Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Spiritual Danger

Dear Friends,

“There is no God,” said Ron L. Hubbard, the science fiction writer and inventor of the “religion” called Scientology. Scientologists believe that you and I are all immortal extraterrestrial creatures called Thetans. Lord Xenu is the creator of the “Galactic Confederacy” and Xenu rules and reigns today over a galaxy which includes our planet earth. Scientology teaches that 75 million years ago, Xenu brought billions of aliens to Earth in spacecrafts resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners. He stacked the people around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The life force “thetans” then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today. Your goal is to become “clear” by  isolating your body thetans, neutralizing the negative thetans and accentuating the positive ones. Ron L. Hubbard is quoted as saying, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” (No thanks, Ron... I can see that creating a comic-book religion called Scientology worked out well for you but I’ll stick with my Bible!) 

The Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan is one of America’s most prestigious universities for fashion design. A few years ago when New Age guru and actress Shirley MacLaine gave a commencement address, she urged the graduates to focus on their “psychoactive energy centers.” She then warned the future fashion designers to not design clothing that would be too tight or restrictive. Shirley explained, “When the clothing is loose, the skin begins to become loose, and the soul has more room to roam around.” She said, “The looser the skin, the wiser you will become.” (I’d never before seen a correlation between the tightness of clothing and one’s mental acuity and wondered if Shirley MacLaine’s next new-age, best-seller would be entitled, “Your Mind Ain’t Right When Your Underwear’s Tight”)

Another eccentric and misguided celebrity is actress Drew Barrymore who described her special morning wake-up routine. She said, “I try to stay in bed for ten minutes to get my surroundings going. I ponder my place in the universe. Then I wash my face and tune into my psyche. I check my karma and get my balance for the day. Then I go out into the universe with a positive attitude and a strong shield of love.” (And you thought that all you needed was a strong cup of coffee!)

At my former job, a co-worker (also a high-level manager and division head) asked me one day what I “did for fun on the weekends.” I told him that I was a pastor and my church ministry was what I did for personal fulfillment. His face lit up and he told me that we had something in common! He proudly told me he was an ordained priest in a religion called Eckankar and, with the assistance of spirit guides, he teaches people how to astral travel. Astral travel is when you have an out- of-body experience where you go into a trance-like state and your soul leaves your body to travel to a different point in time or place. He told me that anyone can astral travel, but first we need to discard our “karmic debt” in order to free our soul. (Just think of the frequent flier miles this guy has!) 

These may seem like extreme examples of wacky religions, but as people have become more open to exploring non-biblical spirituality, these new-age, occultic beliefs have become more acceptable. Jesus calls us to take the Gospel to all people, but how do we communicate with those whose beliefs are so bizarre and so very different from ours? 

First, know that Christ died for all people so that those who believe in Him will have eternal life. John 3:16 Second, realize that everyone intrinsically recognizes the need for God in their life. Romans 1:19-20 (NLT) We will fill that “God-shaped” void with the genuine Creator or a creative counterfeit. People innately long for the real thing, but Satan slips some of them a substitute and blinds their eyes to the truth. 2 Cor 4:3-4 (NLT) Third, before you can communicate with them you need to connect with them. We need to build a relational bridge to a person before we can rescue them from spiritual danger. Col 4:5-6 (NLT) Fourth, once that connection is established, show them how God loves His children and give them the reason for your faith. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT) When you show God’s love in a manner that compels them to seek what you have, you can break through the most deeply embedded doctrine and allow God’s seeds to be planted. And Fifth, know that the battle for their soul is spiritual. Ephesians 6:12 The hard truth is that sometimes the Holy Spirit wins and sometimes the devil wins. Some will embrace the reality of God and others will reject Him. Our job is to just plant the seeds of the Gospel message, nourish them, and then step back and let God do the rest. 1 Cor 3:7  Amen?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What's Your Story?

Victor Garber as Jesus in the film version of the Broadway musical, GODSPELL.
Dear Friends,

One of the highlights of our recent Groovin’ To The Sixties event was when we all sang "Day By Day" at the end of the music program. "Day By Day" was the hit song from GODSPELL, the Broadway musical and movie. GODSPELL (think Gospel) was based on the book of Matthew and told the parables of Jesus set in the era and culture of the Sixties. “Jesus” wore a “Superman” shirt and had a red heart painted on his forehead. Really? Jesus with an “Afro” and dressed in a Superman shirt? Would the Son of God approve?

It’s interesting when we compare how Christians talk to unbelievers today with how Jesus spoke to unbelievers 2000 years ago. We tend to preach about God and Jesus. We quote scripture and explain theologically sound spiritual principles. But what Jesus often did was to simply tell some stories called parables that were set in a secular context. Jesus spoke to the city dwellers, farmers, shepherds, and craftsman in a manner that they could relate to. A parable is a simple story set in the context of the current culture that teaches a spiritual truth in terms that can be easily understood. These word-pictures from Jesus are memorable, filled with clear imagery and teach deep biblical truths. He talked about sheep, seeds, coins, weddings and banquets. While only a few parables mention God by name, God is found throughout the analogies, similes and metaphors in all of Jesus’ stories. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a good example. Luke 15:11-32

Jesus was a pretty smart guy when He was talking to non-believers. He could have quoted the Old Testament prophets, Jeremiah and Hosea, and shouted: “God will remember your iniquity and punish your sins!!” But we read over and over in the Old Testament that no one listened to the prophets. That’s why the people kept getting into trouble with God! So Jesus used a different technique. He was subtle. He was clever. He spoke into their lives using simple stories that had Kingdom concepts cleverly hidden within the narrative. So when people heard Jesus talk about “wheat and tares” or their farm animals, it didn’t sound like preaching to them. It didn’t look like He was going to go all religious on them so they let their guard down. Their ears were open and they listened. Sometimes at the end of the story, they realized Jesus was talking about God and His Kingdom and sometimes the truth wouldn’t hit them until later. A parable was even sometimes deliberately vague in order to encourage people to figure it out for themselves. Jesus knew the best way to get His point across was by telling the people a simple story that they could relate to. He knew that a parable would cause men and women to think, self-examine their relationship with God and respond to Him. That’s why Jesus told parables...

What we typically do is to tell those same Biblical stories from 2000 years ago to those seeking Christ. But can the fork lift operator who works in the warehouse relate to a story about lost sheep? Does the single mom struggling to feed her young children relate to a parable about a rich young ruler? What is that college student thinking when we’re using the example of the ten virgins and their oil lamps to make our point that he needs to be ready for Christ’s second coming? Can people who have never read the Bible relate to biblical stories from 2000 years ago? Sometimes they can. The Holy Spirit can do miracles. But what would Jesus tell them today?

If we follow the leading of the Master Communicator, Jesus Christ, we might want to use contemporary, real-life stories from today which illustrate God’s love, sovereignty and forgiveness. Sometimes in our zeal to share the love of Jesus Christ, we wind up whacking people upside the head with scripture when it would be more effective if we gently drew them in with the stories from our own life and from the lives of others. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you those incidents from your life which best illustrate God’s love, forgiveness, grace and mercy. Tell stories that contain spiritual principles and values. Stories that engage people and connect them with the reality of God. Stories that will make them think and turn their heart toward Jesus. And then introduce them to the Bible. Oh..and by the way, if God had sent His Son into the world in the late Sixties, Jesus probably would have worn a Superman shirt and painted a red heart on His forehead!  Amen?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Take a Vacation with God

Dear Friends,

What would be the one single thing for you to have that would most improve the quality of your life? Check one: ❑ More money? ❑ Better job? ❑ Nicer house? ❑ Healthier body? ❑ More God? While some of those may be difficult to obtain, if you picked “More God,” you can have that one right now. Guaranteed! Coming into the presence of God is to come into a place that we long for. Psalm 42:1-2 (NLT) But how do we do that? When our life is filled with worries, troubles and doubts – maybe even some doubts about God Himself – how do we go about living in God’s presence? 

The spiritual concept of living a life in the presence of God is rooted in the early church fathers and the monastic life, but there are also more Christian books, by modern authors, on that subject than any other. Formulas on how to pray, Bible reading plans, and instructions for regular and sustained fasting are thoroughly taught by the most respected Christian pastors and authors. Prayer, Bible study and fasting help me to grow in my faith as a Christian and follow my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but what brings me into God’s presence is not what I “do” but what I stop doing. If I want “More God,” instead of trying harder to do more, I often find that it’s more helpful to take a break and do less. Sometimes I need to stop striving for Christian perfection and take a vacation!

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God..” We read that and hear that as meaning: Be quiet. Be at peace. But the original Hebrew used here means to “quit struggling.” An expanded translation might sound like this: “Let go of striving and just kick back for awhile. Let go of trying to make something happen and relax to see what God is doing. Forget the religious rules and take a break. If you’re striving to accomplish the spiritual disciplines and you’re spinning your wheels and going nowhere, just stop and hang loose. Take a load off. Settle down. Quit struggling. Stop your fussing. Cut it out. Be still. Know that I am God. Relax. I will restore and refresh you, says the Lord. 

The Latin word for “Be Still” is the word “vacate” and it means the same in Latin and English. It means to vacate – to leave behind – the things we wrestle with and be free of those struggles. The word vacate is the root word for our word vacation. When we are taking a “vacation,” we have “vacated,” or left behind any worrisome work and home obligations and refocused our thoughts on a pleasurable getaway. We feel liberated from our day-to-day cares. Vacations are our free time and, in a sense, this Psalm is telling us to leave behind our striving and take a vacation with God. Empty out the clutter from your mind. When you can set aside your worries and troubles for a few minutes, you are free to relax before God and fully enjoy being in His presence. It’s as if God is saying: “Be still. Let’s you and Me take a vacation together.”

That’s what I need. When things get busy.. When the battle makes me weary.. When I’m discouraged.. When the scripture that tells me to “Rejoice always” is lost in a sea of stress.. When my feelings got hurt, or even worse, when I just realized that I hurt someone else’s feelings.. When my day gets tough.. That’s when I need a break. And God would say to me “Okay John. Cease your striving. You need a time-out. Let’s you and Me take a short five minute vacation right now.”

And a spiritual timeout with God doesn’t automatically mean it’s a time to become all religious and fervently pray. Prayer is appropriate at all times and in all circumstances, but we must be careful to not just simply exchange a frantic secular activity for a frantic spiritual activity. That’s not taking a vacation. It’s just substituting a different type of work at the same dysfunctional pace. That’s when God might say to you: “Be still. Quit striving. Stop fretting and fussing. Let’s you and Me take a break.” 

Sometimes we need to just be content to sit beside God and be with Him. No agenda. No non-stop prayer conversation. Just to sit a-spell with our Father and be still. The early church and the monastics called this “contemplation.” To just be there. Centering all your attention and desire on God and letting Him be the sole concern of your mind and heart. We desire to come into God’s presence not for what He can do for us but simply for who He is. And in His presence, we find His peace. Life can get tough and if you’re like me, you need a bunch of mini-vacations with God throughout your day. That’s when you’ll be walking alongside those deep Living Waters. You feel those stirrings of love in your heart for God. You feel His presence and His peace. He is restoring your soul. You are on a vacation with God. Amen?

The AMEN Corner is a weekly devotional for the family and friends of New Hope Family Church. It is intended for this devotional to be strengthening, encouraging or comforting and your comments too should be for the glory of God and reflect the intended purpose of these posts.

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