Thursday, March 31, 2016

Out of Comfort, Into Experiencing God

Two months ago my church decided to have a service where the majority of the time would be free for the Holy Spirit to move spontaneously. This was a scary proposition, but it felt like the direction God was leading us.
Admittedly, though, a part of me felt like I was being led like a lamb to slaughter. I could hear the possible complaints: “You really believe God called you, our pastor, to not plan anything? Really? For an hour-and-a-half?”

Either God would move or things would turn south quickly.   

The day before the service my wife, Stephanie, began to experience excruciating back pain. Like an 8-9 on the pain scale. I thought about praying for her, then got the sensation that I needed to wait. That decision earned me a night in the doghouse.

The next morning, after a brief devotional, we spent time in groups seeking God’s direction for the rest of the gathering. Afterwards, one of our elders suggested that we all come around two men, and ask the Lord to help them be bolder in praying out loud. So we did.

After ten minutes or so, we prayed for other needs and people. We just kept on standing and praying together. It was awesome! Then, I felt led to let the group know about Stephanie’s back issue, which she was trying to hide from everyone. She’s tough like her dad in that way.

I called her forward, and then asked the two men if they would pray out loud for God to heal Stephanie. I said they didn’t need to pray in a complicated way, just 5-10 seconds, very simply. But, I did ask that they not pray for doctors to heal Steph, just that Jesus would heal her.

They both prayed simple, beautiful, compassionate prayers. Stephanie’s back pain immediately went from an 8-9 to a 1. Later that day it was completely gone. Praise God!

Let me encourage you. God doesn’t just want to use pastors to pray. In fact, I would venture to say God likes using non-pastors more than pastors to do great things for His kingdom (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). But ultimately, God wants to use anyone who will be available for Him.

God knows how you don't think you speak well. God also knows how you don’t like looking foolish. And, to God, those characteristics make for a perfect opportunity. So, are you ready to start seeing God answer many of the childlike, experiencing-God type prayers that you’ve offered up throughout your life?

God says to us, “I know you don't speak well, Moses. I know you’re just a teenager, Jeremiah. I know you’ve repeatedly over-committed and under-delivered, Peter, and I know you feel like you don’t have much to offer. But there are crippled beggars at the gate called beautiful who need what each of y'all do have. Me.”

When we move away from comfort and make ourselves available, we will experience God.

Those who are truly His disciples, receiving grace from Him, … perform (works) in His name, in order to promote the welfare of others. … Some truly and certainly cast out devils. … Others have foreknowledge of things to come. They see visions, and they utter prophetic expressions. Still others heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and the sick are made whole. What is more, as I have said, even the dead have been raised up and remained among us from many years. … The name of your Lord Jesus Christ even now confers benefits. It cures thoroughly and effectively all who anywhere believe on Him. – Irenaeus 180CE Volume 1, p. 409 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Excerpt from Ch. 1 of New: Wineskins and the Simple Words of Christ

When a controlling personality desires to enter into a relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth while remaining in control and reaping all of His benefits, what results is a big mess. And because I approached Jesus in this way for so long, I experienced mess after mess.

In Matthew 9, disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus and ask why His disciples don’t regularly fast like they and the Pharisees do. Setting aside two days a week to fast was a common practice of the Pharisees at that time.3 Jesus responds by basically telling them that groomsmen preparing for a wedding don’t fast while they still have the prospective groom in their company. But once the groom is married and taken away from them, they will get back to fasting.

There are several points our Lord is making here, but I believe the main thrust is that in the lives of His followers, who Jesus is, what He teaches, and what He has come to do takes precedence over everything else. He states, “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (verse 17).

New wine expands as it ferments. New wineskins can handle new wine because new wineskins will expand with the fermenting new wine. However, old wineskins have already reached their capacity for expansion. So when new wine is poured into old wineskins, the new wine will literally cause the skins to burst, thus causing a huge mess and wasting both the new wine and old wineskins. My seven-year-old-self thought I could keep the old wineskins of being both self-righteous and self-governing while following Jesus. That’s just not going to work.

It’s kind of like the time my dad and I put together the basketball goal that’s currently sitting in my driveway. Two grown men who’ve put many things together in the past don’t need to completely depend on the instructions, right? Those instructions are just suggestions, aren’t they? The instructions said the entire assembly would take around two hours. It took us two days. The reason? We did not get first things first and fully submit ourselves to the instructions.

Maybe you feel like you’ve tried the whole “Christian thing” and it didn’t work for you. Let me ask you a question: Did you truly get first things first and submit yourself fully to the instructions? The instructions say Jesus must become your Lord. If you don’t submit your entire self to Him as Lord, the whole “Christian thing” isn’t going to work. God has only designed it to work according to the instructions. True Christianity isn’t designed for Jesus to only have access to a piece of your heart; it is made for Him to own it all.

Jesus is more gracious, merciful, and patient than you can comprehend. He gave His entire life for you. When you repent of your sins and give your life to Him, He gives His life back into you through the Holy Spirit. As you walk with Him each day, He begins to transform you into a new person and make you more like Him.

This is what happened in my life. Jesus not only burst my early old wineskins but also several more as well, so that His new wine could take over fresh wineskins that would let Him be Himself in me. So much has changed since Jesus started helping me approach Him with new wineskins.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Knock in the Night

My whole family heard the knock on our front door that night in late February, and we all looked at each other with puzzled expressions. There was no car outside that we could see. So who in the world would be knocking on our door after sundown on a Friday night?
I pushed our two dogs out of the doorway and walked on the porch to see what looked like the spitting image of my son two or three years from now. It was uncanny. The young man explained how he was selling candy for a program that helps him stay busy after school so he doesn’t sell and do drugs anymore.

I was only halfway listening. All I could think about was how much this kid looked like my son, only two years older. I was thinking about my son possibly making bad decisions like I did and getting into drugs and alcohol at an early age.

Right then I said to myself, “I know I’m probably never going to see this kid again, so I’m going to talk to him like he is my son from two years in the future.” That might sound weird, but that’s what I did.

I asked him if he was a Christian, and he said he went to church but had never been baptized. I asked why not, and he said he didn’t think he was ready. So I asked what he would say if he had to stand in front of God to face judgment that night. He said he would tell God that he loves his mom.

I’m sorry, but that was one of the funniest responses to that question I’ve ever heard. After we both stopped laughing, I asked if he had ever stood in front of a judge. He said no. I have, so I told him about my experience of getting an MIP when I was 20. And I said how my love for my mom was of no consequence to that judge.

A crime was committed and I justly deserved the punishment of a fine, community service and several mandatory AA meetings. Similarly, if we have lied, stolen things, sinned sexually, and other forms of not loving our neighbors as ourselves, we deserve the just punishment of eternal death and destruction (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 & Revelation 21:6-8).

Next, I asked him if he had ever heard the phrase that Jesus is our lawyer. He said yes. So I told him that Jesus is better than any lawyer that anyone could ever meet, because Jesus won’t just stand up in court for you and plead your case. Jesus is much better than that.

Jesus is a defense attorney who willingly gets on death row so we can walk out of the courtroom free. Jesus lived the life that we should have lived and died the death that we should have died. And if we’re willing to give our lives back to Him, He will give His life into us in the person of the Holy Spirit to transform us to be like Him. That is an amazing attorney bringing incredibly good news! 

We spent about 20 minutes talking outside on the porch. I didn’t buy any candy from him, but I did give him some money and pray with him. It was awesome how quickly God took me from a place of frustration to compassion. It was also a good reminder of how everyone, even that person at the door, needs to hear the gospel, and how God will give us the words if we will give them the time.  

From Jerusalem, twelve men went out into the world. These were uneducated and of no ability in speaking. But by the power of God, they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach the word of God to everyone. – Justin Martyr 160CE, Volume 1, p. 175

Friday, March 25, 2016

Who Did Jesus Die For & Why Does That Matter?

Today is Good Friday. Today is the day that many Christians around the world are remembering how Jesus willingly gave His life so that we could be ransomed out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God.

But who is the ‘we’ in that sentence? 
Did Jesus only die for those who will eventually put their faith in Him? Did Jesus only die for the elect? Some say yes, & some say no.

Why does that question even matter? There are many responses one could give, but let me offer a few.

If Jesus died for everyone, then every life is supremely valuable. If every life is supremely valuable to Jesus because He died for each person, then He truly desires that none perish, but all come to repentance.

If Jesus died for everyone and everyone is supremely valuable to Him, then everyone needs to hear the gospel message. If Jesus died for everyone and everyone is supremely valuable to Him, then everyone needs to see the gospel message lived out with integrity by His disciples.

If Jesus died for everyone and everyone is supremely valuable to Him, then the way we respond to people when we’re angry or feel unjustly wronged is really important.

This one is particularly difficult for me. Last week I wrote about a situation where my daughter was wronged by another kid, and I lost it. You can read that entry here:

Some people thought I was in the right, some thought I was in the wrong. The more I think about that situation, and particularly the more I think about what Jesus said and did on Good Friday, the more I feel like I could have handled it better.

Good Friday was the biggest display of injustice in the history of humanity. And how did our Leader handle Himself? With grace. With patience. With meekness. With kindness. With forgiveness. With love.

Jesus said it Himself. He could have called down 12 legions of angels and wrecked shop (Matthew 26:53). Instead, He practiced what He had been preaching all along. He modeled what He expects of His followers.

Who did Jesus die for? The early Christians believed that on Good Friday Jesus lovingly chose to die for a world that had all turned against Him. He died for those who would receive Him and those who would reject Him. And they believed that followers of Jesus are to graciously reflect that love to the world. So may you be filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly live out the holy love of our Savior on Good Friday.

God, being good, “makes His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sends His rain upon the just and the unjust.” And He encourages us to a similar course of action in order that we may become His sons. … For He Himself is said to be the Savior of all men, especially of them that believe; and His Christ to be the “propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” … “God commends His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us;” and although “scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die.” But now is Jesus declared to have come for the sake of sinners in all parts of the world (that they may forsake their sin, and entrust themselves to God). – Origen, Volume 4 p. 887-888 [CD-ROM]