Thursday, December 31, 2009

Three things we should not live without in the new year.

Good morning my friends. I have often thought that Paul had more to say than time to say it when it came to his shorter letters. If you look at this last chapter in 1 Thessalonians you will see what I mean. It seems Paul has run out of time so he hurriedly jots down some of the important instruction he does not have time to give details on:

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15)

A little further on he writes:

Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. vs 19-22

I could spend the next month blogging on each of these subjects in detail. There is a lot of food here to digest, but there is one sentence here that jumped out at me today, considering it is the last day of 2009. It is not a resolution but instead a few things we can put into practical practice:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. vs. 16-18

We could do with a little more joy in the new year. Mind you, this joy is not something that mere determination can bring about in us. The joy of which Paul speaks is the joy that we have when Jesus is all we need. When our joy is found in our relationship with Jesus because we have found he satisfies all our needs, then our joy is made complete and nothing can rob us of it. Isn't that the joy we should possess, that despite our circumstances in the new year, nothing can touch that inner joy that shines through everything? It is ours if we choose it. All we have to decide is that Jesus is more than enough for us. In a life filled with and dependent on "stuff" we find this simple thing very hard, but it is nothing more than a decision to love Jesus because he loves us.

Now who couldn't use a little more prayer. I find it interesting that we tend to fill our lives with everything except for those things that are good for us. It is like food. We know the stuff we need to eat to stay healthy but instead we fill our bodies with all the wrong stuff. Again it comes down to a decision. We need to pray. We need to pray all the time. We need to pray to have intimacy with our God. We need to pray to receive instruction on our Father's will. We need to pray out of love for all the saints who are busy with the Kingdom work. We need to pray to intercede for people who are desperate for deliverance from their circumstances and sin. There is so much to pray about that we do not have enough time in the day to pray it all, but that's okay because most of us don't pray at all. We know we should. We know we need to, but we fill our days with "stuff" instead. It comes down to a decision.

Giving thanks is so much more important than most people realize. It is the key to living a life of praise and worhsip, and praise and worship is the key to intimacy with our God. The psalmist wrote:

Know that the LORD is God.
       It is he who made us, and we are his;
       we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
       and his courts with praise;
       give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
       his faithfulness continues through all generations.
(Psalm 100:3-5)

Enter his gates with thanksgiving ... give thanks to him and praise his name. We should never enter into the presence of the Lord without an attitude of thanksgiving. Despite our earthly circumstances he is still good and his love still endures forever. He remains faithful to us and this will continue through all generations. Again our dependence on "stuff" clouds our spiritual vision and we often lose our attitude of thanksgiving due to this "stuff". That is when everything becomes religious because we do it out of habit and duty instead of out of love.

Three simple things that could lift us above circumstances this year and keep us in that wonderful place with Jesus; joy, prayer, and thanksgiving. I pray that this new year will contain these three elements of a solid foundation so that you will realize all the blessings of our God, for you and your family. May it be an incredible year of spiritual growth for all of us.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Are you worried about Jesus' return?

Good morning my friends. I try as much as possible to follow Paul's instruction to stay away from disputable matters because it is so easy to bring about division. I like to hold on to Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 when he concentrates on the things that unite us in the Body of Christ. As I said yesterday, this is the reason I will not teach on the End Times. Perhaps it is my own lack of maturity in the Word or because I lack revelation of understanding but there is too much vagueness to take a dogmatic position on any of it, except for one thing; Jesus is returning.

Jesus himself told us the date and time of his return remains a mystery but he gave some clues for us to watch for. Many of us see those clues in increasing numbers in the events and politics of our days. Our hope is that Jesus is returning for us soon. You will come across many people who will give you a definite date as to the end of the world. The latest in a long line of false prophecies is the foundation for the movie "2012". It seems we are a race of people fixated on the idea of our own destruction. Paul warned the Thessalonians:

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)

The Holy Spirit is verifying through Paul exactly what Jesus had taught concerning his return. If we knew exactly when a thief was going to break in we would have the police there to catch him. One of the successes of a thief is catching people unprepared. It is in this same manner, a lack of of announcement, that Jesus will return. This actually scares some Christians, as if they feel they need a warning. Why would we need an announcement or a warning if we are being faithful servants?

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. vs 4-8

We should not be surprised when Jesus returns because we belong to the day. Our close walk with Jesus every day ensures our self-control when it comes to the sinful desires of our flesh. We take the time every day to check our garments of faith and love to ensure they are properly in place. And of course we do not begin our day without the assurance of our salvation which is our constant hope. We would be foolish to try to serve our Lord in this fallen world without all our safety gear on because without it we could fall into the trap of sin, and sin, once rooted, would cause us to belong to the dark once again.

You see, as sons of the Light we do not fear God's wrath because we have experienced his love. Because of this love we only desire to be obedient. Paul reminds us:

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. vs 9-11

And again we are reminded, due to this wonderful news, encourage one another. I like what is added; and build each other up. I don't know if it would help for you to have a mental picture of what we are involved in but imagine being involved in trench warfare. Most of us have seen enough movies and documentaries to know what that is. How do you think men managed to keep going in such appalling conditions? They encouraged each other. They bragged about each other. The lifted each other up. They sang together. They prayed together. They laughed together. They knew that the only way they would make it is with the help of the buddy beside them. We are involved in the most significant trench warfare in the history of mankind, and don't you forget it.

Jesus is coming for us but until he does we are told to fight on for the sake of those who need rescuing. Hold on to the reality of our hope of Jesus' return and stay busy with your duties, and remember to encourage each other. We need to take the time each day to encourage and build up those who are fighting beside us in our trench. Do not give up, and don't you dare allow they buddy beside you to give up. We need each other.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

As the new year approaches, let us encourage each other!

Good morning my friends. As the New Year approaches we spend a lot of time reflecting on the past year. We hear the radio going over the hits from the past year, magazines and news papers do the top stories of the past year and we do our on top ten list, or at least I hope we do. It is good to reflect on the past year to realize the goodness of our God. It will leave us with a thankful heart, over flowing with praise. Well, it will if you look with the right perspective. In looking back we will also be reminded of our bright future and we should enourage one another.

We need to be encouraging one another. I don't know if you realize how important that is but each of us need to be encouraged. It is actually an enormous ministry in itself. There are many who want us to put the emphasis on evangelism and I agree we need to put more but Jesus said we need to make disciples not just lead them to salvation. The one thing new and old disciples need that all of us can take part in is encouragement as they are embattled by the world in their walk with Jesus. I don't mean necessarily hand holding, although there is a time for that, but speaking the truth of the Word into each other. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

Therefore encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

That seems kind of useless without the words, right? I just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that we are to speak encouragement to each other. Now here are the words:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

We need to remind each other that he is coming back for us. Jesus made a promise. He said:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

The day is approaching and we need to be reminding and encouraging each other with these words. It does not matter what kind of year you have had, good or bad, it was filled with blessings. Look for them. And it doesn't matter what you think your future looks like, good or bad, it is a bright one because Jesus promised. We don't live here to collect wealth and fame; we live here to serve the risen King so more and more people will be welcomed into the place he has prepared for us. We can't take anything of this place into the glorious place he has prepared for us so why are we so worried about these useless things? Why allow these things to taint our past and darken our future? We are bigger than these things because Jesus' promise is bigger. Why be worried over the scraps when we have been promised the full banquet?

I am not one you will find preaching on the end times because there are too many thoughts on it and it causes too many divisions. It is enough for me, and it should be enough for you, that Jesus will be coming back to take us home. Jesus told us not to let our hearts be troubled and Paul told us to encourage each other with these words. So let's do that now. Let us encourage each other in the faith and with what lies before us; it is bright and beautiful and freely ours. Jesus is returning and he is returning soon!

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)

Monday, December 28, 2009

What do you need to improve on in the new year?

Good morning my friends. Are you much into New Year's Resolutions? No, either am I. If we need a special occasion to decide to change something or to improve on ourselves it probably won't stick. Still, the occasion of a new year is tempting as we think about a new beginning, a blank sheet that is yet to be filled with the mistakes we regret. The problem is that we take into the new year the baggage from all our previous years. The only true way to have a blank sheet before us is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Here's the thing about that: we have it with every new day of our lives, not just as we move from year to year.

The attraction of a new year is more than just a new beginning, it also has to do with change. We use it as an opportunity to make some changes in our lives, things that we want to improve on. This is when all the gyms see a great increase in their membership. I remember being a regular gym member and how come January suddenly I had to fight to get to the equipment. Yet, by the end of the month the crowds had thinned out and by March it was pretty well back to normal. We are great at recognizing the need for change but very weak in our resolve to do anything about it for very long. It is amazing how quickly we can adjust to things we would never have accepted before when it requires a bit of effort to overcome it. The only real change that can happen is when we accept Jesus Christ and allow our old self to die and then take on the new self that we become in Jesus. This is when real change begins but does not end.

As Christians we should have a sense of constant change and improvement. The Holy Spirit is always working on us, changing things in us so that we would have the character of Jesus, the first born of our family. However, this is an ongoing project of the Holy Spirit which is taking place every day not such with the change from the old year to the new year. The Holy Spirit gives us the ambition to change, but these are significant changes not just cosmetic stuff. These are things of character where we gain the capacity to love more deeply, give more freely, forgive more readily.

However, Paul did have a bit of instruction for the Thessalonians which I think would be wise for us all to consider implementing, whether it is before or after the new year:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

Paul gives three things that the Thessalonians should be doing: lead a quiet life, mind your own business, work with your hands. Simple, but imagine what changes it would bring about if all the members of the Church lived with such an attitude. Look at the benefits: winning the respect of the unchurched, and freedom from dependence on anyone but the Lord. So in other words, following Paul's instructions will improve our witness for Jesus. "But it seems so simple." The funny thing is, most God things are simple.

It is my pray for the Church that our one desire for change this year is that we will be more efficient witnesses for Jesus Christ; that through our simple daily living the "outsiders" will see Jesus in us. The way we live, love, laugh, work, pay our bills, react to good and bad times all effect how people see Jesus. Let us be excellent witnesses of his love and faithfulness, for the sake of the salvation of the lost and dying world. Living a quiet life, minding our business, and working hard in our jobs will go a long way in doing just that. So no great resolutions, just the ambition to do well what we have been instructed to do.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Is "more and more" even possible?

Good morning everyone. Yes, I slept in again. Isn't it great? It was a late night wrapping gifts but I don't mind because I love the people to whom I am giving them. What is a little sacrifice for the people we love. After all, is that not the Spirit of Christmas, self sacrificing love? Is it not interesting that we have someone asking Jesus who many times we have to forgive but we never hear anyone ask how much we have to love. Are there limits to your love? Do we arrive at a place where we are loving at the maximum, where we can't love a person any more than we do at that moment?

Yesterday we read about Paul's love for the Thessalonians even though he was only with them for a short time. Today we read his instructions to them on this same subject:

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10)

I love it when that happens. No instruction was necessary because the Holy Spirit had already transformed their hearts and they were doing what was natural to a follower of Jesus without receiving any formal instruction. This is a good indication that it was sincere transformation and not the conformation that we see so often today. Obviously they were taking some action toward the other churches in the region for Paul to say that they loved everyone throughout Macedonia. So far this is just normal stuff that we might expect to read. It makes me feel good that the Thessalonians represented Jesus so well. Then Paul adds:

Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.  (v. 10)

The use of the term "more and more" definitely lends itself to the thought that there is always room for growth in love. There is no real shocker here. I do not think many of us would think that we have arrived at the point of loving the best we can. All we have to do is turn to 1 Corinthians 13 to know that our love is constantly falling short:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (vs. 4-7)

The part that gets me is this: "Love never fails." But I fail, all the time. I may be patient but that doesn't mean that I am not self-seeking. We can look at this and see some parts that are strong in us and other parts that we fail in every day. The fact is that our love is not perfect and often fails. We cannot love people with our love because our love is not mature enough. We have to love with the love of the Father, which we see demonstrated in Jesus. As we love with his love our own hearts are changed and our love is increased. The trick is how do we love with the Father's love?

In our own love we often love only those who love us. Jesus told us there was no challenge in this, that we need to love those who hate us. To love with the Father's love we must know the Word, specifically the life of Jesus. We need to know his teachings and his example and then we need to decide to live this example. We know in ourselves we can't love our enemy but we know that the Father does, so we decide to love by being kind and persevering in it. Instead of seeking what is good for ourselves in the relationship, we set aside our own good and seek to do good to our enemy. We decide to do what Jesus would do, which is often the opposite of what we would want to do in our natural.

Consider for the moment the example the Father gave us with Christmas. He did not give us Jesus because we were lovable or deserved it in any way. The Word tells us that as sinners we were enemies of God. He detests sin and can have no part of it. He did not give us Jesus because we loved him. We did not love him and did the things that would bring his wrath. He gave us Jesus because he was responding to us according to the nature of his love, which caused him to love his enemy, us. He looked on his enemy and had pity because we could not help ourselves. Imagine how different our lives would be if we were to do that; if we were to love our enemies in a way that cost us something precious, that would either bring about reconciliation or cause them to hate us more? Oops, did I forget to mention the risk? 

That is the thing about loving someone, there are no guarantees. Once again, you are not responsible for their reaction when you love them, only for the faithfulness of loving them. There again we need the example of Jesus' love. Remember, after all he faced and went through Jesus still prayed from the cross. "Father, forgive me. They don't know what they are doing?" Jesus would not enter back into glory with bitterness in his heart. His love was perfect as he prayed for forgiveness for his persecutors. Can you love even in the face of total rejection?

I do pray that your Christmas will be filled with love; the Father's love, which is not easily offended. It is patient and kind which is exactly what we need as we spend time with people who are so different than we are. Let us learn to love more and more the people God has given us to love for him and the maybe we can convince the world of our sincerity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What is the spirit of Christmas?

Good morning friends. For many of you this is your last day of work until January 4th. I pray it will be a pleasant day filled with much joy and friendship.

Speaking of friendship, how much do you love your friends? Honestly, have you given it much thought or is it just as it is? They have always been there and you simply appreciate them? Do you have anyone in your life that you can say that you sincerely love? I know that at times I may sound like a broken record but our love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord is suppose to be deep and sincere. It can't be faked. It either is or it isn't. It actually has much to do with our revelation of our Lord's love.

I want you to think about your friends for a minute, the ones from church or perhaps they attend a different church. Could you imagine saying this about them:

Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? (1 Thessalonians 3:7-9)

This was Paul's reaction to Timothy's report that the seed had taken root in Thessalonica, that everyone was growing and were thankful for Paul and Silas. I can understand Paul's joy but it is sometimes hard to fathom the love he felt, "For now we really live". Later Paul wrote to the church in Rome, "Love must be sincere". It is not a platitude but an incredible experience and insight Paul had gained by loving people through Jesus' love. I am not sure that it is humanly possible to love people in this manner without the transforming power of Jesus' love.

Honestly, in the Church it is not good enough to like someone or to "get along" with people. If that is the depth of our relationship with our brothers and sisters we are either missing the revelation of Jesus' love or we just don't get the big picture at all. In Peter's first letter he wrote:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)

You notice that according to this sincere love is found in obeying the truth; when we realize that Jesus does love us, confessing our sin, giving our lives over to him, dying to ourselves and being given life in Jesus. Then we understand sincere love, possess it and put it into action. Peter uses the words, "love one another deeply, from the heart". That sounds a lot more intense then just tolerating each other.

I think we often get lazy in this love. With time we take take each other for granted and become somewhat centered on ourselves instead of investing ourselves in others. Paul learned what sincere love really meant as he loved others deeply, from his heart, as he gave himself to them all the time. Paul saw the apostles as servants of the Church, not as lords over it. He saw their place was to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the immature, those growing in the Lord. To have such a view like this requires a love that comes from only one source. Paul wrote to the Philippians:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5)

As we head into Christmas let us keep in mind that what some refer to as the "Christmas Spirit" is a deep love that often reveals itself through self-sacrifice. But it is not "Christmas Spirit", it is our daily living. We should be living like this every day and as we do we will possess what Paul desperately prayed the Ephesians would be able to understand:

 For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

May that be the Spirit's gift to all of us this year, a deeper revelation of the Father's love resulting in a sincere love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord. May it start with me. Amen!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Will the real me please step forward

Good morning everyone.

After all my years of studying, writing about and preaching the Word of God, one of the things that continues to encourage me is Paul's openness. I have discovered something about the openness I have so often longed for in my own life: it is a risky thing. All my life, since the beginning of my teen years, I have kept myself to myself. I was teased a lot as a young teen and learned the best way to protect myself was not to reveal myself. So I learned how to have a public face and keep my thoughts and feelings to myself. It managed to get me through my teen years but has not been the greatest asset as an adult or a pastor. Yet, it is because I am a pastor that I still find it hard to be myself. There are certain expectations to be met, the public face.

It is because this continues to be a struggle for me that I find many of Paul's letters to be like fresh air. We need to recognize that Paul was still on pilgrimage himself. He did not become perfect the day he met Jesus so we can see his growing maturity through his letters. This morning's passage in 1 Thessalonians 3 is an example of this. Paul was regretting that he had been torn away from the people who had accepted Jesus. He had an authentic love for them but he also had a real concern for the survival of the fledgling community that he did not have time to finish planting. As any good planter or father he wanted to be assured that they were doing well, so he sent young Timothy back to check on them. Why Timothy? Timothy had not yet come into his own. He was the young man who would cook the meals, wash the clothes and look after all the practical stuff. It was Paul and Silas who were the public faces and would be too well known to go back. This was the beginning of Timothy's public face ministry.

The part that stands out for me from this small passage is this:

For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless. v. 5

Remember what he had written earlier:

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)

This was important to Paul, not just because he loved these people and wanted to see them in glory, but because he did not want to come to Jesus as a failure. Paul had been given a commission, to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and he did not want to fail in it. He did not want to discover that his efforts had been useless. I think Paul is expressing the fear that most people in their middle ages feel, that their life has not amounted to much. Most people want to feel that their life had some meaning but that can be hard to see depending on your perspective and expectations. Now add to that the commission we have all been given, to make disciples. How have you been doing with that?

The problem here is when we fail to realize or trust the power of God's Word. I am not saying Paul did not have that realization or trust. Earlier he had written:

 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. (1 Thessalonians 2:1)

However, this momentary lapse is the openness to which I am referring. Paul wants to know that his time and effort was not useless. You know that feeling. You just spent four hours with someone showing them God's wonderful plan in the Word. You showed all the right passages, you said all the right words, you prayed the right prayers but you walk away without a commitment from that person. They want to think about it some more. Did you fail? Hardly. God's Word is much more powerful than that. The power of it is described in Isaiah:

As the rain and the snow
       come down from heaven,
       and do not return to it
       without watering the earth
       and making it bud and flourish,
       so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
       It will not return to me empty,
       but will accomplish what I desire
       and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10-11)

Whether we plant the seed or water it, it is still God who is responsible for making it grow. In a later letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote this very thing:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

If you have been faithful to your calling and have done what you you were instructed to do then you need not fear uselessness. We are not responsible for the harvest, only our part in it. We need to trust God for the harvest and we need to trust that he is using our efforts, as small as they may seem to us. His Word does not return void of purpose. It always achieves the purpose for which it was sent.

I gain much encouragement from seeing Paul write this because I have learned a lesson from his open weakness. I guess that is what I am resisting with God. I remain closed because I am afraid of making mistakes or of revealing where I am in the maturity of my walk. I fail to realize that God uses everything for the benefit of others; even my mistakes. Of course, being open enough for others to see your mistakes means a risk of being hurt and misunderstood. I hate being hurt. I hate having my heart crushed. I hate not being a source of wisdom and encouragement. Yet at the same time, God needs to use the real us, not the public face us. Sometimes life gets messy but it is in the messes of life we often see the greatest work of grace. I am still learning.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hey buddy! It's all about priorities

Good morning everyone. I hope you had a great Sunday and you are ready to continue the fight today.

It is almost Christmas. I know that because I have four children who give me a reminder of the count down several times a day; "You know daddy there are only 5 more days to Christmas." With these reminders comes the nagging thought that I have not yet completed my Christmas shopping. Oh boy! So much to do and so little time in which to do it. I am sure you have completed all your shopping.

It is amazing though how much we do consume at Christmas. I was thinking about this fact the other day and realized that there are many people hoping that we do a lot of consuming because it is the only way they can feed their family. Often people like me preach against the commercialism of Christmas without giving much thought to how our economy is so dependent on our consumption of goods. In fact the message from our governments has been "Spend! Spend! Spend!" As if we needed to be prompted to fill our homes with more "stuff".

It is amazing how so much of our lives depends on the things that spoil, fade, rot and simply disappear with time. It seems like such a fragile system yet so many people place all their trust in it, looking for peace and happiness in it, expecting security from it. In the last couple of years we have seen just how fragile a system it is with one small part of it almost bringing down the entire world economy. The foundation of many people's lives were shaken and some were destroyed. They discovered there is no security in having money, spending money and possessing "stuff", yet here we are scurrying around in the malls looking to buy a little peace and joy for those we love.

Some of us possess something of far greater worth to share this Christmas than the "stuff" that will fade away. We have something to share that is not even our gift, is the gift from someone else, but we are free to share it. Obviously I am referring to Jesus. The reason this is important is because we will not get to take any of the "stuff" we are buying this Christmas with us so its priority should be pretty far down on the list for us. However, what we do get to take with us are people. If we really love our family and friends would we not want to share with them the greatest gift we ourselves have ever received? Would we not want to make sure we are taking them along with us?

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)

Paul knew that it was not about building great cathedrals or establishing any great system or making a name for himself in any way. He knew that it was always about the people because for Jesus it was always about the people. Jesus is not going to admire anything we have done except for the results of our obedience to go and make disciples. As much as you enjoy that large screen television you won't get to keep it. However, your sons and daughters, your neighbours, your best friends, they can all come and that will please the Lord more than anything else you accomplish in your life.

This Christmas, let us return to the priorities of the Kingdom; let us put people ahead of everything else, no matter the cost. Let us celebrate Jesus by sharing him with those who need him, and like with all gifts, we will receive more joy in the giving this Christmas than in anything else we are given.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Neglect always leads to abandonment - be careful!

Good morning my friends, I trust you are staying warm if you are in a cold climate and cool if you are warm climate. Can you imagine what this world was like in the beginning?

Many of us find the Word of God, our Holy Scriptures, is vital to our daily living. If we neglect it for any period of time we feel it in many ways but especially in our daily perspective of life in general. Yet, so many people read the same thing we do and feel no effect. The Word of God does nothing for them except entertain them with a few stories and give them a few wise sayings to share. There is a reason for this; they don't know the author.

It seems that Paul took nothing for granted and was thankful for everything that occurred, including when people receive the Word of God as the Word of God. We read this as he writes in Thessalonians 2:

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. v. 13

Yesterday I happened to catch a television show on Moses and his journey as the leader of Israel. It was written from a perspective of purely "academic" speculative research. The whole thing was based on the premise "we know this is impossible so this is what must have really happened". They refused to believe in the existence of God which in turn made the Word of God a lie, so they had to come up with their own explanation, based purely on speculation and assumption. It was extremely frustrating to watch what they turned the account of Moses into. It was things like this that happened in his own day that made Paul so thankful that the Thessalonians were not like that; they heard the Word and believed the author.

It is very important in this age of assumption and speculation from the academic world, that we continue to assert the Word of God for what it is:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

If we spend all of our days living in the world's philosophy and the world's perspective, our view of God, his love and his purpose will become distorted and lost. We will soon start believing that "we know this is impossible so this is what must have really happened". Human logic will start winning the day in our heart and mind. But we do not receive God's Word in the same way that we receive the word of man:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
       neither are your ways my ways,"
       declares the LORD.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
       so are my ways higher than your ways
       and my thoughts than your thoughts."
(Isaiah 55:8-9)

We must be renewed in the Word every day and recognize that these are not just words we are reading. Paul writes to the Thessalonians that the Word is at work in those of us who believe. It is part of the ingredient of our transformation into the likeness of Jesus. But it cannot work in us if we are not putting it inside. We must read it, study it, memorize it and live it.

Some of you who are reading this have been neglecting the daily study of God's Word and you are feeling the effects. You cannot survive on a a diet of man's teaching, worship and prayer. You require the whole meal, including the meat of the Word. We have enough weak and immature believers not fulfilling their calling, don't you be one of them. Take up the Word today and feast on what the Father has prepared for you today. Then go and serve Jesus well in a world that is dying without him. Remember, the Word of God is not the word of man:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Children are children so parents must be parents

Good morning friends. For the next two weeks my blogs are going to be coming to you a bit later in the day. School is closed for two weeks and I am going to take advantage by trying to sleep in to 7 am each morning.

I appreciate the Word of God for so many reasons as I am sure you do too. One of the greatest things it does for me is show me what I need to be. It is true that every day I open it I find encouragement for where I am that day. It also keeps reminding me of God's character and his promises. It restores joy and hope to me as the words enter in and transform my heart and mind, giving me a better perspective. However, it also reminds me where I am and where I need to be, and I find that to be some of the most challenging moments. I have a choice in those moments to accept what I see or to reject and, sad to say, there are times I choose to reject what I am shown.

I am part of a modern day clergy, which I strongly oppose. I am a believer in the Body, the common priesthood, the calling of every believer to ministry. What I also believe is, I am part of the trainers in the Body, the five-fold that Paul writes about in Ephesians 4. The trainers are suppose to set the example for believers in word and deed and to be the encouragers for those who are coming along in the process of maturity. I must say, I do not have as much confidence as Paul had in this role:

 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. (1 Thessalonians 2:10)

That is a challenge to someone like me who often learns by trial and error. I do not think that Holy, righteous and especially blameless would be used to describe me very often. Funny, crazy, steadfast, determined, enduring maybe, along with a lot of negative things. But I do not think Paul was full of himself here. I think he was sincere in his assessment because he always seemed to know himself through Jesus. That is how he remained so confident in everything he did, he purposefully looked at himself and evaluated himself through Jesus' perspective. If we don't do that we will always see our faults, our short comings, what we are not and refuse to grow into what God sees in us. The fact is, it has been declared over us that we are holy and that we are righteous. It is because God spoke this into us that we are able to walk in it and become what is not possible by any other means. The blameless is the hard one for most people but we have to remember that Jesus died for us just so we could be blameless in our Father's sight. This is how we are seen and the sooner we accept it the sooner we can walk in that same confidence. Then maybe we would be able to start living the next part:

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. vs 11-12

It is the responsibility of all of us to encourage, comfort, and spur one another on in our walk and progress to maturity, however it is especially the responsibility of the trainers in the Body. This is where I feel some of us trainers stumble. We may be great managers and great visionaries, we may even be great builders with all the modern methods of church growth, but what we are suppose to be is trainers of individuals. The Body does not grow in maturity by large conferences and the many mass tools we use; the Body is about individuals and growth is about individuals. Paul says, "you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children". "Each of you" is what should jump out at you. And how did he and Silas deal with them? Encouraging, comforting and urging them to live lives worthy of God.

Sometimes the trainers in the Body forget our place and we allow personal hurts to affect our reactions to people. We forget that we are alive "in" Jesus so that no one can harm us unless we choose to allow them. Trainers are set apart for the purpose of training. Sometimes the children bite, sometimes they vomit on us, sometimes they pee. Every dad knows that you don't bite back, you don't vomit on them and you certainly don't pee on them. If you did then you would not have the children for long. It is the same in the Body. Trainers need to keep in mind thatoften those who think they are mature are not. Sometimes 6 year olds think they can do something their 16 year old brother can do. They think they are older. Dads have to teach limits to their children according to their age and children do not always like that. Trainers must have thick skin and must be willing to face some abuses without reacting to them. Paul said it beautifully when he wrote to the Romans:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)

It is not easy but it is the right thing to do. If trainers kept going around killing everyone who offended them or who attacked them or who vomited on them, there would be no one left in the Body because we are all guilty of it. We are to bear, to carry, to put up with the failings of the weak. We cannot afford to please our own natural reactions in these matters. Jesus has called us to be above that for the sake of those who need to learn and to grow. Our responsibility is to continue in the role of encouraging, comforting and urging them to live lives worthy of God. Step outside of that and you have stepped outside of your purpose as a trainer.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The cost of mission

Good morning friends. I am very proud of all of my students for their work last night. I found they did exceptionally well as we had the largest turn out ever for one of our productions as well as a good crowd online as we broadcast for the first time. Today is our last day before Christmas break and it is a simple clean up day. But first let us turn back to 1 Thessalonians 2.

There was no doubt that Paul was a unique person in the early Church. He had received the task of presenting the gospel of grace to the gentiles, both far and near. Not only that, he often was surrounded by men who he was discipling and training as leaders. Not all of those who were with Paul were in training; he also had some full partners, such as Barnabas and Silas who were referred to as apostles, like Paul. His mission was not an easy one for a Jew going into foreign lands, foreign cultures, foreign beliefs. A good thing he was raised in Tarsus which was a trading center where he would have encountered many of these cultures as young boy. Still, it was not an easy task having to break new ground while financing himself. He points out to the Thessalonians:

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. vs. 6-9

I simply want to point out to you this morning that, although Paul and Silas were unique in the early Church, they are not unique in our present day. This is what we have all been called to do, to be the agents of reconciliation between God and man. The mission comes at a cost, a cost that all of us should be willing to bear because Jesus' example of love to us should compel us to serve in the mission. The cost is as Paul outlines here; to love people; to love people enough to share the gospel and our lives with them; to pay whatever price is necessary to do fulfill this mission.

We have been called to the mission of loving people. It sounds easier said than done. Jesus told us that it is too easy to love people who love us or to give love to people who we know will love us in return. He told us instead to love those who can't love us back; to love our enemies and those who persecute us. That is our mission, to love the unlovable and the haters of this world. William Booth told his son Bramwell, "Go for souls and go for the worst." It is what Jesus demonstrated. Although he spent time with every class of people, he seemed to spend most of his time with those who society had given up on. I pray the Church hasn't given up on them. I have heard pastors say, "It's good to work with the lower end of society but in order for my church to survive I need to get a few rich people saved as well." I think he lacked a lot of understanding and faith. We have to love those who offer us nothing.

We have been called to the mission of sharing all we have, including our lives. It is great that we want to share the gospel with strangers but are we willing to allow those strangers to also share our lives. This is a tough one for a lot of us as we struggle with allowing people to draw close to us. Paul opened himself up completely to people. Everyone became someone he dearly loved and he shared all of his life with them. He held nothing back and he paid whatever price he had to pay to include them. This is how people are won and kept in the Lord. It is not good enough to bring someone to Jesus. Without rich relationships with other Christians they will soon fall away. We need to allow them to become part of our lives, sharing time and effort to grow them in Jesus. For some of us this is a greater cost than simply giving them our bank account, yet it is absolutely necessary.

We have been called to the mission of paying the price. Paul and Silas financed most of their mission themselves because the Church was still young and no one was rich enough to sponsor them. Paul refers to this as hardship and toil. These men worked hard to earn enough money to keep them and their growing team so that they could remain in Thessalonica to preach the gospel and share with the new believers. If we read Luke's account in Acts it seems they were there for a day, but Luke rarely provided a sense of time. Here Paul indicates they were there for a while and the whole time they worked and preached and shared. When I consider I have a lot to balance I think of Paul's example of the cost of mission. It is suppose to be hard work. It is suppose to cost us everything. It is suppose to be labouring and sacrificing. It is what each of us have been called to but can we all honestly say that we have responded to the call to the mission as we should?

I know there are a number of pastors and churches I am very proud of because they represent Jesus and the mission very well. They work hard, putting everything they have into their calling. Yet, there is no such thing as clergy and laity in the Church. We are all called to the mission and we all play a different part with different responsibilities. Some of us are focused fully on the mission, others of us have to work to provide for ourselves and the church while still taking part in the mission. Yes, I am referring to you. You have been saved to serve, not to be part of an audience. Your mission is to love people enough to share the gospel with them as well as to include them in your lives, no matter the coast. This mission involves giving everything you have; no half measures. If we all approach it in this way then we will see the miracles that we saw in the early Church and the whole world will know Jesus is alive and is in love with them. Let's get on with it then. To God be the glory.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How not to be destroyed by ministry!

Good morning my friends. I had an opportunity to sleep a bit longer today and took it. My apologie for the tardiness of my post.

I have noticed an interesting thing about opposition and disappointments; they either break your spirit or spur you on to greater things. Some people would say the difference lies in the decision we make, which I agree with but I also believe it goes deeper than that. Why do we make the decisions we make? What causes us to look beyond this moment to the possibility of better moments to come? What gives us the belief that this one decision we make can cause a difference in our lives and the lives of the people we are involved with? Much of it has to do with perspective and where our perspective comes from. Perspective determines how we see ourselves, other people, the world and even our purpose in this world. In this way our decisions are sometimes already determined for us according to our perspective.

I think most of us are amazed at the life and accomplishments of the apostle Paul. One of the things we marvel at is how much he did manage to accomplish in the face of such great opposition. His ministry in Thessalonica was no different than many of the places he ministered. He preached, some people accepted Jesus and then a large crowd rose up and Paul had to flee from the city. In many cases it was other people who convinced him to go because Paul would rather have stayed to face the crowd. His adventure in Thessalonica is found in Acts 17.

Now read what he had to say about it:

You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. (1 Thessalonians 2:1)

Not a failure he says. Run out of town by an angry mob before he could establish the church, having to trust others to finish the job he had barely begun. Not a failure! Read on:

We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. v. 2

Paul and Silas really did have a bad time of it in Phillipi, which you can read about here, Acts 16. So they came from a bad situation in Phillipi and soon faced another bad situation in Thessalonica but Paul did not consider it a failure. How could Paul do this? It was a matter of perspective, a perspective I would dearly love to capture and gain myself:

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. vs. 3-4

Paul had gained the perspective that this ministry was not about him, it was not dependent on him, he did not own it, the message did not originate with him, that he had not chosen to do this. Paul was given a message to share and convince others of. He was chosen by God. He did not make it up. He did not profit from it. He had not chosen to do this himself. He was part of the larger plan that the Father is working on. Paul knew that he would not be held accountable for how people received the message but instead he would be held accountable to his faithfulness to his mission. "We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts."

This is the reason why sometimes we are not able to make the decision to push on when facing trying times, because our perspective is all wrong. Our perspective is wrong because we are not convinced we have been called to the task by God. We wonder if we chose to do it from our own will. That is a tough thing. I know for myself that the ministries I wrestled over, resisted until I was convinced it was God's doing are the ones in which I have had endurance. I have been able to face apparent failure, opposition, trials, heartache, personal pain and grief and still be able to push on. I was able to do this because I kept remembering back to my calling. There were definite moments when God made it crystal clear that he had called me to that specific task in the mission. I had not chosen this for myself, it was God who chose me.

I have to remind myself of this especially when I feel rejection from those I have been called to serve. That is really hard until I remember that I do not own this ministry. This is God's work and my only responsibility is to be faithful to my part of the mission. I am not responsible for people's reactions to the message and to the service. However, I am responsible for my heart which God will examine and judge. Are my motives pure? Do I give and serve because of his love? Am I holding anything back? Am I an asset to this ministry or is my attitude and lack of work taking away from God's glory?

We are a people who tend to focus on our failings and the failings of others. We can look at Paul's time in Thessalonica, see the fact he was chased out and consider it a failure. Or we can look at the fact that in his brief stay, "Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women." There was the seeds of the church of Thessalonica. I encourage you to get your eyes off of the failures because they are brief in their passing and effect. Instead get your eyes on Jesus who will enable the proper perspective to rule in your mind. Realizing that he is willing his plan through you and that he has chosen you will enable you to gain the right perspective. If in your self-examination you realize you are not where he wants you to be, that you were not called to it, that you are being destroyed where you are, get out. Stop what you are doing and desire his will to be revealed. If not, you will be destroyed by living a calling that is not yours.

May he give us ears to hear and a heart to understand that his Kingdom is not about sword and shield, the strength and abilities of man, but about the Father's will. Stay in that will and you will not be destroyed by trials and oppositions, instead you will see beyond them to greater things to come.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What kind of witness are we?

Good morning my friends.

I do not know if you have noticed recently but the places in which we live are becoming more and more like mission fields. Now I write this living on an actual mission field where over 90% of the population does not know Jesus and thus have never accepted Jesus. That number is growing in your town and city as well. No longer do we have to go out to find the mission field; it has found us. So what are we doing about it because being part of the reconciliation of man to God is the reason we have been left here?

Witnessing for Jesus Christ is not the easiest thing for many people but part of the reason is because we do not find that our actions match our words. When they do match it is much more effective and a lot easier to share with people why we are always joyful and possess such an inexplicable peace. How we live, the way we treat people, what kind of words we speak all testify to what kind of relationship we have with Jesus. Imagine if it could be said of us what Paul said about the Thessalonians:

The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. (1 Thessalonians 1:8)

Would we not love to have that said of us, that by the way we live the Lord's message rings out from us? Of course we would. So often people are won over by our actions long before they are convinced by words. The words must still be spoken because the Scriptures tell us:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

But people "hear" our actions long before they hear our words. This is why the Thessalonian's testimony was so effective and they learned this from the ones who modeled it for them:

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6)

"You know how we lived among you for your sake," writes Paul. "You became imitators of us and of the Lord." They had a good example to follow and they followed it, living their witness as modeled by Jesus Christ and his followers. So they became models to the people of Macedonia and Achia and beyond. So what is our problems?

Our problem is that we do not understand our mission and our purpose. For us salvation is a personal and private matter. Salvation has become about an individual and his God. We have turned it into a self-centered and selfish relationship where we just want to feel good and be tickled by the Spirit once a week. So because salvation is a selfish thing for us we have not allowed the transformation to happen. Our life is still centered on us. All the things that exist in the world also exist in the Church. Sin prevails and our witness is weakened. We have failed to recognize that we have been saved for more then the sake of us. We have been saved for the sake of everyone else; that our actions and words would match so that hundreds of other lost people would come to accept the Light of God. The very act of our salvation has transformed us from a pleasure seeker to a self-denying servant. We serve our Lord by obeying his Word which is to go and make disciples. I want to put the emphasis on the word "go".

We are foolish to think that we can sit in our congregations and in our homes, doing whatever makes us feel good, and the Lord will simply bring people in. Salvation is a market place thing. We have to go out into the field and take part in the harvest. There are millions of people who have been prepared to hear the message of Jesus. The effort is not found in convincing people; the effort is in the shear numbers of people who are waiting to hear. However, the workers of the Lord are far from ordinary people. They are a people who imitate the actions and the heart of Jesus Christ. This is important to understand because those who have been prepared want to see the gospel in action in us and they want to hear the words that will bring them life. The Spirit has already prepared them but they need to see it modeled by us. Jesus needs people who will be obedient to his command to go, to be his witnesses, to share the good news and to live the life he saved us to live. The question is, are we his people and are we willing to live the life he called us to live as his messengers in a dying world? That world is knocking at our door.

Monday, December 14, 2009

And these three remain; faith, hope and love

Good morning my friends. I hope you had an excellent Sunday filled with worship, the Word and rich fellowship. We are moving on to 1 Thessalonians today.

Paul started many of his letters in the same manner, reminding his readers that he loves them, appreciates them and prays for them. It seems like such a simple thing yet how often do we forget to connect with people this way every day. Often for us people are simply what they do; we reduce the relationship down to the lowest common denominator which is, what we can get from that person. We use people throughout the day never taking into consideration that this is a real person with fears, hopes and dreams. We use people according to our needs and fail to connect with them. Jesus took time to connect with people. He appreciated them for who they were not what they did. That is what Paul is doing here, connecting and telling them what he appreciates about them:

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. v. 3

You have to love how Paul clearly expresses this, lending itself beautifully to a three point Sunday sermon, or at least a three point Monday blog. Do you ever just thank God for people? Do you point out to him what you appreciate about them? That is what Paul is stating here, that he tells God what he appreciates about them and then turns around and tells the Thessalonians. Imagine how empowering it must have been to a Thessalonian.

Paul expresses his appreciate for the work they do but he does so because it is a work produced by faith. This is an important distinction because the Spirit has taught us through Paul that anything that does not come from faith is not of God. That should make a few of us sit up and take notice. But keep in mind here that "work" is used in the sense of spiritual works. Unfortunately we tend to forget the distinction between our work and our labour. Still, it is not good enough to do these works for God from a man-made effort, it must be a thing of faith. The reverse is also true, it is not good enough to have faith, it must produce something. We all know the words of James:

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
      Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
(James 2: 18)

 There may be some debate over these words but if applied in the context of spiritual works I think you can more clearly understand what James is saying. Unfortunately we have reduced everything down to labour and have set aside our spiritual works.

Speaking of labour, Paul is especially pleased with the Thessalonians because their labour is prompted by love. The labour of course was their effort to win souls for Jesus. That is our mission here, to present the gospel to the lost, to make disciples, teaching and training new labourers for the Kingdom. Not the easiest of tasks and often times filled with discouragements. It is only when such labour is done with a motivation of love that it is sustainable. Any other motivation will cause us to fade away and drop off. We do it because we are loved by the Father, because we love the Father and because he has placed in us a love for the lost of this world. It is because of this love that we are willing and able to lay down our lives every day for the benefit of the lost.

This love has touched on Paul's third point which is our ability to endure. We have endurance because of the hope given to us by Jesus. If we have a mature perspective then nothing can cause this hope to fade. Hardships, trials, tribulations can only strengthen this hope as our faith increases. It is hard to understand but the nature of this hope is such that the stronger the trials the greater our endurance. Our hope is eternal life, but not just any eternal life, eternal life with Jesus. Our hope is that when our labours are finished in this place we will be called home and we will hear those great words, "well done my good and faithful servant". To hear such words spoken by Jesus gives us hope to endure any loss or trials in this place.

As you go throughout your day today consider these three things; your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love and your endurance inspired by hope. Faith, love and hope should be seen in us every day and there should be many people thankful that it is because it produces great fruit that they benefit from. Spend some time in prayer this morning and ask the Spirit to help you do an evaluation of where you are in these things this morning. Without these being seen in us every day I am afraid we are only wasting our time.
May you have a day today that allows you to see that your work is produced by faith, that your labour is prompted by love, and that your endurance is not stubbornness but instead is a thing inspired by Jesus.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

How do we measure the worth of a man?

Good morning everyone and welcome to Saturday morning. I pray the Lord has abundant blessings in store for you and your family today and that it will be a day containing both rest and play.

Today I have the privilege of participating in the memorial service for a friend's father. Gerry and his whole family are very special and dear to me so I consider this an honour, however it is also a difficult situation. Gerry's father has been estranged from the family for most of Gerry's life, having abandoned his family when the children were all young. Yet, this family has character, recognizing the need to gather and mark the passing of this life. After all, who can measure a man's worth? Only the Creator of that life.

We are a terrible people for the way we judge such matters. We either look at the here and now to judge the person and their character or we hold them to something from their past and judge them to be this same person. We forget that life is not stagnant because people do not stand still for a life time. It is a journey; everyone we encounter and everything we experience changes us, adding to or taking away from us.

Consider the person living on the street today who you may or may not notice as you Christmas shop downtown. You do not know that person; you only know what you see. That person came from somewhere. They had a mother and a father. They may even have brothers and sisters. They may be someone's wife or husband. They may have children. They may have been a lawyer, teacher, a tax paying citizen. They may have had a positive impact on hundreds of people up to this point in their life. You don't know. You also don't know what is ahead of them on this journey. They may encounter someone who is able to help them put their broken life back together. They may go on to influence hundreds maybe thousands of others to do the same. We don't know, so we can't judge. We only see the hear and now.

Consider the people who have harmed you in the past. You define them by that pain you experienced; that is all you see of them. Yet, the offense that caused that pain could have been from five, ten, thirty or even fifty years ago. How much have you changed in that period of time? How many people have you encountered since then who have impacted you to change? What experiences have you had that have re-defined who you are? Do you not believe the same thing has been happening to that person? If you are able to look beyond that thing that defines that person for you, do you think you may see a stranger who no longer resembles the person you thought he was?

What is the worth of a man? Only the Father can measure the height, depth and breadth of it. We cannot know it so we should not judge it. However, know this: the Scriptures tell us that Jesus came to save the whole world by giving the whole world a choice. It must mean that the Father sees value in each living being. Scripture also tell us that Jesus died for us before we were saved, so while we were still dirty, ugly, and smelly from sin. That means the Father loves people even in that state of their lives. Who are we to judge what we do not know and what God has placed such a high value on? Life is a journey and the Father loves us through each step of the way, good or bad steps, desiring for us to make that right decision of surrendering our lives to him. Until the last breath is taken there is value in what God has chosen to love simply because of that love.

So today, as you encounter strangers who add to or take away from your life, remember the journey. Show these strangers some grace because you do not know from where they have journeyed or to where that journey will take them. And for those who are not so much strangers as they are estranged from you, offer forgiveness in the place of the hatred and bitterness. You do not know what they have become and to whom they have value. Forgive them for having no value for you and allow the Spirit to heal those wounds. The Lord will use it all for your benefit.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Who are you accountable to?

Good morning my friends. As we say good bye to Paul's letter to the Colossians I would like us to consider something that I am failing at. I would rather be upfront with you about the fact that I need to present something that I do not yet have in place. It is the matter of accountability and the importance of it. I do not have it in place because I am no longer part of a large denomination where accountability was a legislated thing. I am a pastor of a non-denominational church in a mission field where good accountability partners are hard to find. I was four years in Belgium and now pastor in Quebec, where I have been serving for over ten years. That makes it 14 years that I have been removed from the rest of the Church happenings and it is hard because we all need accountability.

Allow me to point this out from the perspective of a member of a church. Not only do you represent Jesus Christ but you also represent the Church proper and then your own faith community. You represent your pastor and the members of that congregation. Your words, your actions and your attitudes all reflect on Jesus, the Body and your church. This is one of the reasons you need to be accountable to the elders or someone of maturity in your congregation. Knowing you are accountable will help you grow, mature, and be more careful of your behaviour. This is what we see going on as Paul wraps up his letter with his typical greetings. As I read it this morning this is what stood out for me:

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. (Colossians 4:12-13)

Obviously there were no cell phones or email at this time. There were no instant social networking groups and there were not even any landlines. Communication was difficult for poor Epaphras to report home, so Paul did it for him through this letter. Notice that Paul let this church know that the worker who was with him from their church was representing them well. He let them know that Epaphras still considered that he was part of them, he was still following Jesus, that his prayers were occupied with them and that he was representing them well in his hard work. Any church that sent out missionaries or lent out a group on a short term missions trip would be proud to receive such a report.

This was important to Paul because he too was accountable. If I were to ask you to whom he was accountable you would probably tell me Jerusalem but it was not Jerusalem. Paul was not sent out by the elders of Jerusalem, he and Barnabas were sent out from Antioch and it was to Antioch that Paul returned after his mission journeys. You will find it all in the historical account of Acts. The only trip he did not return to Antioch was his last, when he was arrested and eventually ended up in Rome. Paul's church was the gentile church of Antioch where the ministry to the gentiles had begun it earnest. It was also to Antioch that the Church council was moved to after the fall of Jerusalem before eventually moving to the center of the world at that time: Rome.

Most of us like our independence, our freedom, our lack of accountability. We get enough grief from work. Haven't we had enough with accountability from growing up in school, to getting a job, to paying out taxes and following our country's laws? Well, the short answer is, no. The most important accountability we need is spiritual accountability. None of us should be attempting this journey alone. We all need someone who we can be brutally honest with, someone who will ask us the hard questions, someone who cares enough about us to be brutally honest with us. Without that we will never rise up to our potential because we are a "lowest common denominator" type of people. We try to get away with paying the least amount of taxes, doing the least amount of work, giving the least amount of information to people. Accountability helps us stay true to offering our best.

Of course we will all have a day of accountability with God but on that day it will be too late. It is like our faith. It is better for our faith to be tested here so we can see if it is real or not because we do not want to stand for God and discover that our faith was not real and have no time left to do anything about it. It is better to be accountable here, now, so we can do something about what we are lacking. If we wait for that day of accountability to see what we are lacking we will not be able to do anything about it. Be honest now and it will pay off for you in the end. So yes, I am still looking for a good accountability partner because it is important. You should too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The greatest balancing act of our lives

Good morning friends. I hope you had a great day in service to our Lord yesterday. We are back in Colossians 4 today.

Paul is in the midst of winding down his letter so he is fitting in last minute instructions. Yesterday we considered the importance of prayer and some of you have requested a fuller teaching on this subject. I will consider this over the Christmas break. Today I wish us to consider the second part of the same paragraph as Paul instructs the Colossians how they should behave toward people from outside of their faith community:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. vs. 5-6

When I read this I was immediately struck by the word "outsiders". As you read the two sentences and consider this word I believe you will understand that Paul is speaking of the non-believers. We live in a society which tries very hard to be all inclusive and a Church that tries to do the same. We look to Jesus' example of who he hung out with and ministered to. But did he hang out with them as he was accused of, or did he simply spend time among some of the most rejected of society to demonstrate to them God's love? He also spent a lot of time with the Pharisees but was not part of them either. I think we need to consider well this notion of inclusiveness.

Paul uses the word "outsider" to refer to non-believers because that is what they are; they remain outside of the Body of Christ. Being part of the Church is not a matter of a piece of paper, your name on a role or even physically being there. Those who are mature understand that to be part of the Body of Christ is a spiritual matter and we recognize everyone who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Saviour have also received the Spirit and are one with us as we are one with Jesus. It is much stronger than being a family; we are stones in the walls of the Church:

You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

We already know that Paul describes us as parts of a living body, which is a much stronger imagine than even of a family. Perhaps we fail to act that way in the flesh and in or attitude toward each other because we are too immature yet to have grasped a healthy understanding of the Church, but it still remains true.

Understanding this to be true and understanding that by our very nature and character we are different then those outside of the Body, we have to guard against excluding non-believers from our lives. They are outsiders, they cannot be one of us without Jesus, but we cannot fail to minister to all of them as Jesus did. They are our purpose for remaining here, that we would be used in their reconciliation with the Father just as people played a part in our reconciliation. The Word must be shared, the glass of water offered, the prayers given, the kindnesses shown, the love projected.

Paul tells us to be wise in our actions toward them. Remember, we may be the only representative of Jesus that they know. Our acts need to reveal to them God's heart. He also tells us to make the most of every opportunity. This tells me we have to be with them. This means we are spending time with them, which is great but also has some pit falls. We have to remind ourselves that they are from outside of the body so we have to be careful what we say and how we say it. If we spend all of our time being negative and criticizing other believers our witness will be ruined. If we are always complaining our witness will be lost. Paul says that our words should be full of grace and seasoned with salt. In other words we need to always speak the best of everything and include the wisdom of our Lord.

It is hard to understand that the world is on the outside looking in and that we have to go out and bring them in. We need to be careful of our responses and reactions while dealing with those on the outside because not everyone is ready. The Spirit prepares the heart for salvation so that leading someone to Jesus is not a wrestling match. If the person is not ready then move on to someone else until they are ready. Provoking and confronting will not win anyone over. Consider the woman at the well with Jesus. He entered into common conversation with her. He turned to her spiritual needs. He pressed in, having insight into her heart. She tried to avoid but did not resist. Would he have continued if she became confrontational? I doubt it. God does not force himself on anyone. There are enough souls needing to be saved, we do not have to put energy into someone that the Spirit has not finished preparing.

Let us go out today understanding our purposing and desiring to see people come into this incredible relationship with Jesus. Let us desire to help believers understand their place in the Church. Let us be wise in our actions and careful with our words so that we will only add to the reputation of our Lord and never be found taking away from it. Let us never forget, we are in this world for the sake of the ministry of reconciliation but we are not part of this world; we belong to another.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What are we waiting for?

Good morning folks. We are bracing for our first winter storm this year. It is an awkward one, hitting sometime in the morning. Meanwhile, we will busy ourselves with Colossians 4.

Let us make this simple:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. v. 2

That is as simple as it comes; pray. Notice the words around that instruction; devote yourselves, watchful, thankful.

Why do we take prayer so lightly? The Scriptures seem pretty intense about it. Jesus gave instruction on prayer and demonstrated the need for it as a way of life. Paul was constantly reminding the churches and individuals to pray and to pray often, daily. Here he uses the world "devote yourselves" to indicate the importance of it. Praying should be like breathing for a Christian. It should be our first reaction in every situation. We should offer it as a solution for illness, praying over our family and friends. We should offer it as part of our council and comfort to people. It is us taking people to the source of all power, strength, wisdom and healing. It is us talking things over with our Father, seeking his advice, asking him for direction, reminding him of his promises, presenting the needs of our family and friends and it is relationship.

We are instructed in many places in scripture to watch and pray. Jesus had asked his disciples to sit with him, to watch and pray before his arrest. It is interesting that the disciples fell asleep, which typifies how many of us treat prayer. Our attitude in prayer should be alertness. We should be aware of what is happening around us. We should see what is happening in the world, in people's lives and we should be praying. A Christian should never be unaware of world events, community events, church happenings, neighbours needs, family activities. We need to be aware so we know what to be praying about. The Word explains how to pray and life lets us know what to pray. Yet, we are not to take note of these things and take it to prayer meeting; we are to pray immediately, right there and then. We should pray with another Christian as the Word tells us it is more effective but so are the prayers of a righteous man. A single person praying is more effective then no prayer at all.

Our attitude in prayer is also important. Gratitude and thanksgiving is vital as a follower of Jesus, but especially as we pray. We need to approach our Father with a right attitude because of all that he has already done. It is a terrible thing to come to God demanding things with a heart that does not recognize and appreciate what he has already done for us. That is not a heart that contains any worship and praise of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and yet God is the only one who is worthy of our worship and praise. If we do not approach that throne of grace with thanksgiving do not believe that your prayers will be effective.

The platform of this blog is too small to give a full teaching on prayer but know this, we are told to devote ourselves to prayer. Can we honestly say we are? Paul writes:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

Are we praying? Are we praying as we should? Revival of God's people is found in prayer. The awakening of a nation is found in prayer. The comforting of a child is found in prayer. Strength, wisdom, hope is found in prayer. Unity of the Body is found in prayer. Refreshing and renewing is found in prayer. Rejoicing, praise, worship, thanksgiving, gratitude are all found in prayer. Intimacy is found in prayer. So what are we waiting for?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

God sees it differently than we do

Good morning friends.

As I read this morning's Scripture in Colossians 3, the Spirit renewed an understanding he gave me a few weeks ago and then took it a bit deeper. The thought makes me a bit uncomfortable and yet at the same time the rest of Scripture backs it up. Unlike so many other bloggers, what I write is not premeditated. I appreciate the other well thought out and well written blogs. However, mine is more my private devotions that I share with you. Its a bit rough around the edges because I simply open the Word, read it, receive and then respond. You are always receiving my first and only draft. I have 40 minutes in which to write it. So this is what I have received this morning.

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. vs 18-21

Nothing wrong here. This is what is expected.This is how we are suppose to be in these relationships.We should be able to maintain good relationships like these because of the previous passage that spoke of keeping our hearts and minds on things above.We are changing to be able to have these relationships because we have turned our will from selfish gain and are submitting to the Spirit and the Spirit is transforming.

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. vs. 12-14

It is because of this transformation that we are able to be good husbands, wives and children. These virtues of Christ make it possible for us to love and care for people regardless of the situation. Then we read:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. v. 22

Now do not change the wording on this, it does not say employee. It clearly says slave. Why is Paul instructing slaves to be obedient? Why is he not leading a campaign to abolish slavery? Why is God not provoking his people to throw off this social injustice? Why is God permitting it to continue? Well, we could ask that same question of all the other situations as well. Why does God allow abuse to exist in marriage? Why does God allow for rebellious children? Why does God not deal with all the social injustice in the world? Why did it take so long to abolish slavery? Why does it still exist today as women and children are packaged and shipped around the world today? The answer may be hard for you to understand because God's priority has more to do with the heart then the flesh.

We spend a lot of time examining the provision of God. We study the promises to prosper our work. We concentrate on all the scripture that speaks of the good God has planned for us. However, sometimes that good is encased in the context of evil or a bad situation. The clearest example of what the Spirit is saying this morning is Joseph, from the Jewish Scriptures. He was sold into slavery and then he was wrongly jailed. In those situations he did good, he did what was expected of him and he excelled, in the context of slavery and jail. His situation turned out good, according to God's plan for him specifically. That's great but continue to examine the rest of Scripture to see how God used people. I say used because when we accept Jesus we become servants, to be used by the Father as he needs us, and we rejoice in this because it is our purpose.

It may be hard for us to take but often God is going to leave us in our circumstances and he expects us to represent him in those circumstances. Some of these circumstances are horrible. That is not saying that when the opportunity comes to be free we are not to take that opportunity. Paul instructed the slaves to be obedient but if the opportunity presented itself to become free to take it. If not, they serve where they were. In those horrible conditions they were to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient and forgiving. Understand, despite whether you receive love or not, as followers of Jesus, in deep fellowship with Jesus, we are to love. Love your enemies, Jesus said. Pray for those who persecute you, Jesus said.

We read wonderful stories of Corrie ten Boom and of many other Christians who faced terrible things and came out of it still believing, still loving. They are wonderful testimonies of how God preserves our spirit when we remain in fellowship with him. We look at these stories and marvel at how God delivers. However, what about all those others who were not delivered? What about those who are not rescued from the lions den? What about those who remain faithful, demonstrate these virtues to their dying breath, and are not rescued? God's purpose for them was to remain in those circumstances and represent him to their death. You don't think so? You think this is something new? Then why was the apostle John the only one of the 12 to die of old age? What about the thousands of believers who die every year because of their faith?

It is not easy being in a rough place in life. It is not easy being stuck in poverty. It is not easy being a single parent. It is not easy being in a loveless marriage. It is not easy being a slave. It is not easy serving our God in the circumstances of life when we are believing in a gospel that says that God will rescue us and place us in a better situation. That may be his purpose for you as it was for Joseph. However, regardless of his plan and purpose we have one responsibility: to shine with the love of Jesus. Our purpose is to be witnesses of Jesus' character and especially his love, regardless of our position in life. We demonstrate this love to people who we make contact with every day. It does not matter if our boss is a jerk and treats us poorly, our responsibility is to be kind, compassionate, patient, forgiving and to love him. Now apply that to your life, circumstances and the family in which you live.

There was a popular song many years ago that stated, "I didn't promise you a rose garden". That applies here. In everything Jesus taught he said get your eyes off of yourself and look around at the needs of others. They need a demonstration of Jesus' love. You have everything you need from your deep fellowship with Jesus Christ. The father will continue looking after your own spiritual needs as long as you stay in that fellowship. You however are to be looking around for the opportunities to be hind, compassionate, patient, forgiving and most of all loving. Be his witness today especially in the darkest moments of today.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The benefits of being heavenly minded

Good morning my friends. It is my sincere hope that you all had an amazing time at your respective centers of worship yesterday. We are continuing with our mini series on Paul's instruction to keep our heart and mind on things above and not on earthly things. This morning I would like us to consider some of the practical outcomes of living in such a manner. We will look at three verses.

After giving us instruction on what to avoid and what to take on in our relationship with Jesus, the Spirit inspires Paul to write:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

 Peace is something everyone wants to experience, no one enjoys a life filled with worry and fear. Here Paul instructs us to "let", allow, permit this peace to be the ruler of our hearts. He says that it is the thing that we have all been called to. It is not something we have to go seek in some monastery or achieve through deep meditation. Peace is ours, it is what Jesus gives to us, all we have to do is let it happen, permit it to have dominion over everything else in our heart, to cause all fear and worry to submit to this peace. Of course it is only possible when we have a trust relationship with Jesus. Whether you have claimed what is yours as a child of God is up to you, just know that it is yours for the taking.

The Spirit continues his inspiration:

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. v. 16

Again Paul uses that same word, "let", allow, permit, God's Word to live in you. But not just live in you, to live in you richly. The Word is the source for all wise teaching and correcting. The Word is also the source of all worship. Again, it is not something we have to go out and seek or go to some great halls of wisdom to understand. We just have to allow the Word of God to come in. Study it and the Spirit will hide it away, bringing it out as we need it. If we allow something else to enter in then that thing will become our source, but it will not have the benefit of the Word of God.

Again Paul writes by the inspiration of the Spirit:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. v. 17

All these things are the result of keeping our mind and heart on things above. Jesus becomes our inspiration and motivation for everything we do and say. The more we are focused on him the more we live for him. It only makes sense. Jesus told us that wherever our treasure is that is where our heart will be. If Jesus is the most important person of your life that is where your heart is. If sports are your treasure then they will be your motivation. If education is your treasure then it will also be your motivation. If it is your family then it is the family that inspires. The thing is that everything fades, everything fails, everything can lose value except for Jesus Christ. We have to get centered on him.

Now go back and read the verses again. Do you see what I have been ignoring? All through these three verses there was been a theme; one thing mentioned again, and again. Paul uses different words but they all mean the same thing: be thankful, with gratitude, giving thanks. In all these benefits this is the one that runs throughout. It is impossible to walk closely with Jesus, to receive all his treasures and to experience all these blessings without gaining a heart of thanksgiving. It is the one attitude that we are told again and again to take on as we enter the presence of our Father:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
       and his courts with praise;
       give thanks to him and praise his name.
(Psalm 100:4)

Thanksgiving is the heart of every worshiper of Jesus. It is an attitude that permeates us because of the richness of our relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords.

It is my hope that you now see, understand and appreciate the benefits of getting our minds off of earthly things and setting our minds and hearts on things above. It begins with our desire and our will in our relationship with Jesus. Do we love him enough to desire to be our best? Then let's make the effort today by beginning with worship and thanksgiving.