Forgotten God

I’ve just finished reading the book ‘Forgotten God: reversing the tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit’ by Francis Chan and it proved to be one of the best books I’ve read for a while. It’s a clarion call to the Church to get back to the Bible and look again at the importance of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the Church’s.

It’s a challenging read but not a difficult one – if that makes sense. Chan has an easy-going, easy to read style that anyone can follow but the message he brings is a very challenging one. The questions he asks are valid and timely, I agree with him that we, as a Church, have lost sight of the ministry of the Holy Spirit or wrongly dismiss it as something for the days of the apostles but not now. For example, the question on the blurb on the back of the book asks “powerful. When is the last time someone used that word to describe you?” or when he asks if we were converted on a desert island by ourselves with just our Bibles, when we were rescued and began to attend church would it match our expectations from our reading the New Testament (NT)?

Jesus says that “another Counsellor” (John 14:16) was coming (the word Counsellor here means ‘another of the same’ stressing the divinity of the Spirit). Jesus even goes so far as to say that it is to our advantage that He goes in order that the Spirit can come (John 16:7). That in itself is challenging. How seriously do we take these words of Jesus? How many of us would swap the presence of the Spirit for the physical presence of Jesus? If so, we are guilty of unbelief in what Jesus says!

When we read through the NT the power and work of the Holy Spirit is very much in evidence. IT is He who empowered the believers to living new lives and carrying out the great commission of Jesus, yet for some reason we have divorced this from our day to lives. It is clear that we would expect our new lives with the Spirit to look radically different from our old lives and the lives of those who are not Christians, but the reality very often (myself included) is that we see little difference. We live as though we don’t expect the Spirit to act or worse, we live as though we don’t need him.

Chan struck a chord with me when he writes of his tiredness of living in a way that looks exactly the same as non-believers:

“I want to consistently live with an awareness of his strength. I want to be different today from what I was yesterday as the fruit of the Spirit becomes more manifest in me. I want to live so that I am truly submitted to the Spirit’s leading on a daily basis. Christ said it is better for us that the Spirit came, and I want to live like I know that is true. I don’t want to keep crawling when I have the ability to fly.” P37

I certainly want this, and here is where the book really struck a chord deep in my soul as to the apparent dis-connect I feel between the vibrant power of the NT believers to what I see in myself. To change we need to rediscover the Bible’s teaching on the power and the work of the Holy Spirit. To not be afraid of being labelled, but to come to the Bible with a desire to see afresh what God says to us about the Spirit’s work.

Chan begins by setting out the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s ministry – why we need him, then outlines a big problem we have – fear. Perhaps this will not resonate so strongly with everyone but it did with me. He says that we are often paralysed by fear, but this can be in different ways. We can be afraid of rejection by others in the congregation; afraid to step outside of the accepted norms in the congregation, afraid of being labelled a “charismatic” or such-like. Yet we are called to shape our lives according to the Bible, we must not let such fears prevent us from doing so. Are we prepared to really pursue the truth? A challenging question for us all.

We can also be afraid that God won’t answer our prayer for the Holy Spirit if we ask him. Chan rightly shows that this is unfounded as God will always give the Spirit to those who ask for him. Otherwise Jesus is a liar – read his words in Luke 11:13. This really is symptomatic of a deeper issue, our habit of not asking for things because we are ‘covering’ for God. We don’t expect an answer so we don’t ask to save God the embarrassment of not answering.

“I cant imagine how much it pains God to see His children hold back from relationship with the Holy Spirit out of fear that He won’t come through. How much it grieves Him to watch His children ignore the promises He’s made throughout Scripture due to fear that those promises won’t be kept! Empowering his children with the strength of the Holy Spirit is something the Father wants to do. It’s not something we need to talk him into. He genuinely wants to see us walk in His strength.”  p47-8

The third fear is, I believe, the most prevalent. We are scared that God will answer us and we won’t like what we hear. That we will be asked to do things we are not comfortable with, to go in a direction we won’t want to go in. This confronts us with the basic question – do we really want to do God’s will? Do we?

Chan turns the discussion on its head with the conclusion that we need to fear the right things, and what we should be more concerned about is not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit of God. I must admit it has made me think more about the Spirit’s work and my grieving of him, something which rarely occurred to me previously. Another thing I must repent of.

I also like how the author devotes a chapter to an important point. He argues we should not waste too much time asking ‘what is God’s plans for my life?’ but ‘what is the Holy Spirit prompting me to do today?’ Food for thought there!

This is a book that confronts us with a wake-up call. Are we prepared to really enter the life of discipleship Jesus desires for us, to be led by the Spirit in the will of Jesus? Of course, we need to examine our motives for wanting the Spirit lest we be like Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8). He wanted the Spirit for his own gain and reputation, whereas God gives us the Spirit for the common good. The power of the Spirit in our lives draws attention to Jesus, not us.

We need the Holy Spirit. Not just to know about him, but to know him in our personal experience and in the life of the Church. The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives inside every Christian, we have that power available to us for the common good and the extension of Jesus’ Kingdom. Let’s face the challenge Francis Chan gives us and, fears and all, follow the will of Jesus and be led by the Spirit, filled by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit. This book is well worth a few hours of your time.

You can find out more at the accompanying website http://www.forgottengod.com/

Welcoming ‘Outsiders’ In

Ever wondered what it’s like coming to church for the first time?  Ever seen a new face and tried to imagine what is going through their heads? Even though I’ve been there myself, it’s not always easy for me to remember what it was like.  The following article is taken from theresurgence.com and offers a thought provoking perspective.  If you are considering coming to church for the first time, then please, do.  You’ll certainly be welcome in Rosskeen, and I hope you’ll fell just as welcome in any church which follows Jesus Christ.

Ferg

I’m Not a Christian, But I’m Coming to Your Church on Sunday

Okay I’m not a Christian, but I’ve finally made the decision to come to your church this Sunday. Don’t expect much from me though. If something comes up I might not, but right now I’m planning on it. I feel like I need to go, but I’m not sure why. I want to tell you a few things about myself before you meet me.

1.  I’m not going to understand religious language or phrases so be aware of that when we talk.

I don’t understand slain in the spirit, God is moving in me, covered in the blood, I need to die to self, you just need to be in the Word, what you need is a new life, etc. If we have conversation filled with religious talk, I’m probably not going to understand half of the words…and maybe think you’re a little crazy.

2.  When you ask me how I’m doing, know that I don’t trust you.

I’m probably going to lie and tell you I’m fine. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you; it’s just that I come from some pain and am not sure if I trust you yet. How about you tell me your story first? If I like you and get the vibe that you’re not trying to capture my soul or anything, I’ll tell you mine.

3.  I’ve got pretty rough language and I can be bitter and angry about some things.

If I sense in you a mindset of superiority, I’m out. If you are just waiting for your turn to talk instead of truly listening to me, I’m not going to be interested. Don’t expect me to be exactly like you.

4.  Don’t make a big deal of introducing me to everyone you know.

I understand a couple of people, but please; don’t set up a welcoming line. I’m just there to check it out; I need a bit of space.

5.  I’m going to be looking for genuine interest in me.

I don’t want to feel like your personal salvation project or be a notch on your “I saved one” belt. If this Jesus is who you say he is, then I’m looking forward to seeing him in you. That’s how it works, right?

6.  I’m going to have questions.

I need truth, not your preferences or your religion, so can you just tell me what the Bible says?

7.  I need to feel welcomed.

Is there a time limit or something on my visit before I’m supposed to feel unwelcomed? I mean, I’ve been to other churches and there seemed to be a push for me to make up my mind or something. How long until I’m unwelcomed?

Thanks for hearing me out. I’m pretty sure I’m going to come this Sunday. But I might not.

Warning Labels

Have you ever looked at the warning labels you seem to see everywhere these days?  I once saw one on a snack which warned that the product might contain traces of nuts or sesame seeds.  As the snack in question was sesame coated peanuts, I’d be very surprised if it didn’t!  Or more recently a packet of herbal insomnia remedy warned “may cause drowsiness”! I should think it would.

As amusing as they might sometimes be, warning signs are very important. If we know the risks and dangers of something, then we can take steps to avoid them. I was recently working in the garage with some chemicals.  The bottle warned me the chemical I was using was flammable, corrosive, toxic and gave off fumes – so I knew not to get it too hot, to wear gloves, not to drink it and to make sure the garage was well ventilated and I put the lid back on the bottle as soon as I was finished with it. Sometimes warning labels might just warn us to keep well away from a particular thing or area because they are just to dangerous to get near.

The Bible is full of warning labels.  It tells us to avoid lots of different things, people and situations.  It is easy to think that it is just being a killjoy, stopping us from having any fun, but that isn’t the case.  The things God warns us away from he dos so for good reasons – they are bad for us.  Some of them might harm us physically, or mentally, or emotionally. They might cause harm to those around us or mess up our relationships with them.  All of them are harmful to us spiritually and damage our relationship with God.

What can make it harder is when all our friends seem to be doing the things the Bible tells us not to do, and worse, they seem to be enjoying it.  Well, there are certain chemicals or plants that can make you feel good, really, really good.  Right up until the moment they kill you stone dead, or leave you really sick.   These things are just like that, some sin does seem to be enjoyable in the short term, fun at the time, but really it is messing you up, and will leave you spiritually dead or sick in the longer term. If your friends are saying something is OK, and the Bible is saying it is bad for you, who knows best?  Your mates, or the God who created us all?  Short term ‘fun’ is no fun at all if it just leaves you messed up.

But as well as things we should keep away from altogether, the Bible contains other warnings.  Sometimes it warns us about missusing the good things God has given us.  The chemical I was using was useful for precisely the same reason that it was dangerous, I needed it to be corrosive so it would dissolve really strong glue.  If an insomnia remedy didn’t make you drowsy, it wouldn’t help you get to sleep. That’s all good.  But if I was to use acetone when I was cooking a curry, or take insomnia remedy before driving to Edinburgh, well, that would be really dangerous, not to mention pretty stupid!  They’re very good when used in the way their maker intended them to be used, but very dangerous if you think you can just use them any old way.  There are all sorts of things like that in the Bible, things God has given us to enjoy, but he’s given us instructions on how we should enjoy them and placed limits on when they are OK. People in the world today don’t like being told they can’t do stuff, and they wat to do what they like, when they like, how they like.  But really, ignoring God’s instructions is like ignoring the warning label on bleach, and drinking it because you don’t see why the manufacturer should tell you what you can and can’t do.

There is one more kind of warning label to look out for.  Remember my sesame coated peanuts?  Well, I didn’t have to worry about them, I have no problem with eating either ingredient and they aren’t going to do me any harm (unless I eat so many I can’t eat my dinner), but for some people, that warning could save their lives. For people with an allergy, the slightest taste of that snack which I was free to enjoy could be deadly. And that is true spiritually too. Some people have a kind of spiritual allergy to certain things.  Things which are totally OK for other people are spiritually deadly to them.  These things – and it could be all sorts of stuff – are poison to them.  They mess up their relationship with God and those around them, they rob them of their self-control and they lead them further in to sin. The Bible warns us about these things too. If you find that something has this effect on you, or you just can’t stick within God’s boundaries for it, then it doesn’t matter how OK it is for other people, you need to keep well clear of it if you don’t want to end up in a bad way.

So the next time you see a warning label, remember that they are there for a reason.  God hasn’t warned us off certain things or placed limits on them because he wants to spoil our fun, but because he know what is good for us and what isn’t, and he wants us to be safe, and really happy.