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It’s Holy Ground

  God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:8

 Moses had just met God through the experience of a burning bush when God spoke these words to him. The details of this experience were unique. However, spiritual experience is a universal human phenomenon.

It can produce fear, confusion, questions, peace, direction, joy and almost any other imaginable reaction positive or negative. It is often sought and sometimes intentionally evaded or avoided. It can be misunderstood and misused. It can be divine or demonic, even satanic. We have it on no less authority than Jesus.

For the Christian, spiritual experience is the life blood of a relationship with God and God’s son, Jesus.

One of the common results of an experience of God is how often it is connected to a place. There have always been places identified as sacred—places where God has shown himself or often shows himself. Chances are you have a specific time or place where you experienced God’s presence. However sometimes it is possible to be so tied to a certain place or experience that we become closed to God’s fresh presence.

And we need that fresh, that new encounter with God. It is a place where God is welcomed, expected, believed and honored. That place can be here. It can even be now, this moment. We can allow God to produce a climate an atmosphere here in Messiah Church where God is given the freedom to renew us all so that He can accomplish His purpose here. God is not confined to one place but fills with his love, wonder, and power wherever people desire Him more than all else. Will that be here? I pray it will.

One of the best places to experience God is in the presence of other followers of Jesus in a small group setting. Check out a small group at Messiah or a church near you.

 

 

This article also appears in the February Messiah Newsletter.

The Difference Maker

My former District Superintendent, Chuck Kellogg, tells this story from his time in Vietnam.  He said his unit lost 19 men in combat.  One of the men a Californian, Bill Rhodes, was killed on February 6, 1971. “Bill was not a believer in Christ.  But a Sgt. Avery frequently witnessed to Bill and the rest of us about matters of faith and prayed for all of us.

            Sgt. Avery felt compelled to visit Bill’s mother (Avery lives in California).  He was very apprehensive about doing so.  Upon arrival Bill’s mother warmly greeted Sgt. Avery.  She has a letter in her hand written by her son, Bill.  He said he had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and Lord and he wanted her, his mother, to be the first to know.  The letter was dated February 5th.”

            Prayer, what a mystery—what a power!  We often never know the effects of our prayers.  But God assures us they are effective—James 1:16b The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

            Want to make a difference in a life, in the world?  Pray.   Check out Messiah’s Prayer Team Ministry.

This Is True Grace

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,…will himself RESTORE (PERFECT) you.  I Peter 5:10

One evening, G.K. Chesterton and some writers were discussing what single book they would choose if they were stranded on a desert island.  One writer quickly said, “The complete works of Shakespeare.”  Another responded, “I’d choose the Bible.”  When Chesterton was asked, he replied,  “I would choose Thomas’s Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”

Now what Thomas’s Guide to Practical Shipbuilding would be to a person stranded on a desert island, the Bible is to those whom Peter says are “strangers in the world.”

All through this letter of 105 verses Peter has talked of what it means for them to live as followers of Jesus:

Joy in midst of sadness,
holy,
submissive,
loving life,
and stewards of the grace of God.

He sums it up in a final and wonderful encouragement to stand firm, because God will “exalt you” (v 6).

Then he adds one more basic necessity for spiritual victory, to come out of a world like this intact: v10- “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,…will himself RESTORE (PERFECT) you.

It is not easy to live as strangers in the world.  There are pressures—our internal weaknesses, circumstances, others, even persecution.  Most of all Peter reminds us of the enemy of souls, who like a roaring lion prowls looking for victims.  Living in a world where we are strangers and which is often hostile can take its toll—deterioration, wearing and tearing.

Who of us have not retreated from engagement with life, the worse for wear—wounded, damaged, broken.  What congregation has not known conflict, division, in the struggle to be God’s people.

But Peter reminds us, restoration is God’s special work.  God is not a throw-away God.  He puts things back together, restores, perfects.   Frazzled, at loose ends, in pieces?  God will repair to perfection.

What is special here is the emphasis—it is God’s personal work.  God does not leave this to instrumental means, but it is His own “personal active ministry to His people.”  And it is true grace.  Peter was exhibit A.  This could not have been lost on those to whom he wrote.  They were too near to it.

When the struggle, the battle has taken its toll, God’s word to us is not just “try again”, “try harder” but grace, “true grace” which is all we need.

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

Where We Are

You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. –II Peter 3:3

I was recently looking at the results of a national study on the “Beliefs, Preferences and Practices” of the American people.  It is the first of its kind study in fifteen years.  Several things in particular caused me to “sit up and take notice.”  The first was that over four in ten Americans  (42.3%) believe “God is the full realization of human potential.”  More than one in four  (27.9%) agree with the statement: “Everyone and everything is god.”  When asked about religious preferences almost one in four (22.6%) answered “none.”

Another study by the Barna group and examined in a book by David Kinnaman, “You Lost Me,” deals with the mass exodus of young Christians from church.

These and other data paint a sobering picture of the state of Christianity and the church along with prospects for the future.  In light of that what is a Christian to do?  For some it becomes an exercise in spiritual “hand-wringing.”  For others, the response is “We know the outcome.”  Jesus said “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”  So, let’s go merrily on our way to heaven and “to hell (literally) with the rest of the world.”

However, Jesus warned this would happen.  And in that context, he gave us our orders: “Go and make disciples, followers of Jesus.”  How can we do that in a world like ours?  There is no easy answer.  However, there is one thing we must do.  Make sure our/my life models Jesus.   Nothing so disarms the enemy, so attracts others to him.  We see too many Christians (I use the word loosely) who disprove the good news.  We have too many churches where it is not taken seriously and who settle for a thin religious veneer rather than transformed lives.

A former professor of mine, Dr. James Robertson, used to say (in his rich Scottish brogue) we need to “adorn the gospel.”  He was saying we need to live so our living is good advertisement for God’s way.  Everything else depends on God’s people being like Jesus.

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)

Christians Are Connected

John 15:1-17  I chose you …to go and bear fruit

          What does Jesus really want from you?
          One of the most important things Jesus had to tell his disciples in those last crisis packed hours was His purpose for them, what He expected from them and how it could happen.
            He does this by way of an analogy of the grape vine.  As the purpose of a vine is to produce fruit—grapes so He says I have chosen you to bear fruit.  It is this which will glorify my Father.  For that to happen you must abide in me because without me you can do nothing.  Just as the branches draw their life and ability to bear fruit from the main vain, so you get your life and productiveness from me I am the vine.  “Abide in me”=keep my commandments(obedience), maintain your relationship to me, keep the connection.  “Without me you can do nothing.”
            He pointedly told them He had chosen them to “bear fruit.”  That fruit is a life characterized by love.  He told them what was necessary and what would happen if they didn’t.
                      I don’t think this was exactly what Jesus had in mind, but Gerald Kennedy tells of an inquiry made of a Methodist bishop about a preacher in his area.  “Why,” said the bishop, “He is dull.  He is supernaturally dull…No man could be as dull as he is without divine aid.”
          So what are the results of being connected, of “abiding in Christ”?

 EFFECTIVE PRAYER
            “ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.”
            “so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” 
        
We are inclined to read this in one of two ways:

  • If you can believe strong enough, God will give you whatever you ask for.
              Little Johnnie was saying his bedtime prayers a week before his birthday.  In a loud voice he listed all the things he wanted.  “Don’t pray so loudly,” his mother instructed.  “The Lord isn’t hard of hearing!”  “Maybe he isn’t,” admitted Johnnie, “but grandma is.”
  • Or we ignore it, water it down, never take it seriously

The Bible and Christian history makes some incredible claims for the power of a believer’s prayer.  Frontier Methodist preacher, Francis  Asbury said, “Prayer is the sword of the preacher, the life of the Christian, the terror of hell, and the devil’s plague.”1
         
These statements need to be understood in the context.  They are about believers being fruitful, that is producing more believers.

GOD GLORIFIED BY FRUIT
      The measure of success is does it bring honor and glory to God.  As my preaching professor, James Robertson, used to say, Christians “adorn the gospel.”  Their lives are attractive and these lives attract people to Christ.  The reason there is so little impact of some Christians is there lives don’t attract to Jesus.  Richard Foster says, “People do not see anything to be converted to.  They look around at these Christians telling them to agree to these little statements and say the enclosed prayer.  They say, “But you aren’t any different from anybody else.  So, what am I supposed to be converted to?” 2

JOY
       First Jesus’ joy is in us, in our fruitfulness.  Then our joy will be full.  We experience the joy spoken of so often in the Bible.
          I confess to you, I am troubled when I apply those three tests to my life.  So I have to ask: How is my connection?  Am I abiding in Jesus?
          How about you?