Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Christian A"

I had fun with a Christian youth group I was with recently. I made up a story about a guy called “Christian A”. He says something like, “I am a Christian. I love God—at least I think I do. I want to serve God, I think. I am trying to follow God.”

Then God’s voice says, “Christian A—I want you to go serve at a homeless shelter this Saturday.” Suddenly Christian A is saying to himself, “Oh, man. This makes me sad. This Saturday is the Final Four basketball tournament! I’ve been waiting for months for this! Wow. I don’t want to do this!”

I then asked the youth their thoughts on Christian A. I got a lot of responses about how he should be excited about doing God’s will, about how he should be happy about it, about how he might not even be a Christian because of how he felt, etc. Things were pretty harsh on Christian A.

I then threw him into even worse light by adding, “Not only that, but then Christian A asks God to send someone else!” I had them rate, on a scale of 0 to 10, Christian A’s Christianity, with 0 being maybe not even a Christian, and 10 being Jesus-like. The answers were pretty brutal—in the 1-2 range, pretty consistently.

Then, I turned to Mark 14:33-36a, with Jesus in the Garden, facing His imminent arrest and crucifixion: And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch." And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me."

I asked them if anyone blamed Jesus for not being thrilled about taking on all sin, about being beaten and marred beyond human recognition, nailed to a cross, speared, mocked, hung up in barely any clothes, and all this by His own creation! Not one of them felt Jesus should be thrilled by that, nor did any of them condemn Him for that.

I then read them the last part of verse 36—the one that captures it all—when Jesus continues to the Father, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Therein lies, I believe, the pivot point. Our initial feelings may not be the most excited at paying the price, or bearing the cross, we might be asked to pay or bear—but it is what we do in spite of our feelings that will define the moment. James 1:14 tells us that, “. . . each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” At this point I believe it is only a temptation—we’ve got stuff in us that isn’t always perfectly aligned with God. James continues with verse 15 that tells us, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” The temptation is not the sin, it is what we do with it—whether we give it life and let it “conceive.”

I realize the comparisons between Jesus and “Christian A” are far from perfect matches—and I know that most anyone could come up with tons of “yeah, but . . .” comments, and, “what about . . .?” questions to what I have said—but I think the youth got my main point as we talked. I think they realized how the voice of the enemy can condemn us when we aren’t initially thrilled with what God might ask us to do—how he can whisper how we are a lousy Christian, and maybe not even saved, if we aren’t thrilled at first reflection to do what God asks. Yet, we see that even Jesus had a moment when what was ahead in obedience didn’t make Him jump for joy . . . but He did it anyway, and those initial feelings didn’t make Him less of the perfect Christ, or in sin, because He didn’t live by those emotions, but rather by faith and obedience. I find comfort in that, because, if I am honest, my imperfect love for God falters enough that I don’t always initially want to do what I know He is asking me to do. Anyone else ever feel that way?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Easter Thoughts and "What Would Jesus Do?"

I find that it is so easy to replace Jesus with the idea of Jesus—to substitute stuff for Jesus, and about Jesus, in place of Jesus. Does anyone else relate, or fall into that trap?

I try, in this blog, in my pastoring/teaching/counseling, and in my life, to avoid the trap of theology for knowledge’s sake, but to take theology and study to its end . . . to our relationship with Jesus and how that translates into daily living. Easter, in which we celebrate the risen Christ, is the perfect time to talk about a living, vibrant, daily, interactive faith—to explore a living relationship with a living God.

For so many religions and “ways” one follows the teaching’s of another—be it a religious leader, a parent, etc. That person can be alive, or long dead, and it doesn’t matter. But, in our faith, we follow a person . . . and for that person to be followed, they must be alive. While Jesus gave us many teachings and things we can look back on for wisdom in areas He addressed, He ultimately invites us to a living relationship with Him where we follow Him.

It is good to ask the question so popular among Christians, “What would Jesus do?”—and there are clear cut things that this is sufficient for—but if we are not careful we can subtly fuel a problem in the Christian walk of replacing ideas about Jesus with the living reality of Jesus. Asking, “What would Jesus do?” almost leaves an unsaid, but still real feeling at the end in which one might add, “. . . if He were here?”—and we can often arrive at that answer, or what we think that answer would be, without any interaction with Jesus Himself. He is here, with us, present—and that makes all the difference in the world!

The reality is that, if you have given the Lordship of your life to Jesus, He is here, with you, and it is so much better to ask, “What is Jesus doing?” (present tense). It is not easy to be so intimate with Him that we can always sense that, but it is critical that it is our goal. He is alive! He died, but He rose again! That is the core of our relationship with Him, that it is not following a dead man’s teachings, but following a living God. To follow we must be aware of, and in relationship with . . . but that is what Jesus modeled for us when He did only what the Father was doing, and said only what the Father was saying. Later the Apostles modeled that by seeking to follow the teaching of God to make disciples in the world, but allowing the Holy Spirit to give them “real time” leading and guidance in the moment, and about which region to go to.

When we walk down the streets, stand in the breakroom, sit in the classroom, hang out at the sewing group or sporting event, etc., Jesus is there with us, in us, waiting to be allowed to lead. We are His hands, his feet, his mouth, and when we can move in that relationship with Him where we are surrendered to Him He can direct us to the one in the crowd His eyes are on, where He is working, and we can follow Him in that moment, where He would go.

God bless, and be encouraged—we have a great and mighty and living God!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Faith and the Attacks on It

I would encourage you, if God leads you, to listen to the teaching I gave on Sunday about the role of faith in Kingdom living, and the tactics of the enemy to undermine our faith, or to convince us that faith is simply believing in God. The quality of the recording is not good, but if you can bear with the annoyance of that, I think you will be blessed by it and I would value your feedback and thoughts and contributions to it. You can click on the link below to get to True Life Christian Fellowship's mp3 teaching page. The teaching is under the heading "Current Series" and it is called Kingdom of Heaven 10, dated March 27, 2011.

Click Here

Thanks, and God bless all of you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

He Must Be Enough . . .

I was just reflecting this morning on the irony we face, as Christians, if we share a feeling that God is warning us of something (I am not talking about a prophetic word where God says to specifically tell people something is going to happen). Think about how, if God gives us a dream, or a vision, or a sense, that something bad might be about to happen, and we are fairly strongly sure He gave it to us and we then take the natural course to warn others of the possibility and then to intercede in prayer (and prepare if we feel He is leading us to) . . .

Well, what if that is exactly what God was warning us for—giving us a possible future so that Christians would wake up, rise up in unity, confess their sins, turn from their selfish ways and surrender again to His Lordship, and intercede in prayer, using our precious privilege as His children to go before Him at His throne? So, then, because His children return to Him, He stays His hand and, to all whom we shared with, we look like fools because that which we warned about never happened.

It truly is the case, for each of us, that He must be enough because, all too often, in obedience to Him we cut ourselves off from the respect and praise of those who don't understand Him. It must be enough to us, no matter what we are called to be or do, that He says, "Well done My good and faithful servant." If anyone else's opinion of us ranks higher on our priority scale than His, we are done for because we will then serve man and not God, and it is the most unsafe place in the world for a Christian to be if we are out of His will.

James 5:16-18   Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

2 Chron 7:13-15   When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.

Jeremiah 29:7   But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lovely and Pure . . .

All right, I have to admit it—I've watched more hours of television in the last week and a half then I have in probably the last three to four months. Between the tragedy in Japan, the strikes on Libya, the almost unreported strikes on Israel from Gaza, and all of the secular speculations and Christian prophetic words and/or feelings that the West Coast of the United States may be in for a major disaster, etc., I have found myself turning on the news over and over in a day, and then sitting in front of it for countless hours hearing the same things said over and over, waiting for some new breaking story or tidbit. It is addicting, and it sucks me in. Before I know it I have spent an entire evening watching news of negative events!

I believe that, as Christians, we are to be aware of the signs of the times, and looking to the return of Jesus. That is a great hope for us that carries us through the present turmoil. But, and I am being careful in how I word this, I also believe that we have to guard our heart and our focus through those times. I remember, as an early Christian, knowing some people who seemed to only talk about the end times and to analyze every event in the news based on that. I actually got "scared away" from looking at the signs of the times because it seemed it had, for them, consumed and overshadowed living, today, right now, for Jesus, in the midst of these times—living as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

If we think about it, the closer we realize we are to the end, the more it should make us focus on where God has planted us right this minute. We may have the glorious hope and expectancy of His return and Heaven, but for many, many who surround each of us it is not going to be a good day! The proximity of the end should, I believe, increase the urgency of the present. For each and every one of us we are probably the closest representative of Jesus that at least one person knows. Is His light shining through us? Are we bearing His image? Have we surrendered to His Lordship that He might freely live out His will in their life through us? Are they seeing in us a radiant hope, or do we sound as negative and pessimistic and depressed as those who have no living God? Do the words of our mouth express one who is indwelt with a living Savior who is full of love and power and might, or do they sound like the same words coming out of the mouths of those who have no legitimate hope beyond their own capability?

These are the kinds of questions we must ask, I believe, as Christians in these days. When the end comes, will those around us have seen Jesus expressed through us in love, humility, servanthood, and power? Will they have had an encounter with Him? The Kingdom of God is a future reality, and a real place, but it is also a breaking in truth now, today. The Kingdom, or the reign and rule of God, is breaking in everywhere that His children surrender to His Lordship and let Him live through them. It is a Kingdom not just of word, but of power, and God has called us to be His continuing vessels in bearing, and showing, His image to the world. It is only increasingly critical that we show the full picture of Him to the world as the end seems to rush closer.

How can we stay aware of the times, but be His kids in this day? I think that we must guard our hearts. His Word tells us of tremendous, terrible signs that will mark the end, and the news makes sure we know about most of them as they happen. But He also says that in the last days He will pour out His Spirit! I love to measure the coming of the end by reading missionary reports and testimonies of His power being poured out in Muslim countries and across the globe. It is so much more encouraging to see the end coming by the increase of people coming to Him, by the stories of Him healing and delivering people, etc., than it is for me to watch the end approach through the bad news only. When I share the news with my daughters I want them to not fall into fear because all they have heard is news of war and earthquakes, but I want them to feel their faith and excitement rise because they realize that their great God is on the move, that His power is being poured out, and that He is greater than the one who paces about seeking to steal, kill, and destroy!

We must, in these days, be a people of faith! We must be a people of confident hope! We must be a people not afraid to stare darkness in the face in the name of Jesus! We are God's kids, and we must act like it! The world needs to see something different! It cries out for something more—some legitimate hope. That is why, I believe, witchcraft, occultism, and other "religions" hold such a strong appeal . . . because people know there is something more and if they don't find it in Him, through us, they will look elsewhere.

So, last night, I told Mary Ann I wanted to increase her faith and share exciting stuff with her. We stoked up the fire in our wood stove, sat down near it, and I read out loud long into the night an autobiography of a Christian man whose life was filled with amazing stories of how God moved in every dimension of the good news Jesus demonstrated—salvation, healing, the gifts of the Spirit, deliverance, etc. I ended up reading almost the whole book to her, and we went to bed after midnight—uplifted, excited, and ready to brag on God to anyone we encountered!

Philippians 4:8 commands us, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." We must, I believe, be careful that we obey that command and fix our eyes on God and His might in times when fear is invading people. It is the only way we will be different and be a light in the darkness, instead of blending in.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Quiet Nudges from a Big God

As you set out this week on your journey with Jesus, I’d like to encourage you to make yourself available to the Spirit’s quiet nudges. It is one of the most amazing and astounding truths of all the earth that, as one who has surrendered their life to the Lordship of Jesus, He has come to dwell in you and live through you! Why He chooses to live in us and work out His will through us is almost too incredible to fathom, but none-the-less He does, and I encourage you to be ready and available to it, and looking for His divine appointments and leading.

Jesus said, basically, that He only did what He saw the Father doing, and He only said what the Father was saying—that required tremendous intimacy with the Father to be able to live like that. Likewise, Acts records when some, submitted to God’s call on their life, were led by the Spirit to His specific appointments when it says in Acts 16:6-8, “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.”

I remember back to a time when a lady in our fellowship kept popping in to my mind. Her husband was away on a work trip, but I didn’t give it much thought. The next day, at our Sunday service, I asked her if everything was OK with her the previous morning. She said that it was, unless you counted the fact that her water heater had sprung a leak and water was pouring all over her kitchen floor. I could have been there in under 15 minutes and helped tremendously, but I missed the nudge.

On the other hand, recently I was doing a hospital visitation with a friend and as we were leaving we passed a man parking his car and locking it. His hazard lights were on and my friend told him. He thanked us and began opening his door to turn them off as we walked past. I made a friendly comment about him not wanting to come back and find his battery dead. We were past him as I made the comment and he said something in response to the effect of, “Yeah, I don’t need any more bad news today” (or it might have been “anything more bad today”).

It is amazing the thoughts that can go through our minds in seconds . . . I was running a little late, I had an hour and a half drive ahead . . . and I also realized that was a God-loaded comment he had just made, and a divine insight into his heart. I turned around and stepped back toward him and said some something like, “You are having a bad day? What’s up?” My friend took my next words out of my mouth and said, “Yeah, we can pray for you right here.” Neither of us expected what was next. He seemed so grateful and he told us his daughter had a fever and was in the emergency room and could we come pray for her. Again, the thoughts that crossed my mind in seconds . . . what if we can’t get in for an hour or two? . . . could we just pray with him right here and go on? . . . but then there is the realization that God gives us these moments and asks us to be His hands and feet in them.

We said "sure" and within probably five minutes of passing his car I was signed in and being led by a confused mom who had already been there back to a room in emergency where a precious little girl was lying down and feeling poorly. I knelt next to her, told her a little about myself and my daughters, and asked her if I could pray for her. She nodded yes, with big eyes, without saying a word, and while the nurse was talking to the mom I had the privilege of praying over this little girl I'd never met before, and being a vessel to bring His presence and power to her. It was an awesome privilege, and it felt almost “tingly” to have seen God so clearly setting something up, and bringing about something so very unexpected, but wonderful.

How many moments did the Holy Spirit direct us toward that encounter that we didn’t even realize He was doing it? The nudge to say it was time to go? The decision to walk back to our van on another route from the one we took to the hospital? The man leaving his hazard lights on, or my friend noticing them and saying something? My lighthearted comment about the battery? I have no idea how many times my friend, or I, or the man, were nudged unaware to set that moment up. All I know is that, in that moment, there came one when I knew God had “set me up” and that I had a choice I was responsible for. It came when he made the comment about the bad day and I could have kept walking, or stopped and gone back. It was such a casual comment . . . but what a moment lay in the balance around it!

I don’t share this to brag on myself in any way (that’s why I shared my “water heater failure” first), but because there is power in the testimony to increases other's faith, and I want to encourage you to look for these moments, and expect them and be available to them.  Let’s:

1) Expect divine encounters, because He loves people, and all you have to do is read the Gospels to realize that the Jesus that lives in you was always having wild, "unexpected" encounters with unlikely people!

2) Be available to those encounters and looking for the tiny, quiet signs (a drooped head, a sad face when they think no one is looking, a co-worker whose not as cheerful as normal, a person who appears in your life (or thoughts) multiple times, etc.).

3) Realize who we are in Christ, and Who goes with us, in (hint: the Creator of the Universe!).

4) Walk in gentleness and love and service and humility toward the people we meet, and in authority and righteous anger toward the darkness that enslaves them. Let’s remember that every time we come in to a room or a situation the Creator of the Universe just entered with us, and the entire spiritual atmosphere and dynamic just changed! Let us never forget that we serve a mighty God, and that the hosts of hell tremble before Him, and that with Him all things are possible!

God loves the world and His Kingdom rule and power are waiting to come to bear in it. We are the vessels of His power and authority amidst the world. Let’s walk in a manner that honors that.

So, what divine encounters do you want to share? Send them to me, I'd love to hear them. Let me know if I can share them. You can send them as a comment. It won't be seen until I "publish" it. Just let me know if it is OK or not. Remember, your testimony instructs and encourages others!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Paradox of Authority

If you are an email subscriber and reading this in an email you won't notice the new masthead header on the blog, but if you are visiting the blog on the web you will see that it is new. Yes, I am resisting surrendering to Spring! I am hoping for more rain and cool weather that welcomes a cozy fire in the wood stove, water in our ponds, and snow in the higher elevations. I have cast my vote for a little bit more Winter by sharing a few pictures in the header from our family's recent get away to the Sierra Nevada Mountains where we were blessed by wonderful friends loving on us, by fresh snow falling on us while we learned to cross-country ski through the woods, and by blessed fellowship and God's glorious creation.

Christian authority is an interesting paradox. We read how Jesus spoke with authority, how the demons and sickness responded to His authority, and how He confronted that which opposed God's Kingdom reign around Him with authority. Whenever He confronted the works of the enemy (either in false teachers, or in sickness, or in demons) He did so with an authority all Christians should desire to walk in against the hosts of darkness. Why should we desire that type of authority? Because all of us have areas in our lives where we are attacked by the enemy, and all of us know people who are bound in one way or another by the enemy. We should not shy from trying to understand that authority because it is the basis of our making disciples in the world . . . Jesus said that He had been given all authority and we were to go "therefore"—meaning, "because of," that authority (Matthew 28:18–20).

I believe that the Centurion nailed the basis of Jesus' authority, and it presents the paradox of authority. Matthew 8, starting with verse 5, records an encounter with Jesus and the Centurion with a paralyzed, suffering servant whom he desired healed. Clearly the Kingdom of God was not over this servant, as there is no paralysis and suffering in Heaven. What he was asking for, whether or not he realized it, was an encounter, or collision, between the Kingdom (or rule) of God and the present rule of darkness over his servant. Jesus says He'll go and heal the servant and the Centurion says Jesus doesn't need to go, but to just say the word and it will be done. He then says, in Matthew 8:9, "For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." Following this it says Jesus marveled at the man's faith, evidenced by his words—and as a friend told me, "When Jesus is in awe I want to pay attention!"

The key to Jesus' authority, which the Centurion understood, is found in the word "too." The Centurion said that he, too, was a man both under authority . . . and in authority. The "too" clearly implies he recognized Jesus was as well. In other places in the Bible we read how Jesus surrendered His rights as God, how He became as an obedient servant, and how He did and said only what the Father did and said—He submitted Himself fully to the Father's will and authority (don't let the theology, or confusion, of the Trinity cloud the main point this encounter is showing us).

The basis of the Centurion's authority is that he, Himself, is under authority. If he was at the top his only authority would be what he could enforce, and the men would only have to follow him as long as he was tough enough to make them. But, since he was under authority, his authority was the authority of the one he served and represented (Rome) and as such, the men were submitting to Rome's authority, carried through him. Likewise, if a person on the street today decided to become a policeman and make laws on their own none of us would be accountable to their authority . . . but a true policeman, himself (or herself) under the authority of the government, carries authority because of who they are under—and our failure to submit to their authority is a failure to submit to the laws and authority of our goverment.

So, where does our Christian authority come from against the hosts of darkness? From being under authority ourselves—from laying our lives down at the feet of our Lord, and surrendering our lives to His authority. When we act, on our own, we are not under any authority (or the King's rule) and, as such, we carry no authority. But, when we live the will of the Father, when we are under His authority and doing His will and call, we carry with us His authority because we are representing Him. This is the paradox. To be one of authority we must, ourselves, submit to authority! When God is reigning in our lives (don't take the word "reigning" lightly or casually or assume this is true of all Christians) then He is able to live out His will through us, and that means His full authority and resources are behind us. But, when we just head off on our own good ideas and plans, not of Him, we do so without His authority behind us and, as the seven sons of Sceva found out, it is not a good place to be in, confronting darkness without the authority of God (Acts 19:11–20).

Note: I taught on this extensively at the fellowship I pastor in my Kingdom of Heaven 07 teaching which you can listen to by clicking here. I will continue this look at the Centurion's understanding, and the role of his faith, in a subsequent teaching.


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