Empowered By the Holy Spirit

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(La Jolla, California)

 

I like this quote, written by Jim Rayburn’s son, about his father’s desire to be empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.

 

“What was burning in Jim’s eyes is that which burns in the eyes of all men and women who know the wonder of God’s indwelling Spirit. To be indwelled by the Spirit of God is the doorway into the fourth dimension, the realm of spirit, and the kingdom of God. It is an awesome, joyful, liberating experience that has no adequate earthly explanation.” (From Bondage to Liberty, 56)

Casting Out a Spirit of Religion

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(I took this picture of a mask in a store in La Jolla, California)

 

In Mark 11 we see Jesus riding on a donkey down the Mount of Olives. Crowds of people are shouting “Hosanna to the king!” The word “Hosanna” means, literally, “Save us!” Today we think of this word as a word of praise and celebration. At the time of Jesus it was more a desperate pray-cry for help. These people were living under the oppressive occupation of Rome. Imagine today living in America but under another nation’s rule? The people are hoping for Jesus to be the king that frees them from all of this.

 

After the donkey-procession Jesus slips, alone, in Jerusalem and the outer temple courts. Mark 11:12 says: Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. What did Jesus see when he looked around at everything in the temple? The answer is: a lot of religious activity. He saw Jews wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries and robes with tassels and who were bobbing up and down and genuflecting and reciting Torah and doing a lot of other religious activities Jesus had been in the temple before, where he said things like “I am the light of the world” and “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.” Here was the Son of God, the Messiah, in the temple as God had foretold, only to be ignored and rejected. In Mark 11:12 Jesus is there only to observe. What’s missing in the temple is the presence of God. It would never be there again. This background explains what happens next.

 

Jesus is on his way back to Jerusalem with his disciples. He’s walking from Bethany, up the Mount of Olives, then down the Mount of olives into the Kidron Valley, from where one gets an incredible view of Mount Zion and the temple. He sees a fig tree with leaves on it. This gives Jesus an expectation of fruit. Fig trees produce “pre-figs” that are edible. These pre-figs, which are really the “flowers” of the fig tree, come before leaves are formed. The sight of leaves on the tree announces that, at least, edible pre-figs are there. Jesus is hungry. As they near the tree they see there are no pre-figs. This means this particular fig-tree is sterile and, for all practical purposes, useless. It’s all leaves and no fruit. So Jesus says to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (Mark 11:14)

 

Then Jesus goes and cleanses the temple, saying “My house shall be a house of prayer.” The temple is like a fig tree with all leaves and no fruit. It’s just a bunch of religious activity and religious rituals and gestures. Someone hungry for God’s presence would not find God there. Which is the point of the whole thing.

 

He and the disciples leave the temple, and walk past the sterile fig tree once again, noticing it now has withered from the roots. The disciples are amazed at the raw power of Jesus. Jesus then says, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” Note that Jesus does not say “If anyone says to “a” mountain.” This is about “this” mountain, which is Mount Zion. Upon which is the temple. Which has become a sterile, barren place. Therefore, it’s now worthless, because God’s not in the house. It might as well be cast into the sea. Jesus is telling his disciples that they can pray and cast out a spirit of religion. Ben Witherington writes, “One could not simply repudiate the temple without provoking the most fundamental crisis regarding God’s (Yahweh’s) presence in the world. Jesus directly challenges this identification, arguing that to abandon faith in the temple is not to abandon faith in God.”

To follow the Real Jesus is not about engaging in religious rituals and activity. It’s all about the presence of God. If you have been captivated by a spirit of religion, then you are like a fig tree that produces no figs. For Jesus, it’s all about the fruit and being fruit-bearing people. Put your faith in God, say to the spirit of religion “You are out of here,” and embrace Jesus and following after Him.

Legalism Is Counterfeit Christianity

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(Yad Vashem in Jerusalem [Israel’s Holocaust Memorial])

In my last post I quoted Maxine Rayburn’s belief that a Christian environment that focuses on keeping rules, breaking them, and sin, was at the root of her depression. I agree with what her son writes about this in the autobiography of her husband, Jim Rayburn.

“Max exemplifies countless people weighed down by a false message that Christ never taught. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not an adherence to conservative codes of dress and conduct. It is not a religious execise wherein the Christian is expected to keep a set of rules and regulations. Those who were bound by an adherence to conservative codes of conduct, the apostle Paul referred to as “false brothers who had sneaked into the body of believers to spy out the liberty of those who followed Christ.” Paul went on to say that their purpose was to bring us back into religious bondage. This bondage, codes of dress and conduct, is known as legalism. Sadly, “Christianity” has been infected with legalism since the first century, and it has created a counterfeit faith that’s accepted as gthe real thing by multitudes.” (From Bondage to Liberty, 29)

In San Diego

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(Pacific Ocean sunset)
Linda and I flew to San Diego Thursday night, where I spoke at a conference today and will speak again tomorrow.
We’re staying in Chula Vista, which is 10 miles away from Tijuana. When we got here we had not eaten and stopped at a place called Tacos del Gordo. These tacos are the real thing! After eating one of them you’ll never eat at Taco Bell again in your life.
On Friday we had a day together and began by going to San Diego Zoo. Wow – what an incredible, lush tropical paradise!
Then we went downtown San Diego and walked and browsed around.
Next we went about 5 miles north of San Diego to Torrey Pines Beach in Del Mar. We went to a crepes place and carried out some great food and took it to park on the highway facing the Pacific Ocean. We spent about 4 hours here and say a beautiful sunset. We had a long walk along this beautiful beach in 65-degree weather. Spectacular!
On Mondy I attend HSRM Executive Committe meetings all day… Linda will relax, sit in the sun, maybe do a little shopping, and reading. Plus, I hope to go to Tacos del Gordo at least one more time.
Home late Tuesday afternoon. Then recover from jet lag.

Focusing on Sin Leads to Depression

Jim Rayburn and his wife Maxine moved to Dallas where Jim went to Dallas Theological Seminary. Maxine did not come from a Christian family, so she had no background to “Christianity.”

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(The River Raisin)

At Dallas, in those days, she says she was “exposed to people who talked about sin all the time. I guess my concept of sin was vastly different from theirs, but I had so little confidence in my own feelings. As I had done with Jim’s family, I figured that these people knew more than I, so I was quite open to their teaching me what Christ was all about. So many things were considered evil that I just stopped living. That’s when I started to wrestle with depression.” (From Bondage to Liberty, 26)

Work On the War In Your Heart

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(MCCC)

We’re not becoming better, morally and spiritually. People still cheat, lie, steal, rape, are greedy, are self-centered, hate, hierarchize, and make war. In these matters nothing has changed over hundreds of years except, perhaps, that we now have greater means to do all these things. The media gives access to instant hate. Technology gives access to mass destruction. I’ve heard it said that the 20th century broke all records for mass human destruction in wars. The 21st century will surpass all centuries when it comes to all of the above.

We need civilization, wrote Freud, to protect us from our selves. But with civilization’s technological advances the means to harm others increases daily. Is there a solution?

As a follower of Jesus I don’t see any biblical justification for expecting things to get better. Human nature remains human nature. The same problems Adam and Eve had are in you and in me. Were I an atheist I’d understand things via the lens of naturalistic evolution. In naturalistic evolution there’s no such thing as moral progress. Were I a theistic evolutionist I’d think the same way.

The best answer I have is this. I need an inner moral-and-spiritual revolution. I need to change. As long as I view you as the one who needs changing we’ll have a battle on our hands. I’m continuing to pick up my Bible and listen to Jesus and ask God to let his words descend from my mind into my heart. It’s not that I don’t understand a lot of what Jesus says. It’s that what he says is so outrageously revolutionary that I need God to bring the revolution into my heart.

What if I actually had a heart to love my enemies? Everything inside me would be changed. Some things outside me would be changed. Everything must change. Everything won’t change. But, with God’s help, you and I can be changed. Work on the war in your own heart.

Cigarette Smoking and Sin

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(Steps up to my backyard deck)

I smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day from ages 18-21. I smoked when I awoke, after every meal, when I drank, while playing golf, while playing in various bands, and so on. I’m glad I stopped because I meet a lot of people who are now suffering with health issues because they smoked all their lives.

I have friends who smoke but want to stop, for three reasons: 1) it costs a lot; 2) health issues; and 3) the shame laid on them from legalistic religious people. These friends of mine are addicted to cigarettes. They need compassion more than judgment. If you’re reading this, just remember that you’ve got your own addictions, so we all won’t need to be pointing fingers.

Now – something about Jim Rayburn, founder of an enormously effective outreach ministry to teens called Young Life, and which we have right here in our high schools in Monroe County. Billy Graham once said this of Rayburn: “Jim Rayburn was one of the greatest Christians I ever knew, and he had a profound influence on my life.” And, by the way, Rayburn smoked cigarettes all his life.

In Rayburn’s biography his son writes: “In his heart, Jim didn’t feel such things were important spiritual issues, but he couldn’t step free from the guilt of breaking the many rules learned in church. He smoked his whole life, but never felt the freedom to do so in public. In essence, he feared the rejection and judgment of his Christian peers.”

Rayburn lived in a time when the health risks of smoking were not well-known. Perhaps had he lived today he might see that it’s not a good thing to smoke. But let’s add this also – it’s not a good thing to stuff our faces with chips and  mashed potatoes and pop and cinnabons either. If you are a glutton and reading this I now free you from pointing your finger at someone who smokes cigarettes.

I think Rayburn was correct. Satan’s goal is not to get people to smoke. And Jesus didn’t die on the Cross so we could all eat correctly, exercise every day, and stop inhaling toxins. Legalistic forms of Christianity judge people for things like smoking while enjoying pot luck suppers in the church building. Jim Rayburn chose to “major on life’s majors” and not engage in gnat-straining Pharisaisms. The result is that many, many, many young people have been introduced to the Real Jesus and have lived lives producing lasting fruit. (Check out Young Life’s website here.)

“Slumdog Millionaire”

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(Mumbai)
When I landed in Mumbai I remember stepping out of the airport in the middle of the night looking for the bus that would take me 3 miles to another part of the airport for my connecting flight to Hyderabad. I was traveling alone, and was met by beggars standing in the dark. I felt vulnerable and, I confess, afraid.
In Hyderabad when I exited the airport I was greeted by a boy who was, I think, about 12 years old. He held out his hand, asking for money. I remember his teeth. They were brown and rotting. A 12-year-old boy, losing his teeth. The image stays with me.

I spent 10 days on the Deccan Plateau in central India, with the city of Kurnool being home base. Kurnool has a half-million people and no sewage system. I saw people urinating and defecating on the streets. The whole place smelled like a giant cat-litter box.

I traveled throughout the region speaking and teaching about God and Jesus. I was in villages that had no electricity and, I was told, had never seen a white man in person before. I can believe that, since the people in these villages don’t get to travel like I do. Some of them are as poor as a person can be.

In one village my Indian host told me “The government does not care about these people.” It sure looked that way to me. The caste system, though formally discredited by the Indian government, is alive and well. I think “caste system” is in our genes. We all hierarchize and rank-order people in terms of honor and shame, worth and worthlessness, value and expendability. I spoke to this issue in the villages I visited. Galatians 3:28 was the verse I proclaimed: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This concept is so caste-breaking that I could see the people wondering if it could be true. Jesus descended to the bottom of the caste system and became an expendable. I told the people that they were loved by God and that, in Jesus, God has come to them. Everyone responded to this message of hope. But then that’s part of India, too. It’s hard to separate out the real thing from India’s hyper-spirituality.

On my way out of India I spent one night in Mumbai, hosted by a Christian leader whose name I have now forgotten. When you fly into Mumbai you see a huge slum, a shantytown, directly adjacent to the airport runways. I was told by someone on the plane that this one slum held 10,000 people. 60% of Mumbai’s twelve million people live in slums. I saw the poor everywhere as I rode through the streets of this city.

Last night Linda and I saw “Slumdog Millionaire.” And I was transported back to India. It’s an amazing story of a young boy who endures much loss and abandonment and suffering in the pursuit of love and loyalty and hope. In the end, the captives are set free and, unforgettably, dance. This movie is brilliant, beautiful, captivating.

As I stood up in the theatre to leave a woman behind me said “You can be certain that I am never going to visit that country.” I know how she feels. Who would ever want to leave all that we have and pitch their tent among the poor? In all my life I’ve only heard of one person who has done that in such a way that the slumdogs get set free.

Slumdog Millionaire

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(Mumbai)
When I landed in Mumbai I remember stepping out of the airport in the middle of the night looking for the bus that would take me 3 miles to another part of the airport for my connecting flight to Hyderabad. I was traveling alone, and was met by beggars standing in the dark. I felt vulnerable and, I confess, afraid.
In Hyderabad when I exited the airport I was greeted by a boy who was, I think, about 12 years old. He held out his hand, asking for money. I remember his teeth. They were brown and rotting. A 12-year-old boy, losing his teeth. The image stays with me.

I spent 10 days on the Deccan Plateau in central India, with the city of Kurnool being home base. Kurnool has a half-million people and no sewage system. I saw people urinating and defecating on the streets. The whole place smelled like a giant cat-litter box.

I traveled throughout the region speaking and teaching about God and Jesus. I was in villages that had no electricity and, I was told, had never seen a white man in person before. I can believe that, since the people in these villages don’t get to travel like I do. Some of them are as poor as a person can be.

In one village my Indian host told me “The government does not care about these people.” It sure looked that way to me. The caste system, though formally discredited by the Indian government, is alive and well. I think “caste system” is in our genes. We all hierarchize and rank-order people in terms of honor and shame, worth and worthlessness, value and expendability. I spoke to this issue in the villages I visited. Galatians 3:28 was the verse I proclaimed: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This concept is so caste-breaking that I could see the people wondering if it could be true. Jesus descended to the bottom of the caste system and became an expendable. I told the people that they were loved by God and that, in Jesus, God has come to them. Everyone responded to this message of hope. But then that’s part of India, too. It’s hard to separate out the real thing from India’s hyper-spirituality.

On my way out of India I spent one night in Mumbai, hosted by a Christian leader whose name I have now forgotten. When you fly into Mumbai you see a huge slum, a shantytown, directly adjacent to the airport runways. I was told by someone on the plane that this one slum held 10,000 people. 60% of Mumbai’s twelve million people live in slums. I saw the poor everywhere as I rode through the streets of this city.

Last night Linda and I saw “Slumdog Millionaire.” And I was transported back to India. It’s an amazing story of a young boy who endures much loss and abandonment and suffering in the pursuit of love and loyalty and hope. In the end, the captives are set free and, unforgettably, dance. This movie is brilliant, beautiful, captivating.

As I stood up in the theatre to leave a woman behind me said “You can be certain that I am never going to visit that country.” I know how she feels. Who would ever want to leave all that we have and pitch their tent among the poor? In all my life I’ve only heard of one person who has done that in such a way that the slumdogs get set free.