Our Fascination with the Extraordinary  

Hum Drum.  Most of our lives are lived in ordinary fashion where nothing too unusual happens. When it does, our attention is instantly piqued. We’re driving along I-91, lulled by the road’s monotony, when we see flashing lights ahead.  Fully focused now, we brake to see what’s what. A football game plods along with fans absorbed in their tacos, when a player makes a fantastic grab in the end zone. Immediately the crowd is on its feet, roaring, tacos forgotten.

Fantasy  Let’s face it, we need excitement in our lives and everyday living can be tedious and mundane. I have a neighbor who tells me her drinking problem gets triggered by boredom. Even Christians get drawn into fantasies like pornography, extramarital affairs and TV addiction. It’s often due to ennui (restless dissatisfaction caused by lack of excitement). Producers of TV shows know this about us, so outlandish stuff sells. Some buttons get pushed by Jerry Springer, others by murder mysteries, and sports, but lately supernatural fantasy has skyrocketed..

Supernatural, the TV show features two brothers hunting down demons from hell. Christian girls are captivated by Vampires and Werewolves in the Twilight series. Boys and men are glued to shows about supernatural superheroes pitted against other-worldly villains. (Stan Lee must be laughing all the way to the bank.)  Most awful of the genre, Dominion, turns the Bible on its head. Gabriel is an evil angel who hates humans but needs their bodies to fly around to work mayhem.  Constantine is apparently about a tormented exorcist. Faceoff  is a popular reality show where special effects artists compete to create the most realistic, scariest zombies, demons and the like.

God’s Dream Church  Don’t misunderstand. We aren’t criticizing our need for the extraordinary. It’s part of how God made us. In fact, His church was created to specialize in the supernatural. We believe it is God’s Dream to revitalze His church so that she can call forth the miraculous, signs and wonders that catch the attention of our unbelieving world. Of course the most extraordinary miracle is a church that loves each other as Christ loved us.

But meanwhile, back at First Church, the extraordinary rarely happens nor is even expected. Our pastor once said, “It’s remarkable how the church has managed to make something as extraordinary and miraculous as the resurrection of Jesus Christ so boring.” Originally a miraculous movement that changed the world, the church tends to be a predictable institution that changes little. Tradition and rationalism prevail. The transforming power of God’s supernatural message of Jesus Christ often gets lost in the routines of Sunday morning.

Stuff Ain’t Happening  Over 40 years ago, John Wimber left the Righteous Brothers after Jesus Christ turned his life right side up. He attended a certain church for a while, then  approached a church leader.

“When does the stuff start happening,” he wanted to know?  “What stuff?”  He opened his Bible. “I’ve been reading all these great things in Acts. I just want to know when it begins happening here.”

Disappointed to find nothing did, Wimber prayed, labored and helped get a movement born where stuff did happen, for a while. I’ve attended some of these churches lately and stuff ain’t happening there anymore either.

How did the church get to be so humdrum?  Jesus was an amazing person who did miraculous things, was unjustly executed, came back to life and created an extraordinary movement designed to change the world. What happened to change things? Well, it’s partly the story of the frog in the pot. Don’t know the story? Our next few posts will tell it, exegete it and suggest ways for the church to find her way back to greatness

Whatever Happened to Prayer? Part 3

Part 3:  Let’s Recover Our First Love

When people stop talking to each other they automatically drift apart. Communication, as they say, is the life blood of a relationship. Isn’t it the case that when we stop talking to God, we begin to lose our first love for Him? But have you stopped to think that this is also the case when Christians stop praying together? But you say, “Oh, there’s no worry about that, as long as I keep to my private spiritual disciplines.” Yet private and corporate prayer have a symbiotic relationship. Energize the one and you invigorate the other; neglect the one and you diminish the other.

Can We have the Vertical without the Horizontal? Jesus taught that our horizontal relationships in the church directly affects our vertical relationship with God. ”When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love…This is my commandment: Love each other.” (John 15: 9,12).  The apostle echoed the principle: “How can we say we love God if we do not love each other.”  Failure to pray together in the church causes us to drift apart from each other and from God. Remove a coal from the hearth and it dies out. Christ’s scriptural principle is plain as day: Love me, love my body. Love my body, love me.

We need one another. We can’t improve our love relationship with God if we neglect praying with our Christian family. When we neglect praying together, whether it’s the cause or the symptom, we become isolated from each other, thereby violating Christ’s law to “love one another.”

Our Faith is Personal Jesus endorsed the Jewish commands to love God and our neighbor and then added a third—a new command for a new covenant ”Love one another as I have loved you.” Our love relationship with God and others is what our faith is all about. This love is the connection he means us to have in the church family as well as with Him. However, without faith, another word for trust, it is impossible to please God, because if I don’t trust God, how can I love Him? The just shall live by faith.” And, If I do not trust you, how can I love you?

Pray for One Another. When we come to trust each other in the church, we will share our our personal needs in prayer. That’s what makes prayer personal. Yet when we do pray, do we really pray for one another or for third parties whom we often don’t know.

Private or Personal? At the close of a Bible study, the leader asks for prayer requests. Mary says, “Please pray for my Aunt Tillie in Utah who faces surgery.” Of course her aunt’s surgery is important, but she lives 2000 miles away. Our relationship is with Mary, not her aunt.  If we ask Mary, “Why not share your own needs?” she would reply, “Oh, that’s ‘personal.” What she really means is, “my struggles are my own private business.” So it’s privaite for Mary, not personal. This attitude, common in the church, is as far away from being personal as you can get. The   shows our lack of trust in others, which means also, a lack of love.

A Family of Strangers? When we do open up our private world to one another, we enter into the true fellowship Jesus meant for us to have in the church.  When we fail to do so, we remain strangers. Of course, it must be mutual. Gail once shared with me her experience in a women’s group. The leader, the pastor’s wife, said, “Since the Bible teaches we should confess our faults to one another, let’s obey the Word and begin to do that.” There was a long silence until at last Gail courageously shared some personal struggles. When she finished there was dead silence. Finally the leader said, “OK, then, let’s turn to our scripture passage”  Gail was left holding her dirty laundry with no cleansing or healing. She was, devastated.

When we withhold our private needs, we cannot pray for one another and we distance ourselves from each other. It is this horizontal dimension that we need to recover in the church. Praying for one another’s real needs accomplishes that.

   WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PRAYER?  

Part 2: Overcoming the Fear in Prayer 

In our last post we wrote that Christians gathering for prayer has gone the way of the eight track and phone booth. Our goal here is not to criticize, but to explore possible cures for this malaise. We quoted a church leader who said “Christians are so afraid of prayer.” Why? One possible explanation is we are simply out of practice, since it’s the professionals who do much public praying for us. We also offered a cure–in short, church leaders return prayer to the people, by the people and for the people.

The Right to Privacy: But this doesn’t really get to the root of folks’ anxiety about prayer, does it?  We believe an important cause for our fear of prayer is our growing appetite for privacy, which is now considred a right. Our need for privacy is rooted in this strong value we Americans place on individualism and independence.

Consider that many of us learned at an early age to “stand on your own two feet,” a sentiment echoed by the insistence of our two year old, “I’ll do it myself.” Rugged individualism defines our American spirit. At home we barely know our neighbors. In church we sit by strangers. On the road we drive cars with brand new passenger seats. At Starbucks we twitter to strangers, surrounded by folks we’ll never meet  Kids play games by the hour alone while working parents are separated from co-workers by cubicles.

This kind of value on independence, leads to a near-obsession for privacy when it is fueled by electronic technology and its step children, identify theft and Big-Brother-vigilance. But what does all that have to do with prayer? Well, let’s see if the Bible has anything to say on the subject.

Prayer is Private and Corporate. We know Jesus prayed alone on hilltops, but he also prayed in fellowship with his friends. He spoke of the privacy of the prayer closet and gave a special blessing for believers who prayed together, promising his special presence and authority even if only two or three united in his name. (Matt 18: 13-20). We know how early Christians found guidance, comfort, unity and power to witness when they prayed together. They all met together and were constantly united in prayer (Acts 1:13) they were like family to each other, often breaking bread and praying together.(Acts 2:42)  (See also 4:31; 6:4; 12:12).  

But there are also frequent references to individual prayer. Peter went up on the roof of the house to pray (Acts 10;9) As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (7:59). There is strong evidence that private prayer and corporate prayer have a symbiotic relationship. They energize each other. Remove one and the other is greatly weakened. 

 “Prayer is an Intimate Thing” While agonizing in prayer, Jesus longed for his friends to share  intimately in his grief. “Could you not watch with me for one hour?” (Mark 14:37 NLT). The fact that praying together builds intimacy was sharply brought home to me while training for Christian leadership at Cornell University. We were warned about praying alone with a member of the opposite sex. “Prayer is an intimate thing” we were told. “It can lead to other intimacies with serious consequences.” Later a close friend shared with me how praying alone with a boy in college led to her pregnancy.

Praying seriously with one another about important stuff builds and deepens relationships. It breaks down walls that separate us, builds accountability and opens the doors of harmful, hidden things. It is this kind of intimacy that makes praying together scary. For those with a special need for privacy, it’s downright frightening.

Yet we must find a way around it if the cfhurch is to recover it’s power. How can church leaders minister to those of us with a strong preference for privacy? How can they help build trust among members to assist them to overcome anxiety about sharing in prayer? At this point, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I am praying about it and consulting with church leaders about it. Hopefully we will have answers for a future post. Maybe you have some suggestions.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO PRAYER?

I can’t speak about what’s going on in believers private prayer closets, but we do know it is rare for believers to gather just for the sake of prayer anymore. Last year I went to a prayer meeting at a large church. All four of us had a great time. By comparison, nearly a hundred attended our pastor’s mid-week Bible studies last week. Why has corporate prayer taken such a back seat in the church?

A staff person of our church asked for our feedback on a proposed training program for new believers. Seeing nothing in the outline on prayer, I suggested it be included in the curriculum. She agreed, adding that people “seem so afraid of prayer.” Why would prayer be a cause of anxiety among modern believers?  Maybe it’s just because we are out of practice.

Here is an observation of a cause for this malaise and some nuts and bolts solutions.

 The Pastoral Prayer  We do have prayer at worship of course, but is it really corporate prayer when the pastor does all our praying for us? Prayer time is even often termed “the pastoral prayer.” Is it any wonder pastors include “people’s prayer proxy” in their job description?.

I once asked a Roman Catholic why she prayed to the saints.  “We don’t,” she insisted. “We ask them to pray for us.” This is not so different from Protestants, except they don’t ask dead saints to pray for them but live professionals. And what kind of answers are we getting from these prayers?

 Prayer that Got Results  Imagine you are back in Jerusalem when Peter and John report to the young church that Jewish leaders are threatening God’s work. Someone suggests they pray and you see Peter stand and say, “Let us pray” and does a pastoral prayer.  Was that Jesus’ idea when he taught we could expect great things when even just two or three believers join together in prayer. (Read about it in Matthew 18: 18-20)

Here’s what really happened:  “When the believers heard it, they all joined together in prayer to God.” (Acts 4:22 GNT).  They intensify their prayers by doing it in one accord, as Jesus urged. What happens? Luke tells us, “the meeting place shook, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and bravely spoke God’s message. (4:31). Later we read, Many miracles and wonders were performed among the people (5:12) Imagine how attendance would soar at First Church if these kind of things were going on there today!

What can be done to begin to restore this kind of praying in our churches? In a nutshell, we need to give prayer back to the people. Here are some “for instances.”

Prayers of the People   In the seventies, Presbyterians replaced “the pastoral prayer” with “prayers of the people.” We took this to heart in our church. During worship, folks were encouraged to give prayer concerns and then various folks in the pew were invited to pray. Many did and it was warmly welcomed by most and even traditionalists gradually came around to it.

Prayers by the People  We attended a service in Illinois where the pastor boldly broke with tradition. In place of the pastoral prayer, he encouraged us to join up with four or five others, share our concerns and pray together, right there and then. It was a heart-warming experience and a step in the right direction.

Prayers for the People Pastors might launch a “teach us to pray” campaign by doing a series of teaching sermons, encouraging the saints to engage in effective corporate prayer  They could bring pew sitters into the pulpit to lead in prayer. Bible Studies could be introduced on the subject of prayer. Workshops could be created to believers feel comfortable praying together, then ease them into the experience itself.

How to Beat Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

Elijah walked a whole day into the wilderness. He stopped and sat down in the shade of a tree and wished he would die. “It's too much, LORD,” he prayed. “Take away my life; I might as well be dead!” …Suddenly the LORD spoke to him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” He answered, “LORD God Almighty, I have always served you—you alone. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed all your prophets. I am the only one left—and they are trying to kill me!”(I Kings 19: 5, 9-10 GNB)

A.  Questions and Answers from God’s Word on Depression

1. Have you ever been at the end of your rope, lost your will to go on, even prayed for  God to take  you?    You’re in good company. Elijah, a great man of God, experienced all these things. Read about it in I Kings 19. James the Elder tells us in 5:17 that Elijah was a man just like us.                                                                                                          2. What causes depression? Elijah ‘s story tells us much about this.

a) Emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion. Elijah had faced a highly stressful situation. Although he had achieved a great victory for the God of Israel on Mt. Carmel, afterwards he had what we often face after a stressful, even successful time: an emotional letdown. Let’s keep our letdowns from becoming breakdowns.
b) He focused on His feelings. Self-absorption is an emotional and spiritual trap. Don’t let the devil play ping pong with your emotions.
c) He judged and blamed himself. Self-condemnation, shame and guilt are among the enemy’s biggest weapons to defeat us. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Shame is Satan’s weapon, not God’s.
d) He compared himself with others. Identify with others, never compare.
e) He magnified the negatives and minimized the positives: “I am the only one left and now they’re trying to kill me too.” That wasn’t true at all. One person – Jezebel, was against him
f) He indulged in self-pity. No one wants to attend our pity parties.

  B. Here are some practical things to do to avoid depression’s downward spiral.

    1. Focus on God’s reality, not our perceptions, which are often skewed.
a) What brought Elijah out of his funk? He finally listened to God, not his perceptions.
b) He listened to the Word of the Lord, prayed, heard from God and was obedient.
c) Does this make sense as a course of action when depressive thoughts enter our
mind? Consider this word: “Are you anxious (or depressed), ask God for help                                                                 and don’t forget:  thank and praise Him. (Phil 4: 6, our paraphrase).
•          First Ask God for Help. Turn your problem and pain over to Him completely.
•           Next thank Him, for the good AND if you want your faith and mental health to deepen, thank him also for the challenges you are facing. God allows these negatives in our lives to strengthen us. “In all things give thanks for this is the will of God concerning you.

  2. Repeat aloud the written word, Scriptures. After my Stage 4 cancer diagnosis, I experienced great victory over depression by taking long walks and repeating aloud these affirmations of faith from the Bible.
              <“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”>
             <“I am more than a conqueror through Christ who loves me.”>
             <“Nothing can separate me from the love of God.”>
             <“I will never leave you or forsake you.”>
3. Personalize these affirmations. Say them aloud to Jesus. For example:
<“I know you have not left me and will never leave me nor forsake me.”>
4. Be kind to yourself. Don’t listen to the negative tapes and lie in your head.
God doesn’t make any junk. You are special to Him and of great worth.
5. Get outside and outside of yourself. Avoid isolating. Spend time with Christian friends
6. Do something you enjoy. Recreation is a God word. Re-create your energy and renew your spirit by doing fun things.
7. Love others through random acts of kindness. “Serve one another as Christ has served you.”

Breaking Free From Anger

  I. Anger is a complicated emotion with a wide range of effects from annoyance to irritation to violent rage.

 II.Misconceptions About Anger

  1. All Anger is bad: Feelings, including anger, are neither right nor wrong, they just are. “Be angry and sin not,” the apostle teaches. There is appropriate anger which Jesus expressed when he cast the money changers out of the temple. He also showed hia anger towards hypocrisy and religious intolerance.
  2. In fact, anger may be healthy—it can serve as a warning that something is not right and motivate us to speak up and make positive changes.
  3. Venting or “dumping” anger helps us to “get it out of our system.” Research shows “letting off steam” is the worst strategy for managing anger. It often makes a situation worse, increases conflict and aggression
  4. Denying or “stuffing” anger makes it go away. Instead it is more likely to cause harm such as: allowing us to ignore situations such as domestic abuse; lead to harmful passive-aggressive behavior; create stresses which cause serious health issues. There is much research to show stuffing anger is a cause of arthritis.

 III.Four Ways to Honor God when you are angry

     1.  Don’t deny your anger but confess it.

  •    I John 1: 9: If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
  •    Personal Note; I have found to say the words out loud, “I feel angry,” helps to unmask the feeling and calms me down.

     2. Delay your anger but do not prolong it: Let not the sun go down on your anger.

  •   Proverbs: 15: 18: A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but if you are slow to anger you can keep things under control;
  •  Proverbs 16: 32: He who controls his temper is better than a mighty warrior,he who rules his spirit better than he who captures a city.
  • Eccles 7:9 Be not be hasty in your spirit to get angry,for anger lodges in the heart of fools.

3. Defuse your anger:

  • By speaking softly with someone who expresses anger. Proverbs 15: 1 A soft answersoothes angry feelings,but harsh wordsstirs them up.
  • By having a burden for reconciliation. Jesus taught that if someone holds resentment towards us, we should not worship, especially refrains from the Lord’s Supper, until we have tried to make it right. Matthew 5: 22-24: But Therefore if you bring your  gift to the altar, and there remember your brother has something against you;  Leave your gift at the altar, and go, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer your gift.
  • He also expects us to have the same burden if someone has hurt us in some way. Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you go and tell him what he did in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back again
  • Notice two things. The burden to be reconciled with our brother is on us whether we are the injured party or we have done the injury. The other is this process applies to how conflicts are to be handled among Christians in the church.  Sadly, believers often ignore Jesus’ wise counsel. Instead they make matters worse by bringing a third party into the problem before going to the offended or offender involved. This dysfunctional behavior is called “triangulating.” It is cowardly and destructive to relationships.

4.  Finally, confess your anger to God and ask for His help.

Big Error in Bible Translation

“Greater is he that’s inside me…” These were lyrics I heard yesterday on Christian radio. They were John the Apostle’s words, Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them because greater is He who is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4). We read the words, we sing them, we say them, but do we  understand them?

It’s we, not me. When we read the word “you,” in this verse, we automatically think “me,” despite seeing the words, “little children.” John is not writing to a single person, but to a group—plural.  He isn’t speaking to “me” but to the church, to “us.”  Except for a few letters from Paul, the New Testament writers wrote to the church. We see this by Jesus’ letters to seven churches—not to me, but to us.

The error comes from our language. Why the confusion? One reason is English lacks a word for the plural or collective “you.” Sadly, translators neglect to distinguish between the singular or plural “you.”  The one blessed exception is the ESV,  which uses “you all.” Fact: New Testament writers use the plural “you” four and a half times more than the singular. Our language hides this from us, so we willy-nilly apply them all to ME!

The error comes from our culture. We may be the most individualistic culture in history. The USA was born fighting for the values of independence and individual rights. While this is a blessing, the pendulum has swung far the other way. Our motto is E Plurabis Unum—“the one out of many. Today it is far more the many, not the one. We are less united as a people under God than a collection of individuals.

The error comes from our technology. We drive alone in cars with brand new passenger seats, but rarely any passengers. We watch programs alone on our TV sets, spend hours behind computers or texting on cell phones. Often we don’t know our neighbors or the person next to us in worship. We are sadly disconnected from each other both in society and church.

Why is all this so important? Jesus prayed that we would “BE ONE, THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE.” Yet, when we read “You are the light of the world,” we think of the Sunday school song, “This little light of mine.” But can my single light dim this world’s darkness? A million scattered lights cannot. Jesus was saying, “You, all together, my church, my people, are this world’s light.”

Today we suffer from a “Jesus and me” theology, neglecting the greater truth that it is the church alone that overcomes and lights up the world. Not even the apostles believed it was their lone lights.

We are called to be a team not a bunch of loners. Often the early church’s great deeds were due to their obedience to Jesus’ command “to love one another,” a command repeated five time in John’s gospel. They worked and prayed together as a united body of believers, not, a collection of individuals. Luke often used the Greek word homothumadon, “in one accord.”  Soon after, he recorded great events that shook the world.

Peter preached at the great Pentecost in gathering, but he did not stand alone. Luke writes, “He stood up with the apostles.” They were a team. Paul nearly always travelled with a group. He realized the power in Jesus’ words, “Where two or three of you are in harmony (Gr: symphanos) there am I in the midst of you.”

Let’s Do it Again. If we are to be a church that impacts our world, we can do no less. Let us love one another that the world may believe. Let us practice our solidarity in Christ that we may fulfill His commission to reach the world He loves and died to save.