Sunday, July 19, 2009

Is Christ Breaking Forth In Us?

Afternoon All,

Wanted to write some thoughts down before they fly away.

It appears that more and more folks that I talk to are heeding the voice of God regarding His desires for His people.

Today as we assembled our local body, He continued to call us to Himself. We had words including His sufficiency, His joy is our strength, and the sower’s parable (Matt 13). I really received the word on the sower for some reason. There are three verbs involved there; hearing, understanding, and bearing. We have to be successful at all three to accomplish bearing fruit unto Him. In this age of technology and busy-ness, we must “hear” Him, “understand” Him, and “bear” that Word received until it “bears” the fruit.

Really, the issue becomes do we “hear” what God is telling us to do, do we really “understand” it, and finally do we “obey” that Word until fruit is born out of it. If we are truly seeking to draw closer to Him (aka personal revival), then we will accomplish this process day in and day out.

We are seeing a time where God is drawing His Bride to Himself and constraining us to further separation from the world. That is unpopular to our flesh, our lost relatives, the world in general, and even some religious folk around us. The question becomes, “will we obey His call?” Not later, but daily.

A recent June David Wilkerson newsletter reminds me to get ready for adversity. He stated to remember that the world hated Jesus without a cause. Jesus’ virtues and works should have been the most attractive sights on planet earth. Yet, people wanted to kill Him. Guess what? When you purpose to start obeying Him, allowing Him to change you from the inside out, you will become hated too and without a cause. Are you ready for that? Can you and I handle that heat from your own flesh and people around you?

While I am mentioning Wilkerson, I felt compelled to pick up a book recently from him that was written in 1992 entitled, Hungry for More of Jesus. I just recently bulldozed into Chapter 10, Manifesting the Presence of Jesus. We must realize that Christ wants to shine or break out through us. Are we keeping Him from accomplishing this? I was smitten with conviction. My appetite for worldliness has made it impossible for Him to shine through. I have to change my appetite. As you may notice, I am working hard to stay in physical shape as of late, but am I that motivated to have my spirit man in impeccable condition to hear Him and obey? Ouch!

Back to chapter 10. Brother David made a piercing statement, “Wherever you find the presence of Jesus, you always find these five manifestations breaking forth among His people.” Let me give you a hint, it is not gold dust or angelic appearances like the current American TV preachers are advocating. No, these five manifestations have a little bit more biblical substance.

If I may, I will list them. I will refrain from elaborating on them at this time. I would rather you meditate on them and provide some feedback. I may share some thoughts on them later. So here they are,

  1. God’s people manifest a deep, smiting conviction of sin.
  2. God’s people manifest the power to destroy sin.
  3. God’s people manifest a spirit of holiness.
  4. God’s people manifest a sharing of the Lord’s burden.
  5. God’s people manifest an exuberant and exceedingly great joy.

So there. I can hear you now saying, Ahhhh, I know that… OK… Are you living that? How about the local fellowship that you are connected to? Are you all living that? See this is the challenge from heaven? The Lord is ready to “break forth” through His bride somewhere on planet earth. He needs a vessel to accomplish His work. He needs a body of believers (which may be as little as 2 or 3) that will purpose to see these manifestations shine forth through them. Have we had enough goofy, hokey manifestations to last a lifetime? How about the real thing?

Is Jesus really worth it? Is this Christianity thing so real to us that we will change according to His Word? My spirit is ringing with this tonight.

In Christ’s Love,

Brother Russell

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reflections from our missions trip to the Dominican Republic.

As it always seems, we tend to be overwhelmed by the Christianity of the indigenous people. We think that we will go there and minister when in fact the Lord uses them to minister to us. It is obvious that authentic Christianity seems to flourish where the spirit of Mammon has not totally usurped the church-world.

I will refrain from a detailed journal of the trip (and save that for another day), but give you my personal insight to the trip.

It can be categorized as a milestone in my walk with the Lord.

With that I must digress, you see, since 2002 I can safely say that I allowed my Gospel Plow to lay in the field untouched. The work for me had been abandoned, I think, rightfully so, for my ministry had to be rebirthed through relationships. Like most others in American “pyramid” Christianity, my work was segregated from relationships. In spite of being in the most relational “pyramid” at the time, I viewed my work as that alone, work for the Lord.

This approach never works and will, in a good sense, cause your inward flaws to eventually press their way outward. My flaws were and have been quite putrid to me among them, perverse, lustful, resentful, and totally resistant to the Body of Christ during this period of time. I must interject at this time if it wasn’t for my wife (of nearly 18 years) and my local body (relationships for nearly 20 years), I may have been providing a story with a horrible ending.

Over these 7 years (number of completion, Praise the Lord!), the Lord allowed my plow to go motionless but all the while chipping away at my stone defenses that I created. Many factors have applied positive pressure to create something and someone worth relating to. Christ’s power to keep me, my wife’s unending devotion to Christ, and the transformation of our local body from a pyramid structure to the house church model, provided the environment for my own transformation.

This trip to the Dominican literally stirred up something in me to go over to that Gospel Plow to assess my future.You see we visited a previously unknown work this time. It was led by a Brother Jose Martinez, a former Communist, and a current flame of fire along with his wife Dolores. They ministry is highlighted by the verse,(Prov 3:27 NLT) Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it's in your power to help them.

In this work, they have created an environment where drug and alcohol addicts can come and not only be set free from addiction but be prepared to go out and minister the Gospel to others in the same predicament. Now, in my view his work is especially impressive in that he has not himself fought addiction, nor is there some authority that restrains the men there. To stay, they must commit to 1 year on the premises and you must understand that life to really comprehend it. It takes the restraint of the Lord to just keep them there. God IS working there. Many are deported from the U.S. and other countries due to their crimes associated with addiction and they end up there at the center.

We stepped forward to begin supporting the work financially and most importantly spiritually.

Back to my connection here. It is quite simple. Years ago, I too had been totally overcome by addiction, without Christ, and headed for destruction. But, Christ! He found me. He changed me. He is transforming me. For many years, I worked with addicts in ministry to provide some way to be used by Him. Just one glimpse through this work, I saw the compassion and mercy of Christ once again. I saw the fire of God again through Brother Jose and Sister Dolores.

I am stirred to take the yoke of Christ again and begin plowing in those fields ripe for harvest. This time intending to do it biblically through loving caring relationships valuing the relationship over all other things.

Some may read this and think that this has not been the Russell that they know. I hope so. But also, I ask for their forgiveness for not being obedient to the heavenly vision and this is two-fold; the righteous live by faith in the Son of God and Go therefore and make disciples. The great thing about this, I don’t have to do this alone. The body of Christ is waiting for me so that they too can share in the spoils of Christ.

May my one word to you be one that I heard on our last night, “What are you waiting for?” Is Christ not worth laying down every excuse that you are carrying? Be a flame for Christ. Today!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Thoughts on This Resurrection Morn 2009

I have a flood of emotions this morning as I think of what this day means not only to all Christians but to me personally. It happens to be the 20 years to the day that I first met Christ. In a Resurrection Sunday morning service, I heard the Gospel with spiritual ears. Like a huge breaker of waves, the message of the Cross swept over me as I listened how Christ really died for me. As I broke in my sin, I called out to Him there in that service. That morning God became real to me. A real person, a real Savior. I felt the weight of my 23 years of sin lift from life. Then, I knew what Jesus meant when He said, “You must become like a little child again.” It was really a brand new life for me.

Contrary to popular teaching, it was not some event that guaranteed me eternal life. It was the beginning of a love relationship. Like the Apostle Paul, I knew that it was the beginning til “Christ be formed in me.” It is a marathon not a sprint. Christ desires a constant, consistent, persistent walk from me. Grace, Faith, Obedience. I need grace to access faith. I need faith to receive the power to live it. I need obedience to produce the good works that Christ desires through me.

I have certainly at times disappointed myself, Christ, my family, and my friends. But, most importantly, I have never given up on Christ and praise God, He has never given up on me. I have never regretted my decision on that day. A life without Christ in me is truly empty and is vanity. For those without Christ, this is the closest they will get to heaven. But, for those of us being saved, we have a heavenly homecoming.

My prayer today is that our passion for Him increases so that we may love Him more intensely, and we persuade others of both the love of God and the terror of the Lord. Recently, I have listened to a sermon on Hell by David Wilkerson and read a book by a brother who witnessed hell for 23 minutes. If we would all be convinced that Heaven and Hell exists and that our faith in Christ daily will determine our eternal home, how differently we would all live.

I close with the Moravian call to missions which should be our purpose here on earth, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Been reading a book on health called, The Body Fat Solution, by Tom Venuto in addition to several others. Came across a section where he explains that there are reasons why we are susceptible to Weight-Loss Myths. I found these reasons very compelling towards spiritual matters as well. It seems that they would work well for American Christians who allow themselves to be so easily distracted from authentic Christian living. I will list the 8 myths he cites and correlate them to the spiritual. See what you think:

#1 Social Proof, Conformity, and Appeal to the Masses - we have a tendency to conform to what the masses are doing, i.e. conform to the world. I think that I remember the Apostle Paul state, conform not to this world but be transformed... Tom also uses the term pluralistic ignorance which suggests that followers follow other followers and no one thinks for themselves.

#2 Appeal to Authority and Loyalty to Gurus - Imagine that. We revere someone in the public eye that talks and looks like an expert on the subject. Most of the time we have no idea how that person may really live. I am sure that couple on the Bowflex infomercial really did get their bodies from the Bowflex. Not! We do the same with Christianity. Just because a person may look and sound spiritual or have a big church or ministry. Well! They must know what they are talking about. Yeah! Hitler sounded good to millions too. Only God's Word and a believer that you can witness their walk will be the only reliable source of Christian living.

#3 Anecdotal Evidence and Testimonials - Anecdotal evidence is just tad stronger than hearsay. Hardly enough to convict someone on in the court of law. Yet, we will give credence to someone who believes some weird doctrine that is not easily discerned in the Word of God. People will veer off course with all sorts of weird doctrines most of the time to justify their sin. In addition, how many people will be completely enamored with some "healing" on the television without really knowing the facts.

#4 The News Said So - Because some journalist wrote it, we believe it. This could be translated to that your favorite Christian author wrote it, it must be true. We must be careful and always filter ideas through the Bible and through the Holy Spirit. HE is the only trustworthy discerner.

#5 Confusing Correlation and Causation - This one is a little more technical. We will be sold on some deduction that is not at all accurate. Like, "Come to my church and you will be financially blessed!" The correlation is that if you attend a certain fellowship then certain things will or will not happen. Another example is the misuse of Scripture. Verse A and Verse B (in another book) when put together must mean point C. This is a deduction and is even further from the truth than an interpretation. The main point here is that there are a lot of details that are not discussed and still someone tries to influence you towards some thought that cannot be verified very easily.

#6 Confirmation Bias - Wow.. how true this is. We seek only information that confirms our existing beliefs. We also reject evidence that contradicts our beliefs. Let's be honest. We just become unteachable. I still try to figure out how someone can still think they are Christian but is unteachable. Your existing beliefs influence how much information or truth you seek out.

#7 Habitual Thinking and Appeal to Tradition - We just get into habits and they are hard to break. We have tendency to also do what we have always done or what our family has done. It is a tradition. Hope your family isn't thieves or liars, etc.

#8 Wishful Thinking - We create a belief system based on what we wished rather than what is proclaimed truth particularly in God's Word. Being a dummy is one that does the same thing over and over expecting different results.

It is amazing how the Lord will allow you to glean spiritual principles out of everyday life. We need to shake ourselves and realize that the world (today's culture) is influencing us away from living Christian. We allow this though some of the points previously mentioned. I pray that God will reveal to us our own self deceptions that are so hard to identify. Please Lord, open our eyes that we may see!! Good Day!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Christianity, Two Realities

Well, it's been a while. I been getting the urge to journal a little outloud so here I am. Within my church family, we have been discussing church structure and how that affects a local body in relating to one another and the world. We have been in home churches now for over two years. It has been a refreshing journey from the church building to homes. Structure is a tenuous thing, not enough of it will cause confusion, too much of it will strangle the life out of just about everything. This move to house churches is born out of a couple of things; obedience to God and the fact that the early church operated within this type of structure. Obviously, this is a topic of debate and well we can certainly do this, but let me elaborate on a couple of thoughts that I have.
I ran across a passage of text from the late Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), a 20th century theologian and Christian apologist. He submitted a position paper to the participants of the 1974 Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland entitled, "Two Contents, Two Realities." This passage was in the conclusion of the paper and read like this,

"We need two orthodoxies: first, an orthodoxy of doctrine and, second, an orthodoxy of community. Why was the early church able, within one century, to spread from the Indus River to Spain? Think of that: one century, India to Spain. When we read in Acts and in the epistles, we find a church that has and practiced both orthodoxies (doctrine and community), and this could be observed by the world. Thus, they commended the gospel to the world of that day and the Holy Spirit was not grieved.

There is a tradition (it is not in the Bible) that the world said about the Christians in the early church, "Behold, how they love each other." As we read Acts and the epistles, we realize that these early Christians were really struggling for practicing community, a community that reached down all the way to their care for each other in their material needs.

Have we exhibited this community in our evangelical churches? I have to say no-- by and large, no. Our churches have often been two things-- preaching points and activity generators. When a person really has desperate needs in the area of race, or economic matters, or psychological matters, does he naturally expect to find a supporting community in our evangelical churches? We must say with tears, many times no!"

It is my belief in this day and age within the American fabric of life anyway, that the church must practice this orthodoxy of community in full view of the world to have any chance of winning it. Let's face it. The American church is losing over a million folks a year. They are walking out of the building. If Christians are walking out of the building, do we really believe that the world will walk in the building? Not happening. So what must happen is that the believers must practice community outside of the building in full view of the world. And the world must say as it said in the early church era, "Behold, how they love each other." This will not happen in a planned outreach. It must be just as natural in the normal course of life as breathing. How then can this happen?

First, there must be real community among the local body. Not something fake or with a facade. Real love in real relationships. How can this happen? It takes long-term relationships that have gone through the fire of trials. Then, you will see the love among the brethren that is truly amazing and attractive. Let's continue this thought the next time that I sit down at the keyboard. In the meantime, think about this.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Yes, there is a disorder that is becoming predominant among Americans that call themselves Christian and it is “SADD.” Yes, it is sad and the acronym is SADD which is better know as “Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.”

Continuing in the same thought as the alabaster box word that I previously sent out, we must recognize that we are the greatest obstacle to the Spirit of God in the earth. I am sure that you would have guessed that Satan was God’s biggest hindrance. I contend it is ourselves. If we were out of the way and in total cooperation with the Lord, we would certainly see the Lord make incredible advances in the earth. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the power of God widespread in this country since Azusa Street.

What is the hindrance? My understanding is this—we have physical limitations. We can only lift so much weight, walk so far, and stay awake so long. We physically have a limit. Somehow, we think that our soul-man is unlimited in strength. We are so loaded down mentally, emotionally, and goal-oriented ( tasks to do) in the will that we have no strength for the Spirit of God to use us. We are so “full” of things on this earth that we have absolutely no room for the Lord.

The Lord has been very specific with me recently to clear the mind, the will, and the emotions. We stay constantly so engaged mentally, emotionally involved, and driven with things on earth that the Lord cannot make any headway with us much less through us. Do we realize that the only way the body of Christ can be exhorted and the lost evangelized is for the Spirit of God to come up out of our spirit, through our soul, and touch someone else?

I read somewhere (Psa 27:7) "A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb." The Spirit of God is burdened and yet that burden can never leave our spirit due to condition of our soul. I also read that someone said (Matt 11:30) "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" compared to ours. We carry this huge burden of the world’s activities around in our souls while the Spirit is there wanting to burden us with what God is burdened with. That burden he promises that we can carry; however, the one that we carry around He makes no promises. Matter of fact, Paul said (Phil 4:6) “Be anxious for nothing!”

We are consumed on carnal matters while Paul teaches us (NLT Rom 8:6, 1 Cor 2:16, 2 Tim 4:5) that we should be “minding” the things of the Spirit. In Colossians, Paul says (Col 3:2) that we should have our mind on the things “above” and not below. I had to begin fasting in many ways from the the things of this earth, just to get my mind back on the things of the Spirit. It is the story of the “frog in the pot.” Story has it that a frog can be place in a cold pot of water and he will not even notice the water warm until he is boiling. It is gradual and goes unnoticed.

Back to the “SADD” theme, we are not paying attention. If the Lord right now wanted to use your mind, “does He have room?” If he wanted to give you affection for a brother or sister or a lost person, “do you have that capacity in your emotions right this moment?” God forbid that He wanted to lock your will in on a task, a word, a service, or healing that would require a “tenacious, bulldog” type of faith. We are so caught up in “stuff” many of us can’t even distinguish his voice anymore. Then if we do hear His voice, we say, “Sorry, Lord, I have this that I am doing.” As Watchman Nee so aptly writes, “The trouble today is that our spirit is available to God –able to receive God’s burden—but our soul is driven by such multitudinous, confusing thoughts from morning till night that our spirit can find no outlet.”

The writer of Hebrew (Heb 4:1-5) declares, “there is a rest for the people of God.” Paul wrote (Phil 4:11, 1 Tim 6:8) that “he could be content in all things..” Dear brethren, we need to clean this house we call “our soul”, observing the contents in the light of God, have a garage sale nailing all this baggage to the cross, and invite the Holy Ghost cleaning service to make a run through. Then the wind of the Spirit can blow right through just like the alley-way of the barn that has that nice breeze blowing through it. It is not obstructed in any way. Like my mawmaw’s house back in the seventies during the summer. We’d open up all the windows and that breeze somehow would just blow on through keeping us cool. We had to actually use the sheets to cover up in August.. imagine that.

Brothers and sisters, the wind of God is blowing… (2 Chr 16:9) He is running to and fro seeking for someone with faith (loyalty) on this earth. Someone who is willing to lay their agendas down, their appetites down. Actually lay their life down for His sake. It is not what will the Glory of God do for you, but what you will do for the Glory of God.

So be healed in Jesus’ name from that “SADD” disorder….. let God’s wind blow right through your soul unobstructed so that God may get glory our of your life today!!