A Big Small Moment: Surprised by Prayer

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Thanks and praise to God are forms of pray that usher us into the mindfulness of God’s presence, and there are no small moments when prayer is not possible! There are small moments that  loom large in my memory and return often to me with joy and inspiration.  Not long ago, a super memorable small moment came in a prayer that caught me off guard.  I was delightfully surprised at the time.

I was out to dinner in Long Beach, California with graciously hospitable friends.  They picked me up at my hotel and took me to an Asian restaurant” nearby.  At the table, the waiter of Mexican heritage began the usual drill: he told us his name, asked what would we like to drink, recited the specials on the menu.  He took our orders and just as he was walking away, one of my hosts said to him “In a few minutes, when the food arrives, we are going to pray before we eat.  Is there anything you would like us to pray about for you?”  I was surprised by the question as much as our waiter was. This was likely a first for him. It was for me.  But it was quite wonderful.  After he had placed the order and brought the food, he answered the question explaining the health situation of his mother and asking that we pray for her.  One of the hosts said a beautiful prayer.  The waiter was clearly moved.  So was I.  It only took a small moment, but had a big impact.

It was a very big “small moment” for me.  Just then a powerful insight became so apparent. We can acknowledge the presence of God at any time and minister to others anywhere.   I was struck by how naturally the moment unfolded. I attribute that to the maturity and passion of my hosts for things of the Kingdom, and for their obedience to the Great Commandment to love a neighbor.

A few days later I was sitting in a restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina having lunch with another lovely couple, two Argentine Salvation Army officers.  The waitress came to the table and started the drill (water, menu, specials).  I asked her if there was something we could pray about for her when we said our prayer over the meal.  We surprised her and seized a moment of glory and grace. Try it sometime and somewhere.  Take a small moment and make it bigger.  Then give thanks to God.

God made blueberries for me?

The tremendous joy of being a grandparent is in part the stories that our children share regarding our grand0312161923a_HDR-2 (1)children’s growing faith and understanding of God.  God uses these stories to move and bless our hearts and strengthen our ongoing journey with God. Here’s a good one that just happened the other day with our grandson, Jacob, who is just about to turn three years old.

Our daughter had just given Jacob a handful of fresh blueberries in a small bowl. He loves blueberries and has a lovely inquisitive mind. This is the text our daughter sent to us after this brief exchange. She wrote – “Jacob asked where his blueberries came from. I told him ‘God made them and they grow on a bush.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Oh, God made blueberries for me?’ I said, ‘Yes!” He said, ‘I thank you.  Gamsahamnida, God’. Then he bowed his head and prayed, ‘Thank you God for my blueberries.’ (Gamsahamnida is Korean for thankyou)

When I read the text, joy and laughter burst from my heart. Thank you, God, for the simple faith and inquisitive heart of this dear, little child. Thank you too for the faithfulness of his mother and father who discuss the common things of life together with him and in the most natural ways and include you, God, in the discussion. Thank you for putting on their hearts the importance of teaching our grandchildren the simple practice of thanks and praise. Thanks be to you, O God!  Gamsahamnida!

REFLECTIONS ON HOLINESS

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Sometimes, when we take quiet time to listen and reflect, God then whispers something new. I’ve been listening and reflecting on holiness.  God’s whisper speaks to my Wesleyan heart and affirms my faith as a Salvationist (The Salvation Army is my church home).  I’ve been putting my thoughts into writing another book.  Recently I wrote that not many years ago there lived a revered retired professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, George Allen Turner.  I  knew Dr. Turner in the last years of his life.  In his book, The More Excellent Way, he wrote “While the terms associated with “holiness” stress the contrast between Jehova and humanity, bridged by an act of cleansing, those associated with ‘perfection” point to humanity’s kinship with God and the possibility of fellowship.”  That one sentence was pregnant with the idea of the social-relational nature of holiness.  The ideas of cleansing and perfection speak to a loving, restorative work of God in a person’s life beginning at the cross and going on beyond the resurrection.  Cleansing suggests purity of heart and life making possible holy love and intimacy with God. Kinship with God suggests the hallowed setting of a family.  It affirms our adoption and inclusion into an ongoing, close-knit, intimate relationship with the three persons of the Godhead.  Finally, the possibility of fellowship with God implies an ongoing, interactive relationship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit.  Holiness is social, relational, personal and intimate with God.

Diane Leclerc* puts it this way.  “Only God is holy.  Yet God commands, ‘Be holy as I am holy.’”  Leclerc makes the case for “derived holiness” in which humanity derives holiness from its relationship with God and the quality of that relationship. It involves imparted righteousness dependent on a social, relational connection with God.  Such a relationship makes possible God’s multiple acts of grace including forgiveness of sin, reconciliation, initial sanctification, continuing (synergistic) sanctification, the progressive restoration to the likeness of Christ, and ultimately entire sanctification, all to the glory of God.

Sanctification ultimately is God’s cleansing that leaves a pure heart, makes possible inward holiness and outward righteousness, and continuing growth in grace.  Holiness is reflected in profound holy love of God and a profound love for others (Mark 12:30-31). It reflects an inner moral transformation that is expressed in holy love made possible not only to some, but to all.  Most simply defined, holiness is Christlikeness, the unfolding of Christ’s own character in the life of the believer who devotes time and attention to remaining in a sanctified context.  That context is God’s presence and the presence of holy others making possible spiritual growth, formation, and Christlikeness, and ultimately an infilling of the Spirit and a cleansing of the heart, soul, and mind.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me . . . Psalm 51:10

*Diane Leclerc, Discovering Christian Holiness: The heart of Wesleyan holiness theology, (Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press), 2010.

THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN A CHRISTIAN’S LIFE

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there;  If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.          Psalm 139:7&8

PRESENCE OF CHRISTI grew up being taught that God is “omnipresent.” It meant that He was everywhere all the time. Throughout much of my younger years, I lived unaware that He was present and at times it seemed like he was nowhere to be found.  It’s not that God was hiding.  I just did not take the teaching about his presence seriously.  I was not interested enough to be aware.  My antenna was down.  My reception was turned off.  I wasn’t tuned in to God.  Most of the time I was ignoring God.  By this default position I remained in the dark regarding who he truly was and how accessible He could be.  I was not alone.  Many Christians remain unaware of the presence of God in their life.  Unaware, they miss noticing God’s grace and live life struggling from one challenge and problem to the next.  It’s difficult to maintain a strong faith when we ignore God or live like He is absent.

When we don’t sense God’s presence prayer becomes an exercise of calling for a lifeguard while treading water hoping somehow to stay afloat until He throws a life line.  Doubt prevails that God hears, cares, and is near enough to respond.  The truth remains.  God is near.  He is not an absent landlord.  He is Lord, ever and always present in every Christian’s life.  If you are unaware of God’s presence in your life, here are four ways you may grow in an awareness of God’s omni-presence:

  1. Thanks and Praise– Read Psalm 100:4.  It speaks of gates and courts referring to the Temple in Jerusalem and its many gates and courts.  The temple gates are associated with thanks to God and the temple courts with praise.  The Temple itself is a metaphor for progressive intimacy with God and holiness.  Thanks spills over into praise to God for the gift of his presence and grace. Thanks and praise are an appropriate responses to the Giver of all good gifts.  Together they occasion a profound awareness of God’s steadfast faithfulness and presence in our lives.
  1. Means of Grace– John Wesley was fond of teaching and preaching about the presence of God experienced through what he called the means of grace.  In a more modern expression we might call means of grace our “habits of the heart.” They are habits of piety – love of God (ie., worship, prayer, Bible reading, fellowship) and habits of mercy – love of others (ie., feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, helping widows and orphans).  Wesley taught that through the means of grace we mature in our understanding of God’s identity and in our awareness of his presence.
  1. Christ at the Door– We read in Revelations 3:30, “Here I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens tPRESENCE 3 YOU WILL SEEK MEhe door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  Once you responded to his initial knock on your heart’s door.  Now you may consciously consider Christ at the door each day, inviting you out into his day, his agenda, and his plan.  As you walk each day in His presence, he engages you in fellowship.
  2. Practicing God’s Presence– Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century monk who practiced the loving presence of God.He spent years disciplining his heart and mind to yield to God’s presence. He wrote, “As often as I could, I placed myself as a worshiper before him, fixing my mind upon his holy presence, recalling it when I found it wandering from him.” Lawrence did the mundane chores of the monastery continually mindful of God’s presence so that even the lowest, most humble work was completed in a spirit of worship.

God is always present.  We aren’t always conscious of his presence and proximity.  Yet he is so close.  He desires even greater proximity. He desires to be more than near.  He desires intimacy, the ultimate in proximity, the infilling of his Holy Spirit in us.  You can’t be closer to God than being filled to the measure of fullness of his very Self. (Ephesians 3:19).

 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.   –   James 4:8

               Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . .  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full of assurance of faith. – Hebrews 10:19&22

 

 

TIME WELL SPENT?

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An interesting brochure caught my attention on a recent Delta airlines flight. It’s message was “Time On Board, Time Well Spent: make the most of your flight today with WI-FI and, inspiring and free streaming entertainment.”  It proclaimed seventy-five movies, one hundred and fifty TV shows, HBO, TED Talks and more, accessible by laptop, tablet, smart phone, and seatback screen all with no charge.  Amazing!

If people are not busy taking advantage of “inspiring and free streaming entertainment,” their time is devoted to video games. Then there are the few who are actually conversing, working, or sleeping.  I assume those persons with their eyes closed are sleeping and not praying. I could be wrong. In the diversity of activity, most people seem to be glued to a screen for one reason or another.  I have to ask if it is really “time well spent” and truly “inspiring.”  I am yet to observe anyone getting off a flight looking wonderfully inspired.   Overall, the American (and Canadian) culture seems busy airplane-passengers-seats-tv-screens 2-flying-coach-commercial-flight-built-49800624 (1)passing time, but not engaging in time well spent. Should I be surprised?  We live in a post-Christian era of distractions and attractions that suck the life out of us in relatively valueless activity that mostly serve as a diversion from those things that really matter.

Then I have to ask from what is all the entertainment diverting us? What’s the attraction. What are the alternatives to not waste?  What are the things that really matter? In answering I assume I am writing to a readership of authentic, altogether Christians, not nominal, half-hearted Christians that John Wesley might call “almost Christians” or “low road Christians.” I assume that the American culture has not pilfered your awareness of God’s presence, grace, and work in your life.  I assume your habits-of-the-heart incline you to keep company with Christ more than with the latest digital invention of the entertainment industry.  I assume time well spent in flight with God (in Scripture, prayer, conversation, wholesome reading, rest, etc.) is not a lost priority.  I assume God is just waiting to share something new, fresh, and inspiring with you by the time the flight ends.  If I am wrong, then you answer the question. Is your time well spent?  Every time I end a flight, I have to ask that question.  Was my time well spent? Sometimes I need to repent over my answer and pray for forgiveness for ignoring my best friend who was present with me the whole time.  It’s likely he had something to say! If only I had been listening. . .

THE GOSPEL ON ITS WAY . . .

“The Gospel comes to us on its way to someone else.”  Erwin Mc Manus, Missiologist

GOSPEL COMPANY WE KEEPOn a Seedbed.com podcast recently, Dr. Jeremy Steele used this quote from Erwin Mc Manus in discussing the purpose of the gospel.   It rings true and consistent with another reflection: “We become the company we keep.” When we put these two ideas together, juxtaposing them with each other, we begin to see how God works in a believer’s life.

The Gospel is God’s story running from Genesis completely through the Bible, through the Book of Revelation. It is the narrative of God’s redemptive, reconciling, work of salvation and restoration from inevitable death to the certainty of everlasting life. It is the Good News of salvation that comes to us as “the continuing work of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, through the church, to the world.”[1] The point worth underscoring is that the gospel came to us through the church, through others, through someone(s), and depending on our faithfulness as God’s agent, it goes forward to someone else. It’s been that way since Jesus began preaching, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4: 17). The Kingdom is still at hand. The message of salvation is to be passed on to others by all who receive it as gospel truth. By the grace of God, the gospel came to us.   It was passed on to us through the company we’ve kept with other Christians, and it is to be passed on to others. Our faithfulness to share the full story, including holiness, is our way of responding to God’s holy love for us. God lavishes his grace on us and waits for our response.  Pass the peace!

GOSPEL COMPANYWe become the company we keep with other Christians, and with Christ in our daily journey. He calls us to also be a presence in the lives of others who need to know the gospel message.  As it came to us, the gospel makes its way to someone else through us. The amazing thing is that God entrusts us with the message and calls us to pass it on. What a remarkable trust!

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Spirit, the Church, and the World: The Message of Acts, 1990

TAKING ON POST-CHRISTENDOM

CHURCH 2What’s happening to Christendom, at least in the Global North (including Australasia)? We now find ourselves in the “Post Christendom Era.” Recently Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote “The two most important developments in the church of our time is the movement of western civilization into post-Christendom and the equally dramatic emergence of global Christianity.” Tennent goes on to say that Christendom today “produces vast numbers of nominal Christians.” He says its what Christendom does best. People call themselves Christians because that’s the culturally comfortable or normative thing to do. They do not light up the world with new Christians including their own children because they assume the culture promotes values that are inherently Christian and can just be caught naturally. Their legacy by default is godless secularism.

This is the scenario behind the decline of mainline churches and many evangelical faith communities as well. Tennent suggests that what’s missing is robust Christian identity, transformed Christian lives, a Kingdom vision for society, and a “deep commitment to catechesis.” Without these pillars, all Christian communities and movements in the West will continue to struggle with the inevitability of post-Christendom.

SEEDBED PHOTO GARDENINGI agree with Dr. Tennent. But I also agree with J. D. Watt, the lead servant of the Seedbed* initiative. He quotes the Barna Group study on “Ten Transformational Stops” to say that we’re in trouble if we keep producing nominal Christians because we don’t ask the right questions. Rather than how do we grow the church, meaning in size, we are better to ask how do we grow people (starting with ourselves), meaning in holiness after the likeness of Christ. Just growing the church in size is to produce more nominal minimalist, so-called Christians, what John Wesley called “almost Christians,” “having the form of godliness, but lacking the power thereof.” (2 Timothy 3;5), and “low road Christians” not pursuing the high road of holiness.

We find ourselves in the West today in a post-Christendom world lacking the fire of an earlier day. It was William Booth who said, “The tendency of fire is to go out.” The church is meant to be a light on a hill, a blazing fire, not an ember surrounded by ashes.  The church is in a low gear of mediocrity reproducing tepid, weak, nominal Christians and lacking covenant and commitment, power and potential to light up the world with holiness to the glory of God. We have met the “enemy.”  It is that enormous part of the church that remains stuck short of fulfilling the Great Commission, “make disciples?”

The Church universal is not the enemy, but perhaps it is the church in the West that produces babes in Christ and abandons them to arrested development or infant mortality. We are not unlike the general who when surrounded by the enemy on three sides only responded with a command “charge.” We take on the church and post-Christendom and in the words of a friend, Andy Miller III, we shout “Forward to the fight!”  What that means I’ll explore in a future blog.

*Check out Timothy Tennent and J.T. Walt on Seedbed at Seedbed.com

SALVATION IN ALL ITS FULLNESS

I came that they may have life in all its fullness. [to the full, till it overflows]

John 10:10

cup.overflowing.1What is full salvation? It’s a term we’ve heard in Wesleyan holiness contexts, but not always understood. To answer the question two other questions are helpful. What is the difference between a saved person, one who by faith received Christ’s salvation from sin, and a person who is being saved (Acts 2:47)? Another way to ask is this, “What does fulfillment of salvation look like?” The 1st person is saved from the penalty and gilt of past sin (justification by faith). They become members of a local church and get busy in the life of the faith community.   The 2nd person does the same, but also goes on to being continually saved through the ongoing formation of sanctification by the Spirit. The former (1st) is like being given the whole loaf of bread, but only consuming half. The later (2nd) responds to the grace offered in the fullness of the bread of life, the whole loaf. The former risks a kind of arrested spiritual development falling short of what God fully intends for us. The later leads to a fullness of the spirit (Ephesians 3:19b) characterized by an undivided heart of perfect love in obedience to Christ’s great commandment to love both God and others profoundly (Matthew 22:36-40). The former is the experience of a Christian whose life is one of contentment wading around in the shallow tide pools of initial salvation, while the latter experiences the joys of fully plunging into the deep waters of holiness and sanctified service to the glory of God. The former wrestles with the tensions between diversified self-interest and God’s call to other-oriented, self-giving love, while the later embraces God’s call along with what sacrifices it may cost.

The former expresses gratitude to God for personal salvation and daily blessings. The later expresses joy, thanks, and praise out of a hunger and a thirst satisfied by more of God’s perfect love and passes it back to God and on to others. The former in weakness still struggles with temptations and a discomfort of conscience due to remaining sin and a remaining carnal nature. The later rejoices in a power over temptation and sin in a strength that comes with obedient faith on the high road of holiness. For the former there still is bondage to sin tied to old habits, old, temptations, and old desires. The later rejoices in freedom, for “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) For the
former, what counts is being saved from sin. For the later, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing it self in love.” (Galatians 5:6). Fulfillment comes from taking in the whole loaf of a full salvation.  loaf-of-bread

Bread for the Journey. Glory to God!

SEEING INTO THE FUTURE

Who can tell the future other than God? Some times we can to a degree. A wise sage once said, “Tell me with whom you spend time and I’ll tell you your future.” The company we keep can well foretell the profound impact others likely will have on our lives and our possible impact on others. Here are two examples:

John Wesley and William Wilberforce

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Often an admired mentor becomes a close friend. Such friendship emerged for a young William Wilberforce with the older John Wesley (JW). Wilberforce (1759–1833) was an English politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. He was spiritually mentored by John Wesley (1703-1791), his senior by forty-two years. At age thirty-two, while visiting Wesley on his deathbed, he was encouraged by Wesley to continue the fight in Parliament he had started. That fight was to abolish slavery throughout England and the United Kingdom. Following JW’s passing, Wilberforce went on for forty-two years to politically mobilize pressure on the British Parliament to change the law. Wilberforce died just three days after hearing that the passage of the Act through Parliament was assured. As a mentor and confidant, Wesley helped his young friend shape the future. He was the company William Wilberforce kept.

Stanley Jones and Martin Luther King

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The company we keep can be alive and physically present, but it can also be someone whose writings we read. Martin Luther King (MLK, 1929-1968) was a divinity student at the Boston University in the 1950s. At the time he began reading E. Stanley Jones’ (ESJ, 1884-1973) writings (Christ of the Indian Road, Christ of the American Road, The Word Become Flesh, and other Jones’ books) found in the school of theology library. ESJ was a Methodist missionary to India for fifty five years, throughout most of the twentieth century. He always wrote about Christ. Christ was at the center of his ministry and writing. Jones also wrote extensively about his long time, intimate friend, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1944). MLK discovered his books on the shelves in the Boston University Theology library and began (indirectly) spending spending time with Gandhi.   The intimacy of ESJ’s friendship with Gandhi and the discipline of writing books had a lasting impact on Martin Luther King. Jones was the literary company MLK kept. As a result, King came to know, appreciate, and emulate the civil disobedience strategies of the Gandhi whom he never actually met.

John Wesley, William Wilberforce, E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King were all influenced by the company they kept and that they became. Through human agency God occasioned a long-standing, redemptive impact on untold millions of others. With whom do we spend our time? Tell me the company we keep, but also the company we become, and together we may see God at work shaping the future.

“Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”   (Philippians 2:4)

TATTOO TESTIMONIES

GOOGLE “PICTURES OF TATTOOS.” UP ON THE SCREEN WILL COME MANY SURPRISING AND DISTURBING IMAGES. ALL SERVE AS PERSONAL TESTIMONIES.

TATTOO SCORPIONWhat’s with tattoos? Everyone seems to have at least one. So far they are the fad of the twenty-first century. There was a time in recent history that only marines, merchant mariners, Tongan warriors, and the Yakuza had tattoos. Now tattoo parlors are everywhere. Young people are not the only ones sporting tattoos. It’s a reality across the age spectrum. Once you get one, it’s easy to get two, then three, and then the right arm, chest and leg. Their artfulness varies from strikingly beautiful to down right ugly, from the sacred and spiritually inspiring to the aberrant and wicked. What’s with all that?

I don’t have a tattoo, but I have questions starting with “why?” Why get a tattoo? What’s the purpose of a tattoo? Does it define us? Is it better to have than not have one? What’s the benefit? What’s the consequence of not having one? With aging, will tattoos loose their shape, become blurred, and lead to guessing what it was meant to say or look like in the first place?

I hold some settled views regarding the purpose of so much ink under the skin. There’s likely a long list of reasons, but regardless, aren’t tattoos a testimony, a proclamation, an attempt to declare a message as personal as the one tattooe? Do they not serve to part the curtain and allow others to peek at one’s values, priorities, hopes, and aspirations, fears, frustrations, and identities.

TATTOO MISSPELLED Inevitably, whether visible or hidden, they’re a conversation starter and often a source of pride (unless misspelled). Tattoos are a testimony.
They testify to what’s important, to the company we keep or want to impress, and with whom we identify. Here’s my biggest question: For a sincere follower of Jesus Christ, so what? Might their tattoo testimony start with their faith and desire to please God? For example, if you could ask every tattooed Christian if their tattoo was inspired by the holy spirit or derived from Christ’s life and teachings such as The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) and his proclamations: Blessed are the pure in heart, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the peacemakers, what would their story turn out to be? Jesus said we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and to let our light shine so others may see our good deeds (read tattoos) and glorify the Father in heaven.

While I don’t plan to get a tattoo, I do plan to connect with people about their tattoo(s). They are terrific conversation starters like “I noticed your tattoo. How long have you had it? Do you have any others? Will you get another one? What do you want it to say about you? Does it have a message for others?” Tattoos are a starting point for meeting others and beginning a reciprocal conversation that can go somewhere special. If you are thinking about getting a visible tattoo, consider it a form of testimony. Could it proclaim something that helps another navigate life? Could one’s tattoos open up a space for sharing Christ to the glory to God?

Life is working in you . . . so that the grace that is reaching more and more people                                      may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.                                                                                 2Corinthians 4:12&15