Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stir it up in my heart .... me?

Good morning my friends. How are you doing this morning, seriously? Days and weeks of hard work and trials can leave us feeling a bit beat up and warn out. Maybe it is a little harder to get out of bed this morning, to get moving into your day, to turn to prayer and the Word. By the way, how is that passion going; you know, that passion you have felt for most of your walk with Christ? It can sometimes take a beating as well and fade with a bit of time. Sometimes we excuse the fading on age and maturity, as if the older you get the less passionate you are suppose to feel. Passion is passion and we feel it if we are 18years old  in the same way we feel it at 88 years old, if we do not fade. We are great at fading. We start off well but often we finish poorly, if we finish at all

As we turn to 1 Timothy today, this is the verse that stands out for me in the first chapter as I am sure it stands out for most people:

I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. vv. 5-6

Take note of this, Paul said to Timothy " I remind you to fan into flame". Often I hear it prayed and I pray it myself, "Spirit, stir it up in my heart", whereas Paul is reminding Timothy to do it himself. This is in the same sense of when God told Israel:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Israel could not sit back and expect to be rescued, especially considering that they were in exile due to their lack of passion for God. He required effort from them in the relationship, that they would seek him with all their heart. Does that ring a bell for you? Does it cause you to think of another passage?

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Not with a partial bit but with all, all, and all. Most of us started off with Jesus in this manner, with a passion that consumed us. We ate, drank and slept Jesus. We wanted the whole world to find out about him. Some will tell you that it is only natural for such passion to calm down but I disagree. It may be natural to our flesh but we are no longer controlled by our flesh but instead we are controlled by the Spirit. The reason passion fades is because we allow the flesh to start creeping back in. You know I am right. You don't even need to examine yourself closely to know I speak the truth because you have always known the truth, you just haven't bothered to doanything about it. That is the reason we ask the Spirit to stir it up because we are too lazy to do it ourselves.

The fact is many of us have been taken away into captivity again, not by God's choosing but instead because we have allowed it to happen. Our flesh has crept in over time as we neglected our relationship with Jesus. Why is it hard for you to find the time and make the effort to study his Word? Without passion priorities shift and things take too much effort.In this matter  I don't even have to ask you to open your eyes because you already see it.

Why did David sin against God with Bathsheba? Was it because he neglected his duty as king when he should have been off to lead the army? No, he neglected his duty because he neglected his passion for God. As he did this his flesh took over and his desire shifted from God to self. Have you read his great song of repentance lately?

 Let me hear joy and gladness;
       let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

 Hide your face from my sins
       and blot out all my iniquity.

 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
       and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

 Do not cast me from your presence
       or take your Holy Spirit from me.

 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
       and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
(Psalm 51:8-12)

Don't caste me away from you God! David had tasted intimacy with God but he had allowed his passionate love to fade and now he risked losing God all together. David was seeking and pleading with God with all his heart, all his passion once more.

What about us? Without a passionate love for Jesus time will just continue to allow it to fade until we are in worse condition than when we first encountered Jesus. We need to start some fanning. You need to remember who you are and whose you are. For far too long we have allowed the Lord's adversary to lie to us about our condition as much as we were lying to ourselves. We are not weak and powerless concerning the work of the Lord, regardless what the enemy wants us to believe. When we are passionate about our faith it is incredible the things God will do through his people. Paul reminds Timothy:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Much of the work belongs to the Lord. The victories are his, it is him who overcame the world, and it is him who is responsible for our transformation; but the passion is our responsibility. Perhaps you don't know how to get it back. You could start by seeking his face with all your heart. Worship him sincerely not just as the music moves you. Worship him in prayer without music. Worship him in action. Worship him in dance. Worship him in voice. Think of all the great things he has done and of the mystery that has been revealed to us and stir up that passionate worship in you. Give him the priority of your time. Give him your first thought as you wake up and the last as you put your head upon the pillow.  Dig deep into his Word. Listen more intently to the Spirit. Allow him to become your "everything" again.

Your passion should never fade. Stop lying to yourself and turn away from the whispers of the enemy. Love Jesus with everything you have to give to him! If you need to, take your heart captive and force it to seek the face of God. What seems unnatural now will become natural once more and the passion will burn in your veins.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Let's talk investment priorities

Good morning friends. As we finish up with 1 Timothy this morning I want you to keep in mind that Timothy was in Ephesus, a port city in the region of Asia-Minor. It was thought to be the capital city in the region and was large and wealthy due to the trade that occurred at her excellent port. This meant there would have been much wealth around the city as well as in the church of Ephesus. Perhaps this is the reason Paul put such an emphasis on warning Timothy about the distraction and pitfalls of wealth. In this mornings few verses we find Paul writing these words to Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17)

In recent years the world has been reminded of just how uncertain wealth is. As the world plunged into recession, people lost their jobs, their homes, their entire life savings. All those years of hard work and saving proved to be of no value. Hopes were dashed as people tried to put their lives back together. It is amazing how many believers were found in this trap. Yet, I know other believers who have gone through similar times whose attitudes have been "its only stuff". Its easy to have that attitude when you are not facing losing your home, its another to have that attitude and the joy that goes with it as you see your entire life work being taken away. However, they are right, its only "stuff".

We know as believers that our hope, the only certain hope we have, is Jesus. The wording Paul uses is that he "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment". People may say, "Funny, it doesn't seem I have everything." No, I don't either but everything I do have I recognize comes from God's hand and I enjoy what I have. Some people look at "enjoyment" and read entertainment. I realize entertaining ourselves is high on our priority but it is not something God is concerned about. He is occupied with our salvation, wanting to see us grow into maturity, as any father desires for his children. This is simply a recognition on Paul's part that we enjoy the things God provides; a sunset, a child's laughter, close friends, a loving spouse, a good meal, work for our hands.When we accept these things as being from God and we receive them with joy we also feed into a thankful attitude which lends itself to worship.

Paul writes that there is something different about a wealthy Christian or that there is something more important than being wealthy:

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. v. 18

These are outward signs of our inward condition. If you want to know if salvation is authentic look for the fruits of the Spirit. It is true that this can be faked for a short period of time but a person cannot maintain for long the fruits of the Spirit  because the source of the fruit is not our determination or effort; the fruit is produced by the Spirit and we only bear them. These things should not be the mark of only a wealthy Christian but of every Christian.

One of the things that drives me nuts is when Christians invest in the world instead of in the Church and I don't mean just money. We take away time from the Kingdom and we invest it outside of the Kingdom. We invest our talents outside of the Kingdom as well as wealth. What was given as a gift for the Church people take and use in the world. It is a rather silly thing as well as sad but no one seems to be correcting it. Paul wrote:

In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. v. 19

Now understand what I mean. Any investment in a person or a ministry is an investment in the Kingdom. The person may not be saved but if your investment of time in that person is with the purpose of demonstrating the love of Christ then you are investing in the Kingdom. Take any activity that is based on self, personal gain, any form of selfishness and it is an investment outside of the Kingdom. Jesus told us:

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:28-33) 

He also taught us:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

Consider for a moment then where you are investing yourself. Where are you putting most of your time, talents and money? Are you laying down a firm foundation for the age to come? Is Jesus pleased with your choices? What will be demanded of you when you are asked to give an account for the things God provided you with for the Kingdom? It is never too late to change your investment priorities.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Can busyness ever be a positive thing?

Good morning my friends. Life is about seasons and at the moment I am in one of the busiest seasons of my life. It happens sometimes doesn't it, when the train seems to have pulled out without you and you spend your days trying to catch up with it? On those days we need to ask ourselves what we are doing and why are we doing it? Does this busyness have a Christ-centered purpose or is it about personal gain? If I had a choice about my days I would try to simplify a few things but my day is comprised of doing things for other people and contains very little activity that I personally gain from. If I could I would walk away but I am compelled by the love of Christ to serve. In this my Lord sustains me but many people are walking around exhausted as they pursue this shadowy thing called wealth and comfort.

Now I don't mean that everyone out there is trying to become the next millionaire but we do have the vast majority of people trying to get ahead in life. Some would ask what the problem with that is and I would answer there is no problem at all, if it remained a part of your life and not the purpose. Remember, we are a new creation with new priorities because of a new perspective. We no longer consider our life's purpose to be the pursuit of personal comfort because we have been given a greater purpose. Paul wrote concerning this to Timothy:

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-12)

Yesterday, in the careers class I teach in our High School, I had to instruct them on the way the working world works. I explained that at the moment the greatest value they had was minimum wage. They had no education and no experience to add value to themselves. It is as they add education and experience to themselves that their value starts increasing so that they are able to attract higher wages. Even once they are hired by a company they can increase their value in that company through further education and training. If they do not put in the effort then they will not increase their value and they will remain a minimum wage earner. This is okay until it takes over the purpose of our lives. When "getting ahead" consumes us we become unbalanced and we lose sight of our true purpose. This is why we need to heed the warning Paul gave to Timothy.

We have been invited into an incredible relationship with our Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is a relationship that requires time to develop after our initial introduction. We need to get to know Jesus and as we get to know him we also get to know the Father. This relationship changes us as we spend time with Jesus. We gain more of his perspective of what is important and our priorities change. We begin to understand our purpose and we give priority to the things of eternity instead of the temporal. We begin to see God's purpose in the work of our hands and in the relationships in our life. We can use Paul's words to describe this because in this relationship we are pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. These are the things in our life that are a priority for increase more so than our earthly treasures of wealth and possessions.

It comes down to the question of what you are taking hold of as the center of your life. Are you taking hold of "the American Dream" or of eternal life? That choice is what will shape you for the rest of your life and for all eternity. It would be a shame to get to the end of your life only to realize as Solomon did that it was all for nothing; that it was a worthless effort. There are so many wasted lives that are being lived right now, don't add to it with your own. Learn what is of priority to God and pursue those things with all your heart. The fact is that busyness happens in life but make sure it is a busyness with positive eternal consequences.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Can you spell c-o-n-t-e-n-t-m-e-n-t?

Good morning friends. I am much more awake this morning as we turn to the Word together. If find it interesting that there are some things we all have in common and can relate to, such as, we have all been tired from lack of sleep at some point in our lives. You can relate to my tiredness. Also, we have all felt hunger pains, so we can relate to that with each other. There are many things, like the experience of rain in the face, the comfort of a warm beverage on a cold day, the delight of a child's laugh, the experience of a good meal, that we share as common experiences.On the other hand there are many experiences that we cannot relate to, that we do not have in common. For many people, this describes what it is like to read and study God's Word; there are some things they relate to and others they have never experienced.

If we are honest about it, there are parts of the Word that seem like it relates to an alien planet more than it fits in to today's society. We use the vocabulary of the Word but for some people they have no understanding of that word. For example, let's consider contentment. Paul writes to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Some of us have experienced what it is to have plenty and I would say all of us have experienced what it is to lack, but have any of us tasted contentment? Can you say that you are really content with your life right now? Can we even understand the vocabulary? The dictionary definition of content is: "satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else." Does that describe us? Can you say that you are satisfied with who you are and with what you have; that you do not want to change a thing? The vast majority of people cannot say that, including Christians, and that is sad.

How can we even relate to Paul's words, "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that"? Would you be satisfied with nothing more than the basic necessities in life? Paul states that godliness (the character of Jesus) with contentment is great gain. He is saying that if we can get to that place in our journey then we have really accomplished something. Are we even trying to get there? Forget I asked that question, ask this one instead: Do we even know we are suppose to be trying to get there? In another of his letters Paul wrote:

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

Notice Paul says that he had "learned" to be content. He wasn't born with it. It didn't just happen. It wasn't a gift he was given. The Spirit didn't zap him with it. In both passages we are left with the idea it is something to be learned, something to be gained. But if we do not know that it is one of the goals of our journey how will be ever know to pick it up along the way?

One of the reasons we struggle with it is because we have yet to gain the mind of Christ. Paul says that we have the mind of Christ but from my experience it is not something that we care to consider experiencing. The passage reads:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:
 "For who has known the mind of the Lord
      that he may instruct him?"

But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

The "mind" referred to here is different from how we understand the mind today. At that time the heart represented everything that it meant to be human; love, intelligence etc. The mind referred to how we took in information; it referred to perception and perspective. Today the mind represents intelligence. So when Paul refers to the mind of Christ he is referring to how we perceive things, now having the perspective of God. We should then understand that eternal matters are far more important than non-eternal matters. This is the reason Paul is able to write:

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

That is from a mind focused on Jesus and why Paul was so effective in his calling. We are ineffective because we try to keep a foot in both worlds. Paul has a warning about that:

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:9-10)

Even Jesus warned us:

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Matthew 6:24)

This is why contentment is such a foreign thing to us, even in the Church. We are living with this false notion and teaching that God wants all of his children to be rich. Those without money start feeling less blessed than those with money. The honest truth about it is that our Dad is more concerned with our heart and mind than he is with our pocket book. He did promise to bless the work of our hands but then we need to work, not try to take short cuts to getting rich. When money replaces our faith and trust in God; when money becomes a greater desire than growing in God; when money is always on our mind; when we can't do anything because we don't have money; when we are feeling our life is a waste and the work God gave us is useless because we don't have money,  we are in trouble because we do not have the mind of Christ and we will never come close to discovering or gaining contentment. Even worse, we are on a pathway away from Jesus, heading toward our destruction.

Let me ask you in all honesty today, who is your God; what do you worship?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Serve them even better

Good morning my friends. One should never attempt to use a key board on less than three hours sleep. I have read somewhere that being so tired is worse than being drunk. It goes without saying then that keyboards and driving should be set aside if one is either exhausted or intoxicated.  So allow me to say what I need to say and then I will set this thing aside.

In 1 Timothy 6 we find these words written by Paul to his young friend Timothy:

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them. (1 Timothy 6:1-2)

Setting aside the obvious problem of slavery, there is something in what Paul is saying that should be striking home about now. We should never take advantage of a brother simply because he is a believer. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever had greater expectations than you should have of someone just because they are a Christian? Has that ever happened to you? Did someone take advantage of you by not paying a bill, taking short cuts in their job, going home earlier than agreed upon? How did it make you feel? Taken advantage of? Used? Disrespected? All of these things? I think the worse things a Christian can be is a landlord or the principal of a church-school. Some people act as if they are doing you a favour by paying their bill. They also act as if you owe them something. Paul writes:

Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them.

It is out of respect as believers that we do not take advantage of our brothers and sisters but instead honour and respect them. Respect aught to be a big part of who we are and what we do. If we treat our brothers and sisters like they are there to personally bless us and help us get ahead in life we will never understand the heart of Jesus. Far from dishonouring anyone, Jesus gave his very best to all of us. He honoured us with a gift far greater than we could possibly deserve. Having received this gift we should know enough to be able to respect and honour even those who oppose us. If this was Paul's expectation for those under the yoke of slavery, how much more should it apply to those of us who are free.

Lord, help us to honour you by honouring our fellow believers in love. May we be a blessing to them and to you in everything we do and say today. Amen! 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Confession is good for the soul

Good morning friends. I trust you had an excellent Spirit filled Sunday with lots of exciting things taking place. It is good to see such vibrancy in the Church. What is not good are all the hidden things; the disappointments, the missed expectations, the unspoken needs. There is so much more going on in our congregations that are unseen than seen. We need to ask for the eyes and knowledge of the Holy Spirit in order to be able to minister to those who remain hidden to us. Then again, maybe we do not want to ask because we do not want to know. Along with the unspoken needs are the hidden sins that no one wants to deal with; things people have never dealt with but instead have tried to bury and forget.

Paul warned Timothy:

The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. (1 Timothy 5:24)

You must have taken note of this, that there are those things that are immediately noticed and then there are others that take years to be revealed. Sometimes some sins are not revealed until the person leaves town or dies, whereas others take a number of years simmering beneath the surface before bubbling up and becoming noticeably.  We need to pray for eyes that will reveal these things in order to rescue the person burdened with such a needless load. It is a terrible thing to carrying around unconfessed sins.

The fact is that nothing is a secret to our God:

You have set our iniquities before you,
       our secret sins in the light of your presence.
(Psalm 90:8)

Proverbs is a little more poetic and honest about things hidden, tucked away, thought forgotten; but our God does not forget hidden things:

The woman Folly is loud;
       she is undisciplined and without knowledge.

She sits at the door of her house,
       on a seat at the highest point of the city,

 calling out to those who pass by,
       who go straight on their way.

"Let all who are simple come in here!"
       she says to those who lack judgment.

"Stolen water is sweet;
       food eaten in secret is delicious!"

But little do they know that the dead are there,
       that her guests are in the depths of the grave.
(Proverbs 9:13-18)

Things done in secret may at first seem to be delicious but the guilt of them slowly eats away at us from the inside until all that is left is rotten decay. This is what we need to pray about, that we would be sensitive to these things and would be able to draw it out to the light, not to kill the person but to help them. They carry a heavy and unnecessary burden. There is no sin that will not be forgiven. Somehow we must persuade them that nothing can be hidden from God:

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 4:13)

It is important that we get them to understand it is better to confess it here and now and be forgiven then to keep it hidden and face the consequences without forgiveness on the day of judgment.

People are often not willing to confess because we have the attitude of judgment instead of "been there, done that". It should be pity we feel for the heavy burdened not anger or judgment. That was us once, with plenty of hidden things that weighed us down. We did not trust God or anyone else. To confess our sins is an act of trust. Is that the atmosphere that exists in our churches? Are they places where sins can be confessed and forgiven in the same breath? Are our worship centers also places of great restoration? Lord, gives us eyes to see and hearts to understand our purpose and mission in this place.

If you have anything you have tried to keep hidden and need to unblock your path, then lighten your load, confess it, be forgiven and move on.

 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29) 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shepherd, pastor, elder, overseer; huh?

Good morning my friends. The structure of our churches are not what they started off to be and perhaps the Spirit has matured us to a better structure. It could also be that the wickedness of our hearts has deformed what God had intended. There certainly was not a clergy in the early Church but instead a set up that was similar to society at that time. Each community of believers had elders, also referred to as shepherds, who were responsible for that community. They had various responsibilities but they were all seen as the wisest, most mature and trustworthy of the community. They were responsible for guiding, teaching, correcting and strengthening the community; what we call our church. They are referred to by various names today but the most popular seems to be pastor. Unfortunately our titles today don't seem to imply the same thing that we see in the Word. Today it seems to denote simply that this person is in charge or is responsible for this part of the church ministry.

Paul's words to Timothy concerning the honour owed to an elder is direct:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. (1 Timothy 5:17-20)

Elders are or were like shepherds in that they were responsible for helping and protecting what did not belong to them. Pastors do not own their church, people or building, even if they founded it and think they grew it. The Bride always belongs to Jesus. If a pastor losses sight of this it could spell danger for everyone. Thankfully most pastors/elders are keenly aware of this and they live their life in a sacrificial way for those they are responsible for overseeing.

A pastor should never see his place in the church as a job nor should the people see it as hiring or firing a pastor. Unfortunately I think this is the bad thing that has happened, everyone now sees it as a job, even a career. The desire of some pastors is to start in a small church and work themselves up to a large one. For them this is success. I don't even know where to begin to explain why this is totally wrong and is the furthest thing from Scripture one can arrive at. Is it any wonder that the respect and honour for elders/pastors is missing from many churches? When the church has the attitude of hiring their pastor he becomes their employee and must meet their expectations and do what they want. The tendency is then for the pastor not to do what is best for the people he is responsible for but instead to do what is best for his self preservation. This is wrong. When Paul quotes that a worker is worth his wages it is an allegory not to be taken as referring to elders as employees of the church.

For the Church to grow strong spiritually we need our pastors/elders to walk in their calling, free to be directed by the Spirit. They should only be in that calling according to the Spirit. We need to honour them for the life of sacrifice they have been called to but don't worship them or turn them into celeberties. We need to honour them for doing a great job at managing the affairs of the Church well. We need to encourage them by showing them the respect they deserve. They have a lot to carry on their plate. In turn Pastors/elders honour their people by being the servant they have been called to be and by loving them as Jesus does.

You may find this funny, being written by a pastor, but I am writing from my position of honouring pastors/elders I see as being over me. They are responsible for me, for my spiritual health, for checking on my growth, and I honour them for asking all the hard questions and insisting on honest answers. It reminds me that I must do the same for my people. We all need good, healthy, mature elders who we can count on and trust to guide us to the end. If you have such pastors guiding your church then praise God for them and pray for them constantly; they need your support and encouragement.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A subtle yet vital difference in understanding

Good morning my friends. I wonder sometimes if we do not treat the Scriptures as a collection of holy proverbs instead of a revelation of God's heart. Many people like quoting wise says regardless of their source, such a Confucius at the same time as quoting things from the Bible because they sound good to say. However quoting and living are two different things. The Word of God was not provided so that we would have a source of quotes but instead so that we could understand God's heart.

Some people treat the Scriptures as an owners manual, or an emergency booklet; they look for instructions on what they are or are not suppose to do. They try to put these things into practical use, which is better than just quoting it, but they lack the power that is required. A person cannot decide on their own to live the Word of God. You cannot follow it as if it is a great set of rules or some manual to successful living. A person cannot conform to the Bible. If that had ever been possible we would not have needed Jesus' death on the cross. Consider the instructions that Paul gave to Timothy concerning certain groups of people in the Church. He writes:

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)

This is a matter of: sometimes it is easier to help a stranger than a family member. People should not ignore the needs of their own family while taking care of other people. This is applied to people looking after family members who are widowed or elderly but could also be taken to heart by pastors and ministers of all sorts. Now, there's the thing, "taken to heart". What Paul gives here is good, solid advice, as is all the other instruction here. It seems rather obvious and practical as does many things in the Word of God. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies we can understand how this could be of benefit but it is not so easy to put into practice. None of the Word is easy to put into practice because it is meant as a revelation of God's heart and not as a self-help manual. It shows us what we should look like as we become mature in our faith and our relationship with the Lord. It is something we have to "take to heart".

The Word of God is "God breathed", inspired by the Holy Spirit. As Paul was inspired to write:

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)

So many people get frustrated because they fail in living the Word and it is because they do not understand that the Word is there to show us when we start wondering away from God's intended path for us. It is like road markers. These markers are so plain we do not even think about them but when it is dark and stormy we watch them because our life depends on them. The Word warns us when our heart and attitude is not honouring to God, warning us when we are heading for the ditch. By reading it we know whether we are on track or if we have headed down the wrong path, so that we can turn to the Lord and ask for correction. It is always by the Word that the Spirit corrects and rebukes because these markers are all we have to know God's heart.

What changes us is not us conforming to the Word but instead us submitting in obedience to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit always changes us according to the Word, changing our heart and our character to be like the first born son, Jesus. It is important for us to understand the difference between conformity and transformation because when we do understand the Spirit is able to do his work in us. The Word is vital and powerful but the source of that power is the Holy Spirit applying it to our open and obedient hearts. If you live the Word as if it is a set of instructions that you are responsible for putting into place then you have gone back to living a law and you will soon discover your heart for God growing cold.

I love the Word of God. I consume it daily because I want to know Jesus more; I want to know my Father's heart. Every day the Spirit convicts me by these words, pointing out where I am falling short and what areas I have to submit. But the Word is also the source of encouragement for me every day because I feel I am getting to know the heart of my Father. It is not just the words I am understanding but the meaning behind them, the reason behind them, the spirit behind them, the love. Understanding the love allows the Word to stick, allows my heart to be transformed as it is revealed to me. In the case of the Scripture reading this morning, it makes me look at my own actions toward my family. It makes me aware of God's will in this and then I need to submit my heart to the Spirit for transformation. "Lord, I am wrong in this. Change my attitude and understanding to be aligned to you." Then we discover we are lent the power to change. It is the only way that change is long lasting.

It is hard to break the attitude of the instruction manual toward the Word of God but it is necessary if we are to see real change in us. We need to stop living as if it is the law all over again and see how God uses it to transform us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Spend time with the Word Daily, submit what convicts your heart to the Holy Spirit, be willing to be changed and you will soon discover the beauty of what God wants to do in you and through you.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How solid is the ground on which you stand?

Good morning my friends. It is amazing the things that people base their life on. With some people it is all about relationships, family, friends and co-workers. Other people base their life on pursuing a dream, idea, fantasy. Still other people base it on building a secure feature, whether that means finances, possessions, education or whatever it is that makes them feel secure. It is in these things they find their hope. However, at some point in time such hope can be dashed upon the rocks of bad choices, wrong decisions, human failure.

I believe with all my heart that the family unit is vital for our society; that the weaker the unit is the weaker our society is. The unit is where love is taught and demonstrated; where children are taught by example how disagreements are resolved; where solid support from parents fills children with a sense of ability; where faith is practiced, tested and taught. The family unit is our society in miniature, each having their own particular rules based on values important to each family. However, families are comprised of humans and humans are an imperfect bunch and failure happens from each group of relationships within the family. Without help and intervention such things can split and destroy a family. It should not happen but sometimes it does and it leaves a lot of brokenness. If this is where our hope lies then personal failure will leave that hope in shreds and people will be utterly destroyed.

It is good to dream. In fact, let me go as far to say that it is vital to dream. The moment we stop dreaming and having goals to pursue we begin to grow old in our heart and mind. That should never happen. Sometimes people put so much effort into their dreams and goals that they forget to live in the moment. Everything is focused on that one thing; all their energy and all their time. They will sacrifice relationships and anything else that gets in the way. Then, when those dreams and those goals start to unravel and the realization sets in that they will never reach those things, hope becomes something that is crumpled and tossed into the waste paper can. It becomes an empty life, void of purpose.

I also believe in education and having a financial plan. I believe in them because I have little of either however these are worthy things to occupy some of your energy and time. I stress some time because there are people who spend their entire life pursuing such things to give themselves a sense of a secure future. They spend 20 years in university seeking after more and more, believing the more degrees they have the more they are valued in society and the more secure they are for their future. It is the same with finances, people spend their entire lifetime trying to amass a small fortune, and they forget to live in the moment. There are also those that try to find security in the things they buy and collect. It is amazing what some people think will bring them security. Speak to the Haitians and ask them how secure they feel about walking on the ground that is beneath their feet? Whatever we consider to be secure is just temporary. It can be lost within seconds, including our lives. All hope can be lost with one wrong decision and that can be the wrong decision made by another person. Hope can be lost simply because of circumstances beyond our control. Gone, lost forever.

No, in all these things and in life in general there is only one thing we can count on. Some of the Haitians know that better than most of us. It is the reason we are hearing reports of them singing through the night. What are they singing? Praises to Jesus. Why would they do that? They lost everything. They don't even have anything to eat. What has Jesus done for them that they would be praising him? Paul wrote to Timothy:

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:9-10)

As I said, all the things in this earth are temporary, mere shadows that are slowly fading away. They may look like they have substance but soon enough they will pass away, spoil or rust. There is only one thing that you can be sure of and it is where we put our hope. Jesus taught:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.(Matthew 6:19-21)

Peter encouraged us:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Where is your heart? What is or who is your hope? If it is not found in Jesus Christ then you may be in for a big fall. If it is Jesus then you stand on solid rock. Even if the mountains fall down on you, you will not be shaken. You have made the right decision. Your future is secure because the ground beneath your feet is solid and secure.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Incredible, fearless and bold

Good morning my friends. As the crisis in Haiti continues we are seeing great examples of good and bad leadership. Our own government here in Canada is getting top marks for its quick response and the large contribution of $85 million from 32 million people. Everyone says our Prime Minister has done well in his response to this disaster. We also look at a number of Church leaders who resisted the temptation of going to Haiti and instead highlighted those Christian agencies and churches already working there. We can look at Pastor Shaun King at the Courageous church in Atlanta, who is raising tens of thousands of dollars for very specific needs such as emergency laptops for communication and 4 neurosurgeons so people will stop dying of head injuries. There is some incredible leadership taking place and that is what we need in the rescue mission Jesus has given to us, incredible, fearless and bold leadership.

One of Paul's concerns for the Church was leadership, as we have seen in these last few days. We have been seeing this concern through his first letter to Timothy. We also know this was a concern because it is what Paul did; he would go to a town, preach the good news, and start planting a church. Before he would leave he would train some leaders to give direction to the church in that city. We have an example in this letter of what he longed to see in these leaders:

If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:6-8)

Paul's first concern was with what was being taught and how the people were being trained. Training is a big part of Christian leadership and Paul expected that the people would be trained in godliness. Paul was telling Timothy to remember his own training and to avoid myths and old wives' tales. In this age of quick information, of the Wikipedia and other such monumental shifts in the idea of information, we are in danger of Christians being raised on false teachings instead of solid doctrine. People look to be spoon fed instead of searching God's Word for themselves. They want snippets of wisdom in 140 characters instead of digesting the council of the whole Word of God. It is important for leaders to not fall into the temptation of the quick fixes, to take the time to train their people well, to go deep and feed on the good stuff.

Paul tells Timothy not to think that his training was over with. A leader's training is never done and they must be a life long student of the Word. That must be how we train our people as well. People get to a certain age when they realize youth will not carry them to the grave. They begin to realize they need to take care of their bodies so they start exercising and trying to eat well to avoid health issues and to feel good. It is a shame that many people do not have this same attitude toward their spiritual condition as well. Why is it that the older people get the lazier they get with their spiritual discipline? The older we get the more we aught to know that we know very little and we should be seeking godliness even more, considering we have less time. Leaders, train your people in godliness which encompasses everything that we say and everything that we do.

Paul's concern was that Timothy would look after himself spiritually. Leaders cannot lead, shepherds cannot guide if they are weak from starvation. Spiritual leaders can get so caught up in the leading, in the busyness of shepherding that they neglect the essentials for themselves:

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (vs. 15-16)

People should never criticize their pastors and elders for the amount of time they give over to personal Bible study and prayer. They need to encourage their spiritual leaders to take great gobs of time for this because the people will profit from it. Pastors need to be in the Word for more than sermon preparation and Bible Study; they need to pursue it for their own needs. Without feeding on the Word and spending time in fellowship with the Spirit, spiritual leaders will become ordinary councilors, social workers, human rights advocates and public speakers. The Church needs better leadership than that; the believers deserve more than the ordinary and common. There is some incredible leadership taking place and that is what we need in the rescue mission Jesus has given to us, incredible, fearless and bold spiritual leadership. Let us pray for our leaders, that they too will live up to their calling. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Godliness vs the appearance of godliness

Good morning friends. Yesterday we considered the importance of godly leadership and how Paul instructed Timothy to choose the leadership well. There is a reason why good and godly leadership is important. The Church is not some sort of club or community group where the group can choose the most likely candidate as the leader of that group. Often times such things turn into a popularity contest and the last thing we want is "popular" or "capable" people as leaders in the Church. What we should be desiring is godly leadership. The Church must be led by the Holy Spirit not some smooth talking guy who knows how to entertain the people. Some times entertainment is not what we think it is. Sometimes it is a lot of shouting, hollering , foot stomping and fist pounding. It can also be a series of jokes for 20 or 30 minutes. That isn't going to help us grow.

The reason Paul gave a list of requirements to Timothy is because it is hard for us to judge a man's heart. He gave him a list as a telltale sign of a man filled by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes a person can fake manifestations of the Spirit but it is hard to fake good character over a period of time. When you are in a position of needing to choose leaders it is sometimes a process of elimination; it may be hard to see what we want but not hard to see what we don't want. It is important to struggle over this because we need a people who are Holy Spirit filled and called to be in leadership positions. This is even more important as we are nearing the end. Paul prophesied to Timothy:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:1-2)

The enemy's message being taught in the Church by leaders who have the appearance of godliness but not the power. Following Paul's criteria is good but we must also ensure that this is not the mere appearance of godliness. This is the reason why sometimes people must be given some time to prove themselves because character is hard to maintain over time if it does not belong to you. This is so important because I believe the wrong leadership in the Church is what will lead to what Paul was given to see about the last days:

 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
(2 Timothy 3:1-5)

It is true that we will take on the character of the person leading us if we are not strong in the Lord ourselves. If we are truly filled by the Spirit and desiring Jesus more and more then we will take on his character, which is a character of godliness. If we are weak then we will take on the character of our spiritual leader and if he is not a godly man then we are in trouble. A Christ-centered leader will also point us to Jesus, giving Jesus the glory. A self-centered leader will always draw attention to himself and make himself the center of attention.

It is important that we are careful with whom we place ourselves under spiritually. Some would say that we should put ourselves under no man yet the Scriptures refer to those whom God has place in authority over us:

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

If we are to obey then it is important that those who are responsible for acknowledging the leaders raised up by the Spirit test that they are authentic in their calling. Pastors who need to select elders and the Body who selects deacons must do so in a prayerful manner, considering character as well as the Spirit in these important matters. Remember that God does not judge a man according to our criteria so it is important that we listen to his voice in these matters. And let us support and pray for our godly leaders, that they would remain strong in the Lord and in his mighty power and that they would always seek his council.

Just a footnote: I do not believe in our current leadership set up. I believe we are a bunch of cowards wanting to put strong people in place to do all the work for us. We need shepherds who help guide and protect the flock, not ones who will let us grow fat and lazy while they do all the work. We need to realize the responsibilities of the elders and stop expecting our pastors to be a "jack of all trades". We have set up the clergy again, the elite priesthood whereas the Church is designed with the common priesthood of which we are all members. Something to reflect on over these next few days.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Character is the foundation of leadership

Good morning my friends and welcome to Monday.I trust you had an excellent celebration yesterday as you gathered with your brothers and sisters to worship and learn more about our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a grand adventure isn't it? I pray the leaders in your church are well. They have a daunting task as they grow in the Lord at the same time as having responsibility for over seeing other people's growth. Leadership in the Church is not easy and not everyone is called to it.

Paul was very particular in his instructions to Timothy about what character of people should be accepted as leaders. He wrote:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (1 Timothy 3:2-4)

He goes on with a bit more and then he starts in with a similar list for the deacons. We could probably argue over the title "overseer" but since it is my blog and to make matters less complicated we are going to consider the overseer as referring to the pastor. Church was much different in the early days than it is now so sometimes the words are hard to fit into today's situation. Regardless, Paul was referring to the people who had responsibility for people and ministries. The deacons had to meet the same criteria because they too had leadership responsibilities in the Church.

Character has always been an important thing for God and when a person comes to accept Jesus we see the evidence of it by their changed character. Character does not change with responsibility but only through the transforming power of Jesus Christ. We read of great evangelists of the past who went from the streets to the pulpit and were used greatly by the Lord to win souls to the Kingdom but they were like two different people. They were of the lowest character on the streets but when they accepted Jesus everything changed. Sometimes we allow people of low character to take leadership in the Church thinking that they will change with responsibility. Then we are completely shocked when they fall or fail. Shame on us for allowing them to be put in such a position.

Character is who we are. It begins to be formed in us when we are young and once formed it is near impossible to change. The only force that can change who we are is the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes he doesn't change our character but channels it and puts it to greater use. I have made the very unscientific observation that most pastors have an addictive nature about them. Most of them would make a good alcoholic or drug abuser. I believe they have this nature because of the need to be completely addicted to Jesus in order to serve in the responsibility of a pastor. There are probably just as many cases contrary to this but it is what I have observed.

Thankfully we have many excellent examples of great leadership in the Church today. I am not about to start naming names but we can all think of a few, and they are not all young and vibrant. There are excellent leaders in the limelight and there are excellent leaders serving every day without the recognition of thousands of believers. These are valiant people who get up every morning simply with the desire and determination to give their best to the Lord and his people. We need the leaders in the limelight but we really need those pastors and elders who are serving without thank you's and acknowledgments. For every "Paul" there are hundreds of "Timothy's"; people of excellent character, serving the Lord with great diligence.

We need to be thankful of the excellent leaders God has given to us. They are all different, some dynamic and others more subtle in their ways. Whatever their manner, we can be thankful for their character and who they are in Jesus. We can be thankful for their love, dedication and faithfulness to the task that has been given to them. We can be thankful and pray for them because their task is not easy as they tend to their own relationship with Jesus while encouraging others to do the same. Take the time and pray for the leaders in your congregation today. The stronger they are the stronger you are.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Examining our attitude toward prayer

Good morning fiends. I trust you are still very much in prayer for the Haitians who spent the night sleeping on the streets again. Prayer will carry the day. There are very specific things that can be prayed for instead of just some general prayer thrown out there. Understand that there is a lot of relief material on the way but it can't all land. Pray for a miracle that they will figure out a way to land all those planes. As well, the people are desperate and human life has no value as they fight for survival. Pray the organizers will work well together to get the supplies distributed safely to everyone, that no one else will die needlessly.

These are two examples of prayers that can be offered up throughout the day because prayer does make the difference. The world does not and cannot understand but you can because you know Jesus. This is Kingdom work that is taking place in Haiti and Jesus told us that if we pray in relationship with him our Father will respond. Prayer is not just vital for Haiti but for everything in our lives. Paul wrote to Timothy:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Paul says "first of all", as if to say "this is our first action, our first order of business". Often we get it backwards, even in churches. The board will get together, have a symbolic opening prayer, discuss business, and then ask God to bless the plans. If should be a matter of praying until the plan is evident from God and then everyone agreeing on it. We often try to find our own solutions to things and when we can't we turn to prayer. It is a second thought, a last resort. But Paul says that it should actually be a routine that covers everyone in prayer, including government, "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness".

There are many forms of prayer, as I have stated before. There is the "accident scene" prayer; that one time prayer in an emergency situation. There is the short-term covering prayer; when someone is off on a two week missions trip and you cover them every day in prayer. There is also the "forever" or "permanent" covering prayer; when you prayer for this person or ministry forever. This would include parents praying for their children, pastors for their people, people for their pastors, Christians for the many levels of government and other similar long-term relationships. Is your prayer routine structured to accommodate these types of commitments or are you more hit and miss, as the wind blows? We need to get serious about our routine of prayer which needs to be thought out as well as a physical fitness routine.

There is a reason Paul wrote "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness". Perhaps you have not noticed but when you pray for someone your attitude changes toward them. Your heart softens and you begin to desire to bless them instead of curse them. This is why Jesus told us to pray for those who persecute us because prayer guards our heart against bitterness and hatred. It is impossible to be interceding for someone, asking for the grace of God for them, and then get up from your knees hating them. Paul's heart was clear on this matter:

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. v. 8

Some of you know that I have really been pushing hard for Christians everywhere to be be praying and supporting the situation in Haiti but it is not the only thing we should be praying about. If we do not have a routine for our prayers, if we are not keeping lists and using helpful tools, then one issue will undermine other important issues. We need to approach prayer with the same attitude as a general has going into battle. If we can capture this attitude then we may discover our prayers become more effective for the people who we are praying for. We will also discover a growing love for the people for whom we pray. Don't delay, examine your approach to prayer today. We have all been called to prayer. Pray hard and pray often!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Our Christian aid workers are in danger

Good morning my friends. We need to pray hard for the Christian workers in Haiti and for those on their way to Haiti; their lives are about to change forever. They are facing things that you and I cannot imagine and those things will try to change and reshape them, and in some ways it will succeed. But will they allow it to shake their faith? These dear workers are about to have a sensory overload and the way they respond to that will greatly depend on the maturity of their faith.

Do you remember when Jesus tried to get away from the masses of people after hearing about his cousin John being beheaded? He tried to escape by boat but the crowd guessed where he was going and beat him to that location. As Jesus approached that place of hoped-for-solitude, where he anticipated to spend some time in prayer and with his friends, he found a teeming mass of human pain and suffering waiting for him. This wasn't a church gathering. This was a crowd made up of people from every walk of life, with every possible sin, with every possible disease, with every possible heartache, with every possible injury and deformity; all focused on him. Most of us would have turned and ran as far away as possible. Not Jesus:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)

For the next little while these Christian aid workers will not be able to get away from the suffering; it is going to be all around them; everywhere they turn for a break they will face it. They have a choice; they can allow their hearts to be hardened a bit so that they protect themselves, but this may change them in a negative way from years to come; or they can allow Jesus to love these people through them. What I mean by this is that they do not take this suffering upon themselves but they recognize it belongs to Jesus and their acts of love belong to Jesus so they are nothing more than the vessel of that love. The only way this is possible is for them to stay 100% focused on Jesus Christ. They need to remember their calling and purpose. Paul told Timothy:

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. (1 Timothy 1:18-19)

There are times that we can be overcome by the circumstances of our life to the point where we disown everything we have been instructed about God, turning our back on faith. If these aid workers do not remain grounded in their calling, their purpose, in the Word of God, in worship, in prayer and in fellowship with other believers they will become overwhelmed and overcome by the suffering. They need to be covered in prayer, but more than that we need to remind them of scripture verses that remind them and encourage them that Jesus overcame which makes them more than conquerors through him. They also need to know we are praying. Try to get hold of the contact information of some of these workers. Don't ask them any questions, just remind them of verses and tell them what you are praying for them.

If you know any of these workers then, with their permission, get their names out on Twitter or FaceBook so the rest of us can be praying for them by name. Ask their permission to share their email or Twitter (preferably Twitter) so we can send them our prayers and scripture verses. We need to let them know they are not alone, they are representing the Church and Jesus. My friends, fight the good fight for the brothers and sisters fighting against the evil of despair and hopelessness that is setting in over Haiti. Pray!

Here is an excellent article: 8 Specific Ways To Pray for Haiti

Thursday, January 14, 2010

God's priorities in the suffering in Haiti

Good morning friends. There are so many stories and so many pictures coming out of Haiti now, we are beginning to get a full picture of the unbelievable devastation there. As we go about our day the images keep playing out in our minds and it is hard to stop thinking about the people. As I eat, come home to a good house, crawl into a warm bed I think of the images of the children sitting in the dust on the side of the pathway. People begin to ask those predictable questions, "If there is a God, why would he allow this?" Our response is as predictable, "He created a perfect world, we messed it up and now we are living with the consequences". "He could have prevented it!!" they exclaim.  He shake our heads,"Yes, he could have prevented a lot of things, but then we wouldn't be human any more. He has given us the right to choose and to either live a victorious or a messed up life. If he prevented everything then our choices would also be taken away and we would become puppets. That is not what he wants and I am sure it is not what we want."

One of the things that is hard for us to understand and accept is that God is more concerned about our heart condition than he is about our physical comfort. We want a "sugar daddy" as a God; a genie who will grant our every wish. We need to keep in mind that Jesus' mission leading up to his death was two pronged; to cast out demons and preach the good news. He cast out demons to give people the freedom to respond to the good news. Jesus healed people because his heart could not stand to see their suffering. He responded out of compassion but it was not his mission.

Right now we are being moved by that same compassion that is in us because of God's love. The whole world is being moved by compassion as everyone mobilizes to bring help to a suffering nation. It comes from a sense of duty to one another. I pray that our compassion is different, deeper, and provoked by the heart of God. In the same way that God did not prevent the disease that Jesus healed, he did not prevent this disaster. Yet, Jesus was moved to heal as we should be moved to bring aid. The thing is, in all this suffering we need to remember that our priority is still the same as Jesus' was, to cast out demons and to preach the Good News. What is the sense of patching up the body if we are not going to take care of the more important thing that the body houses? If you are only interested in patching the "tent" then give to the Red Cross, but if you understand the true nature of our mission then give to the many Christian agencies that are going in with the message of hope as well. We need to equip the Church right now so she can carry on our mission.

Paul wrote to Timothy:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)

This we know, but my question is, why did he save us? You begin to see some of Paul's motivation for going to the world with the message of hope when you read these words:

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. v. 16 

We were saved so that we could be used as an example of God's grace. The priority of the Kingdom is not on the comforts of this world but is all about the condition of our heart and the thousands of people we are an example to in our lifetime. So as we petition our Lord for those suffering in Haiti let's also cover the the many Christian workers already there and the many that are going in. Let us pray that God will keep their minds centered on his priorities; that as they bring physical comfort they will also understand that they are living examples of God's grace. Let us pray for the salvation of these people by praying strength and discernment into our brothers and sisters who are there representing us (the Church) and Jesus. Let us pray that they will not grow wearing in doing good and will have the understanding that by serving strong and well a harvest will be had at some point. Let us pray that out of these ashes a nation will rise, fiercely dependent on God for all things; a nation that will show the world what transformation will happen when we trust Jesus. Pray hard! Pray often!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti : a reminder of our mission

Good morning my friends. I am sure your thoughts and prayers are going to the people of Haiti today as we receive more and more news of the widespread devastation in the capital. To hear, read and see that the capital is largely completely destroyed is hard for us to imagine. They say it is the largest earthquake ever to hit the area. Of course we need to do more than pray, we need to act. Even if we only have a couple of dollars to give, $2 times 100 million will go a long way to help out.

It is disasters like this that remind me that life is precious and feeble, and it comes with no guarantees. It can be snuffed out in an instant in an earth quake, house fire, stepping off the curb without looking, falling down a flight of stairs, a part of the body gives out or through disease like cancer or aids. Once death has come the grace of God has ended. Death is the final act and after that is left the judgment of God. It means that us rescuers should feel an even greater need to get the lifelines out to those who are dying. How many would be lost if that same earthquake had hit our city?

The thing I want us to keep in mind is that we should never judge a person's heart by their outward actions. We should never write anyone off because we do not know how the Spirit has prepared their heart or how God is going to reveal himself. If we look at Paul's example, we remember that he had such a hate on for the Church that he was going door to door to track Christians down to throw them into prison. This was a big time persecution at the hands of Paul. Paul never forgot what he was before Jesus intervened and he never forgot exactly what Jesus did for him:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:12-14)

Paul had that keen awareness of God's grace because he remembered who he was before. He also realized he acted in ignorance and unbelief and was saved from it. No one would have ever thought it possible that Paul would become one of the great apostles and would carry the gospel of grace to the rest of the world. I wonder how many people we have all written off in our lives, believing that they will never change. The fact is, when Jesus steps in things change. Now give Paul some credit here; he did have a choice when he was confronted by Jesus, he could have run away and remained in his unbelief as thousands of people do every day. Instead he submitted himself to the Lordship and instruction of Jesus.

Not everyone has a Damascus Road experience. Jesus does not show up for everyone. Sometimes it is simply the overwhelming conviction of the Holy Spirit and a response to that conviction. Regardless of how, it is always when the person becomes aware of their sinful condition and separation from God. It is at that moment they realize why they need Jesus. My testimony is that I had a similar experience to Paul, when the presence of the Lord filled my bedroom and a voice thundered in my mind, Enough! There was no condemnation, just the stark reality of what I was and how much I needed the love of Jesus. I was on my face in my bedroom in an instant, and like Paul, remembering that moment has carried me through a lot of dark times. However, it was the years and years of preaching and teaching that laid the foundation to my understanding of how much I was a sinner when Jesus showed up in my bedroom. Without it I might not have chosen Jesus not realizing how much I needed him.

Now taking this back to Haiti we realize that many thousands of people died in their sin in this terrible disaster. The world will look and say "What a waste of life" but we look and say with a conviction in our heart, "What a wasted eternity". But remember, people cannot repent of their sin and their way of life which is contrary to God if they do not know they are sinners. How will they know if we remain silent?

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)

As we send money off to Haiti, and I pray you will, let us also consider the condition of the world around us. What would happen to these poor, dear souls if disaster hit? Will you not share the good news of Jesus Christ with your neighbour, friend, family? Demonstrate the truth of the gospel in your actions and in your words. Never write anyone off, you have no idea what God has planned and you do not know his approach of intervention. Just know that the words you speak are providing a foundation for the choice that person has or will have to submit to Jesus or to run away. Never think you are wasting your time and energy. Let us pray for the families of the victims in Haiti but let us also pray for the victims of sin all around us.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rescue the perishing and care for the dying

Good morning my friends. I hope it is a good morning for you and you are staying out of trouble. It isn't always easy to stay out of trouble, especially if you are a driver. There are a great variety of laws in our country that we need to follow as citizens and thankfully most are natural so we do not need to even think about them. Not many of us are going to rob a bank, or steal a purse or murder someone today. However, when we get behind the wheel of a car we face a huge chance of coming into conflict with the law. The reason I say this is because many drivers drive without thinking. It's like they put their brains in neutral when they get into their vehicle. They change lanes without using their indicators; they get caught up in conversation and end up speeding through a school zone; they forget to stop for pedestrians. Any of these simple things will put us in conflict with the law.

Now the laws are not bad and if we get a ticket we should be thankful. Those laws are there to protect us and the people around us. They keep us safe and allow a lot of people to live well together. One of the signs of a proper society is a list of codes or laws that govern the people, protecting the values of that society. It is no different with our spiritual community. God put in place a set of laws that reflect the character of himself to govern the people. Some saw that when Israel received the Ten Commandments they became a true nation. After the death and resurrection of Jesus and with the giving of the Holy Spirit that law became written on the hearts of God's people. The basis of that law is love which we find in Jesus' summary of the law:

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27)

When we are governed by this love then we follow the law without realizing it or thinking about it. When we take wrong action or thought the Spirit is there to convict us and to bring us back to a proper thinking and action. It requires us to be open and sensitive to the Spirit. However, this does not mean we should forget about the law or set it aside. It is true that we are under God's grace and he deals with us according to this grace but the law has a purpose. Paul tells Timothy that there is a manner in which to apply it. First he writes to him:

 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. (1 Timothy 1:8)

Then Paul reminds Timothy that the law still has its original purpose, to reveal sin in people:

We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. vs. 9-11

This was the purpose of the law in the first place, to show us how far we fall short of the glory of God. Without the law there would have been no measuring stick and we would have thought that our behaviour was normal and acceptable. We can't stop preaching the Ten Commandments to the world because they need to know that their actions and heart condition is keeping them separated from God. They need to know that they need a saviour, that there is a reason Jesus died on the cross for them.

Without the law people do not understand why they need Jesus. We can tell them that Jesus loves them and died on the cross for them but without the law they cannot understand the context. Homosexuality will soon be recognized as normal around the world. Prostitution will begin to be legalized and taxed. It is already normal for people to live together for a year or so and then move on to a new partner. More and more the Christian standards of our society are being let go. I agree with everyone of you who are saying "What's the big deal, their actions won't save them? They have to know Jesus". However, it is a big deal in that we are beginning to see our societies slip back into a state of lawlessness where they no longer fear God.

Paul told Timothy that the law is good when used properly. We need to lift it up and remind people that without Christ they will be judged against this law. The Scriptures tell us that it is because of these things that the wrath of God is coming. We have to rescue people. We don't need to yell it at them, tear them down or call them names. We need to tell them about the law from a motivation of love. "Because I love you I need to warn you that God had told us not to do what you are doing. People who do these things are going to lose out on the day of God's judgment. The good news is that he sent Jesus to rescue us from that judgment." It is a good use of the law. Don't be afraid to tell people they are wrong, just do it with the motivation of love and the Spirit will give you the words. May our Lord use us today to rescue a few thousand of those who are perishing in their ignorance. For those of you driving today, be careful.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ministry to the busybodies which could mean to you and me

Good morning my friends. We are moving on to Paul's first letter to his young friend Timothy. If you remember anything about Timothy you know he was a young man who Paul wanted to take with him and Silas on Paul's second journey. (Acts 16) Most likely he went along more in a servant's role, cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry. Paul would have taken the time to disciple him for a leadership role for the future. However, the future came quickly and we see , during their time in Macedonia, Timothy coming into his own. (Acts 17) It was here that Paul was run out of Berea and was forced to move on but he left Timothy with his partner Silas to continue the work for a time. Timothy was half Jew and half Greek so Paul had Timothy circumcised so he could continue working among the Jews. This should say much of this young man who willingly submitted himself to such pain at his age.

As we pick up on this letter of instruction we see that Paul wastes no time. Timothy has been left in Ephesus, which is the capital city in the region of Asia Minor. This is an area where Paul did a lot of work for many years. Now Timothy was left behind to deal with some problems. Considering the importance Paul placed on this area, the fact he left Timothy to deal with some potentially large problems speaks well of Timothy. The problem was with busybody men and with men who wanted to be something they were not called to and who wanted to take short cuts:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work—which is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:3-4)

Have you met any men like this? I have. Plenty of them. They major on the minor in order to make themselves feel more important and useful than they actually are. They would take the little bit of knowledge they had and try to build doctrines around it. They were and are a source of division, feeling it necessary to tear pastors and ministries down in order to lift themselves up. They cause people to take the emphasis off of what is important, God's work, in order to draw attention to themselves. Some of them want to make the choice of translation of the Bible the focus point instead of Jesus and the work we have been left to do. Their argument is mute because the only authentic version of the Bible is the original Hebrew and Greek version. But notice Paul had not given up on these people. He had left Timothy to instruct them to get back to God's work, which is by faith.

This emphasis on faith is important. We pay it lip service but we do not always live it. We limit it to faith in the context of believe instead of allowing it to be lived out in the area of trust. Paul goes as far as to write:

But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

That is serious stuff. Everything we are involved in with the work of God requires us to be in a position of faith, of trust. Those of you who have been involved in God-sized works know that our faith gets tested and strengthened in these works. I could never put enough emphasis on this point but it also requires that we are absolutely sure that we are in the will of the Father. I dare say most of us are not because we are doing what we have decided we want to do instead of listening to what God wants us to do. I believe this is also why there is so little power in many ministries and works.

Paul goes on from this point on faith and takes it to the second of the three pillars in our spiritual walk (faith, hope and love). He wants Timothy to instruct these men on love and what is necessary for the right type of love:

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Timothy 1:5-7)

This is such a great danger for us in the Body of Christ; we want to get to the exciting stuff without having the fundamentals in place. We want to jump right into responsibility without the foundation, and this leads to the destruction of ourselves and sometimes the ones we work with. Paul says that love comes from having three things in place: a pure heart, a good conscience, a sincere faith. I feel an entire Bible study coming on so I had better leave it at this and allow you to explore these points later, or perhaps I can provide further reflection on these points in a different forum. It is enough to know for now that we need to go through training, discipling, as Timothy did, to learn and to put in place these fundamental matters before taking on great responsibilities. Sometimes our call must wait while we are equipped to fulfill it. Other times the equipping comes with teh service. It is important to discern the voice of the Spirit in these matters.

If we do not take the time to be mentored, discipled, trained, we could find ourselves in the terrible place of wondering off into the meaningless. What a terrible place to be; to realize that everything you have done and are doing has no meaning, no purpose in the Kingdom of God. These men that Timothy had to deal with saw themselves as teachers but they had no foundation to teach from. They taught from a selfish perspective and everything they taught was useless. This is what happens when we think the Kingdom is about position and importance. The Kingdom of God is about relationship and development of people through relationship. It is not about perceived power through position and importance. In the Kingdom, the more important a person appears the greater servant he or she must be. The only power is held by the head, who is Jesus Christ.

Let us make sure we are receiving proper instruction and that we have a good, solid, and developing foundation in place. Let us not choose the work for ourselves but instead wait to be invited by Dad to join him in what he is doing. Let us always be aware that we have no authority other than what is leant to us by the Spirit but all glory must go to the Father. Let us understand that without love we are nothing and have nothing (1 Cor 13) and in order for us to have love we must have a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. With this in mind let us head into this week confident in the Lord, that who he calls he also equips.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Consumer or producer? Which are you?

Good Saturday morning my friends. It felt good to sleep in this morning by almost 3 hours. It must mean I was tired from my week. I don't mind feeling tired at the end of the week, in fact it feels pretty good. I enjoy working. I enjoy producing useful things and I love that I am a useful person to people. Hard work will never kill me but idleness will. I cannot stand having nothing to do. It is a part of my character because I was trained well by my parents. It is not that they sat down and gave me instruction on being a diligent worker. They didn't have to; I learned it from the example of their lives. It is as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. In fact he ended his second letter to them with this:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10)

This is an interesting subject for a Saturday in a society that appears to value entertainment more than anything else. There was a time in our societies when each man and each woman were producers of some sort. Not everyone was a farmer or a housewife producing preservatives to sell, but everyone contributed something to their community that was of use to other members of that society. There was a good balance between production and consumption. There is no such balance now, in fact there seems to be few people who even understand the concept of working to contribute to the community. Many people work so that they can have money to consume what they want; usually entertainment. This is even worse when we translate it into the setting of the Body of Christ. Paul writes:

We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. vs. 11-13

We are no better than the world in the way we have turned our churches into producers of products and the pew sitters into the people who consume those products. If a church does not have a certain "entertainment" value it will fail. There are some very successful churches and pastors who have plugged into the mentality of our society and have become very good at drawing people in with their high entertainment value. But what are those people being taught to produce if anything at all? I am not dumping on any churches, I do not have any particular ones in mind, I am only continuing to point out what I have pointed out since the early days of the Church Growth movement; it is a dangerous approach and mentality. Every Christian in every church needs to be trained to understand they are producers as well as consumers. They must work and contribute to the community.

I realize that much of what Paul is writing here has to do with physical labour but he understood that this also translates spiritually. If a person is a hard worker in their occupation they will easily understand the need to be a good labourer in the Kingdom. And those who are good labourers in the Kingdom will also be a hard worker in their work place. However, we need to stop entertaining and get back to training. We need to be trainers or we will have a work force that does not understand its place or purpose. Yes, our churches are houses of worship but they are also places of instruction. Of course Paul hit the truth of the matter; the best instructions are given by example. Do we not follow Jesus' example as well as Paul's? Words are great but nothing speaks louder than leading by example.

I was shocked to hear yesterday that it is claimed that almost a third of my country is Muslim. That is what the Muslim community claims and that is what is reported on the news. Considering how empty the churches are I do not believe it safe to think that two thirds are Christian. I would say more like an eighth or less of the population are devote followers of Jesus. But that is okay because God has done his greatest work with small numbers. In my province only 0.3% are evangelical Christians. This means that every Christian must hear the call to the harvest field and everyone must commit themselves to be labourers for Christ. We cannot afford to entertain idle believers, there is far too much work to be done. So let's get to it!

Friday, January 8, 2010

"Accident Scene", Covering or Both? What is your attitude?

Good morning everyone. Have you ever been in any situations where you felt you needed prayer but you were afraid to bother anyone about it? I address that question especially to my students this morning who are only now starting to realize that prayer is much more than a thing we say over a meal and at bed time. For many of us it is our first reaction to situations, for ourselves or for others. These are those emergency prayers that we pray and walk away from. Consider those "accident scene" prayers. As we mature we begin to realize that there is much more to this thing we call prayer then what we first understood.

The basis of prayer is our conversation with our heavenly Father about the matters on our heart. It should be considered a conversation to grasp the greater depth of our Father's heart, doing more than just getting things off your chest. A good consistent prayer habit draws us closer to our Father as any conversation draws us closer to the person with whom we are communicating. Some people would say it is one sided but I never find it is. The Spirit responds to my heart with assurances and often answers by focusing my thoughts, ideas, and direction. He always uses Scripture to respond to me, speaking to me by bringing verses to my mind. Of course this requires that I have hidden the Word in my heart in the first place. For me personally he often places random references in my mind, causing me to look them up. Often he takes me to odd places but always speaks clearly to the situation. We must also realize that pray releases action. As we pray for people and situations our Father takes action. Our words are not just words but they cause a release in the spiritual realm changing realities in our world. It is not magic but instead relationship. For some reason our Father has tied his action into our prayers. By us praying we are requesting that he will take the action he has already determined to take but was waiting to be asked. According to the Scriptures, especially looking at Abraham and Moses, in our conversation with our Father we can actually change his will. That is amazing to think about.

Understanding this then we can understand that our prayers can be more effective if we have a better than "accident scene" approach to them. Yes, there are occasions when we will only get an opportunity to pray once but most of the time we will need to provide a "covering" prayer in the attitude of our approach. This means that we will cover the person or the situation with our prayers daily, perhaps even more often, as the Spirit prompts. It is always what I look for from people for our school and our students: a covering of prayer. This is also what Paul was asking from the Thessalonians:

Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2)

Paul was asking them to pray for the success of the ministry as well as protection for them in that ministry. Paul knew what many Christian workers discover after a period of experience, prayer is more precious than gold. Physical support is good and necessary but so is a group of believers who commit themselves to covering you in prayer. Students, if you want to meet with success then find a small group of people who will dedicate themselves to covering you daily and communicate often to them your needs. Businessmen, moms, labourers, ministers, teachers, whoever you are or whatever you do, find people who will pray for you daily. Also be willing to take on a number of people to cover, and make sure that list includes your pastor or pastoral team and anyone who has any spiritual responsibility over you.

Do not leave prayer to emergency situations but make is a purposeful part of your ministry. Put some thought into it. Take on prayer projects. Remind people you are praying and keep in touch with those who are covering you. Make lists of what you are covering, who you are covering and who is covering you. Keep a journal. Develop this and you will see your connection with the Father develop at the same time. You will learn his heart for people and he will use you mightily. Bottom line, just don't tell people you will pray, do it and do it with purpose. Let's cover each other because there is evil present in this world and we all need protection from its effects. Pray for me and let me know you are praying. Let me know that you want to be covered as well and for what, and I will cover you. Together we will serve our Father in a dying world, shoulder to shoulder. To God be the glory.