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The “Optional Extras” of Christian Faith?

21 Jul
To say grace or not to say grace when you are in a public place?

 

This week I was involved in a discussion about whether it was right or expected by God that we should give thanks for our food before a meal when eating in a restaurant or elsewhere. Naturally there was a range of opinions, with some people enthusiastic, and others reluctant. What intrigued me most, however, was the argument of those who thought it to be a bit of a tangential issue, a bit of a sideshow, or some kind of optional extra for those who felt like it.

 

Of course when we think about the biggest issue of Christian faith, the salvation of our souls, then everything else can be said to be a side issue, but unless one is on one’s deathbed and about to breathe one’s last, once salvation is taken care of, there’s a lot more living to be done!

 

It’s funny how often we can be tempted to refer to something as a side issue. It’s often the line with which we end the discussion after we have been shown something in the Bible which disrupts ouir comfortable theology. It’s the line we use to comfort ourselves that we aren’t doing so badly. We argue the rights and wrongs. We ‘um’ and ‘ah’. We find a way to wriggle out of doing the thing that would glorify God, rather than seeking to submit. And while we may be stubborn and disobedient to one (or several) of God’s clear commands, at least we can point to the fact that we’ve got the main issue sorted. We then feel safe to remain just as we are.

 

Of course, one could argue that giving thanks for one’s food is not necessarily commanded. We do, however, see it in the life of Jesus (at the feeding of the five thousand, and the four thousand, and the Last Supper) and Paul talks about it too (see e.g. 1 Tim 4:3-4). However, that doesn’t really go to the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is, literally, the heart! For while saying grace is not necessarily commanded in Scripture, it is an opportunity to involve God with one’s day, to remind oneself of His goodness, to meet with Him and to commit a time of eating and fellowship to Him. If our hearts want God to be Lord of everything, and glorified in us, our own comfort takes second place.

 

What changed it for me?

 

Since I was baptised with the Holy Spirit (a secondary, post-conversion experience, with speaking in tongues, etc.), I view this whole business of what some people deem the “optional” elements of the Christian life very differently. Being filled with the Spirit on an ongoing basis has totally changed the way I think about both God and how I serve him. It means I no longer do this little dance about whether something is a choice, or right or wrong, or tangential, or a minor issue. Rather, love for God overflowing from the presence of the Holy Spirit within me means I want to put Him first in everything and please Him in everything – the details as well as the big-picture stuff. If I was married: I wouldn’t sit weighing up whether doing something nice for my wife was the “done thing”; I would just do it to express my love for her. It’s the same with loving and serving God.

 

I’m not attempting to judge anybody or try to fix where they are at spiritually. What I am saying is that that when I didn’t have the Spirit in me in the same way (for a whole 6 years after my conversion) I too tended to dwell on the pros and cons rather than Just Doing It, and somehow I always came down on the side of NOT doing whatever it was that I had opportunity to do. Expressing love for God has become far more instinctive since I started living a spirit-filled life, and I would recommend it to anybody.

 

It’s no longer about feeling coerced into observing rules, but rather we do the things that please the Father’s heart because our hearts are full of love for Him:
“We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)

 

When we are full of the Holy Spirit, we seek to please God in all things. Suddenly, those issues that our legalistic minds once told us were optional extras become opportunities to meet with God and manifest His glory. God-in-us becomes unlimited in His potential to work through us when we give Him that kind of access. And that’s why I say grace in public places.

 

PS While I was putting this post together, a man added his story to the discussion.
He told of how he stopped at a truckers’ café for a full English breakfast sometime last year. He gave thanks for his food – and a young couple asked him what he was doing. After two hours of conversation, he led both of them to receive Christ as saviour. The couple now attend church and the man has been invited to attend the Christening of their first child. God works through our submission and sacrifice!

 

Everything they said I shouldn’t do…

23 May

When talking to Christians from non-charismatic or conservative evangelical backgrounds, I often find myself having to deal with their resistance to the idea that God would want to manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit through them, bless them finanically or meet with them personally in day-to-day life.

Some attempt to write these things off as minor doctrines, but God has spoken clearly in the Bible about a great many things besides forgiveness, holiness and salvation. Generally I find that people start to mention the issue of “minor doctrines” when they are trying to excuse themselves from dealing with parts of Scripture that they find challenging. Unbelief regarding God’s word or fear of what other Christians will think of them is what holds them back from exploring God’s ways. How often do we say, “We don’t do it like that at my church?”

Nothing is as important as knowing you’re saved from sin, but God has given us a lot of very clear teaching about how to live and how to build His kingdom. Receiving salvation (being born again) is just the first step. It’s amazing to see how all the stuff people at my old conservative evangelical Baptist church tried to talk me out of when I was in my teens has become the most liberating and powerful teaching – and all I had to do was take God at his word.

They said I didn’t need to ask God to fill me with the Holy Spirit, but when I did ask Him to fill me with the Spirit, I found power to witness and a sense of Jesus living in me that being a born-again Christian from age 10 and going to church all my life had never given me. (Acts 1:8; Romans 8:11)

They said speaking in tongues was a waste of time, but the more I speak in tongues, the more I hear from God when ministering to people and am empowered to use the gifts of the Spirit. (Romans 8:26,27; Jude v20)

They said I shouldn’t bother raising my hands in the air when I worship, but when I do it I feel more connected to God and worship takes me into two-way communion with Him. (Psalm 63:4)

They said I shouldn’t bother laying hands on people to pray for healing, but I have done it and people have been healed and shown the love of Jesus as a result. (Mark 16:18)

They said I shouldn’t bother trusting God to prosper me, but every time I do, He blesses me financially! (Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

The bottom line is that we can do things God’s way, as the apostles and prophets did, and if we do so, we will see what the apostles and prophets saw. Many Christians are discovering this to be true and are seeing God do amazing things through the gifts of the Spirit, as well as being abundantly blessed with financial and material provision, enabling them in turn to provide for the preaching of the gospel and ministry to the needy. Alternatively, we can find reasons not to do those things and have the kind of church I grew up in, in which most of the people we reach are those who are already stable in life and part of the church system.

I’ve begun to see what God does when we take Him at His word.  If you’re looking to see Him do what He said He would do, don’t let well-meaning, “unbelieving believers” talk you out of it.

No Holy Spirit makes Christianity hard to swallow

17 May

Yesterday I had the unfortunate experience of having to eat a gluten-free biscuit (“cookie”, for American readers). It started off okay, as it was sweet and crunchy, but by the time it came to swallow, it was sticking to my teeth like sawdust. I had to eat a handful of raisins just to dislodge the clumps of biscuit that were still sticking to my teeth.

Gluten in flour acts as a kind of lubricant in bread, cookies and cakes. It gives the baked dough a bouncier consistency, and this makes food more appealing to look at and to handle, as well as much more pleasant to chew and easier to swallow.

Of course, some people cannot eat gluten and have no choice but to eat gluten-free. My mother has had to eat a gluten-free diet for some 30 years. Her allergy to wheat gluten means that if she resumes eating gluten, it brings on an uncomfortable skin-rash. But, given the choice, she would go back to eating normal food, with the gluten left in, in a heartbeat.

It strikes me that the power of the Holy Spirit is a bit like gluten. Christian life is so much more bouncy, so much more enjoyable, when one is full of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is… joy…” (Galatians 5:22) Joy and the overflowing life given by the Spirit (John 7:38) not only make our own lives as followers of Christ into the abundant and rich experience Jesus said it would be (“I have come that you may have life in all its fullness” – see John 10:10). Being filled with the Spirit also makes us more palatable to the world. If Christianity is all “Do this; don’t do that,” it can seem dry, lifeless, as hard to swallow as sawdust or those dry crumbs of biscuit that stuck to my teeth. The Spirit-filled life is one of power to do the works of the kingdom of God (Acts 1:8); ability to overcome the traps set by the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16); release from the death-grip of the world (Romans 8:11-14). These are the things the world is crying out for; answers to its problems and keys to its prison cell.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit some twenty years ago immediately transformed my life as a Christian. I was almost 16 years old, and had been saved for six years, having grown up in a church that did not talk about the baptism or gifts of the Spirit. My faith had consistency: I knew I was saved, but it was a dry faith. One could get tired of trying to swallow it. When I got filled with the Spirit and began praying in tongues, all of that changed. His power not only brought me into a new dimension of relating to God; it brought a bounce and a liveliness that had been missing before. Passion was there, along with boldness, focus and a sense of being fully involved in God’s purposes. No longer did Christianity stick in my teeth: it became ever more a delight and, as I began leading people to faith in Jesus, it was clear that the Spirit in me was making the gospel appetising to other people too.

Sometimes we ask what is missing from our Christianity. Since I got filled with the Spirit, I no longer have to ask that question: I have found God’s gluten, the missing ingredient that was needed to provide the “bounce”. Yet some of us seem to be allergic to the answer: the mention of the Holy Spirit and gifts like tongues and prophecy brings us out in a rash. But when we take Jesus at His word and receive the Holy Spirit, not only do we find that there is no allergic reaction; the Spirit brings us life!

Find out here how to be filled with the Spirit today.

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