Thursday, January 15, 2009
We saw miracles take place! God has not stopped doing miracles. The same Holy Spirit that worked through Jesus and the apostles of the early church still works miracles today. Hopeless cases are possible with God. Miracles of heart, mind, soul, body; every part of our human being needs to be whole and just as Jesus moved in compassion and healed multitudes, so He continues by faith today!
Our students prayed for a deaf child and where there had been no hearing, suddenly full hearing came in one ear and the other began to open also. Why didn’t full hearing come to both ears immediately? I don’t know, but I thank God for the healing that did take place. Others prayed for a man whose leg had been crippled, stiff, inflexible. Shortly afterwards, they heard bones cracking, he began moving his leg and soon he was jumping around on it before them! Another lady had come with her arm bandaged and in a sling. As the students prayed with her, she suddenly tore off the sling, began waving her arms wildly and even clapping her hands together. Her actions and joy witnessed her evident healing.
But God heals more than physical bodies. He sets captives free spiritually also. After hearing our message, one woman became quite overcome, fell down and began writhing on the floor, very distraught. Three of us prayed over her, took authority, and together with the pastor, broke the demon’s power, and cast it out. The woman was freed to receive Christ in her life and be made whole! It’s exciting to see “every knee will bow” happening today! The kingdom of God is present and filling the earth just as Jesus said it would. He is only looking for hungry hearts of faith to respond to His Word & Spirit’s leading.
Personally, I saw a beautiful testimony of God’s willingness and ability to heal the deepest hurts of the heart. One evening, I was drawn towards a group of adults and children off to one side of the church. I had a strong leading towards a man, woman, little girl and older woman, but I had no assurance they were actually a family. However, as I prayed, I saw them more as a family, and even spoke over them in my broken Spanish, “familia”. When I prayed over ‘Mama’, she broke into tears; then I continued with the husband, the little girl, and Grandma (?) Then they brought a younger boy and I was assured it was their son and this was indeed a family. The Holy Spirit ministered and Mama and Grandma were both in tears as they explained through my interpreter that as I had spoken ‘familia’ over them without even knowing they were a family, God had brought healing to their hearts. They had been going through marriage difficulties, on the verge of divorce, and now God had shown and reassured them that they were indeed “His familia”. What a joy to see the couple restored, hugging and kissing with their children together: a whole family!
I believe God wants more of this ‘whole’ healing take place. That same evening, the church asked us to bless their children; the parents had been fasting and praying for them all day. We laid hands on them and then invited any others who wanted to become as little children in the kingdom of God to give their hearts to Christ and be born again. Immediately a number of young and old, men and women responded and the miracle of new birth became reality again! Without God we are incomplete. Only Jesus can make people whole. Healing in Jesus is for the whole person: body, soul and spirit; heart, mind and will. This wholeness is available and happening today wherever hearts are open in faith to His love. How’s your wholeness?
Monday, January 12, 2009
But how were His pictures developing in me that day? Port Harcourt is not my favourite airport, but it is my most eventful. I ‘expect the unexpected’ there. 25 years ago on my 1st arrival, I was arrested by the military police before even entering the country. Years later, I spent an entire day in its sweltering terminal, jostling 500 other passengers for only 125 seats, all holding ‘OK’ tickets. Seats opened for those who had proper connections and money, in stark contrast to the prominently posted warning: “It is illegal to give or take a bribe.”
And here I was again, back in this same memory-provoking terminal. Another drumroll of thunder shook the entire building and… God took a picture. So far, the day had been manageable; no emergencies. I felt relieved. I waited as the baggage carousel emptied; passengers claimed their luggage and headed into the raging storm. My clothing bag appeared, but my second suitcase didn’t. One bag, same shape as mine but different colour, circled around and around unclaimed. Then the belt stopped, only this bag remained… and mine was still nowhere in sight. Another thunderclap, the unexpected was expectedly happening; my bag had gone missing; questions filled my mind and …God took another picture.
Three hours of bureaucratic hassle followed. Security officials refused to believe someone had inadvertently taken my bag and left theirs. No one could get by security without the proper luggage tags, so my bag must be back in Lagos. We had to get information “into the system” and my bag would arrive in the morning. I obediently followed them from building to building, getting even more soaked. In a typically abrupt Nigerian manner, my 3 baggage officers argued, blaming each other while quizzing me for information about my bag. The loudest thunderclap of all then effectively knocked out the power; we sat there in darkness, but they continued arguing non-stop. The power eventually returned, but not my bag.
My missionary friends had advised me to stay at a nearby hotel where they would pick me up the next morning. It is not safe to travel after dark: police roadblocks often turn out to be masquerading bandits. One agent sympathetically called me a taxi driver whom she knew because, “Some drivers just come to take you and then they take you away!” Not too assured, I drove off into the night with her driver, hopefully to the hotel. More lightning and thunder filled my senses; rain and fear were now driving me more.
I had stayed there before, but that night this hotel seemed eerie. No other guests were in the lobby. I asked the desk girl for a room. “$100 US cash, no VISA; has to be one $100 bill.” A cashier took my money and gave me neither a word nor a receipt. “If you and your room are ‘OK’ tomorrow, we might give you some back,” she muttered. Not very reassuring. A porter took my only bag. By this time my imagination was running wild and he looked to me like Igor from the horror movies. He even dragged his one leg behind him as we headed for the elevators! And the power outage had rendered them out of service, so I followed ‘Igor’ up 6 flights of stairs. Why up 6 floors in an empty hotel? At the landing, 2 uniformed ‘guards’ confronted us; one carried what resembled a submachine gun. I hoped he was what his uniform professed. Igor assured them I was a real guest and led me down the hallway, sloshing through 4 inches of water. The leaks had become a river. He turned the key and opened the door to my room. All appeared fine until I thought to tip him, but without any change from the cashier, I only had a 100 Naira bill. Not knowing its value, I thought that would suffice. Igor however took it, fumbled it, mumbled at me, and threw it down! I didn’t want to offend the only friend I had left in the world, so I frantically searched further, added another 20N, and offered him both. He grunted, took them, walked out and locked my door with his key behind him! I ran to the door and slammed the deadbolt shut from my side. The storm again shook the whole building. God took another picture and I wasn’t looking too good.
Fear gripped me. I had to contact someone. I grabbed my cell, dialed my missionary friends’ number. No response. Using my Roaming Network, I hoped to touch home base in Abbotsford somehow, regardless of the cost. I dialed the familiar numbers of wife and family - home. It rang, but an unfamiliar generic telephone voice answered. I could have coped with, “Wrong number,” “Busy,” or “Out of Service,” but this voice declared, “This number does not exist!” and my heart dropped. I felt I had fallen over the edge. Nothing that really mattered existed any longer. More thunder and lightning followed and God continued taking my pictures: Fear exposed and despair developed.
How do you counter Fear (believing that something bad you cannot see/control is going to happen)? I would like to say I dealt with fear better than I did that evening, but I didn’t. Only when I subjected my shaken thoughts to the Faith of God’s Word did I find peace. I remembered Revelation 4:5: thunder and lightning proceed from God’s Throne. God is in control; not the devil. Satan only twists what God has set; he creates nothing on his own. When Faith (believing that something good you cannot see/control is going to happen) rose in my heart; I trusted God and rested.
In morning light, Igor really didn’t look so fearful, the cashier gave me some money back, the traveler who’d mistakenly taken my bag returned it, and my friends arrived to pick me up. Things are not what they often seem to be; we need not fear, but have the faith of God. Thunder and lightning really mean that God is taking your picture. Smile!!!
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I've been wondering about modern revival in our contemporary North American Christian church. Is it a one-time event, a series of exciting meetings featuring miracles, strange phenomena, changed lives, or..? 'Revival' simply defined is 'raising to life what was once dead.' But how can a resurrected spiritual body like Christ's Church become so dead it has to be continually revived? And how often? Every generation needs its own move of God, but how genuine is Christian 'revival' if it needs to be raised from the dead every couple years… or months or days? Is it a seasonal thing? How many times can you be 'born again' again? Perhaps we are drawing more from hyped-up North American canned religious marketing gimmicks than a whole gospel. Believers in Christ receive a full gospel: Christ lived, died and rose again and this simple but powerful faith changes lives – once for all! We must not compromise this simple truth with lesser religious substitutes. We are the body of Christ, not Lazarus. Angelic stirrings, superficial manifestations and partial spiritual awakenings are incomplete and even deceptive when they only heighten expectations but do not clearly exalt Jesus and affect the genuine goods.
We have forgotten our simple roots in Christ and this is evidenced by how Scripture is often taken out of context to justify assumptions and then twisted into something far removed from its original intent. For example, John 5:1-15, the Pool of Bethesda scenario: a man with a 38-year long infirmity waits at the pool’s edge for an angel to stir the waters so he can get in, be healed and revived. This passage has been used to promote special geographically-located 'revival' healing wells, but I have a few questions about its relevance and relationship to real revival.
First, my marginal notes indicate that the last part of verse 3 and all of verse 4 are not in our earliest Bible texts. The Bible records no other such healing manifestation in Bethesda; no Jewish historical records contain that story. This is a Bible notation of mere Jewish tradition. It's a myth, a human form of religious superstition! But people have wrenched it out of context to build 'healing' ministries on watery, unstable, leaky foundations. Healing is in the fountain of Jesus' Blood, not in some pool of mystical pilgrimage.
Second, this situation is totally inconsistent with God as the Bible reveals Him. The Great I AM is a God of love; not selfish, competitive ambition. . Yes, God can do what He wants and His ways do change; but His changeable ways are ever consistent with His unchangeable nature, never in contradiction to who God is. “In the beginning… God. The Great I AM. I am the Lord, I change not. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday today and forever.” He does not reward those who sense angelic stirrings and beat everyone else into the pool. It's incredible that such a misrepresentation of God is tolerated, let alone celebrated in much of today's church. Such teaching and manner of ministry is totally inconsistent with the Bible's revelation of Jesus Christ. Healing is definitely connected with faith, but is it that type of run-to-Bethesda, Lakeland or wherever ‘faith’, first-in-the-pool-gets-healed ‘faith’, even if it means pushing others aside for your miracle ‘faith’ that God is revealing here? A 'faith' that heals the few who make it in before everyone else but leaves the sick and dying at the edge, clinging to residues of mystical hope is not the faith of Jesus. Such a charade leaves not only a poolside of rejected, unhealed victims behind in its wake, but a bad taste in my heart and a stain on the misrepresented image and character of God. An entire revivalist culture has built around this supposition. It is a false revelation.
Christ's healing is deeper and fuller than merely requiring a physical response to some supernatural surface manifestation. However, much North American Christianity seems bored with the real thing and has instead dug up 'superspiritual' substitutes and passed them off as Christian life. Jeremiah writes to us:
"My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewn themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water." (Jer 2:13)
Pools, cisterns… systems that hold no water; religious systems based on myth and tradition; ministry extravaganzas that exalt personalities and gifts. We have hewn them out. They are neither God's Hand nor Kingdom, but works of human flesh and idolatrous religion. In the end, they yield nothing but false hope, disappointment and delusion.
We are like that paralytic, lying at the edge, waiting on arbitrary stirrings of revival. And as in the Bible account, the real Jesus, the Way the Truth and the Life Jesus, comes to us, deeply moved by our constant infirmities, and asks, "Do you want to be healed?" Not just surface, physical release from pain, but body, soul, spirit, mind, will and emotions whole! In other words, do you want complete salvation, deliverance from not only physical infirmity, but healing in your entire being, even your thinking and feelings changed, a will transformed by His Life?
There is an unhealthy imbalance in Charismatic Christian church life today. We need more than the package form of revival. We need more than surface stirrings of waters; they only stroke bruised egos and ease wounded comfort zones. We need a stirring in our religious root systems. We have failed to recognize and acknowledge The Lord for who He is and the way He truly works. He is Love, Mercy and Healing. He is wholeness. The Bible proclaims, “In Christ dwells all the fullness of the godhead bodily and you are complete in Him.” We cannot settle for speculative substitute manifestations when Jesus Christ has made the Way into the Holy of Holies clear and open for us by His Blood once for all. His Presence is poured out for us, in us and through us. We don’t just need a pool to jump in. We have a whole river to swim in and in Christ there is more than enough, even a well to drink in. Anyone really thirsty? Jesus said, “Come to me and out of your innermost being will flow rivers of living water, not into you, but out of you! Christ challenged a self-centred religious system in His day; He defeated it at the Cross and continues to confront it today. It is finished! It’s time for the body of Christ to move out of Old Covenant types and shadows into New Covenant light! The River of God’s healing is for the whole: body, soul and spirit whole; individual members and corporate whole.
We need a deeper experience, a depth yet not probed. Spiritual awakening by itself is definitely not enough; there must be a raising up of the body, following through with specific, personal discipleship, changing from religious forms (even and especially when we pride ourselves that we are not ‘religious’) into the real image from glory to glory, not just from experience to experience, where self is the standard of measurement. Those awakened must know His healing faith and power to arise from their hearts and raise their whole being from their pitiful poolside existence. We have been crippled too long without the strength and maturity to truly walk the talk and take real steps forward. We need to drink, eat, and swim in the full River of God’s love. We need more than a visitation; we need, and in Christ we are, a divine habitation. Do you not know that individually your body is the temple of God and corporately we are the body of Christ, the temple of His Holy Spirit?
Church: will you rise from your bed of excuses or keep playing with religious games and gimmicks? Jesus is calling us to be and make disciples, those who will know Him and respond at His leading; those who truly follow the Lamb wherever He goes. We are His sheep, not a groupie following of healing junkies trying to lasso and market hyped-up miracle manifestations that fall far short of His truly revealed glory. We must discern and discount what is not God but what we have called God anyways because that’s all our poor souls have been trained and addicted to. The Law never saved anyone, but neither does license. All they can do is convict that we are in a ditch, need our Saviour and direct us to the Cross. Angels have never saved anyone’s soul nor have they been agents of healing without directing the needy to Jesus. An unhealthy overemphasis of their ministry is nothing more than a renewed cultish Gnosticism. Anything less than the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus is dead religion. It may be a different package, but it’s the same old deception; perhaps a different form or manifestation, but still the same empty religion. Christ challenged a self-centred religious system in His day and still does today. He defeated it then at the Cross and continues to expose its emptiness. It is finished! It's time for the body of Christ to move out of Old Covenant types and shadows and walk in New Covenant light! We have lain crippled too long; it's time to truly rise and walk the talk. While others wait for waters to move, let the Cross move you to look to Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith. Right now He's crying out to a needy world and a distracted Church: "Anyone here want to be whole?
I long to see what happens when we answer 'Yes!' and He adds, "Then take up your bed and walk!" The Church -- rising up, walking in love, unity, revelation and obedience…glorious and whole! Jesus paid for a revolution, true reformation in individuals and community! Let's not settle for lesser forms of 'revival'.
Here are 2 contrasting scenes from my recent experience. Can you relate?
Scene I: Our missions team returned from 2 weeks’ ministry in April in Cambodia. It is a unique country, truly like no other place I’ve visited, except perhaps Albania during the 1999 Kosovo Crisis. Highways are so potholed that driving 150 km. to Angkor Wat took over 4 hours. The Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot /Killing Fields atrocities so decimated the nation (3 million were massacred out of a 13 million population!) its people appear traumatized, stunned, hopeless, without vision. Garbage lay deep in the cities; piles of clothing littered their streets; open sewers spewed forth a sour, putrid, pervading stench of decay and refuse. Cattle ambled by, surreally munching on plastic rummaged from fields of rubbish. This is Poipet, a Thai-Cambodian bordertown, comparable in size to Abbotsford. The Lonely Planet guidebook describes Poipet as the armpit of Cambodia with nothing of interest and advises tourists to move on.
We stayed. In fact, this was our destination. The good news of Jesus Christ is hope for every nation and the poor and hopeless especially need it. We encountered more than natural filth. Garbage, open sewers, and litter were mere shadows of even more horrible human devastation. Thailand entices its poor neighbours with promises of money, riches and a better life. However, at least 15% of Thailand’s flourishing GNP thrives on a sex trade which deceptively lures and then entraps poor, homeless orphans into a web of child pornography and prostitution. Sex and money, a lethal combination, know no borders to its lust and greed. Sexploiters infiltrate Cambodia, prey on its orphans and steal them away into a 21st Century slave trade. Sadly, many of this trade’s customers (the people who supply the demand) are Canadian sex tourists who travel to Thailand for this very purpose. Fortunately, the RCMP is now recognizing this problem, exposing and prosecuting those Canadians who engage in these illicit and inhuman abuses. Children 10 years and even younger are trapped in prostitution, coerced into videoed sex acts for the warped pleasure of perverted, twisted minds. Some even justify this as ‘inter-generational sex’! While there, over 100 of these sexploited women and children were repatriated from Thailand back to Poipet. But this tragedy of traffic in human souls continues.
One Poipet pastor and his wife decided to make a difference. In addition to their own 3 children, they began taking in homeless, orphaned, abandoned children that would otherwise have been forced into sex slavery. 1…2… eventually they added 23 other children. Their growing family became a church, and in turn became an outreach army to wash, feed, and care for hundreds of other abused children. We joined them in a Las Vegas-like strip of Thai-run casinos in a gambling no-man’s land between the 2 countries (sexual exploitation is permitted in Thailand, but gambling is not!). About 150 homeless children jostled about the field, each waiting for 1 of only 100 individually prepared meals of rice and fish. Like Jesus feeding the 5000, his disciples aligned the children in orderly rows on the grass. They ate and every one cleaned up after themselves. Not one piece of litter remained; the lawn was even cleaner and joy filled the air! But security officers from the adjacent glitzy casino intervened and forbade further feedings. They said the children wrecked the grass! Grass more valuable than children?!? Societies based on self, greed and lust, are not only are blind to the poor, but forbid those who help those who cannot help themselves.
Scene II: After returning here to Abbotsford, I attended a Christian meeting. The speaker concluded his message with an altar call: “Who is not happy with your life?” Over half of the congregation stood and waited for the man of God to pray. Were they hoping he would utter magical words to dispel their unhappiness? Perhaps wave his hand and expel their problems to Neverland? Or maybe touch them and break off anxieties that blocked their tangible happiness until their next meeting and altar call?
I watched, listened and felt a mixture of empathy and frustration. Empathy: I can identify with a desire for more of Christ’s fullness and glory to be manifest and evident in my life and the church; definitely I am not happy with the status quo. Frustration: why are so many North Americans, who have so much in this life compared with others in our world, and especially Christians, who confess eternal and abundant life through faith in Christ, so dissatisfied and unhappy? I believe we often measure our lives by the same standard as the world…self. Our ‘happiness’ is then tied to ‘happenings’ (when they’re good, we’re happy, when they’re bad, we’re sad) more than to the joy Jesus’ resurrection life gives. Why is so much of our Christian experience measured and governed by the standard of self when Jesus says His followers are to deny our selves and not use self as a standard of whether or not we are happy! (Matt 16:24)
I asked the Lord what He saw. Scene I’s homeless, hungry Cambodian children intermingled with Scene II’s unhappy North American Christians. I thought: If these ‘well-fed but unhappy with themselves’ Christians would take their riches, invest in Poipet’s poor (or wherever) instead of Starbucks (Walmart or wherever), then I am sure that within 30 seconds they would really get real joy, a vision beyond themselves and even get a life, like really ‘saved’. After all, Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40)