Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I think most of us understand this statement:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. vs. 7-8
Most of us have experienced this law at work, but in a negative way. We enter a day in a bad mood. We are snappy at people. Impolite with others. What we start getting back is negative stuff from the people around us and our day looks more miserable. On the other hand, when we are kind to people we usually get kindness back. When we are generous we usually experience generosity from others. Now apply this spiritually.
If we give in to our sinful nature and live a life of lying, stealing, doing what we want, being sexually deviant we can only expect to receive what God has warned us we would receive. You can't lie to God and you can't hide what you have done. He knows everything so you can't say you are one thing and then in secret be something else. On the other hand, if you live by the Spirit, baring the fruit of the Spirit, living to please God then your reward will also be great. Every day we "seed" or "sow" into people's lives. Are we sowing the things of the Spirit or things from our own sinful nature?
This is when we look at our behaviour and attitude. Do I sow jealousy into the hearts of my co-workers? Do I sow bitterness into the hearts of my children? Am I an unkind person sowing anger into others? We can't spend hours in prayer and worship and then go out and treat people poorly. It is impossible, unless we don't really know Jesus. When we know and have experienced his love then we are changed. In our own nature we could never love other people but, as the David Crowder Band puts it, we can love because we are loved. Paul gives some encouragement in the guise of a warning:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. v. 9
You have no idea what your acts of kindness are doing. You have no idea what your sweet nature is provoking in the hearts of others. You have no idea the effect of your persistent gentleness. We cannot see what the fruit of the Spirit is doing in the lives of the people we meet every day. But we have a promise. That promise is that there will be a harvest it we do not give up. Teachers with mean-spirited students need to remember this as they face that classroom every day. Neighbours need to remember this as they deal with other neighbours. Parents sometimes need to be reminded of this as they deal with teenage children. We will reap a harvest from our doing good, if we do not become weary in doing it.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. v. 10
Don't you just love that "especially" part. Sometimes it takes an extra effort to love the saints. It's simply because we figure everyone should know this stuff and we don't understand it when they don't. We need to keep in mind that not everyone knows the Word and not everyone has received this training. Some also only know Jesus by reputation and have never actually met him. We will find a lot of different types of people in the Church. Show your maturity by living a Spirit-filled life amongt the Saints.
Enjoy your day but keep in mind that you will sow what you reap today.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I think we all agree that there are a few fundamental things that we have gotten wrong with the Church. We never intended to do anything wrong and our motivation was a pure one, I think, but that doesn't mean we didn't get it wrong. The Church has taken on an attitude that just does not belong to her. We have allowed her to become an institution, a place of business, an employer of people. Parts of the Church have even gone so far as to hire their pastor like an employee. I forget the name of the church that has just been in the news lately but they pay their pastor over $600,000 a year. He must be quite the pastor.
This is not the forum for getting into a deep study of Church government but I think the shrinking Church is a good indication we have taken a wrong turn in the road, or a wrong dozen turns. However, we do have time to consider those God has blessed us with, who instruct us in the Word and spiritual matters. For the most part we would consider this person to be our pastor but for the sake of my point this morning let's refer to him as the head or lead elder. Today we refer to them as pastors but the Scriptures refer to them as elders. What is our attitude toward the bunch of them? Are they a hired team whose purpose is to grow the church? Is there suppose to be an entertainment value to them. The funnier the speaker is the better? Paul wrote to his son-like friend, Timothy:
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17)
We have no problem with honour, usually. Although I wonder what kind of honour it is to turn spiritual authority into something you can hire? Paul continued with Timothy on this matter:
For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." (1 Timothy 5:18)
We have taken what Paul has written here to heart and we have turned the lead elder, the spiritual authority in our Christian community into an employee that we hire and fire. Does that seem right to you at all? Congregations have shaped and molded the thinking of the elders so the elders end up preforming for the congregation, acting with businessmen's or entertainers hearts. Paul put it this way to the Galatians:
Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. (Galatians 6:6)
There is a natural responsibility that we have to those who instruct us. If we are paying attention then we find ourselves prompted by the Spirit to give as he prompts us. I don't know if we could ever back track and take the roads we were suppose to take but changing our attitudes toward the Church and the elders can change our hearts. If we allow our hearts to be changed in this matter of our teachers and preachers then we will find our attitude changed toward the Church. Then maybe how the elders respond to us will also change and we will find even greater blessing and growth in the Church.
Do not leave the care of the elders up to the institutionalized church. Listen to the Spirit and respond in love. Change your attitude toward your tithes and offerings. That is not your means of providing for the elders. Instead you share with them all good things that you receive from the Father. Make it personal for yourself.
In my first church I felt loved and appreciated by my people because of their sacrifice for me. I did not ask for it and it came unexpectedly. They could not afford to pay a proper salary but we were richly taken care of by food, clothing and great fellowship. They poured out their love on us and it was easy to serve and instruct them because of it. I think how they looked after us also impacted how they responded to the instruction:
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
We have an obligation in love to care for those who have spiritual authority over us and that comes in the form of sharing all good things with them. Do this and you will see your attitude change and the blessings of God flow through the instructions you receive. This word does not come because it is pastor appreciation month. I really dislike the idea of such a thing. We need to show appreciation to our elders throughout the year as the Spirit prompts us with the specifics.
Somehow, someway, we need to be part of the healing process in the Church, that we will be part of the solution. Our attitude toward our elders could be a big part of this healing.
Monday, September 28, 2009
It is a shame that so many people have the attitude of "going it alone" when it comes to their "walk" during the weekdays. We do not mind sharing ourselves on Sunday, but the other days of the week we keep to ourselves. It is like we have a split personality. One is used for the "regular" people and the other is reserved for Sunday. I think we know it is not suppose to work that way.
We are not suppose to go it alone and it is one of the purposes of the Church, the manifestation of Jesus in this place. We need each other, even if we do not want to admit it. There are limits but as believers we are suppose to be open and honest so we can help each other make it to the end. Sometimes this involves being open enough to be corrected when we need correction. Paul writes:
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. vs. 1-2
Being brothers and sisters in the Lord means it sometimes gets messy. As much as we prefer to keep things simple, tidy and often times orderly, life in a fallen world does not always allow it. The thing to keep in mind is that it is more important to finish the race then it is to avoid sweat and dirt. Sometimes helping to carry a brother's burden becomes inconvenient to us and it requires some personal sacrifice in order to do it. Sometimes helping to restore a fallen sister means we have to face our own darkness and remember our own ugliness. This is when we must make sure that we are strong and reliant on our relationship in the Lord.
In order for us to serve in the Body in this matter we must have an awareness of who we are in the Lord and who we would be without him. We cannot be what we need to be to one another if we are arrogant, proud or boastful. It requires a great deal of humility in order for us to help each other:
If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. vs. 3-5
We are not involved in a popularity contest and it is not a competition. We are all sinners saved by grace. We should not be proud of the sin we come from but instead we should feel shame in what we once were. Yet, this is what we have in common: we have all sinned, we have all received the promise of salvation by faith, we are all filled with the Spirit of God. These things should unite us and cause us to run to each other to help. We should never try to have lordship over each other and we should never think we are better than anyone else in the Body. The only one we are to compare ourselves to is Jesus because he is the only example we have been given. When we do this then humility comes easily because what are we compared to the surpassing greatness of Jesus?
One thing to keep in mind, there is more than enough work for all of us. We need to check and make sure that we are carrying our share of the work. Let's check and make sure that no one is being overwhelmed because we have failed to carry our own load. We are in this together and our actions or in-actions will have a direct impact on other Christians. Let us check ourselves and make sure we are everything we have been called to be. Let's carry our own load.
The Church is a beautiful place of restoration and healing where friendships last longer than a lifetime. It is a place where we should be able to be honest and open, where restoration happens gently and where we learn to grow into maturity together. If this is what you experienced yesterday then I rejoice with you. If it is not then you should check yourself to see if you are part of the solution or part of the problem. Let us keep in step with the Spirit and love one another.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
The greatest desire I have had since I was 19 years old and encountered Jesus in my bedroom was to live by the Spirit. So many things want to interfere with that but its mostly my own flesh that messes me up. Oh I have no doubt of the enemy who too makes the most of every opportunity I give him, but he can't touch me unless I allow him. I think it is tiredness that has always been my downfall.
I think all of us find tiredness to be a root in the list of the things that weaken us with Jesus. The same tiredness that causes us to go to bed without washing the dishes will also cause us to go to bed without worship and without some heavenly conversation or feasting in the Word. Do this for a few days and the Spirit's influence in you begins to weaken. Without the Spirit our flesh begins to rise up and before you know it sin is getting a grip again. Busyness is also a contributor to our downfall. Paul encouraged us to live in the Spirit:
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. v. 16-18
I find it interesting the order in which Paul lists the acts of our sinful nature:
sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery - These are sins we commit in our body. They have a special power and cause some of the most devastating and longest lasting damage. These sins can be forgiven but their natural consequences linger for decades to follow.
idolatry and witchcraft - Following the sins of the body we leave ourselves wide open for an attack on our soul. Adultery of the flesh leads to adultery of the spirit. We are separated from God. This leads to the sins that are more obvious to people.
hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy - As we become separated from God we become separated from man. These are the acts against the relationships in our lives. Without the Spirit there is nothing hold us back.
drunkenness, orgies - These represent sin out of control, when we enter into sin with others and we become dead to any influence of the Spirit. I see Paul's list as a progression toward God turning us over to our depravities. Yet, at any stage we could repent and be restored. On the other hand, there is no need for us to go down that road at all. All we have to do is live by the power and direction of the Spirit.
Things look much different in the Spirit. Hearts of repentance filled by praise and thanksgiving for the love that is lavished on us is fertile soil for the Spirit to produce his fruit in us:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. vs 22-23
These should be an indication for you if you are where you should be. People who spend time in worship and prayer every day, fellowshipping with Christ all day long cannot be a breading ground for the acts of the sinful nature. The reality of Christ's love in us produces good things and it is evident in our living and relationships with others. The only method of living by the Spirit is to die to everything that is you:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. v. 24
You cannot live by two opposing systems. You cannot have a foot in both realities. To live by the Spirit is to live 100% for Jesus; no part-timers. It means praising him throughout the day. It means praying all day long for everything you come across. It means seeing what Jesus sees and feeling what Jesus feels, and thinking as Jesus thinks. It means taking your delight and pleasures in Jesus and all things related to him. It is a decision you must make every day:
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. v. 25
It you want a barometer to measure how you are doing then use your attitude toward all the people you encounter in a day. Are you willing to sacrifice or even die for them?
Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. v. 26
My desire has always been to live by the Spirit so I could experience the love of Christ more and more. I am glad that desire has been renewed in me. So, where is your heart today?
Friday, September 25, 2009
Jesus was very kind to sum up the entire law into two commands; love God with all your passion and love others as if they were yourself. Only two problems with that; we struggle to love God even in a normal sense and we really don't care all that much for other people. Many would argue these points with me but if we are honest we would admit that we are pretty messed up. My theory on why we are pretty messed up is that most of the Church has never experienced Jesus.
People excuse this by saying that love is a decision and that they know (with their mind) that Jesus loves them. They treat it like a mathematical problem or a science theory. I agree that there are days when we have moved away from Jesus that we no longer feel that love and have to rely on our knowledge but love is also an emotion. Love involves passion. Love involves moments of being totally overwhelmed, lost in an emotional response. It is a decision but it is a decision based on a total response. Listen to how Jesus describes this love that we are to have for God:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' (Mark 12:30)
Please note, with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul, with ALL your mind, and with ALL your strength. It requires a total response from our entire being. This kind of response is only possible when we have actually been overwhelmed by the experience of God's love. Without this experience we cannot fulfill the second part, to love others as if they were us.
The reason I am convinced that the majority of people do not know this love is because of the way we treat each other. The Church has always treated its own poorly because we have not known Jesus properly. This was part of the problem with the Galatians:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 5:13-15
Biting and devouring are good words to describe what we unfortunately find in churches. Why was it evident in the church of Galatia? I think the reason is obvious:
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? v. 7
They had wondered away from the Lord. Their love was cold and without the first command we cannot fulfill the second. The solution is a simple one; not only make Jesus your everything again but fan into flame that passion for him again.
How do we fan such a flame of passion again? First, spend time with him. I mean treat Jesus like he is right there with you because he is. Talk to him about everything in your day, like a friend. Better yet, like the lover of your soul that he is. Sing to him. Take a time in the day to worship. There are thousands of worship songs on Tangle and YouTube. I like using my supper preparation time. Sometimes my kids join in. There are many versions of the various songs with the lyrics provided. Allow them to ignite that passion again. Study the Word for his promises. Understand what the great lover of your soul has promised and then live those promises. Talk about him with other people. Talk about the things you have discovered about him. Talk about the prayers he has answered. Talk about how much you love him. And pray with people. Don't pray on your own. Call someone and pray together.
Remember though that your love for him is only a response to his greater love for you. Instead of trying to love him try discovering and experiencing his love for you. It will happen in the worship, the praying, the talking, the studying. It will rush in like a great wave and your response will be heart felt worship. Then you will be ready to love others with a love similar to what you have experienced from him; filled with mercy, grace, forgiveness.
When the Church rediscovers his love for us we will become that refuge for the lost; a place of forgiveness and healing. Without that experience of love we are no more spiritual than the Rotary and Kiwanis club. Great community service groups but not a place of healing and restoration. Let the Church lose its reputation as destroyer of souls; let's be overwhelmed by his love and then overwhelm each other with grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
You know, its not suppose to look like everything else. Once we have accepted Jesus our lives are not suppose to look like everyone else who is without Jesus. Things are suppose to change. We are suppose to stand out from the crowd. Our lives should be different. If they are not we need to start asking some questions.
Its okay to ask ourselves honest questions if we are willing to deal with the answers we get back. Why aren't things different for us? Why do we blend in with our surroundings? It could be that we have fallen back into self-reliance and have started depending on rules and rituals without realizing it. Anything born in love that ceases to be done in love has become a powerless ritual; a thing of law. It sucks the power of God right out of us. Paul warned against this:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. v. 1
Anything that we begin to do from habit that has lost the element of love and faith has actually become a sin. It has become for us a yoke of slavery. Worship music, giving money, saying prayers all can become sources of slavery when love has been let go of. In the case of the Galatians they had let go of love which caused them to doubt and fear so they set aside grace and slipped back into law.
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. vs. 2-4
You may not see the connection here right away but think it through. We begin our relationship with a great deal of passion. We are convinced of grace because of his love that is overwhelming us. Then we start neglecting the relationship a bit at a time; too pressed for time to fellowship with our Saviour, to get to know him better in the Word, to be overwhelmed by his love each day. We start relying more and more on the acts of faith; going to church, reading a five minute devotional, saying a quick prayer before meals and going to bed, listening to Christian music. These are all great when we are in fellowship and are being overwhelmed by his love but without that love they become the source of our hope of salvation, which is sin. We have become religious and dependent on how we live instead of who we live for. Paul wrote:
But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. vs. 5-6
That's not a small thing; "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul states that without love we are nothing and we gain nothing. Without love we will be turned away from the gate with the words "Go away, I don't know you". It is not okay to live lives that blend into the environment. We were born as a new creation. We stand out from the old.
We do not provide for ourselves. We do not hope for the best. We do not need luck. We do not live without joy. We are not depressed. We are not without laughter. We are not void of kindness. We are not lost. We are not lonely. If you are anything of these things then it is time to run a diagnostic on your fellowship with Jesus. Have you let go of love? Remember today that we are not ordinary; we were not born into the ordinary and in this day, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Become overwhelmed by his love for you all over again and then allow for that every day of your life for the rest of your life. Do not rely on any form of ritual instead move forward in the faith that was birthed in his love for us.
O how he loves us so.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Once again we see evidence that the Circumcision Group has followed after Paul and is trying to recapture people in the law. They were a constant pain to Paul, always threatening to undo what had been done in the Spirit. They were successful because we always feel better about earning something than to receive it for free. Paul pleads with them using the example of Sarah and Hagar.
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. vs. 22-23
I want us to consider this statement but I want to go further than just the understanding of the son born in the ordinary way and the son born of the promise. I think this is a fine example of life in general. Throughout our day we have a choice to live according to the promises of God or to live by the ordinary, normal ways of life.
We need to understand some facts. First, God has created us well. We are an intelligent creature. We have a will to survive. We can think ourselves out of most situations. We can survive most situations. We can be fiercely independent, living our lives without God and succeeding at what we do. This also means that even as Christians we can pray, not waiting for the answer and finding our own solution, then give God credit for it. The problem is that to everyone it just looks ordinary; there is nothing of God in it. When we allow God to do it according to what he wants it is always far better than what we can produce ourselves.
We can live our whole life claiming to live by faith, claiming to be doing the will of God, claiming to be filled by the Spirit, claiming to know God, claiming to have experienced his love yet just be ordinary. Just plain ordinary. No different than anyone else on this planet except maybe for a different set of values. Spiritually we are dullsville. This is what worries me about the Church, there are so many people who THINK they have experienced the love of God but they are just ordinary.
To follow Jesus Christ means that we have encountered him, experienced first hand his overwhelming love for us, that this love has transformed us, and now we are living passionately for him. This means that we are children of the promise and we live by the promises of God. It means we have chosen to be obedient to the Spirit, no longer making decisions for ourselves but being directed by the Spirit. It means we no longer settle for the ordinary but expect our God to respond to us in such a way that he leaves no doubt that he is doing it and glorifying himself in everything.
This means that what we do we could never do on our own. We are not involved in a work where our best is all that is required. That would mean we could get the glory. We have been called to do things that no ordinary person could do, only a child of the promise. We have been called to do things beyond our intelligence and ability because we have been called to glorify God. Our lives are meant to be extraordinary, passionate, consumed, larger than life itself, not powered by our abilities but powered by the Holy Spirit.
Moses was told to take on Pharaoh and lead God's people. According to Moses this was beyond him. God does not call us according to our abilities. He may use our abilities from time to time but he does not call us according to what we can accomplish. He calls us according to our weaknesses so that he may be glorified through us as people see us do things beyond us. Too often we choose the beautiful people, the talented people, the naturally gifted people and they build fine churches and monuments to the accomplishments of man. But is it powerful? Is it Christ centered? Is it filled with miracles or is it filled with programs? Is it filled with God things every day or is it filled with man things? Is there power there or just fine sounding arguments. Is the Father using it to draw people to his son or is it growing according to sound marketing principles. There is a difference you know. One is according to the promises and the other is just ordinary.
I don't want to put down any church or ministry but enough is enough. Let's see the extraordinary again. Let's see the miracles, the signs and wonders, the power of God. Let's see transformed lives in place of conformed lives. Let's see what turned the world upside down just under 2000 years ago. Let's see every Christian living lives that are beyond them. Not what I want or what I can do Lord but only what you want and what you empower. Our eyes are on you Jesus, show us what you are doing today and invite us to join you there.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Do you remember this verse:
Make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5)
It seemed to be a theme in Paul's life and in his service to the Lord. It did not matter where Paul found himself or how he got there, he was always looking for opportunities to introduce people to Jesus. He writes to the Galatians:
As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. v. 13-14
Imagine, in some fashion Paul became ill but instead of allowing that illness to deter him from his calling he used it, or the opportunity it afforded, to present the gospel to a people who had not heard of Jesus. Unfortunately many of us do not seem to be made of the same stuff. Instead, we use every opportunity to shirk our calling. Be honest, compared to our forefathers we are pretty spoiled and wimpy. On a whole we have not made much of the opportunities afforded us to build our spiritual muscles.
Here's a question for you: Did God use illness to provoke Paul into action in a place he may not have thought of going? In other words did God use that illness to nudge Paul in the direction he wanted him to go? Some would say yes and others no. My opinion is that God will use anything and everything to bring about his will in our life and for his cause of saving the world. Remember this:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
If this is the general attitude of our God then we had better open our eyes to what he is doing around us. He will use the circumstances of our life to glorify himself so he may reveal himself to those who need him, the lost. Do not consider anything to be by chance in your life. If you are a servant of the LORD God then there is nothing by chance. Everything has purpose and reason and we had better start noticing the opportunities Jesus is giving us with everything that is going on in our life.
Throughout our day we need to ask for the eyes of Jesus, that we will notice every opportunity for doing, for being kind, for showing and sharing love and for introducing Jesus to the lost and suffering. Maybe you will find yourself in a hospital today through an injury or the illness of a loved one. Ask the Lord: Why am I here? Let him show you the opportunities. Maybe you will be called into your child's school for some reason. Perhaps you will be in the bank. Perhaps your neighbour will start talking to you even though you are in a hurry. Perhaps someone calls your home by mistake. Remember that you are not living your life in isolation for your own pleasure. You are a bearer of the greatest agent of change in the world. Remember these words of Jesus:
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:8)
Words spoken directly to his disciples but I believe are intended for anyone who denies themselves, takes up their cross and follows Jesus. And I believe this applies to everything we receive from Jesus. We have received love; freely love. We have received forgiveness; freely forgive. We have received mercy; freely show mercy. We have received gifts; freely use those gifts for th benefit of others. Whatever he pours into us we need to freely pour into the lives of others, using every opportunity he gives to us to do that. He has equipped us with power so that we may serve him in every situation we encounter.
As you head out into the wild, wild world today, do not go in fear and do not be discouraged. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go. And you go not to please yourself but to please him. And you go not for selfish profit but to serve him and to do good. You are a servant called to serve in every circumstance and to make the most of every opportunity. Make it a good one, for his glory!
Monday, September 21, 2009
Our attitude in life will often be dictated to by what we consider our purpose is in life. Why am I here? - is the question that is often spoken during the adolescent years and if we do not find an answer it is a question that haunts us through our adult life. It is a fundamental question in understanding purpose and has a major effect on the direction we take in our life. If we do not answer that question we can get into all kinds of destructive activities because we see no reason to respect our life, no value to it. It can lead to all kinds of emotional and mental problems. But if we discover that purpose and live according to it then we discover a reason to respect our life and a healthy balance is maintained.
Now the enemy loves to poss as a beacon of light in this matter. He will keep as many people enslaved to him as possible simply by feeding them lies about their purpose. He gets them wasting their life on things that have no value and that will keep them too busy to even consider their true purpose. He keeps them distracted by things that make them feel good and that entertain. At the end of their life they will look back and see no purpose, nothing accomplished, they coasted through; and now judgment.
Our highest purpose is simple, to enjoy fellowship with our Creator. This was made possible by the Creator himself with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This sacrifice opened an incredible door of opportunity for us; an opportunity to draw near to God. The second purpose is whatever service we have been called into in this place. We have been left here by Jesus so that we could join him in the rescue of this world. There is a lot to be done. But instead of looking at the second purpose I want us to consider our highest purpose for a moment.
Consider what Paul had written to the Galatians:
But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? v. 9
What is the difference here between knowing God and being known by God? It is the difference between fellowship and attendance. It is possible to go through life thinking you are doing the right thing but all you have is a head knowledge of Jesus; only the things that have been taught and that you have read about. But to be known by God is a difference matter because that is when true fellowship with the Creature begins. We need more than head knowledge. Jesus prayed:
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21-23)
Such richness in fellowship with our God, he in us and us in him. This cannot happen unless we are known by him. We are known by him when we totally surrender ourselves to him, dying with Jesus and then rising from death to live IN Jesus. This is when we become "in him". Not only that but as this happens we are given the Spirit of God IN us so that we are now possessed by him, "he in us". There are so many people bearing the name of Christ who have never experienced this and are trying to live their purpose without knowing fellowship with our God. They are the ones who are still trying to live the law because they know no other way. But this is frightening because of Jesus' warning:
"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.'
"But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.'
"Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'
"But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'" (Luke 13:24-27)
The possibility of these words being spoken to us should strike terror in our hearts. It is not hell I am afraid of but of not being in fellowship with Jesus. David had that same fear:
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:11)
If you are not sure you have fellowship with God then you don't have it. Fellowship brings awareness of his love in such a way that every day you feel overwhelmed by his attention and affections. If you have this fellowship then you have no problem carrying out your second purpose regardless of the cost. And if you have this fellowship then your heart is burning for everyone to experience it. It is of vital importance that Jesus knows you. It is far more important that he knows you than that you know of him. Maybe you can quote the Bible until the cows come home but it won't matter on that DAY, the final DAY if Jesus does not know you.
Seek him out. Desire to be known. Call out to him while you still can. Desire to be possessed by him. Be willing to die to be possessed. It is the richest experience that you will ever have, to be known by Jesus.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
There are a lot of activities that Christians are involved in that they need to stay clear of. They seem like simple fun things, even innocent but some of these things are demonic and have a way of possessing the mind and heart. These things include a little thing like horoscopes. With the dawn of FaceBook and its applications all kinds of "fun" things have crept into our lives. Paul had a warning for the Galatians along this same line:
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. vs. 8-10
So many of us do not understand how much control these things had over us. At least a recovering alcoholic or a former addict understand the power that things have over them and they seek support and encouragement to stay free of these things. We know that our bond to sin was broken when we died with Jesus but sin is still a powerful thing and draws at us. We need to be aware and seek the company of other recovering sinners as well as keep our eyes on Jesus.
We are playing with fire when we entertain things like horoscopes and all such things. They are a distraction to us. They actually cause us to take our eyes off of Jesus even for a moment which can utterly destroy us. But this is also true for many other activities, such as dating non-believers, filling our day with music that denies Jesus, filling our minds with images of rape and murder. It is hard to avoid some of these things in our day but it is even more dangerous when we seek them out. The latest craze is romanticizing vampires which is romanticizing the demonic. Zombies are also on the rise. I realize I would never be able to convince people that things that entertain us also have an effect on us, but they are effective in that they distract us from the holy purpose of Jesus in us. They also impede his Lordship in us.
It all appears like fun, and that is where the enemy is hiding his trap for us in the Western world. He use to hide it in religion, then in intellectual pursuits, and I am sure it is still in those things, but more and more he hides himself in the entertainment of this world. After all, that is what our lives have become, a constant pursuit of entertaining ourselves.
But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
Do we really want to be enslaved by these things again after having received such wonderful freedom? Only you can be the judge of where you are with Jesus. Is the passion still burning bright? Are you keeping it fanned into flame by service, worship, prayer, fellowship and the Word of God? Is that video game improving you? Is that movie making you a better person? Is your horoscope able to give you hope for your future? Is the music inspiring you on to greater things? What does not add to you is taking away from you. It is making you weak and eventually miserable. You are being enslaved all over again. I know many will just shrug it off but write it in your calendar to come back and see me in a couple of years and we will measure the spiritual progress you have made.
I am not an old man trying to belittle the values of our youth or anyone else for that matter. I am a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ who is pointing out what I see and have experienced for myself. I invite you to take a look around and examine your own life. Ask the Spirit to lend you the eyes of Jesus so you can see for yourself. If you are willing to be honest then the Spirit is willing to reveal such things to you. Just don't lie to yourself when you see the truth.
As we conclude for today I want you to ponder this question as you run around completing your Saturday to-do list: Why am I here? We'll consider this further on Monday as we look at whether it is better to know Jesus or be known by him.
Friday, September 18, 2009
When I was a child I dreamed all the time what it would have been like to have parents who were rich. It was not that my family was poor; we had everything we ever needed. But I often wondered what it would be like to inherit a great sum of money to do with as I pleased. Of course my dreams as a child were limited to selfish gain: candy, swimming pools, more candy, tons of tv's, still more candy, a huge library of Sci-Fi books, and still more candy. It is a good thing my parents are not rich or I would have ended up with rotten teeth and a few hundred pounds overweight. Yet, in one very important way, I am an heir to a large fortune.
So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. v. 7
Paul explains in these verses that we are all considered as sons, male and female:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 3:26-28
Paul explains that just as a son is no different than a slave before he comes of age, being under guardianship, we were in that same condition when we were slaves to sin. We could not make decisions for ourselves because our sin nature left us with no choice. But the Father has always considered us to be his sons and sent Jesus to set us free from our sin nature so we had a choice and could come of age. He has always intended us to be heirs of the promise, the seeds of Abraham.
This is the reason it is so sad to see so many people not living in the truth of the freedom that is freely ours. People deny it, chase after lies, base their life on half-truths and continue to lose out. Many of us have hearts that are burdened for these other sons who are not stepping into the sonship which has been freely offered them. They are so stubborn that most won't even consider the truth and chose to believe that the rest of us are insecure and need some system of belief to prop us up. If only they knew the richness of life they are losing out on. But I also wonder how many of us who have accepted Jesus are failing to walk in the fullness of this sonship.
It is easy to only believe some of the promises and to doubt the rest. Some of us have come to the throne of grace with a head knowledge and have never really experienced the love of the Father. We deny it to ourselves because something in us tells us that we are not worthy so we cannot receive it. It is true that we are not worthy of any of this. We deserve death. But that is the beauty of grace; not only did we not get what we deserved, we also did not deserve what we got. The Father made a choice to love us even though we deserved death, and he took action to redeem us as his sons. It has nothing to do with you or your worthiness, instead it has to do with our holy and loving Father.
We are heirs of the promise only because the Father pursued us so he could make us his sons. Don't deny his choice today. Don't make the sacrifice of Jesus a wasted sacrifice for you. He went through a lot so you could receive what the Father has set aside for you. Don't throw it away just because you find it hard to believe someone from so long ago could love you that much. Choose to walk this planet as a son of the Lord God Almighty. You an an heir, it is time to claim that promise for yourself.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Our North American society prides itself in its attitude of equality for all its citizens. But most of us know and have experienced the real truth, that certain groups of people are more equal than others. As much as our laws protect individual rights it still comes down to the attitude of individuals in society. Everyone has their prejudices, which is sad and can make for some very difficult situations at times. Fear is the biggest motivation for prejudice. We fear the unknown.
I wish I could say that the Church was different. It should be. But what God has intended is not always the reality of our experience because individuals and groups put self ahead of the Scriptures. The Church is a spiritual thing that impacts people in the mind, spirit and body so our understanding of equality in Christ should be impacting every member of the Body. God's heart on equality of his children is plan to know and understand:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. vs. 26-29
This cannot be argued with. Our Father says that we have all come into the family the same way and are thus all one. We are all Abraham's seed due to Jesus and are all heirs of the same promise. We are all equal in relationship. There is no one loved more than another. He loves us all equally. There is not one more favoured than another, he favours us all equally. However, we have all been called into different works and different service but even in that there is equality:
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:21-25)
Our relationship with the Father is equal, our calling is different, but the importance of what we do in the Kingdom is equal. The only mention in Scripture about treating anyone with special honour is concerning those that have responsibility to train us spiritually:
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." (1 Timothy 5:17-18)
This would be in the same sense that we are to honor our parents, not that elders are parents, but they are responsible for training us so we can reach spiritual maturity. But these individuals also have to give a greater accounting for themselves as well. Keep in mind this calling is given by the Spirit and is not determined by any man or any board. We are called by the Spirit, each one of us, according to the will of the Father.
The point here is that we are not as spiritually minded as we think in the Church. We still struggle with the flesh according to the prejudices that we have grown up with. This is one of the reasons Scripture tells us to work out our salvation daily. It would be a good exercise to reflect on this, write down your prejudices (being very honest with yourself) and then confess each one to the Father. Then ask that the Spirit would change you in these things to be like Jesus in his attitude toward people. He loves us all equally and we need to do the same, giving special attention to our enemies. Let us freely love as he has freely loved us.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I hope you take the time to read the chapter at the beginning of each blog entry as I do not have the time nor the space to record all the scripture to which I refer. Today is especially important as Paul explains the reason for the law as compared to the promise. It is important to establish that the promise to Abraham was given 430 years before the law was given. We are children of the promise and so need to understand the origins of that promise. Abraham established the type of faith that would be required in order for us to receive the promise. So why then does the law exist? Paul explains:
What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. v. 19
This should be easy for my students to understand this morning. It happens both at home and at school. Sometimes the school and parents have to add rules due to the actions of the students and children. An example: in the winter students play on the large hill of snow created by the snow plow. There is some shoving; a student falls down the hill and gets injured. The school then creates rules to govern the actions of the students in relation to the snow mountain. The Israelites proved that they needed a law to govern them so they would understand that their actions were wrong. No rule or law will prevent determined people or students from doing what they want but it does help in establishing a clear consequence for their actions. God's law made it clear what the consequences were for the actions of his children. But Paul explains that this law was only in affect up to the arrival of the seed of the promise; Jesus.
It is impossible for this law to provide freedom when its intention was to bind the offenders. Paul writes:
But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. v. 22
"Who believe" requires the same faith of the original receiver of the promise, Abraham. It is a belief without proof. More than a belief it requires faith which is more than belief because faith causes us to live according to the promise. We do not wait to receive it but act as if we have already received it, as Abraham did.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
The Spirit through Paul makes this clear for us today so that there will be no confusion on how we received salvation:
Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. vs. 23-25
We cannot be saved from the penalty of the law by our actions. None of us is perfect enough to live the law. If we try to live the law then we will be judged and condemned by the law. The law is perfect and we are not. This is the reason the Scriptures tell us that there is only one way to be saved from God's judgment: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. His pain is our gain. Let us not waste his sacrifice but instead live a life that will honour this great act of love. Oh how he loves you and me!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
There is something in this chapter that really amazed me when the Spirit revealed it to me a number of years ago. I always wondered how it was that Jesus took on our sins when he himself could not sin. I knew that the ultimate sacrifice had to be better than a simple lamb without blemish. I realized Jesus was perfect but how was it that he took on our sins and how was it that the Father could actually curse his Son? Then I read this:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." v. 13
When I followed up on this I discovered this was part of God's revelation to his adopted people back in Deuteronomy:
If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. vs. 22-23
What amazed me is that God laid down the plan for the cross way back at the beginning. The only way he could curse himself is by establishing this spiritual law a long time ago. The only place that we read that it was done was when Joshua hung a couple of kings who resisted him in the war to take the Promised Land. We also know that Judas brought the curse of God upon himself by hanging himself on a tree. Those kings had been guilty of coming against God's will which was punishment for their wickedness in the land. Judas was guilty of betrayal. But Jesus was a lamb without blemish, and although he bore the curse of the Father to the grave, like death it could not stick.
It is the shear beauty of God's plan that amazes me. The crucifixion and death of Jesus is a fact. It is recorded by historians at the time. It cannot be refuted. The fact it was done at the hands of the Romans shows it was nothing that was orchestrated by the disciples or anyone else. It shows why Jesus knew that this would be the method of his death, because there was no other way that he could be killed as the sacrificial lamb for the world. It shows that Jesus' course was planned long before the prophets began to share the vision of the Christ. It shows that the Fathers love is a deep and passionate love for us because he had planned to rescue us all along.
Be encouraged today at the suffering of Jesus. I am convinced that the fists in the face, the lashes of the whips, the nails piercing the flesh, the mocking from below, the desertion of his followers did not cause as much pain as the curse he became to his Father. It is hard for us to imagine the kind of love that caused him to be obedient to this ultimate death. How can you dare to look down on yourself, the child for whom Jesus sacrificed everything? Open your eyes and realize the wonder of a love you do not deserve but yet is freely poured into you.
Rise up today and praise the Holy name of Jesus. Literally, it is the very least we can offer. And after you worship go love someone with this same love of the Lord. If you want to be like Jesus then do what Jesus said to do, as he did for us who were his enemy:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)
Monday, September 14, 2009
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. v. 1
As in so many cases the Galatians started well but now their ending was in jeopardy. As was the case in most of Paul's service, the circumcision group had followed him into Galatia and was working to undo everything that Paul had done. The Galatians had begun well with the truth but were now being convinced of the need to follow the law.
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? vs. 2-3
I don't like being negative in our devotions but I find this to be an ongoing problem in the present day Church as well. We start off well, learning to live in the Spirit, praising the Lord for his grace and the faith he has lent us. Yet, somewhere along the journey we start slipping back into a reliance on living a good life and doing good deeds. It is no longer so much about what Jesus has done for us but about what we are doing for Jesus.
Maybe it is the strain of being a new creation in a fallen world? It can be hard to be surrounded by one perspective while living in another. Where the world is reliant on money we lean heavily on our Lord. Where people work hard to find solutions for themselves we turn to prayer. While people light candles, chant mantras, complete so many hours of service, climb stairs on their knees and a huge list of many other things, we trust in the actions of a man from 2000 years ago. Mind you, not just any man; the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is not good enough to start well, we have to finish strong as well:
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. Acts 20:24
We grow weak for a few different reasons. First we allow our passion for Jesus to weaken by neglecting our study of the Word, neglecting prayer and neglecting worship. These things must be done daily to remain fresh in the Spirit every day. This is fellowship with the Spirit. The second thing is neglect of fellowship with believers. We cut ourselves off from the Body or we spend less and less time with other believers. We do not receive encouragement from our brothers and sisters and the walk becomes harder as we feel the pull of the world's system of belief. For some reason it easier for us to live with the burden of "works" than to live in the freedom of the Spirit. There is also the neglect of service. We have been left here because there is work to be done and that work is to be used for the purpose of God. If we are not living in our purpose then we bring confusion to our spirit.
So, in all honesty, where are you in this? After starting well have you continued growing in your relationship with Jesus? Are you just as passionate as the first day you met him? Are you serving strong or are you just getting by? Have you left the Spirit behind and continued with empty actions? Then my friends, repent. Turn back from that direction and face the Lord. It is not too late to finish as strong as you began. Find your passion again. Re-discover the wonder of his grace. Be filled again by the power of the Spirit. Turn back, seek forgiveness, receive his joy, and serve.
If you are still serving, still rejoicing, still passionate about Jesus, still passionate about souls, make sure you do not neglect the fellowship of the Spirit, fellowship with believers and your service in the Lord. Stay strong in these things and you will finish the race strong.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Paul was nothing if not bold. Here we find him confronting Peter over a struggle Peter was having. Peter was the apostle who defended the ministry to the Gentiles. He had the vision from God concerning the acceptance of this ministry. He spoke in favor of it. During his time in Antioch he enjoyed rich fellowship with the Gentile believers. Yet there was inconsistency with Peter. When some of the circumcision group showed up Peter drew away from the Gentiles.
This group of "believers" who advocated the strict Jewish observation of the law for all believers were obviously a powerful group. Peter was afraid of them. This was the group that Paul had a constant battle with because they represented the opposite of the gospel that Paul taught. Now here the famous Peter was compromising what God had instructed him to do because of his fear of man. Paul could not stand by. He stood up to Peter and confronted him with the truth of the gospel. (And we think things are political in our age.)
I don't think any of us should feel smug about where we stand in any of this because I think the leaders of the Church compromised long ago. We are just so deep in it that we think we stand in the truth. Yet, if we stand in the truth why is there so much dead wood in the Church? Paul reminded Peter:
"We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. vs. 15-16
This is such a large issue, living by faith and not sight, but I want us to consider a simple thing. Do we love Jesus? If we love him then we trust him. If we trust him then we will trust what he said, the promises that he made. Yet the churches are filled with people who have no dynamic faith because their love is only a surface love. Tested in the waters of life this faith quickly disappears. Some will find solutions by other means and then still claim that it was by faith. The thing is, to follow Jesus we have to let go of the rope. We have to be willing to lose our understanding of things and step into the reality of God. We have to be willing to die to how things work in this world and be willing to live by God's system:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! vs. 20-21
How do I know most people don't live this life? I know because most of them do not have a clue about grace. Two signs of people experiencing the depth of the Father's love is faith and grace. I know most people do not understand grace because they are eaten alive by guilt from their past. If we understood grace then we would be as bold as Paul in defending it. Grace is the Father covering everything that we can do nothing about. We cannot save ourselves so God showed us his grace in providing Jesus as the way to salvation. We cannot forgive our own past so God covers us by his grace, healing us if we trust him. We cannot live his righteousness, so he covers us by his grace by declaring us to be righteous. We are a broken people but he shows his grace by revealing his glory in our weakness. Peter knew all of this and more, yet he chose to fear man and not God. Can you understand why Paul had to confront him?
We do not live by a system of rules; we live by faith because of Jesus' love for us. We do not conform to the will of man but we submit ourselves to the will of the Father in response to his love for us. We walk in forgiveness and acceptance regardless of what anyone may bring against us. We have been made whole by the will of the Father because of his love for us. We live in boldness and power even when the enemy accuses us of our past because we know the person we were was crucified with Jesus and no longer exists. We are who we are because of God's grace and not because of anything that we merited.
Oh my friends, I have no greater desire for you than what Paul had for his friends:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-18)
Friday, September 11, 2009
It is not often that we stop to reflect on the number of people it took to get us where we are today. One person making one slight change in their thought or action during one day could have completely changed the course of our history. It is no different for the Church and where we are today. If it was not for men like Paul we would not be where we are today. In fact, Paul had to fight for the gospel we, and all the churches base our beliefs on. It was not an easy sale to the Jews, that the gentiles did not have to submit to the traditions of the Jews.
In this chapter of Galatians Paul describes his perspective of what happened when the church of Antioch sent him and Barnabas to Jerusalem to ask for direction concerning the gentiles. According to Acts many people spoke including Peter who defended the ministry to the gentiles. Paul spoke and describes it like this:
This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. vs. 4-5
It was also here that Paul's authority was recognized. He writes:
On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles,a]"> just as Peter had been to the Jews. v. 7
But these two things, which were to greatly impact the Church, were not an easy thing. This was hard faught for. Not fight as we understand today but fight as in standing ones ground and defending ones position in a matter. Paul stood his ground and was not afraid of titles or reputations:
As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message. v. 6
Do you have anything in your life that matters so much that you are willing to defend it to your death? Something that you are willing to lose everything in order to keep? Is there anything in your life that matters this much to you? If you do then you will understand the sort of passion it took to win us our freedom to worship and serve in a manner that honours Jesus. I hope as well that you have this same passion to hand down this faith to those who follow after you.
Christianity is not about tradition. It is not something that you are baptized into as a child. It is not something that can be studied and understood. Christianity is a relationship with the Father made possible through the brave act of Jesus. It cannot be had by circumcision, communion, baptism or any other symbolic ceremony. As was shown to Paul by the Holy Spirit and passed down to us today, salvation is by the grace of God. This is the foundation of the Church today and we know it because people like Paul were willing to make a stand. Now will you defend it with that same passion, not allowing anyone to change it our water it down so that same knowledge is there for your children and grandchildren? I pray it is so.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
The letter to the Galatians is fascinating for several reasons not the least of which is that Paul fills in some of the holes from Acts. It was Luke who had investigated and then recorded the events of the early Church and some of the adventures of Paul. In this letter we get to read Paul's perspective and read some of the details Luke left out. For example, Luke does not record that Paul went to Arabia after his acceptance of Jesus and then later returned to Damascus.
But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. vs 15-17
Paul also gives us a reference of time which Luke does not:
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. v. 18
In Acts everything seems to happen over night or within a few days. But as fascinating as these historical facts are there is something of greater worth to glean from these last two paragraphs of the first chapter of Galatians. It is again Paul's keen sense of calling:
But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace ...
You have to have a keen sense of calling to face all the difficulties Paul faced to do the work that Paul did. Without that incredible experience of being set aside by God for his purpose you will quit whatever you put your hand to do. The work of the Lord is not something you do because you are interested in it. The work of the Lord belongs to those who have experienced the "setting aside" experience. We are all called but we don't all walk in our own calling because we are serving according to our interest instead of the anointing of God. It may not even be because of our interest. It may be because we were called by men.
Sometimes friends, family and leaders see something in the flesh in us and convince us that we should be serving the Lord in the area they see in us. But they see in the flesh and our calling comes by the Spirit, by the will of the Father, which is seldom by our flesh abilities. Paul had a great awareness that it was God who was working through him according to grace. Look at the wording he is using with the Galatians:
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. vs. 11-12
... I did not consult any man ... v. 16
Paul was also very much aware that he did not deserve to be serving Jesus. He refers to being called by grace. My thought on the real strength of Paul was that he understood just how far away he had been from God and what a wretched state he was in. Remember who he was before he encountered Jesus:
For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. vs. 13-14
Paul never forgot where he came from so grace became the center of his experience with his service to Jesus. Keenly aware of how much had been forgiven thus how much he was loved by God. Keenly aware that he had been set aside from birth for this purpose he was now fulfilling. It all adds up to a powerful servant of the Lord, totally reliant on the Spirit for all direction and resources. I am convinced that we would have a lot more people serving like Paul if we would face our own wretchedness and gain the revelation of the Father's love and grace. Jesus said he who is forgiven much would love much. We only need to know that we all come from that same condition, we have all been forgiven much and so we should be loving much. But these are just words. We need that same encounter with Jesus as Paul had so Jesus' righteousness would reveal our wretchedness and the full extent of his love would be experienced. It is by love and not by duty that we are called and serve.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
It is so easy to make the Bible say what we want it to say. It is so easy to convince people of it. Many people do not read the Word for themselves and if they do read it they read it like a novel. Unless we take the time to actually study it we will always be in danger of being manipulated. Sunday preaching is not studying the Word. Preachers take the Word and tell people how it is applied every day. Preaching is a unique thing but it is not the in-depth study of the Word that we need to be involved in.
If we think it is hard in our current age imagine what it was like without the written word. The early believers had the Torah but they were living the experience as the New Testament was being written. How much easier it must have been for people to come in and dilute or change the gospel of grace, the gospel that had been given to Paul to teach. He writes to the Galatians out of great concern:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. vs. 6-7
The apostle Paul appears to be like a mother hen at times, always watching over and trying to protect the little ones. But there was good reason for this. This gospel of grace that we have we take for granted but in Paul's day this was a new revelation. Everything else, all other religions required works. To be able to receive salvation for free, simply by the grace of the Father was astonishing and hard to accept. By our nature we want to earn things, it makes us feel better. Let's not kid ourselves, the great maturity of people still struggle with this. The reason they struggle is because we do not really want to receive salvation, only have our guilt relieved.
People still struggle with the notion of the Bible. Because it was scribed by men it is easy to dismiss it as good literature. But this was not a thing from the mind of a man or group of men. Paul describes his gospel as this:
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. vs. 11-12
If we cannot settle in our hearts that the Word of God is from God and is the truth of God to man then we will always be open to be victims of any teaching that comes along. We cannot accept some parts of the Word and dismiss other parts. We cannot accept it as a great work of literature and still call on the name of Jesus. We cannot live and grow by word of mouth. In order to be a solid follower of Jesus we need to know and accept the Word of God as the truth, the great revelation of our God.
The great fact that we tend to ignore is that the Word of God was birthed through the Spirit of God. Although we can study the words on the page we will never understand the Word unless we understand it through the Spirit. Just as Paul did not receive it from any man and just as he was not taught it by any man, we too must be taught it by the Spirit. It is only by the Spirit that we will know the Word to be true and that it will come alive to us.
Do not abandon the Word of God for what appears to be an easier gospel. What can be easier than free? Do not let anyone come in and rob you of the richness and depth of the Word. Study it for yourself and ask the Spirit of God to teach you. You do not require any interpreter or any mediator to approach God. Jesus Christ is the only mediator that we need and the Spirit is our teacher. Do not let anyone steal it away from you.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Imagine knowing who you are, what you have to do and who it was that chose you to do it. That would describe most of us at work. We know who we are at work because our co-workers keep identifying us by interacting with us. Often we become the person they imagine us to be because they do not really know all the private stuff that makes us who we are. What we have to do is easy because it was all explained to us in a job description and we get evaluated by that description. We also know that our boss thought we were suitable for the position. It is the reason he hired us instead of someone else. However, the rest of life is not like this.
Most people spend their lifetime trying to figure out who they are. Some pay thousands of dollars to have experts pick their mind and try to define them. Most people wonder around in life with no real goal, except maybe a financial one. But finances do not satisfy the greater needs of our life. Not knowing your purpose in life can be a very disorienting experience. Then there is the question of why we exist. Our existence came about because a man and a woman had sexual intercourse. Even if they were trying to make a baby they did not get to choose the egg or which of the millions of sperm got to meet to make us. This can leave us the sense that we are just here by some fluke of nature. This is how it can feel when you do not know Jesus.
If you are wondering who chose you take the time to read Psalm 139. You are not here by chance but by the design of our God. This same Psalm will also start us on the road of understanding, that God designed us so who we are is also defined by him. The part that is important for our scripture reading this morning is, what is our purpose? We discover that, with our God, we have a general purpose and then we have a very specific purpose. He calls us to join him in what he is already doing. Paul knew this because of two experiences he had.
First, Paul had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. It was there that Paul accepted that Jesus was Lord and where Jesus set Paul aside for his specific purpose. Later, while in the church of Antioch, ministering to the gentiles, the Spirit spoke to the elders of the church:
In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:1-2
These were both defining moments in the life of Paul, that when he was in a place of doubt he would look back and remember he was chosen for the job. It is the reason he was able to write to the Galatians:
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. Galatians 1:1
As a follower of Jesus it is vital that we know who we are in Jesus. We need to understand what we have been set apart to do, the purpose of our service. Understanding this will allow us to focus on this purpose, as Paul focused, and be used of God in incredible ways. It is also a thing that sustains us at all times, knowing that we were chosen for the job. However, unlike a job in the world, were were not chosen by our ability but by God's grace. This means he knows all about us, all our weaknesses, faults and sins, and still he chose us. This knowledge can be very empowering and with the help of the Spirit can take us on to greater things.
Most of you know about my conversation with Jesus in the top of the apple tree when I lived in Ormstown. That was when he made his will clear to me and when I knew he had chosen me to open our school. That is a defining moment that I look back on any time I begin to fade in my resolve or when I doubt what I am doing. I remember that no man chose me for this. No one asked me to do it. Pastor Roy says how he had no intention for us to start a school, it was only suppose to be a homeschooling support group. And then there was the apple tree experience. We all need these defining moments when we realize that no man chose us, but it was the will of God that put us where we are to do what we are doing.
Sent not from men nor by man.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Even when the Spirit has to bring correction it is done with love and compassion. This is also what we need to take away from our look at the two letters to the Corinthians. Paul loved those people and desired to see them enter into maturity in Christ. There were things in their lives preventing this. His correction was not out of anger because they dared come against his authority but instead it was like a parent correcting for the purpose of training.
It is obvious that Paul understood the responsibility that went with his authority. He had the power of God flowing through him but it was never for his own benefit because it was enabled by love. Without love it would have led him to be abusive. This is the man who was inspired to teach:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Despite all he had achieved, his great revelations, and the power that flowed through him Paul remained grounded by the heart of the gospel:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Paul would not have been used by God in the way he was if he had not grasped the full understanding of God's love and the responsibility to love everyone in this same power. Paul was trusted with much and remained humbled because of his great revelation of God's grace. This was the reason Paul was able to correct with love and understand his responsibility as a leader:
This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (2 Corinthians 13:10)
You have to wonder if some of us leaders have had the same revelation of Jesus' love as Paul had received. The authority that has been given to the leaders and the ministers is for building up the Body, not for tearing it down. As Paul operated in this authority for this purpose, he had this revelation of love burning through every corner of his being:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
That last line should always be in the vision of those with leadership authority in the Body; it always protects, always trusts. always hopes, always perseveres. Even correction has as its motivation the desire to see a person built up, becoming the best they can be, experiencing the most of Christ that they can experience.
Enough of serving Jesus with our limitations; we are falling flat. We need a fresh revelation of his love and how that births grace in us. We need our eyes opened to our weak attempt to do what he has done. We need his authority and power birthed in us from the motivation of love. I want to serve him more and more but I am empty and broken. Lord pour out your power so that we can see, understand, embrace our death and gain life in you. Correct the falsehood in us, give us the strength to let it be revealed, wash us clean and then fill us to overflowing with your love and grace.
Paul left the Corinthians with this as I leave you with this:
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Friday, September 4, 2009
Paul has been spending a great deal of time defending his spiritual authority to the Corinthians. It seems there was a faction in the church that wanted to take on his authority and put him aside. They were criticizing many things about him but Paul simple listed the credentials that the Spirit had given him as an apostle:
I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles," even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance. vs. 11-12
What these Corinthians were doing was like what some adolescents do; in the process of growing they throw off the authority of their parents. But growing Christians and adolescents still need that authority to help guide them through the many dangers of this process. Parents and Christian leaders are not there to Lord their authority over the person but instead to try to warn them of the terrible things they are heading toward. Paul's justification of himself was not so that he could have power but instead so that he could maintain the power of influence:
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. vs. 19
His fear for the Corinthians was like any parent of an adolescent, that they would wreak their lives on the rocks of selfishness and lack of repentance:
For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. vs. 20
These are killers in a church and in a persons life. They do not belong to a Holy Spirit filled follower of Jesus Christ. These are the things we find in the immature heart of 3, 4, and five year olds. Sometimes we find them in the heart of an adolescent who has thrown off the authorities God has established over them. It is a leader's and parent's worse nightmare. Paul continues:
I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. v. 21
Humble him in the same way that a rebellious teen humbles his parents by making them feel that nothing they have taught him actually stuck. But the lesson I take from this is that despite what the Corinthians were doing Paul never gave up on them. He never said "forget you turkeys" and walked away. Just like a parent can never give up on their child no matter the heartaches Paul could not give up on this church. Just as a parent is given responsibility to raise their child regardless of their heart and character Paul had been given responsibility to raise this church in the maturity of the Spirit and service. In other word, despite the actions of the child the parent is still the parent and must respond as a parent.
To be honest perseverance is an easy thing on sunny days; it is the rainy days that take the real effort. It is in the face of rebellion and heartache, pain and suffering, sleepless nights and endless days that true love and spiritual leadership (and parenting) is seen. I want to conclude with a verse that I am taking out of context. Paul was applying it to a different situation but I strongly believe it is a spiritual truth that must be applied in every situation. We have been called to persevere in everything he has given us to do, whether that is spiritual leadership, parenting, friendships, work, evangelism and so on. There is a promise I feel that is attached to this call to persevere so don't give up because you may miss the blessing:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 8:9)