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It All Belongs to God

Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right.”  -John 7:6
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.  -II Cor. 6:2b

“Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” -C.S. Lewis

We moderns love the middle ground.  We try to balance things, be “well-rounded,” no extremes.  We try to level “the playing field,” lower everyone to a common denominator.  Even in our spiritual life we don’t want to get too clockserious or “fanatical.”  We want to make sure we give God his due but there are compartments of our life which exclude or at least ignore God.  Some of those are our jobs, our leisure, our politics.  Each person probably has a different list.

But it won’t work.  Either it all belongs to God, includes God, or nothing does.  Satan knows this very well.  So Lewis is right.  He contests every second, every minute, hour, day, every year.  Offer this minute, this hour, this day to God.

Don’t Forget

Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard.  – Revelation 3:3

One of the constant warnings God issued to His people in the Old Testament was not to forget, often to little avail.  One of His most common charges to them was that they had forgotten.  Specifically they forgot: the “things they had seen,” “the covenant,”  that they had “provoked” the Lord, “all his benefits.”   Most of all they forgot “The Lord who brought [them]…out of Egypt.”     In contrast, God would not forget them or His promises.

Human beings are subject to spiritual amnesia.  We forget.  We forget God’s blessings.  We forget our sins.  We forget our promises to God.  We even forget God.  Phillip Yancey confesses that when he takes a trip, gets out of his normal routine, “it will suddenly occur to me that, except for a cursory blessing before meals, I have not given God a single thought all day.”  I don’t know about you but that “hits me dead center.”

At it’s simplest, living a life in the Spirit is living in remembrance of God. That is, to live our lives paying attention to God, with an awareness of living it before God.

However, that does not come easily or naturally.  It takes the “D” word, the word which our nature and our culture want to banish.  It takes Discipline which involves practice, focus, intention.  We will slip back at times and need to repent, but as we walk with Him, we expect that our sense of his presence will be more constant and more important to us.  So in the midst of so many distractions, which challenge us all, remember God.

Suffering and Growing

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus]…. In those days…the number of disciples was increasing. –Acts 5:41, 6:1

“this century [the 20th],…has produced more martyrs than all other centuries combined.” – Philip Yancey

 Recently, as I was looking to update for our church newsletter something I once wrote, I went to the website of the World Methodist Council.  This headline caught my attention: “General Conference in Fiji to Begin Wednesday.” When I read the news report and some background I found out that the government had not allowed the Methodists to meet for four years.  This year they have been given permission to meet under some very strict rules.

Tensions between the MethodistChurch in Fiji and the government erupted in May 2009 when the rulers of the nation took steps to ban the annual conference, cancelled weekly radio programs associated with the church and even arrested nine Methodist leaders…. Police Commissioner Brigadier General Ioane Naivalurua has warned there may be a police presence to ensure attendees do not stray off topic from a pre-approved agenda.

This kind of experience is not an unfamiliar one in church history.  Christians have often faced great personal and corporate obstacles to their journey with Jesus.

            Some years ago Susan Bergman published a book entitled Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith.  It is stories of those 20th Century Christians all over the world who have sacrificed their lives in witness to Jesus Christ.  In the reviews of the book, Philip Yancey says, “this century,…has produced more martyrs than all other centuries combined.”  The 21st century may well pass that.  Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years in prison for his faith, says that a third of the Christian church today must operate in secrecy, under the threat of extermination.

In our own denomination, depending on your source, there are now estimated to be as many as 70 million Methodists in the world.  In the last generation some areas of the world have shown staggering increases while others have declined.  What is thought provoking is that the growth areas almost always correspond to those areas of the world where it is costly to be a Christian and the declining areas are where Christians enjoy privilege and comfort.  For instance in a 30 year period;  Methodism in Africa grew by 178%;  Asia 319%;  in the Pacific 158%; and in Latin America 583 % (source World Methodist Council).

In those same years churches in both Europe and the United States were in decline.

Even where the church is declining, there are exceptions, individual congregations which defy the pattern and grow.  Again almost without fail, those churches are where the cost of being a disciple is made real in some way.

The evidence is clear.  History has demonstrated over and over that Christianity thrives on hardship.  The reason is clear.  Discipleship, Jesus said, is the way of the cross.  It is costly to be a follower of Christ.  When we try to make it easy for people to be Christians, we distort the Gospel and at best, it survives sterile and unproductive, or it dies.

For those willing to take the costly way of the cross there is a life of joy and power.

When God shows up

The priests couldn’t even carry out their duties because of the cloud—the glory of God!—that filled The Temple of God. -Message

When God Shows Up

Don’t you just love discovering stories like this in the Bible?  I’m sure I’ve read this passage numerous times and went right past it like running past a spectacular view without even noticing.  But today, I noticed.

Get the picture: the choir and orchestra with 120 trumpet blowing priests praising God: “God is good! His loyal love goes on forever!”  God’s presence, glory so powerful, tangible as a cloud fills His house and the service stops as the priests “could not stand to minister.”  When God shows up church ritual, routine takes a back seat.  Those leading worship are simply overwhelmed and everything stops as the power of God takes over.  Wow! And I don’t use that word very often, but Wow!

You think the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies were awesome.  That’s nothing compared to the glory of God.  God is present everywhere.  God is especially present when two or three gather in His name.  But there are times when God’s people are praising and worshipping Him that His glory comes.  We don’t know when or where but we look for it.  We long for it.  And we prepare for it.  And we “will never be the same” when we experience it.

The environment  again—God’s people singing God’s praises.  Let’s praise God with all that is within in us—heart, mind, strength.

Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.Psalms 103 (NIV)

They Devoted Themselves

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

Isn’t it amazing the physical feats of which humans are capable?  We are being treated to some stunning examples in the 2012 Olympics.  We have heard stories of great sacrifice and costly commitment from runners, swimmers, gymnasts and others to compete as an Olympian.  As we were talking about this with friends from our Small Group the comment was made:  “Wouldn’t it be great if Christians were as devoted as these athletes?”

And I remembered.  That is the exact term used to describe those early Christians in the book of Acts—devoted.  We say, dedicated, committed, focused.  Because that is what it takes to accomplish important things, especially doing one’s best.  We do not become like Jesus automatically, by coasting or accidently.  Being devoted speaks to priorities.  Devotion ultimately is about lifestyle.

Of course Christians are devoted to God/Jesus.  And that finds practical expression in devotion to the good news (apostles’ teaching), to each other (the fellowship), sacramental acts (the breaking of bread) and prayer.  All these things result in “doing good.” 

The surprising thing is that as popular as the Olympics is our culture does not like the idea of devotion/commitment.  It is not a popular idea.  But it is the driving force for those who belong to Jesus.