Monday, May 31, 2010

Doing What Is Right In The Face Of Evil

In a perfect world you would receive good for doing good. Unfortunately the world is filled with people like you and me so it is far from perfect. There is a band called "Downhere" who sing a song that talks about the world being filled with problems but the problem is not with the world, it's with me. It's a good song that reminds us that we have responsibilities here to love and care for each other, and that if we want this place to be better it has to start with us. Saturday we looked at God's simple instruction to do just that. Then Peter writes:

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? (1 Peter 3:13)

Although we will have a lot less problems by loving everyone around us, the fact remains, we will have troubles. There is a false prince in this world who enjoys playing on our weakness to be jealous and to hate. Just by living according to the nature we were born with we can be mean and nasty. So Peter continues:

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." (1 Peter 3:14)

Here is a repeated phrase from elsewhere in his letter as well as from various other scriptures. Our love cannot depend on sunny skies, singing birds and fields of daisies. That's a Disney world anyway. We have all experienced slammed doors in relationships where we have given and given. We have all been hurt by people after we have given them our best. We have had friends and family turn on us after we have done everything right. Suffering for doing good is common and sometimes our response is to withdraw, drop the relationship, move on, hide away, or curl up in a corner to lick our wounds. Praise the Lord, Jesus never gave up on us even though we trampled all over him when he first reached out to us. Peter reminds us that even if we suffer for doing good we are blessed, and that is exactly how we have to approach our life. Our blessings don't come from people. People are our mission, our business. The source of our blessings is our Father, and he will never turn on us for doing good. No, our attitude in this matter must we a world apart from non-believers:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Despite what we face we are able to face it with a proper attitude when we keep Jesus in the right place in our hearts. He is Lord and we are doing what he has instructed us to do. We do not own how people receive our kindness, we only have the responsibility to give and to give all the time. With this in mind we should always be able to respond to unkindness with love, to hatred with love, to curses with blessings, to unforgiveness with forgiveness. We should always be gentle and respectful with people, regardless of how they treat us, because the Father loves them as much as he loves us.There is also the matter that the more we do what is right, the more those who hate us will feel guilty for doing wrong to us. Guilt is a good thing in those who are guilty of doing wrong. It allows the Holy Spirit to do his work, to convict people of their sins.

It looks to me like there would be a radical change in our lives and attitudes if we were to follow these instructions. If you thought the notion of "pay it forward" was powerful, imagine living this deeper law. So how can we manage this? Come back tomorrow as we look at the source for just such a life. For today, allow the Holy Spirit to inspire you to do good in the face of evil.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I Keep Getting In THe Way Of Real Spiritual Maturity

I find it interesting how difficult we Christians find it to live the simple instructions of how to live as believers. Now, I have been accused of coming across as if I have a handle on everything I write in my blog. I wish! I am simply a fellow sojourner who studies and teaches the Word of God. I too struggle with its application in my life because the same battle is taking place in me as it does in you. When I write that "I find it interesting" I am saying just what I wrote, not that I am standing on the outside looking in. It is interesting that, when we have been given such straightforward and simple direction, we continue to struggle with its application in our lives:

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. (1 Peter 3:8)

We are instructed here to live in harmony with one another. How? By being sympathetic with others. But in order to feel their pain and suffering we have to step out from behind our own. This is the real battle, to be willing to set aside what is occupying us, which is mainly us, and enter into the pain of other people. By understanding what they are facing we are better able to accept and love them, which allows us then to "love as brothers". This also leads to compassion and the ability to be humble enough to associate with everyone, regardless of standing. This should be easy because of Jesus Christ, but sometimes it is harder to submit to his love than at other times, especially when brothers and sisters in the Lord hurt us, often due to their own lack of maturity. I saw this in action, an act of love in the face of immature, hurtful words, and it took my breath away. I thought, "This is what it is suppose to look like". We find it hard to get there because we have not realized the cost of becoming mature.

When we begin to understand the power of the love of Jesus, not just know that love, we begin to realize just how special that love is and how special we are suppose to be as a result:

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)

Those are stinging words to any of us who have failed to step into this maturity, "because to this you were called". It goes against the character of Jesus Christ to do evil for evil, insult for insult, hatred for hatred. Sometimes we disguise our words of hatred in religion and rights of self-expression. We can say what we want but the Word says in several places exactly what is being said here, we repay evil and insults with blessings. Sometimes we want the other person to know just how gracious we are being when or if we do this blessing for evil. We want to draw attention to our own righteousness in the face of such evil but that destroys the humbleness of this act of love. That was the real beauty of the example I say yesterday; the person did not even realize herself what she was doing, she just felt it was the right thing to do, in the face of hurtfulness. She showed greater maturity in that one instance than I have been able to muster in the last three years of my life and people consider her immature. How wrong we can get things just because we think from our own prejudices instead of with the mind of Jesus.

To make the point here the Spirit inspired Peter with Psalm 34:

"Whoever would love life
      and see good days
   must keep his tongue from evil
      and his lips from deceitful speech.
 He must turn from evil and do good;
      he must seek peace and pursue it.
 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
      and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
   but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."

 Now, there is some very practical instruction: "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech." This is not possible without the Spirit of Jesus in us, and even then it takes effort to remain submitted to the Spirit. The instruction is simple but we complicate it by refusing to put others first, by our lack of compassion and love, by our lack of humility. It costs to be a follower of Jesus Christ and if we want to walk in the calling we have been given we need to start paying the price. It is time to deal with the immaturity in our lives, to put away our pain in the love of Jesus and walk in the light he has given to us. Try it on today, in the strength of Jesus Christ;  be sympathetic, love, be compassionate and be humble. We would not have been instructed to do it if it was impossible. Remember, these things are not found in our natural selves, they must come from the Spirit of Jesus within, which means we must submit our will to his today.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Is Your Marriage Well Balanced?

Yesterday we considered what God indicates is the beauty of a woman. Some people choose to put the emphasis on the false notion of what women should or should not do with their appearance whereas the Word deals with the true beauty of a woman: her character. Peter indicates that the fruit of submission to her husband demonstrates the possession of such beauty. This cannot be considered without the balance of a godly husband. The better the husband, the better the wife. Peter writes:

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)

Peter uses the wording, "in the same way". In the same way as what? In the same way that women demonstrate their love and respect by submitting to their husband (we defined what we mean by that yesterday) men demonstrate their love and respect by being considerate of their wives. Being considerate is as I mentioned yesterday, husbands listening to the ideas and advice of their wife and giving it fair consideration before making decisions. Husbands prove themselves to be fools when they ignore the intelligent advice and opinions of their wives. It is also a lack of respect and love to ignore the most important person in your life.

Peter writes, "treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life". Again, we have a whole bunch of people who are willing to concentrate on what they consider to be negative language instead of seeing the beauty of this passage. God created women to be beautiful, delicate, filled with emotions and physically weaker than men. Why is it wrong to recognize that men generally are stronger physically and often times emotionally than women? Is it wrong for a man to want to protect the woman that he loves, to stand by her through everything, to be a pillar of strength in emotional times? The word is "respect". Men are to respect these things in a woman by being the balance that she needs in the relationship. A cruel man will take advantage of these things, but a man who is filled with love and respect will guard his wife against people and things that would try to destroy her. Like any flower, strong and beautiful, but vulnerable. She has to be vulnerable in order to be everything she has been called to by God.

Peter also uses the word "partner" and "heir" indicating a relationship that many men and women do not recognize or appreciate. The roles may be different but the partnership and the heritage are the same. Men of immaturity or lacking in a relationship with Christ do not understand these matters and completely miss the beauty of their wife. A good man; a mature man; a man with a deep relationship with Christ will be used by God to frame the beauty of his wife. Like a handsome setting for a precious jewel is a husband to his wife. Together they are stunning and an incredible witness of God's majesty.

The last point is that no man can progress spiritually if he is not looking after and treating his wife as God has designed him to do. Peter warns, "so that nothing will hinder your prayers." A man cannot be right with Jesus if he is not right with his wife. Any disruption in this relationship will also disrupt his relationship with Jesus. A man can have the appearance of righteousness but only his wife and God know who he is behind closed doors. I think this is an important, vital, matter that husbands need to consider as they work out their marriage and salvation. How is that for balancing off the question of a wife's submission?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don't You Just Love A Beautiful Woman?

It is amazing how easy it is for us to make a mountain over a mole hill. It is no different with the Word of God. We often major on the minor things instead of keeping everything in the context in which it is written. The beginning of 1 Peter 3 is just such a passage that people have used to make into doctrine. I grew up at a time when women were frowned down on if they paid for a fancy hair cut, wore jewelry, or, dare I say, wore make up. Now I am a man who prefers the natural beauty of a woman's face but if a lady decides that a bit of make up is helpful then I have no problem with it because the Bible certainly does not speak against it. Peter wrote:

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Peter 3:1-2)

This is Peter's point in this passage that should not be lost among his supporting statements and is the reason I am isolating it like this. When a woman truly loves her husband she shows it with love and respect and, according to God's plan, this is revealed in her attitude, which includes healthy submission. Many women today have a problem with this because they believe it means complete obedience without argument. That's not what a marriage is. Any husband worth his salt is going to listen to his wife's advice; he would have to be crazy not to. Families are important and decision need to be made with both perspectives in mind. After receiving advice from his wife, a husband will weigh everything and then make a decision, and take the blame if it is wrong. Now the point Peter is about to emphasize is the real beauty of a woman. He could have been writing a Dove commercial:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Peter did not say women can not or should not wear jewelry, fine clothes or have the latest hair style. What Peter has said here is that these things are not the true beauty of a woman because the beauty of a woman is not found in her outward appearance. God is not concerned with your outward appearance one way or another; his concern has always been, will always be the heart. Let us put the emphasis where it belongs here, and it does not belong on the negative. Women can wear whatever they want, keeping in mind modesty, as long as they understand that their true beauty comes from their inner self. I think it is worth re-reading that verse:

Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.

Incredible words, "the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit". It is amazing how the doctrine of a woman's appearance is still prevalent in the Church today. It is a result of people making mountains out of mole hills, of putting the emphasize on the negative instead of the positive; of turning a beautiful passage into something ugly. Wear what you want but recognize those things do not make you beautiful in the way God desires you to be beautiful:

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (1 Peter 3:5-6)

Why is Peter referring to fear? Back then was no different than it is today. It remains a fearful thing to submit, to give control over to someone else. Just as it is important that women understand what true beauty is, it is important for men to understand what true strength is. It is the reason why marriage should not be entered into lightly. Women need to take the time to chose a partner with the character of Jesus and trust God with the whole control issue. If women do not understand that it is God they are trusting and not their husband then fear will enter in and cause division. There is a major thing here for men as well but we will deal with that tomorrow.

The real issue in this passage is not what women wear but the issue of Godly character and a sign of that character is the willingness to be submitted to the husband. Often times it is not an easy task so it is good to consider what Peter wrote previously about submitting even when it is something that is not beneficial to us. Often times our suffering produces opportunities of salvation for others. Submission is one of the signs of the true beauty of a woman, the beauty of the inner self, which is what our Father is developing in those women who love him above all else. Honestly, I do not believe our God is into fashion but he does produce beautiful children.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oh, The Injustice Of It All

In studying the teaching of Jesus and the epistles that are based on those same teachings and inspired by the Spirit, I am overwhelmed by the sense that our God does not want us to live mediocre lives. I do not mean that he wants us all to be rich and famous, although that may happen, more that he wants us to shine through every circumstance of our life. He does not want us to take the challenges of each day and live with that, instead he wants us to go for the greater challenges. Jesus said:

"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)

Do you see that? Don't love the status quo but go beyond. Everywhere you look in his life he forgave, he loved and he gave with extravagance. He has his Father's heart who didn't just bless us with salvation but poured out every spiritual blessing on us. Can we see suffering in this same way? Jesus suffered for us with great extravagance. Abandoned by those he loved, falsely accused and disrespected, beaten by bullies, skin ripped from his bones, publicly humiliated, nailed to a cross, left to die alone, to suffocate. He didn't just die, he suffered great sufferings in an extravagant demonstration of the Father's love for us.

With this imagery running through our mind we read what Peter wrote to the followers of Jesus who were slaves:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. (1 Peter 2:18-19)

This is an attitude that many of us seem to have lost as we fight for our rights and stand in the belief that no one should ever be able to come against us. Yet, throughout the Word we see that we are expected to stand up under the pains and sufferings of life even when we are in unjust situations. Our notion is that our God will swoop down and rescue us from everything that comes against us but especially the injustice of this world. Yet, we see time and again that we are often left in those situations, given the strength to bear it and used mightily as a witness of Jesus character as we face such things with joy and perseverance. This is often God's preferred way as he speaks to people through our weakness. But we are also warned not to cause trouble for ourselves and then call it the same thing:

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? (1 Peter 2:20)

Do not consider yourself under persecution and suffering if you have to pay a fine for speeding or you got cancer from smoking, or you were jailed for not paying your taxes. These are hardships due to your own foolishness. Now, if you confess and repent God will give you the strength to bear these things as well, just don't claim to be suffering in the name of Jesus. However:

But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:20-21)

That's the part most of us do not want to hear, that we were called to this. Remember that Peter is addressing this to the slaves. Can you think of a more unjust situation to be in? It is not that Peter is condoning slavery but he is recognizing that we need to be Christians wherever we find ourselves in life. It would be great if we could all be rescued and live great lives of privilege but we were not called to such a thing. We were called to experience life along with the unsaved of this world, to wallow in the muck and mire, to face hardships and trials of every kind in order to demonstrate the love of Jesus to the unsaved of this world.

Think of Paul on the ship that was doomed to become shipwrecked as he traveled to Rome to face Caesar. Stuck in a storm in a powerless boat on the sea, Paul was literally in the same boat with everyone else. Yet, he spent his time encouraging the others, praying with them, leading in worship, giving direction. He became a beacon of hope for those who had lost all hope. Imagine yourself in just such a situation. Jesus did not suffer for himself but for us. Understand that you suffer the injustices of this world not for yourself but for those who need salvation. We need to get a thicker skin, to bear more things, to be better witnesses and to demonstrate the sincerity of our faith. When all else fails, remember what Jesus did for us:

"He committed no sin,
      and no deceit was found in his mouth."

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:22-25)

Now, today, live in such a manner for others. Set aside your desire for rescue, and live to the fullest in the situations you find yourself today. Live to bring Jesus glory and for others to see Jesus in you even in the suffering of injustices. Or I should say, especially in the injustices you face today. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Democracy Can Warp Our Understanding

I will tell you right now that this subject deserves more than a five minute consideration. Our notion of democracy has warped our understanding of the Biblical instruction of attitude toward leaders and governments. It actually gives us a sense that we are in control instead of God. The Word of God is clear on the instruction of respect and does not give us permission at any point to rebel against our rulers. Peter plainly states:

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

Sometimes we forget that it is God who puts the government in place for his purpose. He raises them up and he removes them according to his plan and purpose. Nothing is established that God has not allowed and he has purpose in it. This does not mean that we do not respectfully voice our Christian point of view to our elected representatives but this does not mean placards or death threats. Actions contrary to the Word of God takes away from our testimony of Jesus, not add to it. We certainly need to pray more for our leaders and governments but we also need to remember that God is always in control, even when we do not like what is going on. We cannot let go of our understanding that God has a plan and he uses the government of the day to bring it about.

Instead of protesting maybe we should consider God's will:

For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:15-16)

It is very important that we do not allow our actions to take away from our testimony. We do not agree with everything our government does but our duty is to pray. Some would say that action is better than prayer but to believers prayer is action and we do not do enough of it. Voice our position respectfully, contact our officials. Tell them the instruction of God, respectfully and in love. Then pray that the seed goes in and God will change hearts. If the government changes, great! If not, then know that God is doing something. Trust him because no government, no ruler can frustrate the will of God.

That is hard to understand when we look at various governments over the history of man. There have been some really evil rulers throughout history who have done terrible things, some of them in the name of Jesus. But remember, God has given us a long rope with which to hang ourselves if we so wish but sooner or later he reins in that rope and that ruler or government is removed and another one established. Yet, each government is used by God to move us forward to the end. Things are unfolding as they should, and, if we gain the right perspective, we will be glad for it. If we are looking for a happy life we will never understand why God allows certain things to happen. If we understand our place as servants, then we are glad for everything God is doing and allowing because we trust him.

So let us sum up this point this morning with very clear and concise instructions:

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17)

Today, take the time to pray for those who have authority over you. Find out the names of the various people who represent you at the different levels of government. Pray for them diligently every day. Write them a note and thank them for their sacrifice of service to the people. Let them know you are praying for them and the many decisions they must make every day. In doing this you will honour God.

Monday, May 24, 2010

You Look Like A Stranger To Me

One of the most important decisions a Christian makes is what their attitude is toward the place we live. We all know what our attitude should be, that we do not belong here but we are here with a mission. However, what we know and what we do are seldom the same thing. There are natural consequences that affect us when we begin to get attached to this world, consequences that affect our desires and perspective. Our priorities start getting out of whack and we find ourselves distracted from the mission and then, eventually, forgetting the mission altogether. Then we are a "sitting duck", because we become so weak that we have no defense against the many temptations we face every day. Peter reminds of this:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)

It is hard to abstain from something that you begin to see as being natural and when you cease to see yourself as a stranger in this world then everything starts becoming natural. It is hard enough as a strong Christian to avoid the attractions of our society. It is not that they are so attractive as they are distracting. Many of the things we are drawn to are great consumers of our time but they have no profit for us. We watch hours of tv, get caught up in FaceBook games, fill our days with news of celebrities. Some people fill their lives with alcohol, drugs, pornography but at the end of the day what has it done for them? A temporary escape? Eventually you have to return to your reality. Then what? You start the cycle all over again? Believers may not be that far gone but we get caught up in romance novels, movies, music, television shows, computers and many other "soft" distractions. Nothing wrong with an occasional taste but when it becomes a steady diet you know that you no longer consider yourself an "alien" in this place; you are assimilated.

Peter reminds us here that there is a war being waged for our souls. The enemy wants to destroy us and our sinful nature wants to be back in control and our spirit only wants communion with God's Spirit. Every day we need to be reminded of this fact because we cannot hide away and avoid temptation. We have been left in this place with a purpose, a mission, and we can't do it hiding from temptation. So our eyes are deluged with images we do not want to see and our ears hear things we do not want to listen to. These things will play on us and tempt us. This is ordinary living. Do we want to add on to that things we choose to see and listen to on purpose? How long can we resist if we are not giving the priority to our saviour Jesus Christ? No, we have to be different than those without Jesus because our nature is different:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)

Accusation is not truth; it is only accusation. Someone's opinion is not truth; it is only opinion. If we live the truth and die by the truth; if we respond to people according to the truth and love them by this same truth; if we respond to things around us by this truth and tell others the truth, then they will see a difference. We will be like strangers and aliens to them. They may hate us for it; they may try to destroy us by accusing us of doing wrong, but we ourselves know the truth because the only truth there is is Jesus. There is absolute truth, and his name is Jesus. By not becoming distracted by the temporary pleasures of this world we will be able to live good lives, not by the standards of this world but by the greater standard of Jesus Christ. We have a purpose and we need to live it every day of our life as we journey through this place.

Just a footnote to this: we have been given life to live in abundance and we are to live it. Let me clarify that just because you find something pleasurable does not make it a sin unless it distracts you from our purpose. People love to do gardening, others enjoy exercise, some enjoy interior decorating and I can go on. There are certain activities which profit us and others that take away from us. These are a matter for you to know for yourself and if you are honest with Jesus then the Spirit will convict you in these matters. Just don't let anything possess you so that you lose your focus on Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Crisis of Identity

Good morning my friends. First an apology. In the last couple of weeks I have been concluding a New Testament Survey study with my students which involved discussing 1, 2, 3 John. Yet in our devotional time in the mornings we have been looking at 1 Peter. For the last couple of blogs I have inadvertently referred to John when I clearly should have referred to Peter. I apologise for any confusion this may have caused. Now for this morning's look at the Word.

I am convinced that the Church is going through an identity crisis. For a period of time walls between denominations seemed to be coming down. People were starting to realize that we are the Body and our identity is found in Jesus and not our denominations. Various leaders and simple folk were beginning to realize that what we had in common, the headship of Jesus and the unity of the Spirit was much greater than the disputable matters that separated us. But in recent years there appear to be new denominations emerging, smaller and focused perhaps on one man or a single church. People have again begun aligning themselves with certain teachers and pastors, spending time defending one and disputing another. We are forgetting the original design and I think we need a refresher from Peter:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Regardless of our differences, what we have in common is greater. Peter saw us as a great temple, being built together, becoming a spiritual house, a holy priesthood. Together we have purpose and calling. He refers to our spiritual sacrifice which some would read as worship. Well, if you consider the sacrifice of your life as worship then I would agree, because we have been called to forfeit our lives, to become servants of the great and mighty Creator of all things, so that the glory of Jesus could be revealed to the entire world. This is our common mission. Jesus said that if we would be united then the whole world would recognize us as his disciples but our confusion over our identity has led to the world being confused over Jesus. Peter continues:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Doesn't that sound terrific? Read those titles out loud: chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. Titles of dignity, of inclusion, of purpose. How could we not be united when we all have the purpose of declaring the praises of Jesus? Yes, we declare them to each other but the true purpose is to declare them to a lost and dying world, that they would know there is hope. However, we are too busy following men and arguing over disputable matters that the world could not care less about. We are fighting over scraps while the danger of Islam marches across the world. We are more concerned about which pastor is the most popular and has the biggest following to care about the orphans and widows. I am not talking about church programs but about us as individuals who have the responsibility to make disciples and to do the good works that have been prepared for us to do.

In some ways the Internet is doing what the Church has failed to do. The Internet removes titles and dividing walls, as long as we will allow it. Only twice in the past year have I been asked what denomination I belong to. Other than that people have simply accepted me as a follower of Jesus Christ, as it should be. Our identity should not be found in the denomination we were raised in or perhaps joined in with, but instead our identity is found in Jesus Christ:

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10)

There are so many things that could divide us and only one that unites us, but that one is so much larger than anything else that everything else appears like wisps of smoke in comparison. If we are not in this for Jesus then we are not in it at all. We are playing house, dress-up, make believe and one day all those things will be burned up into the nothing they are. Only the things built on Jesus Christ will last, including us. So put down your placards and stop calling out "Peter", "Paul" and "Apollos" and get behind the only head of the Church- Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Defending A Reputation

It does not take much to ruin a reputation and it takes everything to try to protect one. At the end of the day though reputations will rise and fall; it is only our relationship with God that will be long lasting. It only takes one person with partial knowledge and a lot of assumption to destroy what has taken some people years to build. We can try and do everything right but reputation is nothing more than the opinion of what people see on the outside. The Word tells us to live our lives to the extreme of holiness, do everything right so that you never give cause for anyone to speak evil of you. We are told to avoid even any appearance of wrong. Yet, we are still at the hands of people's perceptions of our actions. So what do we do?

What we do is live our lives for the glory of God and not by the opinions of man. Yesterday we considered how the Word of God is the only non-changing thing in our lives. Today we read 1 Peter 2 continuing with a "therefore". He says:

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 John  2:1-3)

The Word of God is the rule of our lives. Jesus lived this Word, because he is the Word, and set the example for us. Because the Word of God is what we live, what we measure ourselves against we should understand that we must rid our lives of the things that do not honour our God and our relationship with him. If we stop living for our reputation and start living for Jesus we will gladly see these things out of our lives, even if people believe they are there. We cannot do a thing about other people's opinions and thoughts but we do know what to measure ourselves against, and it is not the opinion of man.

If we have malice and any deceit in us then we are not measuring up to the Word of God. If there is an hypocrisy, where we say one thing but do another with our actions then we are not measuring up. If there is any envy or an form of slander then we are not measuring up. But these things are difficult for man to know and measure because they do not know our heart or our thoughts. These are things that we measure with the assistance of God and they are the things that we must then give account to him.

Sometimes we are so quick to judge what we do not know. We have a little bit of knowledge and fill in the rest with assumption and we make a mess of things. I was recently been reminded of the axiom, "Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see". We cannot know the motivation or intention of others. Just as we do not want to be judged and criticized, we should avoid it as much as possible. If we feel we have no  right to ask qualifying questions we should consider that we have no right to make assumptions. If we feel we can ask questions for clarity then we should ask.

Our real concern should be our own hearts in relationship to the Word of God. If we ask the Spirit's help to put this ancient text into action in our lives I think we would find ourselves less critical of others and more concerned over the pain of their wounds. It is amazing that even with this knowledge that when we feel attacked we strike back. Instead we should understand where the pain is coming from that is provoking such an attack. Understand your enemy. Pray for them and love them. Let's stop worrying about protecting our reputation; Jesus never worried about his. Let's do what is right according to the Word of God as demonstrated to us by the living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Sinking Sand of Life

I love the boldness and arrogance of youth. Who am I kidding? It gets on my nerves as quickly as the next person. They are like young pups yapping at the heals of the patient male dog; they have no idea how much they are covered by grace. Each generation of youth believe they have all the answers to the ills of society and the world and praise God they are like that because they renew our hope and vision. But there are those who do not have a clue how to show the respect that is owing those who have gone before them. Youth have no understanding of how frail life truly is, how much we are just wisps of smoke in the timeline of history because many of them believe they are eternal; no harm could ever befall them.

We should not be so surprised at this because until each of us have faced the death of someone we love we have no grasp of the reality of the fragility of our life. It does not take much to end our life; a disease, an allergy, an accident. Recently three cyclists were struck and killed. Three women of various ages who had no idea they would not live to see the end of that day. Three women who were simply doing something they enjoyed doing, not harming anyone or anything. It is not just bed people of this world that die, or those who have no relationship with God; even followers of Jesus Christ face the possibility of death at any time.

It is not just the flesh that faces death. We believe we are so wise and intelligent but ideas come and go. Things of great intelligence rise and fall. The history of man is like a seashore with various waves crashing on the beach of mankind only to dissipate and recede as the next wave comes crashing in. Each wave changes the beach a bit but it does not last as the next wave comes in and changes it even more. There is nothing in the history of mankind that we can depend on. There are no leaders, no philosophies, no civilizations that we can lean on and turn to for security, except for one thing:

   "All men are like grass,
      and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
   the grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of the Lord stands forever." 

And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 John 1:24-25)

We forget that the book that rests on our coffee table, or in our bookshelf or maybe on our night stand is a very ancient and sacred text. Even before it was written on paper God had been writing it on the hearts of man. It was written in the glory of creation before it was set on paper. It even came in the flesh, in the form of Jesus Christ. It is an ancient word that is without change and is the only thing on which we can depend.

Nothing else in our lives is guaranteed, in fact, the normal way of life is for everything to change. People come and go, jobs come and go, health comes and goes, youth comes and goes. In such a place we need an anchor, something that keeps us centered in place when everything else changes. That anchor is the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the never changing Lord of lords and King of kings. If you base your life on anything else then you are in for a life of heartache and disappointments  Jesus promised us more than that. He is the solid rock when everything else is sinking sand.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Measuring Up To Our Father's Expectations

We are rebellious by nature which is why I find it interesting that parents would be surprised by the action of their children. It takes a lot of discipline and the blood of Jesus Christ to overcome this nature we are born in to. So it is natural for children to say no and for teens to try to find their own way. It is the reason why the Old Testament tells us it is the natural course for parents to correct and discipline their children. In fact, it is an obligation of parents to correct and discipline their children. Children cannot raise themselves. They need help, guidance and sometimes discipline so they will learn what it is to submit to what is right instead of chasing after what is wrong. In fact, John tells us that it is in obeying the truth that we will be purified and the fruit of this purity is love:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 John 1:22)
Of course John, the beloved disciple, is not speaking of some abstract idea of truth but instead of Jesus. In describing himself Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life." (John 14:6) And the one who is truth stated:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

So often we get this all backwards as we try to have love for other people, especially our enemies as Jesus commanded us to do. But the reality is that you cannot have fruit unless you are attached to the tree. Sometimes we are attached but we will not submit in obedience to the pruning that the Gardener wants to do in us:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:1-2)

The gardener is our Father and we need to constantly remember that we are children to him, needing help, guidance and correction. We were born to him by choice, his and ours and once having chosen we need a constant reminder that we are born of him and not of this world:

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 John 1:23)

It is because of this truth that our desire is to be purified by the truth. Perhaps understanding this we can understand why Jesus taught that we cannot serve two masters. We cannot be both part of this world and part of the Kingdom. Jesus said it was impossible. He even gave us a measuring stick to see how we are doing in our growth to maturity. We know how well we are doing according to the love we have for the people in our lives. But remember, he said the real measure of this love is not found in us loving those who love us but instead in loving those who hate us and get on our nerves. So why not do some measuring today?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Motivation For Life

We live in an age where motivation is everything but not many are motivated. Many students of this age struggle with finding a reason to continue with their education. They can't see very far into their future and there doesn't seem to be much that motivates or interests them. We could turn around and blame television, computers, video games and even music but I think that would be coming up with excuses. I think it is more a matter of being more keenly aware of the importance of education in every field of interest. I was in my last year of High School before I decided what I wanted to do but no students need to know by grade 8 so they can take all the right courses. It is hard to be motivated when you have not learned enough about yourself to know what you are interested in. Yet, there is a decreasing amount of proper motivation in all areas of life.

Even Christians struggle with the motivation to live holy lives, to do the good works God has prepared for us, and to remain determined to do it to our last breath. Worship is easy. We just go in a sing some songs and go home. To posses a heart of worship is another matter. To be nice to people is easy. To help in a way that will cost you money and time is another matter. To do what is right is not so hard. To do what is right when no one will find out that you didn't is yet another matter. What is our motivation for living a life that honours our Lord Jesus Christ?

Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:17)

Hopefully our first motivation is love but if that should slip at all we should be reminded of the dark side. Our Father is an impartial judge. There will be no biases, no favours, no extended grace on that day. Today we live in an age of grace but that is so we can learn to be more like Jesus. When that day of judgment comes, we either did it or we didn't. Peter encourages that we should live with "reverent fear" instead of abusing grace because the works we have been given to do will be judged. Remember that our Father will not be pleased if we take his best and do nothing with it:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Having given us his most priceless and precious gift, do you think he will be pleased to discover we have treated it with contempt and trampled it under foot? We should have hearts exploding with reverence and love for the great gift we have been given. What more could we ask for and what greater thing could be done for us?

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20-21)

It is absolutely a thing of beautiful that our Father has done for us. Honour him with your love and obedience today and let this be our motivation; that our God will be honoured in our living, by the words we speak and the actions we take. When the blessings of the Lord is the reality we live, living a life of holiness becomes an easy matter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

He Deserves Obedient Children

In most cases children and youth get themselves in trouble due to things that are going on at home. Not in all cases though because we do have to allow for the inherent evil of our fallen nature. If adults cannot withstand the temptations of our flesh why would we expect children to do better? In any case, a lot of troubled children do what they do because of situations at home that parents may not even be aware of or are acutely aware of. Poverty is sometimes the problem, as is divorce. Abuses touch off generations of trouble and neglect can compound it. Parents struggling with addictions can also pass those stresses on to their children including work alcoholics. There are many various problems that find our children turning to the wrong crowd for escape.

Thankfully we have a heavenly Father who knows all that and who is a perfect parent. He has richly blessed us with a ton of spiritual blessings, as we looked at last time, and he provides daily blessings as well. Of course our eyes need to be open to see and to accept these blessings and we have to stop being spoiled about the whole thing. In fact, Peter tells us that it is because of these blessings and the fact we have such a great Dad, we should be propelled into one set of actions:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1:13-16)

In most cases, children, who have parents with great parenting skills, turn out well rounded and ready for most things in life. Children who have proper nutrition and the few essential tools necessary for life remain on track as great contributors to our society. Children who have been given the example of good morals also end up being people of good morals. In the same way, those of us who realize the incredible blessings we have in Jesus, provided by our Father, should react in a positive manner.

We should be a people of action and not mere words, willing to do what the Word says and not just read it. We should have an element of self-control about us as we realize that our lives are lived for the glory of God and not for our own glory. We have a different hope in this world. It is not to become rich and satisfied in life or to become successful and satisfied in life; it is to be changed into the likeness of Jesus so that we may live with our Father for eternity. It is as obedient children that we turn away from temptation because what our Father offers us is so much better than anything our evil nature has to offer. Sin satisfies only for a moment and then disaster strikes. The righteousness of Jesus is more satisfying than sin and lasts for eternity. When we fully comprehend this and experience it, all temptations loose their grip on us and obedience is an easier matter to accept.

The fact is we have been called to be an holy people, set aside for God's purpose. We are dearly loved and cherished, this is the reason our Father has provided us with this thing called grace but we are not to abuse it. Instead we need to have the desire to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus, so we can live lives that honour our Father, who is a very good Father and deserves our honour every day by living holy lives. After all the blessings our Father has poured out on us, the least we can do is be the obedient children he deserves. Take a moment and refresh your understanding with Colossians 3.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This Joy That I Have, The World Didn't Give It To Me

This will be the abridged version this morning as I hit the off button on the alarm and promptly went back to sleep.

We have no idea how privileged we are in the age we live. Sure we have all the conveniences that technology has managed to muster up for  us. We have clothes washers and driers that make quick work of something that used to take hours every day by hand. Most people have dishwashers that take the pain out of cooking and eating. If we don't want to cook we can either head out to cheap restaurants or order in almost any food we can imagine. We have cars that take us from A to B without much thought, or if we prefer to support the environmental cause, we have a great public transportation system. Obviously I could fill this blog with the many conveniences we have and I think we take them all for granted because in many ways we have become spoiled. It is no different with the spiritual blessings we have received.

Many followers of Jesus act as if they are spoiled. I have no idea if they are but I know what my eyes and ears tell me. We have no idea what a privileged age we live in. We have received the spiritual blessings and have allowed them to become a second thought in our day. What are these spiritual blessings you ask? Allow me to share them with you:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Now here is the thing, there are others who saw this day, the day when this age would have all these blessings that they did not have. Peter writes:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. (1 Peter 1:10-11)

The prophets looked at this age with longing as they searched to discover if they would get to taste of these privileges. This is what they discovered:

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. (1 Peter 1:12)

Like Moses they only had the opportunity to glimpse what was being promised. They were serving us and they gave out God's plan so that it would be a confirmation of what we have received. We possess what they longed for. But it is not just the prophets:

Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)

Even the angels have not experienced what we take for granted and do not give much consideration to every day. What a spoiled and unappreciative bunch of children we are. These spiritual blessings are the reason you should be reading this with a heart of joy and thanksgiving despite your circumstances today. Nothing and no one can touch these blessings today. You have received salvation, it is yours and no one can take it away from you. You are an adopted son and God's purpose for you is to be holy and blameless, and he is working that plan out even as you prepare for your day. It is incredible how rich we are with all these blessings so it is about time we act the part. Get rid of the frown the world has put on your face this morning because your source of joy does not come from the world but from our Father above who has smothered you with his love. You dishonour him when you allow lesser things to rob you of the joy he has given you. So smarten up and honour our God today by being the joyful child he has called you to be.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

It should be impossible for a follower of Jesus to begin a day in a bad mood. I know that we have those days but when we consider all that has been promised to us there should not be anything of this place that could touch our joy. If we allow ourselves to fall prey to a joy robbing trap it is most likely because we have been neglecting our time with Jesus. That has to be the reason because as we spend time with him we are reminded of who he is, what he has done and the promises he has given, and nothing can compare to that. Read this and realize how rich we are:

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

Praise be to God indeed. I do not know in what part of your day you are reading this but let the reality of Jesus wash over you right now. Through him we have experienced a new birth. The old is gone and the new has come. We are no longer what once we were, praise the Lord! It is by the resurrection of Jesus that we have been given a hope that we have never had before, that we will be invited into God's glory, into his rest, and this through no effort of our own. How can we even begin to imagine this new home when it has taken Jesus this long to prepare it for us? It is our inheritance and nothing can touch it. It does not wear out or get run down, there is no depreciation, no loss. Until that day comes, the day we hope for, we remain shielded by God's power. Come on, that at least must bring a smile to your face. Just like an umbrella protects us in the rain, God has shielded us from the worse parts of the many storms we have faced. Without him we would be destroyed. Now, what can compare to these things?

Peter tells us that this should be enough to keep us rejoicing despite any trials we may face in our day. In fact, even those trials are used by God for our good:

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)

You see, nothing should touch our joy because we know that even the trials of our life are used by God for our good. The most precious thing you possess is your faith. Without faith you do not have Jesus Christ. Without faith you will not see God. Anything that does not come from faith is sin. Faith is the Kingdom's gold. Well the trials of our life is the testing  ground of our faith. Every student knows that their knowledge will be tested to make sure they are prepared to move on to more knowledge. Our faith must be tested to make sure it is genuine because when Jesus returns and we do not possess genuine faith we will not be taken with him. Be thankful that God operates in this way so that there are no surprises on that day.

The fact is that we have an inexplicable joy despite the circumstances of every day because we love Jesus and we appreciate everything he has done for us because of his love. When we love him we trust him and this trust means we have faith that he knows what he is doing more than we feel like we are suffering in our day. Love gives birth to trust and we are able to rejoice constantly because of Jesus:

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Now how can anyone beat that? Seriously, reflecting on this, how can you fall short of a rejoicing attitude? The only way you could allow depression, fear, anger, and hopelessness to touch you today is by losing sight of Jesus or perhaps from failing to understand what he has done for you. We have too much to celebrate today, to be thankful for, to party over, to waste it on negative feelings. Rise up my friends! Let us do some dancing in the stream of life today and let the whole world see what Jesus has done for us, and what he is willing to do for them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Possibilities Are Endless And He Knows Everyone

There are some things about the greatness of God that, when we try to conceive of it, comes very close to short circuiting our brain. We have this terrible habit of down-sizing God to fit into boxes we can understand, which is not bad when we are trying to understand what we are capable of understanding. However, it becomes a problem when we limit God's ability to do things and work things in our lives according to those boxes. Just because we can't conceive of it does not mean God is limited to our limitations. That would be an idol, fashioned by our own hands and limitations, instead of the Creator of all things. We touch on one of these incredible things as we read the introduction to Peter's first epistle:

To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood. (1 Peter 1:1-2)

Many people get stuck on the concept of foreknowledge because it is tied in with other passages that refer to us being predestined by God. Obviously there needs to be a better understanding of the Word and the language used as well as a broadening of our understanding of God's ability. The idea that we are predestined refers to God's plan and desire that everyone born would be saved. There is no special requirements for salvation; we do not have to belong to a certain race, have a certain colour, be a certain height, belong to a specific church. The Scriptures tell us that everyone who believes will be saved. This is what we have been predestined for. Some people refuse their destiny and others do not even know it is there for the taking.

Now the foreknowledge is the part that can fry our brain. We are told that we are not locked into one course of action in our life but God has the foreknowledge of what we are going to do. This does not mean that our future is cast in stone because we are still free agents, although we should understand what freedom means. Freedom is an illusion. We all have a master according to the Apostle Paul. There are those who do not want to accept Christ because they would lose their "freedom". But Scripture says:

Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)

Jesus says that he came to set us free but that freedom is from the slavery of sin so that we could be clear minded enough to make the choice to die in our sin or to live as a bond-servant of Jesus Christ. A bond servant was a person who chose for himself to stay as a slave to his master. So when I refer to us as being free agents we need to understand that our actions are either controlled by the sin we are enslaved to or by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Now, understanding this, think of how many decisions you make in a day. How many possibilities are their in each decision? Very few of them are black and while, yes or no, a choice between two things. The least little thing can change our whole day. Ask some of the people who were not at work the day the World Trade center was destroyed. The decision to answer the phone saved them. The fact the red lights delayed them saved them. Stopping to tie a shoe saved them. Each day the least little thing can change the outcome of that day. One decision impacts the next decision which impacts the next decision. There are millions of possible paths we could take in our day and we are not locked into any of them. God's foreknowledge means that he can see each possibility of every decision we will face and he has planned for the millions of possible paths. If it gives you a headache thinking about one life like that try 8 billion people because our decisions impact the lives of countless other people which will influence their decisions. This is the greatness of our God, that he would care about us so much that he would lay down provision for every possibility in my day.

We limit our God in a very unkind way when we fail to understand the extent of his involvement in our lives. When we fail to understand we fail to trust and when we do not trust we allow fear and worry to enter in. We begin to doubt who we are in Christ, we lose our confidence and the world suddenly becomes a very scary place. We should take comfort that God knows who we are from our past, who we are today and who we will become in the future and he still loves us and pursues us and desires for us to be with him. He has promised that his plans are to prosper us and not to destroy us, and he has promised never to leave or forsake us. This is even with knowing all of our days. So, take courage in the knowledge that you have been chosen with purpose and God has laid down his plans for you for today even before you have opened your eyes to begin the day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hello My Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters

It is not easy being part of a family. Just because you came from the same common source does not mean that you look alike, talk alike or think alike. Each person has different interests different friends and different habits. Arguments are a natural way of life as family learns to accept and appreciate each other. Each individual is unique and yet there is the common bond of family that keeps everyone tied together for the rest of their lives, whether they like it or not. Family takes effort, sometimes a lot of effort to make it work. It never works by accident. I am describing the Church.

The reason people come and go in a church is because they do not see it as family and miss out on what the Lord intended us to experience in these relationships that are suppose to be deep and unbreakable. Sometimes it is the least little thing that sets us off and if we do not have that sense of family connecting us through the bond of the Holy Spirit, it takes no effort to walk away. Our commitment and love is first to our Lord Jesus Christ but it is also to each other. If you do not see this in your study on the New Testament then you have not been studying well.

We have a responsibility to each other, especially the more mature with the less mature. The Word tells us that our responsibility is to help them along with a lot of grace, love and forgiveness. It is not our place to judge and condemn. This organism is often not treated as family but more like a corporation or even an army. The younger siblings are treated like recruits and the older siblings take on power and authority that does not belong to them. This is not the design of the Church as we are told to bear the failings of the weak as we teach them. To the Romans Paul wrote:

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

The the Ephesians he wrote:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

I could fill this entry with verse after verse, encouraging us to be responsible for each other, to stick with each other, not to give up on each other because family just never says quit. So this leads us to the final word in the epistle of James:

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

Often in the Church, when someone falls away from the truth and impales themselves on sin, people stand back, point fingers and talk. But that is not the way we do things in the family. When someone is hurt we tend to them. When someone is in need we make quick supply. When someone is lost we go and find them. As brothers and sisters we do not turn our back and walk away, especially when they are lost and they are in danger of death. We forget about what is convenient to us and we set aside our comforts and we step into the dark, cold and lonely night to find them and bring them back, because they are family.

When we begin to see the Church in this perspective we will begin to contribute in a way that will benefit everyone. We will take our proper place in people's lives as their brother or sister. Remember the words of Jesus:

He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:48-50)

Family, Plain and simple. As long as we act like a corporation we will never get the point. As long as we act like some kind of social or community center we will never get the point. As long as we stand at arms length from each other we will never get the point. But I pray all that will change and we will get the point and welcome in a better vision and life in the Church, the family of God.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Second Rate Christianity

I find it amazing how James, the brother of Jesus, took very complicated matters of spirituality and made them very practical matters of daily living. I think in light of this we can be accused of making faith complicated for the average person to understand. It is no different with the last subject James writes concerning in his epistle. The prayer of petition is not a complicated thing; you need something, you ask. It is no different when we are praying about healing:

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:13-14)

You would not believe how many people have let go of this knowledge that God heals through prayer. Instead prayer becomes a thing of a desperate person, a last resort thing. People in the last stages of their illness will seek out a healer, not realizing that the elders of the church have such authority. They do not realize it because the elders do not realize it. We have let it go. Why? Because it seems too weird? Too "medicine man" like? Too unsophisticated? Well, I hate to disappoint such a mindset but prayer and healing is part of who we are and it is the responsibility of the elders who are to look after the flock:

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:15-16)

Did you catch that? "Offered in faith", "of a righteous man"? There is a lot of belief in the Church but is there much faith? Remember the phrase Jesus used with a lot of people he encountered and often with his disciples, "Oh you of little faith". He even pondered:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)

What did Jesus see? Did he see today or maybe a little further into our future? There are pockets of faith but on the grand scale of things, at least in North America, there is a short supply of daily, practical faith living taking place. Instead it seems as if the darkness is overwhelming us as we let go of such a fundamental matter.

Then there is the matter of righteousness. In such a world as ours, with all its distractions and attractiveness, are we even attempting to live a Christ-like life? I think many of us could be accused of stretching God's grace pretty thin as we lean heavily on the theme of life, "I'm not perfect, just forgiven." No wonder our prayers are ineffective when we do remember to pray. We are God's instruments and servants in this place. We are holy and filled with the resurrection power through the Holy Spirit in us. We are not some common "joe" on the street who gets to do whatever he wants. We are the children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and we have been promised that our prayers would be heard and answered, all we have to do is have faith in the asking.

James wrote earlier in his epistle:

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 1:6-8)

It is like bookends this thought of lack of faith in God as we pray. We do not make prayer our priority and when we do pray we do not have faith to believe for the answer. This makes for a weak and powerless Church that does good works but has no substance. I pray this does not describe your life, prayerless and powerless. This kind of life does not honour nor please God our Creator because he has given us a second birth with something completely different in mind. Heed what James has to say on this subject, seek forgiveness for your lack of faith and allow yourself to be used powerfully by God to reveal who he is to those who are seeking to know. Jesus promised you that you would do even greater things than he did, so let us stop living a second rate Christianity and let us show the world who our God is.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

But You Promised!

There are certain things in life that should be easy but are not. There are other things that look easy but end up being far from it. Painting a room looks really easy until you try it. Raising a family is another of those things that look easy until you have your own. How about living a correct life, a perfect life, a righteous life? That one seems easy enough, just follow the rules. Yet even the simple rule of let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no can be a hard one. It looks simple enough to do but it is hard to carry out. James seems to sneak this one in there while we are thinking of something else and reminds us what Jesus taught:

Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned. (James 5:12)

It seems simple enough to live your life in a way that you do not have to swear by anything to prove that you are serious about what you are saying. Yet, we break our word so often that we end up saying silly things like "I swear on my mother's grave", "I swear by all that is holy", "I swear on the Bible". We are suppose to be honest, people of integrity, keepers of our promise. When we commit to something, when we say yes, people should know they can depend on that word.

I believe most of us intend to do what we say but often we commit to something without thinking it through. We say yes but then later realize that we just can't fit it in. Often children are victims of this situation, busy parents promising something in haste. Children do not realize how busy life is, all they know is that mom and dad said yes so now they can count on that. Soon they discover that they are somewhere down the list of priorities and that they cannot always depend on that yes. They learn that saying yes does not always mean yes; it means "if I can".

Part of our problem is our busy and complicated lives. We somehow need to simplify things and come up with our top three or four priorities. God and our families should be at the top and everything else should fall into place after that. Easy to say but when your boss asks you to work overtime it is hard to say no. After all, the family could use the money. But ask yourself if the money is more important than you child's baseball game and the promise you made to him. Is that money more important than keeping your promise to your wife to treat her to supper tonight? Is that money more important than keeping your promise to be at Bible Study that night? You do not have to say yes to your boss after you have already said yes to other people. Simplify your life.

Another problem is not understanding the importance of the integrity of our word. There was a time when no one would dream of not doing what they said they would do. It would damage their reputation to do so. Today people do not seem too concerned about their reputation or too concerned about how their actions affect other people. We will say yes to people just to get them "off our backs" with no intention of doing what we have promised. We do not even consider the consequences of making our word unreliable, untrustworthy, hardly worth the air used to speak it.

These things lead us to the place where we have to emphasize what we promise with some form of swearing to show we really mean what we say. This should not be. When we promise something to our children they should know that we would never break that promise. When we promise something to our pastor or to our boss it should be a promise well thought through so we know we can keep that promise. We need to come up with our top priorities so those priorities know we will do what we say. We need to get back to integrity and living the importance of keeping our word. Once we get back there maybe people will be more interested in what we have to say about Jesus.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Looking For That Missing Ingredient To Successful Living

I have bemused on many occasions how we are no longer a culture that values patience. We have raised a number of generations now to expect instant everything. Change crept in slowly until every wish of the consumer is now met. Remember when banks were open from 10 am to 3 pm and there were no such things as automatic tellers? No such thing as debit cards either. If you wanted money from your account you either had to wait until the next banking day or write a cheque. Think of how annoyed we are when we go to the store and the thing we want is out of stock. We can get almost anything delivered to our door now within 30 minutes. There are not a lot of things we need to wait for any more.

Young couples would have to save up for years to be able to afford a new car or a house. Yet now they manufacturers offer loans at 0% financing and here in Canada qualified people can get mortgages without the 10% or 25% down payment. Why work hard and save when we can possess it now? So here we are with loan crisis happening all around us as governments spend without thinking and individuals lose everything because of bad planning. Even governments are failing, as we look at Greece's situation. Many other countries have come close to the same situation and unless someone does something about it the United States will be facing the same crisis where it cannot pay it's debts. Have we not learned our lesson from the latest financial crisis that has thrown the world into a global recession? Putting a complicated situation simply, it is all due to our lack of patience. Of course. in this matter, the Church reflects our culture instead of Jesus' heart.

If new church plants do not start with 100 people and have great growth every year we consider it a failure and close it. If ministry does not see great fruit within a year we close it and move on to something else. We fail to consider the Scriptures council in such matters. Jesus worked with 12 men for 3 years to prepare a foundation for what was to come. To build a nation God chose one family and took hundreds of years. This nation had to be forged in the fires of hardships and great battles. It is the generation that spent 40 years in the desert that was the strongest generation in the history of Israel. That generation had to show a great deal of patience and trust with God before receiving what he had promised. Abraham died long before he saw the promised fulfilled, but he trusted and he obeyed and he knew he was only the seed of this promise that would be fulfilled generations down the road. This is the same patience we are told to have:

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:7-9)

The warning against grumbling is wise. Grumbling stirs up discontent which is in contrast to a spirit or attitude of patience. Consider the generation of Israel that was not permitted to enter the promised land. They were far from patient, constantly grumbling against Moses and God. If we allow a spirit of discontentment and complaining to rest on us we will lose the joy and perhaps in later years we may walk away from our salvation. Instead, rejoice always and in everything because Jesus is using everything for our good. This must be the theme of our life so that we are able to see the good benefits in every situation. Such an attitude lends itself to a life of patience and trust.

James tells us if we have a problem understanding the importance of patience we should consider the examples God has given us and see what the results were:

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:10-11)

Just understand that patience is not always working toward something for a year. That could be patience but sometimes the work of the Lord can take a lifetime and we may not even see it completed because we are the seed for something in the generations to come. Do not give up after a little bit of time unless the Spirit tells you to walk away. We should never begin a work without the direction of the Spirit so we should never end it either without that same direction. Your perseverance in the desert seasons could be the catalyst to something big the Lord is planning. The angel warned Zachariah not to despise small things so don't you do it either. Success in the Kingdom is never measured in size but instead in endurance. What is of the Lord will last through any and all testing fires but what is of our doing will burn up in such fires. I pray that your life and your ministry will stand up under such fires. Don't give up; realize the Lord's perspective and press on with great patience and endurance. The harvest is coming.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Money, money, money, money

We all want it so badly and yet once we possess it it often proves to be our demise. Money, wealth, things of dreams for millions of people around the world. Thoughts of contentment, lack of worry, the good life, being able to take it easy, having everything you need or that your family needs, are all what we associate with having money. Yet, money changes people, often bringing out the worst of their character. The more you have the more you need. There is never a cut off place where we think we have enough. Our current worries and fears are replaced by new worries and fears. But the worst is what money can do to our character; warping it and twisting it, causing us to be self-reliant instead of God-reliant. This does not happen to everyone but it happens to many of us because we fail to be generous:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. (James 5:1-3)

Scriptures are clear on what wealthy Christians are to do; they are to be generous. We could list a long list of Scriptures here that encourage and even command generosity. Jesus gave several examples of the expectations of God that we would be generous in everything he is generous in, such as love, forgiveness and mercy, and he told us not to be possessed by anything in this world, such as money. He warned that we cannot serve two masters because we will learn to hate one of them, and money usually wins out.

The Word is actually very hard on the wealthy, giving very strong correction. It is not that money is evil but if you do not have a solid character and a great relationship with God you are vulnerable to being controlled by it instead of you controlling money. The one thing the Bible clearly condemns is oppression by the wealthy; when they make money off of the weakness of the poor:

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. (James 5:4-6)

Our desire for money is probably one of the greatest influences in our lives concerning the decisions we make. Some people choose which education to pursue, not according to their like s and dislikes but instead according to the greatest payout they will receive at the end. Some people choose where to live not according to the needs of their family but instead according to career advancement. Often  our choices are financially based and not according to God's will as they are suppose to be. In fact, many of us check our budget to see if we can afford to give a donation or partake in a ministry instead of first consulting with God. We fail to remember that our employer is not our provider, God is.

The Apostle Paul on the other hand had a much different attitude. He wrote the Philippians and told them that he knew what it was to have plenty and to have nothing, to be well feed and to be hungry but he learned whatever his situation or circumstances to be content. How did he do this? By realizing that Jesus was all he needed. Because Jesus was all he needed then things could enter and leave his life without him being devastated by it. He states:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

Money is not an evil thing any more than the chair you are sitting in is evil. We are not gnostic in our beliefs, thinking that all material things are evil. Money is a neutral thing and it is our character and attitude that makes it a tool for good or a tool for evil. If it becomes something we pursue more than our desire for God then we have allowed it to become an influence for evil in our lives. If we are generous when we possess and are content when we don't have it then we are maintaining a good relationship with it. Our first goal must always remain to become like Jesus.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We Are Suppose To Be Different

The Christian outlook on most things in life is in radical contrast to the standards of our society. We are a radical nation under the headship of Jesus Christ, a radical himself. Our perspective and approach to life is taken from him and not the society or culture around us, no matter how much it changes. At least that is how it is suppose to be. However, you could interview a believer along side a non-believer and discover there are not that many differences. Most people have concerns about tomorrow, whether they will have enough money to retire, whether they will still have their job in a year, and matters of the same nature. As followers of Jesus Christ our point of view is suppose to be radically different. Notice I keep using that word, radical. It is because the two manners of thinking do not even come close to each other and this is what we keep coming across in James' epistle:

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:13-14)

Perhaps this is not something you have considered, especially if you are one of my young readers. Mortality does not seem to affect youth as much as it affects the elderly, yet people die from all ages all the time, every day. The fact is you do not know what tomorrow will hold for you. Chat with an earthquake victim or the people living along the Gulf Coast or how about the people in Nashville? It only takes a second for your life to be changed in unimaginable ways. Some things you can see coming and you have time to plan for but other things could never be planned for when they hit. It is not always a life and death situation that this is applied to, consider some other areas of your life as well.

Relationships are a major part of our life. They take two people and you are only responsible for your part of it. You cannot control the heart or mind of the other person so you only have the illusion of having control over it. If you are relying on relationships to be your strength and stability you could be in for a very quick change. People change, situations change, health changes, finances change, everything is based on shifting sand and like an earthquake it can all change in a few seconds. As Christians we should understand this but at the same time we are comforted and strengthened by the fact that Jesus never changes. The love of the Father is a constant in our lives and it is true that Jesus is all we need.

Our understanding is that each day we have is by the grace of God. Nothing is owed to us so everything we receive is a gift from our Father. Seeing life from this perspective takes away the sting of lose and promotes a heart of thanksgiving:

Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:15)

Remembering that God is ultimately the decider of all things has a big impact on how we approach life and our plans. There is nothing wrong with making plans, setting aside money for retirement, planning vacations. The problem comes when we rely on those plans for our joy, satisfaction, and motivation. When the plans fall through so does our joy. We should have sufficient maturity so that nothing disturbs our joy and satisfaction because the source never changes. This is the reason Paul was able to tell the Philippians with great confidence that they needed to rejoice in everything. No secrets here to a great life and unending joy; trust the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bullies Grow Up To Be .... Bullies

It's not hard to figure out what causes a bully to tick. It has nothing to do with strength or meanness and has everything to do with insecurities. In my neighbourhood it was always a matter of bully or be bullied. Bullies pick on other kids, their faults, their oddities, their differences in order to keep people from noticing their own.  The mentality is "if I can keep everyone looking at that kid over there no one will notice me". I wish I could say that such a mentality changes as people mature. The problem with that wishful thought is not everyone matures and insecurities continue throughout life. Have you noticed any bullies in the Church? For sure they are not taking people out to beat them up in the parking lot but they are there nonetheless and have been there since the beginning of the Church:

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. (James 4:11)

Most bullies are cowards and the most cowardly act is slander. It is the starting and spreading of unfounded rumours that put a brother or sister in a bad light. For what ever reason, insecurities, jealousies, maybe even envy, people attack one another with words. Sometimes it can even come in the disguise of concern as we spread such concern around to people who have nothing to do with the situation and who have no influence to help out. It is really nasty and ugly stuff and any of us can take part in it at any time. It only requires, a mouth, an imagination and willing ears to hear. It is amazing how many ears are willing to hear.

Sadly bullying can also take place from the relative safety of the pulpit. Some of the most insecure people in the Church are the pastors and sometimes they misuse their authority to compensate for such insecurities. Many Sunday's a congregation can feel beat up by the preacher instead of inspired by the Word. This is different from correction, which is the pastors responsibility but keep in mind the Spirit does not use bullying tactics to correct us.

We need to be very cautious in this matter because we may be thinking that we are simply lifting ourselves up while tearing someone else down, which is terrible in itself, but what we are actually doing is condemning ourselves:

Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

Jesus made it very clear what the consequences will be for living such a life:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:37-38)

Remember the saying, "What goes around comes around"? I bet you did not know it came from the Word of God. It is a spiritual principle: whatever we dish out is what we will get back. Love people and you will be loved back. If you are generous then you will encounter generousity. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Judge others and you will be judged in the same way. There are a whole bunch of believers out there who should be paying attention to this. It certainly should change some behaviours.

This is the Word Of God, so considering this truth, how do you think the Father looks upon the bully? Now we could sit here and point fingers at all the bullies or we could look in the mirror and see if we also fall into this category. We need to be concerned about our own hearts toward God and our actions toward others. We really need to bring an end to these insecurities in the Church. Jesus died for all of us. The Father loves everyone in the world. We live and die according to our decisions. Let us decide in this that we honour our God by honouring one another. No more slander. Grace, grace, God's grace!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Avoiding The Pollution

In my last blog entry we were looking at the crippling effect being double-minded can have on us spiritually. We cannot be friends with this world and remain loyal to God. To try to live like those around us will eventually pollute our mind, heart, perspective and understanding. We all know that we have been told to live in this world but not to be part of it. So how do we do this? How do we live here, surrounded by desires and distractions, dying every day in the hopes that others would choose to live, representing the light of the world, without becoming polluted by the world? James gives us direction here:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Plain enough. That is because the truth is not difficult. If you want to remain pure and useful to God then remain submitted to him. Every time the enemy comes at you with temptations resist him as Jesus did, relying on the Word, and he will leave you. It is only while you entertain that temptation that he sticks around. Tell him to go away and use Scripture to do it. James goes further:

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:8-10)

The solution is so simple and we make it so complicated. The way we stay pure and unpolluted is to continue to remain close to God, focused on him, which allows us to understand that he is with us. Every Christian needs to maintain a repentant heart because pride creeps in if we do not, and pride leads to our fall because it resists repentance. We do not need Jesus 10 % of the time, we need him 100% of the time as we navigate through this fallen world. If you do not recognize its fallen state the enemy already has you.

A good, faithful and loyal servant only has one attitude: humility. Constantly remembering what we were, what Jesus had to do to save us, and what we are now helps us remain humble. We did nothing for ourselves. We were not capable of doing anything for ourselves. We needed rescuing and Jesus did it at great personal cost. To remember that every day, to experience it, keeps us in a place of humility, realizing that it is impossible to do any of this without Jesus. The moment we start living as if we can do this alone is the moment the enemy has us.

We cannot avoid this world because we are here as agents of reconciliation. It is in the example of our actions, our living, matching up with our words that lend credibility to the power and love of our God. It is as we face hardships and trials with great joy that people notice there is something different about us. It is as we resist the great temptations, attractions, and pitfalls of this world that people notice there is something different about us. It is as we share the love of Jesus through our unbiased kind acts and our loving our enemy that people notice there is something different about us. The moment we stop resisting the enemy and we fall under the spell of this place is the moment we have handed victory over to the enemy. It is not as hard as it may seem. Stick close to Jesus, maintain a repentant heart, and clothe yourself in humility. At all cost, avoid giving into you selfish desires. Seek what Jesus' wants, which is the salvation of everyone in the world. We will be fine as long as we love Jesus with all our heart, mind, body and strength.