Posts Tagged faith
By Rev. Steven Larson, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN
Phillips Brooks wrote, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for power equal to your tasks.”
“The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight.” (O Little Town of Bethlehem)
Hopes and fears are types of dreams that we all have. There are things that we hope will happen and things we fear might come true. What we fear can paralyze us in our tracks, while what we hope for can powerfully move us forward. God desires to fill our hearts with big dreams.
A God-sized dream ensures our spiritual growth. When God calls us to something, it can feel like an outfit that is the wrong size; gaping in places and pinching in others. We desire to send it back for a more reasonably-sized dream, one that doesn’t cause so much discomfort. Tell that to Joseph, Abraham, Ruth, Esther, Daniel and the Apostle Paul!
A God-sized dream forces us to invite others into a bigger story. We must talk about it with each other, share it with other Christian churches in our community, and actually tell people in this community what God is calling us to be. This is the way our story will become their story, too. God will use this to inspire others as they see what is possible for an ordinary church with a God-sized dream when we put our trust in him.
A God-sized dream gives glory to God only, not us. God is up to something big when he plants his dreams in our hearts. If we were able to achieve our calling by our own strength, we would also take all the glory. But when we stand at the base of an impossible mountain, shaking in our boots, knowing full well our legs could never carry us to the summit, we are forced to rely on God and praise him for every step he enables us to take.
In the end, our calling will shine the light on an infinitely powerful God, who is enlarging his Kingdom through us day by day. We fully experience God’s dream when we completely trust him, and when we graciously walk with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Seek a God-sized dream for your church!
“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God” (Acts 18).
Don’t tell me God doesn’t still speak today. He does. The way he most powerfully speaks to us today is through His Word by the Spirit. One of the most significant words God ever gave me was to bring to my mind a promise he gave to Paul when he was trying to minister in Corinth.
In Acts 18, Paul was scared, facing no little opposition, and growing discouraged as he tried to establish a church of believers in this city. I can relate. God had called me back home to Mound in 2005 to start my own ministry and community of Jesus followers. More than a year had passed since I said ‘Yes’ and started ministry in Mound. Sometime in the summer of 2006 I was discouraged, afraid, doubting and ready to throw in the towel. The vision God had given me for a vital new youth ministry was simply not materializing. God had given me a vision of a crowd of teens attending a music event and hearing about Jesus. One year in and we were still a group of about 6 youth meeting in my basement.
In this hopeless state of mind, I went on a walk one night. I remember like it was yesterday, walking slowly behind the Memorial Garden at Bethel Methodist Church on Tonkawood Road. “Oh, God, help me!” I was a walking example of Romans 8:26: “ The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” God knew just what my heart’s cry was that night. I was so alone. Feeling such a heavy burden to reach an entire school’s youth with a fresh vision for what it means to follow Jesus today, I was collapsing under the weigh of it. I needed co-laborers for help me realize this vision. I needed people to help hold my arms up when they got tired.
I needed to know that I was not the only servant of God in this city. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been studying the history and founding fathers of the Covenant the past several months. Perhaps the greatest influential figure of the 19th century revivals that swept through Sweden was C.O. Rosenius (1816-1868). He became one of Sweden’s most widely read religious writers of his time as the editor of Pietisten used heavily by the Mission Friends who later became the Covenant Church in America. Here’s a taste of Rosenius — note the strong “pietist” flavor that emphasizes a “heart faith” that leads to a changed life and the warning against a dead orthodoxy that is merely an intellectual exercise void of the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit.
“We are richer in words than in power. We are, praise God, quite rich in spiritual erudition, in word and understanding. We have more religious knowledge than the great saints formerly had. One can truthfully say with Bishop Pontoppidan, ‘As I look at our forefathers, I think that they did more than they knew; we, on the other hand, know more than we do. They were like the fruitful Leah whose eyes were weak, but we like Rachel who was beautiful and lovely.’ What is, therefore, now most necessary is practice, implementation, because the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.
But be this thought far from us which some have had…that we have had enough of the preaching of faith. What is lacking, they say, is the preaching of sanctification; the former is enough and sufficiently preached. What we need now, if the deficiencies in Christendom are to be healed, is primarily the preaching of law and sanctification. No, the fact still stands firm that only the despised ‘foolishness of preaching,’ the preaching of faith, gives the spirit. Gal. 3:2. This gives life and power and truth in sanctification.
Where the power of godliness and evidence is absent, there faith and life in Christ is absent. The fault consists in this that we do not lay the Word on our hearts and immediately apply, use, and implement it in our lives. We only gather it in our reason to order our concepts and clarify doctrine. In other words, the time is used to hammer weapons, to polish and arrange, and still let the enemy possess the land without using the weapons against him. The attention is turned only to doctrine and concepts, whereas the actual business urged by the word, repentance of the heart, faith and sanctification flows, these are forgotten. And note, in this way we never get doctrine really clear or pure. In this way we are in danger of losing even doctrine, the genuine true doctrine. At least in this way we miss the real matter, God’s kingdom in us, which does not consist in words but in power.”
C.O. Rosenius, “For the Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power,” Missions-Vannen, May, 1878, pp. 131-132
This is a repost. It seems to capture part of what’s going on in John 3 as Jesus tells Nicodemus about the life-changing, soul-transforming explosion God wants to work in our hearts through “new birth.” -JB
I was standing on the dock putting gasoline into the boat the other day. I happened to read the bright yellow warning sticker as I slowly poured the 5-gallons into the tank. The sticker read:
WARNING: Leaking fuel is a fire and explosion hazard. Inspect fuel system often.
My mind began searching for some Christian life lesson or, as we call them at here at Daily Illumination, another “sacred analogy.” I came up with one worth pondering.
WARNING STICKERS. This analogy first begins with the observation that what goes for Christianity in America is a much more tamed, PG-rated and user-friendly version than the risky, life-endangering, explosive kind of faith found in the Bible. True faith in the Holy, Living God of the Bible is serious business and should come with many yellow, reflective WARNING stickers as well. Some sobering warning stickers would do much to promote the true, authentic faith the martyrs gave their life for than padded seats, air-conditioned auditoriums and cute, catchy cliches plastered on the bumpers of Christian mini-vans. (Not that there is anything wrong with these things in and of themselves; but I think you get my point.)
Remember how the great lion Aslan is described in the Chronicles of Narnia when one asks if this Aslan (or God) is a safe, tame lion? He is most certainly not safe or tame; but He is good. Likewise, true Christianity isn’t a safe endeavor either; it is “the good fight” as Paul likes to say. That’s right: When we enter into worship, call on the living God in prayer, join with other Christians in Kingdom advancing efforts and open our Bibles for truth an wisdom, we should be reminded that we are dealing with highly explosive, powerful stuff and should proceed with great caution and care. Read the rest of this entry »
What if our faith was as real and powerful as the faith of the Apostle Paul, Peter, James and John, Mary and Lydia, Priscilla and Aquilla? What if our experience of church today was as exciting as those in the upper room at Pentecost, as action-packed as Barnabas and Silas’s missionary journeys throughout Asia Minor, as faith-stretching as Peter stepping out onto the water, or as jolting as Paul being knocked flat on his back and blinded by the light of Christ? What if the Spirit’s guidance was as real and direct in our lives as when Paul was led to Macedonia by a vision in the night? What if our message today was bold enough to “turn the world upside down” as we pledge allegiance to a different King and Kingdom than the rest of those around us (Acts 17:7)?
We are accustomed to approaching the New Testament as detached observers feeling far removed from the original events, or as students picking apart the text as an academic exercise. We study the Bible to learn about God, about Jesus, about the church and about the power of Holy Spirit. But many of us will never enter into the story, become real participants in the activity of God, and let our imaginations be reshaped by the Apostolic life we read about in the New Testament.
This year I have the privilege of leading our MainStreet college group through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As I prepared for our first evening together, these thoughts were swimming through my head. All of these students grew up in church and now attend a Christian college where they are constantly discussing the Bible, taking classes on it, hearing it preached in chapel, and reading it in their personal devotions. As with all Christian colleges, the Bible is their primary textbook.
But I want to approach Paul’s letter to the Ephesians differently. I wan’t to recapture the exciting situation into which this epistle was written. I want us to remember that these were personal letters sent by a real missionary-pastor to real people living in a real place facing real challenges. I want to let these powerful words be heard afresh, wrapping our minds around the potent message contained within. I want us to cultivate an Apostolic Imagination as we dig into Ephesians.
I briefly unpacked 4 aspects of an Apostolic Imagination with our group tonight: apostolic purpose, power, passion and participation. Read the rest of this entry »
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me! Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:28-31)
My Dear Peter Bjorn,
You will always live your life pulled in two directions, two worlds, two realities. On the one hand, you will be invited to live in the reality of the Kingdom of God — reality defined by the Creator who can bend the rules at will. On the other hand, you have been born into the 21st century American culture. You will be bombarded throughout your life with the values, beliefs, goals and purposes of the so-called “American Way”, and tempted to pursue the so-called American Dream.
Beware, Peter Bjorn. The American Way is is paved with empty idols, false promises, an obsession with self and a terrible lack of adventure. As a culture, we are obsessed with safety, conformity to the status quo, and are quite risk-averse. Oh, and we settle for far less than the kind of abundant life that Jesus offers to us (John 10:10).
Your daddy was in college, preparing to chase the American Dream, get a practical degree so he could get a good-paying job to buy the house with the picket fence, and raise a family trying to “keep up with the Jones’s.” But God had different plans. I encountered the God who is anything but safe and tame. I found my life swept up into a far more exciting story than the life promised by the American Dream.
Your daddy became a real disciple of Jesus during college at Bethel. Soon the priorities and desires of my life changed radically. I no longer found the American Dream that compelling. I saw many people working around the clock, accumulating more stuff, living in the big houses, driving the nice cars, living in the suburbs — and many of them still feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.
Meanwhile, I began to make choices that seems odd and impractical to the watching world. I changed my major to study the Bible not knowing how I would earn a living. I started investing my time in serving and helping people (e.g.,working with inner city teens, youth ministry, etc.). I soon found myself preparing for vocational ministry.
What does any of this have to do with Simon Peter walking on water? Well, my dear Peter Bjorn, your dad and mom don’t want you to pursue a safe life chasing after stuff and just getting by. We want you to experience “life on the divine edge of God’s activity” (Erwin McManus). We want you experience the same wild and unpredictable God we read about in Scripture. We want you to come to know personally the God who parts the Red Sea, calms storms miraculously, appears out of no where from a burning bush, heals the lame, multiplies loaves, walks on water and raises the dead! Read the rest of this entry »
Sometimes it would be nice to know the future. Some of the characters in the BIble were given a glimpse of it. In Genesis 15, God promises Abram a son. When none was forthcoming with his wife Sarai, he had a son with his servant Hagar. This wasn’t the one God had been talking about; nonetheless, he told Abram that his name would be Ishmael; he described Ishmael’s personality and his place in history.
Later on in Genesis 25, Isaac, the son who had been promised, and his wife Rebekah were expecting twins. Again, even before their birth, God described their strengths, foreshadowed Esau’s selling of his birthright to Jacob, and foretold that they would father two separate nations.
In the first chapter of Luke, God tells Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to someone named John, and that John will be the one to prepare people for the coming of Jesus. This news stunned Zechariah, but God had known this all along. In Isaiah 40, hundreds of years earlier, he had described John’s voice, crying in the wilderness.
God already knew these, as yet unborn, people. They already had personalities and they had a place in his world. God says to Jeremiah in Chapter 1 verse 5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
Most of us don’t get those peeks into the future. When our children are born, we meet them for the first time. We discover who they are as we try to equip them for their lives. We love them and teach them. We try to discern and help them to develop their gifts.
When we become parents, it’s easy to allow lives to be absorbed by our children. Our interests, our activities are displaced by the immediacy of their needs. We want them to be exposed to every opportunity, every discipline that might enhance their lives. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s a story from a pastor friend of mine. We both enjoy watching squirrels, though I can’t say I enjoy reading about raising chickens. Enjoy!
I was sitting on the outdoor patio of a great little coffee shop in the Swede Hollow neighborhood of St Paul yesterday. I was waiting for a phone call from a pastor in FL who is going to be planting house churches. I was reading about raising chickens.
I looked up from my book to see a squirrel scooting down the trunk of a huge elm tree. The squirrel looked kind of odd and took a second for me to recognize that it’s tail was missing! A tail-less squirrel. I didn’t really track where the squirrel was going or what it did after it got off that tree, but i have been thinking about the problems this squirrel must have.
Squirrels use their tails for balance as they are climbing, jumping from tree to tree, and even scampering on the ground. Pretty amazing to think that this squirrel is still alive if he/she has made any efforts of jumping from one tree to the next. I can picture the poor squirrel jumping from the tree limb to the electric wires below, kind of wobbling on take off, going into a bit of a “tail” (or “lack of a tail”) spin and landing on the transformer rather than the wire…oops! Sizzle. Balance is life and death for a squirrel, but this one just doesn’t have it. Read the rest of this entry »
I was reading Heb 11:8-12,19 today about Abraham and taking some notes. The DNA for being a radical Jesus follower today can be summed up in 9 characteristics we find in our father Abraham described in Hebrews 11. Check it out!
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God….And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore….Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead (Hebrews 11)
The DNA for being a radical Jesus follower today can be summed up in 9 characteristics we find in our father Abraham listed below. Check it out!
1. He knew his call (“called to go to a place”),
2. he obeyed this call (“obeyed and went”),
3. he walked toward something he could not yet physically see (“he did not know where he was going”), Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been pulling DI classics out of the old archives this summer. The following is one of the more random posts I’ve written — hence, the title! Honestly, I wonder what exactly I was trying to say. But I feel today that same anticipatory spirit I was feeling back then in ’06. God is preparing Keri and I for something special, and we can’t wait for the circus to begin! Enjoy.
I’m not a prayer warrior. Prayer has often confused me. I mean, if God knows what we need before we ask, then why even ask? He already knows. I believe God speaks to our hearts, through uneasy feelings, deep yearnings unspoken, and makes his home in the center of our mixed thoughts. His Spirit makes his lodging in the midst of our doubts and fears, hopes and longings.
My relationship with God sometimes feels like a Scandinavian lad’s relationship with their relatives. Little is spoken, but we usually have a feeling we know where everyone else is at. Though little is said between father and son, the son still knows the father is behind him 100%, watching out for him and wanting only his best. Read the rest of this entry »