Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shooting Off Your Mouth Can Leave You Full Of Holes.

It is amazing where our emotions can take us; from the heights of love and acceptance to the lows of anger and hatred. It is crazy how we can think we are in control of ourselves, mature and beyond the anger of childhood but then something catches us completely by surprise and the outer shell falls away. We always see ourselves to be more than what we are but reality has a nasty way of rearing its ugly head and we are humbled by how much we have fallen short of the glory of God. Our emotions betray our desire to be like Jesus and leaves us feeling empty and spent. Praise the Lord for his great grace that covers us in our sorrow for such a reaction, renewing and restoring us. The trick is to learn from it.

The thing about emotions is that they often reveal the "true" us under all those layers of walls and fortifications. When you are like me, having built up great fortifications to protect yourself, the revealing of true emotions can feel very devastating and draining. Yet, we do not want to stand before our God with any sense of falsehood about us. I find that sometimes our Father will use these moments to have us look in the mirror because as long as we are pretending he can't deal with it. A warning was given to the church of Laodicea:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

To cover up your emotions is the wrong way to go because God can't deal with us then. He can deal with wrong emotions but he can't deal with pretenders. Perhaps this is why the Word warns us not to sin in our anger. I do not believe anger is healthy or a God-honouring emotion but burying it is even more unhealthy. Proverbs is filled with warnings about hasty words and what results from them. Most of us have probably reacted to angry words that have provoked us into escalating the situation. That is the sin part when we allow our anger to destroy people. Perhaps that is why this list, things we need to get rid of in ourselves, starts with anger:

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Colossians 3:8)

How often do the other items in the list spring up out of anger? We feel angry at someone so we strike back with our words, trying to hurt them and often doing it with "over kill". In our anger we forget how powerful words can be.

So what do we do then when we become angry or are facing someone who is angry at us? If you are angry separate yourself from the person or situation until you have gained control over yourself. Wait until the wave has subsided and forgiveness can enter your heart again before attempting to talk about it. If you have an authentic relationship with Jesus then your first concern will not be vengeance but will be forgiveness. However, the shock of the situation can knock anyone off their feet, regardless of their relationship with Christ and a time out is needed; not to hide the emotions but to better understand them and control them.

If you are facing anger then you must cover yourself with the attitude of Jesus; look past the words and consider the person behind them. This is someone God loves and who Jesus died for. There is probably a lot of misunderstanding and high running emotions. Regardless of the waves of words that come crashing over you, put the shield of forgiveness up. As each word is spoken bathe it in forgiveness and God's love. If need be, remove yourself from the situation until temperatures have cooled and then approach the person later, but in an attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation. Yes, the words probably hurt but do not seek yourself in this situation; seek the Kingdom, what Jesus would do in the situation, and the Father will take care of the rest.

We can understand anger and malice in those who are immature in Jesus. Children do a lot of awful things until they have been corrected and grow into maturity. But those of us who consider ourselves to be mature need to measure ourselves against the greatest measuring rod in all of creation and eternity, Jesus Christ:

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

If we are truly in Christ and he in us, forgiveness should run as deep as love and nothing else should run deeper. If you have been terribly wounded by others there is only one place to turn. Once you know, understand and accept the Father's love, you will also understand how to forgive. In your anger do not sin; allow the love of Jesus to protect and restore your heart. Anger and vengeance are not worth it. The love of Jesus is.

Friday, July 30, 2010

It Is A Beautiful Design

We have all received them; those wonderful, emotional stories written to play on your heart strings. Or perhaps they were the informative version; telling us of some great impending disaster on the Internet or elsewhere. Some are referred to as Urban Legends, passed on by naive people who do not take the time to check into the facts for themselves. We sometimes fall prey to these false stories because there is something about them that makes us want to believe them. It seems the vast majority of people no longer want to think for themselves and simply go along with the popular biased thinking.

It goes beyond just the emails and social networking circles and takes in a great deal of the news media as well. Many people have this notion that if it is on the news then it is the truth. We fail to recognize that we are seeing the news through that one reporter's eyes and any biases that they may have. We would like to think it is balanced reporting but we all know that any story depends on the story teller's perspective. An example is found on the CBC web site this morning. There is a story of someone using a Defense Department computer to alter a Wikipedia entry concerning the new fighters that are being purchased. In the article the opposition leaders are interviewed and they try to paint the picture that it is a plot from the Prime Minister to influence Canadians. It is a ridiculous notion but yet they have now planted the idea in people's minds, as can be seen by the silly comments being left by people. Few people take the time to consider the simple explanation that a computer geek in the Defense Department, with no connection to the PM, was bored and messing around on Wikipedia without realizing that it could be traced back to them? Read it for yourself and you decide: "DND computers used to change Wikipedia Site".

This is the thing: we have stopped thinking for ourselves and are now primed to fall victim to all kinds of wrong ideas, notions and teachings. We have a mob mentality, where we lose our ability to reason and respond to reason and instead we go along with what the majority of people are saying and doing. Now don't you dare think that our culture is not influencing the Church in North America. Because we are so caught up in our culture, television, music, popular thinking and ideas, we bring it into the Church. We are the Church, so if we are being influenced so is the Church. Instead of being counter-culture and standing our ground against sin and the advances of the enemy, we embrace them and make a feeble attempt to adapt them for use in the Kingdom. But what is worse is that we bring with us the same mob mentality; we go with the thinking and actions of the majority, even when they are wrong.

It is sad and frightening to see so many people accepting whatever they are given as the truth. We are intelligent people and we have been given so many tools of information in this age. Never before have we been so well equipped to find out the truth for ourselves and yet we allow ourselves to become lazy or distracted by the insignificant things in life. We have become too reliant on books and other people's opinions on the Word. I have nothing against these fantastic resources and much of the great teaching we can find on the Internet but, as a pastor, I become frightened when I discover that people are no longer studying the Word of God and have replaced it by books, teaching DVDs and YouTube videos. We are setting ourselves up for a great deception.

What is worse is when people start following one teacher, preacher, pastor exclusively. The Church was never designed in this way. No one person can provide what the Body of Christ has to provide us with. This is the beauty of 1 Corinthians 12 and what is described in Ephesians 4:

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

It is always important to address things of the Body in the context of unity. Now look at the beautiful design of the Father:

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

Do you see the team of people he put in place for our training? It is not one person calling all the shots but a team of people called to unique positions because each offers something that we need for our training. It is a far different vision than our current routine of showing up on Sunday and hearing the pastor preaching. There is danger to be tied so closely to one person because it means that we are missing out on all the other parts of our training. Paul had to deal with this notion with the Corinthians who were losing their unity over the matter:

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

When we are trained by a team of these ministers there is a safeguard against an unbalanced view or of being led astray by one teacher who has gone astray themselves. Paul says that when we are trained by such a team and walk in that training, we will become mature and grow into the full knowledge of Jesus. There is a very good benefit that arises from this kind of training:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:14-16)

I wish that these trainers could also grasp the reality of the Body of Christ and stop being so territorial about the children of God. The trainers should be beyond petty jealousies and realize the great privilege we have in being called as trainers together. Unfortunately it often looks like children trying to train children and we end up with a great deal of immaturity in the Body of Christ. The Word tells us that the Spirit is our teacher so we need to start discovering truths for ourselves under his guidance. The others he surrounds us with are our trainers in this truth but they do not replace our responsibility to learn for ourselves the Word of God. Let us at least get on the same page when it comes to the idea that our Father does not want us to be tricked into leaving the family and instead wants us to grow up into maturity. Let us do that with the Word of God as our solid foundation and with the host of trainers he has provided to stand by our side as we guard our mind against the schemes of the enemy. It is a beautiful design. If only we would embrace it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Risking It All For Those Who Would See Us Dead

There is a news story from last week about Christians in Iran risking their lives to hand out the Bible to non-believers. "Believers in Iran risk their lives to give out Bibles." This kind of reality seems to be so far removed from us that we may even think it is ridiculous that they would do such a thing. Iran is a country of extreme Islamic practice where trying to convert a Muslim to Christianity would end in death, so why do it? The fact that we would even ask this question tells us how far removed we are from the mission Jesus gave to us.

There are people risking their lives every day in various parts of the world by sharing the gospel of Jesus. It used to be agnostic governments trying to get people to throw off "superstitions" that were the threat in various places. However, these governments are now gone so we are able to see the greater threat that comes from various religions that fear the freedom of the gospel of Jesus. The people sharing the gospel of Jesus to a dark and dying world risk their lives because they are compelled to share the good news. At least that is how the Apostle Paul described it:

Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

I wonder how many times Paul was accused of being crazy by Christians who just wanted to live a quiet, simple life; going to church, attending Bible study, being nice to people. Why rock the boat? Why stir up problems as Paul tended to do? Because he was compelled to preach, to share the good news, to tell people about the love of Jesus. There are still some in today's age who are willing to respond to the compelling direction of the Spirit. It is not just people in Iran who are taking risks any more but even in our North American culture it is becoming a risk to talk to some groups about Jesus. Christians Arrested In Dearborn, Michigan.

There are people who have criticized this group for sharing the gospel, saying they should know better than to try to stir things up. Perhaps these were the same criticisms that the Apostle Paul faced and ignored. Such criticism reveals how little we understand the heart of the Father and the mission to which we have all been called. Again referring to some of Paul's explanation:

If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:13-15)

I worry for us as the Body of Christ and I worry about myself; if we know the love of Jesus where is our passion to tell those who need him about him? I read on FaceBook today someone stating that Christians need to shed their outer skin and I am beginning to understand what that author meant. We have allowed so much dust and grime to build up on us that we have forgotten the passionate love of Jesus Christ. We are willing to take bits and pieces but hold back from drinking it all. But Jesus told us it is all or nothing when it comes to him. Our love for him must be so intense that our love in all other relationships would feel like hate in comparison. Does that describe many of us? For those who it does describe, it is a hard life in the Body of Christ. Those of us who want to appear as respectful citizens look down on such people and criticize them for disturbing the peace. How foolish we are to think that there can be any peace as long as people are suffering in their ignorance and dying every day without knowing the love of Jesus.

The Spirit certainly needs to shake us up to wake us up to the reality of the Kingdom, our citizenship, the responsibilities of citizenship and the compelling love of the Father. Having experienced reconciliation with the Father, you would think that we would understand his passion for the lost. You would think that we would hear him calling us to join him in this great work. You would think we would understand what Jesus was calling us to when he invited us to follow him. We are not here for the benefit package and the pampering. We have been called as soldiers of the cross to fight for those who are enslaved and trapped by the lies of the enemy. Jesus warned us that obedience to this call to follow him would cause us a great deal of discomfort and would come at a high cost as we reach out to a world that naturally hates us because of Jesus. Would you say that this is where you are, recognizing the calling, willing to take the risks involved, willing to stand out in our culture as being different from the norm? Would you say you are compelled to tell others about the love of Jesus? If not, why not? It is my prayer that this question will make us feel uncomfortable all day until we realize that we need to be renewed in this love. Meanwhile, stop criticizing those who are obedient and instead start praying for them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Am Never Letting Go!

In the last couple of days we have looked at "valley of the shadow of death" experiences, God's response and how to deal with a soul that refuses to respond. Some valleys are worse than others and take a great deal more effort in how we respond to it. My "valley" experience is being separated from five of my children who mean more than the world to me. Their departure to another province has provoked a greater emotional response than I had imagined possible, as my heart lays in ruins. This is why I have sought comfort in the Word because I have found there is no other comfort that can satisfy. The last part of this grief process I want us to consider is the under-current that must run constantly through our lives, in every experience. Without this we will find ourselves thrown against the rocks with every storm, every valley, we enter. The writer of Hebrews wrote:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Our hope is not like the hope of this world. The world hopes for things that are a possibility. People hope to win the lottery and retire. Students hope to get hired in their chosen profession. Parents hope their children will be successful. This hope describes is a longing, a desire for things that might be, that are a possibility if all the conditions are right. It is a hope that is based on wishful thinking and luck instead of based on anything solid. This is not the hope of which we speak today. Our hope is based on the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. This hope is part of our faith which is comprised of surety and certainty. My hope is not based on a possibility but instead it describes a longing to possess what has already been promised and guaranteed to me.

Hope is best described as a longing in the same sense as longing for supper as the aroma fills the house. Perhaps children would describe it as the excited anticipation of Christmas morning. My hope is the return of Jesus Christ, when all of his promises will be fulfilled in me. This is when the plan will be made complete, when all the final pieces fall in place, when everything is restored and renewed. It is this hope that provoked the Apostle Paul to write:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
   "For your sake we face death all day long;
      we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:35-39)

Read it again:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Genuine faith, which can also be described as trust, cannot disappear on storming days. If it is authentic then it rises up on these days and refuses to let go of the hope that is ours in Jesus. What good is faith if we only wave it on sunny days? It must shine all that much more brilliantly when the darkness closes in, so that despite the pain of the valley, we are able to declare God's love for us. In fact, it is with such declaration that the storms seem smaller, the darkness lighter, and the valley not so deep. Jesus Christ lives, he loves me, he died and rose again so that I could have life, he is preparing a place for us, and when it is ready he is coming back to take us to be with him, clothed in his glory and perfection.

However, there are people in the Church who will mistakenly teach us that we should never experience such valleys, that we can avoid all such pain. Respectfully I must say they are wrong. We have these valleys so we can feel deeply and so that we can grow and be strengthened in our faith. We do not like the valley's or the storms but they serve a purpose and it is for our good. James wrote:

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

It is wrong of us to deny what we are experiencing. I write to you today with a broken heart but I have decided to face these emotions straight on and I can see the things God is doing. I don't like this feeling and it is hard for me to face it in truthfulness, but I trust Jesus. I trust the Word when it tells me that he uses everything for my good. I trust the Word when it tells me that this testing of my faith will produce great things in me. It makes it easier to carry the pain of it.

In this process I have learned that I need to recognize the valleys and to trust that my Shepherd knows how to lead me out to those green pastures and quiet waters. I have learned that it takes an effort to get my eyes off of my sufferings and get them upwards. I have to speak to my soul and remind myself of my relationship with Jesus and to remember the joys of the past in this relationship. I have also learned that hope must permeate every fiber of my being and experiences. There is never any excuse good enough for setting aside the hope of my faith because it is my faith that will see me through every valley and storm. In this life there is only one thing I can ever be guaranteed; the love of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. So because this is true, I am able to trust the voice of the Shepherd who directs me through the valley with all its shadows. If I cannot trust him here then my faith has proven itself to have no value and know this not to be true because even in these things I love and trust my God.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What Do I Do When I Can't See God?

Yesterday we considered the valley experience and the response of the great Shepherd, as we looked at Psalm 23. I was stating that this "shadow of death" experience can be faced in many different situations in our lives but our God has given us certain promises that we can rely on. In the midst of these moments our greatest task is to trust our Father's love. This love has promised to protect and to strengthen us, to make it possible for us to face and survive these periods of life. But what happens when our Spirit refuses to respond? Those moments that seem to take us into such a dark place that we cannot get our eyes to look up? Have you experienced any of those valleys? What do we do then?

There are times in our lives when we experience grief that is so poignant, so heart wrenching that we cry out for our hearts to be removed. We want some kind of relief even if it means that we would not feel anything any more. That is how we feel for that moment but that's only because it hurts so much. To feel nothing means to forget that deep love that has caused us to feel this pain and I don't think that any of us really want to forget that love. That would be the real tragedy. Yet, this pain paralyzes us so that we can't think rationally any more, nothing makes sense and it feels like our world is crashing to an end. We may even sincerely say that we do not want to go on any more. What do we do?

This is when we hope that our faith is sincere. If our faith has not been sincere we will remain in that valley because, in this dark place, we need to look in the "mirror" and remind ourselves the importance of this trust in our Father's love. Psalm 42 is my favorite psalm for this and any time I must enter the valley I bring this psalm along with me:

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
       Why so disturbed within me?
       Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise him,
       my Savior and my God.
(Psalm 42:11)

However, this cannot be the starting point for our relationship with God because it is a result of an healthy relationship that pre-dates the valley experience. It is the reason we must cultivate a good and growing relationship on the mountaintops and when the weather is fair. When we look at the beginning of this psalm we see that the psalmist is longing to see God in the darkness that has enveloped him because he has known God:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
       so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
       When can I go and meet with God? 

It is often, as we talked about yesterday, that grief and pain can seem to hide God on us. This is when faith has to take over completely and we rely on experience as opposed to feelings. Gone is the wonderful sensation of worship and we are left with the basic truth that God loves us and has promised to protect our soul and strengthen us in these times. We long for a sense of his presence but we have to rely on the knowledge of his presence as we grieve our loss and experience our pain:

My tears have been my food
       day and night,
       while men say to me all day long,
       "Where is your God?"

We have to look out from this curtain of pain, look out from the valley, see past the shadows and remember. And what will we remember? We remember the tangible things about our Father's love. We remember the answered prayers, the miracles we have experienced, the practical and physical response of our Father's love. We remember the joys and the celebrations, the many times he has rescued us from these valleys of the shadow of death:

These things I remember
       as I pour out my soul:
       how I used to go with the multitude,
       leading the procession to the house of God,
       with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
       among the festive throng.

It is only in this context of faith, trust and remembrance that we are able to speak to our soul and force our eyes to look up:

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
       Why so disturbed within me?
       Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise him,
       my Savior and my God.
       My soul is downcast within me;
       therefore I will remember you
       from the land of the Jordan,
       the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

"My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you." It is not something that happens naturally. We can't sit in the muck of our despair and expect someone to rescue us. Our Father is right there with us in that muck but he is gentle and will not interfere until we turn to him, until we remember, until we force our eyes up. We have to decide to put our hope in him. Oh, he will sustain us until we can make that decision. He will sing over us, carry us, protect us, all without us even acknowledging him but he cannot heal us and bring us relief until we look to him. We must remind our soul of the love of the great Sustainer of our faith. We must convince our soul to remember and to rise up:

Deep calls to deep
       in the roar of your waterfalls;
       all your waves and breakers
       have swept over me.

By day the LORD directs his love,
       at night his song is with me—
       a prayer to the God of my life. 

So often we are fake with our Father. So often we refuse to feel the deeper things. So often we fail to go any deeper than on the surface of things. Yet, it is in this "valley of the shadow of death" that we are forced to be real, to deal with the deeper things. It is as we call out in this deep place that God answers from his depth and washes over us with a love that is ours to experience every day yet we fail in it. This psalm speaks of a deeply felt relationship that is provoked by the tragedies and grief experiences of life which forces us to open our eyes and see in that deep place:

I say to God my Rock,
       "Why have you forgotten me?
       Why must I go about mourning,
       oppressed by the enemy?"

My bones suffer mortal agony
       as my foes taunt me,
       saying to me all day long,
       "Where is your God?"

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
       Why so disturbed within me?
       Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise him,
       my Savior and my God.

Beloved, you have not been forgotten, only blinded to the reality of his presence and love by the grief that has gripped your heart. Remember! Force yourself to remember everything from your past, the mountaintop experiences, the quiet moments, the miracles, the answered prayers, promises fulfilled, those great moving times of worship. Remember and trust. Remember and proclaim your faith. Remember and cry out to him. Remember and force your eyes up. Remember and praise him in the midst of the shadows. Then watch and see what he does. Our Father loves us and on that love we must rely and depend regardless of the valley we may be in. If it was real before the valley then it will be real in the valley. If it was not real before then prepare for it to become real in your grief. "Deep calls to deep".

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Heart Cries Out! Where Is My God?

To be honest I was going to skip today's blog as I begin a two week break from all responsibility except for my children. However, I need this blog this morning more than it needs me as I work out some thoughts and emotions from the last two days. It will take a lot longer than a couple of days to work some of these things out but today I want to remind myself of something and I want to do it through the Word of God.

Life is full of complications, surprises, the unexpected, detours and emotional pitfalls. Some people choose to build buffers for themselves, a bit of protection in the emotional department, so they can avoid this kind of pain. Some people do it by never dealing with anything, using avoidance as their first policy in all such matters. As attractive as this may sound in the midst of heartache, it is not how our Creator has designed us nor is it consistent with his promises to us. Life is not always easy and often it is about learning to handle the pain because in the pain there is purpose and growth. Our Father has promised to be there with us even if the pain dulls us to his presence. His Word reminds us to look for him in these times. Psalm 23 is often used at funerals or as people are facing death, however I think that is shortchanging this psalm that speaks to us about our Father's pastoral care for us:

 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  (Psalm 23:1)

The very first line is a great declaration, some would say it is an affirmation. We are affirming here that our Father watches over us, provides for us, protects us, guides us, comforts us, tends to us and all the other things that a shepherd does for his flock. He bandages my wounds, even wounds of the heart, that I present to him. I don't even have to present them because he knows and he tends to them right away, as long as I allow him, open up to him, trust him to do so. Because he is our Shepherd we will never lack anything we need. I will not be in want, or I will not have want because my Father knows everything I need and provides for me, simply because he loves me:

 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
       he leads me beside quiet waters,

 he restores my soul. 

He knows what I need more than I do. He provides me with the rest that I need, taking me to pleasant places, places of joy and peace. Jesus told us not to worry about what we need because our Father will provide it but it also means we need to receive it when it is provided. Sometimes we can be very stupid in these things. We hold on to the pain, the worry and the fear when our Father is offering relief and healing. For some reason we sometimes believe we deserve this great punishment so we wallow in it when our Dad is standing right there, holding out to us what he knows we need. "He restores my soul" means that he shows me grace when I should be punished. He brings me back from my wanderings, even the emotional kind. He goes out and finds me, bringing me back to the place I belong, restoring me in my relationship with him and with others. Even when it is my fault and I am facing the consequences of my actions, by his grace he restores me. Oh, how I love him for that.

He guides me in paths of righteousness
       for his name's sake. 

I know he intends only the best for me because I am his child. We bear the name of Jesus, so what we do reflects on that name. This is how I know that his guidance to me is good and I can trust it. This is how I know that the righteousness he teaches me is good, because it reflects on him, on his reputation, on how people see him. I can understand this because I know that my children are a reflection on me. My reputation rises and falls according to my childrens actions. I want to make sure that they understand the difference between right and wrong and that they choose right. I want to make sure they understand what it is to live a good life, how to love and care for others, how to respect other people. All these things reflect on me as their father, even if they choose to ignore it all in walking their own path. This reminds me that I can fully trust where my Father, my Shepherd, is leading me.

Even though I walk
       through the valley of the shadow of death,
       I will fear no evil,
       for you are with me;
       your rod and your staff,
       they comfort me.

Yesterday felt like death to me but it was only a place of shadows. Shadows cannot harm us but they can scare us. Emotions are often a place of shadows, of what might have been, of what could have been or what should have been. Any child waking in the middle of the night will tell you that shadows seem very real and they provoke real fear in the moment. But it is only in the moment. There are also good things in those valleys and how we face them will reveal to us how much we trust our Shepherd, even with the affairs of the heart. If we trust him then we will not fear that anything evil can come out of those shadows to harm us. We trust that his presence alone is enough for us. We recognize his rod of protection and his staff of lent strength. In fact, we find great comfort in his protection and in his strength when everything else seems to fail us, and it seems we are too paralyzed to go on. We look upon his protection and strength and it is enough to drive away the fear and allow us to move forward in the face of those shadows.

You prepare a table before me
       in the presence of my enemies.
       You anoint my head with oil;
       my cup overflows.

This bit is for those Eternity thinkers; when we put this valley in the perspective of eternity it seems like nothing. It is as Paul said:

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

When we enter into Glory all these hardships, trials, pains, sufferings, heartaches will fall away as we see what Jesus has spent all this time preparing for us. Our cups will be overflowing and that is where we fix our eyes. We realize that our time here is just a blink and it is a waste to stay in the valley filled with shadows of fear. There is nothing to fear when we are with the Shepherd, even if there are many valleys we have to pass through. So we can sum it up in the same manner that David did with this psalm, with a declaration or affirmation of our present and future condition:

Surely goodness and love will follow me
       all the days of my life,
       and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

 Why fear the shadows, why even avoid them when we have been promised goodness and love every day of our life? We can choose to stay in the valley, paralyzed by the fear of the shadows or we can trust our Shepherd to lead us to new green pastures and quiet waters. He will lead us out of the valley and if we have stumbled into it on our own, he will seek us out and restore us to where we belong. He is leading us through these places to get us to the place of his Glory, when we will enter his house and remain there forever. So, in light of these truths, today I am choosing to trust my Shepherd, to follow him and to allow myself to be restored.

Tomorrow we will consider what to do when our spirit refuses to respond and we can't see the Shepherd because of the shadows.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Finding A Context Of Purpose As A Wisp Of Smoke

As important as we would like to be or even hope to be, we need to keep in mind that according to recorded time we are only wisps of smoke. Imagine how our life looks according to eternity. Perhaps if we had this in mind every day of our lives, we would find humility an easier garment to wear. Often the troubles in our day are caused when people try to put their needs ahead of other people. We have all seen it on the highway when someone decides to drive recklessly because they consider their need, to get to their destination quickly, to be more important than everyone else's on the road. Or how about the bank line when that one person starts mouthing off because he considers his business more important than anyone else's sharing the same line. There are many examples we could use but they all seem ridiculous when we put that moment into the context of our week, month, year or our entire life.

We fail to realize that our lives are like wisps of smoke that can be blown out of existence at any time, especially in this age in which we are living. Jesus said the end days would get pretty crazy with natural disasters, diseases, wars and persecution against the Church. Do you think the entire climate change is something that is just being pulled out of the hat? There are tornadoes where there were no tornadoes before, floods, heat waves, droughts, failing groups, earthquakes, new diseases all knocking on the door. Consider the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico which has changed thousands of lives in a heartbeat. Do we dare forget New Orleans that will never be the same again. We can run down a list of disasters that have changed this world, including places like Haiti, but do not overlook the smaller disasters like car accidents, fires, murders, diseases that also change lives in an heartbeat. All the people who dies in these events woke up with dreams and desires but no notion they would not see the sunset at the end of the day. We can't afford to forget that we are mere wisps of smoke in the relentless marching of time.

Psalm 2 touches on the idea that it is a complete waste of this fleeting moment we call a life to be in rebellion against the Creator of all things. The psalmists writes of the rebellious nations:

 Why do the nations conspire
       and the peoples plot in vain?

 The kings of the earth take their stand
       and the rulers gather together
       against the LORD
       and against his Anointed One. 

 "Let us break their chains," they say,
       "and throw off their fetters."

 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
       the Lord scoffs at them.

 Then he rebukes them in his anger
       and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

 "I have installed my King
       on Zion, my holy hill."
(Psalm 2:1-6)

Our God has been honest with us. This is his creation and it exists according to his rules. Those who do not live within those rules are considered rebels. What wasted energy to fight against the Creator of all things. He created us with the freedom of choice so if we choose to rebel it is up to us but he has been honest enough to warn us of the consequences of such a life. However, I do not think that the real problem is in ignoring the consequences of our actions but instead the failure to live with the correct perspective.

I think the crowning achievement of our culture,which is also its greatest failure, is the lifting up of the individual. We celebrate the individual, creating the idea that there are some people who are of greater importance and worth than others. This leads to the ambition for people to arrive at such a level of importance. They promote their rights and needs ahead of others. It causes us to lose the idea of community, the need of the individual to serve the whole. Can you imagine such a notion; individuals part of a community, living and working in such a way as to make the community work. We are quickly moving away from this model that has served our society and culture well for thousands of years. In fact, we are moving so far away from it that we have actually allowed it to affect the greatest model of it, which is the Church. The Apostle Paul's revelation of the Body of Christ almost sounds like a sci-fi community in the latest blockbuster hitting the screen:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body... Now the body is not made up of one part but of many...  But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 14, 18-26)

This is not some Utopia that Paul is describing here, it is the reality of God's recreation based on one simple fact:

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

In the past, communities were created when people grouped themselves together for survival. They needed each other just to make it through each day. Every member of the community offered a unique service to that community. There was a great sense of belonging because people were dependent on you and you were dependent on them. This has changed as we have lost that sense of dependency even though it still exists. Now it has become impersonal as we lose our place in our great societies.

However, the Body of Christ is based on something different. It was not for survival that we came together but for function. We cannot function as individuals or as a community without the realization that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and in order for that to happen we need to understand our place in this greater community. The purpose of our community is greater than just survival. We need each other in order to function in worship, in relationship with God, in growth to spiritual maturity, in service and in mission. To quote Paul again:

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:27-30)

It is only in such a context that wisps of smoke are able to find purposeful living. It is only in the context of relationship in the Creator that we will not waste the brief moment we have to breathe, live, and love before we die. We need to come to accept the reality that 120 years after our death no one will remember us other than a name in the family tree, if they remember even that. Stop chasing after fame and immortality in this place and start living in the moment, taking your place in the community, living, loving, celebrating each day we are given. This is what Jesus Christ offers us, abundant living and after we have lived this life, to be welcomed home with a "Well done" greeting. So, let's stop living as struggling individual wisps of smoke and rise up to take our place in the Body of Christ.

Friday, July 23, 2010

And What Of The Mission?

Yesterday we touched on the thought of motivation, the premise being that Jesus' love should be our base motivator of life. Some people never really find motivation for much in life and seem content to just make it through each day. I ask you, isn't life too short to live it in this manner? I would hope that each of us feel deeply about the things we do, even if some of those things are as bland as buying groceries. It is possible to be passionate even about groceries when we examine our reason for doing it.

Why do I buy groceries? Of course so that I can eat but it goes far beyond myself; I buy groceries because God has given me four great kids to look after with his love and he has provided me the resources to do it. I must handle those resources wisely and provide the best nutrition for my children. I could throw any kind of food in that grocery cart but I would not be honouring my God by giving the very best to those he gave me to love and raise. So I dive into it with the passion that is motivated by his love. I research the best foods, what children need to grow healthy, I read labels and plan good menus, I cut coupons and hunt for bargains because I have permitted it to become a passion.

Why do I cycle everywhere? I have a car, I could drive everywhere or at least drive to the more difficult places. I could just cycle on weekends to get a bit of exercise and to feel good about myself. However, I have permitted myself to become passionate about cycling because I am convinced that I am honouring God with a good use of available resources and with the good health with which he has provided me. I owe it to him to be a good steward of my environment and my health because his love for me and this world is my motivation. I do not like doing anything half-measure because Jesus told us that he does not like anything lukewarm. For God it is all or nothing, and that is the reason why I think we dishonour God with mediocre living.

I have given a couple of examples from my own living but let's consider for a moment the more important example of the mission we have been given. This is the mission which God left us in this world to complete, the purpose of our living, the reason we have all that we have. Let's be honest, when it comes to making disciples, as Jesus instructed us to do, most of us are mediocre. There are not many in the Body of Christ who would describe themselves as being passionate about souls. I was considering this point as I stood shoulder to shoulder with people in a crowded amusement park yesterday. The reality was that I was amongst the walking dead, 99% not knowing the truth about Jesus. I looked around at a group of Jewish children, hundreds of Muslim families, several Hindus, thousands of agnostics, and many other thousands worshiping plenty of idols and ideas. These people were all lost and dead, and what was I doing about it? What are we doing about it as we stand shoulder to shoulder with these people every day? If they were drowning would we not try to save them? If they were in a burning building would we not try to rescue them? Honestly, don't I feel anything toward these dear people who God loves as much as he loves me and who Jesus said to go make disciples out of them? How come I do not feel the same passion for them as I feel toward my bike?

We feel passionate about the things we are convinced of as being true. I am responsible for my children so I am passionate about it. I am responsible for my health and my environment so I am passionate about it. I am responsible for giving the dying a fighting chance to live; am I convinced of that truth? Am I convinced that my Heavenly Father has made me a co-worker in this mission to save the lost? Am I convinced that I have this responsibility toward them? I know the words as well as you:

 As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. (2 Cor. 6:1)

But as long as we are being honest, how much of the Word do we pick and choose to live? Sure we confess it and testify to its truth, but how much do we set aside because we are not convinced of it or it is too inconvenient? When we are passionate about something there is never anything that is too inconvenient. Our favourite band comes to town, we find a way to be there. A movie is released that we really want to see, we find a way to see it. We pull off the impossible, we sacrifice whatever the cost when it is something we are passionate about, so this should tell us how we feel toward the great mission we have been given.

All I am saying here this morning is that we should not be so content with ourselves as we often are and we need to make the effort to see the truth of who we are and what we believe. If Jesus' love is our motivation in living then it should be our motivation in all things. If it isn't our motivation then we are not who we have fooled ourselves into believing we are. We need to be able to be honest with ourselves enough to say, I am not who I want to be. It is when we realize what we are lacking that we are able to start seeking what truly fulfills us. Too often we come up with excuses for our lack; I have not been gifted in that way; it is not my calling; it is the responsibility of an evangelists; I am too shy; I have no idea what to say. As far as I can tell we have all been called to the same mission and it will take all of us becoming passionate about it to see it through. Jesus did not say we need to pray about souls because he told us the fields are ready for harvest. Instead, he told us to pray for workers to work these fields. Why are so many people lost to the truth when we are better equipped than ever before to share the truth with them? Because we are not convinced of the mission. Only being convinced of Jesus' love will convince us of our mission.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What Makes Your World Work?

Life really comes down to one question: What motivates you? Life anywhere on this planet takes motivation to live, even if that motivation is as simple as survival.The quality of your life depends on the source and strength of the motivation you feel. Why did you get out of bed this morning? Why did you go to work? Why did you call your mom today? Why did you buy your wife flowers? With every action we should be able to ask the question, "Why did I do this?" and be able to find the motivation for that action. If we are willing to be honest with ourselves I think we may be surprised at some of the things that motivate our actions.

One of the things that allowed sin into God's great and perfect creation was when Man turned from what God desired and responded to what he wanted for himself. His motivation moved from pleasing God to pleasing himself which pulled all of creation down over him. This is the reason that our sin nature is based on what we want. Rarely will we do wrong for the benefit of others and almost 100% of the time we sin because we see the benefit to ourselves. Just as Eve looked at the fruit and saw that it looked tasty and had the benefit of making her more like the Creator, she could not see past it to the consequences of her actions. So this remains the problem and our motivation is often as base as, "I want what I want and I want it now". This too is the mentality of most young children.

When we look at our current problems in society we can identify this nature as the root to them. Why is our health system so over taxed right now with long line ups at the hospitals and the impossibility of finding a family doctor? Because people do not see the benefit to society to look after themselves. We would rather watch TV, eat potato chips, smoke a cigarette, drink a few dozen beers instead of getting some proper exercise and eat a proper diet. Its easy to talk about doing it but if we do not see the benefit and if we don't care then we will never have the motivation to start looking after ourselves or of sticking to it. Some would say that the motivation to improve our health for our own benefit might be a better motivation but this is only true when faced with the possibility of dying, if even this is enough motivation to get us off the couch and to throw away those cigarettes.

Our sin nature is strong and has been part of us since our birth. We have never been able to overcome it on our own. This is what Jesus was referring to when he stated:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Through Jesus Christ we receive freedom from the strangle hold of sin so that we are able to decide whether we want to continue to be a slave to that sin or to the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This decision will determine our motivation in life. Our motivation will either continue to be based on what we want or on what God wants, which is doing all things right in his eyes. Our motivation shifts from self to others. It is like the difference between a single person getting out of bed and a parent getting out of bed. Most likely that single person is getting up for his own needs. The parent is getting up because his children need him. Without Jesus our reason for doing things is based on ourselves but with Jesus our motivation becomes service to others; at least it is suppose to be. This is why we have such passages as:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service. (Ephesians 4:11-12)

The great passages of Philippians 2:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2:4-8)

I get convicted as I read these passages because I know I am less than what I was. Some how, in some way, our old nature seems to claw us back to what was always familiar, even when we start off strong. When we allow life itself to choke out the giver of life, the sap stops running, we lose our inspiration and our motivation falls back to what it was. It stops being about others, we get offended easily, we get angry easily, we start protecting ourselves again and stop being vulnerable in the way Jesus was vulnerable to people. We allow the actions of others to justify our attitude and consider that experience has made us wise, but we are lying to ourselves. Experience has not made us wise, it has made us bitter because we did not allow God to mold our experience to benefit us. Instead we allowed the experience to become an excuse to slip back into selfishness, self-pity, self-preservation. Regardless of your words, you cannot serve Jesus with a heart in this condition. Do you recognize any of these in you:

... sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies ... (Galatians 5:19-21)

These are things things produced and provoked when our motivation is ourselves. However, we are not supposed to be like this. We are suppose to be different because we are a new creation with a new motivation:

... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) 

This is what is produced in us when our motivation is the love of Jesus which also provokes a love for others in us. Our motivation for getting out of bed, for going to work, for spending time with friends, for caring for a neighbour, for many of our acts of kindness is based on the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. Even things like exercise and eating well is motivated by the desire to be at our best to serve others. Our motivation for studying is not to improve ourselves so people will think well of us, but to be better equipped to explain Jesus to others. Our desire to do well in our work is not self-promotion but the promotion of Jesus, that others would see Jesus in us in all that we do. Our motivation to love our family is not so that we would have the perfect family to brag about, but that we are demonstrating the self-sacrificing love of Jesus to our spouse and our children. Any other motivation will cause us to fall flat on our face.

There is no "arrival" in this relationship with Jesus because every day is a learning and growing experience. We cannot afford to grow lazy in this relationship and stop putting effort into it. It does not take long for the love to grow cold and the sap to stop flowing through us. Where once we were passionate we can quickly become indifferent. Nothing kills love faster than indifference. Do you recognize any of this in you? Look for the danger signs in your motivation and take appropriate action where necessary. Recapture that first love by surrendering yourself again, be renewed, be refreshed and find purpose in living again. Today, remember this one thing: without love we have nothing and we are nothing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

There Is A Folly To Suffering Fools

Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of opinionated people in our lives? I am not meaning those wise counselors that we turn to in times of need. I think we could all do with a few more of them; people who actually think through your situation and weigh the information against our character and are able to give us some valued insight. No, I am referring to those people who put forward their uninvited thoughts even though they do not have a full grasp of the situation or of us. There was a time when people would not offer their thoughts unless they were called upon to do so, and even then there would be some reluctance to speak about things that did not concern them. Now people can't wait to show their ignorance and arrogance.

The Scriptures have much to say concerning such people and about those who are willing to listen to their nonsense. The collection of psalms begins with this:

Blessed is the man
       who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
       or stand in the way of sinners
       or sit in the seat of mockers.
(Psalm 1:1)

The difference between the wise counselor and the foolish one appears to do with what knowledge they have and what they do with that knowledge:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
       but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
(Proverbs 1:7)

The lips of the righteous nourish many,
       but fools die for lack of judgment.
(Proverbs 10:21)

A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself,
       but the heart of fools blurts out folly.
(Proverbs 12:23)

It would seem not much has changed over the thousands of years since these ancient words were written, except for the fact that a fool is no longer suffered by his family alone. Now we have a global communication system that allows for fools to blurt out all kinds of nonsense and an eager crowd willing to follow. How can we know this to be true? Have you ever received an email from a "friend" about some company or some person concerning a situation that needs to be brought to everyone's attention? A wise person will check it out for himself whereas a foolish person will simply pass it on, adding to the situation. There is a lot of information out there and most of it is false and leads good people away from the truth. Wisdom comes from never accepting things at face value before passing on bogus information but instead taking the time to look into it for yourselves.

For most people, the cause of such foolishness is laziness. We have a society where we should be prospering with all the tools we have at hand but instead we would rather be spoon feed and we accept whatever we are given. This is also true for us spiritually. We accept the first fine sounding argument that comes along instead of checking it out for ourselves. In all our busy pursuit of being entertained we do not have time to check out the Scripture for ourselves. Instead we listen to various teachings by various preachers on our MP3 devices as we rush from one destination to the next. We may even watch some great video teachings on YouTube. We listen to whatever we can fit in because we don't have the time to open our Bible and study for ourselves. So any fool can come along with his latest opinion and we have no defense to know if it is true or not, like so many of those Urban Myths.

I started off with Psalm 1, let's consider what else it instructs us to do:

Blessed is the man
       who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
       or stand in the way of sinners
       or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
       and on his law he meditates day and night.
(Psalm 1:1-2)

Our counsel comes from the Word of God and from those who also depend on it for any counsel they may give. I am not interested in the wisdom of this world; it is based on a false premise and would have me focus on myself. The Scriptures tell me that my focus needs to be on God and then on the needs of my brothers and sisters. Jesus told me not to worry about myself because I have a good Father who knows my needs and will provide for me. The psalmist describes the person who meditates on the Holy Scriptures:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
       which yields its fruit in season
       and whose leaf does not wither.
       Whatever he does prospers.
(Psalm 1:3)

When we ground ourselves in the Scriptures we become wise and are a benefit to those around us as the Spirit produces fruit in us that will be enjoyed by our friends and family. We are not blown around by the opinions of fools who are here one day and the next are gone. This same psalmist writes:

Not so the wicked!
       They are like chaff
       that the wind blows away.
(Psalm 1:4)

Even the great Apostle Paul, with all his learning and achievements, told us that he had only one focus and one desire that shaped everything about him:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

Before you listen to the advice of such celebrities as Oprah or allow yourself to be swayed by the latest thing from the Internet, take a deeper look at it. Consult the Word of God; ask a teacher of the Word you have come to trust; ask the Spirit to reveal the truth. Do not be lazy about it and fall into the counsel of the wicked or the foolish. Show yourself to be wise by keeping the matter to yourself until you have become fully convinced of it by your own investigation in the Word of God. Remain grounded in the spiritual desire of your heart to become like Jesus. We have suffered the folly of fools long enough, it is time to be planted beside the Stream of Life.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Maintaining A Daily Workout That Benefits You And The World

Yesterday we considered the troubled times we are in, where there are false leaders and teachers working to divide us from each other and from the love of Jesus. Some of these leaders do not even realize that they are puppets in the hands of the enemy and teach what they have come to accept as the truth. But their “truth” is not based on the Word of God but instead on mere human instinct that allows them to continue in sin. Today I want us to consider our responsibility in the face of this because we will not be allowed to blame our downfall on anyone else. We are not like children who can be so easily led astray. We have intelligence, will power and the ability to think and make decisions for ourselves. If we enter into sin we do so of our own accord, just like Eve, and we will not get away with blaming Satan or any of his workers.
The thing we must avoid is spiritual weakness. You know the days I am talking about, when you allow everything else to take priority over your “one on one” time with the Lord. You set aside the Word for other activities; you don’t have time for worship; you avoid a few opportunities to share your testimony because of time. You do this for a few days, maybe even a week and you start to feel pretty stretched, a bit thin, spiritually tired. It is as you have grown distant from God that the enemy will take advantage of you. It is at this time we need to consider Jude’s words:
 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude 1:20-21)
There is nothing passive about our relationship with the Father. It is an active thing that we must continue to work on every day. Jude tells us to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith”, and there is a method to doing this. You need to know the Word, speak the Word and act on the Word. There is a web site that I came across that gives these instructions for building up our faith on those days we feel thin:
“Let God's word tell you who you are and what you have. Don't give any attention to anything that tells you differently. God's word is true.
This same web site also gives you a list of truths about who you are in Christ for you to confess, believe and walk in every day. It is the daily reminder of who we are and how our Father sees us that is so important to staying healthy, fit and active in our daily living. Jesus never intended that we would separate ourselves from the world because we have been called to be his witnesses to the world but it does mean we have to work really hard to avoid being corrupted by this world. Knowing the Word, confessing the Word, seeing ourselves through the Father’s eyes as we find in the Word is essential if we are going to make it to the end. Jude also reminds us that we have to be in this healthy state in order to carry out our mission, which is an active mission:
 Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (Jude 1:22-23)
We have to get ourselves healthy so that we are not so preoccupied with ourselves all the time. We need to be healthy because we are in the rescue business as partners with our Father. We are co-workers in the salvation of this world before the day of destruction. What good are we if we are always in the hospital ward ourselves? There are those who need rescuing and the Father has called us to do the work along with him. We are neglecting our duties when we allow ourselves to grow thin and sickly in our relationship with our Father. We are called to be mighty warriors, spiritual giants, men and women who understand their purpose and give themselves fully to it. But that only happens when we understand that the work begins with our daily work out, with building up our faith in the same way that rescue workers must build up their muscles and stay in top physical condition. This doesn’t happen with eating potato chips on a couch in front of the television. We will not stay spiritual fit by filling ourselves with junk food instead of the meat of God. Do yourselves a bit favour, take out the Word today and give yourself an excellent work out. You will feel better for doing it and you will be better prepared for today’s assignment.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Oh How The Waves Are Tossing And The Wind Is Blowing

There are many people in this world who promise many things to eager people who are looking for shortcuts. We all want to find an easier way of getting to our goals, whether we are talking about our health, our relationships or finances. We want quick fixes and there are plenty of people out there willing to take advantage of our greed and laziness. However, there is no such thing as “easy” when it comes to life. Everything takes work which requires a great deal of effort on our part and often on the part of others as well.

We would think, with all the information available to us now, that we would understand that anything worth having is worth working hard to achieve. Yet, we continue to fall for the “get rich quick” schemes. We listen to people who encourage us to take high risks for high gain in our investments. We fall for the lie about making easy money on the Internet. We believe that good health is one miracle pill away. We invest in speciality foods instead of learning to eat and exercise properly. The proverb is correct in saying that a fool and his money are soon separated. It comes down to us being too lazy to be willing to put the effort into achieving our goals.

This also applies to our spirituality and there are plenty of people willing to take advantage of that. They are very quick to move in and separate us from the only path that can provide the peace and contentment we are looking for. They use God to speak to our human nature of self-centeredness. They convince us that God wants us rich and powerful. They turn us from a path of self-sacrificing love to a path of selfishness. They emphasize the individual instead of the mission. They are quick to separate us from our money as well as from Jesus Christ. Jude warned us as so many others have:

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (Jude 1:17-19)

It is our “mere natural instincts” that get us in trouble because they are based in our sin nature. However, we are called to love according to the Spirit. If you need to test the spirit of those who are currently influencing you spiritually ask yourself whether they are focused on what you can get out of God or on what we need to give back for the mission? Are they teaching you how to honour God by loving people with his love or are they feeding your desire for short cuts? True teacher-servants of Jesus help to train you in acts of service:

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

It really comes down to what our priorities and goals are. If our priority is the love of Jesus, demonstrating it to the world through our actions, then we will be able to stand up under any pressure to separate us from this love. However, if our goal is to follow mere natural instincts, then we will fall prey to every false teacher that is out there. The Apostle Paul wrote that if we submit ourselves to the correct spiritual trainers, those ordained by the Spirit, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, then we benefit greatly by becoming mature in our service to Jesus:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:14-16)

There are too many people who are being tossed back and forth by the waves. They are waiting for the next great move of the Spirit or the next teacher who comes along with new ideas. Silly people, stay where you are, submit, learn to do works of service, be built up in the context of the Body, learn to love like Jesus, until we are united in faith and knowledge, reaching maturity in our relationship and attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Jesus. This is our goal, is it not; to be like Jesus? My fear is that we have set this goal aside to chase after the things of the pagans, our creature comforts. What a shame when we have so many more things of greater worth, in Jesus.

Do not be fooled, there is a great deal of cunning, craftiness and deceitful scheming going on in the Body of Christ and its purpose is to separate us from our salvation. They want to divide us and convince us to chase after our own ungodly desires. They want us to live just like they do, by mere natural instincts instead of by the Spirit of Christ. Take a closer look my friends and judge by the Spirit if you have fallen for their schemes of deceit. Are they promoting self or are they promoting the things of the Spirit? I give the final word on this subject to the Apostle Paul:

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:16-26)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Are We All Going To Hell In A Handbasket?

It would be wonderful to think that everything in the Body of Christ is what it appears to be, but we would be lying to ourselves. I know in myself that I am always checking my motivations for saying and doing things because it is very easy to disguise our selfish ambitions by acts of love. We are all capable of it and we should at least be honest enough with ourselves to consider what is motivating our actions. I think this is the reason why Jude’s letter often catches me off-guard, because it is brutally honest about this subject that we do not always consider. Let’s be honest for a moment; there are imposters working among us.
Jude states that it was not his first desire to deal with this subject:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 1:3)
For Jude, fighting for the truth of our faith trumps the sharing of encouraging testimonies among brothers and sisters. I think we can understand this when we consider that Christianity was still fighting to take root. There were so many threats all around to assimilate this new movement into existing religions and philosophical thinking. The early apostles had to spend much of their time teaching and “contending for the faith”. In some ways they succeeded in others they failed. Here Jude correctly recognizes that the real danger never came from outside of the Church but was always from within:
For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude 1:4)
We would really have to have our heads stuck in the sand if we did not recognize the truth of this for today. We have allowed thinkers and philosophers who have never known Jesus to take positions of importance and shape the Church of today. This is the reason we have sections of the Church claiming there was no virgin birth, that the resurrection never took place, that sins, such as homosexuality, can be sanctioned by the Church. We are losing whole sections of the Church to these lies because we fell asleep and forgot to “contend for the faith”. We may find it easier to just turn our backs on them but it would be wrong because they are marked for destruction and we need to fight that no one else would be lost to this same fate:
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:5-7)
The consequences for those who turn their back on God’s truth is very real. Jesus died to save us from this wrath because our Father does not want to see any of us face it. Those who see him as being unfair do not see the whole picture. God created a perfect creation and we are the ones who messed it up. We deserved to be destroyed for doing so but our Father came up with a rescue plan, to have everything reconciled to him. He is the one who paid the price for it to happen. This is the only way to escape the destruction that is coming because, although he is a patient Father, there is a limit and a day has been appointed that everything that is not part of him will be removed. He has given us several examples to show us this is the reality we face. Yet, we have allowed people to come in and try to destroy the one beacon of hope for a world that is lost, the Church:
In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them. (Jude 1:8-10)
We do not have to look around much to see the truth of Jude’s statements. All we have to do is look at ourselves and we can see the potential for making decisions that benefit us but destroy the community. It is called sin.  Jude is vocal in his lament over this situation that we are currently allowing:
 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion. (Jude 1:11)
He is also very descriptive in their character and their fate:
These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. (Jude 1:12-13)
Are these not the same type of men that Jesus criticized for appearing to be one thing but actually being something else? Did he not deal with the leaders who had the responsibility of caring for God’s children but instead abused them for their own gain while still appearing to be righteous before God? It would be wonderful to think that the Church today contained no such people but we would be lying to ourselves. These are the people who often get promoted due to their fine sounding arguments and their righteous appearance; they are very capable and professional people but who are also spiritually as dry as desert bleached bones. We need to protect the weak and immature from the trap that is laid out by such people as these. And in case you still do not recognize them Jude gives us this:
 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him." These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (Jude 1:14-16)
I am all for keeping it positive and filling the days with words of encouragement, but as Jude stated at the beginning, there are times when “contending for the faith” takes priority. I think we have reached that stage and we need to start calling it as we see it. The United Church of Canada is a huge instrument of destruction against the faithful and now a committee in the United States wants the Presbyterian church to go the same way. What are we going to do about it? Keep our heads stuck in the sand or contend for the faith?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Reputation And The Spirit

Reputations are not bought or given, they are earned. It takes a lot to earn a good reputation and not much to lose it. Once lost, reputations are hard to get back, if not impossible. Just like the fictional saying about elephants, people rarely forget. They may forgive but they don’t forget and they will remind you of that every opportunity they get, which makes you wonder if their forgiveness was genuine. It is suppose to be different in the Body of Christ as God demonstrates that his type of forgiveness also requires forgetting. Considering we do not have the power to remove things from our memory it means taking the decision not to mention that thing to anyone every again, as if it never happened, which will take us back to our thought on reputation and you will see how the two are tied together.

In John’s third letter he mentions a man named Demetrius, who was most likely the one John sent to deliver his letter. As in other situations Demetrius would have been more than a messenger, he would have also been a minister, a preacher, teacher or prophet, an evangelist even. In the same way that Paul sent out men of God like Timothy, Tychicus and many others as a means of encouragement along with his letters, John was sending Demetrius to be an encouragement to the church Gaius was a member of. This letter was a means of introduction that I want us to consider:

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. (3 John 1:11-12)

I have no idea why we allow the truth of the Word to be twisted and confused, complicating everything. John puts it simply: if it is good it is from God; if it is evil it is not from God. There is other Scripture that supports this simplicity:

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

We are also warned to test the spirits, usually looking for three witnesses or confirmations. In the case of Demetrius John gives three: everyone, the Word, and themselves. John says that Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone. In other words everyone speaks well of him because of his solid reputation. With this we need to understand that they are speaking of his reputation since accepting Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit. Sometimes in the Church we forget that we have been recreated, a new birth. What is in the past belonged to someone else because now we live in Jesus.

Can you imagine the “field day” today’s media would have with the likes of the Apostle Paul, the former persecutor of the Church; or the Apostle Peter, the traitor to Jesus, the loud mouth, the braggart; or even the Apostle John, the brawler, the drunk, the hothead. What they formerly were did not matter after receiving the Spirit because they were made new. We cannot do a thing about our former life but the reputation we earn now is not so much about us as it is about Jesus. Remember that Jesus said that the world will judge us by what we do and if we love one another then they will know we are his disciples. Our reputation is no longer just about us, it reflects on the Church and on Jesus as well.

It is the reason the Apostle Paul spent so much time explaining to the Church what life in the Spirit should look like, not that we would conform but instead we would submit to the transformation that is taking place:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:19-26)

In my opinion the greatest act of this life, a life of love in Jesus, is forgiveness. It is the action that our Father took because of his love for us. The cross is all about forgiveness and reconciliation with God. The greatest part of our reputation as followers of Jesus should be love and forgiveness. Unfortunately it is far easier to concentrate on what we wear, what we eat, where we go, which Bible translation we use, how we pray. As I study the life of Jesus I do not see that he was concerned about such things with people, other than to criticize the leaders for being more concerned for these things than they were about the people they were given to care about. Jesus’ concern was always the heart and relationship, as it should be ours, and it required love and forgiveness. It was his forgiving of sins that gained him the sharpest criticism from the leaders.

We too should have this same reputation and perhaps gain the same criticism as Jesus did. To be honest, we could have far worse things we are known for than that of being easy forgivers. If you find it hard to forgive you should really ask yourself if you actually know Jesus. It is possible to know of him without knowing him. Sometimes we can grow lazy in this relationship and sometimes we can get distracted by other things but at the end of the day we know we have Jesus if we are able to do what he did; love and forgive. As Paul says, we can be great preachers, healers, prophets, church janitors, church secretaries, pew warmers but if we do not possess love we have gained nothing and we are nothing. Our reputations must begin with the root of love from which forgiveness sprouts.