Monday, April 26, 2010

Let Us Pray

I was in church the other day. The speaker said "Let's pray" & we bowed our heads in uncomfortable silence. He had barely finished the invitation to pray when suddenly, tiny footsteps came barreling into the sanctuary... "Daddy! Daddy!" the little voice cried exuberantly, arms outstretched. I glanced over to watch the drama. His father quieted him, scooped the boy up & took him outside. I could hear them conversing. The father wasn't angry- in fact, he spoke gently, kindly. I felt a smile grow on my face as I heard that still small voice say "Now, that's prayer, just like that"...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lively Duds

2 Corinthians 5:17 says the old is gone, the new is come, I am a new creation in Christ. Often I am told this means my past is irrelevant & I am no longer who I once was. But to forget the past is dangerous business.

In the news years ago, I remember hearing about mines & other artillery from various wars that had been discovered by accident- some actually exploded, others were duds. But all had been previously lost or forgotten until someone inadvertently stumbled upon their existence in a jungle, a forest or a field. The memory of war was evident only in the lives of those who had been there before. As time passed, things grew back. As a new generation rose up, people forgot about the battles fought there. New life took over the awful ravages of the past, but the artillery remained hidden.

We may indeed be a new creation when we come to Christ, but what about the battlefields of our family life? Our youth? Our mind? Is there hidden artillery that still needs to be found, defused & dismantled? To forget the past is dangerous business that puts not only us, but those around us at risk.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fruitless Deeds

"Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness..." Ephesians 5:11. This scripture planted itself squarely in my thoughts today. I was minding my own business, going about my work, & there it was.

For whatever reason, I had also been thinking about the musical "Sweeny Todd" & how I enjoyed Tim Burton's version in particular. It's a story of murderous revenge that seems justified & even profitable for a time, until a little boy discovers the truth behind those tasty meat pies... There's redemption (eventually) & the offenders lose their lives. But throughout the film, there is murder & merry making... Sarcasm & blood flow freely. I can't help but wonder if this is pleasing to God though. You might say "Its just a movie. Or even, "Its a classic!" But really, what would God say?

Ephesians 4:30 says not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God... Ephesians 5:1 says we are to be imitators of God... The next 19 verses tell us what to avoid: bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, every form of malice, sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking... Does this mean we shouldn't watch movies or listen to music that portray these things? And to take it a step further, does this mean we shouldn't be engaging in these things ourselves, whether in thought or deed? And yet how many of us do? How seriously do we take the Word?

I find myself struggling with this- I mean, I like Sweeny Todd... but it portrays bitterness, rage, anger, slander, malice... among other things. What kind of fruit did the main character reap? In the end, he was met with insanity, grief & death. His were fruitless deeds of darkness. I occasionally let myself get bitter & angry... I let obscenity or coarse joking slip by every once in a while... I could check off nearly everything on the list at some point or another. All these things are fruitless deeds. What can I possibly gain from them? It certainly won't be the righteous life that God wants me to live.

"Well, nobody's perfect" you might say. True. But its not an excuse to sweep things under the rug. "You're being legalistic," another might say, "with your list of 'dos & don'ts'"... But Remember Eph. 5:11? There's more to it than just ignoring or avoiding the deeds of darkness- the last part of the verse says to expose those fruitless deeds to the Light. Why? Because the Light makes everything visible. We'll begin to see those things for what they really are... bare, dead, fruitless branches... they're tangled up, hidden among the good branches & need to get lopped off. They need to be pruned so we can produce good fruit. Exposure requires action on our part- it requires submission, repentance, change... Its not legalism, its life.

"Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness..." Its not a suggestion. Its not a command. Its a warning. Are we listening?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Laboring In Vain

There's something to be said for those big names in Christendom who write books & put out full length Bible Studies complete with a DVD series & group guide. They're probably doing what they're called to do & many lives have been changed b/c resources like these have been made available. But what about the few who slip through the cracks, who can't seem to commit to a 12 week study that not only requires 2 hours of group time each week, but 30 minutes or more each day reading and answering questions in a book? Application is key. Group time & personal study promote growth, but only when applied. Sometimes group time & personal study promotes distraction from what may actually be needed...

And what might actually be needed is not only application, but grounding. Many of us (me included) have tried to build on a weak foundation. Oh yes, I've said my house is built on the Rock, but again, application makes all the difference. If that declaration is just a sentence made up of magical words, I can shout it from the hill tops, but the truth will be revealed soon enough. When the wind & the rain comes, do I stand firm or do I crumble? If I crumble (as I have done many times), I can be assured that my house was built on something other than the Rock.

So lets say group time & personal study have indeed proven to promote distraction for me... What then? Doing a Bible study isn't wrong & the personal study time is well... personal, right? Isn't that applying the Word to my life? I don't think so. I've spent time in the Word with countless study guides over the years & I didn't change much. I thought I was changing though, I was learning new things after all... & it seemed like that was enough. But lasting change is the litmus test. No application, no change. I can have all the knowledge in the world but if I don't put it into practice, its just useless trivia to me.

Application has its own set of requirements. If I apply a sticker to a window, it sticks. Why? Adhesive. If the adhesive is dirty or rubbed off however, it won't stick. How do we get things to stick? How do we get things grounded, strong, firm & steadfast? We make sure our contact surfaces are clean. We make sure the ground is solid & we dig deep to lay our foundation. That takes more than 2 hours with a group once a week or 30 minutes with a study guide each day. The real work is done outside of these parameters when we take what we've learned & put it to work in our everyday lives. We submit to God & get our hearts clean. We confess our sins, fire up the bulldozers & let the Lord build our house. Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1a NIV).

We can go to church, do studies, read our Bible cover to cover but these things won't benefit to us much if we're not taking our resources to God & applying them to His blueprints. His plans say if we apply the resources we have to His specs, we'll have a house that'll weather anything. But if we cut corners, we're in for trouble. Are we laboring in vain with Bible studies & teaching series? Are we applying what we've learned to this build? Are we clearing out our hearts & digging deep to lay the foundation for a solid house or are we setting ourselves up for shanty living?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It Takes A Little Time Sometimes...

I was thinking about prayer today & how we understand it to be a conversation between us & God... I don't think we actually believe that however. It ends up going one way as opposed to both parties sharing in turn... The more time we spend, the more we talk, the closer we're getting to the Almighty, right? We want to talk, to be heard... God wants us to pray... We have needs & it's only logical to assume that more words equal more points with Him, right? Wrong.

I'm sure I'm not the first to admit that prayer can be a boring, even frustrating activity at times b/c it's just me & an empty room. Its just me & my Bible. Its just me in a church full of people... Its not like a "real" conversation with a flesh & blood person who I can experience with my senses. I often send my prayers up in faith & then walk away, neglecting the exchange of actual conversation. I'm impatient. Tired. I have things to do. God probably wasn't listening anyway & if He was, He's probably busy contriving some trial or complicated series of events in reply. You know how God is... I'm being facetious of course. God hears every word out of my mouth as well as the ones that never make it past my tongue. He can read my body language, He knows what I really think about a situation. What He's really looking for is time... Am I taking the time to listen, to get to know Him- to hear His response to my life?

Is listening merely confined to an act of silence? Is it something we can carry out beyond a single moment? Thankfully, God is not confined by our timelines, our spacial or even physical limitations. He doesn't grow weary like us. He doesn't faint from exhaustion when we ramble on, even though He already knows everything we need. But do we know all that He requires of us? Do we have any idea how much He loves us? We can't possibly know unless we listen... And we can't possibly pretend to know what He's thinking or doing if we're always droning on about ourselves. God speaks to us not only with words from the Bible, not only with language from the people around us, but also through nature, science, & everyday things from our everyday lives. I don't believe listening is confined to the last 5 minutes of our 15 minute devotions. It needn't be confined by anything at all, really. So if prayer is not only talking but listening as well, when do we take the time to listen?

Speak, Lord, & help me listen... Make my life an ongoing prayer.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Revival

The word "revival" in my mind sparks all sorts of craziness. In the denomination which I was raised, "revival" meant long nights on the church floor in tearful prayer, hours of limb trembling, soul soaring worship... It meant speaking in tongues & being slain in the spirit, it meant running laps around the church & "praising Jesus", it meant howling like an animal & laughing so hard you literally rolled around on the floor. It meant stumbling out of the church after all that like a drunk, full of exceeding "joy". "Revival" always seemed to culminate in having some grand outreach on the city square or college campus... Bible studies & worship nights abounded...

To me, "revival" meant hoopla & a momentary rush that quickly faded away. It never really touched me for whatever reason. I chalked it up to my own spiritual defectiveness & sin. But then I compared the percentages of lives that seemed truly changed with the number who experienced some grand emotional manifestation. And that's when I walked away from my denomination, from church altogether in fact. The numbers just didn't add up. This kind of "Revival" never lasted long. My former pastor & his team always talked of "acquiring the fire" & taking it to this place or that... Apparently, he imported our "fire" from Argentina, Toronto, Brownsville... I can't help but wonder why he had to go anywhere else to "get the fire". We had the same God afterall... or did we?

Its my opinion that people are so hungry- so sensory- that when something comes along to pique their interest, they start grabbing at it like children after candy. Out goes Biblical truth, out goes humility & submission to Christ, out goes the appeal of Paul for orderly gatherings that are respectful to one another & to God... We dig into the gifts of the spirit with fervor & forget all about who they come from & why we were given them... So often I've seen gifts (and I do believe in the gifts!) become our god... We begin in our own ways to worship these things- to worship prayer, to worship the feelings we feel during worship, to worship the sensory manifestations of gathering together in the name of something- some ONE more powerful than ourselves. But we deceive ourselves... and the gifts take hold & demand more of us than God requires. All good gifts come from God, but even good gifts can be wrecked by human hands... Think Adam & Eve, Gideon, King Hezekiah, David & Bathsheeba... the list could go on & on.

My heart has always longed for something more- though I dare not classify it as "revival". Revival smacks of eccentricity, of camp meetings, of extraordinary circumstances involving large crowds & even larger productions. Perhaps I could better identify this "something" as a resurrection of sorts. My heart longs for the resurrection that Jesus promised us- this "being raised to life" with Him... I'm not talking about the final day when he raises His people from the dead. I'm talking about daily resurrection. He calls us to take up our cross & follow Him... daily. What does that mean? It means we not only follow Him into death daily, but also into resurrected life. Our goal is to glorify God, not each other, not our emotional sensations, not our spiritual prowess, not our gifts. Our goal is to love one another & spur each other on in Christ.

How are we dying today? Have we been raised to life? Because that's revival- dying & living & leaving the tomb... walking the road together, eating & working & praying together... daily. It might not be what we were expecting... but then maybe we should be asking ourselves what we were expecting in the first place- Was it ever what God had in mind for us?

Dear Congregation:

I feel like I'm watching us slowly becoming a congregation of "churchy" people... I've heard folks expressing thoughts about how we're doing, speculating why people have left... I personally feel like we're not really moving forward. It seems we neglect the time it would take to do so b/c we're in such a hurry to move onto the next thing. Oh, we're moving, alright, but we're just spinning our wheels. Its gotten a little messy & we need to get out & push. Its gonna take some time.

We'd do well to remember that our struggle isn't against flesh & blood, its not against the pastor or the leadership or even each other. Our struggle is against the spiritual forces, the powers, rulers & authorities of this dark world... That said, I feel compelled to pray for us as a congregation, for the pastor & for leadership... for wisdom, discernment, humility... for cohesiveness & a sense of unity under the direction of the Holy Spirit... For God's will to be done, for truth to prevail despite how we fear it- even for repentance in some areas. Who am I? I'm nobody. But I am part of this congregation & together, we are part of the spiritual Body of Christ.

We need to be taking responsibility for our faith, getting in the Word, getting together with others to read, worship & pray on a regular basis, even outside the church walls. It seems there's an unspoken expectation that we ought to wait for something to be announced as a "sanctioned" function before we can engage. What a heavy burden for our pastor & leadership to bear! There are only so many spoons to go around... & too many mouths to feed. But what difference would it make, I wonder, if even just a few of us got together outside the confines of a Sunday service or even a home group & set aside an hour or two to read just a chapter or a book of the Bible out loud to each other? What if we took time to pray together or hold each other accountable on a regular basis, outside the confines of 15 minutes on Sunday or the first Saturday of the month? What if some of us committed to fasting as an act of repentance, as an act of submission to God- to stand in the gap for our leaders & our church as a whole? Would that change us as individuals? Would it change us as a congregation? I'm inspired by the stories of handfuls of people throughout history who did just that... And God met them...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

God So Loved the World...

I must admit, as a Christian, "For God so loved the world"... hasn't really meant much personally. Its kind of a blanket statement... just another one of those verses we quote b/c its popular. How many of us actually stop to think about what it means?

I can't tell people Jesus loves them if I can't grasp His love for me. Everyone knows God loved the whole world, but does everyone know God loves them as an individual? I can't tell the guy at the bus stop Jesus died for his sins if I'm not 100% certain He died for mine... Really? All of them? Even that one from a few years ago? Most people have heard that God forgives sin... but some don't know that extends to all of theirs as well. I am fully forgiven in Christ. Do I believe it this Easter morning?

Believing in a Jesus that died for the sins of the whole world is one thing. Believing in a Jesus that died for me too is completely different. Jesus stood at the door of my heart & knocked. I answered, tentatively... I must admit, He still makes me nervous after all these years, but then, I'm still getting to know Him. Often times I've wondered, why me? Why my door? Because God so loved the world... and me too. Jesus knew what I didn't- did what I couldn't... & He came to my door to offer me life. He came in the form of family members who were Christians, in the form of children's records that taught the Bible, He was even present in the form of the lady who led me in the sinner's prayer. He stepped in when I was just a child in order to give me a foundation- a hope as an anchor for my soul, even before my "cognitive" life began. Through my difficult childhood & adolesence, on into adulthood, I know He's been with me. At times, I've left Him waiting outside my door. At times, I've consented to speak to Him through a crack & nothing more. But as I've gotten older, I've once again invited Him in- to stay. This Easter morning, I'm thankful... the love & life He's given... its admittedly beyond my comprehension.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter Traditions

I lived on a street that boasted 5 churches in a 3 block radius- Episcopalian, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian. Almost every Saturday there was a wedding somewhere... The church bells would ring out as the precession of cars passed by, happily blaring their horns. Other days, I observed the mournful creep of funeral precessions led by a motorcycle cop. The church bells tolled on these days too... more slowly... sadly. Easter was a busy day as well, like a wedding or a wake. Cars lined the streets & people poured out of the churches in their best attire. Bells rang out from various steeples in a cacophony of sound. And by noon, it was all over. All was quiet until the next event.

However, Easter was never much of an event to me. I knew the "Passion story"... I saw the banners that said "He is Risen!", I observed people dressed to the hilt, heading for church on Good Friday & Easter Sunday. As a child, though I was "saved", what Easter meant to me was a basket from my father (most years) & a Palmer's chocolate bunny from my mom. It meant Cadbury creme eggs & marshmallow peeps. Easter was synonymous with coloring eggs in art class at school. It meant getting my picture taken with someone in a creepy looking bunny suit... It meant pastel colours & the arrival of spring. But it never really meant the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I've always observed Easter much like I observed wedding & funeral precessions. There's a sense of tradition associated with each. I don't get baskets & bunnies anymore. I make it a point to decline photo opportunities with giant rabbits & I might snag the occasional Cadbury Creme Egg, but that's where my particular tradition ends. Yet Easter is supposed to be the "Who, What, When Where, Why & How" of my faith. How easily I pass by as part of the precession, lights on, respectful... Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world. That's nice. Thank You, Jesus. And on Sunday, I'll hear "He's Risen!". The stone was rolled away! I'll throw some confetti. Its tradition.

But Easter will be nothing more than a tradition until I realize the "precession" I'm in isn't just for Jesus on a cross- its also for me. Jesus died for Me. The celebration of His resurrection is mine to share as well. Just as He was raised up to life by God's power, so I too have been raised to life by that very same power. And when the stone of my tomb was rolled away, there was great rejoicing in heaven... "She is risen! She lives!" That same power that raised Jesus up also raised me up from death to life... The old is gone, the new has come. And if that's not a reason to celebrate Easter, I don't know what is. Thanks be to God for rescuing me from sin & death...