Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Our Race To The Finish Am I Your Partner Or Competitor?

Good morning friends. Do you agree with me that Saturday's are really great, unless you have to work? Then you end up feeling robbed of a great day. Hopefully not many of you have to work today. I pray for you that the joy of the Lord will be your strength. Either way it is good to start the day sharing the Word with you, especially as we move on to the letter to the Philippians.

There is this strange and wonderful thing that is happening because of the Internet; the Church is getting closer as it becomes global. Through applications such as Twitter we are able to meet and encourage Christians from everywhere around the world. It is amazing the close relationships that can be formed so quickly and how much encouragement and support is offered. The one thing I do not hear is a lot of talk about denominations and disputable matters. People just accept each other as brothers and sisters. Now if we could only translate that to our physical communities.

It seems in the flesh we are not able to shake the labels we have created. We know people as Baptist, Anglicans, Pentecostal, Salvation Army, Brethern, Presbyterian and so many more. With it comes all the baggage of differences in disputable matters and it is hard for us to get through to the essentials of our faith. This is the reason why Philippians is such a joy to read, because Paul addresses them in this way, considering them as brothers and sisters in the faith.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:3-6

Do we see our fellow believers as partners? I do not mean the people in our own congregation, although we may want to start there, but the people from other congregations outside of our denomination. Many of our differences is based on traditions and when we get past that we discover that everyone seems to be missing something that we need from the other congregations. That is how we are designed, to need each other. When we realize this then we begin to realize that we are partners in this mission we share together. Partners play off each others strengths and cover each others weaknesses. Partners never attack or demean each other because it would result in failure. We cannot afford to fail our mission. We need to begin to realize our need for our partners. Then in seeing them in this manner perhaps we too will receive joy as we pray for them.

Do we also see people as a work in progress? I don't think we do. I think we expect a finished product, especially in the leaders. However, if we were able to change our mindset I think we would discover we can tolerate a lot of imperfections in people, especially when people own their imperfections. Our own attitude should be "I'm not perfect but God's getting me there". We should not be satisfied with our imperfections but instead submit them to the Spirit for improvement. We must give others this same chance, to know their imperfections and to desire change. This way we can accept each other as works in progress and allow forgiveness to freely flow from this mutual love of the Father.

This attitude allows for us to show grace to one another as Jesus has shown it to us:

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:7-8

These partners of ours have received the same grace as we have from the same source. This means they are as much objects of teh Fathers affection as we are. We share in this wonderful grace. Will this thought allow you to permit others to enter your heart? Are you willing to allow your partners in so that you can love them, support them and encourage them, as different as they are from you? Paul expressed his longing for the Philippians and he said it was with all the affection of Jesus. This is a sacrificial love. Imagine the changes in our communities if we were able to long for each other with this sacrificial love.

Check your heart right now. Are you an open and loving person? Would people refer to you as affectionate? No? Why? I think its because we don't trust people with our heart. We are afraid to be hurt. It may also be because we do not have the energy that such a commitment requires. Love demands action and especially time. It is hard to let people in. So consider what Paul's prayer was for his partners who he longed for with the all the affection of Jesus and who he shared the experience of God's grace with:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. vs. 9-11

What is it you pray for your fellow Christians in your community? I don't mean by church, I mean by name. Do you pray for them? We talk a lot about unity but we need more than just the unity of our own church. We are desperate for the unity of the Church with all its diversity. It isn't going to happen if we keep arguing over things like which translation of the Bible we use, whether we speak in tongues, how we wear our hair or how we dress. These are disputable matters and Paul says to avoid them because they bring division where there should be unity. Consider the lowest common denominator that Paul used here; we have all been called to the same mission; we are all works in progress; we all share in the same grace; and we should all desire to see each other prosper and succeed spiritually so that we all make it to the finish line.

It is with this prayer of Paul's for the Philippians that I have this image of all these runners running together. Instead of seeing the other racers as competitors they see them as partners. Running partners cheer each other on, they push to get each other that little bit further. They don't criticize each other over their clothes, their speech, their hair style or their running techniques. They only have one goal, to help each other finish the race. This is how I see Paul's prayer. Should this not be the desire we have for each other? When a runner stumbles or falls the partners do not kick him or reject him. They help the partner up, speak encouragement into them and then continue the race.

How do you see your fellow believers? Are they your partners? Do you have a duty to them? Do you need them? Will you change your heart so that you long for them with all the affection of Christ? It means forgiving them when they stumble and fail. It means setting aside disputable matters. It means sacrificing for them. Can you do this?  

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy. 

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hey, That's My Dirty Underwear You Are Looking At!

Good morning my friends. I apologize for the tardiness of the post this morning but I took advantage of a later start to our school day and slept in an extra hour. It feels great. We are finishing off Ephesians 6.

If there is one thing that the Body of Christ needs in this age in which we live, it is openness, transparency. If there is one thing that the body is not good at in this age in which we live, it is openness, transparency. As members of the one Body, partakers of the one Spirit, and recipients of the one love, we are suppose to encourage, lift up, support and keep each other accountable. We cannot do this if we are not honest with each other. Look at Paul's conclusion to his letter:

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. vs. 21-22

Paul was transparent. He wanted the saints to know him, to know how he lived, to know what he did, to know what was being done to him. It would have been easy for Paul to do his own thing and tell no one. Instead he surrounded himself by people like Tychicus and Timothy, who he gave the authority to share with others everything about himself. Paul was a model for the Church. Study his letters and it will not take you long to understand that Paul applied the teaching of Jesus to the Body as he taught people about mutual encouragement, respecting each other out of love, watching over each other and so on. What he describes is beautiful but it requires openness.

Here is the thing: today openness is almost being forced upon us. There really is no more sense of privacy in this internet world. There are no such things as secrets. Politicians and leaders are discovering this the hard way as their errors in judgment flash around the internet world. It is even worse if it happened to be caught on video. Some people are horrified by this but should we be all that concerned? After all the Word tells us that what is done in secret will be shown to everyone on the day of judgement. That is why Paul taught accountability and openness and demonstrated it in his own living. Is it not better to deal with our weaknesses and sin now then have to face it when we stand before Jesus?

I for one welcome the opportunity for my church to know what I am doing so they can have a peace of mind knowing that I am occupied with the Kingdom but there is a flip side. There must also be a trust that if they do not understand something they will ask instead of assume. Sometimes in this internet age only part of the information gets through and things may not look so good. This is when people need to be mature enough to ask questions. It is part of the openness and keeping each other accountable. Some leaders may find this intimidating but they better get over it. It is because of a lack of accountability that leaders have gotten into so much trouble in the past. Some will say that they are accountable to a small group of people. That's fine when it comes to our thoughts and plans but our actions are evident to everyone and we should be glad they are. Leaders need to model what they desire to see in their people at all times. They also need to be willing to confess their sins, faults, mistakes, errors of judgment so they can be forgiven and no barrier will remain between them and those for whom they are responsible.

Of course all this openness must exist in an atmosphere of love. Love allows forgiveness. If there is openness there will be messy things that come up. Do we avoid it or do we deal with it with the fruit of the Spirit; patience, love, mercy, forgiveness and the rest? Note the last line of the letter:

Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. v. 24

What God desires the Body to be is not possible if we do not live in grace. We must receive it and we must give it. Living in openness means that all the rough parts are showing. It means we will discover people are discouraged more often than we think. Discouragement is a big thing in the Church and can only be dealt with when people are honest about it. Unchecked discouragement can lead to many sins including the grieving of the Spirit.Yet discouragement is often times easy to deal with when people are aware. This is only one example. We do not think less of a person because they are discouraged. It does not mean they love the Lord less. It simply means they are tired, they have lost sight, they have lost their way for a moment and they need a brother or sister to place their arm around them and help them get back to the path. No big deal and we all need it.

There are so many lessons we need to learn to function as a healthy member of the Body of Christ. This is just one more and in the age in which we live it is one that is becoming easier to live. So do not fear the new openness in the Church, embrace it and let us pray that the Spirit gives us the maturity to handle it. So family,

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

Thursday, October 29, 2009

If Jesus Was Your Boss How Would He Evaluate Your Work Performance?

Good morning my friends. What a wonderful day it is when we stop and consider those beautiful spiritual blessings we have woken to this morning. Do not let go of the thought of them and your day will end as pleasant as it has begun. We are continuing with Ephesians 6.

Now that we have all been told about the armour of God we are ready to do something. That something is simply to live and serve with boldness. Do you realize when you you are protected you become more fearless? Consider hockey players. They wear a lot of protective equipment so when they go to immobilize an opposing player in the corner they do not even think twice about throwing their bodies  into it. They check their opponent with all their weight and energy in order to stop him. Now, remove their equipment and see how much force they will use. When we realize the kind of equipment protecting us there should be no fear, only boldness.

As we continue with Ephesians 6 this boldness becomes a prayer request from Paul:

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. vs. 19-20

The two things that strike me me about this are, the request for prayer and teh request for boldness. Paul just finished instructing them on the vital need to be praying, especially the prayer of intercession:

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. v. 18  

He says, now since you know this pray for me. This is a serious thing the duty of intercessory prayer. Over the years we have grown weak in this because we have been distracted by our own needs. We pray but we have become self-indulgent in our prayers."On all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests", does not sound like once a week prayer meeting where we pray about uncle Bob's wart week after week. Certainly uncle Bob's wart is an important thing but the Church is huge and there are many things that we need to be praying about all day long. We need to be aware of what is going on in order to pray for the Paul's of this age.

Never before have we had so many tools for gathering and sharing information. We have the television, radio, newspapers and the powerful internet. With the internet we can gather information on what is happening in the Church in India, China, Turkey and every where else in the world. But tools have to be used and most Christian do not use them. Most Christians have no idea what is going on in the world let alone neighbourhood. Right now, this morning, a doctor going in for his 24 hour shift, asked for prayer in the same way Paul did; that he would be bold and fearless to present Jesus. Last night, while we were sleeping, a pastor and his family were terrorized by local thugs. Their home was looted and the police did nothing. I could go through a long list of things that happened over night that we remain blissfully unaware of and I could fill your morning with all the prayer requests being put forward right now. 

This is sad because we are bold warriors, having no fear to take on the schemes of the enemy. It is not fear that keeps us from praying, I wish it was. If it was fear the Spirit could deal with that in an instant.Instead the thing that keeps us from prayer is laziness and distraction. Even as ministers engaged in employed ministry we are distracted from our duty of intercessory prayer by the busyness of the work. Without prayer we are weak. Without prayer our brothers and sisters are not covered. Without prayer there is no power. TD Jakes tweeted this morning:

"More prayer more power, little prayer little power, no prayer no power... Pray Pray Pray without ceasing."

We know this is the reality of the Church and of our lives but yet we struggle to live it. We have the armour so that we can engage in this vital duty of prayer in boldness and without fear but we are too busy and too self absorbed.

I encourage you today to make some changes. Ask the Spirit to open your eyes to the needs around you and pray as you see them. Choose a different leader to pray for each day and pray for that leader throughout the day, letting them know you are doing it. Start making a list of missionaries you hear about and start praying for them daily. Contact them and let them know. Find a way to gather news about the Church and what is happening in the world and pray. Find out what is happening in your country, city, neighbourhood and pray. Turn prayer into something you actively engage in throughout the day and understand the importance of it. You will be amazed how it will effect your relationship with the Father and with the Church. Be Bold. Be Engaged. Pray.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Difference Between Victory and Defeat Is Found In What You Wear

Good morning everyone. Ready for an adventurous day? I hope so because with Jesus you just never know what the day is holding for us to experience. We are continuing with Ephesians 6.

Yesterday we considered how important it was that we were proactive in facing the schemes of the enemy. Being proactive means that we maintain our relationship with Jesus daily and not just during emergencies. In this way we are prepared for anything we will have to face because our relationship with Jesus is already strong. If you are a list person then this blog is for you today because the apostle Paul has kindly provided us a list of things that God has equipped us with to be proactive in the fight. We have heard of them as the armour of God and its purpose is clearly stated:

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. v. 13

This armour equips us to face the daily battles we face, the things the enemy uses against us in his schemes to try to destroy us. If we learn to fight with this armour we will learn what it is to live a victorous life and not be a victim of circumstance. Let us begin:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,

I think it is significant that Paul saw truth as a belt. The belt was used to hold all the armour in place. The truth we are to buckled around us, to hold everything into place, is that Jesus is the Son of God; he died on the cross that we may receive the salvation of the Father; that he rose from the dead and destroyed the grip of death. The truth is all of this was done because the Father loves us. The truth we buckle around us is the fact that whoever we are, whatever we have done the Father loves us, enough to sacrifice his best for our rescue. That is the truth that holds everything else in place.

with the breastplate of righteousness in place

You may not feel righteous at times but the Father has declared you to be righteous because of Jesus. It is your faith in Jesus that has provoked this declaration. I find it interesting again that this righteousness is what guards our heart against any blow from the enemy. It is this right relationship with the Father that keeps our heart pure, clean and capable of loving others with the love of the Father. In our own selves we are incapable but in this relationship that has been declared as a right relationship with the Father we are capable. That means when we mess up this declaration covers us and allows for the Father's forgiveness to freely flow. We do not have to twist ourselves in a knot and the enemy cannot whisper any lies to deny this righteousness. It has been declared by the Father. It is ours.

and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  

Another interesting choice. What do we use to try to run away from the battles we face? Our feet. But our feet are equipped with the gospel of peace. This gospel of peace is for ourselves so we do not become anxious about anything but instead we experience peace. This peace is also something we bring with us, carry with us, into everything we do in our day. People should never sense panic in us because our trust in our Father allows for peace in every decision and action we take. This peace in the face of our battles is what often touches the heart of those around us.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 

One of the great pieces of armour is the shield. With this shield we are able to protect every area of our body from any blow from the enemy. Faith is something we must equip ourselves with every day along with all the rest of it. This faith is renewed in the Word, in worship and in prayer. It is a relationship thing and it is very personal. It is essential for daily life and will determine our attitude and response to the circumstances we face. It is what allows for joy and peace as opposed to misery and fear. In the face of faith the enemy can do nothing against us. Is your shield in place?

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   

Often the enemy cannot touch our heart so he goes for our mind. He will plant ideas and come against God in our intellect. In the garden he did not attack Eve's heart but instead used reason to convince her to disobey. If Eve had stuck to the instructions God had given she would have fended off that attack from the enemy. But on that day she had set aside her helmet. Friends, get to know the Word of God. Hide it in your heart. When the enemy used the same tactic in the desert with Jesus, Jesus used the Word to deflect the blows of the enemy. He walked away unharmed. How much trouble could we avoid if we would only defend ourselves with the Word of God?
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.   

The only part of our armour that is designed for offensive use is prayer. Prayer is our greatest weapon for putting the enemy to flight, for protecting the weak and vulnerable, for causing confusion to the enemy's schemes. Unfortunately too many of us use it as the last resort instead of our first defense. Not only do we use it to defend ourselves, we are also suppose to be actively, proactively using it to defend our brothers and sisters:

With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

This is the equipment of a proactive Christian, one who takes the time every day to put on this armour, to stand against the enemy's schemes. It is pretty simple and straightforward. Spend time every day maintaining your relationship with Jesus and your armour will always be in place. Become a neglectful follower and you are facing defeat after defeat. I encourage you my friends to join in the battle today because it is not just about you, it is also about your place in the body, protecting and covering your brothers and sisters in the battle as well. Learn what it is to pray without ceasing and you will learn what the war is all about. So stand firm my friends, defend the ground you have been given.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Let our motto be - Prepared To Stand!

Good morning my friends. It is good to get the occasional note from people from time to time. I am surprised to discover how many people are using this as their morning devotions. I am always blessed to hear your responses. We are continuing with Ephesians 6.

I do not understand Christians who continue to portray themselves as victims. You hear them complaining and using excuses about their various circumstances and about who did what to them. I often hear them blaming the enemy for their lot in life and for the circumstances they are facing. Personally I do not know if the enemy orchestrates anything or if he just uses the opportunities afforded him by this fallen world to work on our weak wills. Yet, one thing I do know; no Christian on the face of this planet is a victim unless they choose to be a victim. The Scriptures tell me that we are more than conquerors because of Jesus. They also say that he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. If we choose to allow the enemy to use the circumstances we face to prevent us from living a life of victory in a fallen world that is a choice we have made. We have chosen to be a victim.

We have to be proactive to avoid a victim mentality. Praying, studying God's Word and worshiping every day is a good start and are good examples of being proactive. We must be prepared before the things of life wash over us. One of the more famous passages about being proactive Christians is found here in Ephesians 6. Note how it starts:

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. vs. 10-11 

We are not being instructed to be strong on occasion but at all times. We are not being told to be strong in our own ability but strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. We are told to do something, to be proactive, to be prepared so that we can take a stand against the schemes of the enemy. Victims are those who pray only during the hard times, who seek God's face for favour only in trials, who turn to the Word only as they feel themselves being swamped by life. They are victims, they see themselves as victims and they portray themselves as victims. They see life as a struggle as they fight against the things of the flesh. But conquerors know it is not about the flesh:

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. v. 12

There is no person on the face of this planet who is our enemy. Our enemy is he who uses the actions of others to try to separate us from the love of Christ. He can not separate us from this love by force so he tries to use the actions of others to destroy us. We come against these people contrary to the Spirit and the enemy's victory is already at hand. When we see ourselves as victims we have fail to respond in love. Victims do not understand we can stand against anything in this world in love. We only face defeat when the enemy fools or provokes us to respond in the flesh contrary to the fruit of the Spirit. We do this as victims when we fail to see the true nature of the battle. The battle is over the hearts and minds of the lost and this is often where God's army, us, are attacked as well. Unprepared, living a victim's mentality, we will be defeated. Recognize the battle for what it is and get proactive.

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. v. 13

As a proactive army we should take this on as our personal motto: prepared to stand. What does he mean by "after you have done everything"? Some take this to mean, after we have done everything to rescue ourselves, or after we have done our part to get out of our circumstances. I believe Paul is saying, after we have taken our proactive action of putting on the full armour of God every day we stand our ground, not giving one inch to the enemy. He shall not possess my mind; he will not feast on my heart. I refuse to be the victim of his schemes. I refuse to be a victim of the circumstances of life in a fallen world. I refuse it by being prepared to stand against it.

Tomorrow we will consider the equipment our Father has arranged for us so that we will be equipped to take our stand. For today it is enough that we agree not to live the life of a victim. No more victim mentality. We will decide every day to be proactive in our relationship with Jesus Christ so that no scheme of the enemy will ever lead to our defeat. Remember in all of this there is a larger purpose than just our own salvation. The Father wants to use his proactive army to rescue those who are victims of the enemy's schemes. Let us not waste the time that we have been allotted; prepared to stand!

Monday, October 26, 2009

In The Face Of The Social and Prosperity Gospels

Good morning my friends. I hope you had a great weekend but especially a great Sunday. I do not know how you will feel about me after this blog so let me say in advance, it has been great getting to know you. Ephesians 6.

Sometimes thinking out loud can get you into trouble. For example, as I read our portion of Ephesians 6 this morning something struck me that I want to share with you out loud:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. vs. 6-8

I have heard a lot of people, including myself, apply this to employees and employers but let's get real here. Paul is addressing the slaves who have come to know Jesus. So where is the social outrage and the social justice concerning the slave trade here? Why is Paul not telling the slave owners to let them go? How can one Christian own another Christian? These should be some major issues we are wrestling with here as it affects the social gospel so many preach. As far as I can see there are a couple of possibilities.

The first possibility is that it simply was not the time to abolish slavery. God has a time for everything and he would use a couple of men like Abraham Lincoln and William Wilberforce to bring about his will. At the time of Paul's writing slavery was so entangled and woven in the fabric of society that everything would have fallen apart if the slave owners started to let them go. It was a socially acceptable and necessary evil for that time and God did not want to upset the balance. Paul seemed to have no problem with this as he sent Onesimus back to his owner. The problem is I have a hard time believing this. It just doesn't ring true to me, so I may have to consider something else.

The other possibility may be a little harder to accept. Perhaps God was serious when he indicated that we should grow where he has planted us. Perhaps God is not as concerned about our station in life as he is about our obedience to him despite our circumstances. In our North American thinking this is hard to take as we believe that we should always be working toward the next level. As well this, in face of the prosperity gospel this is of the enemy. In fact this idea seems to challenge both the social and prosperity gospel. Yet, it seems to be the thing that is the most consistent with Scripture:

Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you–although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to. (1 Corinthians 7:20-24)

The truth of the matter is that our situation here does not matter as much as where we are in Jesus. We can be a free person in this world and yet a slave to all that is death. It is in Jesus that we find our freedom. It is in Jesus that we find release. It is in Jesus that we find our contentment in the place where we have been placed by the Father:

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)

We need to gain this perspective so that we can stop fighting against God and simply serve where he has placed us. In this we will discover peace:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

The problem is that we are spending so much time trying to advance in life, we are losing the opportunities to serve where we are. It is always about increase and advancement for us. Yet, if we would learn to serve where we are we may discover God is opening doors of opportunities we had missed because we were to busy to notice. It all comes down to our perspective and what we consider to be of value. Are our values based upon our physical and mental needs or are they based on our relationship with Jesus Christ? 

The one spiritual blessing most of us seem to be missing in this rat race is contentment. After all, it can only be possessed when we trust Jesus with all of our future. "Trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus then to trust and obey."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Are Our Actions Matching Our Words?

Good morning my friends. It is a great Saturday morning. I am a bit rushed because I am being kicked out of my house. A few ladies are coming over this morning to clean and they want me out. This is their gift to me for Pastor Appreciation month. Nice. We are moving on to Ephesians 6.

As we move on from the relationship of husband and wife we find that Paul is still dealing with the the directive:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. v. 21

Ephesians 6 starts off with the application of this to the children:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)

Ever meet one of those kind of parents that expect complete obedience from their children? You have now; I am one of those. The thing is that children can only do what is modeled for them. They learn more from observing an example then they do from what they are told. Our actions need to match our words before we can expect that our children will do as we say and what we model for them.

We should teach our children that adults also submit to each other. They need to see that we are accountable and will take correction when we are wrong. But parents are like some pastors some times, afraid to show imperfections. The thing is that children already see the imperfections. Did I mention they are very good at observing. If we try to cover over these things with lies and excuses our children will also learn how to lie and use excuses to cover their failings. If they see the respect we have for otehrs, submitting ourselves to gentle correction and being thankful for it, they too will see that correction is a normal part of life.

The greatest thing we can demonstrate for our children is our great love for Jesus. This love is demonstrated in the way we treat others, including our children. But do not think they are only looking at how you love them. They are also watching how you interact with your neighbour, your parents, your siblings, the people at church. They also hear what you are saying about your boss and co-workers. Did I mention they also hear very well along with their great talent of observing? Perhaps this is the reason Paul writes specifically to the dads:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. v4

There is nothing more exasperating then inconsistency; do what you say and say what you do. Why is he picking on dads here? Perhaps it is because we haven't changed very much over the past 2000 years or so. Men have to be very careful because both their sons and daughters are looking toward them to see what a real man is in this life. Jesus example shows us the words and actions of a real man. He loved us to the point of sacrificing himself for us. I realize that any of us men would gladly step in front of a bus to save our children. If this is true then why won't we sacrifice our pride, our time, our interests, our sports, our language, our actions to save our children? We are setting the example that will mold them for the rest of their lives.

If we desire obedient children we need to give them obedient parents. We need to learn to submit to the will of our Father so that we can also learn to submit to each other. All very hard lessons that start when we die to ourselves and come alive in Jesus. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are You Man Enough? I Wasn't.

Good morning my friends. We are in for a good day. Jesus is Lord and the day of our rescue is one day closer. It is a good day. We are continuing with Ephesians 5.

I will not lie to you this morning; this topic on husbands and wives is a difficult subject for me. I have come out of a failed marriage with 9 children. How can I then turn around and teach on the subject of husband and wives? Well, my failure does not change the Word of God. Truth does not change in the face of failure. We all fail in some aspects to live the Word but that does not nullify the Word of God. It reveals why we need Jesus. It shows us that we cannot make it on our own. It also shows us that we need the wisdom of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit to live it.

Perhaps this blog post is just for the men. There is plenty of things in this passage for the women but I can only deal with my failure from my perspective. I am a man and I allowed circumstances in my marriage to get to a point where I failed to be the man God had called me to be. I allowed myself to become weary. I allowed myself to become self-centered instead of Christ centered. I allowed hurt to become an excuse to fail in my duty to my former wife. I failed to love her as Jesus loves the Church.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. vs. 25-28

I could try to justify myself with many of the things that the world would find acceptable as reasons but we are not the world. We have greater knowledge, understanding and power than the world will ever have. We have the power to live the Word of God by the power of the Spirit of God who lives in us. According to these truths I cannot justify my failings. None of us can justify our failings. It is like a child who was caught hitting another child, "Well he hit me first". We are responsible for our own actions. If we do not repent and confess our wrong actions we will have to give an account for them to Jesus.

My responsibility as a man was to love my wife. I was to love her as Jesus loves the Church. That means no matter what she did or said that went against me or offended me, my responsibility was to love her and show her grace. It goes beyond words and flowers and romantic suppers. It also means when it goes terribly wrong you never give up on her. It means that you stand with her and defend her and protect her even when things get really ugly. It means standing and holding the land that God gave to you as a man and taking it on the chin as Jesus did for his bride. Not an easy thing and yet it is this responsibility that was given to men. The cross was not an easy thing either yet Jesus faced it and dealt with it, absorbed it and bore it for the sake of his Bride.

I failed in this. I have suffered for it. Yet in my failing Jesus has demonstrated to me what I failed to do for my wife. He has stood with me, refusing to give up on me. He has loved me, given me grace, forgiven me and has taken the time to restore me. This is also what I should have done for my wife instead of using her actions and words as an excuse to stop loving her. It is a hard lesson to learn. It is a hard thing to admit. It is a difficult thing to write about. 

I praise him every day for not giving up on me. Recently I cried out to him to renew the love and passion I once had; to heal my heart of its hardness; to renew me in his love so I would never become bitter in my service to him. He not only did that but the overflow from it has been radically changing our church.  We have seen growth in every sense of the Word. My heart feels like a brand new heart, filled with all the passion and joy of loving God and loving others.

This one thing I know from all of this; men MUST love their wives as Christ loves his Church. This love does not depend on what the women do or even on whether they deserve it. The husband's responsibility is to love her no matter how ugly her words and actions get. There are no excuses for withholding your love. Men must prove themselves to be a man in this, "Husbands, love your wives".

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Submit To One Another Out Of Reverence for Christ

Good morning my friends. Rejoice! Today is a new day. The past is gone, tomorrow is yet to arrive and we have only today. Today is too short to spend it in fear and worry, in anger or despair. Let us accept the love of Jesus and then with that love love one another. That would be a good use of this one day that we have.

The Word of God is not always an easy thing to accept. There are some great passages that lift us up but there are also some difficult passages we find hard to live. To "submit to each other" is not a very easy word of guidance to follow. In order to work it implies that there is a relationship of trust between everyone. A relationship of trust requires maturity and we know not everyone is mature in the Church. Yet, here we have this one simple line:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. v.21

There is a qualifier here that may make the directive easier to put into action. To submit to each other would require trust but this is not about that, instead it is about doing it out of reverence for Jesus. When we respond to Jesus' love for us with love, we desire to do anything to please him. This means that as we learn his will through the Word we gladly put it into action in our life. We submit, which means to allow someone's will to take priority over our own, because we love and trust Jesus. 

I do not know about you but this seems to be one of my biggest tests to obeying Jesus. To submit to Jesus is not a difficult thing but to submit to another person is a hard thing for me. It is not difficult when I have come to know them and have learned to trust them but what about those I have not come to know and those that have not proven themselves? I think this may also speak to the condition of the Church, where we do not know each other as we ought because we do not allow people into our lives. We will worship with them and share little things with them but we will not let them become part of us. This lack of intimacy makes it hard to have a relationship where we can submit to each other. Yet, as much of a test as this is, it is important to do.

I see this one subject as being vital for the Church. How can we minister to each other if we are not submitted to each other? How can the Holy Spirit move with power if we are not willing to submit to the vessels? The Church is all about relationships; trusting, loving, ministering, helping, giving, providing, rejoicing, correcting, living together. We are warned to watch for the abusers and that is part of the role of the shepherds to recognize the wolves but we are not permitted to revoke intimacy because of the possibility of wolves. It is in intimacy that mercy and forgiveness readily flow. It is in intimacy that deep wounds are healed. This one directive, to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, reveals so much of what we are lacking.

We all want the Church to be the Acts church but there is a cost. These people spent all their time together. They considered that all they possessed belonged to everyone else. They became a strong community as they sacrificed for each other out of their love for Jesus. People were joining them everyday as they saw this genuine love for each other. There was unity because there was a willingness to surrender their will, to submit to each other. This was not just a submitting to what we consider to be leaders but a submission to each other. They had that sense that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12, the Body is one and everyone a member of it. This all came at a cost but this is a cost many of us are not willing to make. So we find this directive, to submit to one another, to be a foreign concept.

Once again this thought of submission comes down to our relationship with Jesus and our understanding of the Church. A lack of both makes this concept just a concept and not a reality in our lives. This means if we want it to change we cannot make the starting point submission. Instead the starting point must be our relationship with Jesus and a better vision of his Bride. Perhaps some day soon we will be able to obey the directive to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". When that day arrives I believe we will begin to see the Church in all her finery, her radiance and the glory of Jesus in her. At that time the whole earth will tremble.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Elephant May Never Forget But We Certainly Do

Good morning my friends. It is Wednesday already. I hope you are looking forward to today with all of its joys and challenges. I hope you see each day as another day to learn something new. We are continuing with Ephesians 5.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. vs. 8-10

I am so pleased there was a change that took place when we accepted Jesus as Saviour. At one time we were part of the darkness with all of our negative thoughts and emotions. Our actions reflected the darkness that possessed our hearts and minds. How then can we forget that when the Light was introduced to us everything changed? It put the darkness to flight so that it no longer possessed us and it was the Light then that filled us with everything positive. Our hearts and minds were liberated so that we were able to see with God's perspective. Our actions changed as well reflecting the changes in our hearts and minds. We began to live according to this Light and the fruit it produced. Our desire was to please the Lord. I fear though that over time we forget.

I think we sometimes forget that a change has taken place and that we no longer have anything to do with the fruitless deeds of the darkness that had once possessed us. We get busy with life and we find it hard to find the time to take our delight in the light. Some of the bad habits from the darkness begin to creep back in. Not being renewed in the Light allows for some of our former thinking and perspective to start effecting us. We begin to forget there was a change that had taken place so that every day more of the darkness begins to creep back in. Those fruitless deeds start looking more familiar to us than the fruit of the Light. Strange to think that we still believe we are in the Light when we are completely possessed by the darkness once more. We need rescuing all over again because of our own neglect of the Light.

Paul gives us some solutions to the trouble with our forgetfulness. First,

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. v. 11

Confessed any of the darkness that has been creeping in. If you have neglected the Light and you have started acting in the darkness the best thing to do is tell someone, confess it, expose it for what it is. Do not use pride and shame as an excuse to hide it. By talking about it you have exposed it to the light. Second,

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. v 17

Know the will of God for your life, your thoughts and your actions. This is one of the easiest things but it does require time. We find the heart and will of God in his Word. You need to spend more time in it, studying, understanding and desiring to live it for his glory. Knowing the Word is half the battle. Third,

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. v. 18

Allow yourself to be completely possessed by the Light through the Spirit of God in you. Work out your salvation every day by willfully submitting yourself to the Spirit's guidance and convictions. The more you desire for that to be happening in you the more you will be possessed. The more you are possessed the less grip the darkness has on you. This requires thought and effort to willfully die to yourself every day, maybe several times in a day. Fourth,

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. v. 9

You require the fellowship of other believers. You need that mutual encouragement. You cannot make it without people speaking the Word of God into your life, without the deep richness that comes from being in the lives of other believers. If you try to go it alone you will fail. If you do not value your time with other believers you are already giving opportunity for the darkness to creep back in. God designed us to be dependent on each other, whether we like it or not. The fifth and last,

Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. vs. 19-20

We were created to worship. It is natural to us. If we do not worship the Light then we will worship something else. We are always looking for something that possesses greater authority than we have in order to worship. By worshiping our Lord every day with thanksgiving the darkness cannot possess us again. In fact the darkness cannot even approach us. If you feel any tinges of your former self get up onto your feet, lift up those beautiful hands and worship Jesus.

We cannot afford to forget the changes that have taken place. We cannot afford to allow the Light to be covered again. We need to take the time to cultivate this relationship, to remember and to be reminded that a change has taken place. As we move in to our day today let us take note of these things and do them just to see the difference they make.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are We Saved By Conforming Or By Being Transformed? Is There A Difference?

Good morning my friends. I trust the Lord sang sweet songs over you as you slept last night and now you have woken rested and ready for the battle. It is good to serve such a gracious and loving God. We are continuing with Ephesians 5.

Sometimes I regret trying to present the Word in such a confined forum like this blog. There is not a great deal of time or space to deal with some of the great and moving passages in the Word. This morning's passage is one of those passages, filled with so much food it will take a while to digest it. First, a reminder of yesterday's portion:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. vs. 1-2

To live a life of love comes at a cost to self, a cost of time, pride, self-interest and so on. This love is impossible for us so it must be an overflow of Jesus' love for us. It cannot be mechanical or forced. It happens when our fellowship with our God is rich, vibrant and full. This is why it says "as dearly loved children and life a love of love". We must realize the first before we are able to do the second. I was tested on this yesterday and I failed because I did not allow my actions to be guided by his love for me.

This verse then leads into a list of things that are changed by this life of love, but we need to be careful. When we experience the love of Jesus nothing remains the same, not because we change ourselves but because this love changes us. This is how we need to read this portion of Scripture, as what is changed in us, not as what we need to change. Consider this portion as a measuring rod that we are to measure ourselves against to see if we are gaining the character of Jesus or if we are failing to allow ourselves to be changed by his love.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. vs. 3

Spiritual maturity can take time but some things are changed in us quickly as the Holy Spirit brings conviction. Conviction comes as the Father's holy love for us reveals the darkness in us. We no longer want to be part of these dark things that have abided in us. Some of the first things to change are the outward sins that are obvious to everyone. However, this change is only happening because our hearts are being transformed by the experience of the Father's love. 

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. v. 4 

These are all good changes but unfortunately we who think we are wise deal with them in a way that our Father does not. We take this list of behaviour and we force it on people so that they are conformed instead of transformed. It is no good for a person to try to live a good life if their heart has not been touched by the Father's love. It is only with a transformed heart that we are able to live a life of love, of thanksgiving. We cannot experience God by living this list of does and don'ts. If we could have lived the law we would not have needed the death of Jesus. A new law has not be given. The old law is simply written on our hearts and empowered by the love of Jesus.

For me this is one of the greatest sins of the Church. We have turned the transformation into conformation. We have churches filled with people who think they are saved because they have not been properly taught what is meant when we read:

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. v. 5 

This does not mean that if you manage to hide these things and conform to the acceptable behaviour of the Church you will be saved. This is saying that if you find these things in your heart you have not encountered the love of Jesus. It is only the acceptance of Jesus that saves and that transforms our hearts so that these things no longer have a part with us. We do not conform to find God; we are transformed after we encounter Jesus. Instead of chastising people for their behaviour we should be asking them if they would like to have a real encounter with the Lord and Saviour of this world.

Yesterday I responded poorly to someone. Their behaviour was not an excuse for my reaction. No one needed to tell me that I was wrong because the experience of Jesus' love for me told me I was wrong. No list of behaviour brought conviction. The Holy Spirit in his gentleness reminded me how much I am loved so that I too am able to love. Such knowledge convinced me that my reaction was not born out of love but out of my flesh. You see, it is Jesus' love that is changing me, nothing else. The lists of behaviours we find in different passages of Scripture simply act as a measuring rod so that we know when our actions are no longer flowing from the love Jesus has for us. It is his love that changes everything. "Oh how he loves us." 

Monday, October 19, 2009

We Are Nothing More Than Imitations

Good morning my friends. I pray this fine Monday morning is finding you healthy and well, ready to start an exciting brand new week. God is good and that is all that should matter this morning. We are moving on to Ephesians 5.

It is both fun and interesting to watch children grow up. There are so many identifiable stages that they go through. From crawlers, to toddlers , to over active 9 year olds the growth is amazing. One of the more interesting stages is when little boys begin to want to be like their dads and little girls want to be like their moms. They become imitators of their parents in everything they do and say. For some parents this is a frightening stage as their children demonstrate the bad along with the good.

It is in this sense of imitation that Paul writes:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  vs. 1-2

There are a numbers of things we can take from this simple sentence. The first is that God, more specifically Jesus, is the example we are to follow. We do not follow and try to become like Paul, or Peter, or John, or our pastor or anyone we might admire. Jesus lived his life as an example for us so that he could become the measuring rod with which we use to compare ourselves. That is usually the role of the first born in the family. Whatever example the first born sets is usually the footsteps in which the younger siblings follow.

This sentence also tells us that we are dearly loved children. This fact of being loved should thrill you this morning to the point of turning a bad night into a good day. It is this love that makes all the difference to us as we realize that we are loved no matter what we face today. That love is enough, we don't need anything else. Is that how you feel as you face this day? I hope so because it means that you have experienced Jesus and it is not a matter of you only knowing of him. To have met Jesus is to be totally convinced of the Father's love. 

We cannot experience that love without responding to it. In fact we cannot experience that love without it  changing us. What has changed and how we respond is really a simple and natural thing; we begin to love others with this same quality love. Our life becomes a life of love as forgiveness and grace become natural features of our character. We become a person who can accept and tolerate many kinds of people, realizing that Jesus died for all of us.

It is this ultimate sacrifice, born of his love, that causes such changes in us. When we realize to what extent that he loves us and his Father it stirs something in us that causes us to want to love with this same love. To love us so much that he was willing to suffer and die for that love. This real and exciting love causes our concern for self to change to a compassion for others. We find ourselves responding to their needs without any thought to ourselves and we become imitators of Jesus. Loving others as Jesus loves us becomes our response to his perfect and exciting love. Oh how he loves us!

I am afraid that it is as simple as that. When we experience his love, experience it and not just know it, we love in return, and everything is changed. So go on my friends, be imitators of Jesus today wherever you are and in whatever you do. Love with his love because ours is not good enough for the task and watch this extremely powerful love change your day, your life and the lives of everyone you meet.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Behaviours That Build And Behaviours That Destroy

Good morning everyone. I have been having a lot of fun with Twitter recently. It is amazing the amount of encouragement one can get with being connected to so many Christians from around the world. It is definitely a global Church now. She has always been global but now we can actually feel close globally. We are continuing with Ephesians 4.

As we look at these last two paragraphs of Ephesians 4 we need to keep the rest of the chapter into focus as well. I do not know if you can recall everything we looked at in this last week so I will try to bring in what I can within the restraints of this forum of communication. The important thing is to keep all of this within the context of the Body of Christ connected and growing into maturity. If you can imagine all of us connected together and helping each other mature together with the help of our trainers, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, then you will notice something interesting about these two paragraphs.

Look at how much has to do with how we impact other people:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. vs. 25-28   

I know that going after the lost is our prime mission but if the family is weak then how can we look to building healthy relationships with the lost? We can't. We first have to learn how to love and care for people within the Church and then we can turn our attention to loving the lost. Our behaviour and attitude says a lot about what we think about the Body, our fellow believers. There are certain behaviours that destroy and others that build up.

Paul warns us off of lying to each other. Nothing destroys relationships faster than lies and deceptions. We are suppose to be open and honest with each other because within the Body there is acceptance, love, forgiveness, mercy and grace. If we can't be open and honest here then we are doing something wrong; we do not have the love of Jesus.

Anger is another thing that destroys relationships. Don't dwell on your anger. Find forgiveness for believers quickly. Deal with it. Don't let the enemy use your anger to cause division and long term trust issues. If we have the love of Jesus, love and grace should cover any offense against you.

Did you notice that Paul did not only say do not steal but also that we need to work. The reason we need to work is so that we can contribute. Even the work is not for our own benefit but for the benefit of others. Stealing obviously is a negative factor in a relationship. Taking from people to benefit your own needs is selfish and damaging. Working, in order to contribute to the needs of others, is relationship building and gives us a real sense of belonging, being part of something significant.

Now look at the second paragraph:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. vs. 29-32

I am sure you are beginning to see it now, those behaviours that destroy and those that build. Our words can do both so we are told here not to use the words that destroy but instead to chose to use only words that build up and help people. Consider who is listening around us. No matter the situation there are always ways to approach it in a manner that does not destroy a person and leaves them feeling good about being part of the Body of Christ.

One of the most important contributors to behaviour that unites instead of divides is our obedience to the Spirit. Do not grieve the Spirit, do not ignore him, and instead grow sensitive to him, doing what he guides us to do. It is amazing how he wants to use us to encourage others with the actions he guides us to take and the words he gives us to use; to build up and not to destroy. How do you know if the words someone uses is from the Spirit or from themselves? Ask yourself, have I been left feeling better after this conversation or worse? Did I just experience being built up or torn down?

Then all the negative emotions are listed; bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, all forms of malice. These do not belong in the Body of Christ. If they are there then the love of Jesus is absent. There is no getting around it. The love of Jesus overwhelms all of these negative things and leaves no room for them to enter in. If you are having problems with any of these then you are letting go of your experience of the love of Jesus and you need a refreshing. We need a refreshing every day. Only the experience of the love of Jesus can change the root in us and drown all these negative things.

With the love of Jesus as our root we are filled with love for others. Compassion and forgiveness run deep within us and compel us to respond in the positive to our fellow believers. It causes us to accept each other with gladness, even with all of our faults. When we offend each other forgiveness is quick. When a believer is hurting or in need the love of Jesus stirs up the compassion in us and we respond.

My concern is that we are willing to put all of our energy and love into the lost but when it comes to the forgiveness of each other we have no thought. Why would the lost want to come into such an environment? Until we learn how to love and forgive our brothers and sisters we are not qualified to go after those who are lost because we may still be lost ourselves. Honestly, after experiencing true forgiveness through the love of Jesus how could we not do the same for each other?

Come on Church, let's get renewed in the Father's love for us so that we can be everything we need to be in the Body; so that we can be builders and not destroyers. Imagine what the Church would be like if every believer had this level of maturity and understanding. It starts with you and me.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blessed Is The Man Who Does Not Walk In The Counsel Of The Wicked

Good morning everyone. Aren't Friday's wonderful. I think it is simply the anticipation of the change from our weekly routine that gives Friday such a sweetness. I know I work just as hard on the weekend but it is a different type of work. Whatever the reason I pray you enjoy this Friday to its fullest. Continuing with Ephesians 4.

If we consider what we have been discussing the last couple of days we have this understanding between us that we are part of something wonderful and great. We may not understand all the mysteries of the Body yet but we at least have the knowledge that we are growing and changing into something wonderful and unique as part of the Body. It is far from a perfect place but I am not sure that the Church was ever intended to be perfect because it is full of people who are working out their salvation daily. However, it is something that is, through the Spirit, demonstrating the character of Jesus by showing mercy and compassion to its members. It is a place where forgiveness is to be practiced every day, a place of grace. The only qualifying statement to that is that people must recognize their condition.

The comparison of the old and new is what we continue with now. Paul has described what the process is to growing into the whole measure of the fullness of Jesus. Now he writes:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. vs. 17

Scripture is not using metaphors when it says that the old has gone and the new has come. Jesus referred to it as being born again. Paul refers to it as a new creation. There is a transformation that takes place at the point of salvation and that transformation continues in our training process as we grow up in the Body. Because of this transformation we can no longer do what we did before our salvation because the two do not belong together and cannot exist together. It is not us who decide that; the Holy Spirit convicts and empowers us to walk away from what is not part of Jesus. We choose whether to obey or ignore him. If we ignore him we run the risk of returning to what we once were, to the futility of our thinking.

It is important to keep in mind and in heart that a person without Jesus cannot understand and will continue to tell us that Jesus does not exists, that God is not real, that we are using a crutch, that it is a psychological thing that is happening to us. Paul writes:

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. v. 18

They excuse away the things of God because they do not have the mind of Christ and cannot see or feel the move of the Spirit. They do not hear that voice and are not overwhelmed by his love. They are mockers and take great joy, at times, in poking fun at everything that is holy. They are ignorant of the truth because their heart is hard. They cannot understand the mysteries. Do you have someone like that in your life? Recognize them by their actions and character:

Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. v. 19

The harder the heart the more self-indulging they are. They can only think of themselves and a fulfilling of their own desires. This is in complete contrast to the character of Jesus, the character we are being transformed into. These indulgences are not all self-evident. Some of them are tucked away from view but others are clearly seen. Be careful. Such character only seeks to destroy that which is holy and belongs to Jesus because it is in complete opposition to Christ:

You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. vs. 20-24

You are completely different from what you were. People without Christ will not understand and will tell you it is all in your head but the changes that are taking place in you cannot be explained in psychological terms because you are being possessed by a love that is impossible for us to have. Ask yourself what kind of love you see in the person who mocks and attacks the things of God? You were like that at one time, living in complete opposition to Jesus, selfish in your desires, selfish even in your love. Maybe you did see it in such a way but you know now that it was true.

If you feel yourself being hard pressed due to your faith by things that are in opposition to your faith then rejoice; your faith is being tested to discover whether it is genuine. Do what Jesus did; use the Word of God to refute your fears, your doubts and the fiery darts of the enemy. Put on the full armour of the Spirit every day making sure that the belt of truth is securely fastened. Refresh yourself in the Father's love every day, several times in the day. Drink deep, bathe in it, rejoice in it, that you are the object of his affection. We no longer belong to the former ways. Set them aside and walk in the newness you have been given, with all its love, mercy, patience, forgiveness, humility and grace. Go on you new creation and rejoice in what Jesus has done for you. I will say it again, REJOICE!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Benefits and Advantages Of Growing Up

Good morning everyone. I used the wood stove for the first time last night and it warmed the house wonderfully. I hope you stayed snugly warm last night wherever you are. Continuing with Ephesians 4.

Yesterday we considered the group of trainers that our Father has set aside for our benefit. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers exist for the benefit of the Church. They are responsible for preparing us for works of service. In other words, they exist as servants to the Body of Christ. We considered how important this training is because works of service lead to unity of faith and knowledge in Jesus. This unity leads to maturity which allows for the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. This whole process is incredibly important, especially in the age in which we live because the fullness of Christ brings us to a whole different plain of understanding and perspective. Consider this:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. vs. 14

I am so tired of the fads of man becoming false movements of God. People are so fickle, running from one experience to another. It seems every week there is a new book hitting the self that will tell us how to improve ourselves in some way spiritually in so many easy to understand steps. How many different winds of teaching exist that blow people around like a discarded chip bag on a windy day? Infants, that is all we are. But that is not what God intended for us:

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. vs. 15-16

I get so excited when we talk about the Body because she is such an elegant and beautiful Bride. Her designed purpose and the benefits of being part of her are enormous as we grow and mature. It requires love, the mature and overwhelming love of Jesus, not our pathetic love. Such love is only understood with maturity. Children cannot understand the strength of a parent's love until they gain maturity. They benefit from that love, they can feel it and see it but they cannot understand it. We can understand the love of the Father but we need to grow up into him who is the head.

Paul had such incredible insight into the Church. I love his descriptions of her: from Jesus the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love. as each part does its work. You realize he is talking about us, having been trained in works of service, building up each other so that we are united in our faith and knowledge of Jesus, becoming mature and gaining the whole measure of the fullness of Jesus. I so want to be there. I so want us all to be there. Now you can go from here and study 1 Corinthians 12 and you will soon begin to understand the importance of being trained by the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

Please excuse the liberty I am about to take to write again what I wrote yesterday. I consider this vital for the Body. We need to free up the trainers from other tasks we put on them so that they are free to serve in the anointing they have. They are not managers or book keepers; they are not taxi drivers or entertainers; they are not janitors or fund raisers. We need to allow the deacons to wait on the tables so the trainers can  concentrate on the training because ... I want us to be there! I want the Church to possess what is being described right here in these few verses! I want the world to see how the love of Jesus not only unites us but transforms us into the radiant Bride of Christ. I am so jealous for this, for what our Father has intended for us to have and to be. Let's do our part. Let's submit to the training and learn the works of service so we can be part of what God is doing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Perhaps What We Know Should Not Be What We Know

Good morning my friends. It is starting to get a bit nippy outside. Some of you have said that you have already had snow. I guess there is no more avoiding it, the seasons have changed. We are continuing with Ephesians 4.

There is a definite order to God's creation. The more scientists look into it the more some of them admit there is an intelligent design. Few of them are willing to recognize the hand behind the design but many make comment to the order of things. So why should it be any different with this beautiful Bride called the Church? There is an order but perhaps not as we see it or understand it.

Most churches have a government that is set up somewhat like the American government. You have the pastor (president) who is over the church who brings in his team to help govern. You have the elders (the Senate), who the pastor appoints, who help with the care of the people. You also have the board of deacons (Congress) who are suppose to look after the physical aspect of things. In some churches a number of these people make up the church board which keeps the pastor accountable. That board often times has the power to hire and fire the pastor. Can I tell you, there is no biblical basis for this set up or any set up of its kind. I would love to take the time and go through all the Scriptures to show you what they say about the church governance but I only have time to look at one particular group this morning; the trainers.

We have set the pastor up in the church to be the everything person yet his role, his purpose, is specific and he is one of a team of people who are put in place as our trainers:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service. vs 11-12 

Other than Jesus there is no other topic I teach on with as much passion as the Church and her governance. It is not that I think I have the answers but I know that we have it all wrong. It is currently based on man's design and not God's. We are all called, we are all part of the body, we all have our role in the body. Both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 spell this out for us. Out of all these roles the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers have been given the role as trainers. They are to prepare God's people for works of service. They are not the controllers in the Body because there is only one head. The Spirit does the controlling when we are submitted to him. These trainers can act as councilors and guides, teachers and challengers, provokers and directors but never dictators or ones who force their will on others.

Here's the thing; we can't do it without them. There are those who decide to go it alone but when the Father drew us to the Son he also joined us to the Church. We cannot be formed outside of the Church. We need the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to help in our training to do works of service because this is the first step in the process of growing up spiritually. Without the trainers we cannot progress because the works of service we are trained in lead to:

so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God vs. 12-13

Operating in the works of service we were trained for, which is different than good deeds, builds up the Church both in faith and in knowledge of Jesus. Good deeds have to do with kindness and mercy but works of service is the spiritual work of the Church. That is what we are suppose to be doing, and that is what we need training in. It is true that love is seen in a cup of cold water but how much more in the power of God's healing? This work brings the Church together as one in our faith and knowledge, if we are being trained. This is important because this unity in faith and knowledge takes us to another step:

and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. vs. 13

This unity in faith and knowledge leads to our maturity which allows for the whole measure of the fullness of Christ to be found in us. I dare say there are not a lot of people who have reached this stage despite the number of years of following Jesus because most of the trainers do not understand their purpose. They are too busy building churches and ministries instead of building people. They themselves have received very little training and many have not been called as a trainer. They are great business people and would make wonderful deacons. Others are passionate about looking after people and would make great elders but not many are anointed as a trainer. Without our trainers we cannot know how to operate in the works of service.

We need our trainers to be trainers and not governors and church growers. Some people we call pastors are evangelists, some are prophets. Some who are called evangelists are apostles. We appear to be a very mixed up group. Each calling has a specific purpose and comes with its own anointing. I wish it was possible to get the whole Church to take a collective deep breath, to clear the table and start afresh with the guidance of the Spirit. The least we can do is pray that the Spirit will open our eyes to the Father's will and desire in this matter and then we need to align our desire and will with his. Are we prepared to see all that we have known completely flipped? I am, as long as it is God's design and not man's. I don't know about you but I want the full measure of the fullness of Christ.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So How Are We Doing With This Unity of The Spirit?

Good morning my friends. It was a good long weekend. It is sad to leave it behind but life is always about moving forward. I hope this is true for us spiritually as well. We are remaining in Ephesians 4 this morning.

For me Ephesians chapter 4 is one of those "eye opening" passages that changes a person's life and the way they see everything. So I plan on staying in this chapter for the next few days. Yesterday we considered the first couple of verses as a continuation from the previous chapter. Today I want us to consider them again but this time in the context of the paragraph:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. vs. 1-6

A worthy life is an empowered life. Empowered to allow the Father's will through us but also empowered to live the example of Christ in us, especially in the Body of Christ. We are empowered by the resurrection power in us (previous chapter) to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, even though we were not worthy to receive it. But now that we have received it we need to allow the power of Jesus in us to transform our lives so that we are completely humble, gentle, patient and loving. These are a few of the fruit of the Spirit that we bear as a result of being Spirit-filled. It is what this fruit allows that also fascinates me: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

Unity was and is a concern and desire Jesus has for us; it was a major theme for Paul; it should be a thing of passion for us to live. It can only exist in the Body when each member understands their responsibility to bear the fruit that the Spirit produces in us. It is by this fruit that we are able to bear with each other; humility, gentleness, patience, love when shared between brothers and sisters can do a lot to cover our weaknesses. We have too much in common with each other not to be united:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Is this what we see when we see a brother or sister in Jesus; the body, the Spirit, the Lord, the faith, the baptism, God, our Father? That is what we should remind each other of any time we see each other. However, we often see labels instead of Jesus. We say, "He's a Baptist" or "She's Pentecostal" or "They are independent". Even worse, when we look at them we see all the baggage they once carried because the enemy doesn't want us to forget. He continues to sow his seeds of disunity by reminding us of each others past. Come on now, if Jesus' love covers us doesn't it cover everyone who calls on the name of Jesus Christ?

Unity requires the effort of staying submitted to the Spirit so he is able to produce the fruit in us. It is our willingness to bear this fruit and allow others to taste of it that promotes unity on the Church. There are probably a hundred things that would prevent us from becoming friends but there are several major things that have formed us into family. Jesus told us that when the world saw our unity they would know that we belong to him. It is when we fail to live a life worthy of the calling we have received that the world fails to see Jesus.