Danger Close

 

image

A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.  J.A. Shedd

Moving forward in any meaningful way demands a step in faith. Faith–deep soul-rooted, life-directing faith–may lead to danger. We take the steps of faith because we trust in God for what may come, whether it be into blissful comfort or the first tentative steps into the enemy’s territory, fully aware that sacrifice may be the result. A church that never moves from the sanctuary is safe, but that is not what the Church is for.

Read Paul’s boasting in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Contrary to the witness of those who merely call themselves Apostles, Paul has the scourge scars and water marks of one who has walked, trusting God with each step as he fulfilled His calling to bear witness to Christ to the Gentile world. We continue to marvel at his effectiveness thousands of years later as he is held up as the model for our own vocational calling. We marvel, but are tempted time and time again to retreat to the safety of tradition and practice.

Church, this is not what we were created to be or do. We are the last hope of a dying world. We possess the fire of the indwelling Spirit meant to guide our hands and feet in boldly stepping into the darkness to call others out. Like the sailor who knows nothing of buoyancy and displacement but who trusts the Oak, nails and pitch to keep them afloat in the capricious and danger-filled seas, Christians need not know how or why God may lead them into a ministry effort, only that they may trust Him that it will not be in vain. 

Grace and peace in the Spirit to you…

image National Library of New Zealand

A House Divided

The God I Never Knew by Robert Morris

image

Pastor Robert Morris adds to growing library of works about the often misunderstood and sometimes forgotten third member of the Holy Trinity. This book is his attempt to clear away some of the mystery and confusion that surrounds God in this person.  This volume succeeds wildly on one level, but struggles to find its footing on another.

The first half of the book having to do with the reality of the Holy Spirit and His work is a good addition to the growing attention the Spirit is receiving. It is scriptural and doctrinal, and does a superior job of presenting the reality of the Spirit to a church that is desperately in need of an outpouring of the Spirit’s power. In addition to the fine explication, Morris applies the truths to our daily lives in way that makes us desire more and more of the Spirit.

Sadly, the second part of the book doesn’t hold up the expectations set out in the first. After adhering close to the Evangelical median in his discussion of the reality and work of the Spirit, Morris tips into a scattered series of chapters about separate Baptisms in the Spirit and the miraculous gifts. An extensive presentation of these topics is beneficial to have, but the way in which the author strikes, fires off an anecdote and then moves on is less than satisfying.

Inconsistency aside, The God I Never Knew can serve as a fine introduction to the Spirit or a reminder of the power that He brings to the believer. Some will find the theological diversions unnerving, but understanding the doctrines contributes to the growth of all Christians.

I’m grateful to WaterBrook press who supplied this copy for review.

Extraordinary is Within Your Reach

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Cor 2:9)

The latest by John Bevere, Extraordinary, takes off in a flash from that fundamental truth and winds through 200+ pages of confrontation and encouragement demanding that the Christian see the gift of grace as more than just fire insurance. Believers empowered by the Holy Spirit were not meant just to be saved in order to hang on by their fingertips until the end. Bevere exhorts the reader on every page to realize that they were redeemed for extraordinary purposes and that all of the power needed for this new life has been vested in them by their Redeemer. The question that is unspoken but living on every page is, why? Why are we willing to settle for the ordinary when the remarkable is within our grasp?

John Bevere Extraordinary

Extraordinary is a collection of short chapters, each touching on a specific area of Christian living. Bevere has an urgency to his writing as though he can’t wait to get the next thought down on the page and you sense this as you read. You can’t wait to see how a thought plays out and then you stop, confronted by the truth of the Scriptures that you have either passed over or conveniently set aside. More than once in each chapter I found myself opening my Bible to the verse or passage referenced and finding a new truth revealed.

Island Man and Christ’s continued question “Where is your faith?” are just two of the illustrations that will cause you to stop reading and consider your own life. So many of us have taken the promises of Jesus into our heads but they have not made their way into our hearts. He promised life-altering, world-changing, universe-shaking power through the Spirit and yet, we more often than not live as thought these promises were only for the Disciples or for a class of super-Christians alone in their monastic retreats. Bevere’s voice jumps from the page to grab you and shake your complacency away, cajoling and coaching you to take this power seriously and to live a life worthy of the sacrifice made on your behalf. Unlike the Island Man, we need to grasp the potential of what we’ve been given.

Don’t miss Extraordinary. You will be able to read it quickly but you will soon find yourself going back with your pencil to mark certain pages and sentences. Your bible will get a workout as well as you find new truths and see familiar ones in a new light. All of this will be wasted though if you just read the book. As St. James said of the truths in the Scriptures, “it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself.” Read and then act.

 

For more information about this book, Extraordinary.

School of Prayer Day Two

WithChristInPrayer

[In which we follow the Andrew Murray classic With Christ in the School of Prayer]

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”  (Jn 4:23-24)

Jesus spoke these words to the Samaritan woman at the well, lovingly teaching her the New Way of things. Worship is not constrained by time or place as so much of our Western culture has come to believe. Proper and worthy worship must be aligned with God’s nature which is spirit. It is also in truth, which, in the gospel of John is closely aligned with Jesus (cf 14:6). It will only be through Jesus that we learn to properly worship and pray as a part of that worship.

The Samaritan woman cannot immediately grasp what she is being told and are not automatically able to approach the throne in prayer properly. We need the Spirit through whom Christ will instruct us. He has not left us simply with a set of instructions to follow in the Bible but the Lord has also provided us with a paraclete, a helper who will guide our practice. When we have received this gift is when we are able to pray in spirit and truth, or at least, to begin to.

No Fakin’ and Shakin’ Here – Holy Roller by Julie Lyons

clip_image002Sister Johnson had a way of cutting through the mess. I found this out after I started teaching a Sunday-school class, replacing the previous teacher who quit unexpectedly. Standing in front of a roomful of adults, I asked a question: “Why do we sin?”

Sister Johnson, who was in her sixties, piped up as soon as the last word left my mouth.

“Because we want to.”

At that moment, a thousand volumes of Christian theology were rendered redundant.

Holy Roller is two parallel stories; the birth and growth of a black Pentecostal church and its pastor and a white writer who unknowingly stumbles into its midst and discovers that the heart of the faith she has been seeking in her life beats within this unfailingly honest body. Julie Lyons skillfully intertwines her story with that of the The Body of Christ Assembly and Pastor Frederick Eddington. Many churches attach the label ‘spirit-filled’ to their biographies but you often discover little of His presence once you in the walls of their meeting hall. Pastor Eddington and the Assembly on the other hand are true believers in the power of the Spirit and demonstrate the power of His work over and over in the life of the church and community beyond its crumbling walls.

Lyons weaves the story of her early ‘faith of facts’ with the charismata of the Spirit driven Church. The dichotomous church life of her early life is familiar to many evangelicals, a church experience where one is said but another is done. Cynicism of some measure had set in when she proposed a story to her editor about churches on the fringes of South Dallas and their ministry in the midst of a crack cocaine crisis. As she passed by numerous small churches with their lights turned out she finds herself in front of the tiny, ramshackle house that strained to hold the Holy Spirit’s work. A young girl (?) points out Pastor Eddington to Julie and she asks the questions that will quickly transform her life.

“Do you pray for crack addicts?”

“Yes” replied the pastor.

“Are they getting healed?” asked Julie.

“Some are.”

The story that follows in Holy Roller is a multi-threaded page-turner rooted in a faith that takes the promises of power in the Holy Spirit at face value, believing the Bible and its promises of transformed lives and demonstrating for the world to see that these things are indeed true. It is not a Christianity of constant theological argument over arcane points or concern with the finer points of Greek exegesis where the truths are analyzed but not necessarily applied. Lyons tells the story of moving from one world to another as she witnesses the changed lives she spends time with in becoming a part of the Body of Christ Assembly and the challenges that came with the shift.

Transformation is the heart of the story. Frederick Eddington moving from psychologically challenged man to pastor. His wife Diane changed from a party girl to the first lady of the church and Julie and Lyons who were exposed to new racial relationships and faith founded in the living Spirit. As expected, the integration is not always easy and significant challenges are recorded for all of the people we encounter. The common thread linking them together is a profound trust in the power of Christ to make things right, even if it doesn’t happen overnight. The average American evangelical reading this book is going to come to one of two conclusions as the pages are read. Either they will continue to view the Pentecostal church in a low church light and with considerable skepticism or they will view the evangelical church and its lack of Holy Spirit power as needing a restorative dose of reformation itself.

Mrs. Lyons is transparent in documenting her personal struggles alongside the challenges she encounters as a member of the church. She has done a stellar job of telling all of these disparate stories while passing a connecting thread through all of them. I became deeply enmeshed in the lives she reveals to us and spent a good deal of time contemplating the sometimes weak power of the Spirit in my own faith life. At the conclusion of the book, I was immediately set to reread it again and consider how I have personally viewed the work of the Spirit and consider whether I desire more of Him or more arguments over the Arminian/Calvinist divide. I’m pretty sure the Holy Ghost is going to win.

 

More information on the book can be found here.

Lent 2009 – 35 Steps to the Cross

PeterStepsHis divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who call us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Before Peter could write these truths, he had to learn them for himself. Before the Lord called him away from the lake, Peter had developed a pair of traits that would undergo a transformation as he followed Jesus through the land. As a hard working fisherman he had no doubt developed a high level of self sufficiency. He knew how to fend for himself as a businessman and on the dangerous waters that he fished, especially in situations where he could rely on no one else to get him out of trouble. As a Jew, Peter had also been steeped in the legalistic practices of Judaism.

Jesus taught him something completely different as He sought to make the notion of grace clear. Peter could not nor should not bring anything to the party. God provided everything and any attempt to supplement that gift simply got in the way of the outworking of grace. Like Peter, we often find ourselves struggling with grace. We impose restrictions on ourselves that God has not in an attempt to infuse godliness into our lives but in doing so, we get in the way of the work of the Spirit. He was given to us so that the transformation of our souls could come from within, not from our own efforts. The extent of work should simply be reliance of the work of the Holy Ghost. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…”

Digg This

Life With God 3f – I AM The Resurrection

image The I Am statement we immerse ourselves in today comes in response to the sorrow surrounding the death of Lazarus. The Lord has purposely waited until His friend had died and begun to molder in a tomb and He arrives in Bethany during the period of deep mourning. Does Martha accuse Jesus when she meets Him saying if He had been here Lazarus would still be alive? Perhaps not angrily but it could have been a question that had swirled between Martha and Mary’s lips for the preceding four days. We ask it ourselves from time to time; where were you God when this or that was happening to me? You could have prevented it or guided me away or, or …

Notice that the Lord does not rebuke  her for her challenge. Isn’t it good to know that God knows us well enough to not take offense at our outbursts? He knows the limitations of our hearts and our understanding. God knows that we can intellectually assent to the idea spoken through Isaiah, ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts’ but in our hearts we push this aside and reveal our innermost anger and hurts. In love, the Lord listens and is compassionate. Like Martha, we can pull out our intellectual reserve and repeat it when questioned theologically during our grief: ‘yes Lord, everything will be well at some point.’ But what about now we wonder, can you help me now?

Jesus said to here, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never dies. Do you believe this? " John 11:18

Do you believe this beyond the intellectual point? Immersing ourselves in this I Am brings us to a different point of confidence in this life. We no longer have to simply look ahead to the new life, we have it now in full and we have nothing to fear. Though we may die, we will not die! Making this a part of who we are leads us to follow Martha and Peter in exclaiming ‘Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God’ and then living as though we believe it.