Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 3:14

"You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you." Acts 3:14

It is quite remarkable that normally sensible people could ask for a murderer to be released. Matthew explains how this happened: "But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed" (27:20).

How did the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowd? What lies did they tell them? What fears did they arouse that would make them think a murderer was safer than Jesus? Luke gives us a few more clues: "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ…He stirs up the people…by his teaching" (2:2-5).

If the crowd had thought about Jesus and his teaching they would have known most of this was lies. Jesus was not subverting the nation. His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was about loving their enemies, doing good to others, caring for the less fortunate, not committing murder or adultery etc. Hardly the words of an insurrectionist and Jesus did not oppose the paying of taxes (Matthew 22:21).

The only thing that is true in these charges is Jesus did claim to be Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Why didn’t the crowd reflect on Jesus’ claim rather than dismiss it without consideration? Because the idea of Jesus being the Messiah challenged all their preconceived ideas. They wanted a conquering warrior not a suffering servant yet both were prophesied. They conveniently remembered what was most comfortable for them.

What about us? Do we examine Jesus’ teaching for ourselves or do we rely on other’s misinterpretations? Do we only remember Jesus’ comfortable words and forget the challenging ones? How much like the crowd are we?

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

We are all different

The other day I heard a talk by Pastor Mark Tubbs about the five fold ministries listed in Ephesians 4:11. He shared a different perspective from what I've heard before. I don't think this understanding is the only one but I found it helpful.

Mark's premise was from Jeremiah 1:5 "before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." God's destiny was in Jeremiah before birth. Likewise our destiny is in us before birth and the thought is that we will relate more strongly to one of these five areas of ministry than the others. Sometimes the easiest way to find out which one you identify with the most is to read the 'snag'. The snag is the area where the devil will try to bring you down.

Apostles desire to see people work together, to see people nurtured and growing, to see people released into their destiny. They bring people together who wouldn't normally get together.
Snag: They struggle with being overbearing and thinking their way is better. They need to learn to wait for God to tell others what he has told them.

Prophets desire to hear the voice of the Lord. They value dreams. They ask: "what is God doing here?" "what is God saying?" They connect the natural with supernatural.
Snag: They struggle with every day life. They are slightly out of touch with world. They miss appointments.

Evangelists have more concern for the lost than most. They share anything they are excited about. They love to meet new people. They are the most bored with church – same people, same thing every week. They see the hope in people and love to hear the gospel preach.
Snag: They struggle with feelings of rejection and being misunderstood.

Pastors have more concern for others than most. They love to listen. They ask follow up questions, take an interest and notice who's missing.
Snag: They struggle saying no to people and feel guilty if they do say no.

Teachers love truth and the word of God. They love divine order and firm foundations. They communicate principles for godly living. They don't take things lightly – when they say yes they mean yes. They hunger for deep understanding and revelation. They need time to think.
Snag: They struggle with being judgement. They hate injustice because they love truth but this can hinder their ability to move in grace.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 2:34-36

David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2:34-36

This quote is from Psalm 110:1 and appears at other times in the Bible. Peter realized these verses were prophetic. God the Father said to God the Son sit at my right hand to rule and I will subdue your enemies. Peter understood that Jesus had fulfilled this prophecy. Likewise when Paul writes in Colossians 1:20-22 he tells them that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion…and God has placed all things under his feet.” The right hand of God represents the place of ultimate authority and gives us the picture of Jesus being in control of everything seen and unseen. Jesus being seated tells us that his work of redemption is completed and that the devil’s work is destroyed (1 John 3:8). Even though currently we “do not see everything subject to him” (Hebrews 2:8), spiritually, it is a “done deal”.

Furthermore Jesus does not leave us orphaned in the world but by His Spirit lives with us and in us (John 14:17-18). His Spirit is not restricted by time or space. He teaches, guides, comforts, and convicts. He is not some impersonal force or influence but is the living Presence of the risen Lord Jesus. Peter tells us that Jesus has poured out his Holy Spirit and this is the One people could “see and hear” (2:33). Having the Holy Spirit in our lives makes a difference experientially – a difference that is seen and heard.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

God needs to be experienced

This semester I am studying the theology of the Holy Spirit and came across this quote by D.M. Lloyd-Jones who was a well-known preacher in London, retiring in 1968. This quote must have been radical in his day and in his sphere of influence. It's a pretty radical thought even today...

"A certain teaching tells us to 'take it by faith' and not to worry about feelings. 'You may feel nothing at all,' it says, 'but if you believe this Word and its teaching you can take the Holy Spirit by faith irrespective of any feeling.' The whole of the New Testament teaches the opposite. So does the subsequent history of the Christian Church ... You cannot be baptized or filled with the Spirit without knowing it. It is the greatest experience one can ever know. The teaching that assures us that we may feel nothing at all runs entirely contrary not only to the teaching of the Scripture but to the recorded experiences of countless Christians throughout the centuries."

*Lloyd-Jones, D.M. (1974) Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 8:5-17: The Sons Of God. London: Banner of Truth.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 1:26

Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:26

I have always found the appointment of Matthias rather odd. He is never mentioned again, except vaguely (6:2) but then again neither are some of the other apostles. It seems Peter was concerned there be a 12th apostle so that Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30 could be fulfilled. Some claim that Paul was really the 12th apostle but there is not much Biblical evidence to support this view.

So was the appointment of Matthias what God intended?

The disciples were waiting in the upper room and no doubt reflecting on Jesus’ words “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). They were probably feeling overwhelmed by the task Jesus had given them. They did not know what power would be theirs when the Holy Spirit came upon them so they were most likely wondering how they were they going to make disciples in Israel, much less, all nations.

The idea of replacing Judas may have appealed to them because it felt like they were doing something. They were taking some initiative. Sometimes doing anything feels better than doing nothing.

Often I have been told, when seeking God’s will, to start moving in a direction and allow God to open up or shut down opportunities. If we genuinely want to follow God’s leading he will not allow us to make a mistake. When we are taking steps, even tentative ones, it is easier for God to steer us in the direction he wants us to go. God does not want us to be passive in our waiting but expectant.

So I don’t believe appointing Matthias was a mistake, and he is an encouragement to us to look for God given opportunities.

*Thanks to Jon for the inspiration.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Review : Healing life's hurts through Theophostic prayer

Theophostic prayer is praying for people to receive healing from the emotional hurts of the past. Edward Smith, author of Healing life’s hurts through Theophostic prayer, (New Creation Publishing, 2005) presents the material in a way that suggests you need a lot of training to pray this way. Smith’s reasoning is probably that he doesn’t want Christians thinking they can read one book and be able to help people with deep emotional hurts. If this is his reason, it is actually a very good one. Christians usually don’t know when they start praying for someone exactly what the cause of their pain is and sometimes the person being prayed for doesn’t know either. So if the person suddenly remembers a deeply painful event from their past then the person praying for them has to know how to handle the grief the person is experiencing. Alternatively during prayer nothing may happen and the person praying needs to know why prayer doesn’t seem to be helping the person in emotional pain.

The thinking behind Theophostic prayer is that when we go through a painful situation the devil uses it as an opportunity to plant lies in our mind, such as, “God doesn’t love you that’s why bad things happen to you”; “You’re too far gone into sin for God to be able to rescue you”; “You’ll never amount to anything” etc. Mature Christians can recognize these lies fairly quickly but children cannot and it is often when we are children that the devil implants these sorts of lies into our minds. Theophostic prayer ministry asks God to not only reveal the lie but also the situation that created the environment for the lie to be accepted as truth. This way the person can repent of believing the lie and receive healing for the painful situation that occurred.

I found this book a very helpful way of thinking about people’s emotional hurts. In some ways it seemed like just another way of praying for people but I understand Smith’s concern that he doesn’t want hurting people hurt even more by well-intentioned but unskilled Christian counsellors.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 24:6-8

“‘Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee. The Son of man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.” Luke 24:6-8

Remember, remember, how often we forget what God has told us. We forget his Word, we forget His promises, we forget answered prayers, and we forget His work in our lives. We can get so caught up in the issues of the day and so busy doing things for God that we can actually forget God in the process. We focus on the now and forget that we are apart of something so much bigger and better than this world.

In the Message, Ephesians 1:22-23 gives us God’s perspective which, after all, is the only true one: “The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”

What God is doing in the world is more important than what is happening in the world. There may be floods, earthquakes, economic downturns but as Christians we can be secure in the knowledge that God is in charge. The morning headlines never take Him by surprise.

However if we are going to remain secure in an insecure world we have to be confident in our relationship with God as well as the character of God. If we are not convinced that God is all loving and all powerful we will find ourselves anxious and fearful.

So we remember. We remember by calling to mind God’s deeds in our own lives. We remember the promises in his Word. We remember God’s character. We remind ourselves often.

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Attending meetings as an introvert

I have quoted from Adam McHugh's articles previously, click here and I was recently re-reading them. I really identified with what he says in regard to meetings:

My ministry colleague Mark, who has done a lot of work in group dynamics, observed that most meetings are dominated by a few assertive, usually extroverted, speakers. An entire meeting can pass with only two or three voices being heard. Most introverts, and less assertive extroverts, will not try to compete with or interrupt a steady flow of words. Mark is particularly troubled that meetings are the places where decisions are made and that the verdicts are largely determined by the outspoken minority.

What can we do to encourage introverts to speak, without putting them on the spot or imposing undue pressure on them? One simple thing we can do is give people a meeting agenda several days before a meeting, so that those who need to think before they speak will have the opportunity for prior consideration. In the meeting itself, we should establish ground rules for group discussion. We need to be clear that we are not only here to give our opinions but also to listen to one another, so it’s bad form to interrupt one another.

The most fruitful strategy that I have employed has been inserting personal reflection time into a meeting. When an important decision needs to be made, I have given people time to step outside of the room and consider their individual opinions. When introverts have had time to process internally, they will be more likely to share their thoughts in the group.

~Adam S. McHugh is an ordained Presbyterian minister, a spiritual director, and an introvert.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Book Review : Burned Alive

Burned Alive (Bantam Press, 2004) by Souad is a true story about an attempted honour killing. The story is written by the victim, Souad,(in collaboration with Marie-Therese Cuny) in a very down to earth, matter of fact way. This makes a very distressing story less emotional then you would expect.

The story begins with Souad describing her life in a small isolated village in the Middle East. It is an abusive situation – physically, emotionally and socially, yet it is all Souad has ever known and she writes about it as if it were normal. In her late teens Souad meets a man who takes advantage of her and she finds herself pregnant. The man, who has in effect raped her, leaves her to face certain death. Amazingly Souad escapes the attempt on her life but is left in hospital to die. She is rescued by a humanitarian organization and taken to a hospital in Switzerland. Souad faces a long, painful healing process with much courage. The book concludes happily with Souad married and living in Europe with her children though still facing challenges as she continues to deal with the psychology damage of her past.

This is not an enjoyable tale and yet it is written with a sense of hope which makes it an encouraging read.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 23:12

That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies. Luke 23:12

When I read this verse, I was reminded of the phrase, “what strange bedfellows.” I looked up this expression and discovered the following: “If two people or groups make strange bedfellows, they are connected in a particular activity though they are very different and would not usually have the same opinions or be seen together.”

Herod and Pilate’s alliance is also referred to in Acts 4:27 “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.”

People become friends when they have something in common. The particular activity that connected Herod and Pilate was the conspiracy against Jesus. Their common problem with Jesus overrode all their other racial, religious and political differences. However basing a friendship on a common difficulty is not a good way to have a lasting relationship.

In the Gospels Jesus is described as the “friend of sinners”. He had numerous friends. There were Mary, Martha and Lazarus; he was an invited guest at the wedding in Cana; he was friends with the owner of the upper room; as well as the 12 disciples and his closer friendship with Peter, James and John. Jesus was also able to make friends that overrode racial, religious and political differences but his friendship had the common ground of love and respect.

The Bible teaches us how to build friendships with numerous passages telling us how to treat “one another”: be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32); bear with each other and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13) etc.

If we want good friendship we are to follow Jesus’ example of building relationships based on love and respect.

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