Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Made Complete In Us

Can love ever be a matter of words? For some who are afraid of pain that is all love will ever be, mere words. There are a lot of people afraid of that emotion for many various reasons but the greatest reason is because of the hurt they have experienced through it. In order for love to be real there must be vulnerability, an openness, an attitude of letting your guard down to let people in. Love, for everyone, is a big risk with terrible consequences when it goes wrong because love is the greatest emotional force that has ever been and will ever be.

Love can never be a matter of words because love provokes action. Love causes us to do things; silly things, dumb thing, brave things, incredible things. Love never leaves us standing on the sidelines looking in. If that is all it is to you then you have not experienced love. You have felt something else but it cannot be love if it leaves you standing still. It is because of this fact that people are afraid of it; they don't trust themselves and build walls to protect their heart from the pain that sometimes is caused by it's rejection by others. We build walls, deny its existence, distant ourselves, turn cold, hide away, avoid people and things that cause the memories, do whatever we have to do, become whatever we have to become in order to avoid the whole mess.

Those who refuse to avoid the mess see the value of even the pain that sometimes accompanies love. They are willing to risk everything, face anything, overcome anything to experience the greatest experience, feeling, emotion and action on the face of this planet. They are willing to be vulnerable, to be open, to be accepting because the experience is worth the risk. And if you do not know this then you do not know what love is. We do because we have experienced it first hand by the greatest lover of all eternity :

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

It does not get any more basic than this; God is love and those who follow him must love. We know we have experienced the Father's heart when we are able to love in the face of any situation. We know we have experienced the love of Jesus when we are able to do what he did for others. Anything short of this just makes us religious and useless for the mission to which our Father has called us. We are no good to him unless we are able to live and act out of the love we have experienced. The love of our God is not some mystic experience or some great philosophy, it is an action. This is how he showed us:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

That is how we know he loves us, he gave us his best. What is this love? What is love?

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

Take note of the definition of love and the risk that was taken in this action. Our God did not play it safe, he did not wait until he was sure we would respond to him. In fact I am pretty sure he knew of every single person who would reject him, spit in his "face", trample on his name and even deny his existence. Our Father demonstrated that love is not two people loving each other but instead one person taking all the risk for the benefit of another person. Perhaps we can better understand why Jesus said it wasn't love when a person returned what he received but instead when a person gave what could not be returned. If we have truly experienced this love of the Father then we cannot stay the same; we cannot stay on the sidelines, we cannot be spectators, we cannot remain people afraid of risk:

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  (1 John 4:11-12)

It is made complete in us when we are willing to do for others what God has done for us; when we risk the pain of rejection to give our very best to those who cannot give back to us. Do we really think that what little we have to give back to God can even compare to what he has given to us? Hardly. Yet, he accepts our worship, love, adoration as if they were perfection itself. This is made complete when we can understand it and accept what people offer back to us even when it is so little compared to what we have given. It is also made complete when we continue to love even when that love is rejected time and again. Oh wow! how far we fall short of God's glory!

What many of us call love is no love at all. When we carry around with us the baggage of past hurts and hold on to the memories of wounds, this is not love. Love does not remember, love let's go and love never gives up. Perhaps most of us need to take the time to to be immersed  in this love once again, to discover its true nature and depth, and realize the implications for our life. Something is wrong in the Church and only the real experience of God's love is going to correct it.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

We Have No Other Argument, We Need No Other Plea

The world would consider us narrow minded and wrong on most subjects that have any significance. In some things they may be right as we get a little goofy over clothes and food. We can be pretty thick in the brain when it comes to arguing about disputable matters with a person who is on the fast track to hell. It doesn't amount to a "hill of beans" how the person is dressed, the language they are using, or the length of their hair when they are standing condemned without Jesus. That is just silliness. However, it is on the subject of that salvation that the world also tells us that we are narrow minded. The accepted thought now is that all religions lead to the same place, represent the same god, have the same value, and should all co-exist. All I can say about this is that the world is ignorant of Jesus Christ and what he taught and did.

What the world is saying and propagating should not worry us but instead we should be concerned with these lies that are also being taught in the Body of Christ. We have more Bibles in North America than the whole world combined yet we remain ignorant of what it contains. How many Bibles do you own? How often are you reading it and studying it other than Sunday? Most Christians do not even consider opening their Bible from Sunday to Sunday so if someone comes along and teaches something similar to what they learned in Sunday School or heard on Sunday morning they will follow along. This is how the lies are spreading. John warns us that we need to be paying attention:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

We live in an age of abundant information but it does not mean that it is all reliable information; do you check the source? We live in an age of abundant teaching but it does not mean that it is all good teaching; do you check the source? John has equipped us with a method to know these false spirits but keep in mind that it was one way that dealt with one set of lies that were going out at the time:

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.  (1 John 4:2-3)

At the time there were many theories and false teachings going around about Jesus. Some of these taught that Jesus was not flesh but only spirit that took on appearance as flesh. Today we have those who deny he was divine at all and call him a major prophet. To these people I say, you had better read what Jesus said about himself. We also have those who deny that he ever existed on this planet. These are again ignorant people who do not even possess the base knowledge that, at the very least, Jesus was an historical figure, recorded in the history books of the time and listed in the records of the Romans. Regardless of the form of the lies these are all still the spirit of the antichrist, denying Jesus.

This is what you as a believer need to keep in mind as you sometimes face a barrage of this false teaching, even from within the Body of Christ:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

Remember where your strength lies and you will never have to worry about going astray. Forget your strength, neglect the Word, concentrate on conformation instead of transformation, and you will slowly be overtaken by the spirit of the antichrist as you are led away from the narrow path with the narrow gate. You have to stop listening to the preachers and teachers of the World; people like Oprah and the modern day representatives of the antichrist. John reminds and warns us:

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. (1 John 4:5)

We listen to these people in the guise of entertainment and are being led away from Jesus. In fact, most of the world is being influenced by a bunch of actors with opinions and half-notions. They are actors, it does not make them teachers or authorities of any sort. They are entertainers who take us along into the fantasy world of story telling. They are not even the story teller, only people who play a part in someone else`s story. What a foolish bunch of people we are. Let the world listen to them, but we are not of the world:

We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:6)

The world looks at such a statement and calls it arrogance and narrow-mindedness. We look at it and recognize the boldness of truth. John preached the Word, the truth; he preached Jesus Christ. There is no arrogance in this but only the truth. It is also how we need to be approaching this truth, not with apologies, but with boldness that comes from being sure of what we believe and knowing the great importance of our mission. As Jesus declared, the only way to the Father is through the Son. The only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. `We have no other argument, we need no other plea, it is enough that Jesus dies and that he dies for me.` One way, one truth, emboldening us to press on for the salvation of mankind. Make sure you are standing on the Rock of ages and not the sinking sand of this world`s teachings.

  1. Jesus! the Name high over all,
    In hell or earth or sky;
    Angels and men before it fall,
    And devils fear and fly.
    • Refrain:
      We have no other argument,
      We need no other plea;
      It is enough that Jesus died,
      And that He died for me.
  2. Jesus! the Name to sinners dear,
    The Name to sinners giv’n;
    It scatters all their guilty fear,
    It turns their hell to Heav’n.
  3. Jesus the pris’ner’s fetters breaks,
    And bruises Satan’s head;
    Pow’r into strengthless souls He speaks,
    And life into the dead.
  4. Oh, that mankind might taste and see
    The riches of His grace!
    The arms of love that compass me
    Would all the world embrace.
  5. Oh, that my Jesu’s heav’nly charms
    Might every bosom move!
    Fly, sinners, fly into those arms
    Of everlasting love.
  6. Him I shall constantly proclaim,
    Though earth and hell oppose;
    Bold to confess His glorious Name
    Before a world of foes.
  7. His only righteousness I show,
    His saving grace proclaim;
    ’Tis all my business here below
    To cry, “Behold the Lamb!”
  8. Happy, if with my latest breath
    I may but gasp His Name,
    Preach Him to all and cry in death,
    “Behold, behold the Lamb!”
Charles Wesley, pub.1749
ref. by Eliza E. Hewitt, pub.1891
alt., pub.1922
Copyright: Public Domain

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Key To Everything In Life

It is a shame that more of us do not have that greater revelation of the Father's heart and the love of Jesus Christ that the Apostle John had. I know I could certainly use a greater revelation. Without it we continue to struggle with things that should not be a struggle for us. It is from love that everything that is Jesus flows; compassion, grace, forgiveness and the rest of the character that we are desperate for. With such a revelation we would certainly be better neighbours, friends, co-workers, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. It is from this revelation of God's love that the ability to beat self-centeredness comes in; when we are willing to put the needs of others ahead of our own. Yet, John presents the need to experience this love in a way that makes it essential instead of a nice side effect.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. (1 John 3:14-15)

What we read here in John's letter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is that loving our brother is our way of knowing we made it, that we have crossed over into the light. This seems to be the one thing that has eluded us as a Church and yet is at the very foundation of our relationship with Jesus. Jesus himself prayed about our unity because it would be how the world would know that we are authentic and that Jesus in us is authentic. When people from different backgrounds and interests are able to set aside their interests and show genuine concern for each other and share in great and deep fellowship, the world can see there is something different here. Yet, it is even more important than this because it addresses the very root of the genuineness of our relationship with Jesus. John directs us again to a correct understanding of this love:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16)

(Just a side note: I find it interesting how much 1 John 3:16 parallels John 3:16.) Laying down our lives can take on many different forms, it does not necessarily require death. Any time we set aside our own interests, needs, desires for someone else we are laying down our life. Now this is where we can get into trouble with the bit about conformity. John describes the fruit of this love, the action it can take in our life:
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3:17)

Sometimes it is easy to take action, to give things up, because it makes us look good and because it is a value that is highly prized in the Church. We can do this but in ourselves it is only producing bitterness, a sense of being used, resentment. We can carry on for years like this but inside we are being eaten away until one day it just all falls apart. The love that John is describing cannot be faked, it has to be produced by the Holy Spirit in us. We are not talking about conforming our actions but of being transformed so that we couldn't even think of not loving our brother; that we always choose to do the right thing toward our brother due to this love. It goes beyond words that we speak:

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

It is not enough to have a head knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is not enough to see and understand the Father's plan. It is not enough to accept the logic of the sacrifice according to the law. It must go beyond knowledge and become experience and transformation:

This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)

This is far more important then the emphasis we give it today. In our current culture we seem to glaze over this huge fundamental point. I don't want to get into the ugliness of our current state but I have to wonder if we know Jesus at all. We argue over matters that Paul referred to as disputable, not understanding what damage we are causing to the mission. What silly, small people we are not realizing the significance of our place in history nor understanding our calling to be giants of faith. But how can we be people of faith when we can't even love as Jesus loved:

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:21-22)

When will we clue in that it is this love that makes us whole, it is this love that keeps us from condemning ourselves, it is this love that fills us with such great confidence that we can do anything in the name of Jesus? When we are not confident of this love we stand condemned. When are confident of this love it ceases to be about us, our weaknesses become insignificant, we trust our Father with everything, we understand the greatness to which we were called, we stop living such little lives and we become the giants we were called to be. But it starts with love which leads to obedience. The commands are simple:

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

We tend to make it a lot more complicated but it isn't. The relationship is as simple as that. We do what he did and we have a fellowship that allows a deep communion with Jesus. Love as he loved; live as he lived and the Spirit will have the freedom in us to see great things happen:

Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:24)

If you want to live a full life for Jesus and impact the world around you then begin by seeking a greater revelation of the Father's heart and the love of Jesus Christ. You will know you have it when your love for your brothers, sisters and neighbours becomes genuine and not "put on". This love is the key to everything; it always has been.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Step Into The Colour That Is Jesus

Not only does a relationship with Jesus reveal who the Father is but it will also reveal to us who we are. Often people have that nagging question kicking around in their thoughts, "Is there any purpose to any of this?" Some people live their life thinking they have life just by chance, that there is no purpose to it other than trying to find a little bit of happiness before you die. Others push the question aside completely because they are just trying to get by, to survive, to make it through another day. But life is too short to waste it with just getting by. Jesus said he came to give us abundant life and that life starts by realizing you are not an accident, you have a purpose for living here and you can find joy in living it.

John wanted this to be clear for us:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

It is not enough to say that the Father loves us; he does. But he does not just love us, he lavishes this love on us. He is extravagant with this love. Without the Spirit our senses are dull to this love; it is like we are stuck in a world of grays while a world of technic-colours  is swirling all around us that we are blind to. It is when we claim Jesus as our Saviour that we receive the Holy Spirit and he opens our eyes to see the world of the Father's love. Bright, beautiful, lush, incredible world where he shows us every moment of the day that he loves us. In all our busyness and effort to survive and find happiness we blind ourselves to the reality of the Father's great love. We do not allow him to look after us, to provide, to encourage because we are too busy doing that for ourselves. There is a reason we have been told to "Be still and know that I AM God". Do you know the context of this great command? Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
       an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
       and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam
       and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
       the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
       God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
       he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us;
       the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see the works of the LORD,
       the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
       he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
       he burns the shields with fire.
 "Be still, and know that I am God;
       I will be exalted among the nations,
       I will be exalted in the earth."
The LORD Almighty is with us;
       the God of Jacob is our fortress.

A great song that speaks to our dependence on God because we are unable to protect ourselves. It isn't just a song, it is an experience. Our Father is our protector and our provider, yet we act like a drowning man, panicking over the least little thing. We thrash about trying to save ourselves instead of allowing the rescuer to bring us to safety. Jesus told us to concentrate on the mission and our Father would look after us, but do we allow him to prove it? We are his children; he has given us both life and purpose. John wrote that we should not expect the world to recognize this. We can't turn to them for anwers because they can't even understand the question:

The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

You can't understand the context of the Father's love without knowing the Father and Jesus said that if we know him then we know the Father. The world doesn't know us because the world doesn't know Jesus. They know the name, they know our imperfections but they don't know him. They've never met him. There are those that say they can take Jesus, it's just his followers they have a problem with. But these are ignorant people who do not know or understand the truth of the process. We know that what we see now is not what we will be. There is so much more:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

If this is all there was it would be pretty depressing but we know that this is a "working out" place. It is a place of preparation as our God uses life to shape us and mold us into the character of the first born. The final transformation takes place when we are met by Jesus and we become fully what he has become for us. The world cannot know or understand because the world does not know Jesus, but we do and it is for this reason we strive to be more like Jesus:

Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)

So we are without excuse. We know we are children of the Father and we know he has poured out his lavish love upon us. We know he is with us every moment of the day and we know he is our provider and protector. We know who we are in him and we know what our hope is, what is just around the corner. So stop living in the grays and step into this world of colour in which we live in Jesus. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who Is This Antichrist?

You will notice that my blogs will be published a little later each day for the summer period as our school year has come to a conclusion. Now my only responsibilities are to pastor my church and to play with my children so I will take the opportunity to regain my rest. I hope this is not too much of an inconvenience for you.

Someone has recently said, "We live in interesting times", which I believe was a great understatement. It seems every day we are hearing about natural and man-made disasters. We are witnessing greater political unrest. Our weather has gone all wacky. Earthquakes seem to be a daily occurrence now, even touching where I live yesterday. It seems we are sitting on a huge bomb that is about to go boom! Add to this the crazy teaching that is being propagated in and outside of the Church. There are actually people who call themselves Christian who deny the deity of Jesus Christ. They deny his virgin birth. They attack the accuracy of the account of the cross. They scoff at the empty grave. They perpetuate their own teachings which is nothing more than lies and speculation and what is sad about it is the fact that people are falling for it.

In the past we have heard much about the Antichrist and Hollywood made a bit of money off of it, playing on some people's fears. However, now that the real danger is at hand we are not hearing much about it because instead of it being one person it is a great many people who have that "antichrist" spirit. John describes it for us:

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23)

We can deny Jesus with more than just our mouth. There are "ministries" that acknowledge Jesus but then never rely on him and promote positive thinking and self-will. They lift up the power of the individual, our ability to save ourselves, and promote self determination. They use a lot of visualization and proclaiming and claiming. They use little cute phrases such as, "I am a success and will do successful things today". Some use religious jargon to try to camouflage what they are but it all boils down to a self-centered attitude that promotes self and individualism. We who follow Jesus know that our strength is not found in us and our abilities, no matter how much we visualize, proclaim and claim. Our strength is found in Jesus Christ and him alone.

Remember the temptations Jesus faced from Satan. All of them involved Jesus denying himself and falling into the trap of self; taking care of his own needs, self-preservation by avoiding the cross, and drawing attention to himself with the spectacular. However, Jesus never denied who he was, never left the Father aside as he pursued his self-interests, never strayed from the will of our Father. He fought back with the truth, with the Word, which demonstrated to us how we can stand our ground against the spirit of the antichrist. John told his readers:

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:26-27)

We have been anointed with the Holy Spirit so that we may have the mind of Christ to understand the will of the Father. We have no excuse for falling into the trap of the antichrists. If we fall into such a trap it is because we decided to listen out of our own selfish nature. Everything about the followers of Jesus is about the denial of self and living a life of service. We love and hope for everyone, enemies as well as friends. We desire blessings over everyone and work to allow people to see Jesus in us. Our greatest desire is for people to experience the heart of the Father. Not so with the antichrists; they just want to see people's dependency on Jesus broken by people's dependency on themselves. Take a good look at yourself today and determine who is influencing you and for what purpose. Be sure that you are standing on the only Rock who can save us; Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Who Or What Has Your Affections?

As I read through 1John I realize how good John was at drawing our attention to what Jesus taught concerning our love and dedication to God and one another. Often there is so much going on in the gospels, all the action and various teachings, we can miss the essence of the message of Jesus Christ. Using rather crude words to sum up the incredible message of Jesus we could hear him say, "Dad and I love you and I am here to prove it". At the core of everything Jesus taught and everything he did we find love. We should realize this when Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments from God are to love him with our entire being and to love our neighbour. Yet, there are times when we get caught up in so many other things and we forget the motivation behind them.

Jesus warned in various ways that there is a counterfeit love that distracts us from the authentic love for our Father. You may recognize it in the careless way we speak of our affections toward things that bring us pleasure:

"I love that car."
"I love that TV show."
"I love that actor."
I love that dress."

We speak of our strong attractions to things that fade and spoil, which we will soon forget about as it passes away. We can find ourselves running from one fad to another, playing fancy free with our emotions and what influences us. We can also do this in the Church as we "love" leaders, programs, groups with more affection, more love than what we have for the One they represent.

John took these warnings of Jesus and made it very clear for us:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

We read this warning and laugh but I think we are fools for doing so. We consider our "little" cravings and distractions to be innocent. We have no idea what fire we are playing with when we play with our affections. Our God said he is a jealous God in the sense that he created us for himself and he does not want to share our hearts with anything else. The enemy has tried to separate us from the affections of our Father from the very beginning as he convinced Eve that she was attracted to something that would separate her from God. He did not create that tree but the enemy will use whatever means there are at hand to distract us. Then there are our own sinful desires that try to mimic the affections that were sown into us, that were intended for the Father.

We need to take the affairs of our heart seriously and we need to pay attention. Jesus said we cannot love two masters. John is saying our love for the world will replace our love for the Father; we can't have both. What are we most passionate about? Jesus said that wherever our treasure is, that is where our heart will be as well. Can you see the seriousness of this matter? It is a good moment for some reflection as you examine your own heart. As you reflect on where your treasure is consider the warning of John:

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

And weight the instruction Jesus gave us:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."  (Matthew 6:19-24)

Before this day is done, let us be sure who we serve and who has our heart.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Testing Our Authenticity

Yesterday we were considering the foundational fact that obedience is an outward act of love. It can also be the result of fear but fear produces a great list of negatives that would never result from the motivation of love. Love is by far the greater and healthier motivation of obedience, especially in relationships. Parents can motivate their children into obedience with the fear of punishment, and there are times this is necessary, but the greater choice is to create an atmosphere of love. Jesus' message was from this perspective of love. He did warn us of the consequences of our actions so we would be aware but his desire was for us to respond to the love of the Father revealed through him:

If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

Now John had a clear vision and understanding of this love and made it the theme in everything he wrote. He had the understanding that this love was not a new thing that the disciples just happened to stumble upon. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. What he is today he was yesterday and will still be tomorrow. So John writes:

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. (1 John 2:7)

Yet, as old as this message was, it was revealed in a new way, in a new light. The Father revealed his heart in a way never seen before and expressed his love in an action never taken before. It is the same love caste in a new light:

Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2:8)

Note that John says the truth of this new command is seen in Jesus and in us. He paints this picture of the darkness of this world falling away as the light increases. The light is the love of the Father which was revealed in the love and obedience of Jesus and is now seen in us. This is the reason John wrote:

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)

Jesus walked in the light; love and obedience. We are to walk in this same light, being used to drive out the darkness of this world. Jesus said that if we loved him we would obey what he taught us. John gives us one simple test that we can use to see if we are walking in this light of love and obedience:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. (1 John 2:9-11)

There is nothing here that can be argued against and it is a test that any of us can understand. If we hate then there is no truth found in us and we do not really know Jesus. If we hate then we have missed the whole point of Jesus message and purpose. If we hate then we have never understood the cross. If we hate then we do not know the Father's heart. But be careful because the absence of hate does not indicate the presence of love. You can feel neutral, uncaring, unfeeling without hating but this still is not what we have been commanded to do. Love prompts action. Love spurs us to action. Love is expressed and understood in action. Jesus left no doubt that love must be expressed through us. He said:

And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Matthew 22:39)

But he said more than this. He also taught:

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)

A very clear teaching and one that John says indicates whether we are truly in Jesus as we claim to be. John says if we claim to be in the light yet hate people we are still in the dark. That is worth some reflecting today. Our dark world needs to see the authentic light in us. Jesus has done his part to perfection and now we are called upon to do ours as light bearers. It requires obedience motivated by love. It always has. He told us that if we loved him we would do what he has commanded and he has commanded us to love.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Am I Truly Saved?

In my 18 years of pastoring I have heard a lot of questions but there is no question as unsettling as an elderly believer who asks, "How do I know I am truly saved?" We always imagine our elders as having all the answers or of being sound in their faith but it seems that, at least some of them, can have as many doubts as teenagers. We all know that how we end our race is the most important part so it is important that we all enter the home stretch with a faith that is as strong as it was in our youth. Thankfully there is plenty of Scripture that answers this question if it is plaguing your mind. John writes:

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. (1 John 2:3)

John did not write this on a whim or because it was his personal mission statement. He wrote it because they are the words of our Lord:

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

 Obedience is a demonstration of love or of fear. Jesus said that our obedience to his commands aught to be a design of our love for him. So, if we are doing what he told us to do, no matter if we fail a number of times, it is a good indication that we love our Lord. If obedience is the demonstration of love then you can guess what disobedience is a sign of:

The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)

That should be plain enough for even the newest believer to understand. Plain and simple but also a catalyst for a lot of conviction this morning, I would guess. So many of us are merrily living our lives as we wish, singing along to the worship, fooling ourselves into believing that we are okay with Jesus. But the fact is we are living in direct opposition to what he commanded us to do. John writes:

But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. (1 John 2:5) 

This is what impacted John, this thing called love, and yet for many of us it still remains a complete mystery, almost like something we fear to get to know. Love strips away all the lies, the hate, the pretenses, the protecting walls, and leaves us naked and vulnerable. It is through obedience to Jesus that the way is made possible for his love to be made complete in us. When we are in that place we will never have to ask the question, "Am I truly saved", because we will know every day we open our eyes.

Now here is the kicker, the thing that we should all be active doing:

This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:5-6)

It does not get any plainer than this. Do you really want to know if you are saved? Then look in the mirror. Do you see Jesus in what you are doing? James was correct when he said that true faith can be seen. True love is not hidden away, it shouts from the mountain top. If we are truly in Jesus then we cannot help but love people and do good towards everyone. If we are in Jesus then we understand the importance of loving our enemy. There would be nothing in us that would permit us to hate anyone. Jesus did not hate; he was filled with compassion. Are we filled with compassion? We need to be doing what Jesus did, living like Jesus lived if we are truly found in him.

Tomorrow we are going to consider one very clear indication of what John meant when he wrote:

But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Forgiveness Is Far More Important Than We Show In Our Living

Yesterday we considered John's summary of what he heard from Jesus and touched a bit on our current attitude toward sin. This morning I would like to continue  looking at this attitude toward sin. It is an important subject if we are ever going to discover the unity that Jesus desires us to have. If we cannot understand our attitude toward sin then we cannot understand forgiveness and without forgiveness the Church cannot serve in the manner to which we were called.

Obviously our goal and desire is to live a sinless life so that we may enjoy rich fellowship with our Lord Jesus. Yesterday we read that God is light and came into the darkness to rescue as many people as would listen from the darkness. Sin belongs to that darkness and so in order for us to be in the light, to have fellowship with Jesus and each other, we must let go of sin. This is only possible through the blood of Jesus. So, it is possible for us to be without sin, in theory. John writes:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. (1 John 2:1)

Unfortunately we have not yet reached perfection and so we should be prepared to deal with our failures and the failures of others. We are involved in a growing process and as we mature in our relationship with Jesus we discover that his love becomes greater than anything in our life. We avoid sin because of that love. It is possible to avoid it because we know our weaknesses and we know what tempts us so we avoid those things. Yet, we are not perfect and can (and often do) sin without thinking. Maturity also brings with it a greater understanding and ability to forgive, because of one reason:

But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

It really is as simple as that. People sin, seek forgiveness and are forgiven. Of course it needs to be a real repentance and not a sense of guilt from being caught. We are warned not to be "grace abusers". However, when repentance is sincere then forgiveness must also be sincere. The Father forgives readily so why should we have difficulty with it. We need to get over ourselves and understand the issue is bigger than us. Jesus shocked the religious leaders of his day by forgiving people who sinned but it went beyond this. Jesus did more than give us the authority to heal and caste out demons, he also gave us the authority to forgive. Now which would you say is the greater of these things? Jesus siad:

If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. (John 20:23)

Whatever we forgive people for here will not be brought up against them on the day of judgment which is an awesome thing when you think about it. The Church should be an awesome place of forgiveness and reconciliation as we operate in the Father's desire for everyone to be saved. However, there is also another aspect of forgiveness that we should always keep in mind:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

The Holy Spirit is transforming our character to that of Jesus' because Jesus is the first born of many. We must all have this same character and one of the biggest parts of this character is forgiveness. Jesus made it plain and told parables to get the point across: you have been forgiven of your sins but if you do not forgive others as you have been forgiven then you will not be forgiven. Wow! How many of us are in trouble? How many legalistic churches who spend all their days condemning instead of forgiving are in trouble? Love and forgiveness are two key elements of the Church and our lives. It does not matter if it relates to new people in the church, old members, leaders or back-benchers, we have the responsibility to forgive in love.

So my question to you this morning is, are you plagued with unforgiveness that is eating away at you? What about things that you did to others and that you never sought forgiveness for? It is time to do something about it especially if you have any desire to progress in your spiritually maturity. Love, forgive and accept one another and then we will see the Church become the incubator it was designed to be. Remain judgmental, unforgiving, unaccepting and the result will be your life remaining stagnant and stinky as will be the church you are a member of. If you have the hope of being forgiven by the Father you had better get busy forgiving people in your life. Stop being shocked by sin; realize you do it and so do others and we all need the same forgiveness. Do not expect people to be any more perfect than you are and if you think you are so perfect that you can judge, then you do not know as you aught to know.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Learning To Live In The Light Is Simple But Not Easy

We are taking our elementary students to a local amusement park to end our school year and have to leave very early; I apologize for the brevity of the devotions this morning.

As I have studies John's writings I have concluded that he had lived too long to fool around with a lot of words. In his first letter he comes across as a master of the "powerpoint" presentation. However, as brief as he was with his words we need to also recognize how concise he was. Here is his summary of what he heard Jesus teach:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

John knew this, not as theory or theology, but as experience, having lived with that light for three years. In those three years John witnessed Jesus do everything with perfection. Not once did he witness any sign of darkness in him; not once did Jesus fall to the same sins we fall to every day. It is precisely this fact, that God is light, that prevents us, who are consumed by darkness, from having fellowship with him:

If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. (1 John 1:6)

 We need to recognize that there is sin that we have no power over (without Jesus) and then there is sin that we make choices to be involved in. In the garden Eve made a choice. She was not powerless. In our lives we have a choice to do what is wrong or to do what is right. Using John's language, we either walk in darkness or we walk in the light. Even without Jesus people are able to choose to live a good, moral life. It won't save them because salvation requires the blood of Jesus:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

The point is that we still have to make the decision to leave the darkness behind and step into the light. We have to desire to have fellowship with each other and with God. We cannot have this fellowship if we still desire the darkness and the things that belong to it. This is one of the reasons that trying to convince people of the love of Jesus when their hearts have not been prepared by the Spirit can be frustrating. People actually need to desire to change. They need to hear change is possible but then they have to desire that change. If they desire only darkness then they will never let the light penetrate.

John makes a good point here; we have to confess the sin that exists in that darkness before forgiveness can be received in the light:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:8-10)

This is the work Jesus came to do; to reveal the light in the darkness and to freely offer forgiveness to anyone who wants to escape its powerful grasp. If we deny the darkness and the sin contained there then there is no hope for us. Not only that but we are making Jesus out to be a liar. Why are we so afraid to talk about the "elephant" in the room?
We treat sin as if it is an abnormal thing in our lives. The fact is that it is the most natural thing we are part of. It is what we were born to. Even after we have experienced our second birth in Jesus Christ and have become a new Creation, sin is attractive to us. Part of "working out our salvation daily" is learning to confess, to forgive and be forgiven. It is from there that we grow in maturity and strength and are able to stand against temptation, in the power of the blood of Jesus. The problem happens when we become afraid of what people will think and we begin to hide our sins, even from God. We fail to understand that we are in a process that is leading us to spiritual maturity but not to perfection. We will be "made" perfect when Jesus returns. An alcoholic will never get better if he keeps falling and hiding it. It is when he continually brings his failures into the open and becomes accountable that change begins to happen. It is the same with us sinners. We must be accountable to God and one another, in the light.

The atmosphere of the church is also partially to blame. When a person falls and does what they are suppose to do, confess it, it is treated like a shock wave through the church. Confessed sin should not shock us; it is the hidden sin revealed that is the most destructive. The Church needs to develop an ambiance of forgiveness, especially for the older saints who feel more shame and guilt but who also possess more fear of how people will react. Some people would rather live with their hidden sin and go to hell then face an unforgiving church. Does that seem right to you?

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

If this is what Jesus is willing to do why is it that we think we are too good to forgive sin, no matter who confesses it? No, I think John was right in keeping this short and simple because it is as simple as that; Jesus came to reveal the light to us and to forgive the sins of anyone who wants to step into that light. We need to learn how to seek and to give forgiveness.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Making Our Joy Complete Is Not Found In Substitution

It is interesting and sometimes sad what brings joy to some people's lives. I use the word joy but you know that for every authentic spiritual blessing there is an earthly counterfeit designed to substitute the authentic. It is like junk food. We know that we should be eating things that our body needs to grow and function properly which also satisfies our hunger. Yet, instead of fruits, vegetables and other assorted good stuff, we satisfy our hunger with things that fill the belly but are junk to the body. It is a substitution of the authentic. So what some people consider joy is not joy at all but just a temporary feeling of satisfaction until something comes along that steals it away.

Joy is actually a blessing that finds its source in a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a joy that cannot be taken away by any circumstances of life but that can fade as we allow the relationship to fade. This joy increases as we fulfill our purpose and mission and as we praise and testify about Jesus. The Apostle John ends the introduction to his letter with these words:

We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:4)

Perhaps you have experienced what John means by this, when you have witnessed or spoken of Jesus to someone. Every opportunity I am given to talk about Jesus, what he has done for me and for the world and who he is, brings such an incredible sense of joy as I remind myself who I serve. This is what John wrote of Jesus:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1)

When I speak of Jesus I speak of what I have experienced within myself and the evidence I have seen manifested in situations. When John spoke he spoke of what he had witnessed with his own eyes. He was permitted to hear Jesus' voice, to see first hand, and touch everything that had happened. It was John who helped distribute the bread and fish to the thousands of people and who picked up all that was left over. It was John who was present during the transfiguration, who saw and heard Moses and Elijah, who saw Jesus in his glory. It was John who took part in the casting out of the demons, the healing of the lame, the blind, and the raising of the dead. It was John who leaned against Jesus during the last meal they all had together and, hours later, stood at the foot of the cross, witnessing the suffering of the one who transformed his life by love. He was also the one, along with Peter, who experienced the empty grave and encountered the risen Lord. What John spoke of he spoke with the authority of experience:

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:2-3)

After experiencing Jesus, John would never be able to keep his mouth shut about him. How could he? John experienced real life and it was for the benefit of everyone that John spoke. I think sometimes we lose sight of the fact that our testimony is not annoying or even personal. We have a testimony for the purpose of proclaiming Jesus Christ, that others will also experience life and be saved from destruction. We are a very selfish people for keeping this life to ourselves. Not John! He proclaimed this eternal life. He proclaimed what he saw and heard with the purpose that others would also experience Jesus and join the fellowship of believers, who also have fellowship with the life giver and the life himself. This is what made John's joy complete, fulfilling this great purpose we all have of proclaiming Jesus Christ to the world.

Seriously though, what a selfish age in which we live when we have lost sight of the fact that our testimony is not about us but is about Jesus and the world. We have to get over ourselves, lose our insecurities and allow our experience to be as large and as real as John's was. It is only as we allow Jesus to be our focus and purpose that we are able to find this joy and the completeness of it as John had. Anything that is not Jesus is only an unhealthy substitute that will not last. Substitutes will spoil and fade and will leave us disappointed and unsatisfied. You know you authentically have it when you can't stop talking about Jesus and find that your great desire is for everyone to meet him. Go ahead, make your joy complete by proclaiming Jesus to the people you encounter, and do it with urgency; our time is running out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Know It Is Late, But Don't Fall Asleep!

Following up on yesterday's blog I need to ask you, are you expecting Jesus to return today? It is not always easy to live with such constant expectation but at the same time it is dangerous not to. Jesus gave warning through a number of parables that his return will be at a time when he is least expected. In the parable of the virgins we were warned not to fall asleep and be unprepared for the return of the groom. In the parable of the house servants Jesus warned that we had better be busy with the work given to us when he arrives to take us home; that the master of the house will return unannounced:

"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." (Luke 12:35-40)

Perhaps it was to this that Peter was referring to when he warned:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:10)

Or he was building on what Paul had already written in one of his letters:

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3) 

This is what I am concerned about for us today, that we have forgotten, that we are falling asleep, that we are not carrying out the tasks and jobs that the Master has given to us. Sometimes I think we are too busy trying to build our own little empires and have forgotten the mission given to us by Jesus. We need a good wake up call, a reminder that all of this is very real, very current and every day carries with it the possibility that this may be the day of the return of Jesus. Peter says that with such knowledge there should be a desire in us to live lives that honour Jesus:

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12)

Although fear can motivate people for a short period of time, it is the positive influence that is longer lasting. We should want to avoid the destruction of everything because it is not going to be pleasant (greatest understatement ever) but our real motivation should be our desire to participate in the new creation that will follow the destruction:

That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:12-13)

It is this promise that should motivate us to live entirely for Jesus, to serve him in obedience, to desire to be everything the Father sees us to be. Knowing that Jesus' return will not be announced helps us not to wait to the last minute to live to honour him. It is similar to the thinking of some people who think they can do what they want all their life and then moments before they die ask for forgiveness and get into heaven. Unfortunately none of us know the manner in which we will die or the day or the hour. If we live like this we are gambling with our eternity because that last moment may never be given to us. It is the same for the lazy and disobedient servant. A last moment chance to change will not be given to them. However, the promise of what is to come should be enough to motivate us to live our lives in a manner that honours our Jesus every moment of our lives, making us ready for his return:

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. (2 Peter 3:14-15)

We need to shake off the drowsiness that is overtaking us and we need to encourage each other to press on with our chores and tasks. There are billions of people who are walking this planet not knowing Jesus. There are millions dying every day that have not even heard his name. We sit back watching the lies of false gods creep across the globe, promising peace but bringing with it only slavery and destruction. Millions of people who carry the truth do nothing to counter the advance of the enemy. If we are bearers of the truth we need to ensure that we are strong in the Lord and serving strong:

Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:17-18)

My friends, let us be watchful, ready, and found serving today. Jesus is returning for his Bride.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Don't Waste Another Day!

I wonder how you are approaching your preparation for today. Will it be like any other day; same routine, not much thought or effort put into it? After all, what could possibly change, right, aside from some unexpected disaster? And who can live life expecting a disaster every day? No, it is better to live life as it unfolds, enjoying the moment, making adjustments as we need to make them, never worrying over the things we can't anticipate. Something like eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die? A bit too much? Possibly. I am trying to make the point that often we do not put much thought into our day and into our actions. Some days we live as if we have no purpose, instead acting as if we are some tiny one celled creature being carried around by the currents of life.

The fact is, we have a purpose and we had better get to it because our allotted time is running out. Perhaps we have forgotten that Jesus is coming back for us because we act like we have all kinds of time to complete our mission. Perhaps you are listening to the scoffers in the world who laugh at our anticipation of Jesus' return. Peter warned that after some time people would begin to taunt us, and that was a little under 2,000 years ago, and here we are still anticipating:

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." (2 Peter 3:3-4)

We should never be surprised at the world's unbelief but we had better be shocked at the Church's. It is not good enough to just believe in the work of the cross, we have to believe in the promise of the empty grave. Believing in this promise is the motivation of our mission. Jesus is returning for his Bride and this will mark the beginning of the end for the world, because after this will follow the judgment. Our mission, given to us by Jesus, is to help as many people into the Kingdom as we can before this day arrives. If we forget the promise of his return we will also forget the day reserved for judgment:

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:5-7)

The world has forgotten but hopefully we haven't. This must remain fresh on our hearts so there will be a sense of urgency with each day, so we will not waste one opportunity given to us to present Jesus to those who need to be saved from this destruction. It is real and it is approaching and it will engulf all those you love and care for who have not accepted Jesus' free gift of salvation. Love must be their motivation in accepting Jesus or it won't last, but dread of their destruction should be our motivation to overcome any fear we have of telling them about Jesus.

We need to be careful that we do not get lulled into thinking that it will not happen in our life-time. Just because it has not happened in 2,000 years does not mean today is not the day. There is a reason why he has delayed for so long:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)

He is patient so that we can help as many people as possible, but are you wasting this patience? Again, I ask you about your preparation today. Do you have scripture at hand to share with anyone who will need it today? Are you alert and attentive to the prompting of the Spirit? Do you have a New Testament tucked away somewhere for when you need it? Are you prepared to share the good news of Jesus? It is our mission, our purpose, and the urgency should be prompting us into action today and every day until his return. Contrary to what you may think, we do not have a lot of time and today could be your last opportunity. Don't waste it!

Monday, June 14, 2010

You Won't Be Allowed To Blame Anyone Else

The only way to detect what is false in this world is to compare it to the truth and it is for this reason that we must be people of the Word. Peter's harshest criticism is leveled against the false teachers who must have been plaguing the Church by the time of this letter. Wherever you find truth you will find those that mimic it but the danger here is that it will not just affect your pocket book; it will decide your eternity. It is the reason why those who have been called to teach and preach must make sure they are not preaching their opinions but instead are standing square upon the Word of God. Too easy it is to allow our opinions on a matter to sway us without us realizing that this opinion is without substance. The fact is that anyone can "make" the Word of God say anything they want it to say but Peter warns of the destruction of such teachers:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

Peter's description of the false teacher is not a flattering one and was so strong because these men were like bottom feeders, trying to use and abuse the weakest and young:

This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings ... But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish ... Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness ... These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (2 Peter 2:10, 12, 13-15, 17-19)

Peter does not make any allowances here and neither should he. A person who leads others astray spiritually is leading them to their ultimate destruction. This is no game we are playing at here. We cannot pick and choose what we will listen to and what we will reject and what we will add to the Word of God. Those who are called to teach must leave self aside and teach only what they have been given to teach. It is an incredible responsibility and should never be entered into lightly because it carries with it a stronger punishment for straying from the path. Teachers must constantly check themselves and be sure that the only one who has mastery over them is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another thing to note here is that followers of these false teachers are not given a break either. Certainly you may be seduced into the wrong path but you had a choice to listen or walk away. In the same way Eve was held accountable for her choice and Adam for his, even though they were seduced, we will be held accountable for not turning our back on the seduction. Teachers are nothing more than guides, trainers, helpers. They are not mediators between us and God. There are no mediators, physically or spiritually. We have direct access to the throne and the Holy Spirit is Jesus in us. We have the Word that we can check for ourselves and the Spirit to warn us. It is only when we allow someone to speak directly to our sinful/selfish nature, as Eve did, that we fool ourselves into believing the false to be the truth.

We live in an age when we are rich with information, but it is not all good information. Today in schools we train students to always consider the source, the reason why this source is involved in this information, the biases involved and just how reliable it is. The same must be true for everyone when it comes to the teachings we submit ourselves too; check the source for yourself. We are responsible for ourselves, our decisions, our actions and we will not be permitted to blame anyone else for what we decide. Know Jesus, listen to the Spirit, and know the Word of God. It is by these that you will be saved and will remain saved. Anything else will be burned away.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Don't Let The Negatives Shape You

It has often been said that we see ourselves differently than how other people see us. This only makes sense because few people have journeyed all the way through our life with us. They do not know everything we have experienced or understand why we react to things they way we react. They have no idea the people we have known in the past who have shaped our way of thinking and who have impacted our perspective. Often people project their own experiences on us and expect we will have the same reactions or perspective. It takes maturity to understand perspective through another person's eyes.

I have always understood this from a negative perspective, as in, people not understanding and disagreeing with my decisions. I have not ever considered this from the perspective of people seeing better things in me than I see in myself. Although it is true that they do not know everything that has made us us, they are also unaware of all the baggage we carry with us. Often we carry negative experiences and terrible opinions of ourselves from years ago that no longer apply today. If we ran into a friend from 20 years ago they still only know us from 20 years ago. There is a lot of living and changes that take place in twenty years. That friend from twenty years ago does not know the same person that our current friends from today know. All the things we have lived and experienced have changed and molded us. However, we ourselves don't even realize this and fail to see ourselves as our friends see us today.

I saw this in a conversation I had with a lovely lady the other day. She wanted to ask me some simple questions about parenting because she felt that she was not being a very good mother to her three children. As she gave me some examples of her parenting I became more and more impressed with this young mom. She described situations that she handled with the wisdom that could only come from the Holy Spirit. The longer I listened to her the more I became convicted about my own parenting skills, and people say I am a good dad. For some reason this lady had a negative image of herself as a mother. Something from her past was still clinging to her and would not allow her to see what everyone else could see; she was a super mom.

Even in my own case I am plagued by all my past failures, all the negative experiences, all the ugly things of my life. I look at my day and I see all the things I did not complete instead of what I did manage to get done. I have a high expectation of what I consider success and it is unrealistic. I see myself as a failure which is a lie from my past. I fail to see what my friends see. I am a single dad to four children and a distant parent for five others. I am the principal of a small school and must sacrifice constantly. I am a teacher in that school and must dedicate a lot of time to that task. I am the pastor of a church in a part of the world that is lost in the darkness of "self" and sin. I need to give myself a break here and see myself as my friends see me. Better yet, we need to see ourselves as our Father sees us.

There really is only one person who can save us from the trap of our past. Satan will always be there to try to keep us in that trap. He will always be there to accuse us and try to convince us that we are the same as yesterday. Yet, for the one who has been with us since our conception in our mother's womb, our forgiven past failures never even existed. A psalmist wrote:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
       slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,
       nor will he harbor his anger forever;

 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
       or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
       so great is his love for those who fear him;

 as far as the east is from the west,
       so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
       so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

 for he knows how we are formed,
       he remembers that we are dust.
(Psalm 103:8-14)

God knows us better than we know ourselves and he understands our situation better than we understand. Yet, he looks on us with such love, compassion and dedication that all it takes is one simple gesture on our part and all his extravagant love comes flooding over us. We are not failures in his eyes; we are his children. Give yourself a break today and allow your past sins to be forgiven and removed from you as if they have never existed. Understand that God has used your past failures for your good and has used them to make something beautiful in you. Give yourself a break and understand that you are a different person from your past; those weaknesses are gone, new strength is yours, you are better than ever, and in the strength of the Lord you can do and be everything he has promised. No one knows you like he knows you and yet he loves you. That is definitely something worth keeping in mind as you face your day.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Keeping It Real, Keeping It Alive

The second of Peter's three epistles is a very interesting letter to study. It has the tinge of the flavour of an old man's letter; an old man who is expecting not to be around for much longer. In this morning's passage, 2 Peter 1:12-21, he mentions three things that reveal his heart and should touch ours at the same time. I find that we get a good insight into Peter and his motivation for doing what he did. We should all understand our motivation and maybe today you will understand yours a bit better.

Sometimes when we are older we begin to lose our motivation, our purpose for living. We begin to take on an attitude that we are just waiting for death, we are putting in our time. We get up in the morning, we dress, we eat, we putter around, we go to bed. Perhaps it is not that our motivation is gone but we have not yet realized that it needs to be adjusted. Peter's motivation seemed clear enough to him:

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. (2 Peter 1:12-15)

Peter's desire was to insure that people would not forget what he had witnessed, what he had testified to, what he had taught about Jesus. There is such a heavy sense of importance to this and a bit of urgency as Peter had a sense that he did not have much longer to do this. When we think we have a lifetime to accomplish goals we do not have a great deal of motivation to accomplish them, but when time is short they suddenly become a lot clearer to us. What would happen to our goals, purpose and motivation if we lived our lives with the attitude that today is the last day? I think we would not take people for granted, we would love deeper and longer, we would set aside the trivial in our lives and promote those things that are important to us. I think Jesus' mission for us would suddenly take on a great deal more importance, maybe a sense of urgency as Peter felt, especially with those we love.

Peter writes here as one who writes about memories they are still living. As we read this I get the impression that his memories of Jesus were as clear that day as if he just experienced them yesterday:

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Believe it or not, many people lose their faith as they get older. Memories fade, convictions hide away, life just becomes about sleeping and eating. It is sad to see people who were so on fire for the Lord slowly fading away with their memories. Perhaps you feel tinges of this already nipping away at the edges of your motivation. We need to do as Peter did, keep the experience alive and well. We need to remind ourselves every day of the great things God has done, of the many talks we have had with Jesus, of our testimony. Write them down in a book before they fade away so we may be reminded. Better yet, never allow yourself to be in a place that you are no longer creating new memories. Sometimes we need to use old memories as a primer to experience God today. Whatever it takes, do not let the relationship or experience fade.

The final point I want to make from this passage is Peter's understanding of purpose. Purpose goes a long way in providing motivation in our life. Sometimes we get to the place where we believe we have to create our own purpose and this puts us on thin ice as far as our relationship with God goes. Peter understood how it worked:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

We need to maintain the attitude that we are only God's workman. The ideas, the goals, the plans, the purpose all belong to him. We do not need to make anything happen, we only need to listen and obey. What happens with it does not belong to us and we are not accountable for how people respond to it. These things that we are given to do are not born of us but are given by God. This makes the burdens of Jesus as light as what he promised they would be. Disappointment and disillusionment only come when we think it all depends on us. Try to imagine everything Peter had witnessed, the betrayals he had experienced, the heartache he had faced. Yet, nothing took away from his experience and loyalty with Jesus. I believe from what he has written here that Peter knew his place, was glad for it but avoided believing it all rested on him.

Please understand the dangers that exist with time. You need to keep working at your salvation daily, keeping your relationship with Jesus vivid and alive. You need to see yourself as a workman with a purpose until your very last breath. You need to work at the mission with a sense of urgency, never giving up. And you need to let God be God. Do not take on what does not belong to you and remember you are not responsible for the reaction of other people to the good news that Jesus died for them. Check your motivation for living and serving my friend, and allow it to be adjusted as the Spirit guides you along the path set before you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Don't Waste Your Life

Time is getting too short for us to be overly subtle about the Christian life. We need to make sure that each of us understands our relationship with Jesus, how that has changed us, and what we are suppose to be doing now. There is nothing worse than a wasted life. We should all be longing to hear the words, "Well done my good and faithful servant. Come in." And we should be dreading the opposite, "Go away! I don't know you." So many people are living under the delusion that they have a life time before they need to become serious about Jesus but we are told that everything will change in the blink of an eye. If you have wasted your opportunities, your life of service, there will be no second chance to make up for it. Today is the day of serving Jesus.

There will be no excuse, no blaming anyone else for your failings. Peter informs us that we have been given everything we need for a successful life with Jesus and service to our King:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Note the relationship here: Jesus gave so that we can succeed. He did not just call us but by his divine power he gave us everything we need for true life and the godliness we have been called into. No excuses here. He gave us salvation and the example of the life we are to live for his glory and the power of a redeemed and transformed heart and mind to live it. All we have to do is decide to do it. The incredible part is the fact that we get to participate in the divine nature. Those who do submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ are being transformed to his character. The world will continue to get worse in its depravity but the children of the Father will look more and more foreign to this world as we remain anchored in the character of Jesus Christ. Or at least we should look like aliens. If we don't perhaps we should realize that we could be wasting the opportunity we have been given to serve.

This transformation is a process but we should be seeing results as we grow and mature. There are certain characteristics that we should be able to see in ourselves that tell us the transformation is coming along well:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)

Notice the language here, "make every effort to add to your faith". We have a participatory relationship with Jesus. It is not a matter of us laying back while he does the work on us. We have to put in the effort and the Spirit completes the job. We have to desire to be like this because the Holy Spirit is not going to fight with us over it. Although it is a progress it is not a matter of steps. We do not work on one thing and then move on to the next. The divine nature assures us that we possess a bit of each of these and they increase with our maturity:

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8)

As long as we see progress in these areas of character we are assured that we are not wasting our life and opportunity. However, if we are lacking these parts to our character or are not seeing a progress then Peter has some interesting words for us:

But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:9)

I have to say that I do not like many of the directions the Church is going in, from the idea of prosperity, to positive thinking, to an attitude of privilege, to the thought of "we are better than you". It concerns me because it all takes away from our participation in the divine nature. It is a popular thinking, like ear candy, that gives people a false sense of being on the right track. We need to always remember that Jesus said the way is "narrow" which means it is sometimes difficult, requires a lot from us personally, and requires growth. The Spirit inspired Peter to give us this encouragement :

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 2:10-11)

To participate in the divine nature is not optional. To participate means staying on the narrow path, of receiving a rich welcome home. Peter tells us that we should be eager to make sure that we are not wasting this opportunity we have been given. It is the only opportunity we have. We will not be coming back for a second chance. It is the only life you have to live. Jesus has called you to live your life for him by serving others. He has equipped you with his character to enable you to do that. That character must be growing and increasing in you. And he has promised that after our time here is done there is a glad welcome home waiting for us. So, what are you doing with this opportunity today?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What To Do In The Face Of An Attack

Remember the comedian who coined the phrase "The devil made me do it"? Perhaps the phrase belonged to him but the attitude it represents belong to many of us. It started back in the garden when Eve tried to hang the whole mess she and Adam had created on Satan but God was having none of that. The fact is that Satan may play on the failings of our base character but no one can make us do anything we do not already want to do. No one makes us sin against God; we do it quite well on our own. However, what the enemy is very good at is making sure that we see the temptation and then to be there after to accuse us of the sin. Peter warns us:

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

Our first line of defense against all temptation is self-control and alertness to our own weaknesses. A very simple matter, if you knew you had a weakness for candy yet you purposely kept visiting candy stores, you know you will eventually break down and buy candy. Be aware of what you are doing so you can recognize when the enemy is presenting you with situations loaded with temptations to trip you up. The decision you take is yours alone but often we can avoid the whole mess if we simply turn away before it arrives, but we have to be aware, alert.

In this case Peter is referring to the enemies attempt to distract people from God through suffering. There are many forms of suffering and unless your mind and heart are fixed on God, suffering can act like a wedge between us and our Father. Consider a simple thing like a sinus cold. How much do you feel like praying and reading the Word when you are suffering from a cold? Now imagine if we increased that suffering to persecution. Peter writes again:

Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:9)

Sometimes it is a good reminder that we are not facing anything that has not already been faced and conquered. Peter's instruction? Resist the enemy. Turn away from doubt and fear. Embrace the faith you have and know so well. Turn away from ignorance that destroys us and embrace the knowledge that our Dad loves us. Sometimes the temptation is to hate those that do us harm but we know that the proper path is to love those who hate us and to show kindness to those who persecute us. It goes against our base nature but we are no longer controlled by that nature, having been set free to be controlled by the righteousness of Jesus. We are not in this alone. Every Christian walking on the face of this planet are facing the same issues in whatever situation and circumstance they are in. Now here is the beautiful thing:

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11)

If we resist the temptations that will be presented in our sufferings and we stand firm in our faith, our Father will restore us. We will be renewed after the storm. If we have been beaten down he will restore strength to us. Not only will he make us strong again, he will also cause us to be firm and steadfast. Some storms in life can really beat us down and our resistance of the enemy and our standing firm can cause us to take quite the beating, but our Dad says he will heal all this and renew us. I think many of you know what I am talking about. Sometimes we have days, weeks, months, even years when we just keep getting hit with wave after wave of bad stuff and we wonder if it will ever end. Yet, after the shock of every wave a new resolve and determination wells up from within us and we yell at the circumstances, "I will never back down".

Yesterday I had my bike stolen from me. It's only a bike, right? Well it was about the third or fourth attack on me in the day and it came as quite the blow. That bike was not a recreational vehicle for me but was my only means on transportation. I used it to transport my younger children around, run all my errands, as well as do my groceries. Life has suddenly become a lot harder. But yesterday the same thing happened to me that has been happening to me since I was a adolescent. From deep inside of me a very big and loud idea burst out. The idea is an act of determination, a way of me shoving it back in the face of the circumstance, I guess as a way to show to myself that God has given me the strength to face and overcome anything. My act of resistance yesterday was to walk home from the subway station instead of taking the bus or the ride that was offered to me. It sounds silly but it was my way of showing that when one way is blocked I always have options for going forward. I was shouting at the enemy, "You will not use this to destroy me. My Father has made me stronger, even stronger than this."

What will your act of resistance and determination be today? What will you do to stick it in the face of the enemy? Will it be an act of love in the face of hatred? Will it be an act of sheer determination in the face of overwhelming circumstances? Will it be an act of faith in the face of fear? No matter what that act costs you today know that our Father will use it to restore and renew you. Stepping out in faith and trust will bring you new strength and restore to you anything you have lost such as joy and peace. May the Father receive the glory for your acts of resistance and determination today.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Youth: Do You Love Them Or Kill Them?

George Bernard Shaw reportedly said "Youth is wasted on the young." This was probably more a reflection on his own state of mind than on the condition of the youth during his day. It is not easy to be young, filled with ideas and energy but lacking experience and wisdom. It is a tough and awkward time of life as a little bit of knowledge gets them into a lot of trouble. Those who are older and wiser are suppose to have wisdom and patience while helping youth grow and mature but that is often a difficult task with some youth because sometimes a bit of arrogance can get in the way.

Unfortunately it takes a lot of wisdom to understand the stations of life, that there are stages and purposes for each stage. It can be even harder when the elders do not possess the maturity they should have in helping these youth to become who they have been called to be. Often there is too much criticism, not enough patience, far too little understanding and almost very little forgiveness. Is it any wonder that our youth find it hard to respect the elders? Nonetheless, that is one of the things they need to come to understand:

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. (1 Peter 5:5)

By "older" Peter is implying those who are more knowledgeable and wiser. By "knowledge" I do not mean according to academics but according to their knowledge and experience of life. Peter says, "in the same way". Do not let this throw you off. He is referring to what he just wrote to the elders; in the same way they have the responsibility to love and help you, you have the responsibility to listen. Sometimes it can be an uneasy co-existence as each group learns their roles and responsibility. God knows this and inspired Peter to write to everyone concerned:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
   "God opposes the proud
      but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
(1 Peter 5:5b-7)

In order for elders to teach and guide and in order for youth to learn and to grow it takes a lot of humility for both groups. Sometimes the arrogance of youth can be hard to take, especially if you let pride and position get in the way. However, with the humble heart of a servant you realize it is not about you and everything about the youth and their relationship with God. In the same way, as the youth gain maturity, it takes a lot of humility to stay submitted to any authority, gladly accepting their input in your life. It takes humility to realize you can't do it on your own, that you need godly leaders and friends to help you along the way; not people to tell you want to do but people who will give you a nudge in the right direction.

It may seem odd that Peter would include anxiety in this subject but then again there is a lot of anxiety among youth and among the elderly as they try to handle the youth who appear to be wondering off course. We need to remember who the Master-Shepherd is and stop pretending that it all depends on us. For the youth who are anxious about life and their future, just relax, God has it all under control. As long as you are seeking his will and not running off with your own plans, you will do well. He loves you and he has planned great things for you. For the elders who are anxious over the foolish mistakes of the youth, remember, you were once there. God is going to do for them the same thing he did for you. Sometimes they have to get skinned knees and bloody noses to learn. You are not there to surround them with pillows but instead to to tend to their wounds.

It can be a hard go as it has always been through the years as youth act like youth and elders try to deal with it. In order for the youth to become successful they will need to arrive at that point of realizing they need the wisdom of the elders. Elders, in order to fulfill their role in the lives of these youth, need to set aside their criticism and clothe themselves in humility so they can be helpers not killers of the youth. Remember that in all of this mess God knows what he is doing, so lean on him and he will lead you through it. Give all your anxiety to him and watch what Jesus will do in the lives of our youth.