Friday, April 30, 2010

Is Honesty With Self Really A Lonely Word?

I find we are a people lost in self-delusion. Sounds pretty negative and not a way many of us want to start the day, yet it is something that is worthy of consideration. Stop and reflect for a moment; how often do we lie to ourselves about why we do something? I find that most people dress up their motivation in some noble cause or worthy reason but in truth there is a self-centered purpose behind it. In fact, we can look at the very simple thing of doing something nice for someone. Are we doing it for that person or is it because we get a buzz from the person's reaction and praise for what we have done? Often my thoughts go back to Jesus' challenge for us to love where there is no love and to give where we can't get anything back.

If we are willing to be honest with our self and God  we would be willing to be honest enough to admit that many of our actions are done because we benefit from them. If we are willing to admit this then I think we can go on from there and recognize our part in any of the conflicts in our life. Regardless of who started the conflict, our selfishness, or need to defend our self, our need to be right, our need to be heard perpetuated the conflict. James writes:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. (James 4:1-2)

I believe most of us are a lot more self-centered and selfish than we want to admit. Yet, the only way the Body of Christ can function properly is to understand and practice the instruction to look after others and trust that God the Father looks after us. If we remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit we would discover that our Father has planned for our need of rest, food, shelter, clothing, friendship and everything else we need. Where things fall apart is when we allow our desires to take over. Again a simple example is our desire for importance which can cause us to be overly busy so that we stop hearing God's voice. We abuse our body all in the name of sacrifice for the ministry when that is not God's intention at all. I am not saying there are not seasons and in some cases there may be prolonged years of busyness, but these are exceptions and not rules. We need to stop deluding ourselves and dishonouring the name of Jesus because of our own foolish notion of service and sacrifice which are simply selfish tools for self-importance and pride. The Scriptures continue:

You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 3:2-3)

I do not expect that everyone will agree with me on this and it is a difficult message to get across to people. There is a lot of garbage to wade through in order for us to reach a place of honesty about motivation. Another simple example is a wife who prayers for the salvation of her husband. You can ask why she is praying and her answer could be because she wants him to be nicer to her. The motivation should be because she wants him to experience the love of Jesus for himself and to be able to enter into glory; that she does not want him to face eternal damnation. That would be the correct answer but would it be the honest answer. Are we willing to dig deep to find the core of our motivation so we can correct it?

People often ask me why God is not listening to them; why is he not answering prayer? That is a complicated question simply by the sheer possible unknowns that are involved. But I wonder how many reasons have to do with our selfish motivations? Again the problem is that we have deluded ourselves so much that we have buried the truth deep within and it is hard to find. There are two problems; we trust ourself too much and, we are really good liars. We need to be able to ask ourself the question, "Why am I praying for this?" to understand why our prayer is not being answered. I doubt if we can honestly answer it though because I don't believe we are willing to be that honest with ourself.

It is a difficult task but I encourage you to examine the rough places in your life right now. Examine them in a manner in which you are willing to be perfectly honest with yourself. Ask yourself how much you are at fault in these situations; how much did your desires play in developing these rough areas in your life? What conflicts are there with people? Did you honestly apply the principles of Jesus, to love where there is no love and to give where there is no hope of receiving back? Did you put that other person ahead of your own need to be right, your need to look good, your need not to be embarrassed, your need to have the upper hand? Yes, the more we look the uglier it can be, so be prepared if you are looking for honesty in the situation; what you find may hurt how you see yourself.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's The Dying Part We Have Problems With

It should not surprise us to know there is a difference between the holy and the common. Often the holy belongs to the Divine and the common to man, except where man is being transformed by the Divine. I think most of us have encountered people who speak with a wisdom that seems beyond this earth. They open their mouths and we can't seem to get enough but that is only one aspect of wisdom. To speak wisdom is one thing and to live it is another. This is what the Scriptures point out:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)

We all know that a Christian life is not something meant to be hidden away but instead our lives are on constant display. What we have been taught is not theory and is not for the purpose of writing better books but instead to put into practice. The best wisdom is what can be applied to our daily living. Yet we must be constantly aware that there are two types of wisdom that fight for our attention and even though they are easy to tell apart we allow ourselves to be confused.

The first is described by Scripture:

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16)

Obviously this is the common wisdom, that which appears to be wise but in the end only leads to destruction. If can easily be identified by its selfish nature. It somehow lifts up the person and teaches the person to remain focused on himself. But Divine wisdom is not like this at all:

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18)

So with such clear indications of the focus of these two kinds of wisdom you would think we would clearly choose the Divine; but we don't. Only those who clearly see themselves as servants of Jesus know what it is to deny themselves in all areas of life in order to have their life put on display. These days we try to avoid such responsibility and would rather hide away with the excuse that we are forgiven, not perfect. Yet, the Scripture tells us that we should be bold in our righteousness, living lives that testify about Jesus' love and holiness in everything that we do. Only in living such a life is heavenly wisdom viewable in what we do.

We need to stop coming up with excuses because we know what we need to do. We need to give up our lives completely and become servants of Jesus. We need to see everything we do as being a service to Jesus, doing it well in word and deed, and be willing to be on public display.We should be willing to live by the Divine wisdom and demonstrate it in the good that we do. Its easy to do when we are willing to die to our self. It's the dying part we find so hard.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No Excuses Please

Some would say that James went a bit too far in expressing the dangers of the tongue, but keep in mind that this is not the opinion of a man but the Word of God. Perhaps we do not realize the dangers because we do not stay around long enough to see the effects our words have on others. It is certainly a subject that should occupy a bit of our time as God speaks plainly to us about the power of the spoken word; the power to bless and to curse. The question is, to what end do we use the words we speak.

The Scriptures put it this way:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:3-6)

Imagine the power of this thing that is compared to the likes of bits and rudders. We know these are just small parts but they control the thing that appears to be large and powerful. Have you ever stood next to a horse? They are not only beautiful but powerful as well. Yet, that power is controled by a simple small bit of metal in the mouth. We do not fully appreciate the power of the spoken word. We can think something, we can even write it but it does not take on life until we pronounce it. It seems that as we speak it becomes enshrined in stone or something close to it. Maybe that is the wrong analogy. It is more like a tree, sending its roots down deep.

Spoken words go deep into the heart of the hearer and provoke many things. They also provoke many things in the person who speaks them. Unspoken desires, hidden feelings are nothing more than wisps of possibilities, until they are spoken, when they take on the flesh of reality. We act upon spoken words much more than simply thoughts or even the written word. Love that is spoken of is usually acted upon. Hatred declared is often followed up by action. Now throw in the matter of our human nature's tendency toward evil and you will understand the Scripture:

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)

The point of the Scripture here is that our transformed heart should change the nature of our tongue. With a pure source the water is always pure. It is only as the source is polluted that everything from it is also polluted. God cannot accept a "forked" tongue; speaking both good and evil:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:9-12)

If you want to know the real character of a person listen to the words they speak when they are angry. Emotion does not change the the source but it can remove any filter we have in place; then the real source is exposed. It does not matter what excuse we come up with, what stresses we are under; the only reason our tongue would pronounce curses and use foul language is because our source is not what we thought it was. Give me your excuses but they cannot stand under the gaze of Scripture that clearly says, "Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." Spoken words come to life. Spoken words hurt. Spoken words change things. What are you provoking with your words?

If you have a problem with your tongue check the source. If you think your source is good and curses still come out of your mouth you better check again. Face it, there are no excuses even if we have a long list of them. None of them can stand up under the example of Jesus. I leave you with this warning from Jesus:

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:35-37)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Problem With Perfection

Every day that I write in this blog I take a risk. The risk is a simple thing and it is not much different than what we each risk when we share our opinion or thoughts on things in life; we run the risk of being wrong. It is a shame that we have lost that notion in the Church, that there is room to be wrong. The first requirement of any teacher is a willingness to be taught. If we had more of this we would have a lot less dogma in the Church and a great deal more growth in our understanding of our Father's heart. 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. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. (James 3:1-2)

We live in a culture where "speaking your mind" is highly valued and we use this as a way of excusing our rude and crass language. We are no longer concerned about protecting the person we are talking to or of even using our language to help them. Instead we have a "two-barrel" mentality as we blast them with our judgment. If it comes to our mind we say it. But this cannot be the way of a teacher in the Body of Christ. We must consider the weight of our words, and the consequences of what they will provoke in people. It is for this reason that James cautions us that not everyone is a teacher. Teachers will be judged more severely because of the responsibility we have been given. But some people translate this to mean that teachers are expected to be perfect.

It is strange that people hold one standard for themselves and a second for other people. They will come up with excuses for their own actions and words but won't give an inch of ground to others who have made a mistake. Sometimes teachers are wrong but because we no longer have an openness in the Church these teachers are afraid to admit they made a mistake. They are afraid that if they do admit it and look for greater instruction people will lose trust in them and some will even call for their "blood". We must always leave room for mistakes and correction in the Body of Christ. There must be an attitude of open correction, public apology and the understanding we are all still learning.

The real danger in the Body of Christ is when a teacher refuses to admit that he was mistaken and continues to teach false doctrine. He stands in a greater condemnation because of everyone he is dragging down with his wrong teaching. How much better and richer an experience to admit your error, to learn and to continue in your progress. This should be the way of the Church. Consider the openness of Nicodemus who, even though he was afraid, knew enough to know that he didn't know. Consider the lessons he received as he approached Jesus with his questions.

We also need to be less demanding of perfection from our teachers. We are told that we need to be always checking for ourselves so we will know if something is not right but it doesn't mean we condemn them when we note an error. We need to give some breathing space to our teachers, our leaders, who are as imperfect as we are. When they admit their mistake we should applaud them and commend them for their openness to being taught. Let's not become so full of ourselves that we lose the heart and mind of Jesus in these matters.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Beyond Words

As we begin to look at what is known as the theme of James epistle, works, we need to keep the balance of how James started off his letter. James bases his emphasis on works as the evidence of true faith but faith must be the foundation of everything we say and do:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:12-13)

According to the first part of this chapter it is important that we show goes love to everyone, regardless of any personal biases we have, because that is the way the Father loves us. We cannot pick and choose who we are kind to, or who we do nice things for because having received God's love, while we were still sinners, we should understand that demonstrating this love by what we do is a fundamental part of our faith. Not to be biased in this is also fundamental. We hear directly from Jesus:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:43-48)

Now, if you can get your mind around this, that we are to love everyone we know and meet and that this love is translated by our words and actions, you are ready to consider what James has to say about good works:

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (James 2:14-17)

I think that we are so afraid of people becoming dependent on good works for salvation that we go to the other extreme and do not put any emphasis on our actions. We are constantly being accused of speaking the write words but not demonstrating it by our actions. In some cases this is an easy target for people to shoot at; in other cases it is the truth. We justify ourselves by what we do but we fail to recognize that what we do is for a very narrow ban of people, those who fit into what we consider acceptable folk. Outside of that group is whatever group we consider the untouchables. We spend a lot of energy condemning the "untouchables" instead of doing what Jesus did, which was to become their friend, to spend time with them, without compromising who he was or taught.

We think we are okay; we think we are not like this; we think we are including everyone, but I dare you to take a real good look in your heart. We usually use the excuse of having nothing to do with sin to avoid those we do not want to hang out with. We do not even consider that these scriptures have to do with our own actions and not those of others. How can we condemn people who have never even met Jesus. Oh, they have heard about him, and we have preached him to their face, but they have never actually met him. Then again, how many of us who claim him as Lord and Saviour have ever met him? If we had would we treat people the way we do? If we really understood that Jesus died for everyone, without exception, and that the Father loves our neighbour just as much as he loves us, would we ever be able to say an unkind word or be rude, or show any unkindness?

This is the reason James states that faith without works is dead. Faith without works is just a knowledge of theory and not a living of the truth. It is the reason James says:

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

There is more to believing than the words we speak. There is more to believing than quoting scripture. There is more to believing than loving those who love you. True faith understands that love costs and that it is a daily cost. It is setting aside what we want to do what the Father wants, even if it means being kind to those who hate us, forgiving those who do evil to us, and showing love where love will not be returned. Faith, true faith, provokes us to action.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Convict Us Again

There are certain clear reasons why we can't save ourselves and why we need a Saviour. I am not sure we are committed to this fact as I look around at Christians who are busy trying to save themselves. It results from people not reading and studying the Word for themselves, making assumptions and listen to false prophets who spin their own version of the holy Scriptures. We can attend church for decades and never come to understand the fundamental truth that we need Jesus. I don't mean that we need him on those days when we are feeling lonely, lost and in trouble. I mean that we need him or we die. Again I turn to James to help us put this into context for us:

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (James 2:9-11)

The reason we had to die under the law is because we were not capable of living the law. We may be able to do one thing right and perfect but we are sure to mess up on something else. Messing up once is all that it takes to be condemned to death. Remember we are flawed so we cannot live the perfect law. Jesus had to live the perfect life under the law so that he could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Our life cannot be lived without Jesus because our salvation is a matter of grace no good works.

This is an important matter to understand because of what James will challenge us with later in his epistle. Some people twist what James instructs as to do as if it is all a matter of living a good life. I am afraid that we have many people in our churches who have conformed their behaviour so they are leading a good life instead of being transformed by the blood of Jesus. It is like putting the cart before the horse. Good works prompted by love is a sign of a transformed heart, but you can still have good works without transformation. Anyone can lead a good life but it doesn't mean they have never lied, never cheated, never had murderous thoughts. Remember we are not perfect and the law requires perfection. You cannot enter into eternity on good works, it requires the blood of Jesus. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."

Now what makes the Church such a beautiful family to belong to is that this grace is suppose to be acted upon in all our relationships. Those who have experienced this grace, who are living by faith and are not leaning on good works, knows that we are compelled to show this same grace to everyone in our lives:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:12-13)

It is vital that we do the good works that our Father has prepared to do but these actions are hollow if the are not done according to the grace shown to us. We have been shown mercy because of God's grace, so we have no right then to judge others. This means that the kindness and love we give does not depend on someone's actions and attitude toward us. He show them the same love God showed us when we did not deserve it. This is the real challenge above anything else, to live the life of grace that God gave to us, to love without discrimination, to do good to everyone without bias because that is what Jesus did for us. But this cannot come from an attitude of conforming to what is right but instead from a heart that has been transformed by the love of Jesus.

I stand convicted by the very words I type. What an awesome place the Church would be if we would only live according to what Jesus commanded instead of according to our own selfish nature and what others teach from their selfish nature. Lord forgive us. Show us again. Make it clear. Convict our hearts. Use us for salvation and your glory.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why Are We Ignoring Those Who Are Able To Accept Jesus?

There is no doubt that when James wrote his epistle he had a "take no prisoners" attitude with many of the issues of the day. James wrote in "black and white" terms that are hard for people to deal with in our compromising times. Some people refer to this as dogma and they turn it into a negative thing. As Christians we refer to it as truth but when we stand by it the world is more than willing to make us feel like we are an oddity and we don't fit in. This should be a positive thing to us because we don't fit in, we are not suppose to but many Christians have problems with standing out from the crowd and are more than willing to compromise. Consider this:

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. (James 2:1)

Seems like a minor point, doesn't it? Yet, the context in which James puts it speaks the truth to us. So many churches want to attract people with money so that they can meet their financial obligations. Makes perfect business sense. I even had a friend who mused that the problem with his church is that he had too many poor people. Pastors forget that they are not responsible for coming up with the finances of the church; God is. We are not a business; we are the Body of Christ. The fact is that Christ has always been welcomed among the poor and rejected by the rich and supposed educated people:

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:5-7)

How much have we compromised to accommodate the rich and the educated, to try to attract them, to try to make them feel comfortable? It doesn't work. Who is it that is slandering the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? Who is it that is making movies that drag down Jesus' authority and place over creation? Most of the rich, famous and educated are constantly dragging down the things that are holy and beautiful. Now ask yourself who has the greatest need of faith to live each day? The person who relies on their bank account and intelligence or those who trust God for daily provision and direction in their life? Give me a church filled with those who rely on God for daily sustenance every day because that will be the church filled with the real power of faith. Faith is discovered in the absence of plenty, when we have a choice to hold on and believe or let go and die.

There is a reason why Jesus told the rich young man to go and sell all he had, give it to the poor and then follow him. Until we learn to be dependent entirely on Jesus for everything in our life we will not know the power and certainty of faith. If I don't need God why would I rely on him? Of course this premise can only be carried as far as the maturity of the rich. There are certain individuals who have money and wisdom which allows them to know that dependence goes beyond finances and comfort in this world. I have met many great Christians who happened to have money but they saw that everything they had belonged to the Lord and they were only managers. This understanding takes a real relationship with Jesus and a great deal of maturity.

We need to stop worrying about the image of the Church among the "respectable" people and accept what Jesus knew from the beginning: we need to take the gospel to those who are capable of understanding that they need Jesus. Those who do not think they need Jesus will not listen to the gospel until something happens in their life when they realize the truth of the gospel message. Faith usually follows crisis and some of us live crisis every day as we continue to fall into the arms of Jesus to meet the needs we can't meet for ourselves. We should not be turning away the poor from our churches; we should be filling it up to the rafters with those who are capable of knowing they need Jesus. Then we will see the power coming back in as we see real people of faith returning.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Are We Ignoring The Elephant In The Room?

Good morning my friends. There are days I feel like starting over; just taking the slate and erasing everything and start rebuilding it all. Fortunately it is not possible. We do not get the opportunity to "throw out the baby with the bath water". Our good and bad experiences are what have made us who we are today. Our victories and defeats have shaped us. People we have met, good and bad, have had an impact on us. Even what we are facing today will be with us for the rest of our lives. We did not come with a "reset" button. However, it doesn't mean we can't change some things, improve on other things and perhaps get a fresh start with yet other stuff in our lives. One of the things I am desiring to do is simplify my life.

Often we can really complicate things that do not need to be complicated. For example, the Christian expression of our life, or the tone if you prefer, does not need to be a complicated thing. James wrote his epistle before much of the Christian language and doctrine was formed. He wrote this:

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:26-27)

Three very simple things to do to honour God in the way we live; watch what you say, look after the marginalized, in this case widows and orphans, and keep yourself from being polluted by the world. I think most of us understand the tongue problem even if we do struggle with it, and most of us can understand the need to look after those who society push off to the sides. We may struggle with these two things but at least we are aware of how they should be part of our daily living. What we seem to have completely forgotten is the need to remain different and separate from the activities and mentality of the world; to keep ourselves from being polluted.

I was shocked the other day when I turned on the TV at 7 pm to see if I could catch up on some news and instead found shows like "Vampire Diaries", "CSI" and other adult-type shows. These shows use to be on after the "water-shed" time of 9 or 10 pm. It is amazing to see how much our society, our culture, has changed when it comes to protecting the minds of our children. Obviously there are a lot of examples that we could give, yet, what is worse is the mental changes we have made as Christian adults toward such things. We should be protecting our children regardless of what is on TV or in the movies. We have the power to say no and to turn things off. We seem to forget what power we have. We should not be surprised by what our culture does but we need to be on guard that we do not conform to it.

Looking just at my school with lunch time conversations about the latest vampire fade, cartoon shows like "Family Guy" and other anti-Biblical influences, we are not doing a good job teaching our children by setting guidelines and examples of proper, God-honouring behaviour. We are not following the instructions to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world. I hear kids swearing like a trooper outside with their friends and then genuinely worshiping the Lord with the same mouth later that day. What example was set for them that they would consider this to be "normal" or acceptable? Too many of us are failing to see the danger to us and our children when we "go with the flow" and follow the crowd.

The danger is much deeper than the behaviours that are taught from movies and TV shows, from music and friends. There is a philosophy of thinking, a different perspective that is behind the behaviour. As we accept the behaviour we start integrating the philosophies of this world. We are muddying the waters to the point where it is becoming quicksand and we are being sucked under. The best instruction given to us to combat this problem of pollution is found in Ephesians:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

My friends, we need to learn what it is to stand. Today, just note the negative influences that are in your life, attacking your Christian perspective, and then make a decision to do something about it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Can't, Teach? Really?

Good morning friends. My life is in such a place that I am often accused of forgetting things. I am not sure it is a memory problem as much as it is an organizing problem. Being organized does tremendous things in helping with memory for tasks and appointments. If you took a moment and considered what an average person has to remember each day you would understand why many of us are so occupied with aides to help us remember. James touches on this need to remember but his subject is by far a more important subject than anything else we do in a day:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

Our first challenge in the Church is to get people to read and study Scripture. The second challenge is to get them to do something with it. We were given this Holy Book for more than carrying it around or collecting dust with it. North America has huge Bible sales rates, yet we remain Biblically illiterate and it is showing in our behaviour and attitudes in life. James gave the easy solution; read it and do what it says. He gives us this ridiculous picture:

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (James 1:23-24)

A silly notion that we could forget what we look like. The only way we could forget is to not look often, however, most of us see ourselves several times a day in a mirror. The only way we should be able to forget the Word is when we do not spend enough time in the Word, but that is not always the case. Some people read it over again and again but they fail to apply it and so they forget it. "Doing" is part of our learning process:

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.  (James 1:25)

Jesus told us that if we really love him we will do what he has told us to do, we will do what he has commanded. Our words, our confession, our testimony are proven worthless if we do not put it into practical action what Jesus taught us to do. And let's clarify this; we are to do what we are told in the Word he told us to do, not what someone's interpretation is of what he said. We need to know the Word for ourselves and not rely on other people to tell us.

There are no short cuts, no Reader's Digest version that we can follow. We must know the whole counsel of the Word and put that into action in our lives. So let's get it out, dust it off and open it. Once it is open and we start reading let us surrender ourselves to it, that we will do what we have been instructed to do and be blessed for it. Then we will see what God is able to do with our life.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Real Source Of Our Anger

Good morning friends. With the advent of Twitter I have encountered a lot of practical advice about life and spiritual growth. It is usually nicely packaged in 140 characters and often is very catchy, which is useful for remembering and passing on to others. However, the practical application of such advice often falls short and it is left as good advice not applied. I pray that will not be the case with the instruction we find in the Word this morning because James gives us some excellent advice on how to be useful to others and how to greatly impact their lives:

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

This is entirely true and if put into practice will cause most people to think well of you. For most of my life I followed these instructions and I was well thought of, put then I started teaching and I had to use many words. When you maintain the same discipline in all areas of your life it is a relatively easy habit to maintain but when that discipline has to change for various responsibilities it becomes much harder. Because I got use to talking as a teacher I found I developed the habit of talking all the time and it has become harder to listen. One problem with talkers is that they do not have time for listening and when they don't listen they start making assumptions to make up for the information they did not hear.

Assumption is a terrible thing because it is usually wrong and often leads to hurt feelings and bottled-up anger. We end up getting angry over something that isn't true, an anger based on assumptions that, when proven false, leaves us looking embarrassed and immature, lacking discernment. Anger is a terrible thing because it shuts off our thinking process and demands retribution. Anger leads to a lot of various sins. Jesus even instructed us that if we get rid of anger we would also do away with murder. James correctly points out that anger prevents spiritual growth.

The best way to avoid anger is to follow the instructions to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Take the time to listen and to think about what you are hearing. Understand other people's perspectives and apply the adage that there are always three sides to a story; yours, theirs and the truth. Consider the words you are going to speak before you say them. Weigh them and consider their impact, what they will provoke in others. The best advice is never deal with the situation while you are angry. Pardon yourself for a few moments while you let your first response slip away, then come back and deal with it in a calmer attitude.

James also knew that there were other things in play when a person allowed themselves to become angry easily:

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:21)

I will guarantee you that the reason most people become angry is not the thing that seemed to set them off. Most people carry around with them sticks of dynamite that are just waiting to be lit by something unrelated. A child spills a class of milk and the father becomes angry, smashing dishes and yelling. Because of the spilled milk? No, more likely because he can't pay all the bills this month, or because he was passed over for promotion again or any number of reasons. For many people their anger is a result of the immorality they hide in their heart and the evil that plagues them, like jealousy, pride, hate. All these are like sticks of dynamite just waiting to be set off. The Scripture says the only thing to do is get rid of it all and the only way that can happen is by the blood of Jesus Christ.

So many of us want to get to the next stage in our spiritual growth. So many want to chase after prophecies and live in the prophetic. So many people want to do something great for God, yet, we can't even get the foundation in place. We can't go on to greater things if we can't deal with these simple matters such as anger. Anger does not belong to a child of God and as long as it exists there can be not progress to greater things. Let's finish with our basic training and our basic development before we start trying to wear adult clothes because as long as we are play acting as an adult we are not finishing the lessons of childhood.

Monday, April 19, 2010

How's The Test Going?

The secret to surviving trials and hardships is to understand what God is doing for us through them. We have already considered the character that he is developing in us through them, making us more like Jesus. It is a good work he is doing and the benefit to us will be eternal, but there is more that is being done through these trials. God also uses them to test our faith in the same way that people test their wine, or the meal they are preparing; they want to see if it is ready. James writes:

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

He is not receiving the crown of life because of the trials but instead because the trials prove that his faith is real. The key is not the trials but his faith that cause him to persevere in the trials. We find greater clarity in Peter's first epistle:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

What would you rather, have your faith tested here so that you know that it is real or not, or find out as you stand before Jesus that your faith was not genuine? At least if it is tested here you have time to do something about it if you discover that it is not real. Some people only conform to the standards of the Church instead of experiencing a true transformation through the blood of Jesus.Many will be surprised to hear him say to them, "Go away, I don't know you". No, it is better to face the test now than later.

Now keep in mind, there is a difference between trials and temptations. God will allow us to face difficult times but he will never tempt us to sin. Temptation is found within ourselves, our sinful nature:

When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

It is important that we understand the difference between the two because their sources and purposes are completely different. Trials are allowed by God to build us, increase us, and to encourage us. Temptations are from within ourselves and their sole purpose is to destroy us. But even when we cause ourselves to be tempted God has not abandoned us:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

It is important that we understand the difference between trials and temptations. We can know this difference by the character of our Father:

Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:16-17)

Regardless of what you face today remember that every good thing you experience is a reminder of God's love, including trials and hardships. Avoid temptations today by making sure you only have one desire, and that is to be like Jesus. If that is your goal then everything else will fade away. The more of your desires you hold on to the greater the risk of falling to temptation. God is good and he will strengthen you in your weakness so that you will pass the test today. Hold on to Jesus.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How To Survive Trials and Hardships

There is one thing I have noticed about going through trials and hardships; perspective is everything. Some would say that keeping a positive attitude is what will get you through but I say having the proper perspective before you go in is what will make sure that you come back out. Perspective will decide your priorities and priorities will decide what you value. These are all important elements of facing trails and hardships with joy. Ask yourself, according to your perspective of life, what is the goal? Answering that will tell you a great deal.

For many people the goal of life is to be happy, at peace and comfortable. Really? Is this all there is? For others it is the accumulation of wealth. Then what? Remember the parable Jesus told of the farmer that had a bountiful crop? It was so large that he decided to build extra barns to store it all away. Then he died. So what use were the extra barns? What use was the bountiful crop? As James continues his discourse on facing trials and hardships we read;

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. (James 1:9-11)

It is a warning that we need to be careful to maintain a proper perspective as we travel on our journey with Jesus. Many things are going to change on this journey; money will come and go; health will come and go; friends will come and go. Everything changes but the goal, which is to be transformed with the same character as Jesus Christ and to enter our promised rest with our Father. With such a perspective we will realize that we can lose anything in this life, including our life and still achieve our goal. What is money or possessions compared to Jesus? What is our health compared to Jesus? What are friends compared to Jesus?

We should be careful to travel our own journey with Jesus and not try to copy someone else. Our Father loves us all the same, has no favourites, but yet we are all different, with different needs and different weaknesses. Remember, Dad's desire is to prepare us for eternity with him which means we all need to face different things in order to grow into maturity. Sometimes Dad may be forced to remove things from our lives that become a stumbling block to our eternity. Remember the rich young man who Jesus told to go sell all that he had and to give it to the poor, then come follow him. The riches may have been what was preventing this man from stepping into his destiny.

I am only using money as an example because it is what James has used here. Money is not evil but it certainly is a weakness for a lot of people who give up their eternity to pursue it. However, there are many things that have that same effect on people. Sometimes it can be a career which becomes a source of pride and ego. For others it may be the accumulation of friends. For others their stumbling block may be their talent, the pursuit of entertainment, the obsession with health or a hundred other things that can distract us. But what happens to us in trials and hardships when we lose some of these things that have become our goal? What happens when we go bankrupt or we lose our hair or we end up with cancer? Does our world come to an end? Is our hope dashed upon the rocks of circumstances? Do we fall into a deep depression? Or do we press on because these things are just minor things compared to our goal of eternity?

You would be surprised at what you can face, walk through and survive when your perspective is right because your goal is right. It is amazing how things can slip away from you and you are not paralyzed by the pain of it because your eyes are fixed on that goal. The only way to guarantee that you will be okay when you face those trails and hardships is to check that perspective and that goal right now. What is the goal of your life? I pray that you are honestly able to say - Jesus!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Desperate Times Do Not Call For Desperate Measure; It Calls For Faith

Good morning my friends. I am afraid that true followers of Jesus are heading for rough waters as we watch the world slip further into the depravity of their thinking. Hopefully our lives look different than those without Jesus and we are standing on the ground we have been given to keep. This means conflict ahead as we become the minority and the majority begin to hate us for our righteousness. Sounds a bit pompous, I know, but there is not a nicer way to say it. We pray that as the world slips further into darkness the Jesus in us becomes easier to see, and that will drive some people to hate us. The one thing we are going to need as we head into these days is faith. Without faith we too will become lost as the opposition grows.

In the midst of his talk on trials and hardships James writes:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:5-8)

Have you met believers like this? "Oh, I'll pray but a fat lot of good that will do." Or, "I have been praying for years but God isn't answering." There are many believers who pray and expect nothing out of it. There are others who pray in desperation but only because it is a last resort for them, a last ditch effort, and one they do not believe will do any good. After all, if they believed God answered prayer they would have started off with praying. However, Scripture is clear on this, "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt".

Jesus told us that our Father is generous and will look after all our needs. He told us to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom, to carry out our duties, and Dad would look after us. Here James reminds us of the fact that we have a generous Father, "He should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault". Our Dad does not have favourites; what we see he has done for one of us he is willing to do for all of us. What we read that he did for the prophets he will do for us now. What we read about in the New Testament, he will do today. What we read he did for the great heroes of the faith in our Church history he will do today. It only requires faith, which seems in short supply these days.

It goes beyond missing out on our Father's generosity. James says that a person who doubts our Father even as they are asking for his help is like a wave of the ocean which is at the mercy of the wind. Circumstances, trials, hardships can knock a person around, but so can various teachings on quick fixes, short cuts that go nowhere. Our relationship with Jesus, and thus with the Father, is our stability all through our lives. It keeps us anchored when everything around us is changing. It is the only relationship guaranteed for our life time. However, it is not much of a relationship at all when we fail to believe one of the first promises we have, that Dad will give to us as we ask according to his glorious riches. We have a rich Daddy who loves to pour out gifts on his children. Are you lacking wisdom? Ask for it. Are you lacking patience? As for it. Are you needing a greater capacity to love? Then ask. Ask and believe that you will receive. James warns that doubt has a terrible effect on us: "That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

There is not a lot that others can do to help your unbelief, it is a personal matter you must wrestle with. However, there is one incident that I think you may find helpful. It is when Jesus had to deal with a desperate father who was seeking healing for his son:

Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"
"From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."
Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:21-24)

If you want to settle this thing in you once and for all take it up with Jesus. Ask him for help to overcome your unbelief. The only way that our faith increases is when we exercise it daily. Our relationship with Jesus is a daily, vibrant, growing relationship that requires effort and time. As we head into darker times you will have many more opportunities to exercise your faith so deal with whatever instabilities exist there now so that it will not be a problem when you are called on to use it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wanting To Give Up? Read This First.

Good morning. He have left Hebrews behind us and we are moving on to the epistle of James. This is going to be interesting, after reading Hebrews with its long passages we turn to James, which seems to contain more in one chapter than Hebrews did in four. Some see this letter to be a practical letter, advocating the good works God has prepared for us to do. It is also thought to be the first epistle of the New Testament to have been written and was most likely written in the early days of the Church. It was written before the doctrine of the Church was well formed and it is lacking much of the Christian language. Nonetheless, the epistle of James must be consumed one morsel at a time.

As we start reading the first chapter we find that James begins with a subject that seems to be controversial in our current age. There are many teachings out there that say it is abnormal for Christians to suffer; that we should be living in the lap of luxury because that is God's desire for all his children. It is amazing how the condition and attitude of our society are permitted the power to shape our gospel. The Word on the other hand has this to say:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

This is the danger of the prosperity teaching or the teaching that it is abnormal to face hardships; when a person believes they are suppose to be rich and they are not they feel either they have failed or God has. How many have we lost to the Kingdom from this foolish teaching. Our Father is interested in preparing us for eternity; that is his priority. If we don't understand that then we will not understand the Word or our lives. Our Father uses everything for the good of those that love him:

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)

We find this verse in a passage that talks about us being more than conquerors. To be an overcomer there must be things in your life to overcome. In order to be victorious there must exist battles to fight. A life void of trials is no life at all because it has no opportunity to grow and mature.

The Scripture says that we should consider it pure joy when we face many trials because it means that something is happening. The testing of our faith will do one of two things; we will either give up and walk away or we will dig in our heels and press on. If we give up it means it wasn't important to us because we tend to only fight for those things that are important to our core character. By standing our ground, facing whatever we have to face, paying the price, we are showing this is important to us; important enough to die for it.

The benefit starts when we make that decision not to quit, not to walk away, not to lay down and die. As we persevere in the name of Jesus we gain spiritual muscle, becoming mature in our faith. The Apostle Paul took a page from James' book and expanded on it:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5)

You see that word "joy" attached with the words trials and sufferings. I have a hard time when Christians walk around with long faces. Its like they need everyone to know they are suffering and going through hard times. Where is the witness in that? We are told to rejoice because we know the answer, or at least we know the one who has the answers:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

I do not believe in suffering for the sake of suffering. People who cause their own suffering or seek it out are fools. There is enough natural trials and sufferings in our life that we don't need to invent them. If you are not facing one right now then wait a few hours. It is the attitude and perspective that we have when we face them that concern me because it affects our witness of the greatness of Jesus. We should glad to go through what we are going through because it is developing things in us that we need; God is using it for our good. We should also believe that we will be delivered from it or receive victory over it because that is what has been promised to us in the Word.

You should also ask why you are suffering or facing trials. Is it because you are a follower of Jesus Christ and you are setting an example of righteousness? Or is it because of your own foolishness and stupidity? In the first case lean on Jesus and rejoice! In the second case ask for forgiveness for your foolishness, seek God's mercy and grace, and ask for deliverance. However, even if it is by your own foolishness God will not waste an opportunity; he will still use it for your good, even if it is to teach you wisdom. So let us not give up! Let us press on! Let us become mature in our faith, complete, lacking nothing!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Perspective and the Ten Percent Mentality

Good morning my friends. As we conclude Hebrews 13 today we are considering the benediction or prayer of the writer for his readers. It contains a couple of things that can make a big difference in our perspective of our lives in relation to our God and our environment. Perspective is one of those topics I write about quite often because perspective determines almost everything we do in our life and how we react to things that happen to us or to those we care about. Perspective will most likely decide whether this is a good or bad day, whether we consider ourselves rich or poor, dumb or intelligent, useful or useless.

The benediction is a simple one:

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

The first thing that jumps out at me is the desire of the writer to see his readers following the will of God. His prayer is that God will equip them with everything good to make it possible for them to do his will. How many days, weeks, months, maybe even years have we lived without even considering God's will. It's a big subject and one we will not completely deal with in this forum but the reality is simple enough that we can at least grasp it here.

We died to ourselves and were raised alive IN Jesus Christ when we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. This means that we forfeited our lives so that we could live for Jesus. In other words, his will replaced our will. We are his workers and servants in this place and our greatest desire should be to carry out his will. Compare these facts with our current attitude of giving Jesus a portion of everything we have. We have a ten percent mentality. We will give ten percent of our time, ten percent of our energy, ten percent of our income when, in fact, it is all his to do with whatever he wants according to his will. We don't own any of it any more; not ourselves, not time, not our possessions. How is that for changing your perspective? Our greatest desire should be to know and do the will of our Father.

The second thing to jump out at me is related to the first. The writer writes " and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever." There is a work going on in us constantly. It is taking place with every situation we face in our lives. It takes place with every person we encounter. It happens with every decision we make. The Spirit is working in us, changing us, growing us, maturing us. This prayer is asking that all these changes, this work going on in us would be things that would be pleasing to the Father, things that would make us more like Jesus. Our desires should be that Jesus would be glorified through us. This means that he would receive the praise and the credit for everything we do and say.

The question is, do we live with such an attitude and perspective; that Jesus would be glorified by everything we say and do? Again this is where the 10 percent mentality ruins us because we do not consider that we are living to glorify Jesus. We will glorify Jesus with words on Sunday as we worship but we do not see the connection to our words and actions outside of Sunday. If we can manage to get past the 10 percent mentality and cooperate with the work the Spirit is doing we may begin to see the growth and maturity we have been longing for. However, as long as we are living for ourselves and doing what we want, we will not see any further growth in us and often we start sliding back.

Something to consider as you move through your day and perhaps to ask yourself as you are faced with decisions today: Who am I living for, me or Jesus? Ask yourself that question every time you have to make a decisions today and see how even contemplating that perspective can change the decisions you make. And indeed, may your living glorify our Father today.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Time For A Bit Of Spring Cleaning To Let The Sonshine Back In

Good morning friends. I had a most devastating dream last night that so filled me with fear that it ended my sleep for the rest of the night. This is very odd for me because I have been blessed with an ability to sleep with a train running through my bedroom. The dream played on some fears and insecurities that are currently popping in and out of my life; fears and insecurities which God is using for my good as I seek Jesus for greater support and encouragement. This dream has caused me to wonder what a Christian life should really look like because we add so many more things to our lives than what is required. In fact, we choke our lives with the unnecessary.

As some of these thoughts and questions rattle around in my brain I should not be surprised to see the Spirit deal with some of them with this morning's Scripture reading:

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:15-17)

Obviously as I look at this from the perspective of my dream I may be seeing it differently than you are reading it, but I see here the elements of a simple Christian life. These three verses seem to strip away so much of the unnecessary and give to us the simplicity of our life in Jesus, aside from the mission that we have been given.

The first thing the Spirit brings to my attention is the fundamental need to be a person of praise. Notice he uses the word "continually". This is not reserved for Sunday or mid-week meetings because praise is a constant activity of our heart. Praise is an overflow of thanksgiving, it is a product of joy, it permeates our entire being. Praise also keeps us focused throughout our day on the fact that God is in control of everything. Understanding this will put many of our fears of our future to flight and fill our day with a peace that we cannot obtain from any other means. Praise should be a natural and continual thing in the day of a follower of Jesus. Oh of course life will have its surprises and we will be challenged on most days but these can never be excuses for setting aside our attitude of praise. In fact, such an attitude will often carrying us about the circumstances so we can see and respond clearly.

We are also told that our life should be filled with doing good, clothed in a spirit of generosity. I remember a simpler time when my days were filled with doing good. To be involved in such a positive way in people's lives was thrilling. It seemed that one good thing led to another and before the end of each day I would have the realization that God had used me to plant many excellent seeds in people's lives. Then I allowed things into my life that seemed to suck that attitude right out of my day. It became about schedules and time management and trying to squeeze the very last second out of every minute. I don't think God is honour with this attitude toward our day. I think he is honoured when we set aside our schedules and our busyness for other people. I think he is honoured as we share our lunch with someone who forgot theirs. I think he is honoured when we stop to look around, to see the needs of our neighbours, and when we decide to do good in that situation. God is honoured when we put others first.

Then we have the third element of a Christian life; submission and obedience. Most people would readily agree with me if I was to talk about our submission and obedience to God but that is not exactly what I am bringing up here. The Scriptures say:

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.

To obey and submit to God is one thing but it is something entirely different to do the same for those who God has given authority over us. For those who are concerned about abuse God puts in a clause there to warn those people of authority; they will have to give an account of what they did with that authority. Of course we need to do more than be mindless followers. The Scriptures tell us to check our leaders but we do so with respect. We need to keep in mind that God has promised that his blessings will flow in a life of obedience. It goes as well for our obedience of the authority he has put in place.

Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

When we become a burden to that authority there is no advantage to us. If we keep getting into trouble, disobeying the Word, wondering away from Jesus, we end up wasting and using up the resources of our very human leaders. But when we see ourselves in partnership, when we support and encourage them, when we listen to their wise council, we make their work a joy and we benefit from that. They will have more to give, to share and we will prosper because of it.

This is what it looks like when we strip everything else away and are left with three very basic elements of a Christian life. Our life is filled with an attitude of praise. We are a people who do good all day long and who are generous in every situation. We are a people of obedience, ones who support and encourage our leaders so they in turn will have more to share with us. Of course we are not limited to this when it comes to our service to the Lord but if we bring it down to these three and then slowly add so we are not overburdened then we have done well. I think we need to de-clutter our very complicated lives so we can get back to what is important. Now is as good a time as any other to consider what is filling up our lives and to decide to throw out what has been sucking the joy out of us. After all, it is Spring.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The problem with fitting in

Good morning my friends. I do not mean to come at things from an angle of negativity but sometimes we need to see things as they are before we can move toward things as they should be. Let us consider one simple thing about ourselves and the Church as a whole. Jesus told us that the world would hate us. Why do you think that is? Is it because we are supposed to be rude or angry, or yelling, or showing up at events like funerals waving disgusting hate signs? No. Jesus said the world would hate us because it hated him first. The world did not hate Jesus because he picketed abortion clinics but because of his righteousness. Jesus did everything well and he taught the truth. The only thing Jesus could be accused of is loving people, caring for them, feeding them, healing them, and teaching them so they would understand the Father's heart. The world hated him for being right, doing right, speaking right. The world hated his perfect love which was not an excuse for glossing over the ugliness but instead speaking the truth in order to save souls.

The world hated Christians in the early Church. There was not an organized global persecution as some think today. There were pockets of persecutions aimed at individuals such as what Paul often encountered. It is not that these Christians did anything radical as far as we would consider radical, they simply did what was right and the people around them could not stand such righteousness. When you do what is right it reminds the people around you that what they are doing is wrong. They hate you for it. This was much of the source of the persecution, because the Christians represented a change to what had become normal.

Early Christians really stood out from the world but not so much any more. Today the vast majority of Christians blend in nicely with the world; we have found a means for co-habitation. We do not seem all that different and we are much less of a threat because we act just like they do. They can overlook our odd habit of dressing up on Sunday and meeting to sing some songs, after all, many people are into different clubs and support groups. We don't bother them because they do not see any threats to their chosen lifestyle. Despite appearances on Sunday, the Church is in sad shape and needs a real good wave of the Holy Spirit washing over us to convict us and get us back on track.

Our commitment to Jesus is not deep enough for us to be willing to look like a fool or to be put into a position of disgrace in front of the world. We do not want to stand out. We do not want to be made fun of. We do not want people whispering behind our backs. Let me lay this on you then:

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:11-14)

Now I will let you off the hook a little bit; it is not all your fault. The leadership has allowed the message of the Church to be distorted as we have promised people an easy life filled with great success and money. We have let go of the teaching of the suffering gospel because the suffering gospel was taught wrong. People were taught that if they were not suffering then they were not holy, they were doing something wrong. If we suffer due to our own foolishness and actions it is a religious thing and has nothing to do with God. However, in living a life of joy and peace, we face trials, hardships and persecutions for the sake of Jesus or because of Jesus then we are getting closer to the mark. No one looks for hardship but it will come naturally when you do what is right for the sake of Jesus. Jesus said that these things would be a natural result for anyone who follows him.

This does not negate all the promises that he gave concerning our success; I just do not see success in the same way some of you do. Success is when I overcome my enemies by the love of Jesus. Success is when I have faced temptation and triumphed in righteousness. Success is when I choose to forgive instead of hate. Success is when I put in an honest day's work for an honest day's wages. Success is when I allow Jesus to work through my weakness even if my weakness embarrasses me. Success is when I allow his joy to permeate my entire being even when I face pressures that threaten to crush me. Success is when I make it through my day only because I trusted my God. Success is when I can genuinely laugh with my children after a long hard day. Success is when I can continue to worship, trust and advocate Jesus even when his plans have taken me to a place a did not expect or desire. Success is when I stand out as being different in my community because I have chosen to do what is right instead of what is accepted and expected.

If we have truly encountered Jesus Christ and allowed him to transform us into a new creation then we know we cannot pursue what the world pursues. We know that we do not belong to this place and should feel uncomfortable being surrounded by all the things that dishonour our God. We know why we cringe every time Jesus' name is misused and why we weep over all those people going in the wrong direction. We know we will not see people's behaviours and actions change unless their heart is changed. Picketing won't help change the heart, especially when we ourselves do not have the right heart. Until we are able to let go of this place and long for the next our priorities will continue to me messed up. We do not belong here and we should not fit in here. Perhaps we should start by examining the life and teaching of Jesus once again.

"Move Holy Spirit, move in life. Move Holy Spirit, make me like Christ."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Look at all those lovely sitting ducks

Good morning friends. If there is one bit of advice that I would ever give a follower of Jesus it is this: know the Word. Too many Christians get themselves into trouble because they stop studying or they never started in the first place. In teaching the Word I think we are failing big-time with our young people. My students are reading this right now and they all come from various churches. I have one group that I teach a certain Bible course with and I am surprised by how many of them are not aware of some of the more important facts and teachings from the Bible. However, I daresay they know more than most adults who faithfully sit in church each Sunday morning. Without the knowledge the Word gives us we are sitting ducks for those who would want to persuade us with their own version of things. The writer of Hebrews warned:

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (Hebrews 13:9-10)

Do you realize there are Christians who check their horoscope everyday because they do not study the Word enough to know God said not to have anything to do with divination? They claim it is just a joke and it may be at first but then slowly they begin to rely on it because the Word isn't there to keep them on the path. What about superstitions? How many of you knock on wood, throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder when you spill some, become fearful when you break a mirror? I won't include the one about walking under a ladder because it is just plain stupid to walk under a ladder. People hold to these things every day because they have not consumed the Word to understand their folly.

Of course it goes beyond such simple matters with many believers. We constantly have the problem of present day witchcraft in the church. This is the group of people who set the Word aside and concentrate on the meaning of dreams and the many "prophetic" things that have been sweeping the Church. Some of this is very legitimate but the waters are being muddied because people do not know the Word enough to discern between the authentic and the heretical. Fact: The Holy Spirit will not communicate outside of the Word of God. If you have dreams that are contrary to the Word of God you can be sure that dream is not from God. Besides, we are a people of the Word not of dreams. If anyone claims to have a prophetic Word or even claims to be a prophet, check him or her against the Word. We fall for almost anything in the Church now because we are almost Biblical illiterate.

The thing to remember is that we do not need any intermediaries with God. We do not need to perform any special ceremonies or say any special words to have access to God. We do not need special clothing or special foods to commune with our God. We do not need to stand in any special temple or go out into nature to spend time with God. If we know the Word then we know that he is always with us through the Holy Spirit. We know that he is involved with us every day. We know that it is a relationship we have, as a child to a parent. We know that prayer is nothing more than conversation with our Dad but we have to have ears that are tuned to him in order for us to hear his replies. The Word trains us in all of this, helping us to understand the heart of the Father and helping us to know how he communicates with us.

There is no getting around it, you have to study the Word of God if you want to know him and live for him. It takes time and effort. It requires dedication and an understanding of the importance of it. But then again people know the importance of exercise and they still do not do it. The Word has to be something that becomes precious and important to you, that you could not imagine not studying it. You cannot exercise one day a year and expect you will remain healthy. In the same way you cannot read the Word once in a while and think you are spiritually fit. Do yourself a favour, decide to attend a Bible Study or enroll for a correspondence course from a Bible College. Do something to get into spiritual shape and decide to do something about it today. Stop being a sitting duck for other people's wrong teachings and interpretations.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The importance of a good biography

Good morning friends. There is nothing more enjoyable than a good biography. To read of the lives of the saints who have gone on before us is an incredible experience, like looking through a window into the past. There is so much to learn from those who have walked this same path before us yet so many of the lessons they have learned are forgotten or set aside. Like for much of history, we fail to learn from the lessons others have experienced and are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. The writer of Hebrews cautions us, that we should consider those who have gone before us:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:7-8)

The fact is that there is nothing new under the sun. Things may be packaged a little differently but it comes down to the same thing. We are not the first to experience the things we have faced in our lives and there are plenty of examples of how people faced the same challenges we face and yet overcame them. Great examples of faith have been established for us to learn from and by which to be encouraged. There have been so many times that I have found encouragement to press on from biographies of giants and lesser giants of the faith. Hudson Taylor has set for me an example of perseverance; George Muller, an example of God's provision in the face of faith; William Wilberforce, an example of the difference one man can make. Of course there is a very long list of saints and there is more than one lesson from each life.

What is truly important from these examples is this:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

What these heroes of the faith received from the Lord I can receive as well today because Jesus and his promises never change. What was available to the disciples 2000 years ago is available to me today. What John Bunyan was able to do 400 years ago I am able to do today because our strength is the same source of power and love. Jesus will provide for me no less than he has provided for everyone else who has gone before me. His love for me is as great as it was for them. His mission for me is the same as it was for them. All of his promises are applied to me in the same manner they were applied to them. Everything they accomplished I too may accomplish by keeping my eyes on Jesus and trusting him for everything.

I encourage you then to add one or two biographies to your reading list this month. Regardless of what you are facing you will find encouragement in what Jesus has done in the lives of the saints who have walked this path before us. It is amazing how some of their life-stories help put things into perspective and can open your eyes to the complexities of God's weaving of his plan through our lives. Reading of these saints will help you to understand that you are part of something so much bigger than you can see from your vantage point right now. Who knows, in 50 years from now they could be writing about our lives to encourage others with what Jesus accomplished through us. Perhaps they will be imitating our faith, if we press on.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What do you do when you are not happy with your life?

Good morning friends. A couple of weeks ago I started wrapping up our look at Hebrews but was interrupted by Passion week. We were looking at a series of thoughts and a lot of teaching in a short space of writing so we were looking at it a morsel at a time. We did not get far, only one morsel, so if you want to refresh your memory you can go back to it here (Killing Our Own). If not we will continue with the next teaching.

This next bit of teaching puzzled me at first:

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
   "Never will I leave you;
      never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence,
   "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
      What can man do to me?"
(Hebrews 13:4-6)

The subjects of marriage, money and trusting the Lord do not seem to have much in common at first. Well, that is not exactly true. I think most of us can see the connection between money and trusting the Lord and I think most of our credit cards show that this trust does not go very far. So why is marriage tangled in this subject? What if we were to remove the subject of money for a moment? "Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Be content with what you have." As I read the passage in this manner I had a moment of insight. Is discontentment not what causes most affairs, when one partner is no longer content with their choice and decides to try out someone else? Perhaps crude in thought but accurate in its reality.

Discontentment can cause many problems because we lack the proper perspective. Our contentment is not found in people, not even marriages, and it is not found in things, not even millions of dollars. We were designed to find contentment only in our relationship with our Creator:

Be content with what you have, because God has said,
   "Never will I leave you;
      never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence,
   "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
      What can man do to me?"

How do marriages last a life-time? How are so many people joyful with so little to their name? Contentment can only be found when you realize that Jesus is everything you need. Marriage is meant to last a life-time, without affairs and wondering eyes. This can only happen when we allow our dissatisfaction in our relationships to be engulfed by the love of the Father. When his love is our security instead of other people's it is amazing how all these relationships turn around and we are able to approach them from a mature point of view. It is the same for our needs. When we realize that Jesus meets all those needs we will put away our credit cards and be content with what we have. Remember the Apostle Paul's famous words:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

Now, let us get something straight here: it does not mean that finding our contentment in Jesus will change anything but us. Our spouse may not fall in love with us all over again because that requires their heart to change as well. It does not mean that we will be saved from the financial disaster that we created. What it does mean is that our loveless marriage will suddenly be more bearable because the love of Jesus will fill our hearts. The chances are with such a change in us, a change will be provoked in our partner as well. It means that as we lose our possessions because we do not have the money, we will find it easier to deal with because we are content with what God provides. His love is what satisfies us, not all these toys.

I do not know what your situation is right now but I can tell you this: if you make Jesus the focus of your life you will find contentment in whatever you do, whatever you experience and whatever relationships you have. In fact, if you make Jesus the center of your life you will find everything transformed around you because of the new perspective he gives you. Relationships will no longer be your source of strength and neither will money be your security. The secret to contentment is having Jesus as the center of everything in your life:

Be content with what you have, because God has said,
   "Never will I leave you;
      never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence,
   "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
      What can man do to me?"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

This is my Interval Training 5 k route. Still working on 1 to 3. I want to get my time down to 35 minutes then I will switch it to 2 to 2.

Route:5K Run - Rene Leveque parElev. Avg:21 m
Location:Lachine, Canada, Elev. Gain:-1 m
Country:CanadaUp/Downhill: [+2/-3]
Distance:5.04 kmDifficulty:1.6 / 5.0
Surface:smoothTraffic: none
Water:YesFood: Yes
Lane:YesScenic: No
Lachine, Canada,
Elevation (m)

Posted from

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Jesus died! So now what?

Good Saturday morning my friends. I do not know what it is like where you are but the weather here is incredible. We are shattering all kinds of temperature records as we enjoy a summer-like day in early Spring. It is opposite to an Easter weekend I remember from 9 years ago when we received 40 cm of snow. I am sure most of you will take great advantage of today, going for walks, washing cars, dusting off the bikes, opening windows, resting on the side of a hill soaking up the sun. During this Easter celebration Saturday seems to be the lull in all the events.

As we study the events of the crucifixion and resurrection we may find that nothing much is mentioned about Saturday. In fact, nothing at all is mentioned about Saturday. Jesus is dead. His body lay in a tomb, resting, which is appropriate for the Sabbath day. After all, it was on the Sabbath day that God created rest and it is the day that he said to set aside as a holy day to honour him. So here everything stops. It is almost as if all of heaven were holding holding their breath in anticipation of what was to come next.

It was a day of vigil, of meditation and reflection. It was a day of standing guard as the soldiers stood at the mouth of the tomb trying to figure out what they were doing there. It was a day of fear and hiding as the disciples and others holed up in a locked room afraid to venture out in case they were the next to be arrested and killed. It was a day of reality and disillusionment, disappointment even, as thousands of followers faced the death of the one who had given them hope.

What will it be for us? We already know how it ends. Is today just another Saturday where we will run around doing our choirs or out in some kind of activity enjoying the day? Will it really just be another Saturday? Or will you take some time and reflect on the fact that Jesus' body lay dead in a tomb on this day? Will you take the time and reflect on what he experienced and faced for us? The instrument of creation was dead and all of heaven held their breath.

Do not let this day slip by without gaining a sense of anticipation for tomorrow. Something fantastic happened tomorrow. Something that changed the destiny of mankind. Something that had never been seen before because it was a new thing, a new creation brought forth by the instrument of creation himself. So do not allow today to be recorded in your life as just another Saturday. Take the time to think about what we are celebrating this weekend and gain some anticipation for tomorrow's celebrations as Christians gather around the world to announce "He is risen"!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Forgive ...

Good morning my friends. The most significant moment in the history of man is upon us. Today we celebrate the faithfulness of Jesus who purposefully took our punishment upon himself. Each year I point out that the cross was the only manner by which he could have died to do this right. He had to take on our sins but how could such a perfect man become cursed of the Father? If the Father had cursed him unjustly he would have gone against his own character and he could not do that. It was only by means of the tree that Jesus could become cursed due to something God had put into place along time ago:

If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Luke 21:22-23)

One law, created so very long ago, enabled the perfect man, the innocent man, the Son of God, to take our curse upon himself. But do you see how perfectly executed the Father's plan was worked. The method of choice for execution by the Jews was stoning. They had already tried this with Jesus once before and he simply walked away. It was only the Romans who had used such a cruel method of executing their enemies, by hanging their victims on a tree. When Pilate found Jesus innocent the people provoked him to take action; an unjustifiable action:

For the third time he spoke to them: "Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him."
 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. (Luke 23:22-25)

The Romans prided themselves in their sense of justice. It was not their way to put an innocent man to death, even in the face of a potential riot. Do not think for a moment that anyone killed Jesus on this day because it was written in history since the beginning of time. Each person who played a part was not a puppet and owned their own actions but regardless of what anyone did or would have done it would have still resulted in the same thing: Jesus dying on the cross.

Of all the things said and done as Jesus was nailed on the cross as the sacrificial lamb for our sins, the one that best captures the heart of Jesus is this:

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 21:33-34)

After all the mocking from almost every group he faced that day, after all the beatings and torture he endured, after being rejected by his people so clearly and adamantly, after being nailed to the cross and put on display, Jesus still sought their forgiveness. Forgiveness, made possible because of the blood that was shed on that tree today. Forgiveness because God made himself a curse to himself on this day. Forgiveness that is freely ours as we lay down our lives with Jesus; he in us and us in him.

As a country and a people we honour our fallen soldiers; men and women who sacrificed themselves for the ideals of societies that rise and fall with time. Here is the most significant sacrifice in the history of mankind. What will you do to remember today? Attend church? Sing songs of worship? Both are good; but this year why not do something that would really honour Jesus today and everyday. Examine your heart and if you find any unforgiveness there make the decision to forgive. Give to others what the Father has given to you.