Monday, August 31, 2009
It is a simple matter this morning of how and with whom we find our worth. We will meet plenty of people in our lifetime who think well of themselves. That seems to be the big thing and has been for a very long time; self promotion. After all, if you don't believe in yourself who will? This is how Paul appraised these people who had promoted themselves as being more spiritual than Paul:
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. v. 12
Paul puts it rather simply; they are not wise. Sometimes we will do this quietly to ourselves, comparing ourselves to imperfect people. It is where bullies come from. Bullies pick on people who they consider weaker than themselves. They tear down people in order to lift themselves up in the eyes of their friends. If is a simple thing for us to be spiritual bullies without realizing it. I think we have all felt the sting of a well placed unkind comment from the "more spiritual" members of a congregation. We are felt to feel a bit low because we haven't made it out to many prayer meetings or we ask too many questions in Bible Study. This isn't the Church, it is a bullified playground. Only a fool acts like this in the Church, comparing their spiritual growth with themselves or others, which leads to self-promotion.
Paul makes short work of putting these people back in their place and he uses a quote from Jeremiah 9:24 to do it:
But, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. vs. 17-18
There is no place for boasting in the Church because we haven't done anything. Our salvation is the work of the Lord. Our calling is by God's grace. The work we do is done by the Lord through us. These is no place where we can lift ourselves up because we are merely servants. What we should be seeking is the commendation of our Lord. We live our life to please him, not ourselves or anyone else. We are not looking for anyone else's approval, only his. If we were able to live with this perspective there would be a lot less self-promotion in the Church because the only promotion that would be going on is the promotion of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So as we plunge into this day with joy and passion let us testify to the goodness of our Lord. Let us testify to what he has done for us and continues to do for us. Let us brag about how he answers our prayers, builds us up, increases our strength, and directs our path. Let us tell as many people today as we can about the love of Jesus Christ. After all, there is only one person we can boast about in the Church because he is the one who does all the work. Let us make our longing to hear these words at the end of our days, "Well done my good and faithful servant. Come in and enter my rest".
Saturday, August 29, 2009
If you remember from yesterday Paul was dealing with a situation of a few people claiming to have greater spiritual authority than the Apostle Paul. Paul continues his correction by pointing out that there is much more to spiritual authority and the things of God than meets the eye:
You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he. v. 7
It happens so often. People with no or little understanding judge by what they see instead of judging by the Spirit. The Spirit can manifest in some pretty odd ways in a persons life, in Christian gatherings or even in our work among the lost. If we lack spiritual maturity we will understand it one way but with spiritual maturity we see it completely different. It is the same with spiritual authority. People who do not understand by the Spirit cannot understand what this authority is all about.
There are some people in spiritual authority who should not be there. God did not call them to it, they took it upon themselves. They often become abusers. There is no abuse in spiritual authority because it is much different from other authorities. Spiritual authority is always about service. If we were to look at the five-fold ministries of Ephesians we can see that they are servants to the Church. Look at what Paul says:
For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it. v. 8
Spiritual authority is not about power as the world understands power, it is always about pouring ourselves into other people. It is about building people up so the Spirit of God can become more powerful in them. It is about training people so they can be better in their relationship with Christ and in their calling. It is never about tearing down or destroying people. It is never about belittling them or making them feel foolish. That is an abuse of authority and they will have to give an account to God for the misuse of this authority.
Be careful who you allow to have spiritual authority over you. These people are people we are submitting ourselves to as the Word tells us to. But also remember that we have been told to check this authority to make sure it is authentic. I am going to leave you with this passage from 1John 4. Take it to heart and let us not be lazy in this matter:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
Friday, August 28, 2009
The Apostle Paul was having some difficulty with a few people at Corinth. He was being personally attacked, accused of being bold in his letters and timid when present. They were also accusing him of living by the standards of the world, so obviously portraying themselves as being spiritually superior to Paul. So what do you do with people like this? Paul pointed out something that would be good for us to remember:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. v. 3
This means we have different ways of doing things. There are many different fronts to the war we are engaged in with the enemy but we must always keep in mind that our war is not against the people of this world but against the enemy. This is spiritual warfare and it is not so much about kicking the butts of demons as much as it is about saving those they oppress and possess (this often involves the kicking of the butts of demons). So Paul writes:
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. v. 4
So we do not use the same methods and we do not use the same weapons. In fact, there are no weapons in this world that are effective in our fight. Only the spiritual weapons we have been given by the Spirit have any effect in this warfare. What are they? Paul wrote of some of these to the Ephesians:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit (the Word of God), prayer. These are our weapons. In this case with the Corinthians Paul is referring to truth and most likely the Spirit. He would deal with these people, or rather the enemy that was bringing them confusion, causing division but it would be with truth and the Spirit:
On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. vs. 4-5
Do you realize that when we know, understanding and use the full armor of God no enemy can prevail over us, not one. Every obstacle that is put in the path of us completing our mission is destroyed or removed. Even though the enemy would try to pile trouble and heartache on us we have been made strong so that we may stand for Jesus. We are stronger when we stand shoulder to shoulder but even alone the enemy cannot prevail when we are using the weapons that have been provided for us.
Unfortunately we often panic and we do what comes too natural to us, we use the methods and weapons of this world and are destroyed. We allow fear to cripple us. As we scramble to find our own solutions we allow worry to destroy our faith. We ask other people for help instead of turning to our greatest weapon, prayer. We try to use fine sounding arguments instead of standing by God's truth and his power. But we do not need to stay in this position of weakness. You can turn to that armor right now. You can put it on right now. It may feel clumsy at first but as you use it it will begin to feel more comfortable.
So as we stand our ground, defending what has been given to us to defend against these dark forces let us not forget who we are and what we are doing here. We have recently seen many traps and obstacles of the enemy destroyed by means of prayer. The sleeping giant is starting to wake up. The Church in North America is finally starting to wake up as the Holy Spirit is reviving the power of God in us. Are you engaged in this warefare? Are you using the right weapons? Are you taking directions from the Holy Spirit?
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The Spirit has stalled me in this thought on generosity so there must be something here for us that we must learn. As Paul is encouraging the Corinthians in this act of giving to the church of Jerusalem he says this:
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. vs. 12-13
Of course this is our great desire, to have people praising God because of our actions. So often it is the other way around, people deny God because of our actions. That is the funny thing about being generous with a person, they will not curse you for it and may even thank God for it. That is our great desire that God would be praised. But there are more benefits to generosity:
And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. vs. 14
You know, there is nothing wrong with gaining friends through generosity. It is a natural reaction for someone to feel friendly toward you when you are generous with them. Gaining friends allows us to influence them for Jesus. It is hard for anyone to remain the same when they include a passionate Christian in their circle of friends.
Do you remember the parable Jesus told of the shrewd manager? He was about to be fired so he called in various businessmen who owed money to his boss. When he met with them individually he took what they owed and cut it in half. He did this to gain their friendship so he could get a job with one of them. At the end of this parable Jesus said:
"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." vs. 8-9
If people of this world can influence others with their wealth then why can't we, through generosity, also gain friends? Of course our desire for friends is for their benefit and not our own. We gain friends so that we may witness of the love of Jesus. They see our lives, they see our actions, they taste of the fruit of the Spirit, they see Jesus in us and desire him.
It is not just with the lost we sow our seeds of generosity, people of faith often need a reminder of the love of Christ just as much as the lost. Your life, poured out as a drink offering through generosity will touch and influence hundreds of people, if not thousands, to praise God. Is there a greater reward for the servants of Jesus? So today, let us not be found sowing sparingly so that we reap sparingly. Instead let us sow generously so that what we reap will also be a generous portion. And may the Father receive all the glory, as Jesus desired.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
We are going to briefly re-visit God's desire for generosity from his children. It is a subject that I have been looking at in my life recently and have discovered that I am a calculating giver; sometimes giving reluctantly and sometimes resisting the need to give. The words of the Spirit today can be biting for someone like me:
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. v. 7
Cheerful? My problem is not so much money as it is time. Time works itself out in many different ways. It can be when my children do something they shouldn't have and it takes time out of my plans to correct it. It can be when someone asks for two minutes and takes 30 when I had none to spare in the first place. I was not always this way for me. I was once laid back, a go-with-the-flow type of guy but life has a way of changing us. Now, when I find myself having to do so much in such a short day time becomes something of greater worth than gold. But hear the words of the Spirit:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. v. 8
Notice the "in all things" clause. Yah, so did I. But also notice the "having all that you need". All would also include time. How is that possible? That takes me back to the beginning of this passage:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. v. 6
"Having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." All this because we have a generous God who "is able to make all grace abound to you". This is not the easiest lesson for me to learn but I want to learn it. I realize Paul was addressing the great collection he was making for the church of Jerusalem but this is the Word of God and this promise applies to any generosity. And there is purpose in all of it:
You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. v. 11
Rich in every way? Including rich in time? So that I can be generous with my time on every occasion? And God will receive thanksgiving because of my generosity? Wow! You may think I am crazy but I want to take this promise at face value. I know how this is applied when it comes to money but for me money takes second place to time. Perhaps for you it is a matter of your attitude toward money. Maybe it is something else. Whatever it is, if we are reluctant in being generous with it we will see it affect our relationship with Jesus. Generosity allows the Spirit to flow through us with the grace of God, affecting our heart and the hearts of others.
Take this to heart today:
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
We need to pay attention to our attitude in the day. Are we a generous people as our God is a generous God? Let's find out and then ask the Lord to increase our generosity in all things, that we would be a blessing in this world so that people will offer up thanksgiving to our God due to this generosity. Remember, it is no longer about us, it is about Jesus and the lost. If generosity of time or anything else will bring one soul to Jesus today then let us give with great joy.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Have you ever stopped to reflect on how large a sphere of influence you have? These are the people that you affect by your words and your actions. At first you may think you do not have much influence but that would be a mistake on your part. Every day we are affecting the people we meet or even the people who simply see us. We affect them by our action mostly but also sometimes by what we say or how we say it.
Understanding that we have this influence on people we meet or who see us, I want you to imagine that circle expanding. You need to include the people who hear about you. These are the people who your family or friends talk to. You may not realize it but you are the subject of conversation. Whether it is good or bad is often according to what you have done or said. You may not think this important or even want to consider these people but they are still influenced by what you do or say.
This is what we can see when Paul writes to the Corinthians and points out to them:
For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. v. 2
Paul was referring to the collection of money he was taking for the church of Jerusalem. Here his boasting of the Corinthians actions had an affect on the Macedonians. I doubt that these people even knew each other but Paul was impressed with the quick promises of the Corinthians and boasted of them which spurred on others to do the same. It is great when our actions, promises and words have a positive affect and causes people to take positive action, but the opposite can also be true:
For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. v. 4
Broken promises affect more than just the people directly involved, it also affects those that have heard about the promise. That is not always a thing we take into consideration. It can be a devastating reality if your desire is to affect change for Jesus by your action and words. How you keep your promises affects more than just your family and friends, it also affects those to whom they have bragged about you.
It is a good reminder that we are suppose to be promise keepers. Jesus said:
Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37)
James states it with a little more emphasis:
Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned. (James 5:12)
So understand that your sphere of influence is much greater than you realize. If affecting change is your desire then start by checking your attitude toward the promises you make. Then check your words and your actions, and give something for friends and family to boast about, remembering:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)
Monday, August 24, 2009
I want us to consider a simple matter this morning that does not require a profound understanding of the Word to be able grasp. There is one thing that is sure to overwhelm and destroy a follower of Jesus; money. Money requires a specific attitude to handle, and a certain level of integrity. Even during Paul's day caution was taken so everything was done right when it came to handling other people's money:
We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. vs. 20-21
Paul was heading up a special collection from all the churches for the church of Jerusalem but Paul was not collecting the money himself. This task was spread between several men, some from Paul's group of ministers and others from various churches. With so much money involved it was important Paul demonstrated it was being dealt with integrity, beyond reproach. It is the same approach all ministries should take. Even the simple hint or rumor that something isn't right can destroy a ministry in a matter of weeks. But it goes beyond the handling of the money; management is also important.
Many of us do not manage our money with any great integrity. We often see money as something we earn instead of as the blessing and provision of our God. How we manage our finances would change greatly if we had the attitude that we were not handling something that belonged to us but to our God. Everything we receive has a purpose to it; to pay bills, to buy food, to pay rent. When we spend our money we are actually blessing people. We are blessing the landlord by doing what is right, paying our full rent on time. When we buy our groceries we are blessing the store owner by shopping in his store. If we use our money properly and with a right perspective we will see it as a means of providing for others instead of providing for ourselves.
It would be good today to consider your attitude to your personal finances. Are we storing away for a day that may not come or are we blessing people with it now. Are we insuring we pay what we owe so that we maintain a good testimony of our God who is our provider? Are we avoiding using credit to buy today what we can save for and buy tomorrow? Is it a God honouring thing to be thousands of dollars in debt? Is it God honouring to be so far in debt that we can no longer pay our bills? Have we mismanaged what God has provided to the point that his provision is no longer sufficient and we have to borrow today from tomorrow's provision? None of this shows integrity with our finances.
Do not let money become a trap for you; don't let money become a destroyer of your faith. Take the time right now to seek forgiveness, then ask the Lord for wisdom and discernment with your finances. Be prepared to make some drastic changes. Seek integrity and accountability in everything you do. In this way you will bring honour to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
We have a disease in my church; we find it hard to finish what the Holy Spirit begins. We start off everything well but then we let it lapse or just fade into nothingness. It is not just my church. This disease really exists in many places because it is what we do as individuals. We are emotional creatures and often we allow our emotions and circumstances to dictate our moods and desires. In a very short period of time we can experience many highs and lows, often allowing them to effect our actions.
This is the reason why we need the strength, encouragement, power and direction of the Spirit throughout our day. Without him it is impossible to stay the course and we need to stay the course. Jesus warned us:
"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62)
There are many costs to following Jesus, not the least of which is faithfulness to the tasks we are given. Paul addressed the Corinthians on this matter concerning the collection he was making for the church of Jerusalem:
And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. vs. 10-12
This is specific to the collection for Jerusalem but it is also the basic premise to faithful service: let your eager willingness to do it be matched by your completion of it. It is a terrible testimony to begin a service of some sort, a project in the name of Jesus and then just let it fade away to incompleteness. People say "My heart just isn't in it any more". Yes your heart is a good place to look because God does not call us to tasks or experiences unless he intends us to complete those things. Too often we do not complete it because we allow our passion for Jesus to fade or our dedication to wain. Relationships take effort, they take time, they require sacrifice, they are a lot of work.
People are looking for revival; so am I. But I do not want a revival that will tickle my fancy for a little while and then move on. I want to see a deep seed growing and producing much fruit in the Church, something that will wake up our faithfulness and determination to see it to the end, despite the cost. I want to see something that will match our earlier eagerness, that will compel us forward to completing everything that we have set our hand to do. It is a terrible testimony to who Jesus is for us to walk away and leave it undone. Remember who he is and what he has done:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. v. 9
Jesus hung on the cross and said "It is finished". Will we be able to say that about at any point in our life or at the end of our life? Will we be able to say Paul's words:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. vs. 6-7
Faithfulness is not about your emotions or feelings. Faithfulness is when you submit your emotions, feelings and will to the will of Jesus. Faithfulness requires a daily renewing of relationship and purpose. It requires a great prayer life. It requires our acceptance of the strength and determination the Spirit offer us every day. It requires a love for Jesus that surpasses everything else in our life. It requires the knowledge and acceptance of it, that what we have been called to we are required to finish, to take it all the way, to complete it. Hold on to these words today:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
May you find your strength in Jesus today to be a faithful servant of our Lord, King and brother. And do not let go of the revival that is rising in you. Be more. Do more. Expect more.
"Let your eager willingness to do it be matched by your completion of it."
Friday, August 21, 2009
I believe people find the hardest things in life to be related to money, or the lack of it. Many people think that a little more money will help them overcome their lack. I have found the more money you have the more you need. One of the greatest blocks between the Father and his children is money. I am sure it is one of the subjects that is prayed about the most and when it doesn't happen it causes some anger and resentment. The lack of money also provokes worry and fear which can separate us from God. Even when we are determined not to allow it money can take over much of our life. Yet, as a follower of Christ generosity is part of our character, or it should be.
It was on this matter of giving to others that Paul was addressing the Corinthians. Paul was completing his tour of the churches, taking up an offering for the church in Jerusalem. The Corinthians were the start of the collection and they would also be the conclusion. Paul wrote:
But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. v. 7
Isn't it interesting that Paul put generosity in the same category as faith. So often we give according to our head knowledge, we calculate and then decide. However, if you listened to your heart carefully you would discover that the Spirit places it on your heart what to give, and it is never according to the bank account because he encourages us to be generous. This is how Paul describes the generosity of the believers of Macedonia:
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. vs. 2-3
Friends of mine made a financial decision last month concerning me. I was moved by their love because I knew it involved sacrifice. It was a case of what Paul had written, "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity." But there is a fact that believers need to experience and trust as being true; God loves and rewards the generous. This week this couple needed a small sum of money to pay a bill and so they prayed without saying a word to anyone. On their way to pay the bill someone walked up to them on the street and gave them 10 times what they needed for the bill they were going to pay. Suddenly instead of being able to pay one bill they were able to pay several outstanding bills and they were encouraged. I am certain the Father took great delight in being generous to this generous couple. The proverb says:
A generous man will prosper;
he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Proverb 11:25)
Of course generosity is much more than just money, it is a complete attitude that includes time, love, forgiveness and so on. I know someone who is so generous with forgiveness it is impossible not to forgive her. We are so much richer if we listen to what the Spirit is speaking to us about generosity. But I do need to give a cautionary note. Look at what Paul says about the Macedonians:
And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. (2 Corinthians 8:5)
Sometimes we believers are free with God's portion and not our own. The first 10% of what we have is the Lord's portion, to be given to him in our respective places of worship. This was established long before the law and is a thing we give with gladness and out of respect. Then we are to be generous with the other 90%. First to the Lord and then to what the Spirit guides us. If this sounds hard to you then you are not where you need to be in your love for the Lord and in the profoundness of your relationship with him. His love compels us to invest in others and we do it cheerfully. If there is reluctance there is something wrong.
Go ahead, test the Lord in this matter of generosity. When the Spirit prompts you to be generous today obey him and see what happens. I am not saying you will get back dollar for dollar, hug for hug, kindness for kindness, but watch how the Spirit works on those around you. Watch what happens with the seeds you sow today. My friends, let's make this a generous day according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
So many people pursue a false sense of happiness when they should be desiring true joy and happiness. If people place their trust in the wrong things happiness can prove itself to be a fickle thing. This false sense of happiness is often dependent on so many things that we have very little control over. We are happy if it is sunny, if our children are obedient, if our favorite TV show is on, if we have money. I am sure you can fill in the blank with many different things that can give you that sense of happiness. But in that same way that happiness can be stripped from you in an instant with the taking away of that thing that brought you happiness. Most of us would agree that it does not take much to rob us of our happiness. But joy and happiness from the Lord is different.
Joy comes from a different source. It comes from the deeper things in life; the things that are often provided by the Lord. When the source of our joy is the Lord and everything connected to him then it is something that cannot be taken away from us. It often has to do with relationships we have in the Lord. Consider this from a spiritual teacher to his students:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. vs. 1-2
For some of us there is no greater joy than seeing our students growing and discovering the greater things of God. We thrill at the news that the love of the Lord is so great in them that they are growing with each other. This may seem to have no direct impact on our life as happiness requires, but it is something that goes deeper than having any direct benefit to a person. It has to do with the fulfillment of purpose. The direct circumstances of our life may be severe but when we know that we are being used by Jesus our joy is tremendous. Consider Paul:
For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. (2 Corinthians 7:5)
As was often the case for Paul, the circumstances of his life were pretty bleak. He needed some encouragement, a reminder of God's love, perhaps a renewed sense of purpose. I wonder how often we find ourselves in the same place? We often think and perhaps pray that if the Lord would just pay our bills or heal our illness or doing anything that would have a direct impact on us we would feel encouraged. That is okay at the beginning of our walk but a sustained joy must come from a place of maturity. Then we find that our Lord comforts us in our purpose:
But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. vs. 6-7
Notice Paul said "so that my joy was GREATER than ever". It is not that our joy ever disappears when we are serving the Lord, it is just that there are times when it is greater than at other times. Having people you love love you back is one of those things that increases our joy, especially when you have invested the time that Paul had invested in them. But notice that it was not just that they were showing concern for Paul, it was the fact that they were also a great source of happiness to Titus who they had looked after and received with great love:
In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. I am glad I can have complete confidence in you. vs. 13-16
Is there a greater compliment a teacher could give to his pupils or a father to his children? This was the reminder that Paul received that there was purpose in his circumstances, that it was all worth the cost he was paying. Paul's joy was increasing despite the circumstances. Nothing had changed in his situation except for this reminder he received from the Lord.
Needing some encouragement today, some comfort? We all could use some. The Lord offers it but we need to be looking in the right places. Look to your purpose, your service in the Lord. Look at what he is doing through you. Leave off the past and get your eyes off your circumstances. Look to Jesus and his people to see where you belong and how he is using you. If you can't see it then perhaps you need to do some more seeking to find if you are in the right place, doing the right things. One of the great joy robbers is disobedience, when we are not fulfilling our calling because we decided differently from God's will.
Let us rejoice in this day, in the purpose we find in our service and in the fact that each day is a new day so it is never too late to start over.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Last night was our Tuesday night prayer meeting. I am very thankful for this prayer meeting and for those people who have been faithful to it for years. Last June something tremendous happened as the Spirit came in and changed so many things. However, last night there were only three of us there. I am convinced that the Spirit arranged for everyone else not to be there so the three of us could have the conversation and to pray with each other as we did. It was a truly an anointed moment.
Out conversation covered many things but it was all contained in the idea of passion for Jesus Christ. This naturally included a passion for those who have never met him. The young man shared with us several of the people who are on his heart. One person in particular struggles with thoughts of homosexuality and believes this is a block to meeting Jesus. The young man expressed his frustration at the message that Christians are putting out there; that a person must be perfect before meeting Jesus. They seem to forget that:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
How many of us who came to know Jesus came in our perfection? How many of us after meeting Jesus instantly became perfect and avoided sin? Yet, with a huge sense of self-righteousness many find it to be their mission to condemn sin in sinners? Why? Sin is as natural to the lost as breathing and they don't even see it. What reveals sin to them is not words that condemn but the perfect love of Jesus who died for them as they are; who loves them as they are. It is not words that transform us but the awesome power of God's love.
That person with thoughts of homosexuality does not need to change to meet Jesus. It is after experiencing that perfect love that he will desire to change to please the one who loves him so perfectly. Is it not true that when you fall in love you want to be the best person you can be? It is the same with Jesus, only we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to throw off the old and to put on the new. Now read the passage for this morning:
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
The more we know Jesus the more in love we become the more we want to change, to become our very best. This is the truth that we should carry with us so we would not condemn the lost but instead lay down our life for them to experience the love of Jesus.
Ask yourself, are you still in love with him? Is his love still transforming you? Is this love purifying you from everything that contaminates body and spirit? Is holiness being perfected in you out of reverence for God? Where is your passion for Jesus and the lost? Ask the Holy Spirit to relight the flame. He is moving through the Church. Don't be left out.
Come Holy Spirit, manifest yourself through us.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
In case you have yet to discover it, there is a difference between the believer and non-believer. There is also a difference in the way we are suppose to act toward them. It is not a prejudiced thing and it is a difficult thing to describe. Its difficult because it can be misunderstood. We have a responsibility to love the lost, to sacrifice for them, to be kind and compassionate, to demonstrate forgiveness. But there is something deeper between believers:
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. vs. 11-13
Opening our hearts wide to our fellow believers means becoming vulnerable to each other. Jesus' love in us compels us to enter these relationships of trust. It is what allows for the gifts to flow freely and what allows for unity in the Church. If we are guarded with each other then there is no trust and without trust there is no unity and the Spirit finds it hard to work. Opening our hearts is a risky business because it means we must be willing to be hurt. But just think of how Jesus was hurt after he opened his heart to his disciples and they abandoned him. Think of Paul's pain as we read the letter to the Ephesians knowing that this church had rejected him while he sat there in prison. But where there is love there is also forgiveness and we have to trust our Father on this finer point. Now contrast this with what Paul says about non-believers:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
"Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you."
"I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." vs. 14-18
This is a hard pill to swallow. Let's be clear, Paul is not saying to have nothing to do with non-believers. How could he? Jesus sent us into the world to be witnesses of his love. Paul spent his life doing this and is thought to have died doing this. Of course Paul is not telling us to have nothing to do with non-believers. It is simply that we should not try to have the same profoundness in our relationship with a non-believer as we have with a believer. There is one very special ingredient that is missing; the Holy Spirit.
Paul is saying don't be joined with a non-believer in anything. This might be affairs of the heart, business affairs or anything that will require a bonding together. It is an unequal yoking. The imagery comes from farming. A farmer would have to try to find two animals of equal strength to yoke together to pull the plow. If they were not of equal strength the weaker animal would limit the strength of the stronger animal and would become a burden to the stronger animal, exhausting him. In the same way when a believer and a non-believer are yoked together the non-believer limits the strength of the believer, dragging him back and perhaps spiritually exhausting him.
It is one of the hardest things for us to be able to understand and we all think we can be the one to succeed. But it is here in the Word for a reason. Maybe you think you can be yoked with a non-believer because you do not know the heights you are intended to soar. Perhaps you think you have arrived and this is all there is. Open your heart to God. Trust him. Understand he has plans to prosper you beyond your imagining. He has heights he intends for you to soar at that you have no clue even exists. Trust him on this matter. Be yoked with a believer in all things and watch what happens. Oh how we love the lost but they do not see as we see, they do not understand as we understand, they are blind and in need of a Saviour but they do not even know that. So, be careful, listen to the Word and make wise choices in this matter.
Monday, August 17, 2009
At one point Jesus told his followers that before following they needed to count the cost. He didn't tell them this so they would not follow but so that everyone would be aware of what to expect:
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26-33)
Pretty harsh? So is actually following Jesus. I don't care what anyone has told you, we have not been called into fine clothes, big houses, nice cars and easy times. That is the Western and African gospel. It seems the rest of the Church is facing exactly what Jesus warned about. Perhaps that should tell us something. Perhaps it is telling us in the West that we are doing it wrong.
Consider for a moment what Paul gave as his credentials. It certainly was not his easy life. It wasn't success in this world. It wasn't having a large following. It wasn't anything attached to this world at all:
We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. vs. 3-10
These are quite the credentials. It makes our service look pail and lifeless in comparison. Yesterday, in our worship service we highlighted a couple of people who were willing to set aside personal concern for themselves in order to be obedient to the Spirit. Some may call them risk takers, speaking hope into people's lives regardless of any personal cost. They are willing to be ridiculed, to be labeled as weird, or odd or even "religious" by those they are trying to give hope to. It is at these moments that the words of Jesus "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do", become real to us. These people, who are lost to God, do not have a clue what they are doing, so for this reason we do not hold it against them. Regardless of their actions and words we recognize that it is a natural reaction for a blind, drowning man.
Why are such risk takers so few in number? Because the rest of us have not count the cost. We have looked for privilege under God's grace. We have wanted to be spoiled as his children. We desire only for ourselves. We have not counted the true cost of following Jesus because we are not really following him. We are chasing after the teachings of demons. We are chasing after half-truths, this world's philosophies mixed with the gospel. We are doing everything but following Jesus as he called us to follow him. Life is too comfortable. We can't identify with these words of Paul, and almost look upon them as a form of poetry or a testimony of an age long past.
Each year it seems to get worse among believers. The enemy has successfully spoken to our vanity, or pride and our desire for comfort. The Western Church needs to be broken by the whole Spirit. We need to sit in sack clothe and ashes and cry out to our God in anguish and great repentance for what we have done to the gospel. We need to confess our self-centeredness and repent for our lack of true Kingdom work. There is a cost and we need to be made aware of it.
I implore you, today, when you hear the voice of the Spirit prompting you to action, do not hesitate and hide in your comfort; obey him. Even if it costs you embarrassment. Even if it makes you somebody's joke. Even if it will cost you financially. Obey. It is they only way that you are going to find true joy in your service to Jesus. Count the cost so that you are aware of what to expect, and then do it.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I want us to continue the thought from yesterday that we are not near as heavenly minded as we need to be. Among the things we considered yesterday we looked at these two verses:
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. vs. 14-15
Paul writes, "that one died for all" and again "And he died for all". This is the reality we live, or it should be. I fear today that we have reduced it to "And he died for me". We are overly concerned about our needs, our wants, our pain and our sorrows. Yet following these verses Paul continues:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. v. 16
Paul indicates that the realization that Jesus died for every person on the face of this planet caused him to see everyone differently, taking us back to the earlier statement:
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. v. 11
In fact it is stronger than that:
For Christ's love compels us.
How can we see people as we saw them before? How can we get angry at them for their actions, attitudes, perspective? They do not know any better and they are acting like blindmen who do not even know the environment in which they live. Yet, these are the ones Jesus died for, just as he died for us. He even left us here because of them. They are the reason we are still here:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. vs. 17-19
If you need a name for what we are doing it is that, reconciliation. His plan, his desire, his heart is summed up in that one sentence: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And so he has committed to us this message of reconciliation. That is how and why we can never see anyone as we once did; not our annoying neighbour, not that stranger, not our worse enemy. God wants to reconcile everyone to him. Do you realize he wants everyone to experience the wonder of his love as we have experienced it? Do you realize what that makes us?
We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. v. 20
We are ambassadors from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep; from the moment of our accepting Jesus to our dying breath. There is no down time, no vacations and certainly no retirement. We are always representing God by bearing his glory and we have been given this incredible message of reconciliation to pass on to everyone.
So, compelled by the love of Jesus, enter today with a new attitude, armed with this message we have been given for everyone we meet today. Jesus loves you, he died for you so that you can be reconciled with God.
Friday, August 14, 2009
There is a reason why we need to be spedning time with Jesus every day. There is a reason we need to meet together a few times in the week to talk about the Word and to testify to each other and to pray. We need to keep our relationship and experience fresh and alive. Without it we lose sight of what is important:
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. v. 11
It is the most natural thing for us to do when we are alive in Jesus. Don't you tell your friends about the latest movie you saw. If it was really good don't you try to persuade them to go and see it? You may even offer to go see it again with them. It is natural for us to want our friends and family to experience the same good things we do. What better thing is there to share with them than the love of Jesus? But it is even more than that:
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. vs. 14-15
Jesus' love for us compels us to love others. When we look up the word compel we discover it means when something has a powerful and irresistible effect on you. Can we better describe the effect of Jesus' love on us? So when we remain in this love we are compelled to persuade others of this love. But are we compelled? Are we so convinced of Jesus' love that it is a powerful and irresistable force in our lives?
The thing we want to avoid the most is to fall into the trap of going through all the motions with no motivation of love behind it. We drag ourselves to church. We drag ourselves to prayer meeting. We drag ourselves out of bed in the morning. We don't talk to him. We don't consider him in our actions throughout the day. We can talk about him but not to him. We don't really care about the condition of the people around us except to criticize them. You know I am describing a lot of Christians, the question is, am I describing you?
It is a dangerous place to be, to bear the name of Christ without the love of Christ. It is what leads to double-mindedness and the state of being lukewarm. We find many warnings in the Word about this condition but one of the strongest ones is found here:
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (Revelation 3:14-15)
Recognize the symptoms and don't ignore them. Recognize them in others and persuade them to remain passionate for Jesus. We need to always keep to heart the first of the two greatest commandments, the two that sum up everything:
He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27)
You see it is not good enough to go through the motions. With all your heart! With all your soul! With all your strength! With all your mind! That is passion. This love is the motivation of everything because it compels us in all spiritual things. It also compels our flesh to submit. Without this passion we begin to diminish, we slip back into old ways, we become a shell and we go through the motions. Look for the symptoms. One way to tell is to ask yourself how important the salvation of others is to you. Is it important enough for you to look like a fool in the eyes of others?
If you have lost this passion then you need to be desperate to get it back. The starting place is always prayer, spending time with the one you confess to loving. If you start at this place and you are persistent in seeking his face, the flame will be lit again. Do not accept your condition as being natural after so many years. It is not natural. Push yourself. Be persistent. Don't give up until you reconnect in your passion for Jesus. Then everything that feels dull and grey will come alive with vibrancy again. Pay attention. This is vital to your eternity.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
For the last three days we have looked at our purpose, our attitude in that purpose and some of the cost to living that purpose. To know the fact that we are expected to be faithful even if it leads to death could be frightening for people who continue to live according to the flesh, but it should not frighten those of us who understand according to the Spirit. We understand that this place is temporary and our home is elsewhere. So to face death should not be frightening and to face it due to fulfilling our purpose is a great honour. So, accepting this to be true Paul moves on to explain about our new dwelling.
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. v. 1
To be honest I do not believe many of us give it much thought unless we are facing death. I think we have become pretty attached to this place and do not have any great desire to leave. It is this attachment that causes us difficulties because as servants of God possessions will come and go; people will come and go; homes will come and g0. Because of the nature of our service nothing of this place is permanent and we should try not to have the mentality of possessing anything. It really is lent to us for a time, or a season. When we start to live in the flesh then we face a lot of heartache as we lose things moving through the seasons. Our longing should never be for this place. Paul describes what our longing should be like:
Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. vs. 2-4
Now we love our service and we have a a great desire for the lost, which is the reason we are here. However, there should be an overwhelming desire in us to be with Jesus, to be freed from our limitations and to enter into the eternal. My conviction on this is if we do not have this desire then we are ignorant of the truth or we are lost to the desires of our flesh. It is telling us that our love of other things is greater than our love for Jesus. Why? Because our purpose is to be with him:
Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. v. 5
We need to check our attitude. Why is it that believers of the past were able to face death, even torture so bravely? Because they had the same attitude as Paul; they had absolutely nothing to lose:
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. vs. 6-8
Can we honestly say that we see many people serving Jesus fearlessly and boldly? Living by faith and not by sight is the same as saying we live by the Spirit and not by the flesh. This is why we should always work with confidence; we have nothing to lose. Nothing. These facts should change our aim, our goal, and even our purpose for living. We should only have one desire and that is to please Jesus:
So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. vs. 9-10
Do we forget that? I hope not. We can't throw off this flesh yet but we can certainly make sure that it must submit to the Spirit. It requires a certain spiritual discipline and a proper vision of this place compared to the place prepared for us.
I think it would be good for each of us to take some time today and take a spiritual inventory of our attitude. You could ask yourself the question, what things in my life do I feel I could not live without? Your quick answer will be "nothing", but I want you to be honest with yourself? Are you prepared to leave it all now, including relationships, to be clothed in the eternal? Unless we are heavenly minded we are no earthly good in our service to our Jesus. We must be willing to lose it all.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
So far we have considered how we are bearers of God's glory by the Holy Spirit in us. We considered how simply knowing this causes us to not lose heart in anything we face, because our purpose is to bear his glory. Now we are going to consider further the privilege and the cost of this purpose.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. v. 7
Do you feel unworthy of the responsibility and privilege we have to be bearers of God's glory? Good. We are unworthy. Do you realize that clay jars were the cheapest form of holding containers. They cracked easily, chipped easily and were considered disposable. That is what Paul is calling us. Doesn't seem right that we should be bearing God's glory. The vessels he chooses should be finely ornamented vessels, trimmed with gold and fine jewels. But that is the point isn't it. The vessel isn't suppose to take away from God's glory. We are not to draw the attention to ourselves. People should hardly see us. It should be all about God. Do you realize that Jesus was always deferring to the Father? He kept giving praise and honour to the Father. A servant must never draw attention to himself. Read the verse again.
Clay jars did not receive the best treatment. They were not handled with kid gloves. Today we fall over people, pampering them and never challenging them to serve in difficult situations. We give up at the first sign of resistance or hardship. When things don't work out as we thought or even when disaster strikes we think it normal for people to give up. But we are bearers of God's glory. That glory must go into the worst areas and be present in the most difficult situations:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. vs. 8-12
That death is to self. A servant must die to his own needs in order to serve the needs of others; in order for life, eternal life to come to others. There is a cost to following Jesus and it is your death. There is no other method of being a glory bearer. We are called to stay the course no matter the cost. We are called to remain steady and faithful in our task of bearing God's glory. Our own needs cannot occupy our thoughts. Even the preservation of our life cannot be our concern. We are told that our Father is occupied with us so we can be occupied with his work. We are not expected to give up just because it is hard. We are not expected to become discouraged just because we cannot see how it will work out. We are to remain obedient even in the face of death itself.
Our greatest weapon is our faith. In hardships, trials, persecutions, work loads we tightly grasp our trust in our Lord. But we do more than grasp, we press on:
It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. vs. 13-15
How will the world be saved if there is no one willing the bear the cost? How will our neighbours know the glory of God if we are not willing to bear it? How will anyone taste of the goodness of God if we are not willing to bear the fruit? And I am not talking about just during sunny days, I am talking about in the worse storms, even personal failure storms. God's glory is best revealed in our weakness. And so understanding this we should be able to say with Paul:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. vs. 16-18
Now isn't this even more powerful when you put it in the context of the last few days? Don't let go. Don't give up just because it is hard? Don't walk away just because you can't see? What is the alternative? Some say, "It's time to move on." These foolish people. They are running away. God never calls you out of something; he calls you into something new. Don't be so foolish to run away and pretend it is God. You have been called to stand. So stand. Take up his banner, be the glory bearer and serve him to the end. That is what we have been called to, and don't you forget it.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. v. 1
I will be honest with you; yesterday was not the best day of my life. I am becoming increasingly aware of my own limitations due to my failings. This on top of several things yesterday had me questioning what I am doing with my calling. Then, this morning, I read this verse. Yesterday I was speaking to you about the privilege we have to bear the glory of God through the Spirit in us. Then this morning I read the "Therefore". Because of this, Paul says, and because we have it by God's mercy, we do not lose heart. We do not lose heart. Allow me to type that again because it makes me feel good; We do not lose heart.
So why don't we lose heart? Because we did not deserve to bear his glory in the first place. It has nothing to do with our compentency, or our worthiness, or our ability, or our intelligence, or our appearance. It all comes down to the the fact:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. (John 15:16)
The fruit he refers to is the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, forgiveness, etc. I do not produce these things because I cannot produce. I am only a branch that bears what is produced for me to bear. No, the Spirit in me produces these things so that I can bear them in order for others to taste them. When I show kindness to others they are eating from the fruit of the Spirit. It is the same when I forgive and so on. I am not capable of these things but the Spirit in me is. I am the light bearer, the glory bearer, the fruit bearer. I was chosen for this. So understanding this I do not lose heart. But it means there are other truths that come with this calling, responsibility:
Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. v. 2
What we are must be plainly seen by others. We cannot pretend to be something we are not. We can't trick people into believing. We can't make promises about the truth that are not true. We can't tell somebody if they accept Jesus all their troubles will disappear or that they will become rich or that they will have everything they have always wanted. We cannot pretend to be perfect or try to hide our blemishes; the gospel is more powerful in the light of our honest imperfections. We cannot distort the Word of God to try to win people over. As Paul exhorted us to do, let us put the truth out there plainly so it can be plainly understood. But remember the truth of the condition of this world so you will not lose heart:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. vs. 3-4
We keep condemning the world. Let's leave that off. The only ones Jesus ever went after were the ones who were responsible for teaching because they weren't fulfilling their responsibility. Jesus taught the love of the Father. It is in this teaching that the Spirit convicted the heart. People repented because they wanted to experience the loving forgiveness of the Father. People cannot see because the monster of this world has blinded everyone. We walk among the blind, bearing the glory of God and the fruit of the Spirit. Let them taste of the fruit since they cannot see the gospel. And let's make sure we do not get in the way:
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. v. 5
It is not about what we accomplish, it is about God's glory; it is about the good news that the Father wants everyone to be saved from the darkness. We are ministers of this gospel. A servant does not draw attention to himself but works hard so the master of the house will receive the glory. That is our place. We are not the stars; our Lord Jesus Christ must remain the center of attention or we have failed as servants.
If you have any doubts or fears or worries or anxieties or trouble or hardships that would cause you to lose heart then realize this:
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. v. 6
Remember your testimony. Remember what Jesus has done and how it has transformed your life. Remember how you were called and how none of this is about you and how it is all about God's glory. Remember your responsibility to bear fruit so the blind can taste and see. Tomorrow we will continue this important part of our understanding of the gospel as Paul will continue concerning our weakness as bearers of God's glory and God's strength.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Don't you wish sometimes you could escape from life; to just throw off everything that seems to drag us down? There are days when it seems no matter how hard you try to fly like an eagle you end up not getting any more than an inch off the ground. It's not even worries and fears that do it to us. It is more the weight of responsibilities and commitments, that sense of duty. Sometimes the joy we had in these things disappear and we feel weighted down by it all. Those are the days we lose our smiles and our sense of humour and we don't care much about our future.
I find the reason for days like this is a simple one; I've lost the vision of what it is all about. Some would say that we lose the "big picture" on these days. It is like losing a map; you know you are on a journey but you do not know where you are in that journey. Not that we have a map that shows where our journey ends but we do have access to the map that shows us purpose in our journey. If you lose this understanding of purpose, the responsibilities, commitments and the sense of duty loses all value.
We need to be reminded of what we are part of. Paul did a bit of comparison between the old and new:
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? vs. 7-8
Sometimes we look at the days of Moses and say "I wish". We forget that we live in an age that is greater than Moses. This is the age in which the Spirit of God is not simply "on" one leader but the Spirit is "in" every believer.
If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! vs. 9-11
How glorious do you feel today? I know, me either, yet that is the glory that is housed in us because of the Spirit of God in us. It is a glory that is not fading. What kind of mood are you in today? It doesn't matter, because you still house the glory of God. When we again capture the vision that we are light bearers it affects the way we approach our day. We are carrying God's glory into our day with us and when we allow the Spirit to operate through us that glory is being revealed to everyone in our day.
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. vs. 12-16
Our moods can act like veils. Our loss of understanding can act like a veil. Our loss of vision can act like a veil. Many things can "veil" the glory of God in us. We cannot afford to selfishly entertain these moods or remain out of touch with the "big picture". We need a daily re-connect so we can maintain the vision of purpose before we bear God's glory into our day. With this vision we know we can step boldly (not with arrogance) into whatever waits for us in the day. We have confidence in our God that we will be equipped to not just face but overcome anything in our day, revealing his glory so the world knows our source for all things.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. vs. 17-18
If you want to know what we are doing with our day this is it. We are living in the freedom of the Spirit, reflecting God's glory as we are being transformed with increasing glory. It is always about growth. The more time we spend with Jesus the more we become like Jesus. The more time we spend revealing his glory the more glory we receive to reveal. We can't step into our day under a cloud of gloom and despair. How can we? We are bearers of God's glory by the Holy Spirit in us. So shake off whatever you have to shake off, or ask the Lord to deliver you from it, and let's get on with this incredible purpose that we have, bearing God's unveiled glory.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
This is a bit of an awkward subject to deal with because Paul is addressing the difference between the authentic and the fraudulent. As with everything, if someone thinks there is a dollar to be made they will be at it, even when it comes to the Word of God. We see Paul's annoyance with it here:
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. v. 17
This is an ugly thing and I am not really going to get into the criticism of the Christian industry and business because it would be throwing rocks at the legitimate and illegitimate. Let the Spirit be your guide. How?
For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. vs 15-16
I don't think we trust the Spirit enough in the area of discernment, but then again, we haven't been trained to know how. Can you understand what Paul is saying here about the aroma? People who stir up controversy and cause division do not have this aroma. Those who bad mouth and criticize do not have this aroma. Either do those who are just out to gain whatever they can for themselves. That aroma comes from those who love the Lord with all their being and only desire what he wants; the authentic believer, worshiper, servant.
I am not saying that Paul set out to give us a list of telltale signs so we would know the difference between the fraudulent and the authentic but nonetheless we find some things here.
First, a true servant is truly humble. Not a false humility but a truthfulness that shows they understand what God is doing with and through them:
To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? v. 16
There is the matter of attitude toward the ministry. Is it directed by the Spirit or greed?
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. v. 17
Another one he mentions is something that we must take responsibility for creating. We do not trust the Spirit or understand how to trust the Spirit so we turn to the recommendations of men. But what does anyone know more than we do? It is only the Spirit who knows the heart of a man or woman so we must discern what the Spirit is saying. It is sad that we have required the testimony of man to prove the authenticity of a servant. How can we trust this?
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)
This certainly gives pause for thought. Do I have the sweet aroma of Christ among my brothers and sisters? Am I more concerned over finances than the Church? Am I recommended by the fruit of my labour? Is the Spirit testifying to my legitimacy or is he revealing me to be a fraud? The thing is that a servant of Christ need not ask such questions of themselves. If we sincerely love the Lord with our entire being and serve him according to his will then we know who we are in Christ Jesus:
Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. vs. 4-6
This is the last point; what is being taught? Is it a list of rules and how too's? That is the easiest thing to preach and the easiest thing to live. I am not saying we can live the law only that it we find it easier to have a list to follow; clearly defined rules. But we must teach and live the new covenant. Our life is no longer trusting or believing in our own actions but instead it is about trusting and believing in the actions of someone else, Jesus Christ. You think I am joking about this? Next time you are in the Christian book store check out the books with the titles of "Seven Ways To Improve Your Prayer Life"; "Six Easy Steps To A Better Marriage"; "Five Large Steps To Getting Closer To God". These are all made up but represent what you will see. We just find it easier to live with lists; I do. This is one of the reasons it is easier for us to follow the teaching of the law then of the new covenant.
We need a lot of discernment in the Spirit these days. We should not make it our mission to prove the authenticity of every minister out there but we need discernment concerning the ones we come across. The Word of God encourages us to be cautious, to test the spirit and to walk away when the Spirit says walk. Look a little closer at the Christian business and industry and start asking yourself a few questions. Ask the Lord for the discernment you need for the age in which we live.
Friday, August 7, 2009
This is a difficult area as we look at chapter 2. We can see how hard it was for Paul to deal with it. Church discipline is never an easy matter and I think most of us make a mess of it most of the time. The reason is because there is a difference between someone who fell into sin and has repented and someone who falls into sin and remains in it. With the first we need to be very careful that our response does not push them further into sin. Often it is the response of the church that will determine the outcome:
The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. vs. 6-8
It is difficult to come up with a church policy based on this because there are some assumptions we make. My first assumption is that the punishment of the "majority" was condemnation for whatever the sin was. This person was rejected by the community. It is a natural thing that we do when one person starts behaving outside of what the majority has accepted as "proper". The thing is that God's character moves in the opposite direction to our nature. So Paul says that this reaction is sufficient enough as punishment. Now. let's do it God's way.
God's way is where the Church needs to operate but so often fails. Even our little church has failed in this area on several occasions. We lacked and still lack maturity to understand that God's way is not condemnation but forgiveness and then comfort. What does Paul mean by comfort? The sense we get from this is to nurture the person back to spiritual wellness. Sin damages and it takes careful care and instruction for both the offending party and the church to bring this person back to health. Instead of throwing them away we want to restore them. These are hard words for me to type considering some of our recent struggles.
The reason we need to move beyond forgiveness and work in the restoration area is because forgiveness requires us not only to set aside our emotional response but as well our memory of the offense. Of course to actually forget is impossible for us but we can choose not to respond to that memory, to act as if it had not happened. Most people are willing to say the words but are not willing to commit themselves to true forgiveness. That offense will always be held against that person. I struggle with this as much as anyone. It took a rather big event for me to even realize this part of forgiveness was required of us in order for it to be considered forgiveness. I believe most of us do not even know about this part of forgiveness.
Yet, before restoration can begin everyone needs to agree on the forgiveness. The offense must be forgiven and set aside before the true comfort begins. Paul urges this church to reaffirm their love for this person. That is a big step for the church and the person involved. This is where the church can show its maturity in love, but again it must be more than just the words. It is even more than actions. You know it is love when the offense is never brought up against the person even in the stressful times. Stress is the tell all. That is when a person's or congregation's heart is really revealed.
When I look at it in this way and apply it to my heart I discover in this light that I still possess a lot of unforgiveness. In the darkest corners of my heart I find many offenses that I have never applied forgiveness to. I have applied the words but not the attitude that derives from love. Maybe we need more restoration centres and fewer places of perfection. There is nothing wrong with holiness but even holiness is nothing without love.
I find myself needing to take the time for further reflection on this matter of forgiveness and comfort.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
It must have been hard for a man like Paul to have to change his plans. As he questioned:
When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, "Yes, yes" and "No, no"? v. 17
Paul had planned to visit Corinth twice on this trip and we know he was a determined man but he was a man nonetheless. His plans were not made with the foreknowledge of God. This is the reason it is impossible to expect from each other what we expect from Jesus, because things in life are unexpected by us but not by God. The one thing that Paul always bowed down to was the will of God. Often the Spirit changed Paul's plans. He wanted to go into Asia Minor but the Spirit blocked him and directed him to Macedonia. Paul wanted to go to Rome but his path was always blocked. Then, when he planned to go to Spain the Spirit directed him to Rome. This did not seem to upset Paul because he knew his plans were sometimes made in the flesh and was open to correction by the Spirit.
However, Paul points out that the plans and promises of Jesus are not like those of a man:
But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. vv. 18-20
I do not like it when this gets misquoted. There are times I have heard people speak on this as if it is us who say yes and it is God who comes into agreement. It is like in the days long past when we thought we were the center of the universe and everything revolved around us. It is not our will and agreement that matters but instead it is the Father's.
Then there is the fact that many of us pray about things that have already been promised. The "yes" has already been proclaimed, it is left to us to simply come into agreement with that promise, to say "Amen", to receive it. Read it again:
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.
We have been promised our daily bread. Then we start everyday with, "I thank you Father for the provision you have already put in place for me today. I accept in from you with thanksgiving." The reason we miss out so often is because we do not know the promises and we do not understand the importance of us believing and coming into agreement, the "Amen". The yeses have all been pronounced. We need to grasp a better understanding of this relationship:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32
So many of us have been done in by fear. I think eventually we are able to overcome this fear through him who gives us strength, but why should fear even touch us? It shouldn't. The promises the Father gave us are ours through Jesus. They are ours. It is left to us only to pronounce the "amen". It would be great to see us all reach the maturity of faith where we turn away from fear with laughter because our assurance of the promises are so strong in us.
Don't feel you can do it? Don't believe that you have the ability to trust to that level? Then do not miss the significance of this:
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. vv. 21-22
There is much in these two little verses. Even when we are weak in trust it is God who makes us stand. What a great Dad we have. Look, he anointed us, he put his seal on us, and he also put his Spirit in us as a deposit. He has given us all of this to guarantee that his promises are true and are being fulfilled. They are "Yes" and we only have to come into agreement to receive them.
Living this knowledge allows us to live boldly in our faith. It means that we know we can pray over the sick and they will be healed. It means that we know we can exhort the Word of God and lives will be changed. It means that we can fearlessly love our enemies and God will use it for his glory. It means that we can be calm and clear thinking in adversity because God is working it out.
It is time for us to stop struggling for months before we submit ourselves to faith. Trust from the beginning and save yourself a lot of heartache. Let go of those things that are not allowing you to walk in faith, the things you are afraid to lose. Let them go. Lose them and see if you do not gain those and even more in return. Jesus has pronounced the "yes", will you not join us in the "amen"?