Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Battle hands and war fingers - the force and finesse of setting people free pt. 1

When Jesus commissioned the 12, he gave them authority to preach the Gospel, to drive out demons. The authority of the believer is either much maligned or ignored these days, and yet it's intrinsic to process of disciples-making-disciples. "All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey.."

While we have some understanding of authority to preach the Gospel, and authority to teach people to obey God, many of us do a wide berth around authority to drive out demons? Does that even apply today? In Africa certainly, I have encountered the demonic, but here in the West the demons seem, well, better camouflaged. And yet people are no less oppressed. In many ways more so. But in a culture generally skeptical about the demonic, spiritual warfare requires a comb ination of force and finesse. "It is God who trains my arms for battle and my fingers for war." Ps 114

The understanding of Tim Keller on idol worship in the West, has been enormously helpful to me in this regard. Here it is not so much a carved or welded image of a god,(although there is that) but often a good thing that has become an ultimate thing. Satan is as happy to keep a person bound in worship of a car or career as he is in worship of a Buddha. Martin Luther said, 'The heart is an idol factory. That which our heart treasures and confides in, that is an idol."

Much spiritual warfare is in the area of the mind, and must be addressed with authoritative writing and preaching. When Paul talked about, "the weapons of our warfare being mighty for the pulling down of strongholds,"(2 Cor 10:4) he was not talking about a prayer meeting. He was talking about his letters and his preaching. 'He demolished every argument that raised itself up against the knowledge of Christ to make it obedient to Christ." (10:5) Setting people free then, should include the exposing of the idols of the heart and mind, and the authoritative calling to treasure and confide in Jesus, the Ultimate One.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Altar the Call?" Why I still call for a Gospel response after I preach

In the last few years there seems to have been a move away from calling for a response to the Gospel after preaching amongst my friends and peers. This has largely been due to a rediscovery of the theology of the Sovereignty of God in salvation - a realization that it is God who gives a person faith to believe and repent, not the preacher. This has meant a reluctance on preachers' behalf to meddle with God's work in people, trying to give them space to respond as God regenerates and convicts, rather than attempt to move people towards a decision.

I have appreciated aspects of this attitude in the sense that it is reverential towards God and His Gospel, and respectful towards people. Many of us have sat in meetings where Charles Finney -style evangelistic techniques have been used to manipulate people into a decision. I was in a funeral a few months ago where the preacher stood next to the coffin after his preach and said, "If you want to see this person in heaven one day, then give your life to Jesus today." I too, want nothing to do with this kind of approach. It is both heartless and faithless.

However, I do see much biblical evidence of preachers calling for a decisive response from their hearers. Jesus' first words recorded in the Gospel of Mark were,
"The kingdom of heaven is near. Repent and believe the Gospel." His next words to Peter and his fishing companions were, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Essentially his message came with a call, "Repent. believe. Follow." And they did.

Paul too, was not merely an explainer of Gospel truth. He was a proclaimer, calling for a response. "Therefore, I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 6)He explained, proclaimed and pleaded!

I think this is the nub of the issue. Many who have rediscovered reformed theology tend towards explaining the Gospel, which leads to clarity, but avoid proclaiming it, which leads to response. They are worried that imploring can get in the way of God's sovereign work. Paul however, didn't seem to see a conflict between the two, understanding that a Sovereign God graciously uses the foolishness of preaching as He Sovereignly awakens people to faith. "For it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save those who would believe." (1 Cor 1:21)

This is why I have resisted the pressure from some of my friends to stop calling for a Gospel response at the end of a message, because it is now 'out of vogue.' I know there will be those who respond insincerely, some even out of a wrong understanding of the Gospel. We need to be open to changing the way we call for a response so that there is no confusion or manipulation. But there will always be those whom God has awakened to faith in the Gospel by His Spirit. They require the preacher to impress upon them the decisive urgency of the moment. "Today if you hear his voice do not harden your heart. Today is the day of salvation."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Singapore Slinger

Yes, this is the name of a popular Singapore cocktail, and no I didn't try one while I was there. It was our fourth visit to this remarkable city/state/nation, and from the moment we touched down we hit the ground running, which meant espresso was the drink of choice. The pace was no surprise to us though. We knew from our visit two years prior that Redemption Hill was a church with an intensity that belied its age - a happy community, on a serious mission.

And the Gospel fruit is plain to see, hanging heavy from the branches of the tree called RHC. Its a church that started literally with four people; Simon and Tarryn, a twenty-something couple relocating from South Africa, and a couple they met on the plane on the way over who they invited to their first service. Its grown to over 400 adults in three years since then; a church colorful with culture, ripe with faith, and fragrant with redemption stories. Very sweet to the taste.

So what's the secret? Is there anything worth emulating, or is this simply a happy freak of super-nature? I suspect it's a bit of mix. A cocktail of sorts if you'll pardon the term.

For those looking, the tell-tale secrets of grace in a community are often in its favorite words.

'Gospel' is one. For them its not a buzz word. Not an overworked cliche'. For them its a priceless pearl to treasure, a lens to look at the world through and a hill to die on. It is explicit, not implicit. Gospel centrality has perhaps fashioned them more than any other one thing.

Then there is 'Sovereign.' There is a settled confidence in its twenty-something year-young leadership team, that this community is the work of a Sovereign God. That what has come to pass has been established by the will and the hand of a Sovereign God. This has saved them from the swagger that I often detect in those with early success. Sovereignty is humility and sanity to them, amidst the obvious rush of God's favor.

And finally there is the word 'intentional.' I heard them use it often. Nothing is left to chance. No stone left unturned. Careful thought and diligent attention given to every aspect of their life together. This is not some climate-controlled science lab of a church. They are earnest charismatics. They love to worship and are hungry for the presence of God. But they are faithful stewards, something too often overlooked by us charismatics. They know that 'to whom much is given much is required,'and so they steward gratefully and give tirelessly.

This is not a perfect church, but no doubt its a compelling one. In some ways a complete miracle, and in others, no mystery at all at what God has done. May this colorful cocktail of God's sovereignty and Gospel stewardship be poured out for His glory and the joy of the multitudes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vietnam - nothing normal happens here!

12 years ago Rynelle and I were tourists in San Francisco with one more night and $20 left in our pockets before we headed home to South Africa. We decided to go to a Vietnamese restaurant thinking that our last few dollars would go a long way, sure that at least there would be an abundance of rice to fill up on. How wrong we were! That night we left broke, hungry and feeling cheated. Having spent all our money on some tasteless, colorless wafer thin rice paper with shavings of beef and bean sprouts, the waiter looked grumpy that we only drank water so that we could afford his tip!

12 years later our visit to the real Vietnam couldn't have been more different from our faux-Vietnamese experience in San Francisco. From the verdant greens of it's vegetation, to its ever-present throng of delicately loaded 'bikes of burden,' to the unique French - Asian architecture and cuisine - all of it was a sensory overload. A taste, sight and sound sensation amidst cheerful and welcoming people.Not to mention, $20 goes a long, long way here.

My host's final word of advice before we embarked on our first scooter ride in a city with no road rules to speak of and 4 million other scooters was, "remember, nothing normal happens here." For me, that statement carries broader truth than traffic. It is a nation that has crept into our hearts with abnormal swiftness, leaving a surprising affection.

The church we were with has grown rapidly under government suspicion and police scrutiny.Two weeks ago as the pastor got up to preach someone in the congregation took a photo of him and left the building immediately. The local church whose building they use, have twice had their building demolished by the government.But they have persevered, and built a larger church centre where numerous churches now worship.They are thriving in uncertainty, leaning on what cannot be shaken.

The sense of volatile fruitfulness has left us with a desire to invest in this church and nation. We are planning on returning and are asking some big questions about how best we can partner with them in the gospel, in a nation where 20 bucks goes a long way, remembering that nothing normal happens here.