October 2008

I started a new book by a man who led an interesting life. He escaped Germany just prior to World War II, and then felt a calling to return and help the Christians who were still there and suffering under Nazi Germany. He did go back, and ultimately died at their hands in April of 1945. Knowing that small bit of his history makes this paragraph take on a new meaning for me:

It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?’ (Luther)” (Bonhoeffer, 1954, pp. 17-18).

This is one of the traits that drew me to the church that I have made my home, the outward focus of the church and its people. I was blessed recently to help out in providing a prom-like party one night for over 800 handicapped (MRDD) people around the city. To see those people who probably never had a prom that they went to when they were growing up, have a whole night dedicated for their happiness really touched me deeply. Over 1000 people volunteered that night, each guest had an escort, each guest was provided with a donated suit or dress so they would feel special, and all of us were dedicated to their happiness.

I know there is a “friction” in the big church/small church debate, but I think we should worry less about what size the church is and more about how we’re impacting our community. If you go to a large church, do the big promotions that are possible in that environment. If you’re in a small church, reach out on a person-to-person basis. But either way, volunteer and get out there. Do something for those in your community, show them the love of Jesus in a real and practical way.

— Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (1954). Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. New York, NY: HarperCollins.


Just for a few laughs.

One of the thoughts bouncing around in my mind over the past couple of weeks is an offshoot of this post. I remember over the years people saying how blessed by God we are as a nation. We were (or are) a “land of plenty.” But let me throw something out that I’ve been thinking about.

Can we agree that our time on this earth is designed by God to grow us into Christian maturity? By Christian maturity I mean we realize that we are here to do God’s will, to follow Jesus’ teachings, to care for those around us, to keep us dependent on God – the only source of strength to accomplish what He wants, to grow in a deep personal relationship with Him, and to show God’s love to the unsaved. I think most of us would agree that these are the goals of life on this earth.

Now, picture in your mind life in this country (the U. S.), and life in China, as a Christian. Which do you think will accomplish the end results of being a mature Christian better, the life of plenty we have, or the struggle of being a Christian in China? It occurred to me that in reality, living in this country isn’t a blessing, if we have a Biblical worldview, and knowing we are supposed to grow in maturity with God. There are too many distractions and too much “busyness” around us that keeps us focused on the “things” of this world rather than on God. But life in China, where just surviving each day requires the intervention by God in numerous ways, is more likely to keep our minds where it belongs – on Him.

Maybe, this is why we are having a small “wake up call” in the financial markets. It could be God’s way of sounding an alarm that the things we look to for security around us – income, employment, home – are not what really will give us security and happiness. Or as Jesus said in Luke 12:34:

34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).

That one hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it about a month ago. It made me start thinking, “What do I treasure more than God?”

— The New King James Version. 1982 (Lk 12:34). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Short history: for the past year and a half, God has been teaching me a few things, getting my priorities and perspectives in better order. It’s been a period of what R. T. Kendall calls “enforced learning.” Enforced, because the first times He tried to teach me, I was too busy, too arrogant, too proud, or too whatever, to take what He was saying as necessarily applying to me.

At first, I struggled with why I was going through the desert. Later on, it was opened to me. And I’ve been dealing with the attitudes and actions that haven’t been in line with His will. It’s never pleasent when God disciplines or corrects us, but it’s always worthwhile. But when you’re in the middle of it, you get mad, angry, frustrated, depressed, and desperate…sometimes all in the same day!

Some of what God has been purging in my life is unresolved sin. Struggling against temptation is never easy, but always required. I’d love for God to wave His magic wand and make it disappear, but let’s face it, that doesn’t build character does it? And then the other day I was sitting in Panera reading R. T. Kendall’s book, When God Shows Up, and this section jumped out at me:

Satan has scope to work only to the degree given him by God. Every time he attacks or tempts, he has been given permission from God to do so…When you know the devil is attacking you, just remember, God OK’d it before it happened” (Kendall, 2008, p. 98).

When I read this, I realized when Satan is tempting me, it’s “God approved” character building time. Sort of like when my father made me finish my homework before watching television when I was growing up. Understanding it this way makes it a little easier to resist that temptation, doesn’t it? For me, it’s a little easier to say NO when you know God is standing there rooting for you to grow a little more mature each time.

This whole thing reminds me of 1 Corinthians 10:13:

13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

— Kendall, R. T. (2008). When God Shows Up. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House.

— The New King James Version. 1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

One of the changes that I have seen in me as a result of reading the book Rees Howells, Intercessor, is a better concept of a Biblical world view. The idea being that everything in this world, that occurs in this world, that exists in this world, is part of the greater struggle between God and Satan. If we respond to the leadings of God and make a connection to someone who ultimately becomes a Christian, it was a battle between God and Satan that we were participating in. Even though I’ve read it in the Bible, I never really made the connection:

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan does not want us to make that connection and will do everything in his power to make us too fearful, too busy, too worried, or too whatever to reach out to someone in need and show God’s love. If we are willing, and responsive to God’s will, we might be able to plant seeds which one day may result in a new Christian. If we aren’t willing, the result isn’t pleasant to consider.

But this worldview can be extended into everything we see going on around us. The corporate scandals of recent years, and the current financial crisis, are viewed by many of my friends as a result of greed, excess, lack of regulation, etc. But when I see it, I view it from a slightly different angle: I see a lack of Biblical principles guiding peoples lives. When our view of right and wrong is not based on God, it can be based on whatever we want. It’s interesting when my humanistic-leaning friends are shocked when they see greed in business, yet are quick to demand the freedom to act as they want in their own lives.

The humanists push for “freedom,” but having no Christian consensus to contain it, that “freedom” leads to chaos or to slavery under the state (or under an elite). Humanism, with its lack of any final base for values or law, always leads to chaos” (Schaeffer, 1981, p. 29).

So the financial chaos we see today truly is the result of the worlds move away from Judeo-Christian ethics and beliefs. But in the end, I’m not worried about the condition of the economy; partly because I know God will provide what I need, and because what I see is a tremendous opportunity to reach out to people who are hurting, afraid, or in need, and show them God’s love.

— Schaeffer, Francis A. (1981). A Christian Manifesto. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

— The New King James Version. 1982 (Eph 6:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

If you’ve ever wondered what life is like when it is lived totally dependent on God for everything, this is a pretty good start (except for the Bible of course). The book chronicles the life of Rees Howells, a Welsh man who was called by the Holy Spirit to be an intercessor. What I love about the book is how it describes God’s gradual design to pull Rees closer to Him, getting Rees to give up more of “self” in favor of God. When we become responsive to God, we have to give up what we want and do what He wants. But in the end, what He wants is better for us than what we want. The hard part is making those steps toward “dying to self.”

God slowly took him through giving up his usual food he loved, and then giving up worrying about what others thought, to ultimately giving up his right to spend his money his way. God called Rees to be totally dependent upon Him for every bit of money he had, and accountable for every cent he spent. In the end, what Rees did for God far outweighed everything he gave up.

In the 1920’s, God called Rees and his wife to the mission field in Africa, and was present during the African Revivals in the 1920’s, and was probably responsible for 10,000 new souls won for Christ. What would you be willing to give up knowing that by doing so, God would work through you to do work that saved that many people?

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Rees built the Bible College of Wales, and trained hundreds, if not thousands, of new missionaries for God’s work. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Rees and the people at the Bible College of Wales were called to prayer for the battle against Germany. Through Rees, God saved the British at Dunkirk, defeated Rommell in Africa, diverted Hitler from a certain invasion and probably victory invading England and sent him against Russia. How much would it be worth to you to know God involved you in that struggle?

I would hope I would be willing to give up what I have in this world to do God’s work while I remain. I think I would, but the comforting thought is that God wouldn’t call me to do it all at once, but gradual “dying to self” over years.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been running into these verses in my Bible readings or in books I’m reading or in conversations at church:

2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-3).

It got me to thinking about what being like a child means in terms of Christianity. As I tried to picture it, I had to go back to my own childhood and try to remember what I was like as a child. The image that came to mind was me when I was learning to swim. When a kid learns to swim, some just jump in and figure it out. Others, like myself, need to know more about how it works, and then slowly build trust in the person teaching us until we’re ready to stand on the side of the pool and jump into that person’s arms. That’s how I picture us learning to follow the leading and nudging of the Spirit. Some people can just jump in and start swimming without much of an issue. But some, like me, need to read about it, understand it, know what it might look like in the beginning, and then slowly start stepping off the side of the pool into God’s arms as he stands at the edge. And gradually, over time, God eases back from the edge of the pool, forcing us to leap farther and farther each time.

Regardless of whether you’re a “toe-dipper,” checking to see if God will really be there for you, or if you’re the type to leap head first on the first time, the idea is to be like a child and trust in someone bigger than you. Reach out to God and listen to his will for this moment and then respond. Only through our willingness can God work in our lives. The hard part is sometimes just letting go of what we’re used to and doing it.

“Before God will do his work in us, he must have our willingness…As C. S. Lewis points out, sometimes the old nasty Lizard of habitual behaviors, though slowly destroying us, has become like a comfortable companion sitting on our shoulder whispering, ‘You can’t live without me.’ So we fear freedom. Willingness becomes central to our healing and growth, and so we must be willing to let God slay the Lizard” (Burke, 2008, pp. 172-173).

I’m glad God stuck with me long enough to get the point where I’m now falling forward into His arms as He stands in the pool of life. My plan before too long, is to be running full-tilt and leaping into the pool without much fear at all. But what better pair of arms to be jumping into than God’s?

— Burke, John. (2008). Soul Revolution: How Imperfect People Become All God Intended. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

— The New King James Version. 1982 (Mt 18:2-3). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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