Sunday, February 28, 2010

DON'T QUIT!!

Have you ever had that feeling that something is wrong in the Spirit but not know what it was? That is how I woke up this morning. I also woke to a very heavy weight on me from a number of things that are pressing in at this time. I also knew I had to write this morning but not feeling like it or knowing what I needed to write. Yet the the Spirit just said to start. So here I am starting. For those looking for a quick 30 second read, this isn't it. I have a sense that something real is going to come out of it this morning.

Over the past 18 years as a pastor I have learned a lot of lessons in both my failures and my victories but the greatest thing I learned is that I hate failing. I hate it so much that I do everything, sacrifice everything, pay whatever price there is to pay not to fail. Maybe it is because of what my dad told me when I was just a boy playing hockey. My dad put a lot of time and money into me succeeding as a hockey player. It was an "okay" activity but I was not not an enthusiastic player. One year the practices got changed and suddenly they were interfering with my Saturday morning cartoons. It was in the day when the only cartoons were Saturday morning and again Saturday evening (5 or 6 pm) with the "Bugs Bunny.Road Runner Show". I decided to quit hockey. My dad simply said to me, "If you start quitting things now you will quit things for the rest of your life". In many ways my dad was right.

The easiest thing to do in life is to quit when things don't go the way you expect them to or when they become really hard. It is what we do with our jobs, our relationships and even our ministries. We have very little tolerance for pain, hardship, sacrifice, and hard work. Many of us expect it to be almost handed to us on a silver platter and when it isn't we walk away to find another place or someone who will serve it up on a silver platter. We have terrible expectations of bosses, of people, of life and of God. The problem is, as easy as it is to quit things, the consequences can be severe.

We have a lot of damaged people walking around out there (the world) and in here (the Church) because of the brokenness that comes from unfinished things. Quitting doesn't mean its over and we get to turn the page. Quitting means it is unfinished, loose ends, torn pages, broken parts, incompleteness, unfulfilled, feelings of being lost. It is not just you but those things and people you were part of before you quit and walked away. It is a terrible feeling and one that does not leave; it fades a bit with time but it never goes away. If you are a person who never completes anything then you are carrying a lot of brokenness around inside of you. I am no psychologist, only a man with too much experience in this subject.

Being a quitter is not always obvious to you or to those around you. It is not like we quit at the first signs of trouble; we hang in there and fight along side everyone else, always believing for a better day. Yet, as things get tougher, as the hope for a better day begins to fade, we lose our resolve so that quitting looks like the only option. After all, why should we throw our life away on something that is not successful? It is better to cut our losses and start over with something else so we can make that a success. It seems so logical in the moment. The thing is, success often only happens after we have survived the hard times and the sacrificial years. You can apply that to work, relationships, and ministries. Sometimes those struggles may last a lifetime or even generations but it requires that time of hard work and determination for success. Easy words to write but when you are a quitter by character then it is near impossible to live.

When I woke this morning with this feeling that there was something wrong I did what I always do, I turned to the Word. At first I was a bit confused but now I am beginning to understand it:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said:
   "Today, if you hear his voice,
      do not harden your hearts
   as you did in the rebellion."
(Hebrews 3:12-15)


I think what I woke to this morning was a spirit of defeat, of giving up, of quitting. The ministry I am part of is once again facing some real hardships due to this spirit of quitting as Christian people walk away instead of dealing with things. It is hard when you have partnered with people over something and then they just walk away from the partnership. That little spirit of quitting is contagious and it spreads quickly, especially if you already have a character that lends itself to it. Yet, as I read the Scripture this morning I am reminded that everything in the Body of Christ must have this same attitude: "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first". 

Now here is the thing, my character is no longer what it once was because the Spirit has been working on me, transforming me to be like Jesus. I am no longer a quitter but a mighty warrior who has been called to stand in the gap where Jesus places me. I have been told to stand my ground:

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)

Here's the thing, God never leaves us alone and he never leaves us without encouragement; He is always encouraging us. However, there is something I have noted about myself and other people: once you have set your heart on a course of action, it doesn't matter how much encouragement is piled on you, you are going to follow that course. We are a very stubborn people when it comes to our own destruction. So this is the reason for the Scripture this morning:

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said:
   "Today, if you hear his voice,
      do not harden your hearts
   as you did in the rebellion."


Pay attention. Open your eyes. Let your ears hear. Allow God to encourage you to stay the course, even if it looks impossible, full of pain and demanding great sacrifices. He will give you hope so that you can see how he will help you through it all and if you stumble in the midst of it don't turn away because he will pick you up. Consider the alternative.

If you do turn away from the path you have been set upon you will meet with certain failure and heartache. The writer reminds us of the example of Israel:

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:16-19)

For me, as a leader in the Church, this is like a warning shot across my bow. God requires his people to walk in obedience in the tasks he has given us and to trust him. To turn away out of fear of the unknown, out of fear of hardship, out of fear of life is to say to our God that we do not belief he is mighty enough to save us. Belief is not just for sunny weather but for the storms of life and ministry as well. Again the Scripture this morning: We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

Our failures of the past should not dictate our actions of tomorrow. Instead let our relationship of today determine our destiny of tomorrow. When it comes down to the bottom line, it is God who decides the outcome. In many ways we are only along for the ride. The real question is will we make it to the end with God? Will we hold on with the confidence we had in the beginning? Will we trust that God knows what he is doing, that we will have the confidence to do our part well, and then after we have done everything, to stand on the ground he has given us to stand?

When my dad spoke to me as a child he did not curse me as some may interpret it. My dad spoke wise words about a character flaw he saw in me. He did his best to correct that in me because he is a good dad. However, some flaws can only be dealt with by the Spirit of God. I was once a quitter but no more. I am determined to fight for those who do not even know they are in danger. I am determined to lose everything I possess for the benefit of those who would walk away. I am determined to carry my cross to the last day when I can say with Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

There is a price to pay in order to say those words. I hope we all realize that. As for me today, I have received what I have needed to receive. My heavenly Father has pointed out that I have not been paying attention to the blessings and encouraging signs he has been giving me. I am determined not to harden my heart to his voice and I will receive the encouragement he has been pouring over me. I refuse to allow past failures to determine my destiny. I will listen for his voice and obey because I know his blessings are found in obedience and belief.

I leave you with this. Take the time to read it; it may be his voice calling to you today:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
   "He who is coming will come and will not delay.
    But my righteous one will live by faith.
   And if he shrinks back,
      I will not be pleased with him." 

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:32-39)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Who has our attention and affection?

Good morning. There are days, weeks, months and maybe even years when we face things that daily want to destroy us. It is very important in these seasons to remember who we serve and why we serve. It is easy to lose sight of this and allow tiredness and bitterness to drive us from the battlefield. There are a hundred reasons in our flesh why we should not continue on facing some of the garbage we face but the one reason there is to stay overshadows all of that and even make them insignificant if we can keep our eyes fixed on him. The hard part is keep those eyes fixed.

The author of Hebrews spent the first part of his letter establishing Jesus' authority over all things, including the angels. Now he turns his attention to showing that Jesus is even more important than any earthly authorities, even those established by God. This is important for us to know, understand and live because if we put our trust and faith in anything but Jesus we are heading to failure. First we are told to get our thoughts off of other things and get them on Jesus:

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. (Hebrews 3:1)

Then we are told why it does not make any sense to put our faith in any earthly authority, to depend on a man instead of the author of creation:

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. (3:3-6a)

Obviously the writer was speaking directly of Jesus' authority over Moses because in order for the Jews to grasp the lordship of Jesus they had to let go of Moses. However, I see significance in this passage for those who put so much emphasis on their pastor. Who is the house?

And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (3:6b)

Allow that to sink in a bit. Obviously we see the danger of the emphasis the Catholics have put in the Pope but do we recognize that same danger when we build ministries on a man or a woman instead of on Jesus? Just as Moses was not the builder of the Israelite nation, no man or woman is the Builder of the Church. Just as Moses was simply a servant, a great one at that, we too are called to be servants. The five-fold ministers are nothing more than servants. We serve in the House that God has built and we serve the Son of the owner of that house. We are not greater than the builder.

This is very important for me as a pastor, that I am constantly reminded that I cannot take any credit or glory for what God is doing with his House. It is important for me to be constantly directing everyone's attention to Jesus. We have a lot of dynamic leaders in the Church. We have a lot of good leaders building great ministries. We have a lot of people making alliances and dedicating themselves to the ministries or leadership of those individuals. We need to be careful because there is danger in these attitudes. It is just as Paul warned the Corinthians:

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

Whether great or small in the eyes of man, each pastor, each minister in the Church is nothing more than a servant in the House that God has built and continues to build. There is only one who deserves our dedicated thoughts and attention. All the servants live to bring him honour and glory. There is only one who we should fix our thoughts, our hearts and our eyes on. There is only one who can complete us and fulfill us. He is greater than all the heavenly host and he is greater than any great leader on this earth. After all, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords and to him we give our full affection. Remember, there is only one who will receive honour from every living creature:

 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11)

The only question that remains for us is are we giving our attention and affection to a servant in the House or to the Son of the Builder?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

There is no one like Jesus!

Good morning my friends. As we continue to read through Hebrews it is important to understand that this letter was written as a general letter to be shared with the Jews scattered around the known world. It is difficult to write a "devotional" from it as it becomes more like a study. However, there is good information here that leaves us with a clearer view and understanding of Jesus: who he is, what he has done and who we are because of him.

We need to appreciate how Jesus is the first born of what we will become. We always talk like we have already received everything promised by God and like we have already been transformed but what we have received is a promise and a deposit guaranteeing that promise. We see what we will be in the resurrected Jesus. The author of Hebrews explains it:

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:
   "What is man that you are mindful of him,
      the son of man that you care for him?
   You made him a little lower than the angels;
      you crowned him with glory and honor
      and put everything under his feet."
(Hebrews 2:5-8)

This was God's intended plan, that everything would be subject to us but obviously it has not happened. This is a promise we have not been able to claim yet we see it fulfilled in Jesus:

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (2:8b-9)

Obviously we could not pay the penalty of death so Jesus took our place so that one person paid the penalty for everyone. Jesus, who is greater than all things, had to be made exactly like us, a little lower than the angels, in order to pay our penalty. It is an amazing thing. It is the only way that we could come to that place of having everying subject to us. Now understand the relationship we have with Jesus because of this:

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (2:10-11)

Jesus, the author and perfecter of our salvation, the King of all creation, the one who holds all of creation together, is our brother. He has paid the price so that we may also be transformed and brought to a new place, being a new creation, to become the sons of God, to be the brothers of Jesus. I say brothers because we are all considered as sons of the Father, male and female.

We are given two more reasons why Jesus had to become just like us. The first is because he had to rescue us from our greatest fear:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (1:14-15)

Sin is what caused death in us. Sin prevented us from stepping into the life that God held out for us. Jesus destroyed that death when he brought us freedom from our sinful nature. That freedom then left us able to choose for ourselves whether we would take  life from God or step back into the death offered by the enemy. Many have nullified the sacrifice of Jesus by freely choosing death. I hope we have chosen life and will remain there until we have received the promise of full salvation.

Another reason Jesus had to become like us:

For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (1:17-18)

Jesus is also our High Priest who intercedes for us with the Father. He is an effective High Priest because he became us and understands our weaknesses, our fears and the temptations we face. He is better able to understand the grace we need to make it through each day. He knows, he understands, and he helps our Father understand the suffering of our temptations.

It is good to see these concrete images of Jesus from the Word of God. Too often we rest on what other people say about him. We listen to testimonies that are sometimes embellished with things that are not in the Word. Sometimes people decide to add their own thoughts to things they do not clearly understand. This is the reason we need to get our understanding of Jesus directly from the Word. Now we know why Jesus had to be made like us. We know why he calls us brothers. We also know how he is a great High Priest, always working for our benefit. It is from this understanding that we are able to enter this day with praise and worship flowing from a heart of thanksgiving. There is no one like Jesus!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It is always all about Jesus

Good morning my friends. One of the things I appreciate about the letter to the Hebrews is the frank and straight shooting format it takes. There is no greeting as the writer jumps right into the business at hand. There is not a lot of flowery words or beating around the bush as he gets right to the point. However, there is a lot of information and evidence the author gives immediately about Jesus. We should take note of this. The first thing we need to do with sinners is introduce them to Jesus and the cross. Forget about the Church and its importance; forget about talking about heaven and hell; forget about Jesus' return. Those things will come after, but first talk about Jesus, his love and his sacrifice and the results of it.

What is established in the second chapter is that Jesus' message is far more binding than any message that any angels ever delivered. It is a carry over from yesterday's Scriptures that emphasized the preeminence of Jesus over everything, including angels:

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3a)

There is a clear and precise warning for you; be careful and pay attention to what you are hearing; check it against the sound doctrine of the Word; reject anything that is not confirmed in the Word. Then we have the warning and it is a good one. If disobedience to the messages delivered by the angels brought such great punishment does it not make sense that to ignore the message of Jesus, the son of God, will have dire consequences? Yet, many try to serve without even knowing, let alone understanding what Jesus' message is and what he said, and the instructions he gave.

In our present age we must also face the criticism and heckling of so-called experts and scholars who believe they can discredit in words what we have gained by experience.  As powerful as his Word is, God seldom leaves it in that form, causing his Word to take action, confirming what it is he has said:

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (2:3b-4)

This too people try to dismiss but it is hard to do when people of such common birth accomplish what is beyond them in Jesus name. This is the part I hope you can grasp: you are a living, breathing, walking, talking sign, wonder, miracle of God when you are willing to live big for Jesus. It is the reason he has given us such gifts from the Spirit, so that living for his glory he is able to manifest himself through us so that the whole world will know that his message is true. Right now Jesus' message of salvation is being lost in the ordinary, the mundane, the tired, the failed life of people who seem to no longer know him or his greatness.

We need to look to the past to see the incredible things God has done through ordinary people who believed, trusted and obeyed. Now we consider them great heroes of the faith but when you look at their lives most of them were not well educated or well endowed with great abilities. What they did have is an undying love for Jesus, a belief they were called to purpose, and a willingness to obey no matter the cost. Today we have to cut through a lot of fat to find the man and woman within the cocoon of self  but when we look to Jesus and only Jesus and trust his words and the evidence of their truth, the man and woman of faith and self-sacrifice will rise up.

We need to take the warning serious and pay attention to what we are hearing. Is it worthless myths or the eternal truth of Jesus' message? We need to make sure we are on solid ground for this foundation of our lives. If the foundation is wrong the house will be wrong. If the foundation is right then not only will be have salvation but we will bring the seeds of salvation to many others. So, let's get back to the truth, step into our purpose and let us live lives that are large according to our faith so Jesus will be glorified in us and the world will know his love.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The seeking after spiritual things is not all good stuff

Good morning my friends. Have you realized what a spiritual world we live in? The great majority of people are trying to look beyond what we know to find explanation and purpose for their life. Unfortunately many would rather believe in ghosts and fairy tales than in the reality of the Word of God. Mysticism is a growing thing among the population of the earth as people turn to new ideas and philosophies to explain life or to add excitement to the ordinary. As people get lazy in their attitude toward Bible study we are seeing more of this way of thinking creeping into the Church as well.

People have an unhealthy appetite to go beyond the Word for explanation. They want to know more of the mystery without knowing the concrete revelation of the Word. They act as if the revelation God has given of himself through the Bible is not enough or does not contain enough information, so they use other philosophies and teachings to augment what they do not know or have not bothered to study. This is where we get the unhealthy appetite to see what cannot be seen and we start emphasizing things like angels and other spiritual beings. There are a great many myths surrounding angels and many reports of people speaking to angels. There has been a growing interest in these mysterious beings and many false teachings rising from it. In fact there are people in the Church who but more emphasis on these ministering spirits than they put on their relationship with Jesus Christ.

One thing mysticism does is create mediators between us and God. The Catholic church is famous for this with its emphasis on the "saints" who people pray to instead of praying directly to Jesus or the Father. Anything that teaches we need a mediator other than Jesus Christ is wrong and a false teaching. We do not speak to angels either. Why would we when we have direct access to the throne? The entire first chapter of Hebrews deals with the preeminence of Jesus and the place of angels:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

It is as plain as the nose on your face that Jesus is the instrument of creation and that all things belong to him. That is the beauty of the written Word of God, it does not change with the shifting wind of human philosophy. Just because a man says something is so does not make it so. But the Word of God is unchanging and what Gos says is so is so. This same chapter reveals a couple of other facts:

The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (1:3-4)

Jesus told his disciples that if they knew him they also knew his Father which is exactly what is pointed out in this chapter. As well, it is also Jesus who is holding all of creation together. Sometimes we allow the doctrine of well meaning songs to shape our vision and understanding of Jesus but often they fall short of the understanding that is needed. Not only is Jesus the instrument of creation, he also holds it all together. That alone is a good reason to worship him. On top of it, Jesus provided the way to the purification of our sins and he has taken his place at the right hand of the Father to mediate for us.

Now to make my point, Jesus is not inferior to creation or to any spiritual being. He is superior to all things. Read the chapter for yourself to see the many references that are given to support this truth that the angels are less than Jesus' glory. The only other verse I want to point out is the one that puts our thoughts of angels in its proper place:

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (1:14)

Jesus, the son of God, who dwells in us by the Holy Spirit, sits at the right hand of our Father. All things were made through him, are sustained by him and have been given to him. It is through his sacrificial act on the cross that we have salvation. He is far superior to the angels and all other things. He is our saviour, brother, friend and King. Why would we ever think that we need any other person or spirit to mediate for us when we have direct access to the Father through Jesus the son, the only mediator needed by man? We need to be careful what we read, listen to and acknowledge as truth. All we have ever needed to know is found within the covers of the holy Word of God.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Doing what is right is often times the most difficult things to do

Good morning my friends. It is the wee hours of Monday morning and to be honest I would rather be sleeping. It was a good weekend but an exhausting one as well. Sometimes we can experience things and then at the end wonder if it was useful in any way. It is sometimes how I feel after having spent a day at an amusement park or with some other activity that has cost me time and money. A day spent and a bit poorer I wonder if I am any better for it. Sometimes you can get that feeling after reading a book or watching a movie or listening to a song: It was interesting but was it of any benefit? Some people ask that question after reading Paul's letter to Philemon: A nice letter but of what use is it to me? Don't be fooled, there are a number o good lessons to take from this simple letter.

One of those lessons is probably the hardest for any of us to deal with. It is about doing what is right even after we have been forgiven by God. It is understanding that there are natural consequences to our actions even after we have turned our life around. Sin has a way of rearing its ugly head on us even though God has completely forgotten our offenses. We have this notion that he will save us from these natural consequences but often we are left to face them because it is the right thing to do. This is a great lesson we can take from the letter to Philemon.

The premise of Paul's letter is that he is writing to ask favor of Philemon on behalf of a slave that had run away. After escaping from Philemon, Onesimus either came across Paul or one of Paul's co-workers and had accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour. However, accepting Jesus did not do away with Onesimus' social standing, his crime or his relationship with Philemon. Paul had convinced him to set things right; it was the only way to have a clear conscience in worship and service to Jesus. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult this would have been for Onesimus' not knowing if he would find freedom or death from Philemon; a letter from Paul was no guarantee.

Not many of us have done things that would have the potential severity of consequences as what Onesimus was facing. However, we have all done things that would embarrass us or make us feel uncomfortable to face or to put right. It doesn't mean we should not do it and it does not mean we will be rewarded for doing it. It's just the right thing to do and we must do the right thing in order to worship and serve with a clear conscience. I will guarantee you one thing, God will use it for his glory and the enemy will lose any grip he may feel he still has on you.

Sin is an ugly and destructive thing that affects many more people than just the one or two who participate in it. There are times that sin can have a far flung affect when we think that it has only to do with us as individuals. That sin works on a person, even after we are saved, because it is unresolved. It is difficult for us to face the things we have done, the natural consequences of our sins. We want God to wipe it all out for us, which he does in his own books but not from the hearts and minds of others. Some people may wonder why but it is a simple matter that the Father wants to be glorified in the place where the enemy thought he was victorious. Our Father wants light to shine where there was darkness so that there will be no more fear, because fear is the enemy's tool but our Father's perfect love drives out that fear by exposing it to the light. When we seek to do what is right because of Jesus then Jesus gets glorified for the changes in us, regardless of the reaction of the person we have offended by our sin. We cannot say how they will react by our confession but we do know we can testify that it is because of Jesus we want to do what is right. The enemy no longer has any power over what has been exposed to the Light.

This may seem harsh to you but it is better than the consequences of trying to live with such dark secrets. The only way a person can live with such hidden things is by allowing their conscience to become seared and if we allow this to happen we could be lost to God. The warnings in the Word about the last days is that many will teach what is false due to a seared conscience. I wonder if this will be caused by sins that were not taken care of or were left unconfessed? Let us trust the Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit. Let us be as brave as Onesimus and take Paul's counsel. Let us get rid of any last territory that the enemy thinks he possess in us so that we may serve Jesus with no fear and with a clear conscience.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The path to knowing Jesus better

Good morning my friends. I pray you are enjoying your Saturday at least as much as I am. It is the one morning I get to start my day slowly; spending the time in the Word and prayer while drinking my tea with no press on time until mid-morning when I must take my daughter to dance. It is good to start a day in this manner, especially when the rest of the day is filled with chores and errands. However the day begins we must include the Word, prayer and worship if we are to keep our focus in the day. It is important for us to remember that we are a people of purpose and a people of growth.

In his letter to Philemon Paul mentions a spiritual truth that seems to have been set aside for the most part in our current age. The truth is that as we walk in our mission we grow in our spiritual understanding:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (Philemon 1:6)

Paul states to Philemon a simplified version of what he wrote to the Ephesians:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Sometimes we get so caught up in considering the five-fold ministries we forget that their purpose is for training. They are to train people for works of service. Underline that please; works of service. Right after this there is a "so that". There is a natural benefit to being involved in the mission of Jesus Christ and it is personal spiritual growth. Paul writes this as a progression because that is exactly what is suppose to happen to us personally and the Body as a whole; we are suppose to be growing. Look at the progress; built up, reaching unity, becoming mature, attaining the fullness of Christ. Paul puts it to Philemon simply as, share your testimony with people and you will gain greater spiritual understanding. The understanding does not come in listening to sermons and participating in Bible studies, as important as they are. Understanding comes in teh "doing" of the Word.

Show me an immature Christian and I will show you a person who is not participating in the mission. It is not good enough to simply have faith if you want to grow. You have faith so you can participate in the mission. You can't participate without faith but neither should you waste what has been given to you because along with being saved you have been called. Remember James' words:

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

This was a sticking point for James as he spent most of his letter addressing this problem of lazy believers. One of the most powerful statements in his letter is a wake up call to the Body:

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:26)

Do not think this to be a new problem for the Church; it has been a part of us since the beginning. We here this from James, now read this from a great hero of the faith, William Booth: "We must wake ourselves up! Or somebody else will take our place, and bear our cross, and thereby rob us of our crown.” Can we even tolerate such a thought? Can you imagine the disappointment of our Lord if he has to call another to take our place because we failed to take up our cross?

I have no idea how but we need to give ourselves a good shaking to wake ourselves up to our own failings. We cannot be a people of faith by theory. We need to examine the Scriptures more clearly and understand that everyone God called he called to take action. We have been called as a nation of priests who have a mission to bring the light of Jesus Christ to every dark corner of our world, which includes the person living next door and the people we work with. Even today, as you participate in your shopping and errands look around for the opportunity to put your faith into action realizing that the Spirit is using it as a teaching opportunity. He wants you to grow and become mature and it only happens with participation in the mission.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers

Good morning everyone. Have you ever met a natural encourager? I know we are all told to encourage each other and most of us really work at trying to be just that, but there are others among us who do it because it is their nature. Just being around them seems to give you new strength and hope. Some of the best leaders in the Church possess this wonderful gift that then enables people around them to do great and mighty things. Good leaders empower others to do great things. This is how I have always imagined Paul to be, a great encourager.

Consider Paul's greeting to Philemon in a very personal letter he had written to him concerning Philemon's runaway slave:

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. (Philemon 1:4-5)

Philemon was a man Paul had never met but who housed the church of Colosse in his home. Paul had never been to Colosse but was given reports by the evangelist Epaphras, who was Colossian. We know Paul would have received good and bad reports as we read of some of the good and bad things in his letter to the Colossians. In the case of Philemon Paul chose to highlight the positive. Look at what he lifted up; his faith in Jesus and his love for the church.

Have you ever had someone encourage you, just at the moment you disparately needed to be encouraged, by pointing out the things you do well? Recently there have been a number of very challenging things going on in my life that have threatened to cripple me. Some of them have been an accumulation of things and others are new to the pile of pressures I face daily. I went to our Wednesday prayer meeting this week tired, drained and feeling incredibly weak. I had no idea how I would find the strength to fight through to the end of the week. As we went into prayer I found myself forcing out prayers of petition for other people while my own problems plagued my mind and affected my heart. Then a man was called on to pray and he said he had to pray something that was on his heart. He began to pray for me.

He began to praise God and thank God for me! What? Suddenly he had my full attention as he thanked God for my faithfulness and steadfastness through the many things I have had to stand up under for the last number of years. As I listened to his very sincere prayer the Spirit started provoking things in me. How I was seeing myself in the moment changed and I began to see myself through God's eyes again. I was not some frail individual who was cracking under the pressures of many heavy burdens. I was and am a mighty warrior of faith, able to face any enemy and any circumstance and overcome it in the strength of my Lord Jesus Christ. Not only this but I was and am a defender of the weak, a rescuer of the lost, a fighter for the hopeless. I could never allow anything to crush me because I had to defend the ground Jesus had given me to defend because I have faith in him and I love the Church. This man's prayer was renewing who I was and what I was called to. I was being encouraged. I left that prayer meeting with renewed purpose.

Paul was not just shooting the breeze when he wrote:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Encouragement is a big part of what we need to be doing every day for one another. We need to speak to each others strengths while we build each other up. When you read through Paul's letters you notice this common theme. Even when he sent men like Timothy and Tychicus out as postmen with his letters he sent them with the purpose of encouraging the people. As we see people doing great things we need to take the time and thank God for them and then let them know we have done so. However, it does require getting out of our own problems and taking a good look around. Even if encouragement does not come naturally to us we need to make an effort. It is when we encourage others that we are encouraged in turn by the Spirit of God. Let's face it, it is not an easy thing to do what is right, to do good, to serve Jesus in a world that is slipping further into darkness. We need each other. We need to spend the time encouraging and building each other up so we do not lose anyone as the day approaches. I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers ...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Producers vs consumers

Good morning my friends. I have been shocked recently to discover that there are people who live their lives with no goal or purpose to them. They eat, they sleep, they play and they work in order that they can eat, sleep and play. Their work is only a necessity due to the need to eat, but they do not consider it is part of their purpose. I find it very sad that someone can spend their entire adult life just existing and waiting for death. Our Creator intended so much more for us then that. This should never be the testimony of a follower of Jesus because our Father has called us to a great work. The Creator has called us to create, to lead a productive life.

Far from being productive, many of us have fallen into the trap of this present age of being nothing more than consumers. We work so we can buy products that will help us perfect our consumerism. We live in an age where so many tools have been handed to us to be creative and yet we would rather be entertained by the few who do create. Of course being productive goes beyond just being creative; it has to do with doing things, even if it is merely sowing seeds of various kinds. Throughout our day we can be sowing seeds of kindness, love, gentleness, even peace. What we give out in the way of the fruit of the Spirit often produces similar actions and thoughts in the people we touch.

One of the worse places of consumerism at the moment is the Church. Since my childhood the saying has been "ten percent of the people do ninety percent of the work". If this was true when I was a child I am afraid to discover the percentages now. Jesus Christ did not die on the cross so that we could become "armchair" pastors. We were saved and left here because there is a mission to fulfill and we are not going to be productive in it if all we do is show up on Sunday, sing a few songs, give our dollar and then go home. The last thing Paul wrote to Titus was this:

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. (Titus 3:14)

To be honest I cannot relate to this. I cannot understand people who do not have a desire to live a productive life, especially as believers. Jesus taught a lot on being productive. In the conclusion of his parable on the seed and the various heart conditions he taught:

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13:23)

The Kingdom is all about multiplication, growth, producing. "Doing what is good" is a big part of the foundation of a productive life. The writer of Hebrews wrote:

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8)

Remaining in a deep fellowship with Jesus allows for the "rains" of blessings to fall in our life which produces a crop for the Kingdom. I believe this is tied to a promise from the Old Testament which I have always clung to even in the worse days of my life. It is a blessing among a list of blessings that were promised to Israel; blessings that would flow from God as a result of the nations obedience:

The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. (Deuteronomy 28:12)

Throughout the Old Testament we read this promise to "bless the work of your hands". What always struck me was that God did not promise to do the work for us but instead he would bless it. For me it meant that I would produce more than was natural for me to produce on my own. That's what I desire for my life; I want my life to be used to produce more for the Kingdom than I ever could produce on my own. It begins with those seeds of the fruit of the Spirit, of doing what is good. Without those seeds we will never see a crop produced and we can't seed the crop while we are sitting on our hands. Face it, we have been called to serve not to sit.

It is time that we do more than just consume what others have been producing. We need to get our work clothes on and get out there to do something. Look around to see where God is working and ask him if you can join him there. It will transform your relationship with Jesus and will take you to new places of trust and understanding. It will be hard at times, hard enough that you will feel like you are being crushed, but in everything you will produce and you will be victorious; it has been promised to us. To God be the glory.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What would you say is the greatest need of the Church?

Good morning my friends. Have you ever noticed that it is difficult for anything to function properly if part of it does not work? Perhaps it is more obvious with some things than others. Cars are a great example. If part of the car decides to quit, let's say one of the tires, it doesn't matter how good the engine is, the car will not function at its full capacity. School is another example. You could have highly motivated teachers pouring themselves into their labour but if the students, one of the parts of the school, decide not to work, no learning is going to take place, and that is the function of the school. It works the other way around as well, with motivated students and unmotivated teachers. This is true for almost everything in life because everything is comprised of different parts, including the Church.

The Church represents God's presence in this world and has several functions but her greatest function is to be a witness for Jesus in a lost world that needs salvation. However, just like the car and the school, she requires all of her parts to be working together to function properly. The only difference there is between the other examples and the Church is that the Church is involved with things that will have eternal consequences. Unity in Jesus, by his love, is the Church's greatest need and Jesus' great desire. On the eve of his torturous death on the cross, unity was the subject of Jesus' prayer:

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)

You would think that seeing how important this is to Jesus that we would spend more time making it happen. Yet unity continues to be the biggest need and the greatest problem facing the Church. The reason is because we are too full of ourselves. If Jesus was truly our Lord and the salvation of the world truly our concern we wouldn't be wasting our time debating our brothers and sisters over braided hair. This is only one subject that some of us have chosen to argue over and with which to cause division. Paul warned Titus:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11)

I like Paul's wording, "unprofitable and useless". Unprofitable and useless to who? To our mission; to the world; to us; to our Father. It is like two small children fighting over one toy when the room is filled with toys. Such arguments come from a selfishness which comes from a sinful heart. Let's face it, selfishness goes against the nature of God so it is a sin if found in his children. People who love to argue are a people who like to divide. They are divisive in most things they do, it is part of their character. Paul says to warn them twice and then avoid them. Our problem is that we give them the spotlight by arguing with them. Understand we are talking about those who claim Jesus as Lord not the world.

Paul is not even diplomatic or kind about the matter. He states clearly for Titus to understand, divisive people are warped and sinful. We can argue with them until Jesus returns and it will not be productive or useful. Paul's solution is to ignore them as we would ignore a child throwing a tantrum. They are attention seekers so if we do not give them attention they will seek out another place that will. Now imagine if the whole Body dealt with these people as Paul instructed Titus to do. Soon they would run out of people to argue with. We can't do anything about the rest of the Body but we can take care of our part of it.

Unity is vital to our mission so we need to stop fighting over the one toy when the room is filled with them. Understand the sound doctrine that has been laid down for us and avoid disputable matters. Those things never profit anyone anyway and are usually based on preferences not doctrine. Let us concentrate on the task at hand by living the teaching on the unity of the Body:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Let us each pray that we will do our part in the Body in unison with the parts that we are connected with so that the Body can function in her purpose. Let us pray for the unity of believers and the wisdom to deal with divisive people. We have a mission to fulfill and we are running out of time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Re-connecting the roots before we die

Good morning my friends. Lately I have noticed that life can be so busy that we can get caught up in the doing and forget the reason. It's like when a person stops what they are doing in one room, goes into another room and then forgets why they came into the second room. Come on, admit it, you've done it too. Sometimes the only way you can remember why you went into the second room is to go back to what you were doing to see if you can re-connect with your thought. It is not old age that does this to a person but instead a busy mind and a busy life. We are trying to process too much information.

This happens to us spiritually when we are busy doing and we forget the reason why we are doing. Sometimes we need to go back and re-connect to the roots, remembering where we have come from and how or why we are where we are. This is what Paul does with Titus:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (Titus 3:3)

Do you remember what you were before you met Jesus? If you say there wasn't much change in the before and after you are either lying to yourself or you have never met him. Jesus makes a radical change in our perspective, thinking, reaction to things, feelings, behaviour. In fact, it is all made new. We were so ugly from the inside out and no one could help us; no one could save us; no one could change us; no one but Jesus:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (vv. 4-5a)

Sometimes in our busyness we forget that we aren't that important, or at least our work, what we are doing, is not all that important. The important thing to Jesus is our relationship with him. Everything else is secondary and is only a result of that relationship. If we allow the work to become more important and we lose the relationship then what we are doing is useless and a big waste of our time and life. We can't allow the busyness of the work rob us of the purpose of it all:

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (vv. 5b-7)

Why did our Father do all the things he did for us? What was his motivation? That "we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life". What is the purpose we do what we do? So that others may receive this same incredible gift from our Father; that others would be encouraged and strengthened in this hope; that the whole world would know the love of the Father as demonstrated to us through Jesus the son. Sometimes we need to be reminded. Sometimes we need to go back to remember:

This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (v. 8)

Everything we do should be bubbling out of our beginning with Jesus. This is our hope in which we have trusted God. It is out of this hope that we are compelled to do the work of our God. This is the hope that is renewed in us daily when we spend time with our Lord. This is the hope that keeps us fresh and invigorated as we wade through the muck and mire of this world. Let us remind each other of the beginning as we sing out to each other in the darkness of the day. Let's stress these things to each other that we might not lose one worker in the difficulty of the task. As Paul told the Ephesians:

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 5:19-20)

It is good to remember where we have come from and why we are doing what we are doing. Be blessed in your service to the King today and remember!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The problem with these teens today is ... us!

Good morning my friends. It is a great challenge teaching adolescents these days. I am not referring to Math and English but instead some simple Biblical doctrine. It is not that they are less teachable than previous generations because I find they are filled with talent and abilities beyond their own understanding. They all have such incredible potential that often I am amazed at what could be if they would only put some effort into what they do. The great disadvantage they have is that they are surrounded by such terrible examples of godliness. They see all our hypocrisy and fail to see the point of why they should even try. When we start complaining about the behaviour and attitudes of our teenagers we should first take a good look in the mirror.

One of my greatest challenges is to teach them about authority and the need to submit to it. Paul reminds Titus that to teach this is part of his responsibility to the people he is guiding:

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2)

All children learn best when they are following a model, the example set by their teachers. They learn from everyone in their small world by what is said and what is done. Every time we complain or tear down the various authorities in our lives they are learning. Every time we slow down when we see the police and then speed up again when they are gone our children are being molded. When they see us lying to avoided paying taxes or talking against our politicians they are learning. When we switch churches because we don't like the pastor or some elder we are teaching them to avoid submitting to authority. All this early training starts being put to the test when they start becoming a little independent and usually it is played out in their own private part of the world, school.

When we try to teach them that they will always be subject to authority all their lives, it is like speaking a foreign language to them. When we teach them to submit themselves to that authority they laugh, because they don't see it modeled around them. Authority for them is a matter of control. As long as the authority is present they will obey but as soon as that authority is out of sight they will do what they want. That's control not obedience. The Doctrine Paul is laying down with Titus is not about control but about obedience,

Our God has no interest in controlling us. If that is what he wanted then he would have created us so that we had no potential for disobedience. Instead he wanted a creation that would freely love him. He created us so that we would be able to choose to love him, choose to obey him. What many of us fail to understand is that obedience is an act of love and respect. Jesus taught his disciples:

 If you love me, you will obey what I command. (John 14:15)

We fail our children when we teach them control out of fear instead of obedience out of love. If we fail to teach them obedience to God out of a place of love and respect then they will also not learn to respect us as parents, or their teachers at school, or the police, or the governments or any other authority.When I say teach I mean model. If the parents, teachers, and elders are failing to set the example then we can't expect our teens to know and understand why this is so important. Instead of complaining about our disobedient and rebellious teenager we should all take a good long look in the mirror.

A first good step is to confess to our teens our own sins in this area of Biblical teaching. Once we have shown them that we have been wrong we can start showing them how to do it right. . Perhaps they will be confused at first but if we remain consistent and we demonstrate how important this is we may begin to see changes in them. In it all remember to pray; God still does miracles.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Do teachers take their anointing seriously?

Good morning everyone. The theme from the Spirit this week seems to be "sound doctrine". As some of you know I do not choose the Scripture but instead I am systematically working through the New Testament. I take ten minutes to meditate on the Word and then ask the Spirit to guide my writing. I have 30 minutes to write. Often the Spirit teaches me as I do the writing. It is always an interesting result to me and I am glad to share it with you. As we continue with Titus this morning we again encounter Paul's instruction to teach from sound doctrine:

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)

Doctrine refers to the teaching of the Church that is taken directly from the Holy Scriptures. This should not be confused with denominational doctrine which sometimes leaves out important Biblical doctrine due to its identity and focus. We need the whole council of the Word which means plenty of study. Teachers of the Word must be very careful that they are teaching sound doctrine and are teaching all of the Word, not chosen parts. Paul gives Titus some examples of what he should teach to various groups of people, all coming from sound doctrine. Here is an example of this that shows how simple this teaching can be, and the great impact it can have:

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (vv. 9-10)

Simple things that come from sound doctrine; don't steal, don't talk back, show you can be trusted. Everything Paul puts forward is about representing Jesus well to the world. That would be a perspective many of us could profit from and perhaps would cause us to speak, act, and even dress differently. But let's not get off track here as we consider how important it is for teacher's of the Word to teach properly. Paul continues with Titus:

In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (vv. 7b-8)

Those three things, integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech are important for any teacher to consider as they handle the Word of God. I can be a bit of a joker and often use sarcasm as a tool with the young people I work with. Yet, when I take out the Word of God something changes in me because we are not dealing with the trivial of life any more; we are discussing very ancient words written by God for the purpose of revealing his heart to us. If the teacher does not treat this Holy ancient text with respect why would his students?

We need those who have been anointed to teach to take up that calling and responsibility and step out. We need them to step out because we need to be reminded of this ancient Word that reveals God to us. It changes things:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (vv. 11-14)

Are we being changed by what God reveals to us in his Word? Do we allow the Holy Spirit to bring in that transformation as he shows us the need for it? Are we careful handlers of the Word, understanding that what we say in Jesus' authority has an impact on people's faith? Do we teach from the Word or do we teach from other teacher's teaching?  If you are a teacher of the ancient text then it is best you take time and reflect on these instructions that Paul gave to Timothy and Titus. You will be held to a greater accounting than anyone else. James warned:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

So, let us take the time to learn sound doctrine instead of the fanciful teaching of men, and let us be brave enough to teach the truth. Be brave teachers and take Paul's words to Titus to your own heart:


These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (Titus 2:15)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Taking stock of your progress

Good morning my friends. Another week almost over; another week closer to Jesus' return. What kind of progress did we make in the Kingdom this week? I wonder if we gained any ground or did we lose some. I know I have had some great news this week that opens the doors for my church to move forward. I am also making some progress in building bridges with other churches, which is always good news. Every step we take toward unity is a good thing and will bear the fruit of new souls being reconciled with God. This is what we need to do; take inventory of what we have been doing to further the mission each day and each week; take time to reflect on what God is doing.

You will remember from yesterday that Paul saw his purpose to be occupied in the work of salvation and spiritual maturity of the lost, which is the general purpose of every Christian. This is our mission. It is more than just getting someone to confess Christ; it is also to be there to help them gain knowledge and maturity in Jesus. Paul did not just enter a town, hold an evangelical campaign and leave. He stayed or assigned other leaders to stay, to establish the Church, with proper leadership. This was Titus' purpose in Crete:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. (Titus 1:5)

Leadership was important to Paul as we see in this letter as well as his letters to Timothy. The actions and behaviour of each leader was important to him. Here is an example of what he wrote to Titus:

Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. (vv.7-8)

Obviously Paul was not into conformity or legalism. He was not interested in mere appearances but instead the fruit that true transformation brought about in people. We see this as he writes about those who deceive with words. They say one thing but do another:

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. (v. 16)

Paul wanted to see good leaders in place who could stand against such deceitfulness and defend those who were only starting out in their faith. They needed to defend because the deceivers were out to destroy:

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. (v. 10-11)

Good leadership is vital in the face of such rebellious and evil times as we live in. It is hard because appearances can be deceiving but wrong action does speak a lot about the inner condition. Things that should never be found in a leader are a short temper, a foul mouth, selfishness, lack of self-control, a lack of discipline and all of the other things that Paul has listed. These things are a sign of lack of maturity and we cannot afford to have spiritually immature leaders. But it goes beyond just leaders.

Everyone of us needs to understand that we are on a pathway to maturity. It needs to be our goal and what we are pursuing every day. We need to push forward in our desire to grow in the maturity of our knowledge and action, in our relationship with Jesus. Every week we should be able to reflect on our week and recognize the growth that we have made. Lack of growth should be a warning to us and an indication that we need to change some things for the next week. If you want to know what your life should look like within the context of the Body of Christ you should take a few minutes now and read Colossians 3. Just do not be lazy about your relationship with Jesus. You must be active in your pursuit of a growing relationship that changes you day by day. As well, do not forget to participate in the mission today. There is lots to do and we need everyone involved in it. Time is running out.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Let the confusion of your life end today

Good morning my friends. It is important today that you know who you are, what your purpose is and where you are going. When we know these things many questions disappear and the double-mindedness that delays our victory is resolved. Unfortunately some of you reading this feel like you do not have a clue who you really are or what your purpose is in life. Why were you born? You need to resolve this if you are to step into the power of your purpose and become the success that you were born to be.

Turn to the letter of Titus and we may find a few answers this morning. Paul starts off with his greeting:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior. (Titus 1:1-3)

Paul indicates that he understood who he was in two senses. First there is the general sense that we all share in common but of which many people never fully step in to; a servant of God. When we understand that we are defined by our relationship with God we begin to understand purpose. In our relationship with God we have been called to join him in his work, which we will get to in a moment, but this is who we are. The second sense Paul writes of is his specific place in the Body of Christ which we make a harder thing to understand than it is. Paul was given a specific commission from the Lord to take his place in the Body as an Apostle. His designated responsibility was to the Gentiles. We struggle with the whole idea of where we fit in the Body of Christ but often it is obvious just by what our heart is drawn to all the time; not what draws our desire but what we feel compelled to do.

Paul clearly understood his purpose from this relationship he had with God, which was twofold. He was to help people come to a point of salvation and then help them grow in maturity in Christ. With such a clear understanding of purpose Paul's world was redefined and he saw clearly what he had to do. That is what happens when we understand purpose, everything becomes clear as our perspective aligns itself with God's will. As long as we struggle with identity and purpose there will always be confusion in us, focus will be impossible and we will flounder in life instead of living the success God has promised us. Clarity is important in our service to God.

Part of our problem is that we focus so much on the "child of God" relationship and the blessings that we lose sight of our purpose. As a child we want to run after all the feelings, the spectacular, and the sensational. We are more concerned with what we can get out of a Sunday or other events than what we can give. When we see our identity as a servant then we understand that our focus is on joining God in his work. We have clear identity and clear purpose as we take our place in the Body. We all share in the same mission, to see sinners saved and matured in Jesus Christ. Fully grasping and accepting this will snap our proper perspective in place.

The last part of this bears repeating:

a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.

The hope of eternal life; hope is not as we use it today with a sense of uncertainty. Christian hope is the "longing" for the fulfilled promise. It is important  to note that our faith and knowledge rests on this hope. It is also important to note that it has always been God's plan that his creation should live forever. It should also be noted, circled, underlined, highlighted that God does not lie. He is incapable of lying. So you cannot pick and choose what parts of the many promises you believe. If you believe then you have signed up for the complete package. Eternal life cannot be dismissed as a few "scholars" have chosen to do. Eternal life is at the foundation of our hope. Let's not lose sight of that.

So, today, walk fully in your relationship with God. Walk fully in your purpose. Lean upon the promises of our God who does not lie. Join him in his mission of saving the world. Allow your heart and your mind to be aligned to the Father's heart. Let your perspective of life and this world to be shaped by this relationship and purpose. Let the confusion end today.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In the pain of loneliness

Good morning my friends, if indeed I may call you that. Friends are a very precious source of many things in our lives, especially during hardships when we need much encouragement. I am sure that you appreciate every single friend that you have and probably thank God for them every day; as long as they do not turn out to be like Job's friends. We face many things in our lives where we need support and encouragement not accusation and condemnation. Imagine facing those times alone. The apostle Paul had to.

He was in his last days. He just passed the torch to Timothy in his last letter to Timothy and then we read this:

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. (2 Timothy 4:9-12)

This man who had surrounded himself by a great team of evangelists, prophets and teachers, who had been partnered with other great apostles like Silas, was now feeling all alone. The only one who was with him was Luke. It would be ironic if this Mark he was asking for was the same Mark who was at the center of Paul and Barnabas' dispute back in the beginning of it all. As I read this I get a sense of the emptiness he must have felt, facing this almost completely alone. On top of it he was facing other persecution besides his trial:

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (vv. 14-15)

It seemed that Paul would receive no rest in this world. Right up to the end he faced trials and persecution, only now he was facing it alone. Listen to the sense of complete abandonment he felt:

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. (v. 16)

No one came to his support. Imagine, as you faced death, not a single person there to speak kind and encouraging words to you. Imagine no one there to remind you of the promises we have received. Imagine no one there to love you. However, as much as that must have hurt, Paul had a greater source of strength and encouragement. He started this journey with and because of Jesus, he was going to finish it with Jesus:

But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. (v. 17)

Paul remembered the greater purpose even in his death, that the message of grace by faith would be proclaimed to the Gentiles. Jesus had always been his source of everything; love, joy, peace, contentment, hope. This is the reason Paul asked Timothy to bring something to him:

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (v. 13)

The scrolls and parchments would be portions of the Holy Scriptures along with his notes. These would bring him much comfort in the same way that looking back through Bible passages with special meaning to us brings us comfort. Paul was chasing away the pain of loneliness by filling the emptiness with Jesus. Consider this verse and try to keep it in this context:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (v. 18)

I do not believe Paul was referring to any form of physical attack here but the kind of attack that perhaps we are more familiar with. These attacks would come in the form of seeds of fear, doubt, discouragement, a sense of lose. These attacks are hard to defend against so we need to turn to the one who will rescue us from them. Fear has to be the worse attack we can face. Out of fear come so many other things. This is the reason Jesus assured his disciples and thus all believers:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." (John 14:1-4)

This is the great promise that should calm any fear we may have. Later in the same passage Jesus is recorded as saying:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

This peace is what Paul was leaning upon so that he would not allow fear to trouble his heart. I do not know what you are facing right now but I promise you, even if everyone else abandons you, Jesus never will. Others may turn out to be like Job's friends and are no comfort to you at all and even make it worse. Others may just walk away from you when you need their support. Set them aside and lean more heavily upon Jesus, more than you ever have before. He will rescue you from your fear, doubt and worries. He will stand with you and give you strength. He will be there for your last breath. He will also be the first to greet you on the other side of the horizon. Don't let go of him; you can't afford to.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yikes! What are you filling your head with?

Good morning my friends. It is a great day to be in service to the King. That's our big brother you know. King, Lord, High Priest, mediator, living word; he's a lot of things but never lose sight of the fact we are family and he is the first born, our big brother. Thankfully he is the perfect big brother and not the big brother of our childhood. We have other siblings in the family as well who also look after us in the same sense that Paul looked out for Timothy. Timothy had become "like a son" to Paul and in his last letter to him we get the definite sense of Paul passing the torch:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6-7)

Paul was looking forward to moving on:

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (v. 8)

I am sure it is a day we are all anticipating, when we receive all the promises of Jesus as we see him face to face. No more tears, the Word tells us, just the overwhelming joy of being with Jesus. However, Paul also had a warning for Timothy who was taking up this torch and staying behind to continue the work of the mission:

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (vv. 2-4)

We have always had a few people teaching and preaching falsehoods in Jesus name but I believe we now live in a time when many will be fooled because of their own laziness. As wonderful a thing as the Internet is, it has also made it possible for people to fill their minds with many false teachings and false doctrines. People who are young in their faith and who consider themselves of great ability to understand are falling for this garbage. As preachers, such as myself, tell people to check us and our teaching by checking the Word, people instead turn to other people's opinions who are not anointed to preach and teach. They are just people who are puffed up with a little bit of knowledge and who jump to great and terrifying conclusions.

When the Apostle Paul first entered Macedonian he went to a city called Berea. There we read this recording of the scene:

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)

Note here that they checked the Scriptures to see if it was true; they did not go running off to ask the scholars of the world what they thought, and they were close to the heart of the great philosophers at that time. They checked the Scriptures. Some people today spend all their time checking out blogs (thank you for reading mine), watching various preaching on the Internet, reading articles and only a few minutes with the Scriptures themselves. They fill their head with ideas and opinions instead of reading and allowing the Spirit to give them understanding. They dismiss the great teachings of the giants of our faith to take the opinion of someone who has never met Jesus. So much knowledge and so little understanding will destroy our relationship with Jesus. It always comes down to that relationship. Paul counseled Timothy:

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5)

In other words, stay faithful as I have remained faithful, Paul is telling Timothy. That's a major part of this race we are in, to stay faithful to Jesus and the mission he has called us too. The world and those who are lost in the Church will believe what their minds and hearts will fool them into believing but we must remain true to what we are convinced of. That is what we read yesterday from our reading of 2 Timothy3:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (vv. 14-15)

We live in dangerous times and many will fall away because of the false teachings and doctrines that will puff them up with false knowledge. They will refuse to listen to wise counsel and will instead try to teach others the same false doctrines. We aren't surprised by this because there are a number of warnings about this in those same Scriptures that are under assault today. Just don't you be one of those who is deceived. Consume the Word of God and allow the Spirit to guide and teach you in all things.

 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
       and lean not on your own understanding;

 in all your ways acknowledge him,
       and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)
 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Look out! He wants to destroy you

Good morning my friends. I know it's a Monday morning but I have a bit of a shocker for you. I hope you have started in on your coffee and that you are sitting down. It may come as a complete reversal of everything you have been taught by some of the more "modern" teachers in the Church. Here goes:

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted... (2 Timothy 3:12)

Not the easiest thing to hear as we get ready to go off to work. Notice it is not a "maybe" but a "will be". Paul is only repeating what Jesus had warned his disciples, that they would be hated by the world in the same way Jesus was hated by the world. We can't live as a holy people in a fallen world without encountering resistance from time to time. At the same time then we can understand the second part:

while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (v. 13)

Such people are at home here; it is a natural environment for them. It is in this environment that we have been instructed to love our neighbour, to pray for those who persecute us, to turn our cheek, to twice what is demanded of us. Regardless what we face the important thing is to remember that we are not alone:

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (vv. 10-11)

This is when we lean heavily upon Jesus' promise to always be with us. We can't make it here on our own. Paul's instruction to Timothy was not to be distracted by the evil that seems to succeed in this place:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (vv. 14-15)

We have an instrument of comfort and defense at our finger tips and hopefully buried in out heart. It should be our source for all things. Perhaps too often we are reading other people's opinions on the Bible instead of studying and leaning on the Spirit for understanding and application. Paul tells Timothy:

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. (vv. 16-17)

The Word of God is precious and the most valuable of all the things we possess. To own it is one thing; to study and apply it is another. We have to learn it and learn how to handle it. Over the centuries it has been attacked, criticized, burned, banned, torn apart, and even today there are those who try to undermine its authority in our lives. It is easy to understand why. In a fallen world that is controlled and directed by evil, such a holy thing is despised and hated. The minds controlled by the enemy cannot see the truth and attack what is God's, both the written form and the living. We are the living Word. If we are who we are suppose to be and are doing what we are suppose to do then we are the only Bible some people will read.

At some point we need to wake up and understand that the enemy hates God and everything that is connected to God. The enemy hates us and wants to destroy us to get back at our Father. He hates the Holy Scriptures and will do everything he can to undermine them. We cannot be surprised by these things if we do not want to be destroyed by these things. Open your eyes and see the truth so you know what to do when the enemy starts pounding on the door of your heart and mind. Stand with Jesus, on his Word and Jesus will stand with you and will defend you. Turn away from Jesus, let go of the Word and the enemy will make short work of you. Stick with the Word "so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

Saturday, February 6, 2010

We've come too far to let go now

Good morning my friends, I hope you are enjoying your Saturday. In all your chores do not forget to reserve some time for the Lord and the necessity to play for a while. If you have children you know the importance  of play. I am assuming you are hard workers who need to be reminded of this on occasion and not one of those who lives for entertainment. I doubt any of them would read my blog due to its low entertainment value. It does concern me though that the great mass of our population in North America are stunted in their intellect and spiritual maturity because of the mind numbing entertainment that they pursue. Why read a book and be forced to think and use our imagination when all we have to do is pop in a DVD or watch it online?

Thankfully the numbers of hours of watching TV is dropping as people turn to their computers. This upsets some people but with TV there was very little interaction with people. At least with the computer people are talking and interacting with each other. The Internet also gives us the potential to learn from the wealth of information we find on it. It is only a matter of being trained to know what credible sources of information look like. However, that is not exactly what the masses are using computers for as they continue to pursue their desire to be entertained into the Internet.

With such low intellect and spiritual maturity we are nearing the time that Paul had forseen, which he wrote to Timothy concerning:

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 scares me every time I read this and take a look around and I am not even looking at the world. I wonder how honest we are willing to be in our self-assessment. Does this describe us in any manner? It might be hard for some of us to get past the first two: lovers of themselves, lovers of money. However there is one that really stands out for me: lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. People tell me they are so busy they don't have time to read the Bible or to worship every day. They say they have to pray on the run in order to "fit it in". Then I ask them what they think of "Lost" this season or if they have watched "Glee" at all. Often they will exude enthusiasm as they start in on their favorite shows which leads to their favorite movies which leads to their favorite music. I enjoy a good movie too as well as a couple select TV shows but I am certainly not going to allow them to crowd my Lord Jesus out of my day. What are we doing? What are we demonstrating by the choices and priorities we have set?

Understand that Paul is not referring to the world as he writes. We should never be surprised by the world because they are without Jesus and do not have the Spirit to guide them. However, I do believe Paul is referring to the Church and I think we are entering if not already immersed in those times. It is important we recognize where we are in all of this so we can try to counter it. It will produce some very dangerous leaders:

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. (3:6-9)

I hope and pray that we are clear headed and sufficiently spiritually mature to stop such leaders. However, if the Church is producing such leaders it is because that is the heart of the people. I hope you can see the danger in all of this because the only heart we can truly know is our own. Paul has given us the warning signs and he tells Timothy not to have anything to do with people of such character. Are we prepared to start drawing the distinction in the Church? I believe it to be a serious enough matter. We at least need to get people back to the basics: Bible study, prayer, worship, fellowship. Get them grounded again so we can move forward in our acts of kindness and love. If not we could end up with, "having a form of godliness but denying its power." We need to take the basics seriously again. Let's stop running after the entertainment we find in worship bands, in dramatic preachers, in the "shows" some churches put on and let's get back to seeking the face of our God. We have come too far to let go of the truth now.