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Passion Week

As many of us know, Palm Sunday is the kick-off to Christ’s tour-de-force that leads to the culmination of His death and resurrection.  His last week is packed full of wonderful, powerful words and moments.  Who can ever forget the image of Mary breaking her jar of nard and anointing Jesus?  Even as I type it, it’s amazing.  There they are, having a party at the house of a man, Simon, who had been healed of leprosy – someone who would never have had the opportunity to entertain again if not for Jesus – and Mary offers a sacrifice worth a year’s salary! to Jesus that just runs down His feet to the floor.  What extravagance!  Wasteful said some, but is there any sacrifice too high for Christ?  Naturally we say no to the question, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty how miserly do we become with our worship of the Christ?

My meditation upon this one event, one of many in this “last” week alone, brings me to tears and to my knees.  I recognize in myself my lack faith and my lack of sacrifice.  Is there someone in our lives who we just can’t believe God could transform so extremely?  I mean, really, a former leper throwing a party at his home?  Who would have ever believed it possible?  Jesus did, and I believe that there are many in our communities who God wants to do the same.  And what condition of heart must we come to that we are willing to lay down a year’s salary on feet?  So many say that they’ll make sacrifices for returns, but this was a sacrifice that would be wasted as soon as He goes out in the dusty streets again with His sandals.  And then see what her worship does in the hearts around her.  Shock, indignation, and anger.  One even goes so far as to agree to betray Jesus the next day.  Does the worship and sacrifice of others draw us to worship alongside or to criticize?  Does it spur us on or do we dig in our spurs?

Let us take advantage of the upcoming week, slow down and look carefully and attentively at Christ’s last days.  I say attentively because I believe that Christ, who is not dead but alive, desires that we hear His voice speaking to us today.  It sounds so cliché, but there’s truth here and we would do well to stop, and reflect & meditate upon this week, a week we call the Passion Week but which should stir our passions for the Lover of our soul.  Mary knew something we would all do well to remember, her sacrifice was a drop in the ocean of sacrifice Christ’s love for her, and us.  When such an extravagant sacrifice can viewed as the least we can do to thank Him, we bring pleasure to the heart of God.

Here are a few links that may help in your time of reflection and meditation –

A Google earth view with the major events of Jesus’ week tagged – Google Maps “Passion Week”

A reflective video composed old masterpieces set to music

The Incarnate Body of Christ

Integrated circuit chip

Integrated circuit chip (Photo credit: takuyaabe)

We all talk about it, the downfall of civilization as we know it, the decline in people’s ability, capacity and even desire to commune together anymore.  FaceBook, Linkedin, MySpace, etc. we share more with complete strangers than any other civilization to date, but somehow we have fewer friends.  In fact, “friend” has come to mean something new completely for most people.  It’s even a verb in some people’s usage, but it is losing the intimate, truthful characteristic we once treasured.  In light of this, the church, especially our local one, gains a greater importance in the mental and emotional health of our society today.

Listen to what John Stott wrote in 1982 (!) in his book, I Believe in Preaching (p. 69):

It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today.  We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power.  Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary.  In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen.  In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.

30 years on and he nailed it, didn’t he?  Scripture exhorts us to not give up meeting together (cf. Heb. 10:25), because we need one another (there’s an amazing word study if you ever get bored, the one another‘s) in the fellowship of Christ to be whole.  Wholeness – spiritually, mentally, emotionally – is a precious gift God grants us through the restoration of fellowship with Him, a gift that many desperately need today.  And it’s one He wants to give us through His friendship to us testified by His coming to us, Jesus wants to “friend” us, are we too busy or too shallow to friend Him?

The Lion in The Lamb

I was working in the schools a couple of weeks ago when the teacher I was helping read this book to the kids in class.  I came home and told the story to my kids, who of course loved it and laughed out loud.  Well, during my sermon preparation this week the story came back to my mind.  And the Internet being what it is, I discovered that Disney had made a film in 1952 of the same story, not told (I might add) as well as the teacher did in class, but the lesson at the end is worthwhile.

The teacher had chosen the story because kids can be so cruel to anyone who is the slightest bit different.  Making other kids the butt of their jokes, saying mean things, excluding them from games, etc. etc.  It was a good reminder to the kids in her class that it will be ok if they’re a bit different, and a good word to those who might be promoting the hostility.  But I walked away with another theme that had been highlighted in some the events going on in our local church presently.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…”  And this is true because as Christians we are called to be meek and gentle, but this excludes another aspect that Christ portrays – the Lion of the tribe of Judah.  So in the heart of the Lamb of God is a Lion that when roused can be very frightening and effective against the wolves.  We read Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-29, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.

God has a funny way of setting up traps for the enemy.  Think of Pharaoh drawn into the Red Sea, or Gideon’s “mighty” army of 300.  In each instance, just like in the Disney film below, God allows the enemy to be drawn in through the apparent “swallowing up” of the innocent, but what in effect was the “coup de grace.”  We see this especially upon the Cross, the death of Jesus was celebrated by His enemies but proved to be the weapon which delivered the world from the power of sin and death.  The language of Colossians 2:14-15 is reflective of the “spectacle” the Roman Emperors would make of their enemies in the streets of Rome after a great campaign; Christ’s cross was His terrible bite.

Don’t be fooled, the Lamb is the Lion!

The Science of Glossolalia

Pentecostés. Óleo sobre lienzo, 275 × 127 cm. ...

Pentecostés (El Greco, 1597)

While prepping this week’s sermon, I was once again inundated with research that just can’t reasonably fit into a Sunday morning.  Now, our church is extremely patient with me, I’m afraid that my sermons never stay within the politically correct 30-minute “pocket sermon,” and for that I am very grateful – thanks everyone!  So it should be somewhat encouraging to them that there are things that I leave out of the message, although I am very tempted at times just to make it into a sequel, but so far I’ve held back.

This week’s sermon treating the Kingdom of God within us, as opposed to in our city which we talked about last Sunday, opens the door to the discussion of God’s very real power and omnipotence through the expression of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  I am one that believes that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is often a second experience after salvation, although it does not always have to be.  But this is not a discussion of that, there is a previous post on that, what I would like to share here is the large amount of scientific research that has been done on the gift of “glossoloalia,” or speaking in tongues.  I was frankly quite surprised by the large amount of research that has been done.  I know full well that there are many people who oppose the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues which seems to get a lot of people riled up.  However, there are some interesting studies that have been done and which deserve some of our attention.  I will list them below with links for anyone who would like to do more reading on the subject, some of the research require purchasing the paper, but the summaries alone are informative.

1.  The Influence of the Charismatic Movement on Local Church Life: A Comparative Study Among Anglican Rural, Urban and Suburban Churches; “This study employs multiple regression analysis to examine the influence of the charismatic movement on three samples of Anglican churches: 1,553 churches in villages and rural communities, 983 churches in urban communities, and 584 churches in suburban communities. The data demonstrate that the charismatic movement has taken root among Anglicans most securely in urban environments and least securely in rural environments. In all three environments the charismatic movement is associated with positive signs of church growth.http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/135379000112170#

2. Are Charismatic Clergy more satisfied with their ministry?  A study among male parochial clergy in the Church of England by Leslie Francis “A sample of 1,276 male stipendiary parochial clergy working in the Church of England completed the Revised Ministerial Job Satisfaction Scale and an index of charismatic involvement, together with the short-form Revised Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. After controlling for age and personality, charismatic clergy record higher levels of job satisfaction in comparison with clergy not influenced by the charismatic movement.”  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13674670210144086#

3. Personality and Glossolalia: A Study Among Male Evangelical Clergy by Leslie Francis   “A sample of 991 male clergy affiliated with the Evangelical Alliance in the United Kingdom completed the short-form Revised Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, together with a question regarding the practice of glossolalia. The data demonstrated that glossolalia was correlated positively with extraversion, correlated negatively with neuroticism, and unrelated to psychoticism.  Glossolalia was associated with stable extraversion, and contrary to some theories, completely unrelated to psychopathology.”  http://www.springerlink.com/content/k686r04981725456/

4.  Psychological type profile of Lead Elders within the Newfrontiers network of churches in the United Kingdom by Leslie Francis, “The study shows that Newfrontiers Lead Elders display slight preferences for extraversion over introversion, for sensing over intuition, and for thinking over feeling, and a strong preference for judging over perceiving. These findings contrast with the profile of Church of England clergymen who prefer introversion over extraversion, intuition over sensing, and feeling over thinking, but who also display a less pronounced preference for judging over perceiving.”  Psychological type profile of Lead Elders within the Newfrontiers network of churches in the United Kingdom

5.  Psychological type preferences of male British Assemblies of God Bible College students: tough-minded or tender-hearted? by Leslie Francis “The finding that the current sample of male British Assemblies of God bible college students prefers thinking suggests that thinking types within the Christian churches may find their preferences better nurtured and utilized among denominations like the British Assemblies of God. Put another way, the finding suggests that those attracted to the Pentecostal and charismatic movement have a disposition to utilise thinking for making decisions and organising their lives. This preference for thinking highlights a number of points of potential strength in the British Assemblies of God. Members of this denomination with well-developed thinking preferences may exercise skill in using logical judgement, for example, in the area of discerning and interpreting spiritual gifts. Likewise, thinking types within the British Assemblies of God may be able to apply objective criteria impersonally to problem-solving when dealing with moral issues. They may have the tough-minded and self-disciplined attitude which enables them to act with integrity in the face of temptation.”  Psychological type preferences of male British Assemblies of God Bible College students: tough-minded or tender-hearted?

6. Features associated with speaking in tongues (Glossolalia) by Brian Grady. “Glossolalia was reported by those who practised it to be a frequent, usually daily occurrence, more likely to happen out of religious settings than in them. It was reported to be more likely while driving, relaxing or engaged in domestic activities (thus in relatively private settings), than in explicitly religious contexts or activities. Typically the emotions reported are  positive, calm ones, or sometimes “no particular” emotions.  Glossolalia was described as a spiritually helpful part of daily life, and as a (powerful) form of prayer. This “profile” of glossolalia is surprising, challenging the general view of glossolalia which is well encapsulated by the control group. There is no reason to suppose that the informants were atypical of white, British, Pentecostal Christians, but clearly information from a larger number of informants from a wider range of charismatic and Pentecostal groups would be important.  Those had not practised glossolalia saw it differently. These differences were more pronounced among those who had not even witnessed glossolalia (the controls). The non-glossolalics believed that glossolalia occurs less than daily, and that it normally occurs in religious settings and while engaged in religious activities, that it is accompanied by high-arousal, usually positive emotions (ecstasy and the like), and that its salient social meanings and functions are in promoting unity among church members…. A possible implication is that there are two forms of glossolalia, the public and the private. Private glossolalia may be practised by adept “speakers” – so there is hypothetical developmental sequence, in which “speaking” in public is mastered first. It is features of public glossolalia which are observable to others, and it is features of public glossolalia which may appear in forms of psychopathology.”  Features associated with speaking in tongues

7. The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during glossolalia: A preliminary SPECT study by Andrew Newberg “It is interesting that the frontal lobes showed decreased perfusion during glossolalia, but this is consistent with the subjects’ description of a lack of intentional control over the performance of glossolalia… We have previously argued, and found, decreased activity in the SPL (superior parietal lobe) during meditation in which there is a described loss of the sense of self.  However, glossolalia was not associated with a loss of the sense of self and there were no  significant decreases in the SPL…  That there were changes in several brain structures suggests that there is complex brain activity during this unusual practice.”  The Measurement of regional blood flow during glossolalia: A prelim SPECT study and NY Times

The Subversive Nature of the KOG

As I was preparing this week’s topic “Jesus the King and His Kingdom on earth,” I was struck by so many thoughts that just wouldn’t fit into a Sunday sermon.  One word that came back again and again was “subversive.”  Now I recognize that subversive is probably not the most holy sounding word within our vocabulary, but when we realize the suffering condition of the world at large today, the health of the Church on whole, the growing physical and social menace to Christians, and ever-increasing philosophies of this age denying Absolute Truth and idolizing hedonism – I feel it safe to say that the Kingdom of God is subversive.  To say that Jesus is King, not just Tomorrow but Today, should lead a believer into doing some crazy stuff for Jesus.  And indeed, we see that in the lives of many.  However, even more Christians fail to recognize what His Kingdom on earth should mean in their day-to-day life.  Os Guinness said, “God has His people where He wants them.  The problem is that they are not being His people where they are.

Our society today is in a giant whirlpool and we seem to be going around in circles but at en ever-increasing rate of speed all the while being drawn into a vortex that will suck the life out of us.  Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” but what he failed to mention is that we will be going faster and deeper each time around.  Ours is not the first society that has seen profound dissension between the people and its government, ours is not the first to see hedonism on center stage in ways that would shame our parents, ours is not the first to the violence of anger and the violence of injustices.  But at each epoch, God calls His Church to be “in but not of” the world, and this not mean the “super-Christians” to unveil their capes and rescue the poor & suffering, but for each and every one to grasp the hand of whom is next to him/her and draw them into still waters.

Jesus’ words and His Kingdom are subversive.  They are out-and-out contrary and frankly, traitorous, to the established treacherous, deceitful and evil regime that grows across national borders and in & through the hearts of men.  When we proclaim that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, we must be prepared to live that out in our workspace and in our choice of entertainment.  Many believe that the Kingdom of God will come one day and that we will all go and “be with Jesus.”  But if that’s the case, why did Jesus command us to pray that His Kingdom would come, why do we read that the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven and be with us here on Earth?  No, our life’s purpose should be to see His Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven, now.  Certainly we can’t consummate heaven on Earth until Jesus returns, which He will, but we can work to prepare His Bride to be without spot or blemish to the best of our ability by His grace and mercy.

I’ve added a link in the next column to Darrow Miller’s Monday Church Project, which has some great books and bible studies, some studies in PDF to download for people of differing professions.  So that we can each one bring His Kingdom to our locale with His help for His Glory.

Therefore, be Christ where you live and work.  Be subversive by forgiving those who hate you, blessing those that curse you, going the extra mile, turning the cheek, and just putting Jesus first in all you do so that we may proclaim by our lives and words – Jesus is the King of kings Today!

Sharing our testimony

One of the greatest challenges in life is sharing our deep-set beliefs with other people.  Some are very good at it, others can come across poorly.  Sharing our faith is meant to a personal expression of who we are because in reality, what’s more intimate than your spirit and your faith?  We see many movies and TV shows that make other “obvious” intimate encounters so public they become lewd, but the sharing of our faith still remains something that many unashamed celebrities are too shy to talk about.

This is especially difficult when sharing with people who are already set into a system of beliefs.  We may feel it’s judgmental or arrogant to share our faith with these sort of people, whether they’re Muslim or Mormon, but we must ask ourselves a profound question.  How true are the words of the Bible?  When Jesus says very clearly in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me…“, just how serious are we to take that?  Is He really absolutely the only way to God the Father, or was He exaggerating or mistaken in some way?  If He’s mistaken or was exaggerating, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, why should we believe anything else He said?  No really, why?  Because I like it?  Just imagine how bad that philosophy will take you.  But if Jesus spoke the truth, then do we not have an obligation to share “the way, the truth, and the life” with everyone, even those “comfortable” in other beliefs?  The answer should be a resounding, if not a humble, “yes!

Therefore I would encourage all believers everywhere to not be shy about sharing your faith.  If Jesus is THE way, then every other way is taking people, loved ones and strangers, someplace far less than perfect – far less (intentional understatement).  Check out the following video that I found recently, it’s a great testimony of discovering a Biblical faith by people already committed elsewhere.  When, or if, you finish the video, be sure to check out their website, Adam’s Road, and listen to some of their free music and check out their free material.

Global War on Christianity Recognized

Infidel

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Baroness Warsi, minister without portfolio, sp...

Baroness Warsi

Today, two unlikely supporters of the Church have spoken out against the silent war on Christianity.  We all know that Christians and Christianity are spoken against in politics, media and universities, but now some encouragement from an unexpected quarter has come out.  The first is by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim from Somalia who is now an atheist, and the second by Baroness Warsi, a British Muslim minister.

This is a refreshing piece of news, and shocking in that it is being publicly spoken about.  One of Warsi’s outstanding statements was, “Europe needs to become more confident in its Christianity... Too often there is a suspicion of faith in our continent [Europe]. It all hinges on a basic misconception: That to create equality and space for minorities we need to erase our religious heritage.”
Read the articles at:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali:The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World

The rise of the ‘militant secularists’: Muslim minister calls on Christians to stand up for their faith

Update to our newsletters

Just wanted to put a brief word out there that on the eve of Matt’s departure for Benin tomorrow we have added a recent newsletter to our other blog at: http://atacora.wordpress.com/newsletters/

 

Even more changes to the blog

I have made some more changes to the blog now that will be of special interest to our members.  I have removed the password protection on the “Sermon Notes” and “Sermon Podcasts” so that it will be easier for people to access them.  These are not perfect by any means, but hopefully this will allow everyone to better explore on their own some of these themes and subjects.  I look forward to adding more people on the audio part of the sermons as we have more people sharing from the pulpit.

Religious freedom: Christians and lions

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer

Image via Wikipedia

Here is a great article by one the leading international magazines citing the problem of the persecution of Christians.  Recent bombings and killings in Nigeria have taken the headlines, but persecution of Christians around the globe has risen significantly.  There exists a knee-jerk reaction within American politics that says we can’t get involved because of “separation of church and state” issues, meanwhile thousands upon thousands are suffering worldwide.  Sadly, this reaction also seems to be mostly exclusive to the Christian faith.  The media will often overlook the religious element of stories because of the preponderance of bias against Christians, which without understanding the religious clash taking place makes the story unfathomable.

Allowing and promoting religious liberty not only does not breach the constitutional clause concerning the institution of a state church, it is the duty of our nation to stand for these freedoms around the world if we are to be true to our national values and beliefs.  The cry “separation of church and state” has been twisted from the founders’ intentions of liberty to become a bludgeon used upon the church, especially the Christian church, to push it further and further into a corner, and a dark one at that.

As Christians we should expect persecution and love our enemies despite their hate.  Hating back in no way conforms to the model of Christ and the apostles, but as American citizens with rights, we would be delinquent to not speak up, especially for the many thousands who do not have a voice.

Religious freedom: Christians and lions | The Economist.