Archive for January, 2008

Promoting a Witnessing Lifestyle

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

While in college I helped produce a multimedia production in which we asked people what they were waiting for-as I use the term “multimedia” I have to smile because at that time it meant stringing some Kodak projectors together with sound. Our presentation took all of eight minutes as I recall, and consisted of a excerpts of interviews held with people of all ages.

The young kids were waiting to go to school. The Elementary age children were waiting to get into the higher grades, or into High School. The High Schoolers were waiting to get their drivers licenses and going to college so they could have more freedom. The students in college were waiting till they graduated so they could get married and have more time to do what they wanted-so that life could really start for them. The newly married were busily working on buying a house and starting a family. The middle aged people were looking forward to getting further ahead in their job, having grandkids, or having their children move out on their own so that peace and quiet could return to their lives. Those towards the end of their careers were looking forward to enjoying their retirement. Those in retirement were not so sure. And the ones we interviewed in nursing homes had run out of things to look forward, perhaps a visit from their families, and one couldn’t help but wonder if they had achieved all the things they had been hoping for.

All of the interviewees had a future focus to their lives. Granted we asked the question in that way, but few, if any, responded, “O I am loving what I am doing now.”

In my interaction with young adults and friends I often find a “waiting” attitude: waiting for that guy or gal of their dream, waiting for graduation and getting out on the job, etc.. But life is meant to be lived EVERY day!

I find a similar “waiting” attitude when it comes to witnessing, and believe this waiting attitude is part of the challenge we face in being witnesses for Jesus.

For too long we have been taught that witnessing is something you do with the church on the weekend, or something you do with people who are especially qualified, or is done by people who have lots of time on their hands-like retired people.

Now I don’t minimize what retired people do, nor do I minimize the activities that go on with churches like Keith has mentioned in the one post (facebook group) on Shine in Edmonton (I think the idea is wonderful), but I question whether God really wants us to always be waiting for the weekend or more convenient moments to witness.

Accordingly, I would like to advance a “witnessing lifestyle.”

What do I mean?

A witnessing lifestyle is one where we have…

1. Sought to be the vessel that God can use for His kingdom.

2. Believed that God can use us regardless of how qualified we may feel ourselves to be (II Cor. 4:7).

3. Taken the time to prayerfully consider God’s commission to go into all the world, starting in Jerusalem and going out from there, so to speak, and accepted the commission to be His agents EVERY day (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8).

4. Taken the time to think through how we are going to reach people, and draw them into a relationship with ourselves and with other believers (John 1:41,42).

5. Taken the time prepare materials that we can carry and share with people EVERY day, even if it means only having one resource available to share with a classmate, work colleague, or attendant at the gas station.

6. Taken the time to pray at the beginning of the day asking God to lead us to people that He is trying to reach, and seeking His eyes to see the fields that are white for harvest.

7. Taken the time to quietly pray for each person we meet during the day, asking God to open the way for a conversation about God.

8. Made ourselves available for God to work in and through us throughout the day.

9. Invited people to learn about Jesus and give their lives to Him, in appropriate ways, as we meet them throughout the day (John 4:29).

10. Invested time in learning about witnessing in our Bible study, by reading books of others who have been used by God, taking classes on the subject, and being part of a group where we can be challenged, pray together, and encourage one another.

11. Carved out time every week to spend some time witnessing.

12. Intentionally sought out experiences where we can be challenged (witnessing on the streets with our friends, for example).

13. Carved out territory that we will pray for and do our best to reach (be it our workplace, our neighborhood, or a section of the town we live in).

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but certainly includes some of the elements that would be present to have a “witnessing lifestyle.”

So if nothing else, ask God to give you a heart to reach out to those who don’t know him today, pray and ask Him for those divinely ordained encounters, believe that what happens today is in His control, take a piece of literature with you that you can leave with someone else, and pray for each person you interact with, and ask God to at least give you one good conversation for Him TODAY.

I will write more on these elements in the future, but this is a good beginning.

Perhaps you can think of some other elements. I will start a post on the witnessing lifestyle so you can add more there. (for those that are reading this elsewhere than facebook, join us on facebook in the group Christian Witnessing Works. Write me for an invite at path2prayer@yahoo.com).

Have a blessed day witnessing!

Dan

For those that might be reading this elsewhere, join us in the group Christian Witnessing Works on facebook. Write me for an invite or further help if necessary at path2prayer@yahoo.com. This will also be posted in the witnessing section at my web site path2prayer.com.

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

I found the following recollection about Charles Finney and his recognition of praying associates to be highly instructive:

“The theme on which he most constantly dwelt was the baptism of the Holy Ghost. In season and out of season he was always urging believers to be filled with the Spirit, as the only preparation that would fit them for saving souls, that without it they were powerless, that with it nothing was too hard for God to do through them. This was the main track with him, he did not go off on side issues, believing if we had this all other things would follow.’ “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” “When He is come he will guide you in to all truth.” He taught also the necessity of frequent annointings and deep heart searching as a preparation, hence his prayer, “Lord give us an overhauling.” He attributed his success in the soul saving largely to the fact that he had always been favored with helpers who knew how to pray. There were those in Oberlin who stayed at home when he preached and “held on” for him as they termed it. Discussing on wrestling Jacob he once said. “If Jacob had had a prayer book what under heaven would he have done with it?” He declared he would rather have a person of no education to help him in his work if he knew how to prevail in prayer, than a highly educated person who did not. Prevailing prayer that takes hold on God not only asks but receives the witness that the answer will come. This was the watchword in the early days of Oberlin.” Taken from Personal Recollections.

I believe my ministry has been blessed as a result of praying associates. Might such associates continue praying!

Learn more about prayer at path2prayer.com.

Living in a “Sola Scriptura” Bubble

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Abstract: We often assume that people share our confidence in the Scriptures and are open to our “proof” oriented methods of witnessing. The reality is quite different. The following essay discusses how Gnosticism entered into the church in the first couple of centuries and still impacts the world we find ourselves in, and suggests ways we might witness to individuals who no longer find authority in the Scriptures.

Living in a “Sola Scriptura” Bubble!

We Christians live in a “sola scriptura” bubble!

Wiki defines “sola scriptura” as “the assertion that the Bible as God’s written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter (“Scripture interprets Scripture”), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine”*

Now let me explain before you get upset with me.

We would like to believe that proving our beliefs from the Bible will bring witnessing success-of course with some finessing in reaching out and connecting to the people we are witnessing to, etc.. The truth is, many seekers no longer look for truth in the Bible in their quest for God. In fact, many don’t believe there is such a thing as objective truth. They are seeking God, but because they believe that God is transcendent-is beyond the grasp of the human mind-and ineffable-beyond being described in human language-they look for Him in ways that you and I would not be comfortable with, and are accordingly anything but convinced by our Bible “proof.” It doesn’t mean they won’t listen, but it won’t initially be on the basis of the Scriptures we hold so dear. Unfortunately we often forget this and assume that all, if not most, of the people we witness to will listen to our proofs from the Bible. Hence the “Sola Scriptura” bubble idea.

Paul came up against this very thing when he was witnessing to the people in Athens. He spoke to them of the “unknown” god they were worshipping (Acts 17:23). This “unknown” god was not only the result of their ignorance of the true god, but also the result of the transcendent ineffable underpinnings of their belief system-God couldn’t be understood, and if He were understood, human language would be inadequate to describe Him, which effectively negated anything Paul might have said-I think I hear the hiss of a serpent here.

I wish I could say this “unable to know” problem was confined to people OUTSIDE of Christendom, but it entered the church in the early centuries after Christ, when Gnosticism first appeared, took root and remained under various guises, and still continues to challenge us in our day, only in a postmodern, post-Christian way.

Gnosticism, as one person put it, is not based on factual, intellectual, or rational knowledge that one would find in the sciences, rather it is based on an experientially-based pursuit and knowledge of god, and proponents of the religion believed they had a secret knowledge of god, human beings and the universe that other people did not have.

Though the idea came out of what some term classical mysticism, it entered the church, or at least was seriously introduced, in the apologist era when Christians were being persecuted by the pagan Romans, and Christian “apologists” were attempting to bring respectability to the Christian faith and end the persecuting that was going on, by using Greek philosophical concepts that explained Christianity in more pagan-friendly terms. Eventually Christianity became respected, but that respectability came at a price: a more pagan version of Christianity.

Gnostics believed themselves to possess a special, higher spiritual knowledge and wisdom than was possessed and taught by the bishops and other church leaders of the second century. They believed God was wholly transcendent and spiritual and far removed from the fallen, material universe which He did not create (they actually thought the physical universe was created by an evil, demented lesser God). They also believed that matter, including the body, was an inherently limiting prison or evil drag on the good soul or spirit of the human person and that the spirit was essentially divine-a ‘spark of God’ dwelling in the tomb of the body.” Salvation meant achieving a special kind of knowledge not generally known or even available to ordinary Christians, including an awareness of the true heavenly origin of the spirit within, and the idea of an essential divine nature as an offshoot of God’s own being. They looked to Christ as an immaterial, spiritual messenger sent down from the unknown and unknowable God to rescue and bring home the stray sparks of his own being that had been trapped in material bodies. Finally, salvation came through self-knowledge (Roger Olson, Story of Christian Theology). Needless to say these constructs were far removed from those espoused by the church back then, and were accordingly resisted.

The early church, in the person of Irenaeus, mounted a three-fold attack on Gnosticism, by showing that it was absurd and full of contradictions, that it had no basis from Christ and the apostles, and that Gnostic understandings of Scripture were neither plausible nor possible, and eventually succeeded, though Gnostic ideas remained.

But Gnosticism is returning in our day, but often in a post-Christian context that is exceedingly challenging to overcome, similar to what Paul encountered in Athens.

Remember, Gnosticism is based on many ideas, including God’s transcendence-the idea that God is beyond our understanding and can only be understood on the basis of an internal self-authenticating experience.

Irenaeus overcame Gnosticism by showing the absurdity of the idea, the utter lack of connection with Christ and Scripture, and the lack of plausibility. He even went so far as to mockingly suggest his own Gnostic-like description of the cosmos, based on a being that was called a gourd, which was associated with a melon, and eventually had a cucumber at work as well. He partially succeeded because people still looked to Scripture as the ultimate authority.

Paul failed with the Athenians, and came away convicted that only his personal testimony of the power of Christ and the cross in his own life would work.

I believe Paul’s method is still the preferred way to begin witnessing to many people in our day. We not only live in a postmodern world, we live in what is increasingly also becoming a post-Christian world. But post-Christian IS NOT post-spiritual; in fact people are VERY spiritual in our day-there is a great and growing hunger for a spiritually-fulfilling experience. And, as many are looking to a personally authenticated experience to find a higher being, sharing our own experience with God, in loving and authentic ways, will be a witness they can understand, and which they can neither gainsay nor refuse.

Now, returning to the “sola scriptura bubble” idea, we assume that everyone looks to Scripture the way we do. Unfortunately that isn’t true. Yes, there are some, in fact many people, who still do, but there is a growing majority who have written off the authority of the Scriptures.

Is there a place for Scripture? Absolutely. There are still many people who look to Scripture and are willing to dialog on the basis of Scripture. Traditional methods can still work for these people. But these methods won’t work for everyone.

However, regardless of how our witnessing begins, in due course ALL witnessing must return to the Scriptures, for it is in the Scriptures that we are personally informed, personally maintained, personally instructed, and personally empowered to live for Jesus, to witness, and to succeed in our ongoing relationship with Jesus-it is THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK IN ALL THE WORLD. Eventually we must bring the Scriptures to the forefront if our witness to postmoderns is to endure.

Let’s be careful, then, in not assuming that everyone accepts the Scriptures as their basis of authority when we reach out to them. Your testimony of how God has delivered you from depression, your testimony of how He brought you happiness, your testimony of how God has personally intervened in your life, your testimony of how He has answered your prayers, will be the most powerful, irrefutable testimony you can share. Later you can perhaps follow Irenaeus’ example in dismantling the tenets of Gnosticism, but do so gently, remembering they are as suspicious and incredulous of our beliefs as we are of theirs.

Find more essays on witnessing at path2prayer.com in the Christian Witnessing Works section.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_scriptura

Our Times are in God’s Hands!

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

I came across these paragraphs of Octavius Winslow in my reading today and was greatly blessed. I believe you will be too. Enjoy!

“My times are in your hand.” Psalm 31:15

Our times of adversity are also in God’s hand. As every sunbeam that brightens, so every cloud that darkens, comes from God. We are subject to great and sudden reverses in our earthly condition. Joy is often succeeded by grief, prosperity by adversity. We are on the pinnacle today, tomorrow at its bottom. Oh! What a change may one event and one moment create! But, beloved, ALL is from the Lord.

Afflictions do not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Sorrow cannot come until God bids it. Until God in His sovereignty permits—health cannot fade, wealth cannot vanish, comfort cannot decay, friendship cannot chill, and loved ones cannot die. Your time of sorrow is His appointment. The bitter cup which it may please the Lord that you shall drink this year will not be mixed by human hands. In the hand of the Lord is that cup! Some treasure you are now pressing to your heart, He may ask you to resign. Some blessing you now possess, He may bid you to relinquish. Some fond expectation you now cherish, He may will that you should forego. Some lonely path, He may design that you should tread.

Yes, He may even bereave you of all, and yet all, ALL is in His hand! His hand! A Father’s hand, moving in thick darkness, is shaping every event, and arranging every detail in your life! Has sickness laid you on a bed of suffering? Has bereavement darkened your home? Has adversity impoverished your resources? Has change lessened your comforts? Has sorrow in one of its many forms crushed your spirit to the earth? The Lord has done it! In all that has been sent, in all that has be recalled, and in all that has been withheld—His hand, noiseless and unseen has brought it about!

Ah! yes, that hand of changeless love blends a sweet with every bitter—pencils a bright rainbow in each dark cloud—upholds each faltering step—shelters within its hollow—and guides with unerring skill, His chosen people safe to eternal glory! Dear child of God, your afflictions, your trials, your crosses, your losses, your sorrows, all, ALL are in your heavenly Father’s hand, and they cannot come until sent by Him!

Bow that stricken heart—yield that tempest-tossed soul to His sovereign disposal, to His calm, righteous sway, in the submissive spirit and language of your suffering Savior, “May Your will, O my Father! not mine, be done. My times of sadness and of grief are in Your hand.” Beloved, all is in your Father’s hand! Be those times what they may—times of trial, times of temptation, times of suffering, times of peril, times of sunshine or of gloom, or times of life or death, they are in your Father’s hand!

Has the Lord seen fit to recall some fond blessing, to deny some earnest request, or painfully to discipline your heart? All this springs from a Father’s love as fully as though He had unlocked His treasury and poured its costliest gifts at your feet! All of our times are in our Redeemer’s hands! That same Redeemer who carried our sorrows in His heart, our curse and sins on His soul, our cross on His shoulder; who died, who rose again, and who lives and intercedes for us, and who will gather all His ransomed around Him in glory, is your Guardian and your Guide! Your times are in the hands of Him who still bears the print of the nails!

Find more information on trusting God at path2prayer.com in the Practical Christianity section.

Lean Hard!

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

“Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain you.” Psalm 55:22

Today I taught the first session of history of a spirituality course. For those of you who teach, you know that the preparatory work ahead of time is a major challenge, particularly the first time around. Well I’ve spent every moment, and then some, preparing, and am relieved to say that God once again blessed.

In the course of my studying I came across this encouraging statement of Octavius Winslow:

It is by an act of simple, prayerful faith we transfer our cares and anxieties, our sorrows and needs, to the Lord. Jesus invites you come and lean upon Him, and to lean with all your might upon that arm that balances the universe, and upon that bosom that bled for you upon the soldier’s spear! But you doubtingly ask, “Is the Lord able to do this thing for me ?” And thus, while you are debating a matter about which there is not the shadow of a shade of doubt, the burden is crushing your gentle spirit to the dust. And all the while Jesus stands at your side and lovingly says, “Cast your burden upon Me and I will sustain you. I am God Almighty. I bore the load of your sin and condemnation up the steep of Calvary, and the same power of omnipotence, and the same strength of love that bore it all for you then, is prepared to bear your need and sorrow now. Roll it all upon Me! Child of My love! Lean hard! Let Me feel the pressure of your care. I know your burden, child! I shaped it—I poised it in My own hand and made no proportion of its weight to your unaided strength. For even as I laid it on, I said I shall be near, and while she leans on Me, this burden shall be Mine, not hers. So shall I keep My child within the encircling arms of My own love. Here lay it down! Do not fear to impose it on a shoulder which upholds the government of worlds! Yet closer come! You are not near enough! I would embrace your burden, so I might feel My child reposing on My breast. You love Me! I know it. Doubt not, then. But, loving me, lean hard!” Ocatavius Winslow

I like God’s gracious invitation to LEAN HARD! Relief from my burdens, freedom from care, not being discouraged by trials, all come as I lean hard. Knowing that I will be presenting at several seminars in the next couple of weeks, I am glad for His gracious invitation to lean hard. I choose to lean hard. I hope you do too!

There’s more to learn about trusting Jesus at path2prayer.com.

God bless, Dan

Afflictions: The Springboard to Blessings!

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

I’m reading from Thomas Brooks and coming across wondeful quotations on the blessings rendered by way of afflictions. Here a few to encourage you along the way.

From Brooks’ Precious Remedies:

All the afflictions which attend the people of God, are such as shall turn to their profit and glorious advantage.

Afflictions discover that filthiness and vileness in sin, which the soul has never yet seen.

Afflictions contribute to the mortifying and purging away of their sins. Afflictions are God’s furnace, by which he cleanses His people from their dross. Affliction is a fire to purge out our dross, and to make virtue shine.

Afflictions are medicines which heal soul diseases. Colds and frosts destroy vermin; so do afflictions destroy the corruptions which are in our hearts. The Jews, under all the prophet’s thunderings, retained their idols; but after their Babylonish captivity, there have been no idols found among them.

Afflictions are sweet preservatives to keep the saints from sin.

Afflictions assist to make us more fruitful in holiness. ‘But He afflicts us for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.’ The flowers smell sweetest after a shower; vines bear the better fruit, after pruning. Saints spring and thrive most internally when they are most externally afflicted. Afflictions are called by some ‘the mother of virtue.’ Manasseh’s chain was more profitable to him than his crown. Luther could not understand some Scriptures until he was in affliction.

God’s house of correction is his school of instruction. All the stones that hit Stephen’s head, did but knock him closer to Christ, the corner-stone.

Afflictions lift up the soul to more rich, clear, and full enjoyments of God. God makes afflictions to be but inlets to the soul’s more sweet and full enjoyment of His blessed self. Christians, by their afflictions, gain more experience of the power of God supporting them, of the wisdom of God directing them, of the grace of God refreshing and cheering them, and of the goodness of God quieting and quickening of them to a greater love to holiness, and to a greater delight in holiness, and to a more vehement pursuing after holiness.

Afflictions keep the hearts of the saints humble and tender. Prosperity does not contribute more to the puffing up the soul, than adversity does to the bowing down of the soul. This the saints by experience find; and therefore they can kiss and embrace the cross, as others do the world’s crown. The more the purest spices are beaten and bruised-the sweeter scent and fragrance they send abroad. So do saints when they are afflicted.

Afflictions bring the saints nearer to God, and to make them more importunate and earnest in prayer with God.

Afflictions revive and recover decayed graces; they inflame that love which is cold, and they quicken that faith which is decaying, and they put life into those hopes which are withering, and spirits into those joys and comforts which are languishing. Most men are like a top, which will not go unless you whip it, and the more you whip it the better it goes. You know how to apply it.

Those who are in adversity do better understand Scriptures. The more saints are beaten with the hammer of afflictions, the more they are made the trumpets of God’s praises, and the more are their graces revived and quickened. Adversity abases the loveliness of the world which strives to entice us; it abates the lustiness of the flesh within, which strives to incite us to folly and vanity.

The afflictions which attend the saints in the ways of holiness, are but short and momentary. ‘Sorrow may abide for a night-but joy comes in the morning’ (Psalm 30:5). This short storm will end in an everlasting calm; this short night will end in a glorious day, that shall never have end. It is but a very short time between grace and glory; between our title to the crown and our wearing the crown; between our right to the heavenly inheritance and our possession of the heavenly inheritance. What is our life but a shadow, a bubble, a flower, a runner, a span, a dream?

It will be but as a day before God will give his afflicted ones beauty for ashes, the oil of gladness for the spirit of heaviness; before he will turn all your sighing into singing, all your lamentations into consolations, your sackcloth into silks, ashes into ointments, and your fasts into everlasting feasts!

There are none of God’s afflicted ones, who have not their intermissions and respites while under their short and momentary afflictions. When God’s hand is on your back, let your hand be on your mouth, for though the affliction be sharp, it shall be but short.

It is mercy that our affliction is not execution-but a correction. He who has deserved hanging, may be glad if he escapes with a whipping.

God’s corrections are our instructions,
His lashes are our lessons,
His scourges are our schoolmasters,
His chastisements are our admonitions.

I hope I can see afflictions the way God wants me to see them!

Learn more about gaining the more abundant life at path2prayer.com