Archive - November, 2009

Jesus, the Intercessor.

Sharing a thought from Fireseeds of Spiritual Awakening  by Dan Hayes:

“What is Jesus doing today? Hebrews 7:25 tells us, “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to interceded for them.” Jesus Christ  is continually interceding for us in heaven today. He has not stopped… We are always on His mind, and He is always presenting us before the Father.

S.D. Gordon comments, “The Lord Jesus is still praying. Thirty years of living; thirty years of serving; one tremendous act of dying; nineteen hundred [make that two thousand] years of prayer” (104).

He has always been interceding  for us. I am reminded of  and humbled by the passage in John 17 where Jesus spends the last moments before His arrest praying for us and our ministries. If the prayers of a righteous man are effective, how much greater are the prayers of God Himself? How can we fail and what shall we fear when the over two thousand years of God prayers are covering us?

And, if we are called to love one another like He loved us (John 13:34), what does that say about our role as intercessors?

Open Hands

Take a few minutes to listen to this song before you read any further. Here is the link (ignore the corny, poorly assembled slideshow and just listen).

I heard it for the first time this morning, and was instantly hit with that gut feeling of conviction. In case you missed the lyrics when listening. This is what hits me…

“And I lift my hands open wide let the whole world sing
how you’ve loved, how you died, how you set me free!
Free at last I surrender all I am with open hands
with open hands

To finally let go of my plans
These earthly kingdoms built of sand
Jesus at your cross I stand with open hands”

Oh, conviction. How I both welcome and despise you simultaneously. Even as I am finally celebrating where God is calling me- after much resistance and stupidity- this song made me realize that I still am clenching my fists.  Rather than throwing them up to fight with God, I am now keeping a tight grip on my not so distant plan. The game plan: finish school, one year Chi Alpha internship, seminary, and then crazy life of wherever God leads.  A crazy life of traveling, speaking, teaching, representing Father, Son and Spirit….
I realized earlier today that there are still things in this plan that I am unwilling to hold in an open hand. For example, someone asked me if I was considering going straight into the field without a seminary degree. Immediately I asserted that “there is no way I am not going to seminary first”. I truly believe that I will go to seminary, simply because of the personality God has given me and the insight He has shared with me about my future. However, my attitude is not one of surrender or availability. What if God doesn’t want me to go right away or if He wants me to do it online? It may look different than what I plan for it to look like, it might not, but either way… I need to hold it in an open hand.
Other things I am holding in a closed fist include friendships that I don’t want to risk,  fears I don’t want to confront, concepts of homes and family that I would rather not consider, labels that I don’t want to wear, and talents that I am afraid will be under utilized. To be more specific, I will elaborate on the last one: I am terrified that God won’t let me preach or that I will suck at it because I know that I am an amazing public speaker in other settings. That defining character trait is something that I can’t let go of, but what if it has no place in God’s greater plan for my life.
Despite knowing who Christ is and what He has done and a little bit about where He is leading me in the future… I am still folding my arms or shoving my hands in my pocket,  trying to have some control, some comfort, some contentment to hold on to…

On  Matt Papa’s myspace page, he offers this commentary on his song:

“You have to live before God with open hands. We may have our plans and ideas, but at any moment, Christians, unlike the world, have to be ready to drop anything and totally do something else if God is calling us to,” Papa says. “It’s a very strange life, yet it’s exactly how Jesus wants our hands to be—open and available. We need to embrace the idea of anything He wants to change, anything He wants to take, it’s Yours now.”

Oh, it’s possible..

Once again, I’m sitting in Psych of Religion class daydreaming about seeing the moves of God that the professor is analyzing, criticizing, mocking. Earlier this week, we looked at the psychology of demonic possession and spiritual warfare. Today we are discussing faith healing and prayer. Everything the professor says is going in one ear and out the other. Instead of listening my mind is elsewhere. On an adrenaline rush. What if our campus saw these things? What if we saw demonic oppression lifted and people healed? Would the professor believe in Jesus then? Would those in my class who are snickering take a little more time to consider the possibility that this supernatural expressions of God’s power do actually happen?

“These people think that they are vessels of God. They think that  God’s power flows through them to touch others. That’s why they believe this.  For some reason, people believe prayer works.” Damn straight professor,  we are vessels. God’s power  does flow through us, and prayer does move mountains. It is true. I believe it. I’ve seen it. Unfortunately, I don’t act like it.  What if we acted like we believed God is who He says He is?

Class has transitioned to kinds of prayer; our professor is explaining the different ways religious folk pray and camping out in the controversial nature of intercession. “You can’t prove that it works, prayer just helps the prayer”. What if he saw an answered prayer, would he think differently? Would he still tell his classes that this is all merely psychological? What would happen if my classmates saw that it isn’t  just in our heads? What if they saw a real movement of God before their very eyes on our campus?

My excitement contemplating the possibilities is also breaking my heart. My class doesn’t know that God loves them, that He died for them, that He gave them eternal life if only they would call on His name, that He left His Spirit to comfort, counsel, guide until His return. They laugh and mock because they don’t know Jesus, and that makes me want to cry. So I sit in class, half listening with both an adrenaline rush and teary eyes. I can’t convince my class that God is real and active…. but He can.  Oh, what if… just what if…what if His people prayed and He moved? On this campus? In our city?

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

 ”What if the armies of the Lord
Picked up and dusted off their swords
Vowed to set the captive free
And not let satan have one more

What if the Church, for heaven’s sake
Finally stepped up to the plate
Took a stand upon God’s promise
And stormed hell’s rusty gates”
- Casting Crowns, What if His people prayed

Spurgeon  once said” prayer itself is an art which only the Holy Ghost can teach us. He is the giver of all prayer. Pray for prayer- pray till you can pray”. Lord, I pray  for prayer. I pray that we would pray until we really know how to pray for this campus. I pray that we would pray the prayers that you want us to pray and that your Spirit would move…

Lamentations and praise.

In the midst of utter destruction, poverty so extreme that it lead to cannibalism, and a spiritual void of the darkest variety, the author of lamentations writes this in chapter 3:

 20 …. my soul is downcast within me.
 21 Yet this I call to mind
       and therefore I have hope:
 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
       for his compassions never fail.
 23 They are new every morning;
       great is your faithfulness.
 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
       therefore I will wait for him.”
 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
       to the one who seeks him
 26 it is good to wait quietly
       for the salvation of the LORD.

Sometimes, I feel like I am in a spiritual wasteland. On Mondays we discuss the media manipulation and brainwashing of modern idolatry. Then, I proceed to attend a class looking at mythology and how cultures develop lies to meet their storytelling needs. Tuesdays I learn about Eastern religious all with false senses of nirvana and  ultimate reality , and then attend a class that tries to convince me I am crazy because I am religious. Then Weds, I talk about Jewish views of death and my heart breaks as we discuss a culture who loves God, but doesn’t realize that their Messiah has come. On the streets, homeless men approach me to discuss the madness of the world and the coming apocalypse. My eyes well up with tears as I see the effects of  our broken society: the economic poverty in the streets and  and the spiritual poverty of postmodern relativism in academia.  I swear that the shadows I see in the distance are sometimes more than shadows. My gut feeling confirms that something is fogging our city: sin, pride, deception, power, greed, depression… the depravity of man and spiritual bonds that hold him in his endless cycle of despair.

I think I understand why  the sight of the city brought Jesus to tears. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41-42).  Our city doesn’t see Jesus or the peace that comes with loving and trusting Him. The peace of knowing that His compassion led Him to give His very life on the cross, the peace of His great faithfulness, the peace of assurance of His redeeming love…. peace is hidden.

Last night we prayed for our campus to have open eyes, open ears, and open hearts to encounter the real, the powerful, the transforming, the supernatural character of God.  We prayed for the fog to be lifted, for the veil to be broken, for the scales to fall away.  Last night, someone declared that even as we come down from the mountain to find idolatry in the desert, God is still the same and He is still good and He is still worthy to be praised.  Lord, we pray that you will break us, mold us, and transform us so that you may be magnified and exalted in this place. We pray that this campus will know your peace.

As I type this I chuckle because the Word says that  Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34) . Uh… how powerful and applicable a word right now. In order for us to share that peace that surpasses all understanding with the world (Phil 4:7), we must wield  the sword that Christ asked us to prepare ourselves with when He was preparing to be betrayed (Luke 22:36).  The sword symbolizing protection, division, the raw power that comes with the living God.  Peter thought he meant a literal sword, but Christ has empowered us with something so much greater- the sword of the Spirit (eph. 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). To know peace, we often become acquainted with the division of the sword first.  The truth of what we know from the Word of God and the guidance of His Spirit will cause division. We must trust that our God is bigger than this division, and show His love to those around us so that they maybe drawn closer to Him.  Truth separates and love unites .. so truth and love always go hand in hand… and we must be armed with both.

These times of trials, division, lamentations help us understand why we praise.  We’ve seen the alternative to Christ, and know that our only hope is in Him and He is good to those who seek Him- good in His terms, not ours. Good means blessing, but also chastening.. it means prosperity, but also sacrifice… it means victory, but also warfare…. good means whatever it takes for us to be a little more like Christ so that His name can be glorified.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is hard to see the good while in the season of lamentation.  In these times, I find myself continually reminding myself of the wisdom of Lamentations as captured by the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth 
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand besides!

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy Hand has provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

My prayer right now is one day at a time. Lord give us each strength for today and hope for tomorrow. Center our eyes back on your cross, back on your compassion, and your mercy. Help us seek your goodness and receive your mercies everyday. And when the good seems far off, remind us to wait for your salvation. Your hand is always near. ” And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

Everything… according to your purpose…

“Just a stranger on the bus”

Last night, I thought about Hebrews 11 for awhile, shared Hebrews 12 at  evening prayer, and found myself challenged by Hebrews 13 on the bus ride home.

It’s a little after midnight. I board my second bus on my commute home, practically empty as usual and proceed my usual seat by the back door. A man enters and sits directly in front of me, turns around and initiates small talk. “Going home, from school, AU, religious studies… ” the usual string of appropriate responses. He says he is from Ethiopia and that he works here. Asks if I am Catholic. “No, just Christian.” The man explains that it is “good chance” that we meet. Says we were meant to be friends. Asks if we can talk religion. Sure, fifteen minute ride home… I could handle talking about Jesus for that long. He asks for my number. What? “Your number, I saw your cell phone, we will be friends and we can talk more”. Uh, I’m stuck in a corner. How to get out of it. I have identified myself as a Christian, I know that this man is from another culture… how do I not give him my contact information with out disrespecting him or defaming God. With some hesitation, I obliged. Conversation continued… about religion and culture… and as I stepped off the bus, he promised that we would speak again. 

I am not sure if that would be a great idea. I am not sure why some random African man decided that we should be friends on a bus, and I am not sure if he called me if I would answer it. What I am sure of is that I cannot claim Christ and then cast judgment upon strangers, ignoring the opportunity to share Christ’s love with them. 

Hebrews 13:2 says this: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” 

I’m not saying that he was an angel- actually I would be surprised if he was- but I am recognizing the command to not forget strangers, but rather to entertain them. What exactly does that mean?  After some geeky probing, I think it would be more accurate to say “Do not neglect to care for  and love strangers because some have shown hospitality to messengers of God without ever knowing it”.

As Mathew Henry elaborates ” he seems to speak of strangers such; though we know not who they are, nor whence they come, yet, seeing they are without any certain dwelling place, we should allow them room in our hearts and in our houses, as we have opportunity and ability.”

Weird encounter on a bus? Yes, but also an opportunity to show love towards a stranger. I may not be offering housing, meals, and the things which were required of those “entertaining strangers” in Biblical times. But I did have the ability to share a conversation with him and the comfort of having a phone number of a new friend. I gave him a reach card for church, perhaps he will come by… perhaps he will call me… perhaps I shall never see him again. Regardless, I feel like I did what I could with the opportunity and ability I had in that moment.

It brings new meaning to the slightly annoying  song  lyrics “What if God were one of us.. just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home”. Would we walk past him? Or would we see him, converse with him, clothe him, feed him and offer hospitality to him as we are able?

“When did we see you a stranger and invite you in….?”  Lord, when did I have a conversation with you on the bus ride home? “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 38,40)

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