No Power, No Game – A Key Lesson from the Super Bowl!

Mercedes-Benz Superdome
photo credit: Sheepdog24 via photopin cc

It was an odd moment in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome suddenly went half black. The players and coaches stood befuddled, the broadcasters went ominously quiet, and the television cameras simply panned the half-darkened ceiling of the massive dome. Nobody really knew what was going on but one thing was certain—no power meant no game. At least for the next 34 minutes.

As I begin to wrap up this series on violence, I can’t help but make an observation that is somewhat critical of the conservative community standing in total opposition to any form of gun control. This is quite difficult for me to do because I have quite a few good friends I might possibly offend.

The New Testament clearly emphasizes that God has given His church powerful spiritual weapons for the purpose of advancing His kingdom.

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (Phillips)

I understand that the primary context of this passage is the Apostle Paul writing about truth as our primary weapon for breaking down enemy strongholds; however, in the greater context of the New Testament, we find that truth is not our only spiritual weapon.

Receiving from God
photo credit: kelsey_lovefusionphoto via photopin cc

In His final words before ascending into heaven, Jesus made something quite clear to His followers—He would empower them, through the person of the Holy Spirit, to do all that He called them to do.

But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth. Acts 1:8 (AMP)

In addition to His awesome truth and the amazing power of prayer, God has invested within the heart of every true believer a power that far exceeds anything that the human race could ever envision. Unfortunately, for the most part, it is a power that lies dormant as we pursue a multitude of other methods to satisfy our lives and to do ministry.

A fundamental strategy of any type of warfare is to attempt to disarm the power of the enemy. And I must say that, for the most part, Satan has done an effective job of getting the Christian church to lay down its weaponry. We often give minimal attention to the truth of God’s word, a lesser amount to individual and corporate prayer, and even less to operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The church has been effectively disarmed to the point of having minimal influence in a society being overrun by dark forces.

Gun Rights Rally
photo credit: Elvert Barnes via photopin cc

Our reasons for allowing this to happen may be many but I think they are as weak as our spiritual vitality. In the end, we are either ignorant of God’s power available to us or we aren’t willing to pay the price to lay hold of all that He has for us. Perhaps it is a mix of both, but either way, I can’t help but wonder how the spiritual landscape in America would look if we as conservative Christians were as outraged at the loss of our spiritual weaponry as we are about the possibility of losing our gun rights.

Still, there is good news in all of this! If we will only take the time to dig deeper into His word to discover the power and authority available to us, if we will fast from food and some of our media, if we will spend extended time in prayer seeking His face, God will gladly restore the church what has been lost and neglected. Although God’s power is readily available to every believer, generally, it does not come as easily and quickly for us as it should. Deliberate and extended effort may be necessary.

No Power, No Game! We can whine and complain all we want, but unless we take up the call to spiritual arms, the spiritual landscape of our nation won’t be changing any time soon.

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The Manifest Presence of God

Steve, a student who occasionally attended our campus ministry meetings, found himself in the midst of a year and half long struggle with depression. On one particular evening I spoke about the importance of Christians seeking the presence of God. Steve seemed a little skeptical, but proved determined nonetheless. He knew he needed something more from God. Later that evening Steve spent 2-3 hours in prayer doing nothing more than crying out for God to reveal Himself. That night our heavenly Father touched Steve in such a real way that his depression completely lifted! An instant in God’s manifest presence can do more than a lifetime of human effort.

Even though He dwells within us, even though our spiritual senses have been brought to life, experiencing God’s manifest presence is not automatic. (Many of us have actually been taught that God no longer relates to humans in tangible ways.) This is where I believe it is essential for us to seek Him by faith. God wants to have a dynamic relationship with His children in this life. But do we really believe that?

Photo by Sam Hakes

Recently I received a gospel tract that included this sinner’s prayer:

“Dear God, I admit I am a sinner on my way to Hell. I believe that you died for me. Please save me from my sin and take me to Heaven when I die. Thank you for saving me. Amen.”

There was nothing of a personal relationship with a living God, only a distant hope for a blissful eternity. Any gospel that seeks to proclaim a message of salvation apart from a very real relationship with God in this life, certainly isn’t the full Gospel.

But even when we do present the Gospel in light of a personal relationship with God, do we give any indication of what that means? How do we have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe? Does He stop by for an evening stroll like He did with Adam & Eve? Does His presence overtake us and we fall to the ground as with Abraham or Daniel? Do we see Him high and lifted up on His throne as Isaiah did? Does He speak to us audibly the way He did to Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus? While all of these are possible, it’s safe to say that they don’t represent the everyday norm for a New Covenant believer.

The Apostle John recorded some fascinating words spoken by the Christ prior to His crucifixion:

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7 (NASB)

Photo by Sam Hakes

Wow! Could He really mean that? What Christian wouldn’t give an arm and a leg to walk with the incarnate Christ for three and a half years? But if the words of Jesus are to be trusted, and we supposedly believe they are, there is a path of life even better than seeing and walking and talking with Him in the flesh.

Is this a relationship we have by faith, believing that He’s there, but not really having any type of interaction? While faith is always integral to walking with God, it seems to me that this wouldn’t be a relationship at all. Prayerful communication going only in one direction is more of a monologue than anything else. No, there’s something more that God has for us. It’s the very real manifestation of His presence by which He makes Himself known to His children in ways that we are able to perceive.

When we are born from above, our spiritual senses are brought to life; meaning we can learn to hear His voice, at times feel His presence in a very tangible way, and in a spiritual sense, see His face.

Photo by Clarita – morgueFile

I suppose this is where the Gospel begins to move from comforting to scary for some people. The idea that God will always be with me comforts me greatly. But to think that I can hear His voice, well that changes things. I mean, how do I know when it’s actually Him speaking? Will I end up like the crazy guy who shot people in the mall because “God told him to do it”?

Let’s be bluntly honest; many of us prefer a form of religion over a relationship with God. Religious form is neat and tidy, like a basket tied up with ribbons and decorated with pretty bows. Relationships are unpredictable—especially a relationship with God.

The importance of God’s written Word cannot be overestimated when it comes to learning to accurately hear God’s voice, but we also need to understand that there is more to the indwelling presence of God than simply believing by faith that He is there. Our loving Lord wants to manifest His presence to us in so many ways. But do we want Him to?

Just a Little Taste of Heaven

Perhaps you’ve done the reunion thing. You pull into the parking lot and sit for a second (a bit of a knot in your stomach), contemplating what lies ahead. The big question is how you look–or more appropriately–how you will look compared to your former classmates. How much hair’s been lost or grayed, how much weight gained, how many wrinkles added. You think about how your career track is panning out, wondering whether Bill or Joe are making more money than you and how much they’ll try to rub that in.

Sure there’s a part of you that wants to see old friends, but you remember all too well the unbending standards for appearance and performance that defined your school days. When reunion time rolls around, from some unknown storage closet, those standards immediately inundate your heart and mind. You certainly don’t want to come up short this many years after graduation!

But this was no ordinary reunion.

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s we were all involved in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Nationally, Chi Alpha is a ministry of the Assemblies of God, but we were kind of a rogue group having lost those connections somewhere through the corridors of time.

College life certainly had its difficulties for many of us, but in retrospect that really was a special time. Not only were we able to build many meaningful relationships, God was moving in powerful ways with many lives (mine included) being dramatically changed. Transformation is often a messy process, but that doesn’t make it any less good. We spent a short but rich time together, and then, like knights on white horses, we all rode off to change the world.

Now here we were 30 years later. In spite of our well laid plans, I don’t think that anybody’s lives turned out as expected. Some traveled career paths with little resemblance to their college majors. Others experienced unexpected pain and adversity. Still others had endured long seasons of dryness. Of course, there was so much to celebrate—children, and a myriad of stories to share.

But what really stood out to me was the love! It didn’t really matter whether who (if anybody) met societal standards of financial income or physical appearance. We weren’t overly concerned about whether someone’s kids were now rocket scientists or ambassadors to foreign lands. I’m sure we all made small judgments of some sort (it’s really hard not to), but for the most part we were excited just to see and love on one another. Our short weekend together in the midst of a heat-baked summer held an almost mystical feel that can only be attributed to the manifest love of our Creator.

I can’t help but wonder sometimes what it is that makes heaven to be heaven. Seriously, is it  really about big mansions and streets of gold? I don’t think so. Not only will we dwell in the very presence of God, but we’ll be totally at peace with who we are. No standards. No judgments. No criticism. Heaven will be defined by the full fruit of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross–total acceptance by our Creator and by one another.

You may have noticed that we’re not in heaven yet. How we live this life does matter. The world around us in not very accepting. Even our own judgmental thoughts must still be cast down. We don’t yet see Jesus face to face. Still, even in this broken mixed up world, we can experience little tastes of heaven. In the coming days may they be the norm and not the exception!

The Secret of the Wilderness

I’ve thought long and prayed hard in an effort to understand the secret of the Apostle Paul’s contentment. Could it have been the awareness that God causes all things to work to the good of those who love Him? Or perhaps the glorious reward Paul would receive in heaven some day? While I don’t think those unimportant, I remain convinced that he was referring to something greater still.

Photo by reim11 - MorgueFile

I believe that Paul’s secret was to be identified with Christ. The concept almost sounds too simple, but yet is all encompassing.

We can catch hints of Paul’s motivation as we read through his letter to the Philippians:

“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” Philippians 1:21 (NET)

“But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11 (NET)

Wow! Paul’s inward motivation was certainly evidenced by his outward actions.

I’m especially struck by the way the NET Bible translates verse 7: “But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ.” The very things that Paul once thought to be most important had actually become obstacles to His goal of knowing Christ.

It’s interesting to note that the primary context of those liabilities refers not to stuff as we seem to naturally interpret, but primarily to those factors that once established Paul’s sense of significance. In other words, Paul surrendered (perhaps even despised) the core components of his former identity in order to identify with Christ. (I’ll refrain from dwelling on the personal identity issue at this time, but will come back to it in much more detail sometime next year after our Search for Me identity study is published. If you are interested in listening to a rough draft audio version of this in-depth, life-changing study, simply click the “audio messages” item on the menu bar at the top of our blog page.)

In saying identified with Christ I find several specific applications:

  1. To know Him.
    1. To know what He is like.
    2. To be with Him.
    3. To share in His experiences.
  2. To be conformed into His image.
  3. To be identified by a personal relationship with Him.
  4. To make Him known to others.
Photo by ccmackay - MorgueFile

I’ll spend more time with each of these applications in the near future, but for now I simply want to leave you with the image of a very young child in relationship to his/her father. One of their primary goals in life is to identify with dad. They excitedly run to the door when dad finally arrives home from work. They want to hang out with dad and do stuff together. They seek to dress like dad—especially when uniforms or outdoor clothes are involved. And of course, they want everybody to know that they have the greatest dad in the world.

Perhaps in this limited illustration we can catch a small glimpse of the true heart of evangelism.

Up the Creek Without a Paddle?

Up the Creek Without a Paddle?

Without question the Church is currently losing the battle to shape American culture. The negative effects seem to taint every facet of society and all of our valiant efforts have been unable to reverse this terrible trend. We are especially paying the price in broken lives, both young and old.

A considerable degree of effort has gone into understanding and reversing this painful decline, but the decay continues. Unfortunately it continues to the degree that our culture’s influence on the church far exceeds the church’s level of influence on our society. Even if we don’t change the world around us, at the very least the Church should be able to wax strong in the midst of any earthly opposition. We do serve the living God!

Personally I don’t think these issues are always as complicated as we make them to be. Regardless of a myriad of symptoms, the bottom line is that the decline of Christianity in the western world is due to a loss of life. Of course, we have many forms of religion, but as a whole the life-flow of God is lacking in our midst.

Without the life of God strengthening the Church and making it healthy, the tide will continue to be turned in the wrong direction. It’s not about relevance, strategies and techniques (although these do have their place), but about the people of God being filled with the life of God to the point that His vitality overflows into the world around us. Just as light is always greater than darkness, from an eternal perspective, life will always win out over death. Too often, however, our man-made structures and our need to be in control restrict the life of God from flowing freely in our midst.

While I certainly believe that more than one root cause is contributing to what ails us, I would like to spend some time focusing on one in particular—the lack of unity in the Body of Christ.

I plan to develop this extremely important theme in the coming weeks, but for now I find it helpful to firmly establish the connection between unity and life.

Psalm 133 – Living in Harmony – A Davidic  song of ascents. (HCSB)

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers can live together! It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard, on his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord has appointed the blessing— life forevermore.”

The application of this particular Psalm is far reaching and certainly reflective of God’s heart. Let there be no doubt! When God’s people dwell on this earth together in a Christ-centered unity, heaven imparts life to earth.

Are we up the creek without a paddle? I don’t think so. However, the current against us is so strong that we really need to learn how to paddle together if we are going to get anywhere good.