Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Discerning Reality

During seminary, Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, taught a course on the role of Christianity during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.  We studied the history of the conflict, the influence of colonial missionaries, and the establishment of Hutu and Tutsi “people groups.”  He led us in an interesting discussion about the nature of “reality.”

The natural initial assumption with regard to a conflict between two groups is that the nature of that conflict must be identified and dealt with—there must be some acknowledgement of “reality.”  So if there is a conflict between Hutu and Tutsi people, we ignore that there must be some real differences to work out.  And yet in this case, the classification of these people groups was a construct of Belgian colonialists, who differentiated the people based on things like measurements of their nose.  Is there a real difference between the two groups?  What if we broaden the scope to other cultural and nationalistic differences—are any of those “real?”  Or is Paul correct in asserting that in Christ there are no more distinctions between man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile etc. (Galatians 3: 28)

I am reminded of this every time I am tempted to approach ministry and life while remaining grounded in “reality.”  If we ask ourselves what is realistically possible, then we cannot be quick to assume what realistic means.  We gather as a community that celebrates victory over death through resurrection.  Death is no longer our reality.  We tell the stories of Jesus breaking a few loaves and fish to feed thousands.  Scarcity is no longer a reality.  Jesus ended the storm by telling it to calm down; better than a wound up child, the storm listened and ceased.  In this reality, power and authority are not lacking.

For this reason I am slow to accept pessimistic measures of the future of Christianity, given our present cultural “realities”.  I don’t give into those who offer pessimistic views of the degree to which people’s lives can "really" be transformed.  After all, what is real? How does Christ change reality for you in your life and in your ministry?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Praying for Love Ones

When Marion Price discovered that E. M. Bounds, the famous author of nine books on prayer, was buried less than three hours from where he lived, he determined to visit that cemetery. But when he visited the cemetery in Washington, Georgia, he could not find Bounds' resting place.

As a last resort he searched the telephone directory, and found an Osborne M. Bounds, Sr. listed. A young lady answered the phone, and he asked if Osborne Bounds might possibly be a distant relative of E. M. Bounds.

"Yes, Osborne is his son. He is 84 years old, and I am his granddaughter," she said. She invited him to visit her grandfather saying he would be delighted to see him.

Osborne was a thin, frail, white-haired gentleman. In a few minutes, Osborne's 81-year-old sister, Mary, joined them. Mary offered to take him to the cemetery, but before they left, Marion Price felt a strong impulse to ask Osborne Bounds about his spiritual condition.

"Mr. Bounds, are you a saved man?"

Osborne dropped his head, and in a few moments said meekly, "Oh, I don't know. I hope so, but I'm not sure."

Mary interrupted, "Why Oz is one of the best men in the county...You won't find a better man anywhere." Immediately she said, "Let me take you to the cemetery.
On the way she told him that her father would rise at four o'clock each morning and pray until breakfast at seven. In his later years, he would rise at three o'clock. He went to bed early before others, and if there were visitors in the house, he would excuse himself by saying something like, "I have an early appointment."

As Rev. Price drove home, the Spirit burdened his heart with the thought that neither of these children was saved. He wept for them and contacted 12 ministers asking them to help him pray for these two people.

He began occasionally visiting Osborne, but each time there were people around and he did not feel free to talk with him about the gospel. The last time he visited him, a nurse met him at the door and took him to Osborne's room who was in a hospital bed. This time the two of them were alone, and Rev. Price sensed the presence of the Living Lord. He asked Osborne if he could read the scriptures.
"Certainly. Please do," he replied. Then he shared with him the hopelessness of man without Jesus and that a man must come to God with a repentant heart, confessing his sin, and then by faith receive Him as Lord and Savior.

When he asked Osborne if he thought much about spiritual matters, he replied, "All the time."

"Are you ready to call on the Lord and ask Him to save you?"

Osborne said, "Yes," and began to pray without being coaxed. He confessed his sinful condition and his doubting heart, asking the Lord to forgive him.

"Mr. Bounds, did you mean what you just prayed?"

"Well, I guess I did!" he said with a peaceful smile.

After Osborne's death, his daughter told him, "From the time Daddy talked with you that last time, he had more peace than he had ever had before."

Rev. Price wrote, "God is not limited to my lifetime or yours. Sixty-three years after we die, He can send a simple gospel witness to speak to those for whom we have prayed."

"Whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37).

Adapted from an article in Herald of His Coming. Originally found in the booklet Never Quit Praying for Your Loved Ones by Marion H. Price, Sr.
- by Aletha Hinthorn's Fireseeker devotional emails

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Carrying the burden with Jesus in prayer

Soon after Missionary Amy Carmichael arrived in India, she was distressed because orphan girls were given to Hindu temples to be used as prostitutes. Her heart ached for those girls, so she started an orphanage hoping to rescue them.

The Hindu priests resented her intrusion into their affairs, and soon British businessmen complained to the missionaries that they must stop Amy. When the unsympathetic missionaries told her to quit, Amy went to the priest herself. He was not about to hand the girls over to her.

She went home thinking she would have to forget helping these young prostitutes. Surely it was not to be her burden. But then it seemed she saw Jesus kneeling alone as He knelt long ago weeping under the olive trees.

Would Amy Carmichael share His burden and weep with Jesus?" The only thing that one who cared could do," she wrote, "was to go softly and kneel down beside Him, so that He would not be alone in His sorrow over the little children." God eventually used Amy to rescue hundreds of girl prostitutes from the temples.

A heart God can burden is His priceless gift to us. To receive this gift we put priority on personal communion with Jesus. He longs to share with us what is on His heart. Even now Jesus "always lives to intercede" (Heb. 7:25). Perhaps nothing pleases Christ more than for us to share His passion for others so deeply that we are moved to tears.

Let's regularly ask God to burden our hearts for revival and then indicate our sincere desire for a burden by praying earnestly daily. Jesus will see we are in earnest and reward us with a deepened prayer burden.

"Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I'm going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives." (Galatians 4:19 NLT).

(from "Fire Seekers," daily devotionals, Aletha Hinthorn)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Living in the Tension of Both

"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone."  Luke 11: 42 (NIV)
The problem with the Pharisees in this case is not that they were tithing.  It is that they did so, thinking they were righteous in doing what was prescribed by God, while neglecting, Justice and Love of God, which was the purpose of the Law.  The practice of tithing was specifically to express the love of God and to fund works of justice in the community.  To give the tithe without practicing love and justice would be like donating to the Sierra Club, placing complimentary thank you bumper sticker on a gas guzzling vehicle, and throwing trash out the window as you drive.  And Jesus' response is, prioritize the proper behavior, without forgetting to also give, as you had already done.

So yes, "Woe to the Pharisees," but also woe to us if we misread Jesus' words to say that one behavior is more important to the other--that is not what he is saying.  Rather, let us not think ourselves righteous when we are only engaging in part of what is required.  Let us not neglect the other things.

Of course, what the others things are depends on where we start and what we are talking about.  For the person who is mission oriented, constantly serving in mission projects, etc., but does not practice any personal piety, reading scripture, praying, attending worship, etc.--Jesus' words are, start doing what you lack, without neglecting what you already are doing.

At times in the Church there are arguments about calls to holiness vs. grace.  I often hear people say, "I'd rather error on the side of grace."  Indeed, that is hard to argue with, but I also hear Jesus calling us always to righteousness, "I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  Attend to the one without neglecting the other.  We are formed both by a message of mercy, and a message of Righteousness.  We are currently studying the book of Luke, where Jesus' ministry is clearly framed by John, "You children of snakes!  Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon"  Produce fruit that show you have changed your hearts and lives."  (Luke 3: 7-8, CEB).  And yet Jesus' has such great emphasis on grace and mercy shown to sinners.  Why is that?  We are called to one without neglecting the other.

Where are you excelling in your spiritual walk, and what do you need to be reminded not to neglect?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most,
Until I was empty-handed;
Every glittering toy was lost.
And I walked the earth's highways, grieving,
In my rags and poverty.
Till I heard His voice inviting,
"Lift your empty hands to me!"

So I held my hands toward Heaven,
And he filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches
Till they could contain no more.
And at last I comprehended
With my mind stupid and dull,
That God could not pour His riches
Into hands already full.

- Treasures by Martha Snell Nicholson

Friday, June 6, 2014

Jesus Heals the World

From Aletha Hinthorn's Come to the Fire devotions:

"A man in southern Sudan suffered for years from terrible migraine headaches. He was desperate to be rid of the headaches, so without a doctor nearby, he went to the local witch doctor.

"In the book Holiness, Howe Shute relates that the witch doctor assured the man, "Yes, I can help you, but you've got to find one of your closest relatives you really love and cut off that person's head. Bring the head back to me and I'll lay my hands on it and say the right words, and your headache will be transferred to this other head."

"The man was desperate so he agreed.

"It took him several days to determine the relative he would choose, and during that time missionaries arrived and set up a large screen. That night they showed the JESUS film.
In the crowd was the man who was still considering whose head he should get. As he watched Jesus heal many people, he thought surely this God could help him, too. So he prayed his first prayer to Jesus.

"'Jesus, if You can do it for them, You can take my headache away.'

"Later, the man reported, 'I felt a cold feeling move from my head all the way to the bottom of my feet. When that cold moved through my body, I was instantly healed.'

"The man became a believer in Jesus and is now active in his church.

"Thank You, Lord, for Your perfect timing that rescued this man.

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness" (Matthew 9:35).

"But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture" (Malachi 4:2 NLT)."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What are you packing

Imagine every one of us were on a journey. While on this journey we are all stuffing our lives full of all kinds of things. We all want a family, we all need a car, a job, oh can’t forget this. I don’t even know what this is but what the heck we’ll just put that where ever we can. We try and cram in as much as we can whether we need it or not. Then once we get our suitcase all full of stuff, everything we might want in our lives, we suddenly remember, I forgot to pack God.
Well past the zipper and any hopes of getting this bag closed we struggle and struggle to get God into our lives. I don’t want to get rid of this, can’t do without that and so often our solution is to tear off a small piece of God and try and squeeze Him in. The bag doesn’t shut, worse still everything has tipped over and is falling everywhere. We run the risk of thinking we didn’t pack everything in tight enough so we set off to do it all over again, when God is the afterthought in our packing we will always get the same result.
So many of us are going through life with the idea we can have it all. We can live how we want, say what we want and do as we please so long as our baggage tags are marked for Heaven. I don’t think it works that way. It has nothing to do with how we juggle our lives, or how much we trying to carry, it’s more to do with what we are trying to carry onboard.  When we pack God first the only thing were going need is one carry on per person. All that other stuff gets lost at the terminal.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Their blood I will require at your hand"

A missionary was telling the story of visiting one of the rare churches allowed to exist in North Korea.  She spoke of snatching a brief unobserved moment with two Christian women and encouraging them, telling them that every morning the churches in the South were praying for them.  Tears ran down their faces as they embraced.  Then she described the "James Bond-like" feel of believers in China as they stealthily met for worship in the growing underground church.  They were informed that one of the worshipers had be caught and sent to prison.  But his message to the church was, "Do not pray for my release.  Already I have led several to Christ here, praise to his name!"  Having told us such stories, the missionary challenged the American church, "If Christians can witness under conditions like this in other parts of the world, why on earth do American Christians, who enjoy such freedom, so rarely share the faith?"

In Ezekiel, God said this to his prophet:  "If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give them no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity - but their blood I will require at your hand." (Ezekiel 3:18).

Let's make the most of every opportunity that God gives us to share the good news of salvation offered to the world through Christ Jesus!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Time for a Break

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. He said to the apostles, “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” They departed in a boat by themselves for a deserted place. 
--Mark 6:30-32 CEB

Even Jesus needed a break once in a while, right? Time to refresh and renew, to pray and to rest. Of course his "vacation" didn't work out quite that way, but still, he was looking for quiet for a time.

That's what I'll be doing over the next several weeks, taking a vacation. I hope you all get a break this summer, too. Like Jesus, we all need time to refresh and renew, to pray and to rest. Then we can return with new strength, ready to do God's work.

See you all in a few weeks!