Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Signs, Wonders and Confusions

"One came to me, as she said, with a message from the Lord, to tell me that I was laying up treasures on earth, taking my ease, and minding only my eating and drinking. I told her God knew me better; and if He had sent her, He would have sent her with a more proper message."
The Journal of John Wesley, entry for January 16, 1760
The Church of God disagrees in her treatment of "supernatural" gifts. (That's a misnomer, actually, because any gift given by the Spirit is "supernatural" in origin.) Some Christians may want to discourage, disprove and dismiss all such attempts to prophesy, heal the sick, speak in other languages, etc. Others may ride the fence of uncertainty, reluctant to stop all such activity for fear of grieving the Holy Spirit yet uneasy with what they see as gross abuses and spurious imitations of the gifts. Still others may embrace uncritically almost anything that seems supernatural and declare it of God.

The problem isn't easy to resolve because, in times of revival, real manifestations of God, poor imitations of men and downright satanic disruptions may all be seen simultaneously.

Read Wesley's opinion on the matter in a Journal entry for November 25, 1759:
In the afternoon God was eminently present with us, though rather to comfort than convince. But I observed a remarkable difference, since I was here (Everton) before, as to the manner of the work. None now were in trances, none cried out, none fell down or were convulsed; only some trembled exceedingly, a low murmur was heard, and many were refreshed with the multitude of peace.

The danger was to regard extraordinary circumstances too much, such as outcries, convulsions, visions, trances; as if these were essential to the inward work, so that it could not go on without them. Perhaps the danger is, to regard them too little; to condemn them altogether; to imagine they had nothing of God in them, and were a hindrance to his work. Whereas the truth is 1) God suddenly and strongly convinced many that they were lost sinners; the natural consequence whereof were sudden outcries and strong bodily convulsions; 2) to strengthen and encourage them that believed, and to make His work more apparent, He favored several of them with divine dreams, others with trances and visions; 3) in some of these instances, after a time, nature mixed with grace; 4) Satan likewise mimicked this work of God in order to discredit the whole work; and yet it is not wise to give up this part any more than to give up the whole. At first, it was, doubtless, wholly from God. It is partly so at this day; and He will enable us to discern how far, in every case, the work is pure and where it mixes or degenerates.
This is a significant opinion; Wesley believed that manifestations could be a mixture of both real and spurious. He wasn't, though, led to the conclusion that one should put a stop to all such activity. Instead, he believed that God would reveal the wheat from the chaff.

I confess, this isn't easy for an analytical thinker like me—I want everything black or white and both categories on its best behavior! That's an impossibility where the Church is concerned, of course, because when has anything about the Church been simple? Nothing is simple because humans are involved. It can make a man groan for heaven!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In or Out?

"We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice say to me in Hebrew, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you continue to persecute me? It is hurting you to keep on kicking against the goad.' 'Who are you, Sir?' said I. 'I am Jesus,' the Lord said, 'whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for the very purpose of appointing you my servant and a witness to me of the things which you have seen and those which I shall yet enable you to see. I will continue to rescue you from the Jewish people and from the heathen to whom I am going to send you, to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from Satan's power to God, so as to have their sins forgiven and have a possession among those that are sanctified by faith in me.'" (Acts 26.14-18)
I cannot say that I have ever heard the voice of the Lord. Consider, however, what Paul confesses Jesus told him: "I will continue to rescue you from the Jewish people and from the heathen to whom I am going to send you, to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from Satan's power to God".

Wesley elaborates in his Explanatory Notes:
Through the power of the Almighty, from the spiritual darkness wherein they were involved, to the light of Divine knowledge and holiness, and from the power of Satan, who now holds them in sin, guilt, and misery, to the love and happy service of God: that they may receive through faith - (He seems to place the same blessings in a fuller light) pardon, holiness, and glory.
It's pretty stark, isn't it? There isn't any wiggle room; there is no shade of gray. It's either darkness or it is light and it's either Satan's power or God's power. I submit to you that these are real categories that God recognizes. Consider this verse:
It is God who has delivered us out of the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of His dearly loved Son (Col 1.13).
Imagine the entire world in one of only two groups. The saved and the lost, or sheep or the goats...there are different ways to express it but it all boils down to one thing---The Test of Life has only one question:

"Concerning the Kingdom of God, are you In or Out?"

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Ifs of Christianity

This message is to be trusted: "If we indeed have died with Him, we will live with Him too. "If we patiently endure, we will reign with Him too. If we disown Him, He will disown us too. If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot prove false to Himself." (2 Tim 2.11-13)

Notice all of the ifs in this passage; life is about "if", isn't it? If turns to then, the acceptance of the condition creates the ultimate result.

Responding to the ifs of life is inevitable. What matters, then, is that we respond rightly to life's ifs.

Remembering Jesus Christ

Continue to remember Jesus Christ as risen from the dead, and descended from David, in accordance with the good news that I preach, for the sake of which I am suffering hardships even to the extent of wearing chains as though I were a criminal. But God's message is not in chains. (2 Tim 2.8,9)
The Apostle Paul reminds his son in the faith, Timothy, to keep remembering Jesus Christ. In this section of his letter Paul is attempting to strengthen Timothy's resolve in the midst of possible persecution for The Faith. The Apostle exhorts the younger minister to, "Take [his] share of hardships like a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (vs. 3). Paul wanted Timothy to count the cost of following Jesus and willing pay the price to do so.

We must continue to do so, too. The Christian life isn't an easy one, even if one isn't suffering persecution. It's a radical procedure whereby a person is cut from the enticements of the world and is called to live a life that is diametrically opposed to the values of the fallen world. Put bluntly, the Christianity is the antithesis of the world, a living rebuke to those walking in darkness.

That's why Christianity has been persecuted; in an attempt to squelch the message, many sinners have oppressed the messengers. Those taken captive by Satan to do his will have used derision, imprisonment and even murder to stop the gospel. But nobody can quench the light, because all of the darkness of the world is destroyed with the power of one candle.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

God Creates What He Calls (Romans № 1)

"Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called as an apostle, set apart to preach God's good news" (Romans 1.1)

Last week I began preaching through the book of Romans. My first sermon included this verse. It isn't large but it is enormous in importance. Look at three things that Paul claims about himself:

1. He was a slave of Jesus Christ
2. He was an apostle
3. He was set apart to preach the gospel

In short, this was a man who was devoted. He wasn't wasting his life on activities God didn't appoint him to do. He knew who he was: a slave, an apostle, and a preacher, and he did just that. To him, Christianity wasn't something a person could dabble in at leisure; to him, Christianity demanded unconditional obedience and submission.

In his Explanatory Notes Wesley observed that Paul was, "Called to be an apostle - And made an apostle by that calling. While God calls, he makes what he calls."

Why are relatively few people remembered in history books? Considering the billions of people who have lived or are today alive, why do so few make a lasting impression on history? It's because so many of us live forgettable lives. So many of us just work for a paycheck and long for vacation. Very few of us are as devoted as Paul and very few of us have a page in history.
Look at history (from the famous to the infamous) and you'll find people devoted to some cause larger than themselves. Paul wisely knew that what really matters is an obedient devotion to God and his gospel. We will remember Paul of Tarsus until the end of time.

What has God called you to do?