Category Archives: Abundant Life

Believing is Believing

One of the more bizarre subplots of the Christmas story is that of Zechariah, the priest who would become the father of John the Baptist. In the midst of his faithful service in the temple, an angel appeared to him at the right side of the altar of incense and announced that his wife would bear him a son. As most of us know, Zechariah was overwhelmed with this news specifically because his wife was barren. His experience had convinced him that this prophecy was highly impractical and improbable.

How many of us struggle with what God says about our future because of our past experience? God always seems to be speaking good things over his people, even when they’re stubborn knuckleheads. And how many of us immediately start “doing the math” when we hear some of this good news? Just yesterday in our worship gathering, I sensed the Holy Spirit offering people the immediate healing of long-standing wounds, yet how many of the people sitting there had past experiences that made that offer untenable? Can’t you hear Zechariah’s thoughts: Elizabeth is barren, she has never been able to conceive, etc.

It is in the face of past (and significantly limited) experience that Zechariah seeks for something to help him process this prophecy. Can we stop here and note the problem? Prophecy is not something we “process” – it’s something we receive. We don’t figure-out prophecy, we sit with it and hope. Zechariah seems to think that knowledge will help him believe what the angel has said.

“And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’” (Luke 1.18 / ESV)

The fallen human condition makes intellectual knowledge the basis for belief, yet in God’s Kingdom of the Heavens, belief is simply a response to God revealing himself. It is profoundly personal. And furthermore, this sort of belief makes true, spiritual knowledge possible (not vice versa). How many of us have tried to make a word from God subject to our ability to comprehend it? This simply does not work, and sadly is the sickness that causes our lack of obedience.

So during this Christmas season, let Zechariah’s experience shape you. By God’s grace, we’ve received many precious promises and words of outrageous possibility. Our response to them must flow out of who God has revealed himself to be, not what we have experienced in our broken and limited past. Our belief that God is able to actually be God must overcome our need to know how he will be God. In this case, seeing will not be believing, believing will.

Advertisements

Consider Yourself Warned

Last Sunday I took some time to address the way our culture is engaging social media. My challenge to our congregation was to consider not whether or not Facebook is evil, but are we approaching this technology with a perspective that is grounded in the coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ or the ruined and illusioned culture of 21st Century America? Our society is broken. Our relationships are often superficial at best and indulgent at worst. Social media often serves to exacerbate the problem, although I do believe it also has the potential to expose it, leading to some healthy change.

This clip does little to assuage my concerns…

Living With The Enemy

Like so many aspects of mainstream culture, the Pentecostal/Charismatic sub-culture has trends (anybody remember the Prayer of Jabez?). I’m not saying these trends are necessarily bad, and I’m perfectly OK with the idea that there are seasons in God that emphasize one facet of truth as opposed to another, but there is one trend that that seems to run on a shorter cycle than the others: spiritual warfare. I do realize that by even calling this a trend, I run the risk of confusing or offending someone, and that is not my intention, so please hear me out…

I believe that spiritual warfare is a biblical idea. I believe Satan exists, along with demons. Really. I don’t think the Apostle Paul was speaking poetically when he told the Ephesians to “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6.16 ESV) Unfortunately though, discernment seems to be profoundly lacking in much of the warfare being waged. You see, this same apostle informed us just four verses earlier that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” This whole lack-of-a-phyical-presence thing leaves room for a whole lotta speculative spiritual throw-downs, or so it seems to me.

Let me be more plain: I think that what is often labeled as an attack of the “enemy” (then launching a full-scale tongues counter-attack), is more accurately the painful consequence NOT of fiery darts but our own sin or ultimately, God’s chastisement. At least a good amount of the time. You see, we have an aversion to suffering. BIG TIME! We are almost convinced it’s morally wrong. I love what Eugene Peterson says on this topic, “There is an American myth that denies suffering and the sense of pain. We act as if they should not be, and hence we devalue the experience of suffering. But this myth denies our encounter with reality.” (from Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, p. 137 – citing Ivan Illich)

If we live under the presumption that suffering is inherently bad, it only makes sense that we’d fight back in resistance. But if we understand the Scripture to reveal a heavenly Father who uses pain and hardship in our lives in many glorious ways and for his glory (Hebrews 12.3-11), then maybe before we bind the Devil we should go to our Father for discernment. Maybe he’s the one wreaking havoc in your life right now, in an effort to refine you, stop sinful behavior or just get your attention! After all in that immensely popular Old Testament text, Lamentations 2.5, the writer tells us that “The Lord has become like an enemy…” Maybe instead of going to the “enemy’s camp” we need to start going to the throne of grace followed by a quick trip to the bathroom mirror!

See…and then Live Happy!

“To be in a state of true grace, is to be miserable no more; it is to be happy forever. A soul in this state is a soul near and dear to God. It is a soul much beloved, and very highly valued by God. It is a soul housed in God. It is a soul safe in God’s everlasting arms. It is a soul fully and eminently interested in all the highest and noblest privileges.

The being in a state of grace makes a man’s condition happy, safe, and sure. But the seeing, the knowing of himself to be in such a state, is that which renders his life sweet and comfortable. The being in a state of grace will yield a man a heaven hereafter, but the seeing of himself in this state will yield him both a heaven here and a heaven hereafter; it will render him doubly blessed, blessed in heaven, and blessed in his own conscience.”

— Thomas Brooks
Heaven on Earth
(Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1961), 14

quoted at Of First Importance

Inconceivable!

“Thus says the Lord GOD: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob.” (Ezekiel 28:25 ESV)

I grew up in traditional Pentecostalism. I understand that there are many variations of Pentecostalism, but at the heart of the culture was the concept of “holiness.” This word holiness – and it’s prolific use in our churches – reminds me of a line from one of my favorite movie characters, Inigo Montoya, in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” For us, holiness consisted mostly of our power to resist the world’s temptations, not merely of sex or booze, but dark evils like bowling alleys, playing cards, Christian rock, and let’s not forget to mention every harlot’s secret weapon: lipstick! I didn’t dare step into a movie theater until I was 25 years old. After all, Jesus could come back at any moment, and did I really think he would visit those dark theaters that were a breeding ground for sin? No, we had to “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and (so?) I will receive you.”

This life experience makes an obscure verse in Ezekiel precious to me. God’s intention to restore for himself a people and give them a new covenant also included people from all nations. Continue reading

Advertisements