Saturday, October 9, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
This past Sunday had the pleasure to be with Living Word Church in Hewitt, New Jersey. . . a great body of believers led by Pastor Tim Barnes who is truly humble and genuine. When first there not many years ago, there was one service and now there are three. It has grown steadily and the growth was of the Spirit. . . not according to methods and programs but on the basis of Life and according to Christ. It is always a pleasure to enjoy fellowship at Living Word. The link below is to the message given.
NOTE: The original link from June went bad but was able to go back to Living Word in August; the top link will hopefully work.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Last Saturday we prayed for North Korea, for believers in the prison camps and for those living in secret in probably the worst place on earth for believer and unbeliever alike. In the face of severe deprivations and the horrors of that place, the prayers were that believers there would know and find resource in Christ to make it thru. . . that they could be a display of Christ in that place.
And yet prayer has a power and life if the Spirit directs. There can be a burden for others given by the Spirit where in the strength of Christ we can bear for others. There is a striving in prayer that brings resource and relief in Christ in the lives others. There is a ministry of prayer like that of Epaphras that bears fruit in the body. . . “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Col. 4) Not just that a prayer list is prayed over but that there is a striving in prayer. . . a continual faithfulness of brother for brother that bears them in prayer not just during a meeting, but will carry them and their burdens with them till their burden is lifted and their circumstances change. And in that bearing of others, there can be life. Not just the help and resource to the one prayed for, but also life to the whole body of Christ.
Maryam Rustampoor (27) and Marzieh Amirizadeh (30) were arrested in Iran last year for converting from Islam to Christianity. They spent 9 months in Evin Prison, suffering from untreated medical conditions. During that time, they appeared before a Revolutionary Court and there bore a faithful testimony with a boldness found in Christ. A portion of the transcript follows:
During one tense moment in the questioning, Maryam and Marzieh made reference to their belief that God had convicted them through the Holy Spirit. The prosecutor, Mr. Haddad told them, “It is impossible for God to speak with humans.”
Marzieh asked him in return, “Are you questioning whether God is Almighty?”
Mr. Haddad then replied, “You are not worthy for God to speak to you.”
Marzieh said, “It is God, and not you, who determines if I am worthy.”
"We will not deny our faith," the women later responded to demands that they sign documents recanting their faith, "if we come out of prison, we want to do so with honor."
Two Christians women in an Iranian Revolutionary Court. . . bold witnesses for Christ. They were released from prison in December with the understanding that they could be called back at any time to face trial.
In November had the pleasure of being with a group of saints in Benton PA who came out on a cold evening to pray for persecuted brothers and sisters. It was a small church in a rural area and it was not in their regular schedule to meet in this way. We prayed for brothers and sisters who were suffering in places that did not offer much in the way of relief, sisters like Maryam and Marzieh. For most there that night they were unfamiliar with their stories and suffering and yet the prayers and tears that went up on their behalf were humbling.
Some weeks later when Maryam and Marzieh had been released, there was great joy in sending a note to the pastor telling of their release, and his joy in telling the body in Benton, and their joy in seeing prayers answered. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1 of all the troubles he had faced in Asia and of the despair he felt. . . of being under the sentence of death and yet finding in God the resource to go forward, that God would provide. He requests prayer from the body, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Paul asks for prayers from others so that when God helps thru the prayers, that praise to God would result. If some believers pray, God will act and help, and others will hear of what God has done and give praise to Him.
What life in things. . . out of the troubles of one comes the praise of many. The way of God in Christ is life. . . God has his purposes when He leads us into hardship. For Paul it was to learn to rely not on Himself but on God who rescues, and it is the same lesson for us. And yet there is a going thru things. . . if God leads into hardship, He provides in Christ the resource to make it thru. . . the hardship of the circumstances are not the end of the story. And His leading us into hard things is not meant only for us but that we would be a testimony of Christ to the body and in the world. Our joining in prayer with the sufferings of others in the body is meant for life in His body and a testimony in this world.
And yet how we let the unfamiliarity and our lack keep us from praying. . . how few Epaphras’s there are in the body. The Spirit will be life in our prayer and thru our prayers if we are faithful. Jesus said in John 15, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me. . .” There is no following of Jesus without the cross and the lesson of the cross that everything is found in Christ and nothing in me. . . no learning of Christ without renouncing all. It is the same principle in the prayer life. . . that going to prayer for others is not about lists but about life. God provides the resource and the requests in the life of prayer of the one who wholly follows the Lord. What blessing in this life to be involved in the work of the Lord in this way. Remember to keep Maryam & Marzieh in prayer. . . on 13 April they were called back to court to face charges of apostasy. They are awaiting the decision of the court. Go to the Lord on their behalf and find life in Him in this.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
How easy it is to not follow the Lord. . . so much comes up to distract and turn away. So much is just surface with us, there is no depth of the Lord in us, so much is not genuine. And yet the purpose of God is for more of Christ within. The gospel is often presented as an easy thing and yet Jesus says that there are costs for those who follow. . . not just His cost in dying on the cross but our cost in knowing Him fully. Jesus invites but also says there is a cannot to following Him. . . a block to things, an abyss to what is possible. That to be a disciple, to come after Him, to become like Him, has a cost. . . there is an utterness to following Jesus. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . anyone who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” What big cannots they are. . . what cost to being a disciple. . . touching everything at the deepest point. How much hinges on the utterness of our response to Him. And what failure and lack awaits when we are half-hearted. . . when the heart is not fully devoted. . . when the Lord is one of many desires and not the only desire of our heart. Following Him in this life makes clear where we are in this matter of heart devotion to the Lord. . . what is genuine in us and where we are hypocrites. The Lord gives explanation by way of example why there is no discipling into the Lord if there is no coming after Him by way of the cross. . . “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ ” The cost of not being able to finish what is started. . . of not making it thru. What a high thing we are called to in this world. . . nothing less than the full measure of Christ. And yet there is no reaching that without taking up the cross and coming after Him. The promise of God is for knowledge of Him in Christ and that in increasing measure. . . and yet the promise mocks if there is no utterness on our part to follow Him. There is no getting thru, no maturity about us. . . a son of God who remains a child. There is a tragedy, a weakness to things, when stopping short of the full intention of God. Even the world mocks, “This man begins to build and was not able to finish.” What cost, what loss, in starting but not going on to completion.
The lack of utterness on our part has other costs. “Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” There is a cost in settling for things. . . of not going into the battle at all and making peace when the call of the Lord often means risk. If the response to facing risks and hard circumstances is to first find the resource in ourselves, and not finding the resource, we often settle, we make peace. And yet the call of the Lord to follow Him utterly is that we not look to our own resources at all, but rather find in Christ the resource to make it thru. . . that regardless of the circumstances we follow even if the prospects at the beginning are poor. In our following, if we find ourselves sitting down and considering the outcome and the prospects for success, often we will never even go into the battle and so never win the victory. There will be a making peace with the thing that confronts us and we settle for a weaker condition. . . the defeat of not following the Lord utterly, where regardless of the cost we go on. The Lord has promised to be strength and hope and life in the situation. . . he is that resource to us as we go on. But in not going thru we never find the resource in Him and we never know Him in increased measure. Not making it thru and settling for less than the Lord intends is a great loss. What loss of power and life in us when we do not go on with the Lord. How little the Lord can go on with us when we are not utterly following Him. The Lord sums up this teaching, “So therefore, anyone who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” There is no learning of Christ, no coming into greater measure of Christ within, without the utterness on our part that means renouncing all we have, all we are, denying ourselves. . . that at the heart of what we are, that what we are falls down and is put off. There is strength in denying ourselves. . . there is firm ground in renouncing all that we have and doing so utterly. There is something about being all in that is attractive. Someone with a full hearted devotion who is all in regardless of the cost wins the admiration of others even if they don’t agree with the cause. The Lord looks for that devotion in the heart. . . that single-mindedness where Christ is all. The Lord is all in with those who are utterly out for Him.
Monday, April 26, 2010
A few months ago, the story came out that Christians were joining with Muslims in the celebration of Ramadan. For Muslims, Ramadan is a time of seeking after Allah thru prayer, meditation & fasting. . . a yearning for something more. Most Christians did this as a show of support & to foster a more sympathetic relationship between Christians and Muslims, but there were many for whom this meant more. . . a spiritual exercise, a true seeking after fellowship with God.
The story should be startling, but one has the sense that today it is not. The celebration of Ramadan mentioned in the story seems to go beyond secular enjoyment and respect, as is often shown for Christmas around the world. It seems from the article that some Christians are seeking for something more spiritual. . . to grow spiritually from a ritual dedicated to Allah.
And yet, at the heart of things, the promise of God is life in Christ. . . that it is the living presence of Christ alone that makes us alive to the things of God.
While tolerance and respect for the rights of others for their own religions and rituals is to be encouraged, and it is a measure of a good soul not to hate others for their beliefs, this should not be confused with finding spiritual life or growth.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
For this, Po and his wife, Hang thi Va, were arrested on December 1st and Po was beaten, receiving 70 blows to his back & head. They were fined 8 million dong (US $430) and a pig of 16 kilos. Po’s motorbike & cellphone were confiscated. On December 15th, Po & his wife were taken by police to his extended family, where his clan brought severe pressure on him to recant his faith.
Under additional threats from the police, Po denied his faith, signing recantation documents. “I folded – I signed when police threatened to beat me to death if I didn’t recant,” he said. “Then they would seize my property, leaving my wife a widow, and my children fatherless – without a home.” Following Po’s written recantation, authorities subjected him to further family and clan pressure and “fines,” as well as rites to satisfy traditional Hmong spirits said to have become upset when he offended them by becoming a Christian.
As a final sign that his recantation was genuine, Po was to offer ancestral sacrifices on February 13th, during the lunar New Year celebrations. No word on whether Po made that sacrifice as a final mark that he denied the faith arrived until April 1st when Compass Direct reported that Po never made the sacrifice during the new year celebrations. On March 15th, police destroyed the family’s home and on March 19th, Po and his family fled into the forest. It is hoped that they were able to connect with other Hmong Christians who will help them.
That Po at first succumbed to the pressure of police and clan and family. . . the prospect of losing your home or your life. . . is not surprising. As a new believer in Christ, maybe as one without the comfort and support even of other believers, what inner resource is there to resist such pressures? How circumstances can fall on one and bring an end to all hope. . . no answers, no way out, no strength to get thru. What confusion and distress. . . the promise of life and hope in Jesus was met immediately by the crushing reality of persecution. For Po, circumstances closed on him quickly with intense pressure, the prospect of losing everything can weigh heavily. . . as a believer of only a few weeks, it is not surprising that he recanted.
What is surprising is that he did not make the final sacrifice to the spirits during the village celebration. Having gone so far down the road of leaving the faith, there was something that kept him from going further. The original pressures would still be there and would most likely be more intense. The villagers most likely thought Po’s case was solved, with only the sacrifice as something of a final mark that the problem of Po as a Christian was resolved. How fierce the reaction from the village when realizing that Po would not sacrifice and instead would follow Christ. . . what intense hatred for this one. The destruction and burning of his house is the natural course for such hatred.
In Ephesians 3, Paul writes, “. . . according to the power at work within us. . .” There is a power at work within. . . something immense and vital operating in the believer in Christ. Something greater than this world that gets us thru this world. . . a going on and a going forward when every other resource and power and hope proves impotent. The word is “. . . to those who are called. . . Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Christ is the power of God in us that calls us on and forward, that when circumstances and everything within say there is no way, that the power within is working and strengthening and showing a way forward and providing a new prospect. Something rises up within that brings hope and encourages and draws one on. It is “… by the power of an indestructible life,” mentioned of the Lord in Hebrews 7.
There is for those in Christ, something irresistible and eternal that rises up within. . . that faces the hardest obstacles and the heaviest burdens and overcomes. That’s what being in Christ brings, a life not of ourselves that has the power to take us thru and bring us home. How easy it would have been for Po to have given up and made the final ancestral sacrifice. . . how much easier on him and his family to have escaped all the pressures. Having made the initial denial, it would not be a far step to make the final one. But Christ within means resurrection and life. Against all the troubles and persecution, in Christ we rise. Although the troubles often do not go away, and for Po his troubles increased, there is in Christ the capacity within to face things and be faithful. . . to go forward and not sink under. The Lord proves Himself faithful even when we are not. Even if we fall for the moment, the life of God within remains and in Christ, we can find the strength to go on. It is our testimony, that in Christ we rise. Against all the troubles and failures in this journey, Christ means life within.
Monday, April 19, 2010
So much gets in the way, so much comes up, in fellowship with the Lord. It is too easy in seeing the Lord to pursue after Him apart from Him. . . to hunger for Him in a genuine way from the heart but then follow Him apart. So much anxiety and lost peace. . . what stress and strain there is. . . what feelings of disconnection from Him - even when the desire is for Him - when the pursuit of Christ is done apart from Him. The harder the effort often seems to put one further away. In the spirit, such turmoil and twisting, with no place, no solid place to stand. What frustration and failure!
Fellowship with Christ. . . union with Christ. . . is never meant to be pursued apart from resurrection. There is a “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”. . . there are principles given by the Lord that mean life – the presence of Christ - to those who live accordingly. The negative side to this is that apart from these there is no life in Christ. No matter how sincere the desire for the Lord, the result is frustration when He is pursued apart from the way He Himself has made manifest.
In each of the gospels, Jesus makes this invitation: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” The Lord calls for denial of oneself if there is to be a following of Him. In another place, the Lord puts it in the negative, “. . . any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14) “If anyone would. . . let him” and “anyone who does not. . . cannot”. . . there is a force to Jesus’ words, it is an invitation with an imperative. “All that he has” - all that one is - is the utter denial in view here. There is nothing that is not touched here. . . no aspect or feature of what we are that is not touched upon. Everything we are apart from Christ is what is to be given up. . . it is meant to put off and let go and fall away. There is meant to be a release of all that if there is to be freedom in Christ.
And yet in that place where all which is apart from Christ is denied and renounced and given up, there is life. . . Christ in a living way is present. Where all inner resource has come to an end. . . when there is no way forward on my own. . . when no prospect for going on is seen. . . Christ is the way and Christ is the life. And it is at the end of all hope and resource in what we are that Christ is seen and known in a living way.
Paul says in Philippians, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” and in Romans, “ …I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” And yet how easy it is to hold onto that in ourselves that the Lord says to deny. . . to clutch and grasp onto even a shred and refuse to let it go and find life. So much inside clamors for this. . . how easy to be deceived.
Psalm 46 says “Be still and know that I am God...” There is a stillness that is alive. . . there is a place of rest in Christ that is not emptiness and passiveness but a place of union with the Lord who is life, where union means life and refreshing and renewal. In stillness there is a going on in the Lord, and in rest one finds purpose.
Is it not the living presence of the Lord Himself that is the answer to all the frustrations and failure, all the emptiness and longing of the heart? Is it not the Lord Himself who is rest to the soul and the answer to all searching? How much opens up to us when we are in Him? How peace fills, how hope encourages, what strength going on, when Christ is all.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
A portion of St. Patrick’s Lorica:
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
How wonderful. . . what tremendous values to come into when Jesus Christ is such a focus, when He is all. It reminds of Colossians 3, “Christ is all, and in all,” and Ephesians 4, “. . . that He might fill all things,” and Colossians 1, “. . . that in everything He might be preeminent.”
There is an absoluteness, an utterness, about Him that calls for an abandonment of all that we are and have in ourselves in this world. How unique and apart from what we are is the Lord Jesus. . . and what promise we have in Christ that we can be like Him.
And yet, how often is there a holding back and a holding on to what we are. . . how much living in the flesh in the pursuit ofow often is there sin and a holding backing the pursuiti Christ? How easy to get comfortable and fall back into the flesh. . . to walk with the Lord, lose sight of Him and go on anyway, on our own, apart from Him. How often we miss the way when Christ is not all.
The call of God to His people in this world is to be a spiritual people, to be alive in Christ and to leave behind the things of the flesh. There is a living according to the flesh and a living according to the Spirit. How utterly apart these are and how often God’s people try to do both. There is death at the heart of things when we live according to the flesh. . . how things do fall within when living according to the flesh. How much is there a stop to growth and going on in the Lord when living in the flesh.
Romans 14 says, “. . . whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” There is possible a living in Christ in this world, a living on the resources in Christ received in faith. Sin is not just the wicked things that are done. . . it’s living from our own resources apart from Christ, looking to oneself to make it thru things, trying to get thru this world to God on our own, thinking that we are sufficient in ourselves. . . it’s the wicked thing we are in ourselves.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet will he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11) It is possible in this world to believe in Christ and not live in Him... it is possible to have received from the Lord and not live according to Him. . . to believe in Him and yet be unfaithful. What frustration, what failure, to know the Lord and to sin, to not live from faith. . . what a sense of death hangs over things. Thanks be to God for His mercy and forgiveness when we sin and for His grace that cleanses us and makes a way forward in Christ. And yet there is the promise of Jesus of living and believing in Him, of being faithful, and never knowing that sense of death that touches us when we sin and live apart from Him. Abundant life in Christ is possible in this life now.
How blind to try to follow Christ in the flesh when the call of Jesus is the utter renunciation of ourselves, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9) In following the Lord in this world, there is a way forward in the utter renunciation of what we are in ourselves apart from Christ. . . to learn the lesson that the Apostle Paul did, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Romans 7). There is life and growth in abandoning whatever hope or strength or resource we see in ourselves and fleeing to Christ. How much life in the Lord Jesus is found in turning from ourselves and abiding in Christ alone! How much peace and hope in Christ when we remain faithful to the Lord. May Christ be all to us and in us. . . may His Spirit lead and guide us into greater and greater measure of Christ as we follow.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Life in Christ is meant by the Lord to be not the hard thing we so often make it to be. Living in this world as Christians becomes very difficult apart from Christ. There is a block to things. . . even the simplest things become laboured and confused if we try to sustain a Christian life in this world apart from a living union with the living Christ. How much frustration there is about things when thru the resources of the soul alone one tries to follow Christ. . . how much desperation and scrambling to get on top of things, to be right about things, and often even more so even as the Spirit testifies that the way forward is not the way chosen. How rebellious is the soul apart from Christ.
The promise of Christ is that there is a way forward that is without confusion and those struggles that we find as we seek to follow Him on our own resources. The testimony of those persecuted for their faith is that in spite of opposition and hardships and troubles in this world, that there is peace and joy in the midst of things for those who remain faithful. . . that despite the hardest of circumstances there is a life in the Lord Jesus that means peace and hope and a going on with the Lord and a going thru to God. It is only found in Christ. . . He who offers, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 28) There is a peace about things as one faithfully follows Christ thru all things the Lord leads one into.
Apart from a living union in Christ, it is so easy to fall back on our own resources and strike out on our own, to follow what we think best, to do things for the Lord, all the while apart from Him. . . knowing the Lord isn’t necessarily following Him. How much of our lives here are taken up with trying to do things for God apart from Christ? And at the end of all the efforts. . . how utterly frustrating, how little fruit and of no real account with the Lord.
Missions work has become so much more than God intended or has blessed. In the hands of men, there are missions organizations, programs and colleges and degrees. . . with the intention of being a work for God. Having seen in the Bible a goal, something has been taken up for God but apart from Christ. Not that there is no spread of the gospel thru His Church. . . the testimony and faithful witness of Christ in His followers has meant new disciples and an increase of the Kingdom in this world. But Missions often becomes a thing more of man than of God. Paul wrote, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. . .” (2 Cor. 1). The simplest, most uneducated, follower of Jesus - although persecuted and suffering – who yet remains faithful, who can love their persecutor, who remains true in Christ and to Christ, has a testimony and impact in this world that no degree can give.
Men asked Jesus what they should do to be doing the work of God. Jesus’ answer was, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6) The work of God is that Christ would be received in His people, that in a genuine way, what is true about us, at the heart of what we are, is Him. The work of God – the work of His Spirit in manifesting Christ – is that He would have something true of Himself in this world, in a people who bear His image, who in an ever-increasing way are transformed into His likeness and come into fuller measures of Christ.
The work of God in this world has become about so much more that is other than what God intends. Receiving Christ and bearing witness to Him as we follow Him and are faithful in our lives here is the work of God. There is a triumph in Christ now as we faithfully follow the Lord thru all things.