Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dealing with the sting of betrayal we inflict

Good morning friends. I call you friends yet I have not met most of you. It is through Jesus that we have this thing in common that we are able to call each other friend even when we do not know each other well. In fact, we are more than friends, we are family. So how would you feel if one of your closest friends, perhaps even a family member betrayed you? Perhaps they told someone something you had shared in confidence. Maybe they just abandoned the relationship completely and started hanging out with other people. Even if we had experienced this kind of betrayal I don't think it would come close to what Jesus experienced with Judas:

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:1-6)

There is a lot of speculation as to why Judas did it. Some figure it was because of the money. Others believe he was trying to provoke Jesus into action. I think it was because he lost faith and the enemy saw the chance and provoked him with opportunities. I think Judas had certain expectations of Jesus and Jesus did not meet those expectations. Judas wanted a conquering king and instead he found a teacher who emphasized the spiritual Kingdom and taught about loving one's enemies. Not exactly the type of teaching that would rally the people against the Romans. Disillusionment can lead to all kinds of thoughts and emotions the enemy can play with, taking us to the kind of extreme actions that we would normally never contemplate.

We are hard on Judas, as we should be, but we should be equally hard on ourselves. We constantly betray Jesus but in forms that we do not recognize as betrayal. We deny him in many areas of our life without being willing to confess to ourselves what we have done. We deny the promises he gave us. We fill our lives with worry and fear. We hate where we are suppose to love. We abandon where we are suppose to remain faithful. We get so occupied with our own needs that we fail to see the needs of others. Some would say these things are not a denial of Jesus but I tell you they are. We are denying Jesus' authority and ability to intercede in these situations. We are betraying him by not allowing him to complete what he has started. We panic and grab back the control of the situation instead of seeing how Jesus will work it out.

I think we sell Jesus out on more than one occasion and if we take the time to reflect on our past you will see that I am right. Betrayal is when we stop believing in the one who gave the promises and we turn to someone else for help. Honestly, how often have you done that? Even if we have done this it will not lessen the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Peter experienced this; Judas did not. The difference was that Peter was willing to receive forgiveness because he hoped it was possible. Judas had no such hope and was a victim of his own solution.

Regardless of what you are facing, what guilt overwhelms you, or how tired and disillusioned you are, trust Jesus. Hold on where you are and allow Jesus to work. Give him some time and use that time to grow closer with him, not further away. Do not allow the enemy to provoke you with opportunities. Jesus is blessed by our faithfulness. Stand with him, remain faithful, trust his promises and see what Jesus can do with any and every situation of your life. And if you have betrayed him, seek forgiveness. Allow him to set it right.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Understanding the past, present and future signs of the times

Good morning my friends. Just a reminder that I have set aside our normal reading of Scriptures to look plainly at the events of Jesus life in this final week of his ministry in this world. One of the things he did was teach. The Scriptures tell us that he was in the temple every day teaching the crowds and warning of what was coming. He gave invitations to the common people and warnings to the leaders. He was doing everything he could do in his limited form to win the hearts of the people and to plant the seeds for the future.

One of the most powerful of these final teachings was that of the end times, which we find in Luke 21. To say it was about the end times is not an accurate statement as it is more about making choices. It was provoked by the disciples remarks about the beauty of the Temple. Jesus warned them:

As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.  (Luke 21:6)

He was speaking of the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans which would take place 40 years later, when the city would fall and be destroyed. The disciples wanted to know the signs of this event and it was here that Jesus gave a brief overview. Some people get confused because Jesus jumped around a bit and so they fail to recognize the time-line Jesus gives. The first events:

They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. (vv. 12-13)

The early persecution of the Church took place and resulted in the gospel message being spread throughout the known world. This would be followed by:

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. (vv. 20-22)

It would be a terrible time. He further warned:

Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not follow them. (v. 8)

From that time until now we have lived through many deceptions, of which some of the greatest are happening today throughout the world. The enemy is trying to weaken the Church's resolve to go to the end with Jesus. Jesus went on to describe:

When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away... Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. (vv. 9-11)

These are like birthing pains that must take place as the final day of judgment approaches. Of these great signs from heaven Jesus explains:

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. (vv. 25-26)

Obviously we will not have to make any guesses about what is happening in the last part, but even still, man will deceive himself. He will live in his own denial and be lost. Not us though. I love the instruction Jesus gives as to how we need to respond to these signs of his return:

At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (vv. 27-28)

To go hand-in-hand with this last image Jesus gives his final warning on the matter to his followers, including you and me:

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man. (vv. 34-36)

It could not be more clear for us as to what the dangers are to us falling away from Jesus. Our hearts are easily weighed down by the anxieties of our life. It is the reason our relationship with Jesus must we real, daily fellowship and communion with him. Only by staying focused on Jesus will we be able to escape the danger of being weighed down. The day is approaching when we will have to stand before Jesus. Will we hear the words "Well done my good and faithful servant", or "Go away, I don't know you"? The day is approaching, let us take this week to reaffirm our love, faith and trust in Jesus and recommit our lives to "stand".

Jesus then took them through the events that were about to unfold.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I wonder if there is something symbolic in Spring cleaning

Good Monday morning my friends. This is Passion Week so I am going to interrupt my regular blogging schedule and concentrate on the events of this week in Jesus' life. In the community in which I was raised and the communities I served as pastor (in the early years), churches would unite each evening of this week and the various pastors would take a turn preaching from the events of this week in Jesus' life. It is significant to look at the things Jesus said and did as it would be the things of priority before his departure.

To start with we will consider Luke:19:45-46;

Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"

Nothing is going to happen unless it is first bathed in prayer. So it should be no surprise that this was a priority for Jesus, to re-establish the priority of prayer in the Temple. He did that by removing all the trappings of man, the distractions, the greed, the things that keep us anchored in our sins. Jesus was not soft spoken in this matter, he was not polite and he was not patient. These people were a hindrance to the true seekers of God, to those who so desperately wanted to bring their petitions to God. John describes it as Jesus taking a whip to them to get them out quickly. I do not imagine that these "merchants" were slow in getting out. I see it along the same reason Jesus spent time casting out demons, to give the person the opportunity to hear from God.

This action of clearing out the Temple was really a symbolic act of what Jesus was going to provide for us, the temples of the Holy Spirit. All of us experienced that when we first accepted Jesus as our Saviour and the Holy Spirit was given to reside in us; a cleansing took place. The things that were a hindrance were either driven out or took a much lower place in our lives. Communion with the Father through the Spirit in us became the priority for us because there was very little to distract us, in the beginning. Jesus had entered in and driven out the demons, the 'money changers", the "sellers" of things. Much of what had anchored us to this world was sent packing as we realized our destination and the priorities of God in our lives. But something can happen over time if we do not keep our focus and the priority of keeping our temple clear, these things creep back in and start "selling" again.

This week is a good moment to reflect on this because we cannot have a foot in both realities and think Jesus would be pleased. What have we let back in that is crowding out our communion with the Father? What have we given priority to that is preventing us from flying with the eagles? Often we do not want to consider these questions because we know they lead to tough decisions. It is a matter of making a choice and allowing Jesus to come in and clear things out again so that communion with the Father takes the priority again. This is a good season for cleansing and renewal. In many ways this is like our New Year as we take the time to reflect on our lives for the past year and seek renewal in our relationship with Jesus for the coming year.

Renewal is something we can seek every day of our lives, we don't need a special event. However, most of us do not take the time to reflect on our spiritual condition, or, if we do, we don't know what to do about it. I encourage you then to use this week and the events of this weekend to seek a cleansing and renewal with Jesus. Take extra time to meditate on the Scriptures, to spend time in prayer, to worship and, if you have the opportunity, attend the special gatherings of the churches in your community. Give Jesus the priority this week and see what he will do in you, the temple of the Holy Spirit.  He may just spend the week instructing you as he did in that symbolic temple 2000 years ago:

Every day he was teaching at the temple ...  all the people hung on his words. (Luke 19:47-48)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Great Church Pastime: Killing Our Own

I enjoy reading the end of letters; it is where all the good stuff is waiting. The "I love you", "I miss you", "see you soon", "say hi to the kids", "I'm sending some money", "give everyone a hug for me". It is no different with the concluding remarks in the epistles of the New Testament. The author often listed some subjects that he did not have time to include in the body of the letter. Hebrews is no different and I would like to take the next few days to consider them.

The first few remarks are aimed at our relationships within the Body of Christ; the relationship between you and me. Have you thought much about those relationships? Sometimes they are difficult to develop and maintain because we have certain expectations of our Christian friends. Sometimes we fail to realize they are just like us; filled with fears, concerns, a desire to be more, a failure at heart, always stumbling, often times embarrassed by their effort. We should not be like this, we should be victorious because of Jesus in us, but that is a reality we often have to grow into. The reason we have so much spirituality immaturity is because people are afraid to live and to try because they fear they will be rejected if they fail.

There are bullies in the Church you know. In my experience, first as a student and then as a teacher, I have come to conclude that bullies are just kids who try to hide their own faults by pointing out the faults of others. By misdirecting the attention of the crowd they hope that no one will notice them. We have bullies in the Church who patrol for those people with weaknesses and they call everyone's attention to it so no one will notice their own. These people are creating an atmosphere opposite to what Jesus desires for us, opposite to what the Spirit provokes in us, and opposite to what the Word teaches:

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3)

Some people look at this and see how we are to treat people in the world. I look at this and see instruction on how to care for the Body of Christ. To love each other as brothers is to realize that we are family, plain and simple. Family looks after and encourages each other. The strangers referred to here would have been believers passing through from other communities or even guests who had come to visit the church in that city or town. The Body has always been encouraged to practice great hospitality. Many Christians were being persecuted in trouble spots throughout the Roman empire. It wasn't a wide spread persecution but it was like what we read about with Paul, when an individual in a city would provoke the crowd. In this and several other epistles, believers were being encouraged to go into the jails and look after their spiritual family members. The "mistreated" had to do with the way some Christians were rejected in the community. Remember that the author is writing to the Hebrews, so these were Jews who converted to Christianity. They would have been rejected, persecuted and would have suffered greatly.

This is an important point because we are terrible at looking after our own. We will go out and build hostels to look after people on the street, we will build hospitals to look after the sick, we fill fund treatment centers to treat those with addictions and we will even patrol the streets looking for the lost. Yet, when it comes to our own we can't even find a couple of hours to listen to their struggles, doubts, fears; to hold them with understanding and comfort; to pray with them in an outpouring of love. Someone who stumbles and falls, we totally reject. Those who have struggled with thoughts and perspectives, we completely give up on. The cranky believer we ignore. The weak ones we abandon. The old ones we forget. I know this due to the sad fact, as much as I love the Body, my hands are not clean in this matter, because I am just like you.

As important as it is to seek out the lost, we also need to remember that Jesus told us:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

Remember the idiom, "You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family". In the Body of Christ we are family and like any family we will find crazy characters across the entire spectrum. We are to accept, appreciate and serve one another. When we start doing that the Church will become a lot more attractive to the lost and much of the criticism will dry up for lack of evidence. Let's try it this weekend. Let's decide to stop looking at others with such a critical eye and instead, "Keep on loving each other as brothers."

Friday, March 26, 2010

If I Ignore You Will You Disappear?

I don't think we get God. I mean I really don't think we understand what his plan and relationship is about. Unfortunately most people live by the philosophy "out of sight, out of mind"; if we do not have a constant visible reminder of God's existence we put him out of our thoughts during our daily living. We may remember him at Easter and Christmas, and the more faithful followers will remember him once or twice a week, but that's it. Just take few minutes to reflect on this if you think I am wrong.

A few telltale signs of this attitude is if you make decisions all day without once talking it over with Dad, until one of those decisions land you in hot water. Even then, do you call a friend or seek someone's advice before talking it over with Dad? Do you go a whole day without once thinking about our Dad or our big brother, Jesus? The problem with "out of sight, out of mind" is that God ends up with no influence in our lives let alone being the master over them. We don't get it. We don't get who God is, what he has done for us and what he expects from us.

I am not one who likes to deal with the negatives and the "what ifs". I prefer to assume the best from everyone and to deal with the "whens", but facts are facts. There will be consequences for us ignoring God. It is not the bad things we do that will end up getting us into hot water but that one decision to ignore Jesus:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)

Ignoring or not taking a decision is the same thing as taking a decision. This is an age of grace we live in but it will not last forever. God is seen throughout your day if you would only open your eyes. Those of you who claim to be Christian had better get your eyes open as well and start including him in your day. Jesus did not go to the cross to be ignored and although today is not the day of judgment, understand, it is coming:

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. (Hebrews 12:25-27)

There is a reason we call Jesus Saviour; he is the only one who can save us from the approaching wrath of God. There will be a great cleansing of all things that are not submitted to the Creator, anything that is an abomination in the sight of his purity and perfection. The only thing that will save us is the sacrifice of Jesus but if Jesus says of you "I don't know you", who will save you then? You need to get rid of your "out of sight, out of mind" mentality and gain some eyes to see and know the invisible presence of Jesus in your life.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

God lives in the stomach of my 4 year old son

Yes, I am afraid it is true; God lives in the stomach of my 4 year old and he eats all his food. As well God communicates when he wants more by growling in there. Where would we be without the theology of our 4 year olds? Good morning my friends. I am going again with the perspective thing this morning but I believe you will be glad I did. There are a lot of people who avoid a study of Hebrews assuming that it will be hard to understand. It is true that it was written for the Hebrew mind which has a different perspective than ours but we also need to remember that the Holy Spirit is our teacher. The letter itself is so beautifully laid out that it becomes an easy read in that it has a wonderful flow to it, but you need to be careful because you could read right past breath-taking passages that you fail to notice. It is like driving across Canada and failing to stop to enjoy the beauty of each unique province. Do not rush it but instead stop where you are moved by the Spirit and drink it in.

We have different images, different perspectives of who God is and how he should be approached. We also often only see him as a one person team, failing to take in the entire package. Some people approach God and the things of God with great fear and trembling. In fact they are so afraid they rarely approach him at all. Then there are others who are so casual with God that it borders on disrespect. Regardless of where you fit in I want us to consider this beautiful, breath-taking passage from Hebrews that gives us a great perspective of God and the things of God. First we are told what God and his Kingdom are not:

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." (Hebrews 12:18-21)

There are a few of us who have had this perspective at one time or another in our lives. This is an Old Testament perspective, before the revelation of Jesus Christ; before the door to intimacy with the Father was opened; before the cross and empty grave changed our perspective forever; before we received the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit who allows us to live in Jesus. It is crazy how many people still live with the old revelation of God. It is important revelation to study and understand but we know so much more than that now. Our perspective has been changed:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

Incredible isn't it? Do you see the complete package? Do you see the inclusion of the Church here? We are part of something big, incredible and oh so beautiful. It does not matter how you woke up this morning, good mood or bad, happy or depressed, when you realize what a beautiful thing we are part of it has to change you. Just stand there for a moment and study this. Allow the words and the images they convey cascade over your soul this morning. We are are so much more than this world understands, than we understand ourselves and so much more has been promised us then we dare to imagine. We who belong to the Father through Jesus' sacrifice should not approach our Father with fear but instead with joy and gladness, with thanksgiving oozing out of every pore of our being. This is our God who died for us, who now lives in us and us in him, who wants nothing but the best for us and that best includes himself and eternity.

It is a beautiful balance we want to achieve with our perspective of God. We need to remember that there is a reason for the image of the Old Testament. Dad is awesome, powerful, almighty, a consuming fire and so much more. The Old Testament saw God as a neighbour kid may have seen our dad when we were young, but we saw dad as dad, the guy we wrestle with on the floor. This is the difference with us in seeing our Father; we have such intimacy with him that sometimes we can also forget his awesomeness. We are reminded:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28-29)

So, let's not be afraid to approach our Dad today and have that intimate relationship with him that goes beyond words. At the same time, do not forget to worship him and show him the love and respect he deserves. We are in an incredibly awesome place with our God, and don't you dare forget that today.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Well, we are back to running season. It has been 7 months since I hit the trail but I knew it was coming. After several weeks of above season weather today the temperatures dropped, although it was nice and sunny. On top of this my allergies decided to kick in.

Due to these reasons I approached the day with some hesitation, worried that I would embarrass myself with my students. What a relief when I actually completed the 3.23 k run in under 25 minutes. I ended up in the middle of the pack, which I was pleased with being my first run.

What added to my run was finding this app for my BlackBerry, which used GPS to keep all my stats automatically. I enjoy finding useful technology that makes things easier in my life.

I am looking forward to the results of this running and cycling season. I have at least 20 lbs to drop after a very inactive winter.

Route:--Elev. Avg:33 m
Location:Lachine, Canada, Elev. Gain:+0 m
Date:03/24/10Up/Downhill: [+13/-13]
Time:01:43 PMDifficulty:2.1 / 5.0
Weather:Partly Cloudy
 -16 C temp; 70% humidity
 -16 C heat index; winds NW 19 kph

Distance: 3.23 km
Speed:7.8 kph
Pace:7' 42 /km
First run in 7 months. Ran 3 k and then walked the last 230 m.
Elevation (m)
Pace (min/km)
KmPace (min/km)Speed (kph)Elevation
actual+/- avgactual+/- avg
17' 43+0' 007.8-0.0+2 m
27' 31-0' 118.0+0.2-2 m
37' 35-0' 077.9+0.1-2 m
end8' 59+1' 166.7-1.1+6 m
Versus average of 7' 42 min/km

Posted from

God, You Are So Mean!

So my friends, how are you seeing the world this morning? Perspective is a powerful thing in our lives, in what we do and how we respond to things. When we are strong in our relationship with Jesus we are able to see things from God's perspective and are better equipped to have a positive response to things. So then the opposite is also true; when we are at a distance from Jesus we see things from a more self-centered perspective and things are not so positive. This is what we are being told in Hebrews 12 when it comes to some of the hardships we face:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. (Hebrews 12:7-10)

With this perspective it is as if we should rejoice as we face these things that hurt as they shape us and change our character. Maybe rejoice is a bit much for us right now but we should at least be able to understand and appreciate what we are going through. It is encouraging to know that it has a purpose and that purpose is for our benefit. It is also encouraging to know that God allows us to face these things because they strip from us what is not profiting us. Sometimes God's discipline is required for us to let go of what is harmful to our eternity. Such things can be unhealthy relationships, terrible habits, ideas, even perspectives. Sometimes God's discipline can be in the form of a tragedy that opens our eyes to situations and attitudes that displease God. Many people find it hard to accept such a notion, that God would allow these things out of love but the truth is found in many verses and examples in the Word, one of which is:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Of course this is hard to accept when you are spiritually immature because the immature see these things as being unfair and even vengeful. It is amazing how many people see the disciplining of a child as a vengeful act of the parent. Yet we all know the truth is that any child who grows without discipline becomes a horribly self-centered child who takes more from society than contributes. This is what our Father is trying to avoid with us. He wants us to grow, to mature, to contribute to the mission instead of constantly taking away from it. Yet many of us continue to kick back at God and resist his discipline. We blame him for the many things we face and fail to see how he is trying to use these things for our good. He is doing this so that we may share in all his riches and may receive everything he has set aside for us. I am not saying it is easy. Even the writer of Hebrews admits it is not easy:

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

That is the point. It is unpleasant in the midst of it but if we keep our eyes on the goal and purpose of it we will be able to maintain a positive perspective. As I write this my thoughts are drawn again to that verse that always astounds me as Paul wrote from his very positive perspective:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

A few of us chuckle over Paul's use of "light and momentary" but that is how our troubles and hardships are best described. In the perspective of eternity they are nothing more than a bump in the road but in the moment that bump has great value. Time and again the Word instructs us to stop looking at ourself and our difficulties. We are suppose to have an eternal perspective, focused on what is above not at what is at hand. Again we hear from Paul:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2)

Your perspective makes all the difference and you gain a right perspective with a greater understanding of the Word and thus the Father's heart. I realize it is hard to change our perspective in the midst of hardships and difficulties but if that is where you are today I encourage you to ask the Spirit to give you the proper perspective today. Rejoice my friends, our Father is making something beautiful out of you. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

At least you are not dead, yet!

So what kind of world are you waking up to this morning? I would suppose that the answer to that depends on how you feel. Those feelings can be tricky little creatures as we often times wrestle with our emotions for all kinds of reasons. I think it is the enemies favorite little play place in our lives. If you can find a trail of why you feel the way you feel then it is all you. Example, you had a fight with your best friend last night and you did not resolve it before parting ways. This morning you have woken up feeling pretty low as a result of it. That is all you.  However, there will be other times when there will be no trail or root to what you are feeling, you are just overwhelmed by depression, loneliness, anger, or any number of other negative emotions. That is the enemy playing around with you. These emotions can isolate you and cut you off from reality. Let me share a wake up call with you:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
   "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
      and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
   because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
      and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.
(Hebrews 12:4-6)

I have no idea what you are facing or feeling this morning but this one thing I do know, you are not dead yet. That is how far gone we are in our self-absorbed world; we treat our stubbed toe with the same emotion as a life and death situation. We are victims of our emotions which rob us of our resolve and determination to press on. Also realize we have a lot of support and encouragement in the world to put an overemphasis on our emotions. With a few things I agree because, being emotional creatures, we would be fools to ignore our emotions but at the same time we cannot allow them to master us either. The fact is we serve a God who will lead us through things that will require our full determination to get through it. We have to acknowledge our emotions but then make decisions and take actions according to our relationship with God.

The fact is our Father does not want us to arrive at the end of the race fat and spoiled. He is using this place to condition us, so that we are able to receive what he has prepared for us. Things need to be removed from us, we need to develop determination and perseverance, we need to become mature in our knowledge and understanding. We should consider these difficult times, which can be very emotional, times of discipline and development. These are the times that we should be convinced of our Father's love. After all, what is more important, all the creature comforts of this world where we live and serve for 70 or 80 years, or the "right stuff" that will enable us to claim what Jesus has prepared for us for eternity? I guess the answer to that will be determined by where your treasure is found. Jesus did say that wherever our treasure is our hearts will be found in the same place. So, is that treasure in this place or in the next?

It's okay for the moment if you do not yet feel strong ties to the land our Father has reserved for us; just don't lie to yourself about it either. Understand where you are on your journey so that you may also understand what our Father is doing when he leads you through the hard times. You are not yet ready for the end and you have much to go through in order for Dad to prepare you. He is bringing in discipline because he loves you and does not want you to lose out. In the context of this world these times will be hard but in the context of what has been prepare for us these are "light and momentary" troubles that are for your betterment not your destruction. Let me give you the full quote:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Tomorrow we are going to look further at this reality that our Dad loves us enough to discipline us but let me give you something to chew on for the rest of today; something that will let you know you are not crazy but only human:

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

As you wrestle with your emotions and the place you find yourself in today, you are going to have to reach the point where you decide to let go of it and give it to God. It does not mean that the situation will change but the emotions will. It is a situation that you will realize will not disappear, that you will have to ride it out to the end, but that you can trust God with it. Our struggle is often not with the situation but instead with our resistance to change. God is working it out for your good. You have to trust him with your future and his intentions for you. Allow your perspective to be changed so these things become light and momentary as you trust the Father to make Jesus your "everything".

Monday, March 22, 2010

It starts with getting out of bed ...

Good morning my friends. I have to admit, there are some mornings I would rather sleep for another hour than to get up to write this blog. It takes an effort to remember that this is MY morning devotions, when the Spirit speaks to ME and gets My heart oriented for the day. It's hard when I am tired but if I do not maintain this discipline then much of my preaching is useless as I fail to demonstrate that what I preach is truth. Of course then it is no surprise that as these thoughts bounce around in my head  I should open the Word and read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 11:1-3)

Some people read this blog and have this mistaken notion that I have a plan for the teaching or instruction that is given here. I am sorry to disappoint you but I am only a man trying to work out my salvation daily and letting you in on God's conversation with me. This is the Spirit's Word to my unfaithful heart this morning:

     Since we are ...
     Let us ...
     Let us ...
     Let us ...
     Consider ... so that ...

That is the action plan for today, handed to me by the Holy Spirit so that this weak soldier can be of some use. Regardless of how I FEEL I have been told to consider how others pushed through because they trusted God's faithfulness. I am sure there were some mornings Abraham did not want to face his day. What about poor Noah? How long exactly did he have to face building that boat while others laughed at him? I wonder how many mornings the Spirit had to prod him in the morning. We know for certain that Moses had his rough mornings. Yet, they are examples to us of God doing great things through such weak people and it started with them getting up every morning. They put their confidence in God and trusted him for strength and hope. As I consider them I also realize they did not have the advantage I have this morning, of having such an awesome relationship with Jesus.

Now, since I have all this encouragement from these past witnesses there are a few "let us" that fall into place. First of all, let us take their example and cut loose anything that has us all tangled up, including sin so that we can be freed to run this course that God has given to us. It is a bit easier to run with perseverance when we cut loose anything that does not help us. If it does not help it becomes a hindrance, a distraction, a nuisance, a weight. We are also aware of the sin that is a weakness to us, that won't let us be the great runners we were called to be. Confess, it, share it with someone, become accountable, let the Spirit deal with it in you, cut it loose. If it is not helping it is hindering.

I already mentioned the next "let us" but it bears mentioning again. Get it fixed in your head that this course is not always going to be easily. It is going to take perseverance beyond your ability. You are going to hit walls, have great days of frustration and doubt will often come knocking. There will be days when you would rather stay in bed and there will be weeks of failures. There is a reason why we are constantly told to push through, to persevere in it; because it is hard. Do not be surprised by it. Some of you may be going back to jogging as the weather turns nice. You know what you are up against. It will not be easy as you push yourself. If you can understand this then spiritually you should not be surprised when you meet with resistance each day as you do what does not come natural in this world.

Of course there is only one way to do this: we have to get our eyes fixed on Jesus. This does not mean the occasional glance. It means absolutely focused on Jesus as our goal. Again back to the joggers. You have a goal in mind. You want to achieve something. If you don't then you won't be running for long. Without a goal we are unable to persevere, to push through to make it to the end because we do not know what  the end is. In this "daily working out" of our salvation we know that Jesus is our goal, so we have to get our eyes fixed on that goal or none of this makes any sense and we will not push on.

Now with Jesus fixed in our sight as our goal we need to consider him. Do not simply have this image of Jesus in your head; actually study him, get to know him and realize the example he has given us. Consider him, understanding that he told us that we would do even greater things than he did, realizing he has made it possible for us to live such a worthwhile life. As we do this our weariness will fall away and new strength will come in. The idea of rolling over and going back to sleep will disappear. If we were losing heart we will find new strength to excel despite the circumstances and hardships. With Jesus fixed before us, with the realization of everything he faced and overcame, with the realization he made it possible to do the same, we will press on.

As you face your day please keep in mind that you play a vital part in the mission. You have much to contribute to the Body even if you do not realize your place in it. What you do today and how you face it could be the deciding factor in someone making the decision for Jesus. The fact that you do not quit today will change someone's life; that life may be your own. Stop and think of everything the heroes of faith accomplished and then realize it happened because they made the decision to get out of bed and serve. It starts with getting out of bed today.

Friday, March 19, 2010

We live by faith, not by sight

Good morning my friends. I think that most of us understand that there needs to be a refreshing of the saints by the Holy Spirit in the Church today. We are falling short of our Father's intention for us, failing to step into purpose and destiny. There are some individuals who get it and rise head and shoulders above the ordinary and the common but that is our Father's desire for all of us. I believe it is a matter of the mature and immature coming to the the same understanding, that it takes more than just belief to be a follower of Jesus Christ. James said:

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19)

Perhaps it is not the believing that is the problem but the failure to act on that belief. Jesus said:

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; They will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. (Mark 16:17-18)

It is faith that brings belief to life. Believing there is a God is something that belongs to demons and the lost. The children of God do more than believe; they live a life of faith that demonstrates our hope and trust in Jesus. We are a people of action. James put this into words for us:

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
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 2:17-18)

We have been looking at Hebrews 11 for the last couple of days, the chapter we have come to know as the "Heroes" chapter. Our names should be listed here. In fact, every follower of Jesus Christ should be listed here because it is a list of those who knew that faith causes action. It is not so much the cost of faith as it is the result of faith. Consider for a moment some of the things faith provoked people to do:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (Hebrews 11:32-34)

This just names a few great things that were accomplished by people who responded to the provocation of their faith. However, it is not always so glorious and I wonder how many of us are still willing to act on our faith when it results in some unpleasantries:

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35-38)

There are those who will teach that God does not want his children to suffer. These are obviously not students of the Word because our Father is concerned with two things: preparing us for eternity and him being glorified. It is our desire to see the name of Jesus lifted up. We desire to see our God glorified in everything we do and say. He is glorified in our obedience and sometimes that obedience leads us to persecution and death. Do we love this life so much that we would deny our Lord to save it? Faith would not allow this in us. Faith leads us to right action in obedience to our Father, trusting in his promises that we have yet to receive.

I believe we have become too attached to this place and these "things" to live our faith. We are satisfied to simply believe that God exists and we hope that will be enough. James says it won't be because doing nothing with our faith is a sign that our faith is dead. I really do not believe that dead faith is going to please our Lord. Living our faith requires us to let go of this place and to hold on to Jesus:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Have we let go of what does not belong to us? Are we living like strangers here or are we trying to make heaven on earth? Are we not looking for a country of our own? If we are constantly longing for this place then we will find a way to return to it and our faith will die. Is our God ashamed of us? I hope not. I hope we still have time to throw off our slumber, to rise up and to become the people of destiny that we have been called to. Faith must be translated into action in our lives in order for us to bring glory to our Father. Let us become a people that our God is not ashamed of; let us do more than just believe.

We live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Without faith it is imposible to please God

We live at a time when, in my opinion, the majority of the followers have no idea what faith is. We talk about it, claim it, write about it, but seldom walk in it.The sad thing is that we think we are living by faith. Perhaps it was due to such times ahead that Jesus posed the question. "However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) One of Jesus' more common phrases was "O you of little faith". The moments Jesus would get excited were the moments when people showed such great faith, such as with the Centurion, but most of the time these were people outside of the Jewish religion. I wonder 2000 years later if we have become like the Jews, satisfied with our traditions but empty of faith? The writer of Hebrews stated:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2)

Hope in this context is not used in our modern meaning of "to wish for" but instead the ancient sense of the word, "to trust, to have confidence in". Faith is being sure of who we trust in, that we are confident in the promises of Jesus. It is the attitude that because Jesus said it, it is. Even in the Church today we live by the axiom "seeing is believing". We have turned our "certain of what we do not see" into "let me see the miracles and I will believe". Either that or we have no expectations of fulfilled promises, we are just happy to have fellowship with "good living" people. But here is the kicker:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Obviously the first part of this definition is a given or there is no sense even having this conversation. The second part is not all that sure because God's rewards are not always something that is given in hand immediately. In our current age this is a difficult thing to understand. At one time a person would have to work for years to save up for a car or a house. Women use to start setting aside things for their future home when they were still young girls. For the last 20 years or so we have moved into a society that demands or expects instant gratification. How does this translate to a faith like Abraham's, who was given a promise but was only permitted to see the seed of it?

There is also the other part of faith where we are told to act on the instructions of God with no proof. This was the faith of Noah. He trusted what God told him was going to happen without demanding any proof. There were no examples from the past for him to trust; there was only God's word. Noah trusted and just like what would happen later with Abraham, that trust was credited to him as righteousness; he had a right, correct, proper relationship with God. Is that not what we are all seeking, a proper relationship with God? I believe it is what we all desire, long for, try to achieve, an intimate relationship with our Creator; one that is vibrant and real. Well, it won't happen without a real faith, not the plastic kind we peddle today. Consider this:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Where we consider our home to be says a lot about who we consider ourselves to be. It shapes our attitude toward this place and our relationship with God. Understanding that our home is with Jesus allows us to live the faith that Jesus expects from us; a faith that is satisfied with seeing in this place the promises at a distance when we fall asleep knowing that we will wake up with them in hand. The fact is that our Father lavishes his children with blessings because we earnestly seek him. He delights in fellowship with us and in our obedience to him. What father does not feel blessed by the obedience of his children? Such obedience to our heavenly Father allows for his blessings to freely flow. Even if it is dark for a time and he seems to be at a distance, we have faith that he is actually close to us and the darkness will not last for long.

And without faith it is impossible to please God.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Not knowing the meaning of the word quit

Do you remember when ....? Go ahead, fill in the blank. I am sure you have said it in conversation with friends or at family get togethers. I have even heard adolescents talk about when they were younger and how different things seemed. It is natural for us to reflect, compare and sometimes complain; "These kids don't know how good they've got it. In my day ..." You can fill in the blank. Often times such reflections are great for perspective and reminding us where we have come from. The same is true spiritually. The writer of Hebrews states:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. (Hebrews 10:32)

Yes, remember those first days after accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. For most people those were exciting days. We were so overjoyed at what we had discovered and we wanted all our friends and family to know. We probably drove them nuts, but it did not matter to us, we were willing to face any cost because Jesus had suffered for us. The writer continues:

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. (Hebrews 10:33-34)

There was no price too great that could be asked of you; you were so on fire for the Lord! You were so in love with other believers; if someone dared to mention they were a believer you were all over them. If someone was suffering because of their faith you wanted in on the action. You gave away food and clothes, offered free babysitting or anything else to demonstrate the love of Christ. Remember how Jesus responded to you in those days? You felt so alive. Somestimes we need to remember back to those days when our faith seems a little thin and we are questioning whether we will make it:

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. (Hebrews 10:35-36)

I cannot understand people who give up when the end is in sight. It is like the student who drops out of school in grade 10. He has already put in 10 years with only 1 left. Why throw away ten years by not completing the goal. It is like the Christian who lets go of their faith when they are 70 years old. For 50 years they have persevered in their faith only to throw it all away in the last few years. There is a saying, "It is always darkest before the dawn". It's also the coldest moment of the day. The greatest resistance comes before the greatest victories. Sometimes, in those moments, we need to remember what it is like when it is day time, to remember the warmth of the sun. Sometimes we need to remember our spiritual youthfulness, the excitement, the certainty of God. Then we need to look forward and imagine that moment of sunshine, the new warmth. We need to realize our spiritual rewards, our eternal life, the presence of God, the crown of life:

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."
(Hebrews 10:37-38)

We need to remember that we have been called, not to try, but to succeed, to have great victory. We have been called to obedience and perseverance. Giving up is never an option for us, not because we are determined but because it is what the Father expects of us. Jesus told us that if we love him we will do what he has commanded. We understood this in our early days; now we have to reflect on the early days to taste of that experience again. Often we have to do this because we have neglected our relationship with Jesus, we have more to lose now, we have a foot in both worlds. This does not please Jesus who told us to be either hot or cold but don't be room temperature. Those who are will be spit out. But we are made of sterner stuff:

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

It would be a shame to go through all the trials, hardships and persecutions, to then throw it away at the end. We have too much invested to lose it all. If need be you must go back and recapture what you once had with Jesus. Get back in the Word, start talking everything over with him, put some effort in daily worship, hang out with other believers, get involved in doing something that expresses your faith in Jesus. Remember, we don't come from a root that gives up, but instead we were born to a Dad who doesn't know the meaning of quit.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jesus did all the hard stuff so now let us do our part

Good morning my friends. My apologies for yesterday's missing blog. Something happened to my phone which doubles as my alarm so I slept in by an hour and an half. That is a disastrous thing to happen with my daily schedule. However, we are together here today and what a great chapter of Hebrews we are considering today as we turn to chapter 10. If you are in need og encouragement this is the place to look.

The moments of our lives we lose heart and allow discouragement to become our constant companion are the moments we lose our perspective of life, our purpose and our Lord. The fact is that Jesus has done all the hard work. He is the one who volunteered to become part of creation. He had to humble himself in our form. He had to face every temptation we face, every weakness of this body, the taste of a decaying body. He had to face rejection, torture and death. He had to take on the sins of the World and feel the rejection of our Father. He had to face and overcome death to break the last strangle-hold of Satan on us. Now compare your life to that, the obstacles you are currently facing, the mountains you have been told to move. The writer of Hebrews looks at what Jesus has done and gives us two "since" statements:

1. since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, (Hebrews 10:19-20))

2. and since we have a great priest over the house of God (Hebrews 10:21)

This is what Jesus has done for us. This is what his work has accomplished. We were incapable of doing this for ourselves but that does not mean we do not have something to do here. There are some actions we have to take. "Since we" have these things because of Jesus' actions, "let us" now take these actions:

1. let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)

Jesus can't do this for us. Taking that step to draw near to God in sincerity is an action that only we can take. No one can draw near to God for us. Jesus' actions made it possible but only we can make that decision and do it. What an incredible privilege we have to fellowship with our Father all day long. It is what he has longed for with us and because of Jesus we can take that step.

2. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

Jesus' actions has given us hope. It is not hope as the world understands hope but it is the hope of what has been guaranteed to us. Jesus gave it to us but only we can take the action of holding on to it. Every day we have to take that decision to hold on to what Jesus has given to us. Again, no one else can hold on to it for us, it is an action that we must take as a result of the action Jesus has taken for our benefit. Do not let go.

3. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)

Jesus died for all of us and this should spur on our action toward each other. Jesus died for you which means you have value to me, I am concerned with you, I want to make sure you make it to the end, I have a responsibility to encourage you and not let you fall away. You have that same responsibility to me. We need to consider how we can encourage each other to take action in love; how together we can accomplish good deeds in other people's lives. This is an action we must decide to take.

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

Jesus sacrificed everything so that we could understand the reality of loving God with our entire being and to love other as ourself. We are to take the action of daily fellowship with the Father and to take part in the fellowship of believers. It is part of our responsibility in the Body to spend time with other believers, where we find the encouragement that we need. We do encourage each other as we work together in service. We cannot try a "go it alone" attitude because Jesus did not design the Body to function in this manner and we receive encouragement from just being together. It is an action no one else can take for us but an action we can and need to take because Jesus made it possible.

Jesus has taken all the necessary actions to open all the doors for us, now we have to take the action of walking through them. Let us draw near to God. Let us hold on to hope. Let us spur each other on. Let us encourage each other by being together. These are the things we are to do since Jesus has done all the hard work and made it possible. Do not try to be a spectator in this journey because Jesus did not die for us to be spectators. We have been called to join in this work so let us get going and walk through these doors that are open to us.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The tainting of the Church

I really cannot figure some people out. I realize that North America has developed a very self-centered society where everyone seems to share in the same goal of getting more money. I realize that our main occupation is how to entertain ourselves. We even see our work as a means to an end, whether that end is to afford entertainment or early retirement. There was a time when we found purpose in the work itself. Many values have shifted because of these changes to perspective, allowing for marriages that are not marriages and abortions because babies are too inconvenient. I realize all this is happening in the world and I am not surprised. It may disgust me but I am never surprised at what the unleashed sinful nature can do. However, I am surprised at how much this perspective is tainting the Church in Noth America.

I have no illusions of what the Church is and either should you. The Church is made up of a messy people living messy lives so it can be a very messy place. We have people of various levels of maturity all desiring to be like Jesus. The more mature are suppose to have patience with the less mature and even be an encouragement to them. But relationships are never perfect, things can breakdown; sin can happen. We should never be surprised by sin, in and outside of the Church. However, what we should expect is repentance and forgiveness. These are the two pillars of a healthy church. None of this surprises me as we all travel together on this great journey of discovery and growth.What does surprise me is the sense of lost purpose.

North American worshipers have gotten so caught up in the culture of "self" that we have lost our sense of purpose. The reason is simple: one cannot be a selfish servant. We have forgotten that Jesus did not die on the cross so that we can do whatever we want with our lives. He died so that we would gain the freedom of choice. As long as we were chained by sin we had no choice. He freed us from those chains so that we could make a choice; to be a slave again to sin or to his righteousness. In other words we can choose to fall back into the slavery of sin and allow sin to dictate our thoughts and actions or we could fall into the the control and direction of doing what is right according to God. To choose Jesus is to choose to die to yourself, to your desires and wants. In choosing Jesus we choose a life of service to God:

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)

If this is new to you then I encourage you to take note of this verse; "so that we may serve the living God!" The one thing that will destroy that service is when we refuse to die to ourselves. Jesus warned us that we cannot serve two masters because we will love one of them and hate the other. When we try to serve God and our desires we end up resenting the many things that God has us do. When we fail to receive anything from this service we become bitter and that bitterness brings out a lot of ugly stuff. We fail to understand that we have already received every spiritual blessing so we do not need to receive anything else from our service. However, God will not argue with us. He will react like the father in the parable of the prodigal son. He will let us go off and live a self-centered life and even hit bottom. We cannot blame him for the foolishness of our self-centeredness. Yet, just like the father in the parable, he is waiting to take us back when we come back in repentance. So, do not think that God is going to prevent you from becoming self-centered; it is a choice we make.

Maturity can only be found in a life that knows sacrifice; sacrifice can only happen in a selfless life, a selfless life can only be lived after we have died to ourselves. Remember that Jesus told us that a person who tries to save his will lose it but a person who loses his life will save it. I am not sure we can appreciate this truth until we are willing to admit the environment in which we live. If we don't see it how can we respond to it? Traveling a bit can help with that. Get out of your environment, visit another country, go on a mission trip, experience the struggle of another culture for just a week and you will come back completely aware of the environment in which we live. This alone will not change you because you will quickly fall back into your old ways. However, this awareness can help you to understand what you must choose to decide to do in Jesus Christ.

We are saved so that we may serve the living God. Are you there?

Friday, March 12, 2010

The religious mind is creeping back

Lately I have been hearing a number of psychologists being interviewed concerning the matter of religion. They have specifically discussed the universal tendency of each each culture to need to worship something greater than themselves. Each psychologist also added their opinion that it is time for us to move away from such needs and obtain a modern mind. Of course my conclusion was somewhat different after listening to them. I thought these gentlemen had missed the point that none of us feel complete without fellowship with God because that is the way we were created. It is a simple matter of introducing everyone to the one true God. However, I realized after that they were right on one point; it is time for us to move past the religious mind.

Religion is a plague on all societies because it brings a requirement of actions that play no part in salvation. They require the person to become dependent on people (priests) for their knowledge and understanding, as well as on ceremonies or rituals. There is also a lot of superstition and mysticism involved in this mindset. The early worship of YAHWEH started off with many rituals and ceremonies but each had the purpose of showing what we lacked with a promise of the freedom that was promised to come. YAHWEH only wanted relationship with us but it was impossible due to our fallen state so he had to improvise until the time was right for our rescue. In explaining the earthy tabernacle the writer of Hebrews says:

The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. (Hebrews 9:8-9)

When the tabernacle was set up and the sacrifices and rituals were established YAHWEH was building a temporary bridge so that we could know of him. He desired relationship with us not sacrifice but the sacrifice was necessary at that time to allow for relationship. However, he promised us a new age when sacrifice and rituals would no longer be necessary. That age arrived with Jesus, who became the one sacrifice for all time, that we could rise above the rituals and step into a relationship with YAHWEH. However, we are a people who find it hard to "walk in the Spirit" and find it easier to trust in "things".

Even today the Church and individuals have rituals they rely on instead of walking in the relationship they have with YAHWEH. The people who have been placed in our lives as trainers and teachers we tend to turn into priests. Just consider your attitude toward your pastor. Maybe you are one who is free from dependency on him but many trust only him for understanding. God has given us a banquet of teachers but people align themselves to one, making him their priest. The defend him, protect him and come close to worshiping him. We are still into the worship of the tools instead of the one who wields the tools.Yet we have been told that for each of us the Spirit is our teacher or guide or corrector. God has given us trainers but he has given us many of them and they are nothing more than servants. We have direct access and are expected to have a good, strong relationship with YAHWEH, not to worship him through someone else. Of these earthly things we are told:

They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (Hebrews 9:10)

There are those in the Body who want us to live according to the Old Covenant with all its rituals and regulations. They must be told that the "new order" arrived through Jesus Christ and these old, religious things are useless. We have been called into relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We need to embrace the truth that no foods, clothes or actions will gain us a better salvation than what has been offered to us by Jesus. We need to lose these religious attitudes and actions and discover what true relationship is. Salvation is by the blood of Jesus, it is the narrow way with the narrow gate. There is no other way and there is nothing we can add to it. Come to the Father through the Son and enjoy the richest relationship of your life along with its freedom from the religious mind..

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Our covenant relationship

Good morning my friends. I do not mean to get heavy in the teaching this morning but there is something I think we need to remember. We can sometimes move through our day with very little thought about the serious nature of our relationship with God. Certainly we appreciate all his blessings and all that he does for us and sometimes we ask ourselves why he would do it but I don't think we give the "why" part enough consideration. 

It is important for us to understand the serious nature of our covenant with God. A covenant is a promise or pledge between two parties that has conditions attached to it. In our school we have contracts with parents, which we consider to be a form of a covenant. We pledge or promise to educate their children in all the disciplines from a Biblical, Christ-centered perspective. They in turn pledge or promise to support the school financially so that we are equipped to carry out our part. If we fail to do what we have promised then we have broken the covenant. If the parents fail to do what they have promised then they have broken the covenant. So a covenant is conditional. This is the same with the covenant that God made with Israel and now the new covenant he has made with the Church, of which Israel is part. (read Romans)

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus has become the High Priest of this New Covenant that we are included in. He quotes from Jeremiah to remind us that God was serious in setting up this New Covenant:

 "The time is coming, declares the Lord,
      when I will make a new covenant
   with the house of Israel
      and with the house of Judah...

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
      after that time, declares the Lord.
   I will put my laws in their minds
      and write them on their hearts.
   I will be their God,
      and they will be my people.
 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
      or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'
   because they will all know me,
      from the least of them to the greatest.
 For I will forgive their wickedness
      and will remember their sins no more."
(Hebrews 8:8, 10-12)

The Apostle Paul goes into great detail in his letter to the Romans explaining how Israel was rejected because of their hard hearts and we were grafted in as a result. The Church has become the "nation that was not a nation" and a "people who were not a people". As God had formed Israel from Moses, he has formed a new nation through Jesus. This New Covenant is based on the blood of Jesus. The conditions are the same as the conditions before, obedience. The big difference is that those who enter into this covenant with God must do so only through Jesus Christ and in doing this are covered by the blood of his sacrifice. This means that all sins are forgiven and no further sacrifice is necessary.

People attempt to add things to this covenant through great acts of repentance. This is actually their attempt to enter the covenant or to repair the covenant through other means than Jesus Christ. God will only accept one sacrifice and that is the cross. Nothing you do for repentance will have any affect. Only the sacrifice of Jesus matters and our acceptance of it is the only means of forgiveness. It is so much less complicated than all the former sacrifices, but make it clear in your mind and heart, there is no sacrifice that you can offer that would be acceptable. Only the blood of Jesus' sacrfice can save you, and this is the New Covenant.

Just remember as you move through your day the serious nature of this covenant. It is a great covenant with many promises but it is a covenant with conditions. The blessings of this covenant cannot be yours outside of obedience. We are called to a life of dedication and obedience under this covenant and if we do not keep our part then God will not keep his. Thankfully his covenant is a thing of grace and Jesus is our High Priest so when we fail in our obedience it is a matter of having a repentant heart and forgiveness flows. But where there is no repentance there is no forgiveness and the covenant remains broken. So, be careful my friends to always keep Jesus fixed in our vision. In this manner we will always know when we have become disobedient and are able to seek forgiveness and keep the covenant intact. This is how we keep the blessings of God flowing in our lives.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A friendship that matters

Good morning my friends. I hope you are considered a rich person this morning. The Scriptures tell us that a person with many friends is considered a wealthy person. If you have many friends I am sure that you would agree with this. Having many friends provides for greater support and encouragement as you move through the various seasons of your life. It also provides you with company to enjoy along the trip. The fact is very few people like to travel alone and those that do usually do not make good friends. Yet, having so many friends can be a messy affair as well.

Friendship goes two ways, so just as you need them they also need you. As much as you need to be encouraged so do they. As much support as you demand, they demand an equal amount. You will even find many of you friends will take but they won't give back. Regardless if Jesus is your Saviour or not, life is messy. Sometimes it is really messy. There is no sense hiding it because we all know it so having many friends can also be tiring, but still worth it. However, there is one friend who is indispensable, especially because life is so incredibly messy.

The thing I appreciate about the letter of Hebrews is the focus it puts on our relationship with Jesus and the in-depth explanation of who Jesus is. After reading Hebrews the reader walks away with the understanding that Jesus is indispensable in our lives. There is no other friend who gives us so much. In our reading today, Hebrews 7, the writer is explaining why Jesus is considered to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek:

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25)

Jesus is a friend who is always on our side, who is always explaining to our Father why we need so much help and support, so much love and forgiveness. He is the champion who has already been through all of this mess we are living, who beat it and is now in our corner encouraging us. Not only is he encouraging, he is also bringing in all the help and support he can to help us succeed. Do not forget who this Jesus is, because he is not like a friend who could ever fail us:

Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:26-27)

Jesus' character is perfect, one that we are growing in to. This is our friend who will never leave us or forsake us. He demonstrated just how much he loved us by dying for us, but not dying an ordinary death, instead willingly facing the torturous death of the cross. If he was willing to face that for us how could we ever doubt that he would strengthen us to face our current situation? Could we say that our situation is greater then death on the cross?

Some people have this mistaken notion that his sacrifice was a general event, that he did not do it specifically for them. This is because they fail to understand that intimate knowledge God has of each of us, starting from the moment he began to knit us together in our mothers' womb. It does not matter how many billion of us have lived and died, our Father knows each one of us, to the detail of knowing the number of hairs on our head. He loves us intensely, saved or unsaved. The only difference between the saved and unsaved is that one has accepted the gift of salvation and the other has rejected it, but God loves us all with equal intensity, and Jesus is proof of that.

So as you go out through the door of your house today know that you are not facing it alone. Perhaps you need that knowledge before you exit your bedroom door or even before your spouse wakes up. Wherever your challenges are today, you have a friend who is fighting for you, who believes in you, and who will never walk away from you. Remember to thank him today and make sure that relationship stays strong.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

We do not lose heart

Good morning my friends. There is little doubt that each of us have moments in our life when we feel overwhelmed, when we would rather run away instead of facing this thing that threatens to destroy us. Sometimes this feeling is due to a situation that seems to have no solution. Other times it is a simple case of workload. Still other times it is due to duration of a problem or amount of work in our lives. Whatever the cause, none of us should ever feel that we are the only one who faces such days; we all do.

It is especially important on these days to remember who we belong to and verify that this relationship with Jesus is strong and vibrant. We need to always keep in mind that God's plan is bigger than this moment or even this day. God's intention for us is more than what we are feeling right now; that this moment will pass like all the other moments of our life but Jesus will still be here. Jesus will still be here and he will be the same as he has always been. His unchangeable character is the reason we can feel secure in the best and the worst of times.

It is also important on these days to remember that Jesus is so much more than we realize or can even imagine. From a very simple sentence in Hebrews 7, the mystery and wonder of Jesus is presented:

Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. (Hebrews 7:3)

Too often we limit the existence of Jesus to his manifestation here on earth. We forget that he was sent by the Father and that Mary was only a means for Jesus to enter into our history, the Creator as the creation, but Jesus is so much more than this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)

Jesus had no mother or father, he had no beginning and he has no end. He has always been and will always be. He gave up all that he had and all that he was to rescue us. He faced and experienced death, the one that has always been, and overcame that death for you and me. He has been changed for all eternity, no longer simply spirit but now being housed in a resurrected body, the same as what we will be clothed in. If he was willing to face pain and death for us, to be transformed for all eternity, do you not realize he is willing to see you through these moments of your life?

When I have moments like this, when things threaten to overwhelm me, I turn to some encouraging words from Paul to put things in perspectve:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

That is the real secret to surviving these "light and momentary" things that we face; get your eyes fixed on who Jesus is, who he really is. He is more than the Sunday School Jesus you have learned about. He is more than the guy who died on the cross and disappeared from his grave. He is more than the dude who walked on water and turned water into wine. Jesus is the "who was, and is and is to come". Jesus is the great "I AM". He is the instrument of all creation. And he is the one who gave up his life for you. Think about that next time you need a little perspective on things and need to find the motivation to push on. Jesus has promised never to leave you or forsake you. Trust him.

Monday, March 8, 2010

You need an anchor in these changing times of life

Good morning my friends. As you begin your day I hope you begin it with the assurance that you can trust God. We would be in a lot of trouble if we could not trust him. Imagine if he had our character; weak and constantly changing. We would be pretty messed up right now, not knowing whether God was going to stand by his promises or not today. However, there are two things about God that never change which assures us that he will stay true to his promises; his character and purpose remain the same. God is incapable of lying.

We live in a world that is in constant flux. In the last month there have been at least six reported earth quakes over 6.0. The ground on which we stand has the illusion of being unchanging but in truth it is moving, changing and being reshaped. As you go into work or school today you will be confronted with change. People will be missing, furniture may be changed around, the office might be a different colour, a pink slip may be waiting for you. What appeared solid and dependable yesterday has shifted on you today. However, it is the opposite with God and his promises.

The writer of Hebrews gives us a clear example of God's dependability:

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, "I will surely bless you and give you many descendants." And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. (Hebrews 6:13-15)

Examples are great but how do we know that what was applied to Abraham will be applied to us? That's when it becomes a matter of character. If someone in your life, who has broken every promise they have ever made to you, gives you another promise, I doubt you will take them seriously. However, if someone else, who has always kept their promises, made you a promise, you would treat it as if it was already done. You trust them because their character have proven worthy of trust. This is the same for our heavenly Father:

Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (Hebrews 6:16-18)

God's promises are better than money in the bank. For those of you who heat your home with wood, I simply say that his promises are as sure as the promise of that wood pile. A lot of things can change but that pile of wood means that none of that change will affect your ability to heat your home. We Christians are a people of hope but not hope as this world understands hope. The world hopes for things that are a possibility with the right conditions. Our hope is a fact, a thing we lean on in difficult times, an anchor in the storms of our lives:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:19)

When everything else changes, fails us, disappears, the promises of God keep us anchored to his reality. It is not an anchor that is placed in sand that is always shifting but instead it is fixed in the Rock that never changes. Our God does not change. The cross does not change. The empty tomb does not change. The Holy Spirit does not change. The Father's purpose does not change. Jesus' abiding presence does not change. His promise to return for us has not changed. Eternity has not changed. All his promises that govern us today, in this place does not change. So, going back a few chapters, I remind you of what the Spirit instructed us to do:

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) 

Regardless of what changes you will face today remember where your anchor is fixed. If this is where your mind and heart is fixed then nothing you face today will be able to take you away from the reality of our hope in Jesus Christ. Enjoy your day as you experience the peace that goes beyond our understanding.