliott.

“When people leave church week after week feeling that they have not encountered God, they eventually grow disillusioned, disappointed, and confused.  This, I believe, is at the root of our failing attendance.”

Elliott and his church leaders changed their approach, putting emphasis on worshiping God rather than focusing on programs.  The gifts of the Spirit began to appear in the congregation.

Some people received “words of knowledge” – gaining insights they could not have had except through God’s promptings.  Others gave “words of prophecy” – revelations of future developments.  And there were healings – mostly minor but some very striking.

Elliott says that the leadership learned that sometimes people said things that were more personal wishful thinking than godly leading.  The church developed methods to filter the wheat from the chaff.

As the church ventured down this path, people began remarking on the worshipful atmosphere in the church and the strong feeling that God was present.

Elliott, who went on to become a Bible College professor, says that some left the church because of the new emphasis but more came in.  The change was dramatic – six to 10 times the previous annual growth with most of the newcomers being converts.

For me, he makes a convincing case: The church in Canada needs more of the Holy Spirit.

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Boasting about Jesus

Boasting about Jesus is good for God – and for you.

Joseph M. Stowell says “rejoicing in the Lord” flows from exalting God and his qualities.  The apostle Paul did it all the time.

Boasting is frowned upon when we focus attention on ourselves.  But when we turn to Jesus and away from ourselves, we can erupt with thankfulness and praise for who he is and what he means to us.

“This is what the Lord says,” Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 9:23-24, “‘Let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches.

“Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things.  I, the Lord, have spoken.”

Stowell says in his book Simply Jesus and You that “rejoicing in Jesus is the liberating response that frees us from the endless task of trying to satisfy and fill our selves with ourselves and our accomplishments”.

“It frees us from the endless torment of worrying about being recognized, affirmed, and adequately appreciated,” he writes.  “It soothes fragile egos that are quickly frustrated and irritated when others don’t live up to our expectations or when we don’t get what we think we ‘deserve’.”

It does NOT mean that we put on a false front when we are hit by life’s tragedies.  Jesus wept just as we do.

However, it does mean we consciously give him – not ourselves – first place in our lives.  Jesus must be preeminent.

We are NOT called to run ourselves down when we do something well.  But “we need to cultivate a reflex response that immediately triggers gratefulness and praise to him for enabling us to accomplish what we do”.

“When we are blessed,” Stowell says, “we need to master the response that takes the spark of joy we feel about ourselves and lets it explode into the joy of celebrating his preeminent provision and grace in our lives.”

Paul recognized that his power in preaching and working signs and wonders came from God.  He saw Gods handiwork in his life during good times and bad.  He knew God was working things out for good in his eternal plan for Paul and the world (Romans 8:28).

Let’s boast in God.

Pathway to godly success

Most of us hope to make a success of our lives – perhaps through our careers, our marriages, or our good deeds.

But, do we think about success from God’s viewpoint?

Jesus says in John 15:5 that we can do nothing worthwhile in God’s eyes apart from him.  In that chapter, Christ tells us that we must “abide” or “dwell” in him if we are to bear godly fruit.

The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.

But how are we to determine the works that God wants us to do?

The answer, says Robert J. Morgan, is to know God well.  And to know him well, we have to soak ourselves in what God says in the scriptures and do what he says.

“We learn the Truth of God so that we can better know the God of Truth, and a primary way that happens is through meditation,” says Morgan, author of Moments of Reflection: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation.

He supports his case for godly success by pointing to such great Bible figures as Joshua.

In Joshua 1:8, God tells the new Israelite leader:

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Morgan notes that it is interesting God did not give Joshua a detailed military strategy to invade the land of Canaan at this initial contact with the new leader.  Instead, he urged him to meditate on God’s words and live by them.

As we meditate, the author says we “begin to see things as he [God] does, and the inevitable result is success”.  But it is “success as God defines it – a joyful life that bears fruit”.

Morgan said he was a shy college student with low self-esteem when he began to meditate on scripture to find out more about God and what he wanted him to do.

So, he trained himself to read the scriptures daily, memorize selected verses, and meditate on them throughout the day.  He would think about Bible passages as he got up in the morning, as he worked during the day, and as the evening came.  He sought God’s help to obey what he learned.

“That was my part, and the rest – the success and prosperity and fruitfulness and blessings – were God’s promises and represented his part of the equation,” says Morgan.

As I noted in an earlier post, Morgan declares that this approach helps to rewire our minds, turning us away from angry, lustful, destructive thinking and towards our loving and just God.

May this be so in my life.

Transforming words

Some years ago, a young university student picked up a stray pamphlet on public transit in Montreal, Quebec, read it and started on her journey to Christ.

I forget the details but I remember her smiling, joyful face as she told her story on a Power to Change campus ministry video a year or so later.  The word of God had awakened her heart to Jesus and faith.

I love stories like this.  It demonstrates the power of the word of God.

I became a Christian when I was 20 after months of reading through the gospel of John with a friend in a boarding house in Ottawa.

I began these evening studies and discussions with no understanding at all.  The good news of Christ was foreign to me.

But, as I read the gospel of John, God began working on my mind and heart.  He opened my eyes to a completely different view of the world and what really mattered in life.

That is the wonder of God speaking personally to each one of us.  He knows us as individuals even though there are billions of people in the world.  He wants us to know him as a person, too.

Many people consider the Bible an historical document, or a description of how people should live, or even a book for academic study.

But that is not how God sees it.  It is God speaking to us and we need to pay attention.

The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:12: “The word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

That’s powerful!

That passage tells me that God’s words can change me.  They strike right to my heart.

Of course, I can reject what God is telling me.  I can even laugh it off.  But I do so at my own peril.  God means what he says.

I thank God that he is patient and compassionate.  He knows me – the good things and bad things in my life.

He doesn’t expect me to know everything instantly or become perfect in my lifetime.  But he does want me to grow as a follower of his.

As I read and ponder God’s word, I learn something more about him every year.  I have come to see that he is overwhelmingly loving, kind, forbearing – but also the essence of integrity and truth and justice.

When I think about that university student in Montreal, I ponder God’s great statement in Isaiah 55 where he promises that his word “will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”.

God’s word is at work in my heart and in the hearts of many multitudes around the world.

 

Change your mind, change your life

Robert J. Morgan says we can change our lives by changing our minds – with God’s thoughts.

First, he says we must change the lordship and leadership of our hearts by giving ourselves to the Saviour – Jesus.

But we still struggle with dark thoughts – “thoughts that are anxious, covetous, lustful, angry, resentful, fearful, or depressed”.  We need God’s thoughts to banish the darkness.

Morgan himself has used Biblical meditation – pondering the words of God in scripture – to refresh his mind and find the peace and hope of God, aided by the Holy Spirit.  He fights a tendency to anxiety by turning to scriptures and reflecting upon them until he finds the peace of God.

Great men and women of the Bible meditated on God, his character and his creation – people like Isaac, Joshua, David, Jeremiah and Mary, mother of Jesus, notes Morgan in his book Moments of Reflection: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

These words suggest that “though we are redeemed at Calvary, the process of repairing the mind isn’t a one-time event”, Morgan notes.  It is a continuing and growing process.  Gradually, our minds are rewired.

“As we ponder, picture and personalize God’s Word, we begin looking at life through his lens, viewing the world from his perspective.  Our thoughts become happier, and brighter – and so do we.”

So, how does Morgan recommend we meditate?

He points out that Paul says in Colossians 3:16 that we are to let the word of God dwell in us richly.  That means spending time thinking, memorizing, turning over in our minds, and applying to our own lives passages of scripture.

Here is Morgan’s approach:

  • Ponder: Read a Bible passage or verse and imagine the Lord speaking those words to you. Take time to focus your attention on each word and understand what the passage is saying;
  • Personalize: Consider what this passage means to you.  Let God speak to your heart.  What verse, phrase, word, truth, command, or promise affects you most deeply?; and
  • Practice: Jot down that phrase or verse to take with you into the day.  Write it on a card or sticky note or your phone.  “Review it all day, as you shower, drive, walk, work, or rest.”  Put it into practice and do what it says.

There is no better way to deal with our troubles than with God’s thoughts.  The Word of God is powerful.