Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't stop now, the cross is only the beginning

Good morning my friends and my new friends who have joined us recently. May you be blessed, encouraged and provoked by God's Word this morning.

This morning I feel like I am "preaching to the choir" as we consider what we are doing for our growth as Christians. We all know believers that have never grown beyond that simple point of salvation. They hear the teaching that all we need to be saved is to confess our sins and to receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord. They fail to hear the message of growth into maturity and they miss out on the abundant living Jesus promised us. They remain at that point of constantly being afraid they are not forgiven and see our Father as being judge and jury over every step of our life. Jesus said he came to set us free but what freedom is there in fear?

Obviously from the simple fact that you are reading this you are actively seeking growth and maturity in your relationship with Jesus. You have understood what Paul was writing to the Colossians:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (2:6-7)

I congratulate you because there are not many Christians who understand the necessity of this outside of the context of Sunday. We have understood that there is more than the cross in our experience with Jesus. The cross is a starting point for us in this incredible relationship we have with Christ, so we continue to live in him every day. If I had more time I would go into the many scriptures that refer to us living in Jesus; he is in us and we are in him. It is a close and constant relationship, a wonderful daily interaction, a bond of love that cannot be broken by any person or circumstance, unless we allow it.

Paul refers to how we are rooted in Jesus. He is the soil that feeds us and keeps us firm and like any good tree we need to send our roots down deep into this rich soil for sustenance and firmness. With deep roots we can withstand any storms that would threaten to uproot us. However, to have such a large root system we must be involved in growth every day. We need to be intimate with Jesus throughout the day; talking, sharing, petitioning for others, worshiping, enjoying the company and companionship. As we do this we will also be built up in Jesus, just like any tree with a good root system. Notice the choice of words "in him". Whatever we do in this relationship we will always be found in Jesus. We cannot live outside of him because as a new creation we died to our former self and we were raised to life in Jesus. Outside of him there is only death.

As we have this daily fellowship with Jesus, growing intimately together, a couple of things happen. First we find that we are strengthened in our faith. Like any good and growing relationship, bonds of trust begin to form. As Jesus helps us in the little things that we first trust him with, we begin to trust him him with more and more. Many people will tell you that they trust Jesus with everything because they believe that is what they have to say. We are great with platitudes in the Church these days. (I blame Twitter). However deep trust, which is part of faith, comes as the roots grow deeper and as we are built up in Jesus. It is a relationship thing that can take some time, in fact all our life, because the growth process never ends. The second thing that happens is we gain a thankful heart. The truth is, as we mature in Jesus it becomes easier to face hardships and trials because we have learned that Jesus uses all of it for our good. That is difficult to accept until you have lived through it a number of times. Allow me to clarify that; until you have lived through it and learned from it. There is no sense going through difficult times if you are not going to learn from it. As we mature we realize there is more and more we need to be thankful for and there is only one to whom the praises are due.

So this is what we are involved with every day. This is the reason Paul encouraged us to "work out our salvation daily". This is the reason we need to encourage each other forward in our relationship with Jesus. We are naturally lazy and we will gladly sit and rest for a bit, never to rise again. Just like Christian in "The Pilgrims Progress" there is a point where we can become weary, when we think it would be okay to take a break from our progress, to just rest for a bit. The moment we stop moving forward is the moment we will start going backwards and we walk a very dangerous path. You should ask yourself, how am I different from last week? Is my fellowship with Jesus richer than it was? Am I stronger or weaker than last week? Let us not give up in doing good and let us encourage each other to go on in this incredible relationship we have with Jesus. There is so much more to learn and there is so much more room for growth. Let's work on that root system today.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What a mess we can make with false humility

Good morning friends.

I am a person who is trying to move from being private and closed to being transparent and open. It is not an easy thing to do. I have not trusted a lot of people in my life with my heart, with who I am as a person; my opinions, dreams, and aspirations. Some people have that gift of openness where they befriend everyone they meet. Others of us have to work hard at it because it seems awkward and foreign to us. To communicate properly takes a concentrated effort so as to make things as clear and as honest as possible. The Apostle Paul seemed to have an easier time of it:

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 2:1)

Someone like me would probably want to hide the fact that I was putting in such a great effort for someone. I would not want them to feel awkward about what I was doing or make it feel I was looking for appreciation. In fact, most of the  time, I prefer to do things for people in secret. However, now I think it is a false sense of humility. Paul saw things completely different. He hoped if people knew the effort he was putting in to benefit them they would be encouraged. I think Paul had it right. When someone does something for me, and I know he took a great deal of effort to do it, I cherish them and the thing they did because I recognize their love. In this case we see that Paul was more than a great evangelist. He expresses why he was struggling for them:

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. vs. 2-3

As in everything he did Paul worked hard and struggled for the maturity of the believers. Paul struggled to teach and to demonstrate the most important thing for believers; maturity in Christ. The benefit is having workers for Christ who are filled with wisdom and knowledge. By letting people know that he was working so hard for their benefit in this thing he was letting them know the importance of it. It only happens when people realize that Jesus is the example we have been given and we must learn from him. There is no other source. Social work, day cares, fellowship groups all have their place in the ministry of the Body but they cannot take the place of discipling people into maturity.

The problem with discipling for people such as myself is that you have to be willing to give part of yourself to others. If we are to follow the example of Jesus in all things then we must be willing to let people become as important to us as they are to Jesus. We have to be willing to share our lives with them and let them become part of us. We have to be willing to take on those of less maturity in order that they may learn from us and grow while we also grow in this process. When I look at the benefits I realize they outweigh any cost:

     - encouraged in heart
     - united in love
     - the full riches of complete understanding
     - having knowledge of Jesus
     - wisdom and understanding

It is well worth all my effort and struggles to see this in those who remain young in Christ. The fact is that until we start investing in each other we will continue to face the immature actions of Christians who do not know any better. We need to make this investment so we can stop putting 95% of our effort in dealing with the problems of immaturity and get on with spreading the Kingdom of God.

So here I am, my name is Paul, and I want you to know, like so many other elders, I am struggling for you every day.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why do you do it?

Good morning friends.

We all need motivation in order to complete the tasks we have been given. Some motivation is nothing more than the obligation we feel toward people dependent on us, such as all the things we do for our family. Another source of motivation comes from the sense of good citizenship, such as when you volunteer at the local food bank. There is also the motivation of reward, such as your pay cheque twice a month. There are many others sources of motivation but there is nothing like the motivation of love.

Love can motivate people to do many things. For example, it can be the motivation of great feats of bravery. It is the reason a father will set aside fear for his life and run into a burning building to save his child. As well, it is the reason why a sibling will set aside fear and donate half a kidney to save his brother's life. Another example is the motivation some people have for getting involved in politics. These people have a love for their city, province or country and believe they can make a difference. However, the greatest example is when a person gives up their life for the sake of another person. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." It was love that nailed Jesus to the cross.

For me, the Apostle Paul is a great example of one who was propelled into greatness because of love. He wrote to the Colossians:

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. vs. 28-29

Paul did not work hard for a pay cheque or for any immediate reward. It does not even appear that Paul worked hard for the final reward. He said in Romans that if giving up his eternity would bring his nation, Israel, to Jesus then he would gladly do it. In this letter to the Colossians he writes that he labours hard in order that he can present everyone perfect in Jesus. His love for his brothers are sisters was so great that he set aside all personal concern for himself and laboured with an energy beyond his own, so that they could come to a complete understanding of Jesus. This included preaching, correcting and teaching all the time. I doubt Paul was caught up in the local gossip or doing administration or whatever else distracts us teachers. He was completely sold out to his calling.

Motivation is an important and powerful thing in our lives. There are many different motivators in the world but there should only be one for us followers of Jesus. Our motivation should be the same as Jesus', Peter's, John's, Paul's, Barnabas', Timothy's, Silas' and all the other heroes of the faith. We should do what we do because of Jesus' love for us, our love for him, and our love for those for whom Jesus died. If that is not our motivation, if instead we work for a pay cheque and benefits, we need to ask our Father to re-orientate our hearts so that they line up with his. Rewards at the end of our life will be great but our motivation for the here and now must be love. It will propel us on to greatness.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

He who thinks he knows something does not know as he ought to know

Good morning my friends.

For the most part I have met some really terrific pastors and elders over my 38 years as a Christian. They have been hard workers, giving beyond their own means of strength and energy. They have been kind and loving, going out of their way to show a shy person, such as myself, that I mattered to the Lord. They have been generous, giving out of their own need to cover their neighbour. However, I have also met some pastors who did not have a clue what it meant to be a pastor, and they did more damage than good.

The fact is that not everyone who serves in the office of pastor has been chosen by the Spirit for that office; instead they were chosen by man. It is okay for us to choose the deacons but the elders must be called, chosen by the Spirit. If they are not called, they are not equipped and that is a dangerous thing. I do not know about you but I would rather not have a doctor examining me who has not been equipped in his training. That is the difference with being called by God and chosen by man. Man cannot train and equip an elder and cannot see what God sees in a man's heart. The Spirit equips supernaturally and also through the experience of life. Without this equipping a person cannot do what a pastor needs to do.

Consider Paul's attitude:

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness. vs. 24-25

 Paul's attitude? "I have become its (the Church) servant". That is not an easy attitude to maintain when you have not been called by the Spirit because that is what elders are in the Church; servants. When we get men and women in there who were chosen by man and not called by God we end up with people who lord it over the sheep, making demands, manipulating and abusing. They will also neglect the needs of the people for their own selfish gain.

Consider Jesus' attitude, the great Shepherd. Anyone who reads through the gospels, even just a brief read, will recognize that Jesus came to serve. He spent all of his days waiting on people, preaching the good news, casting out demons and healing the sick. Jesus was in the repair business. The Creator walking among his creation and he served by making the broken whole again. He loved the lost, cared for the rejected and was compassionate toward the oppressed, whether oppressed by demons, illness or deformity. All of his days were spent going from one group of people to the next, not tending to his own needs except his need for the Father. Jesus was in every sense of the word a servant and he taught those who followed him that they must also become a servant.

We need to stop making the same mistake over and over again by choosing the elders according to man's criteria instead of by God's calling. We are causing too much damage to the Church by putting people in place who do not understand the basic premise that in the Kingdom leaders lead by serving the Church. Elders are the foot washers, they are the healers, the teachers, the casters out of demons, they are the hand holders, the comforters, the correctors, the givers, the protectors and whatever else the Church needs at the time. They are not kings whose commands must be obeyed, or dictators whose every whim must be followed, or princes who must be waited on to have their every need met. The Kingdom, the Body and the various offices of the elders is so much more than this. Let us stop messing up the thing and leave it to the Spirit to do the calling.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just how indebted do you believe you are to our Creator?

Good morning my friends.

There are a great many people on the face of this earth but only a small percentage understand how much we are indebted to Yahweh. For one, he has given all of us life through his creation. For another, he has provided the things we need to sustain us; the air we breathe belongs to him as does the food and water we need to stay alive. Yet another thing, he has given his creation is laws, which gives us a fighting chance in this huge creation. Also, he has knit into us a desire for beauty, companionship and a desire for worship. The list of our indebtedness to Yahweh is long indeed. However, for those of us who follow Jesus, the greatest debt we owe is the debt to Jesus for his courageous act of love which rescued us from our own foolishness and doom.

We need to face the fact that, as wonderful as Yahweh had made creation, we messed it up by introducing disobedience. That was like throwing mud on the Mona Lisa; introducing a foreign material that took away from God's perfect creation. It sent us hurtling toward our doom and destruction, not because God is mean, but because our holy God cannot have anything to do with sin. He designed us for eternal fellowship with him but we made ourselves incapable of fellowship with our Creator. I do not think most of us realize how bad it was. We actually thought of ourselves as our Creator's enemy:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. (Colossians 1:21)

We now need to recognize what our Creator did to rescue us from this. You and I might have thrown the whole project in the trash and started all over again. Instead our God mounted a rescue plan that would take a lot of years to bring to the right moment in time. He needed to rescue us from the dark path we had chosen for ourselves and bring us back to the light of his fellowship. He decided to make the greatest effort to save us from our eminent destruction by throwing himself in the path of that destruction, taking the consequences of our actions on himself:

But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:22)

Now we need to recognize the price of this reconciliation because it cost God more than we can imagine. We realize the torture he faced for us. We recognize the physical pain of this torture; the beatings, whips, the nails, the slow death of the cross. We may even recognize the emotional and mental pain of the abandonment he felt from his friends, the taunts of the soldiers, the rejection of his people as they cried out for his death. The Roman soldiers we can understand but the crowds were made up of the people to whom he had spent three years ministering with love. We can recognize these things however I doubt many people realize the greatest cost to Jesus. This cost was the feeling of separation from the Father Jesus would have felt as the sin of the world was placed upon him. What an incredible cost to bear for us. So what did it cost us? 

The cost to us is nothing compared to what it cost Yahweh, yet there is a cost for us. The cost is different from what it cost to have fellowship with God in the beginning. In the beginning we only needed obedience. This is what Paul writes:

But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (vs. 22-23)

You notice the "if" right? We are holy in God's sight, without blemish, free from accusation, able to have fellowship with God, IF, we continue in our faith. We need something beyond obedience, we need faith. Faith allows for God's grace to be applied to us in daily dosages. Yahweh is not dumb. The work of our salvation will not be complete until Jesus returns for us. This means the flaw we introduced in ourselves is still there trying to wreck havoc for us, making obedience a difficult thing. So God requires faith from us; faith to believe that Jesus' sacrifice is enough for us. This faith causes us to trust that when we ask for forgiveness it is freely given. It is also the faith to believe that Jesus' work on the cross was enough to strengthen us to live lives that honour and please our Creator. It is this faith that believes that fellowship with our God is possible every day because Jesus made it possible by his act of reconciliation,

Yes, we are indebted to our Creator this morning for a great many things but none greater than for his rescue plan. What are you going to do with it this morning? Will you allow it to encourage you and cause you to be resolved in your faith to honour and please him with all you do and say today? Or will you just reject the whole thing and continue on your course to doom and destruction. Personally I am going to celebrate my rescuer and rejoice throughout the day because I have an awesome Father who did not give up on me. Truth is, he has never given up on any of us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Are we getting too familiar with Jesus?

Good morning friends.

Have you ever witnessed a child who has forgotten who he is talking to while talking to his dad? It is a known fact that you do not talk to your parents in the same way you talk to a your friends. Friends are equals, they are on the same level of development. On the other side of the equation you have moms and dads who have authority over you. That authority deserves, even demands, respect. It never goes well when a child forgets that he is talking to his dad. That child needs to remember that his dad gave him life, has feed him, clothed him, given him shelter, provided love and probably at least 20 great gifts in his short life. Respect is due him. Now, have you considered the same in your relationship with Jesus?

If your earthly father deserves respect, how much more deserving is Jesus, our heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit? In Colossians 1 Paul gives us a list of reasons why we should be filled with awe and worship every moment of our day. I am going to write it as a list:

     - He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  
     - For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  
     - He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 
     - And he is the head of the body, the church; 
     - he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 
     - For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,  
     - and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. vs. 15-20

If the power of this has not hit you then read it again and again until it finally sinks it. This is Jesus, the one who's name the world uses as an exclamation point. No wonder, it is a powerful exclamation point. However, it is also a thing of great disrespect for an incredible God. We can't expect anything more from the world than this because they have never met him, they don't understand. But we have met him; we understand what Paul has written here and we know that he is not some kid in the school yard. Read the list again.

We know that Jesus is our friend, our companion, our big brother. We are familiar and intimate with him as we should be and need to be. However, we cannot become so familiar that we lose the respect owing to him. It goes beyond what is owed; anyone of these things demand our respect, love and admiration. Even if we were to take away the cross for a moment, he is the agent of creation. Everything in existence is here because of Jesus and for Jesus. He is from the beginning and all things are held together by him. Considering who he is makes his act of love on the cross that much more incredible. When we refer to him as the King, he truly is the ruler over all of creation.

Did you let go or did you forget who Jesus is? Take some time today and get yourself oriented again. Sometimes our compass gets all messed up and we have to take the time to reset it. I understand why. Life is full, it is busy and we can forget in that busyness who is who. We can forget that we are not in charge, we are not gods, we do not have control over most of our life. There is only one who has authority over everything. There is only one way. So, take the time today to lose yourself in worship and remind yourself why Jesus deserves all we have and even more.

Monday, November 23, 2009

In my day of "I want what I want" will I know what he wants?

Good morning my friends? I wonder what your plans are for today. I guess it depends on what kind of person you are; either a well organized person or a come-what-may type of person. I am a bit of both; well organized but busy so my agenda sometimes becomes a come-what-may victim. However, I wonder how much of our day is given over to the will of the Father. In other words, how much of our day is "do what I want" and how much is"not my will but yours be done"? Do we give any consideration to the Father's will for us? Is it something we seek out each day? Of course there is Dad's "general will", for example, that everyone would be saved, and his very specific will, for example, speak to that man on the bus and tell him that God loves him.

Paul's desire for the Colossians was that they would know the Father's will:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. v. 9

This was not just something to say to fill his time. This was something important; "we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you". This was the thing Paul wanted them to have because it lead to greater things in the relationship with the Father:

And we pray this in order that v. 10

There is a purpose in this prayer because without the knowledge of the will of the Father it is impossible to live a life that is worthy of him. Is that not the desire of all of us? But how is it possible to live such a life if we are not seeking the will of the Father:

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: v. 10/

How do we please our Father? How can you live a life that will please him today?

bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, vs. 11-12

Is this what your day is going to look like? Is your greatest desire to please the Father with the quality of your living today? Then start with seeking his will for your life in general and then in the details of your day. He will pour out these blessings on you so that you will be enabled to live such a life. But I ask you, how can he bless the disobedient? He can't.

In our day he wants us to remember why he is worthy of our obedience, why we should be seeking his will  for our day. Remember this:

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. vs. 13-14

Remember that we owe him everything. If this is what he did for us while we were disobedient sinners how much greater the blessings when we walk in obedience to his will for our lives. Take the time to talk things over with him now. Bring your heart in alignment with the Fathers. Live a life of obedience to the Father's will today and all these spiritual blessings will be yours.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I don't like it when God is forced to use a donkey to speak to me because I am not listening

Good morning my friends. As some of you are aware, I spent yesterday at a teachers' conference with some of my staff. Like with all things there were some excellent workshops and some that were not so great. It seems every year I hit a theme in the workshops I attend. One year it was technology and how it can be used in education. The information I gained that year I used to transform our school's approach to education. This year the theme seemed to be about behaviour challenged students and how to handle them. I found these workshops to be of immense help but not because of the presenters. I found myself inspire and taught by teh Spirit in these workshops.

One of the workshops dealt with our attitude and the language we use in dealing with students who do not match acceptable behavour. As I listened I heard the language of Scripture being taught. From everything else the two presenters were saying I assumed they were not believers, but in this one area I say the world trying to copy what should be very natural for us as believers. I will take an example from the next letter we are studying, Colossians, in the first chapter:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints. vs. 3-4

There are a number of things Paul is doing here as he begins his letter to a people he has never met. He is not the planter of this church, he has never visited, he does not know them, but he starts off with establishing a connection. Before he starts in on anything else he connects with them, he says, we always thank God when we pray for you. Try using that to start a conversation and see what kind of connection you immediately establish with a person. In the world we may start off with "I like that shirt" or "I like how you have your hair". It is a positive connection. The world would see this as practical psychology we we see it as loving people. No one should be better at this then the Church because our whole business is loving people into the Kingdom so we should have great people skills. We should not have to go to school to study psychology because we are under the authority of the greatest psychologist, Jesus Christ.

Our business is people; our business is to love people with the love of the Lord. Our concern must be the spiritual condition of that person, not their behaviour. Our connection needs to be established before we can deal with any behaviour problems. We cannot just go up to someone and start in on their wrong behaviour. We need to connect with them in relationship, we need to establish Jesus as Lord and Saviour and then we can look at behaviour. The example that was given yesterday could be an illustration of what we do not do in the Church. The presenter gave an example of a principal who was greeted on the stairs by a student who's shoe laces were undone. The principal greeted the girl back. "Good morning Susan. How are you today? How was your weekend? That's great. By the way, when you get to the bottom of the stairs do up your shoe laces please." I see that example in this letter and in all of Paul's letters. Before he starts in on some of the correction he makes a connection and he deals with some of the things they are doing correctly.

As lovers of everything the Father loves we should be able to speak the languages of love. Before Paul starts in on some things that need to be corrected Paul praises the church for what it is getting right. In this case he praises them for their faith and their love. With our fellow believers we often tear down and criticize them for things they are not managing to do right and for certain character flaws. However, we should have the ability to focus on the good things, the correct things about that person or that ministry. Criticism is not a language of love. Sometimes we disguise criticism as correction but not many of us should imagine ourselves as having the authority to correct. It is true that the Scriptures tell us to watch out for each other but Jesus also told us not to be concerned with the dust in our brother's eye when we have a log in our own.

As I reflected on the representation and the Holy Spirit worked on my understanding of Scripture, I realized I had already been equipped for this, I just wasn't applying it. I am responsible for a lot of people as a pastor and as a principal as well as a dad. Do I put the people before the mission? Am I concerned about them or what I can get out of them? Am I connected with them or am I keeping them at a safe distance? Am I using language that builds them up or am I noticing the shoe laces instead of the relationship? These are tough questions for me as the Spirit continues to break me and build me. I am project oriented. I am goal oriented. I am goal oriented because I have this mistaken notion that its results that matter to Jesus. My orientation is all off and it has to be realigned by the Spirit. Jesus is not goal oriented, he is relationship oriented. He is not in the business of people management, he is the business of people building. It is all about establishing love connections with people, establishing relationships for building people up, for inspiring greatness in people.

It is a good subject for a Saturday morning reflection; how do you treat the people in your lives? Do you spend more time correcting, criticizing, tearing down or are you a connector, a builder of people? There is still correction involved in building people, its just not the focal point and it is not the first thing to be dealt with. I am not a psychologist. I do not like the use of psychology in the Church. This is not psychology, this is the Word of God and we are not very good at it; but we can be, with the Spirit's help. Today, take the time to examine the language you use with the people you encounter, especially the language you use with your children.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What to do when the gift is too holy to receive

Good morning my friends. There is a story of David that often perplexed me. It was before he was king, when he was on the run from king Saul. He and his merry band of misfits were hanging out in a cave because David refused to fight the king. Although he knew Saul was not a great king, David still had the knowledge that he did not have the authority to do anything to the king; that was up to God. In this story David had grown thirsty so some of his men risked their lives and brought back some water from a local well. David was so moved that he refused to drink it, it was too holy a gift. He considered there was only one who was worthy to receive a gift of this importance and he offered it to God. When I first read this story in my youth I did not understand it and figured his friends must have been pretty miffed at him. Today I understand.

As a leader of people I am sometimes given gifts of support and encouragement. For the longest time these gifts made me feel uncomfortable because I knew they were often given out of need. Like David I felt I was not worthy of such sacrifice. It has taken me decades to gain the understanding and ability to receive these gifts of sacrifice. Unlike David, I, and other leaders, are not to "waste" the gift by turning it into a drink offering. It is like we accept it on behalf of our God because it is a beautiful offering to him. When people offer these gifts it is often in support of God's work and it is because they see Jesus in us. We need to get past the personal embarrassment. We need to gain the attitude of Paul as he wrote to the Philippians:

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. vs. 15-16

There was a special bond here between Paul and the Philippian church. There usually is between minister and the supporters of the minister. They were with him from the very beginning and their faithful support made a difference to him. Now those of you in ministry who may be struggling with receiving these gifts as I had done, read this next part carefully:

Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. v. 17

Paul writes as if they are investing in their future. It seems to be a weird thing in the Church, so much emphasis on money; it always makes me uncomfortable. Yet, there is this strange balance in the scriptures where God is telling his people that he does not need their sacrifice but instead their obedience. But then to the obedient he emphasizes the importance of their generosity. So, if you are trying to buy your way into heaven it is not going to work but if you already have your priorities in place then God is expecting that generosity will be a big part of your character. Generosity is going to increase your reward. We are about to see how it does more than that but first consider how these gifts are received:

I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. v. 18

Paul receives them for what they are, as David had recognized it, an offering to the Lord, an acceptable sacrifice. Such gifts of support are always received with such an attitude. I am not worthy but then again I am only the servant. The one who is receiving such sacrifice is the Lord and promises are attached with such sacrifices:

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. v. 19

Promise after promise is held out to those who put the Kingdom first and themselves second. There is something incredible that moves the heart of God when people sacrifice out of their own needs. Consider the widow and her pennies at the temple. This woman had touched the heart of Jesus so much she provoked a lesson for others.

It is a strange thing but ministers you need to stop being hesitant and feeling awkward about accepting these sacrifices. God is doing something in the hearts of the people and you have to allow it to happen. And people, respond to what God is moving you to do, especially when it comes to supporting missionaries. Like with Paul, your gift has more value than just the physical aspects, it also represents love and the knowledge that people care about what those missionaries are doing. Give out of your own need and then see how the Lord will in turn meet those needs for you. Allow your sacrificial offering to become a fragrant offering to the Lord.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Are we house builders or trail blazers?

Good morning my friends. It is good to know that our life is a journey. It is a reminder that we are suppose to be learning as we go along. So often we are hard on ourselves or people are hard on us because we do not know something or because we have not progressed to that point in our maturity. Often we lose sight of the fact that we are all at different stages in this journey and we need to tolerate others and ourselves when we lack what we think we aught to know. If you want to know what level of maturity a person or a ministry is at look to their critical spirit. If they are able to tolerate, accept and love all believers then they are pretty far along in their journey. However, if they are harsh, critical, intolerant, everyone has to be like them, then either they have not come along very far or they have refused to grow up.

The fact that we are on a journey and we are part of a process gives me a lot of hope. I am very critical and intolerant of myself. I expect a lot from me and I often disappoint myself. For those of you who are the same and think this is healthy and normal, it is not. One of the things I desire is found in today's Scripture reading:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Philippians 4:11)

I would love to lie to myself about this one and claim that contentment as my attitude, but I do not have it. Often I find myself dissatisfied with situations and where I find myself in life. Then I start thinking I should be better than this and get even more upset at myself but that is craziness. Paul said, "I have learned to be". It was a process for him too. He did not just wake up one day and possess contentment:

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. v. 12

Here is an odd thing about contentment; you cannot be afraid to live life and think yourself content. You have to experience life in all its glory and pain before you can learn to be content. How can a person who has had money all their life say that they have learned to be content? How can a person who has been poor all their life say they have learned to be content? If all you have ever known is where you are right now then you have not been living life to the fullest, you have not been a risk taker, you have not lived for the glory of God and you have not experienced enough to claim contentment. Contentment is the realization that you can say these words with Paul:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. v. 13

Not some things, not what you are comfortable with, not what you are good at but everything. Everything includes the things you do not like, the things you would rather not face, the unpleasant things in life, the things that actually requires the strength of Jesus instead of your own.

I am convinced that most of us have not a clue what it is to live a life that brings glory to God. I am convinced that most of us live all of our life according to our strength and abilities and then give Jesus the glory for it. That is not what the Scripture is referring to here. Paul is talking about things that are difficult to face, things that are challenging because they are beyond us, things that threaten to overwhelm us, things that require 90% prayer and 10% ability. Contentment is when you are willing to face possible failure and feel alright with that. Contentment is being willing to face situations and tasks that threaten to destroy you and yet you feel alright with that. Contentment is when you feel alright about facing a mountain that you cannot move while believing that you can do it through Jesus who gives you strength.

To learn contentment we must move from the world of the possible to the life of the impossible, We need to stop living what we can do by our abilities and move to a place where we know we are involved in God things because we cannot do it, we do not know how. We have to move from this place that requires no faith to live to a place that without faith we would be destroyed. Contentment is a matter of trust. Do we trust our God to do the things he said he would do through us? What is faith if it is never tested? Jesus told us that we would do greater things then what he had done. Are we living our lives to prove him right?

I am glad that I am not suppose to have it all together yet, but at the same time I cannot be satisfied to stay where I am. Too many of us have found a place on the trail to build our home and to live our life. We have reached a spot where we are satisfied with where we have arrived. We have sold out. This is not what we were saved for and it is not contentment. I am determined not to stay in this place and I am determined that I am going to learn to trust Jesus in all things. I am looking forward to the day when I will be able to say with Paul that I have learned the secret of contentment. Until that moment arrives in my maturity I am determined to believe that I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Something has to change or we may all be lost

Good morning friends. One thing I have noticed in life; if you ever want to get someone mad at you tell them not to do something. If you ever want a teenager to do something, first tell them not to do it. The sin nature in us is very strong and it gravitates to its origins. Remember how it started; when Eve did the one thing she was told not to do? Disobedience got us in trouble then and it continues to get us in trouble today.

Perhaps that is the reason the Spirit inspired Paul to write a very important part of his instructions to the Philippians in a positive light:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. v. 8

Today we may be tempted to say, "If it isn't Christian don't partake in it" but I have seen many things titled Christian that was not noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable. Do not think the title "Christian" is safe any more than a movie marked "General" in Quebec is safe for family viewing. Even in the Church people have different standards of what is acceptable so it is hard to know what to trust. However that really is not the problem either because we do not want to be told by other people what we can and can not do or what we can and can not see or what we can and can not listen to. Why should we need to be told by others? Should we not be at a level of maturity to understand for ourselves what Paul means when he says "if anything is excellent or praiseworthy"? He tells us that we should think about things that fit these descriptions, that our mind should be occupied with the things that honour our Lord.

I have watched it happen in my own life and the life of my family. There is so much entertainment out there that looks so attractive, it is an easy thing to shut off the brain and just let it happen. However, it really does effect the pattern of our thinking and what we begin to tolerate in our own attitude and behaviour. Once the door is open it is hard to shut again. I have watched the attitude of my children toward the things of God slip away. I have watched their behaviour change. I have excused it with, "It's a normal teenage thing". Normal in the world perhaps but not so normal for those who have been taught to love and honour God. Where is the problem? The problem is in me not taking seriously these words from the Holy Spirit.

How can sexual sin honour God? How can murder and killing be considered praiseworthy? How can the stories of demons and witchcraft be considered excellent? How can songs filled with profanities and treating the most honoured name of Jesus like a curse word be thought of as pure? How can songs filled with thoughts of sin be tolerated as right? Entertainment has become such a huge focus for us that we hardly give it a thought any more. When I stop and think of the video games my boys play I shudder. If we take it all away what is there left? Not a lot, and that should worry us.

Is there a weakness in our relationship with Jesus? Is it any wonder that we struggle to grow into maturity? How can we understand the depth of love we are to have when our thoughts are on murder, rape, adultery, pornography. I laugh when people think pornography is only a problem for men. Watch some of the tv shows and see how many muscular young men are walking around shirtless. Who do you think that is for? Dad's watch your teenage girls.

I challenge you to look at some of your behaviours and habits to see what you have been tolerating. See if everything you and your children are involved in would stand up under these words of guidance from the Spirit. If growing spiritually matters to you and your children then maybe we all need to shift our attention from the behaviours that do not honour God to those that do. We can come up with lots of excuses but it really comes down to this guidance:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

This is not the advice of some dad from the 1950's, it is the Holy Scriptures, God's revelation to man. These words have been given to us to profit us, not to take away from us. They have a purpose and come from a desire to see us grow and mature in Christ. I think we need to shake ourselves until we wake up again to God's reality, to wake up from this slumber that the enemy has caused us to fall in to. Like the fruit in the garden, just because it is there does not mean we have to consume it. Perhaps we have to find a different method to explain it to our children and perhaps we need to find a different way to convince ourselves, but something has to change.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It never goes well for fair weather believers

Good morning my friends.

I find many Christians waste a lot of unnecessary energy on unnecessary things. First of all, they worry too much. They let all kinds of things get to them and they fill their day with worries that they can do nothing about. They pray and quote scripture to themselves but they fail to allow that to go any further than surface deep; it does not make it to their heart. Second, they allow that worry to develop into fear. They fear almost everything including, or maybe especially, the unknown. Fear paralyzes a person's ability to cope and they begin to shut down. God definitely gets shut out at this point. They will allow people to pray with them but those prayers do not even scratch their surface and its more like water off a duck's back. Last comes depression and despair. This is the absence of hope. You would think it would be hard for a Christian to reach the  point of no hope but, given the right steps, any of us can reach it. The Apostle Paul gives the Philippians some points that, if listened to, will keep us far from this point of hopelessness.

In Philippians 4 Paul is ending his letter but he gives us a few things that have been widely quoted in moments of difficulty. I think these are things we need to be doing every day as preventative medicine. He writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! v. 4

Most of us appreciate these words and they make us feel great, but they are more than words. These words describe an attitude that we should have toward everything about our life. It takes in the understanding that God is using everything, every circumstance, every relationship, every experience for our good. Knowing that nothing is a waste in our life we can give thanks to our God for it. We can rejoice in everything. Sometimes we say, "If I don't laugh I will cry" to describe a weird reaction to heavy circumstances in our life. It loosely describes this attitude. If we refuse to recognize God's goodness in every circumstance then the heaviness of those things will crush us. We must always recognize the power, might and goodness of our God in everything. Truly we can rejoice in the Lord always, but we must allow this to be our perspective. Our own selfishness and self-centeredness will fight against us in this. If we maintain this attitude in the small things then it will be there in the big things as well.

Then Paul writes something that seems a bit out of context:

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. v. 5

This fits into the attitude of rejoicing. Paul is writing that we need to remember that we are being watched. We may like to think we are in isolation and it does not affect anyone else how we deal with circumstances but it does. People who know we are followers of Jesus watch us to see how we will handle the difficult parts of life. Will we cave? Will we turn to other sources of help other than God? Will we be overcome by depression? Will we shout and scream and then curse  God and die? How will we handle our teenager getting pregnant, or our wife leaving us, or our father being killed by a drunk driver, or being robbed at gun point, or being assaulted, or being fired, or any of the thousands of other things that happen in a fallen world? Do we have the faith that compels us to trust God even in these circumstances? Do we have the faith that compels us to rejoice in the Lord even in these circumstances? We should because, the Lord is near. That's an important point Paul reminds us of here: Jesus promised to be with us to the very end of the age. Do we need any other promise?

Now Paul writes something that comes out of this attitude of rejoicing, of bearing our witness of trust and of understanding that the Lord is near:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. vs 6

Prayer. Not just a quick prayer out of some misguided obligation but true, honest, believing prayer. Paul makes it so clear; do not be anxious about anything. We should not feel worry, fear or anxiety about anything in life because we are trusting that God is using everything for our good. The worse possible thing that could happen to me is the death of a child, yet what is death to me? We do not fear death. We could go through a whole list of things here but you know my response will be the same because this is what the Word says. Perhaps it is not always easy but perhaps that is because we have not been developing this attitude in the little things in life. In EVERYTHING, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. With thanksgiving; that speaks to the kind of relationship and attitude we have developed. Do not wait until the bad times to develop an attitude of faith, praise and prayer.

Look to the fruit of such a life based on this relationship of trust and thanksgiving:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. v.7

There you go. By maintaining this relationship of trust, thanksgiving and taking everything to the Lord, and I mean everything, you will experience peace in good and bad times. You will have peace when it does not make sense to have peace. Your trust in the Lord will have developed to such a point, he will have proven himself trustworthy in all the things you have brought to him, peace will be a natural thing for you. This peace will guard your heart and your mind from worry, fear, depression and despair because your mind will be fixed on Jesus.

I cannot emphasize enough that this is not going to happen if you have not been developing this relationship everyday. These are the fruit of a a deepening and growing relationship of trust and love. We cannot just declare we love Jesus and then do nothing about it. Like every relationship it requires time, effort and an act of trust. If you have neglected this relationship or have never really started on it you can begin today. Decide to make an effort to bring everything in your day to Jesus. Talk it over with him. Ask for advice from him. Ask his direction. Those things and circumstances that you are powerless to do anything about, give them over to the one who loved you enough to die for you. See what he does with it.We cannot just sing beautiful songs, we have to live for him. If you have not started doing this, start today.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It is about time we grow up and deal with what is important

Good morning everyone. I warn you in advance that what I am writing this morning could be considered a social commentary rather than a devotional. I may be about to hurt some people and anger some others but after 25 years of dedicated service and study of God's Word I believe I may be permitted to speak from a place of experience in the Word. My comments this morning comes from Paul's exhortations in Philippians 4:

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. vs. 2-3

Specifically these words, "help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel". It is difficult for me to understand how we can still be discussing the issue of women in ministry in this age. There are whole sections of the Church that still treat women as second class citizens in a Kingdom that addresses them as sons. They are not permitted to participate in anything but children and women ministries. The expectation is that they will stay at home, clean house, raise the kids and tend to their husband's every need.

Now before some people get too upset I want to recognize the incredible impact that stay-at-home moms have in our society. I applaud them and agree with them 100%, if they are sure that is the calling the Spirit has laid on them. However, this group of women also need to recognize that the Holy Spirit does not use a cookie-cutter mentality. Not every woman is called to this same thing, and even those that are can have more than one calling. My fear is that too many women hide from their calling believing that being a stay-at-home mom is their way out.

There are also a lot of men who put too high of an importance on the fact they were born a man. These men need to study the respect Jesus had for women. How many lessons are we taught through his interaction with various women? How much time did he spend with them? What did he teach them? How much of his ministry was supported by these incredible women of faith? If we move on from Jesus and we consider Paul's misunderstood attitude toward women we may be shocked to see how many women ministered under him. Just consider this one example here in Philippians. Paul writes "who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel". Those are interesting words he used, "contended at my side". If you have a few minutes read through Romans 16 at Paul's exhortation there. It reads like a list of who's who. You may be surprised at how many of these great workers for the gospel are women who Paul commends and who he sends greetings too.

You may be wondering what I am saying here so I will make it plain to you: Stop limiting the Holy Spirit according to the sex of the servant. We do not get to decide our calling, our Lord does that. It is not up to us to judge the calling of another servant but instead to test the spirits. In fact we are told to test everything, including ourselves. There are many false prophets in the Church, some wearing skirts and some wearing suits. The enemy also uses both male and female. However, do not grieve the Spirit by refusing to recognize what he has made so plain to see. We cannot afford to contend against the Spirit by limiting him according to our false understanding of God's Word.

Now I will be even more open and honest with you, I have not met very many women who have shown the calling to preaching but I have met many women with the calling leadership. Just because women could be called does not mean they are called. Have met some excellent women elders who do not take part in the preaching ministry because that is not their calling. Good for them. Not all leadership is as some would define leadership in the Church today, that person who stands out in front of the crowd. The leadership of elders can be defined as one who comes along side to guide and counsel by the Word of God empowered by the Holy Spirit. I often receive instruction and direction in this manner, usually a confirmation of what the Spirit has already placed on my heart, from women who are in every sense of the word elders. I have a great deal of respect for these women. I think it is wrong for us to deny such callings based on assumptions and the twisted use of God's Word.

However, there is one thing that still remains in place and will remain in place until the day of redemption, when all things of this earth will pass away. Regardless of their calling and place in the Church women remain subject to their husbands. Any Christian man worth his salt would never be threatened by the calling of his wife but in their home he is the head and she is subject to the head. This is  good, because this provides her a covering. These two things should never be confused and may take some effort to balance but no more so than it takes for a man who also has dual roles.

I realize that I have not given a balanced look at both sides of the argument using appropriate scripture but there is too much to fit in this type of forum. This is the reason I referred to this as a social commentary this morning. All I want to do is give you enough of a push so that you would at least consider this controversial subject. Instead of accepting either argument hook, line and sinker, check it out for yourself. Study all the scripture in context. Look specifically at the attitude of Jesus. Do not get caught up in the fact that he called men as his inner 12 disciples. The larger circle included 72, who he had also sent out and then there was even a larger crowd of disciples he he taught. I wonder how many women may have been in these groups? How many couples that served together? The bottom line is, please do not limit the Spirit by our own limitations. We have too much to do in the fight against principalities to waste our time on limiting mighty warriors in the battle.

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. (Galatians 3:26-29)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I miss you; I need you

Good morning friends. Today is a difficult day for me, a day I do not usually write a blog because I am busy with the church. Today I cannot meet with my brothers and sisters due to the flu and so my heart flees to the Psalm:

 As the deer pants for streams of water,
       so my soul pants for you, O God.

 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
       When can I go and meet with God?
   (Psalm 42:1-2)

As much as I can understand the sentiment of the psalmist the difference is I miss meeting with the people not with God because God is here with me. He is always with me. I do not have to go anywhere special to meet with him. I don't have to go on a pilgrimage to discover him. I don't have to walk the streets of Jerusalem and visit Bethlehem to know my God. I do not have to visit any great cathedrals or even take a long walk in the forest. I don't have to climb any mountain or visit any remote monastery. My God has promised to be with me. It is the promise he has always made to his children.

He promised Isaac

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. (Genesis 26:3)

He promised Jacob:

Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you." (Genesis 31:3)

He promised Moses:

And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." (Exodus 3:12)

He promised Joshua:

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Joshua 1:5)

And, he promised all of us:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

Of course this is encouraging news but it is not enough. Did that suddenly get your attention? Yes, if we were stranded on an island or thrown into a jail cell, separating us from other believers, God's grace would cover us and he would sustain us. However, the truth of the matter is that we have never been meant to experience God alone. Some of the worship songs we sing, although I agree with the sentiment, are wrong; Jesus is not all that we need. Maybe I need to word that differently. Jesus is all that we need, he is more than enough but the context in which we experience him is important. We can experience him on our sick bed and in the darkness of our lonely hours but the true richness of that experience is only understood in the context of the Body of Christ.

I am not saying that this is the experience a believer has in organized religion. It is true that some churches believe they are promoting the gospel of Christ but they are really building a business, and, if successful, an empire based on a man or group of men, or even a woman. I am not certain anyone can experience much in these places. What I am talking about is:

"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:19-20)

It does not matter how believers come together just as long as they do. As they do they have the responsibility to minister to each other:

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. 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. (Ephesians 5:19-20)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:15-16)

When we accepted the free gift of salvation and when we made Jesus Lord over us, when we died to our former life, when we were raised from that death to be brought alive in Jesus, we were not left as an island. We were not made a new creation in isolation. Immediately we were brought into the Body, the Church, and a wonderful thing began to happen:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

The richness of our relationship with Jesus Christ is experienced in the context of the Body of Christ, and that is what I am missing on this fine Sunday morning. I hope, it is my prayer, that you are finding a place this morning to gather with two or three or a thousand believers. I pray that as you share the Word, testimony, praise and worship that you will experience the presence of Jesus in a way that will enable you to continue your journey of service with joy and peace. I long to be in that place with you this morning.

If you think you do not need the Body of Christ, you do not know as you aught to know. Do not be so selfish. It is not just you who is being effected today. You are not just harming yourself. You were re-created to be part of the Body because you need us and we need you. You have been given things that complete us. We need you to operate in those things in the Body so we can grow in maturity together. Stop being so selfish; join with us and share. Learn to forgive and to be forgiven. One of the greatest lessons we have learned from Jesus is forgiveness, a vital lesson for the members of the Body to live out and one that cannot be exercised in isolation. Make the effort today. Gather with two or three believers, even if it is over coffee; share, sing, testify to God's goodness, honour him and see how he will honour you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hold the fort! I'm coming!!!

Good morning my friends. This is my fourth day of being ill and although the recovery is now evident the progress is slow. One of the things I dislike about illness is the dullness of mind that it brings. It is like trying to think through a thick fog. I praise the Lord this morning that for the last three mornings he has blown that fog away to allow me to spend this time in the Word with clarity of mind. Now for my thoughts on Philippians 4.

I cannot agree with the way some of the Bible publishers divide the Scripture into chapters and sections. I realize that by doing this it has made it easier for us to study and refer to text, and I am thankful for this. However, some mistakes were made and thoughts were divided, making it harder to understand. Today's scripture reference, from the NIV, is an example of this. The first line of Philippians 4 reads:

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! v. 1

The "Therefore" and the "that is how" show this to be a conclusion to a thought on standing firm.

Okay, so they messed up a bit but are we not all curious now about how it is we can stand firm? I know I am. I am looking all the time for Scripture that will instruct me on how to serve better and how to remain strong. I think we all want to learn how we can stand firm in the face of the many battles we fight in a day. So often we crumble for the same reason the disciples fell asleep in the garden. Jesus told them bluntly, "The spirit is willing but the body is weak." Jesus warned them to watch and pray so that they would not fall into temptation. We want so much to stand firm for our Lord but under the onslaught of daily living our body can fail us.

What I mean by this is that we want to take the time to pray, to worship , to study Scripture but at the end of the day we have not done any of it. The day was long, it was hard, there were emergencies, you did not even get a chance to eat lunch. Now you are tired and your body and mind are calling for rest. Your spirit wants to worship but your body refuses to agree. This happens so often it becomes our routine so that we are satisfied with the thought, "God is pleased with my intention; he knows my desire." Perhaps, perhaps not, but worship, prayer and the Word are not just things that honour our Father. These things have a wonderful effect on us, helping us keep a proper perspective and keeping us connected to the source of all things. Without them we grow weaker.

This takes us back then to how Paul was instructing us to stand firm. He says, "that is how you should stand firm in the Lord". To find out what he is referring to we need to go back to the previous chapter where Paul was telling us to press on to our goal. Obviously, if we are occupied with completing this journey in a manner that we believe will please Jesus, it will keep us on our toes. Yet, there is something that Paul writes here that I think should be a great source of encouragement to stand firm, if only we would remind ourselves daily:

For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. vs. 18-21

You can see the struggle there with the body's desires. In our tiredness, weariness we give in to the desires of the body, giving it priority over our spiritual needs. Some people would argue that God created our body with needs so we must be good stewards of what we have been given. Perhaps, but I also understand what Paul means when he writes:

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)

Paul would not allow his body to dictate to his spirit but he forced his body to submit itself to his spirit. When the flesh is in charge it agrees that the things of this world are good and necessary. We will give priority to those needs, hours of entertainment, pleasurable distractions, maybe a little bit too much rest, a bit too much to eat. However, our mind cannot be occupied with the desires of the body if we are going to stand firm. We must remind ourselves that we do not belong to these things because our citizenship is found with Jesus, in the Kingdom of God. We need this reminder everyday as the visual effects of this world are so attractive to us and can distract us from the invisible qualities of the Kingdom. There is also a matter of expectation.

Paul said that we eagerly await a saviour from this Kingdom. In other words, we are eagerly waiting the return of Jesus. Maybe after 2,000 years we have gotten a little tired of waiting because I do not see a lot of daily eagerness in many of the believers. Most of us do not even give it a thought unless someone else brings it up. We conduct our lives as if this event, which all of creation yearns for, will ever happen. Just imagine the changes in us if we gained that perspective and entered every day as if it was the day that Jesus was returning for us. How would that change your behaviour, your thoughts, your attitude toward the desires of your body and the needs of your spirit?

Now, how do we stand firm under the daily onslaught of life? By pressing on toward our goal. More specifically, daily casting off any attraction to this place, reminding ourselves of our citizenship every day, and living each day as if it is the day of Jesus' return. In this way we will be able to keep our priorities straight. We will put the emphasis where it needs to be. We will understand the importance of worship, prayer, and the Word every day and this in turn will make us effective servants in this battle we are part of. My friends, regardless of what we face in the flesh we are first and foremost a child of the Kingdom of God. Act as one. Stand your ground mighty warrior and sing the praises of our King in the face of the enemy. Stand firm.

  1. Ho, my comrades, see the signal, waving in the sky!
    Reinforcements now appearing, victory is nigh.
    • Refrain:
      “Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
      Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”
  2. See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on;
    Mighty ones around us falling, courage almost gone!
  3. See the glorious banner waving! Hear the trumpet blow!
    In our Leader’s Name we triumph over every foe.
  4. Fierce and long the battle rages, but our help is near;
    Onward comes our great Commander, cheer, my comrades, cheer!    - Philip P. Bliss

Friday, November 13, 2009

Are we growing or merely keeping up appearances?

Good morning my friends. I wonder how confident you feel in your relationship with Jesus. Confident enough to tell people to follow your example? Probably not. How many preachers have you heard telling people not to look at them as an example because they are imperfect? Does that ever come across as sounding like an excuse and not a reason? It does to me, and I have said it to my congregations more often than I can remember. It's because I did not have the perspective and understanding I have today as to what that example should be. Does this then make Paul an arrogant man for writing:

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. (Philippians 3:17)

 If any other man had written this I would say it was from a source of arrogance but with Paul it was written from a place of maturity. Paul knew who he was, the chief of sinners he said. He knew who Jesus was, the Christ, who gave up his life to save the world. More than this, he rose from the dead so that all of us could have eternal life. He also knew who he was in Jesus, a new creation, the old was gone and the new had come. Did this make him perfect ? Not in the least, even though he knew that perfection was being worked out in him every day, which is the reason he encouraged us to "work out" our salvation daily. So what is meant by his example?

Our problem is our North American attitude toward perfection. We take something like the passage of Colossians 3 and we turn it into a law without understanding what is really being said:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

These sins are obvious to us all and we should be able to control these even by our human will. There are a lot of people in this world who can control these things without the help of the Holy Spirit. It is the reason Paul says to put them to death. They really are within our control. After this he writes:

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Col 3:8)

Notice the change from "put to death" to "rid yourselves". The first are behaviours that we can quickly modify ourselves but the second are roots in our lives that are hard to "put to death". These things we must rid ourselves of and for this we need help. The most effective way is to allow these roots to be choked out by newer roots:

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:12-14)

These are the new roots that take time to grow and choke out the old roots of sin. It is a process and in such a process our imperfections will rear their ugly head. This is where we find the conflict between North American expectations of perfection compared to the reality of the Word of God. Paul said to follow his example. What example would that be?

Off the top of my head I would say it would be his example of self-sacrificing love for Jesus and his Church. I would say it would be his example of perseverance and fortitude despite the hardships. I would say it would be his example of a repentant and forgiving heart. You see, the one thing I find missing from the Church today is honesty about who we really are. Repentance and forgiveness, cornerstones of our relationship with Jesus, requires honesty with ourselves, with Jesus and with the Body. We are not honest. We are too busy keeping up appearances for the world but the world can see right through us.

It is not honest to hide our sin, yet it is also not honest to excuse our sin because of our imperfections. Things like, "I may not be perfect but I am forgiven", or "God's not finished with me yet", are true but they come across as arrogant. When we repent there should not be a "but" in our repentance. "I am sorry for what I have done but I am sure Jesus has forgiven me." Our repentance should be honest, "I have sinned against my God and you. I know what I have done is not acceptable and I have caused pain to you and my Lord. My spirit grieves the harm I have caused. I throw myself on your mercy and ask your forgiveness." This should be a natural thing to do. From this, forgiveness flows easily because the sin is exposed and the healing can begin. This is part of the "work out your salvation daily".

We should be aware of our imperfections, our weaknesses and we should deal with them openly and honestly. We require the Spirit to use the support and forgiveness of our brothers and sisters to bring about change in us. Paul wrote:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)

In this green house of love forgiveness must flow freely and openly. When we recognize that we are all the same, that we stumble in the same way, that we have the same love for our Lord and for each other then we may begin to forgive as we are forgiven. Then maybe we can say with Paul, "Follow my example". Not an example of perfection, we have Jesus for that, but instead an example of what God can do with imperfection.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Is it worth it?

Good morning my friends. Have you ever asked yourself the question, "Is it worth it"? It is a question that could be applied to many different situations in our life and usually marks a moment of frustration. It is a question that asks if the current pain is worth the prize at the end. It holds up the cost against the reward. It is not a question that we should easily dismiss or shrug off with guilt. It is a legitimate question that we should consider carefully.

Sometimes there are things in our lives that we are so positive of the goal that we do not need to ask that question. I guess this is how it was with the Apostle Paul. If there was ever a person in our great history who had the right to ask that question it was Paul. Would you not ask that question sitting in the bowels of a prison? Would you not ask that question as the stones struck you and you were left for dead? Would you not ask that question after your second ship wreck? How about after 5th or 6th time you were run out of town? Yet, this was Paul's philosophy of service:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

What was the goal and what was the prize? They must have been incredible things to cause Paul to stand up under everything he stood up under. The goal was to be faithful to that which he had been called which was to bring the gospel to the gentiles. Paul was not responsible for what they did with the gospel; he was to bring them the gospel and disciple those who chose to accept it. The prize? The prize is the same thing we are all looking forward to, "Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter my rest". Paul considered faithfulness to his goal to be well worth the prize of being welcome home with those words from Jesus. He then tells us that we who are mature should understand this and be living in the same manner:

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. vs 15-16

Let's not touch the last sentence today as it will open up a whole new discussion. Instead let us concentrate on this simple matter.

Why do we do what we do? Is it because we are called by God or is it because we were picked by man? The answer to that question will tell you a lot about your struggles. When we are convinced that what we are doing is God's will, desire, and calling for us, then all we want to do is please him. Our goal must be faithfulness to that thing until the end, no matter what we have to face. The goal is to be found faithful to the last day. The prize is the glad welcome home. Can there be a greater prize? What you are willing to be faithful to for Jesus you could never be faithful to for a man. A man cannot offer you what Jesus offers. No prize can compare. It is for you to determine from where you received your calling.

We are in an age where faithfulness is a fading reality. People change jobs ten times before they are 30 years of age. People slip in and out of marriages with the least sign of trouble. Some people will point to recent statistics to say it is getting better. It isn't. The difference is people aren't bothering to marry any more. It's less complicate to just live together so there are no lawyers to deal with when it is time to leave. Is it any wonder that Christian workers have no idea what it is to be faithful to their calling. At the first sign of hardship they give up. Some stick to it for maybe two or three trying periods but few have the vision of faithfulness as Paul did.

There are exceptions and we need to celebrate those exceptions. We need to lift them up so people can see some examples of faithfulness to the end. Everyone starts off well, but its the ending that really matters. We will look at the idea of examples tomorrow but for today I ask you to take some time to meditate on your calling. Who did it come from? Is your entire desire to please Jesus by being faithful to the end? Is it worth it? Do not throw that question away. How you respond to it may give you that extra strength you need to make it through today. I pray you are not facing any stonings or lashes today, but if you are I pray you can honestly say it is worth it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A life propped by tooth picks is not a sustainable thing

Good day to you. If you have ever met a successful business man you have most likely noted that the successful ones are the ones that present themselves as confident. It only makes sense. Who in their right mind would invest their money in a company where the business owner was filled with doubt? They have to appear as if they believe they own the most successful business in the world so they project this image of confidence and success. In truth, their business may be propped up by tooth picks but you will never know it by talking to them. I hope its not too harsh to say but, some peoples' faith is like that.

People sometimes prop up their belief in Jesus for various reasons. One reason may be because they are too busy to explore the Scriptures for themselves so they rely solely on someone's teaching. This can lead to a lot of falsehoods simply because they did not understand what was being taught. Another reason may be that they have never really had an encounter with Jesus. Many people sit in churches knowing of Jesus but do not actually know him. It is a system of beliefs instead of a personal relationship. Still another reason may be that they only trust God so far. They are willing to trust with the little things but when it comes to big things, like finances and health, they would rather trust man. These are just a few of the reasons why people use props but there are many more. 

In recent years we have seen what happens when a storm hits a company, or series of companies, that are propped up by tooth picks.The wind hits and the whole thing comes crumbling down and lives get destroyed. Companies that were not a good investment made it appear, through props, as if they were. It is again the same thing with people who have propped up their faith. When the storms of life hit, and they will, the whole thing comes tumbling down because they relied on their props instead of Jesus. People have a great appearance, they show confidence in the Lord, they say all the right words, but when it is challenged by life there is no strength to stand up under it.

It is for this reason that we cannot treat our relationship with Jesus in any other manner than it being the first priority of our life. We must approach this with all our energy and passion. We have to be 100% sold out to Jesus or we will never make it to the end of the race. Without this constant desire one of those storms will hit and blow us right off the track. In this matter I think the Apostle Paul's life is worth examining to learn from him. The reason is because I think we can all agree that he is one of the most tragic figures in the Scriptures and yet we would never know in knowing him. He faced more storms, severe storms, than we ever will, but each one made him stronger instead of weaker. The reason is simple: Jesus was his everything.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. vs. 7-11

As a young man Paul had every appearance of confidence. All of his props were in the right place and he was headed to great success in his life. Then he had an encounter with Jesus that revealed to him that everything he thought was important in life was actually garbage compared to knowing Jesus. His goals changed so that the only desire he had was to know Jesus and everything that comes with knowing him; resurrection power, shared suffering, dying to self, receiving new life. This became Paul's life, his purpose, his greatest desire. It was certainly not a part time pursuit, a hobby of any sort. It was a full time passion that burned hot within him so that when the storms hit Paul grew in the experience instead of falling away.

The fact is, unless your passion for knowing Jesus surpasses every other passion in your life, you are living by props. This passion must be all consuming so that everything you do is done for his glory; everything you touch becomes a thing focused on Jesus; all your words lead back to him. He becomes your all in all, your everything. You have confidence in no other thing, not relationships, work, bank accounts, or health. Your passion must be of the magnitude that all these things can be stripped from you and you will still be found confident of your relationship with Jesus. Singing songs will not sustain you. Reading words will not sustain you. Listening to great sermons will not sustain you. Hours of praying will not sustain you. Only knowing Jesus and desiring to want to know him more will stand the test of time and the storms of life.

If in your examination of self you discover that you are not what you thought you were and you have many props in place instead of faith in Jesus, ask to start over again. Ask for the Spirit to break you, to remove all the props so you can start from the beginning and do it right. Let's get the foundation right so that the whole building, our life, can be built in actual strength instead of a facade. Not an easy thing to do if you have been walking like this for a while but it is so much better to face it now then in the middle of a storm that will blow you away. Make it your passion to know Jesus, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Monday, November 9, 2009

How do you know Jesus means more to you than the air you breathe?

Good morning my friends. Have you thought much about what epitaph you would want written on your tomb stone? Pleasant thought for a Monday morning, right? I know, it's just that I got to thinking about it the other day when someone asked me to describe them in one word. It is a challenge to describe someone in one word because we are more complicated than one word. Even one sentence is impossible but at least a sentence allows a description of one thought about a person. Obviously it would be the most dominate character of that person.

We often see ourselves differently than how other people see us. For example, you may see yourself as thoughtful whereas your friends may see you as obsessive. An example for me is when I thought of myself as a "laid back", "come what may" sort of guy but other people were describing me as "high strung" and a workaholic. Keep in mind that just because people have these perceptions does not make it true, but that can also be said about the perceptions we have of ourselves. The only one who truly know us is our Father and we don't always want to hear what he has to say.

These are the thoughts I was having as I read today's passage in Philippians 2 and that is why this one part stood out for me:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.
vs. 19-22

Imagine that as an epitaph: He looked not to his own interests but to those of Jesus Christ. This is how Paul was describing his friend Timothy, the only one in whom he could put his confidence. He trusted Timothy, not because Timothy was dedicated to Paul and was faithful to their friendship but instead because Timothy put the interest of Jesus above everything else. That one statement carries with it a lot of other things. It meant that Timothy walked like Jesus. He loved selflessly and was generous to everyone. He was kind and did not discriminate in his love. It meant he had a passion for people and sought out the lost. These things had to be true along with many other things to gain a reputation of putting the interests of Jesus above his own. Imagine the confidence people would be able to put in Timothy and the service he was able to perform in the Kingdom. The sad part is when Paul indicates he had no one else like him.

This one phrase should describe all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ. We should be learning and submitting ourselves to the teaching of Jesus, asking the Spirit to put his words into action in our life. We should be desiring to be just like Jesus, learning what his interests are so we can pursue those over our own selfish interests. Here is the thing, do we even know the interests of Jesus? We can get caught up in a lot of things in the Church such as worship. Music has become a very large part of what we do. Also with the gifts of the Spirit. We can spend a great deal of time trying to "fan into flame" the gifts we have received. There is even the Word. People can spend a life time studying the Word, obsessed with trying to understand all the nuances of God. Yet, we can still lack the knowledge of what Jesus has instructed us to do, what are his interests.

There should be no greater thrill in our life than for someone to say of us, "They have Jesus' interests at heart". People should be able to trust our character because they know we would never go against God's love for us. They should know that we would never inflict any kind of pain on anyone because our dedication to Jesus, our love for him, would never permit us to harm anyone. Pastors can approach us to help in the work because they are confident that Jesus matters more to us than our favorite tv show, our twitter world and even our FaceBook. The Church should be filled with Timothy-types because, according to yesterday's worship songs, Jesus means more to us than the air we breathe. The Church needs us to get beyond our own interests and so does the world of lost souls.

I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Who Are You Going To Be Today - Grumpy Old Person or Child of God?

Good morning my dear friends. Saturday morning: what will you do with this day? Better question: who will you be in this day? You know, different things in our lives can cause us to become a different person. For example, money can change a person. It can change a person's values, what they consider to be important in life. Another example is friends. Friends can have a huge impact on the way a person dresses, talks, and the way they see themselves. The best example though is perspective. A person's perspective on life has a major impact on everything, including the way they see money and friends. So, who are you going to be today? To answer that question it is best to begin with your relationship with Jesus.

The way a person sees their relationship with the world depends on their relationship with Christ. This is the reason why the change can be so dramatic when a person accepts Jesus and receives the Spirit. Suddenly their perspective of the world, their place in the world and their relationship with God all take a dramatic shift as perspective changes. Suddenly things that were not important is now of great significance. Things of great significance are no longer that important. The way we spend our time and money changes according to these changing values as does the manner in which we work and play. However, it doesn't necessarily happen all at once. I believe this is the reason the Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Receiving Jesus  Christ is like learning to walk all over again. It takes time to work things out, to learn to walk with new legs. In fact, it takes a life time. Give yourself a break, what has happened to you goes against what you were born with and what you grew up thinking was normal. Now your normal is no longer normal and you have to learn a new normal. It takes a daily effort to work these changes out. Just remember it is not you doing the changes because the changes taking place is the Spirit's responsibility and your part in it is submission, or obedience. As he changes how you see something, don't fight him on it but allow the changes to take root. It is significant that the next thing we read is:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life–in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. vs. 14-16  

Complaining or arguing with who? All my life I have seen this as simply complaining and arguing in general. I have always seen the previous verses as Paul telling the Philippians to obey his instructions. Yet, this morning, as I write, I am gaining a new perspective. The obedience is to the Spirit so these verses are saying don't complain or argue with God. Don't complain about what he takes you through because he is changing you, shaping you, molding you to be like Jesus. Don't argue with the Spirit about these changes. You may not want to admit it but you complain about God and argue with him every time you complain about the things in your life. Some may have more cause to complain than others but is that because the Spirit is doing a great work in some people more than others? Or maybe some people have more things that need changing? I don't know about you but the Spirit has a lot of work to do in me. 

Complaining is a terrible thing because it causes us to focus on the hardship or trial instead of on the work that is being done in us. Many things have happened to me that resulted in good change in me, but I complained the entire time. Not much of a witness there. Not a great testimony of trust there. Not much of a shining light. Do you see the significance of not having the right perspective? I allowed the manner in which I saw things to effect how people saw Jesus in me.With my complaints and arguments I looked less than "blameless and pure, children of God without fault". That is significant because we are meant to "shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life". 

I am just starting to get warmed up so I had better wind it up with this. We have all met Christians who have been serving Jesus for years, yet we see very little fruit of the Spirit in their lives. They seem to be bitter at times, always complaining, even gossiping. There is no light there. They cause more damage than good in the Kingdom. They have failed to submit to the Spirit in the working out of their salvation daily. That is what we need to avoid becoming at all costs because that is not pleasing to our Father. He wants us to put away the complaining and arguing, and trust him, "so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life". It is our purpose so it must become our perspective. Everything that we face is used by God for our good, to prosper our spirit, our relationship with him. So submit to the Spirit every day in gladness and trust him so that the joy of the Lord becomes our strength, even in the worst of days.