Monthly Archives: June 2014

Purposes – Worship

IMG_0814I’ve come across the idea that the church has five or so essential purposes in a variety of places.  They are usually described as:

1. Worship/Prayer
2. Discipleship/Learning
3. Fellowship
4. Evangelism
5. Social Concern/Mercy

A friend who is a pastor was sharing a conversation with someone visiting his church who asked where the church was headed and what the future would look like.  His response, which I found interesting, was to look at what is happening and you will see his vision for the future.  Who we want to be is what we’re doing right now.  Our future is in some ways being fully expressed today or is latent, underneath the surface but in someway present.  As we move forward with our efforts to begin Grace Pres. Worcester it is helpful to look at how the biblical purpose of the church can be fulfilled even as a church is beginning.
Worship, can be seen as the goal of beginning a new church.  Funds are raised, people are gathered, vision is cast, logistics come together and finally there is a worship service.  All through this process the foundations are being laid for worship and you finally arrive on that first Sunday.

I’d push back against this picture because in the bible there is the healthy tension between worship as an event and worship as a life long expression of faith.   I think of Psalm 95 which speaks of God’s people gathering to praise him, which is what we might associate with a church service:

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

But then there is Romans 12 which describes worship as a daily activity,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

There is so much to “worship” and from the beginning of any effort to begin a church there must be worship.  In both of these passages there is a recognition of God’s nature (creator, king, holy, powerful) and his mercy towards his people.  Beginning a new church flows from a recognition of these attributes of God and is an expression of faith that he is merciful and committed to drawing his people to himself.  Every single step of the process can be an occasion for worship.

Especially though, as a group comes together worship must happen.  There must be a growing sense of the greatness and mercy of God which sustains through sacrifice and trial.  Through studying God’s word together, learning about his mission, praying for the work of the Holy Spirit, sharing stories of his leading and provision the group should experience his grace together more and more.  In planning, reaching out, giving financially, and making sacrifices of time, relationships, and emotional energy the group responds together in faith – worshipping God.  We appropriately associate worship with singing but there are many expressions of faith that arise in the process of church planting which are worship and should be experienced as such.

On the other hand, there is the appropriate longing to worship together in a church service.  Something unique happens as we hear God’s word, sing, pray, give, and participate in the sacraments together.  I believe that the longing for this corporate worship grows as we experience more of his greatness and mercy together and increasingly give ourselves to his mission.  When you transition from all the forms of worship that occur in the early stages to the worship service that is the fruit of much of these labors, is a question of wisdom tied to many factors.  For us, it is quickly approaching and we look froward with excitement to our previous expressions of worship leading to further worship.

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Resistance

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“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  – James 4
“Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power” – 2 Cor. 10

 

Last week I began writing about the devil and this is round number two. As I consider what I’ve written thus far and would like to say, I’ll confine my thoughts to resistance – responding to the reality of an evil super-natural intelligence as described in my previous post. One quick note, all that I’m about to say applies not only to the devil but to those beings (demons) who are like him and aligned with his purposes.

1. 2 Cor 2:11 “…so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”

There is a reason that teams will study film from their opponents previous games. Even in tic-tac-toe you anticipate your opponent’s next move and act accordingly. So if there is a devil, wholly opposed to God and contriving to ruin his creatures we must have some sense of his ends and the means by which he pursues them. Thinking back on last week’s brief description of the devil as some one who lies, accuses, and seeks to destroy we should consider his ends in our varying circumstances.

For example, I look back on a conversation with a friend who’s life had recently fallen apart. The center of his world had been taken away, largely through his own doing, and he was completely distraught. What sort of designs might a malevolent, deceitful, destructive being have in such a situation? I did not consider this question until I was rocked by the news of my friend’s suicide later that week. As I said last week, we cannot blame complex and tragic choices on one single factor but to never consider the devil as part of the puzzle is foolish. I was ignorant of his schemes.

While neither the devil, nor his followers, know all things they are intelligent, observant, and have been at this for a while. I believe that they have insight to our pressure points, times of weakness, and areas of temptation. In particular I have been alerted by others, and seen myself, how the devil will assault new Christians, believers moving forward in service to God, and those in strategic roles. If we are aware of our opponents designs we are much more able to counter these.  Even if we cannot alter the situation we need not be as surprised. I could have proactively prayed that my friend whose life was falling apart would not do anything rash. I could have asked him some of the regular questions to asses the likelihood of suicide. This may not have changed anything but it was still the right course.

This example with my friend is an extreme case but the principles are applicable.  I think about a friend’s church which is taking strides forward in better serving Christ but is also poised for significant conflict. God is present but the devil is right there looking for the opportunity as well.  A stray word here, a slight twist of the turth there, and anger that is groomed that day by a serries of frustrating events so that the edge is sharp – these are all it takes. We do not want to be outwitted and are not ignorant of his schemes. There need not be something supernatural or spectacular, as that might alarm and alert God’s people, rather through the mundane he attacks God’s people and chips away at the church.  

Practically, prayerful reflection on our sitation – both God’s purposes and the potential for sin – is the beginning point in responding to the reality of the devil.  Do you do this?  In your own life or in the context of your church, are you in any ways aware of the devil’s desires?  


2. Jesus:
 “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Luke 11:20

What sorts of things can you accomplish just with your fingers?  Jesus speaks of his conquest of the demons, and implicitly their master, by the finger of God.  In the concluding words of the Apostle Paul to the church in rome he writes. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”  In both of these statements there is an undeniable confidence in the victory of God on behalf of his people.  In the scriptures the devil is a terrible foe – a roaring lion seeking those to devour, an enraged dragon whose tail sweeps a third of the stars from the sky – and apart from God’s power we would have no hope.  Now, for those who belong to Jesus Christ by faith, there is certainty that evil will be overcome and we somehow participate in this victory.  The primary way that the Christian does so is by resisting the devil (see Jas __, Eph 6).  A wise Christian leader who had served in Papua New Guinnea for many years in the midst of much conflict with the devil summarized the scriptures teaching saying, “we are to flee temptation and resist the devil, while we usually want to do the opposite.” We are glad to try and resist temptation and flee the devil but neither of these are the primary strategy god gives.  Like facing a bully, the solution is not to run to but to stand up.  So how does one do this?  

First, it must be through faith in Christ.  Apart from his victory over the evil one by dying and rising again we do not have the strength (Acts 19:13-17).

Second, resisting the devil is tied to basic Christian obedience.  The promise that the devil will flee from you (James 4:7) is tied to simply following God’s ways:

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.  Jam 4:6-10

Third, appropriate God’s truth, especially through prayer:  

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
Ephesians 6:10-18

There is so much in this paragraph but it essentially summarizes all we have said thus far of faith, resistance, and obedience.  This is all wed to the rich truths of all that is given to us in Christ then set in the context of praying at all times in the Spirit.

Practically, here are a few examples:

1.  One pastor whom I know and greatly respect rebukes the devil and prays against his influence every Sunday morning before he preaches.  He says something like, “Devil, leave us alone in the name of Jesus Christ.  These are God’s people and do not belong to you, so stay away.  O God, keep the distracting and deceiving power of the evil one at bay as we gather to worship you and hear your word.”  I will pray along these lines before ministry events or even before certain conversations.  In a similar vein I will pray for God to protect me, my family, and our church from the ravages of the devil, specifically appropriating the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ and the devil’s certain defeat.

2.  We sing.  Sometimes when I am scared or overwhelmed I will sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  There have been nights before ministry events when our children have been inexplicably troubled and frightened.  The only recourse we have found is to sing hymns lifting up God’s truth and the victory that is ours in Jesus.

3.  Bring in help.  I believe that there are God appointed leaders in the church and that in times of assault by the evil one it is right to ask the elders to pray with and for you.  I vividly recall two situations in which I was praying with and for leaders in the church, standing against the devil, and the conflict was of such intensity that the resistance was palpable.  

4.  Go forward.  When I was in Uganda a few years ago and sharing the gospel with a couple I found out they used to be Christians but went to a witch doctor for healing from a debilitating illness.  I did not need to fear or dismiss their engagement with the demonic as superstition, but could go forward believing that God is greater.  In various situations the best way to resist the devil is to keep going on the path God has set regardless of fear, uncertainty, and weakness.  While the devil may attack and assault a Christian he is not able to possess or snatch a believer from God’s hand.  

There is so much more to say, but this is a start.  

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It fell like lightening

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Jesus said to his disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

A friend once described Satan as “a supernatural evil intelligence” and I continue to use these words because it helps us get away from the ridiculous image of some red horned figure with a pitchfork who dances on your shoulder and stomps his feet.

Yes, I believe in the devil.  I believe that there are non-physical beings with minds and wills that have power to effect this physical reality.  I believe there is a being at the top of this evil hierarchy and is active in this word.  In some ways when you clearly proclaim belief in Satan, or the devil, it can sound out there, but I think it makes sense in a few ways.  First of all, as a Christian I get my picture of reality from the bible and while the devil is not there in every chapter or book, you cannot dismiss his existence without gutting major elements of the Bible’s story line.  Second, I think the existence of supernatural evil makes better sense of the depravity in this world than simply saying it is all of human origin.  Third, there are experiences that are difficult to explain without reference to some external spiritual reality.  I know that these will not be convincing to those who share a different view of reality in which there is only matter in motion, only a physical world.  But it’d be pretty hard to convince me that there is nothing more than molecules and chemicals.

So I’ll spend this post and the next writing about the devil.  Rather than an encyclopedic entry I’ll share the scriptures and stories that have been most helpful in my understanding of the evil one and equipping Christians to deal with him.

The primary passage which comes to mind is Revelation 12-13 which looks at devil’s rebellion against God from a cosmic perspective.  The passage is rich in symbolism drawn both from the Old Testament and the world of that time.  Here are four pieces which jump out and tie into themes expressed in other parts of the scriptures

1.  Anger & Futility:  The dragon (devil) in this passage is full of rage against God and his followers, which is exacerbated by his continued defeat.  When the devil is unable to destroy Jesus, war arises in heaven but this too is unsuccessful and cast down to earth.  The devil pursues the one who has given birth to Jesus but is again thwarted by God’s intervention and then goes on to assault the followers of Jesus.  Even his “success” in harming God’s people is for an allotted time (13:5,7), by God’s appointment.  While the devil has power and rages against God, there is always a limit.  Rebellion agains the God who mains and sustains all things is inherently futile and this seems to drive the devil’s rage even more.
-Practically, this gives the Christian a rich sense of both hope and realism.  Until the last day the devil does have power to inflict harm and pain, but only so far as God allows.  This even will be used for God’s purpose and all of the devil’s efforts will come to naught.

2. Violence and Assault:  The dragon himself and his servants animated by his power pursue their ends through violence.  This is not merely tied to the actions of individuals but to institutional and state power (allusions in 13:1-3).  Since Jesus was executed by the imperial power of Rome Christians have suffered various levels of violence.  This is not merely a sociological or political reality but a conflation of our own longing for power and willingness to do anything for it, such that human desires are somehow also animated by the devil.  Jesus described the devil as a thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy.  And he gladly walks hand in hand with people as he pursues his end.
-Practically, Christians should remember fellow Christians suffering violence and oppression in their day.  I also remember a paster and professor who spoke of visiting one of his congregation’s members on the anorexia ward at a local hospital.  This very learned, formal, almost genteel man spoke of a spiritual darkness that was palpable among these young women who were destroying themselves.  The self-hatred, overpowering sense of inadequacy, blindness to reality, and ensuing destruction so accurately reflect the devil’s priorities.  This does not equate to an overly simplistic dismissal of the many factors that underly persecution of different religions or our self destructive behaviors but challenges us to see that there is more happening that we might think.

3. Deception and counterfeit:  The devil is called the deceiver of the whole world and associated with ancient serpent who lies to Adam and Eve in the garden.  When the dragon (devil) is cast to earth and makes war on Jesus’ followers he raises up two other creatures (ch 13) to form a counterfeit trinity, in which each of the members mimics the actions of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There is a seeming resurrection, and “signs from heaven” heaven lead many astray.  Again there are indications of both he work of individuals and institutions tied into this stream of lies.
-Practically, it takes wisdom to discern what truly comes from God.  The devil loves to hide in religious clothing and Christians must develop their ability to test what is true.  The devil loves to confuse, discourage, tempt, and distract believers through all manner of lies and like Jesus, (Matthew 4) we keep going back to the word of God.  T

4.  Accusation:  One of the unique ways in which the devil deceives is by accusing.  He crushes people with their guilt and shame, when God in fact deals with the issue and welcomes with open arms.
-Practically Christians must cling to the promise that there is forgiveness in Christ and learn how to argue with devil, claiming all that God has done on behalf of his people.

Wow, there is a lot here and my thoughts are increasingly incoherenent, with the late our.


Embarrassing family moments – for God

3457516113_1b0d5c408aWe all have had that experience, when we look at that parent, sibling, aunt, or cousin and wish that any shared history, similarity of appearance, or overlapping genetic code, was no more.  There are the stories that become funny with time and are retold at holidays, birthdays, and especially rehearsal dinners.  Then there are the stories that are truly shameful, which will never be told with a smile or laugh.  These are the memories reserved for a trusted friend, a counselor, but often no one.

In the New Testament book of Hebrews which says, “he is not ashamed to call them brothers.”  The “he” refers to Jesus and the “brothers,” refers to Christians (both men and women).

I think of all that I have said and done that is shameful.  I think of Christians from all eras making terrible mistakes whether it was the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther, the racism present among American Presbyterians in the 1800’s until this day, or the shallowness that characterizes much of American Christianity.  And Jesus, still identifies with his church.  Jesus is not ashamed of his family and two reasons (from the book of Hebrews) stand out.

First, near the end of the book of Hebrews the author speaks of Jesus enduring the cross and despising its shame.  The cross is a place of shame in that the person being executed is suspended between heaven and earth, symbolically rejected by both God and man.  In Jesus’ case this symbolism is realized as God turns his back on the one bearing the weight of our sin.  All that Christians have done which is shameful is accounted to Jesus and rather than being paralyzed or turned off by this shame he won’t let it stop him.  He despises it’s power, knowing he can carry it for us, and so takes our shame away.

Second, right before the author speaks of Jesus, not being ashamed to call us brothers he describes Christians as those “who are sanctified,” meaning “those who God makes holy.”  Jesus is in the process of removing what is shameful from the lives of his followers.  This isn’t only the shame of embezzlement, adultery, or addiction, but also the shame of pride, self-sufficiency, and superiority.  While the status of a Christian rests on Jesus’ bearing our shame on the cross, our experience of this reality is bound up with becoming holy.

The interplay between these reasons for Jesus unashamedly calling us his own, will determine both the apprehension of God’s mercy and the ability to incorporate his shameless acceptance of us into unashamed allegiance to him.

 

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