Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Learn To Live Your Life In Adundance

It seems to me that we are all missing the point. There was a time when a whole generation spent a good chunk of their youth seeking the point. Now it seems that our youth (and many adults) have resigned themselves to the fact that there is no point. After all, what is the relevance of life. We eat. We sleep. Eventually we die. Before we die we put tons of energy into working hard so that we can afford to eat, then we are too tired to do anything else so we sleep, just to get up in the morning and do it all over again. What are we doing? Are we only keeping ourselves occupied until we die? These are some of the questions Solomon asked in Ecclesiastes. Much of what he concluded about various things throughout his recorded search was, "Meaningless! Meaningless! It's all meaningless!"

Our Western culture seems to be stuck in this non-ending desire to possess things, as if we are trying to derive a meaning or purpose of life from the toys, gadgets, treasures of earth. Most people dream of owning their own home and set their purpose in life to do just that. Some will only get as far as owning their own car. If we can't afford it we put it on credit and spend the next 10 years paying it off or perhaps 30 and 40 years in the case of a house. We work very hard in order to possess things that either break or that we are too tired to enjoy. Most of us have a clutter problem in our homes because we own far more than what we need. Even back in Jesus' day there was a problem with people spending too much time emphasizing the wrong things:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (Matthew 6:25)

The "therefore" is related to yesterday's topic of being faithfully dedicated to God, with him being the greatest priority in our lives. So if that is in place we should understand that there are certain priorities that we live by. We are too occupied with the wrong priorities. Life is for living. Work should add to that living, not take away from it. Everything we do should add meaning to our life, should add to our joy. But this is only possible if and when we understand our purpose. Purpose will allow us to live by the right priorities; first God, then people, then everything else. When our priorities are wrong we can tell by the level of stress we live under. Consider Jesus' words carefully:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:26-27)

If you are not wholly dedicated to the Father you cannot possibly achieve this and, if you think you are and you still are stressed then either you don't understand or you are lying to yourself. We are often like little ants, busy running around and gathering, gathering, gathering. We want to make sure we have enough for our retirement or to do this project or to take that trip. We forget to live in the moment in order to live a dream sometime in the future. The problem is that some of us will not make it to our retirement and others may end up losing all that treasure. What a shame that we forgot to live, breathe, dance, enjoy the sunshine and the rain, do silly things with our friends and children, take adventures, all in relationship with our Father. What a shame that we forgot the priority of God and then people, coming to the end of our days without a penny to our name and bankrupt in our friend account. What a meaningless life.

That is not God's design or purpose for us. He created us and he saved us that we would have life in abundance. Regardless of what they world tells you, there is abundant living to be hand even when the bank account is empty. Jesus taught:

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28-30)

There is the point! Faith. Faith is not an object or even a state of mind. Faith is an act, a decision that is made based on a relationship of trust. You will not find meaning in anything in life if you do not first grow in your all-important relationship with God. Once you realize how much he loves you, you will be able to stop stressing out over life and be able to live. Do your part, work and find enjoyment in that work; study and find enjoyment in that study; be diligent and find great purpose in doing so; but do not set aside God and people. In fact, put God and people at the center of everything you do. Work to bless your boss and the people who receive the fruit of your labour. Take some pride in what you do and find joy in it. Honour God with everything you do; homework, housework, cooking, shoveling, mowing and you will find joy and purpose. See the people who are connected to your actions and realize the impact you are having on them and then things will fall into the right priority. Stop making life about things:

So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34) 

Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness. The Kingdom is God and people and righteousness means being in a right relationship with both, doing the right stuff with both. Do your priorities line up with that? Was God the first one on your mind as you opened your eyes this morning? Are you determined to bless the people in your life with joy and encouragement? Are you going to make your work place and school a better place today in your attitude with other people? Do not allow the priorities of our culture to strip from you the abundant life Jesus came to give us. Seek first his Kingdom and righteousness today and everyday of your life and you will learn to live an abundant life!

Monday, August 30, 2010

No Part-timers Here!

Serving Jesus Christ is not as simple as we make it out to be. Perhaps that is worded incorrectly. It is a simple matter to serve Jesus Christ but it requires a greater depth and dedication than most people are aware of at first. Unfortunately some followers never discover the depth to which we must go, having fallen asleep on the surface of the relationship. As we continue with our reading of Matthew we come across three zingers in a row from Jesus that explain the level of dedication God demands from his children. Dedication and loyalty is something that every relationship demands, whether it is employer and employee, friends, husband and wife, parents and children. If every relationship demands this then how much more the most important relationship in our lives?

Jesus teaches:

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. (Matthew 6:19-21)

At first this could look like Jesus pointing out that there is nothing in this world that is so stable that it can become our security. In this place of instability, change is a constant. Here nothing stands still, it is rusting, eroding, withering, rotting or being eaten. Only the things of heaven, the things of God have any permanency and so this is where we should be investing ourselves. This is part of what Jesus is saying but the important part is the last line. The Father requires our love and dedication but if we are distracted by the trinkets of this world, it means he does not have our full attention. In some ways he is speaking as a lover. We may be married to our lover but if our heart is occupied with someone else then that person has our love and dedication. Our Father wants all of us, our full attention, love and dedication.

Jesus teaches:

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! (Matthew 6:22-23) 

The first was about the heart and the second about the eye. What has our attention? What is it that we are watching and looking at? Are they the good things, the things of heaven, the things that honour our God and reflect his glory, man's attempt to glorify their maker? Or are they things that oppose God, that come against his purity, love and holiness? Are they things to entertain and distract us while polluting our hearts against God? Are they things that weaken and separate us from God's love for us? This is one of the greatest dangers we face every day yet it is the danger we pay attention to the least. It is the same as a wife, on the arm of her husband, having her head turned by a passing handsome man. What is she allowing to enter her mind and her heart? Is it something that honours her husband or does it cause a wedge in their relationship? God wants our full attention. He deserves our full attention.

Jesus teaches:

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 6:24)

Since the dawn of time man has desired wealth and in this age we have devised a multitude of methods to obtain that wealth. The best way is to work for it but for some people that method is too slow. We have devised ways of investing money. Instead of working for it we take what money we have and we gamble on a person or a company to do well, earning us more money without doing a thing. We hear a lot in the news these days of people losing their entire savings to some person who failed to invest it and spent it on themselves. If investing is too complicated there is always gambling, lottery tickets or any of the casinos that are popping up all over the place. Such a great desire for money causes us to focus our attention on it instead of on God. For some people money takes the place of God, it changes our sense of values, priorities and purpose in life. If you want to see the true character of a person, give them a pile of money and see what happens.

The fact is, God is not willing to share us with anyone or anything. We are the objects of his affection and he desires to be ours. It is simple to follow Jesus but it requires 100% of our hearts. Obedience is simple when it is based on dedicated love, but when that love must be shared with treasures, distractions and money, it becomes a watered down thing and our God desires and deserves more than that. He wants our all, he deserves our all, we need to give him our all. There is no such thing as a part-time lover, nor a part-time worshiper, nor a part-time child. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Problem With Surface Dwellers

It is amazing how easy it is to live as a surface dweller, never having to deal with anything of any significance and denying those hidden things that pull at our heart. On the other hand, to become a person of depth requires a willingness to feel pain, sorrow, heartache, admit to fears and anxieties, as well as experience great joy, freedom and abundant living. Jesus inhabits the depths and desires to draw us down into the heart so we can enjoy a authentic relationship with him in the reality of our pain and our joy.

If you notice Jesus' teaching and his dealings with people, he quickly moved past the appearance of things, past the surface, past the superficial understanding and took people below the surface, to the deeper things. As we have read through Matthew 6 we have discovered Jesus dealing with this issue as he gave instruction concerning giving to those in need, prayer and now concerning our attitude in fasting. He was speaking to a culture that had learned to live by the letter of the law without understanding the heart of it. Through his example and living Jesus is moving us from this surface orientation to a place of depth and significance, a place of understanding, a place of relationship:

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Matthew 6:16)

Almost word for word what he said concerning those who pray with wrong understanding and motivation:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Matthew 6:5)

There is something important to understand in this; our Father requires sincerity in our relationship. We know we are far from perfect but he has covered our imperfection with his grace. Making allowance for our imperfection, he seeks a real relationship with us; he desires us to have a sincerity in the things we do in this relationship. Fasting and prayer are intimate things between us and our Father. These are not things to be put on display so that others will think better of us. Prayer and fasting are relationship actions that draw us in to God, allowing us to be more sensitive to his heart, opening our eyes to his will. If we make it a surface act, one that improves our stature among man, we have nullified this beautiful moment of fellowship with God. It would be similar to a wife who is invited to a beautiful, romantic candle-light dinner for two with her husband, inviting the newspapers, television crews, and internet bloggers along to show how romantic she is. How do you think her husband would feel?

There are parts of our lives that need to be on display:

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

Then there are parts that are meant to be privately intimate with our Father, just him and us:

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)

I pray you will discover the intimacy with God that he desires for us and that our hearts long for. I pray you will hear his gentle voice calling you into the deeper place where he longs to dwell with you. I pray that today you will come to experience the reality behind the words of the psalmist:

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?...

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.
(Psalm 42:1-2, 7-8)

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Intimacy Of Prayer

Attitude makes a significant difference in life no matter who we are and what we are facing. I am not referring to the plastic kind of attitude where we put on a brave face when all we want to do is scream at the injustice of it all. I am talking about the genuine good attitude that comes from a heart that is already settled in a trust relationship with Jesus. There is no depth to a plastic attitude so that when things get beyond what this shallow attitude can handle, it all falls apart. Yesterday we considered our attitude or motivation in our "acts of righteousness" and we learned the difference between these and the good deeds Jesus told us to do so the whole world would see and give the Father glory. This morning we are going to consider what Jesus had to say about prayer.

Prayer, true prayer, is the most vulnerable moments in our life. It is when we open our hearts before God and voluntarily reveal the good, the bad and the ugly. Prayer is not intended to be the plasticized version that we often enter into today. Many people come with their wish list or shopping carts and rhyme off all the things they want God to do and then off they rush with their day. Sometimes we even use prayer as a type of "showing off" coming from a place of spiritual pride. Jesus spoke about such a group:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Matthew 6:5)

Such an intimate and vulnerable moment should not be abused in a manner of "showing off". Even when we petition on behalf of other people and are not dealing with our own heart, our heart is revealed and our motivation is seen. It is impossible to enter this intimate moment with God and remain at a distance. Like the woman who sought Jesus' help from a distance, he will resist us until we are willing to draw close to him and become intimate with him. Perhaps this is part of the reason Jesus instructed us to pray privately, so there was no temptation to "show off" and to enable us to become vulnerable to our God:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

Prayer must also be understood as a continuing conversation. There are moments where we get to speak and there are moments of reflections, also moments of quietness as God speaks directly to our hearts. It is not intended to be a rushed moment or one of constant ranting. Jesus taught:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

It's not even about our petitions and needs; it's about relationship. Our Father knows what is on our heart and what we need but he wants us to talk to him in the context of an intimate relationship. I often know what my daughter wants before she comes to ask, but I love it when she climbs up onto my lap, wraps her arms around my neck, leans her head on my shoulders and begins, "Daddy...". No one else gets to do that and it is an intimate moment that brings us closer.

Understanding all this, I have a real problem with the way the tradition of the Lord's prayer is used. He told us not to think that vain babbling is prayer, yet many churches and believers do this very thing with the Lord's prayer. It has become a mantra. Jesus did not tell us to pray this mantra, he told us to pray like this and he gave us an outline of what our conversation with God should contain. Here is a brief comment on the elements of what is contained in our intimate encounter with our Father:

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name" - simply put, worship.

"your kingdom come" - praying for the mission, that Kingdom would be found in the heart of every person

"your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" - acknowledging and submitting to the Father's will

"Give us today our daily bread" - presenting our needs to our Father, which he already knows but wants us to express to him, for the purpose of drawing us in closer to him.

"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." - repentance for what we have done and prayer for those who have offended us

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." - a desire to be sanctified, made holy, kept pure for his purpose and protection from the one who would destroy us all just to cause hurt and pain to the one who loves us.

These elements, when not made plastic, promote an incredibly intimate moment with our Father as we empty ourselves of self and give ourselves fully to him. Such moments change us and shape us so that we are seen to be different. A person cannot walk away from such moments with hatred or malice in their heart. Pray not only changes things, it changes us. It is intimate, it is private, it is vital.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who Will Get The Glory For This?

It is amazing how important it is to us that we receive from others recognition or acknowledgment for the things we do. We don't always look for it but we secretly appreciate it when others see the good things we are doing or have done. Other times we want the whole world to recognize the fact that we are good at what we do. Award ceremonies are big things, whether it is the recognition of an athlete or a movie star, people want that recognition of a job well done. It is a shame that in our culture we place such value on entertainers compared to the humanitarians who sacrifice so much to make the world a better place, but that's another topic for another day. This attitude of recognition may be good for movie stars but it is counter productive in our relationship with Jesus and can actually cause us and others much harm.

As we continue with our reading of the gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus transition from the law to attitudes in relationship with God. To understand the need for good attitude or perspective we must first start with understanding our relationship and purpose. Although our relationship with Jesus has made us children of the Father, our purpose is to act like servants in this place, vessels of the Father's will. The light that we are to show is Jesus, not us. In Matthew 5 we read:

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

The good deeds that we allow the world to see are compelled by the love of Jesus for the world. In the same way that Jesus' compassion compelled him to reach out to the suffering multitude, his compassion in us compels us into action. It is these acts that often allow the light to shine through us. Now here in Matthew 6 we read:

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

The big difference between good deeds and 'acts of righteousness' is self. The first leads people to praise God; the second leads people to praise you. In the first, Jesus is lifted up; in the second you are lifted up. There is also a difference here in what may be considered a good deed and what may be considered an act of righteousness. Perhaps helping a neighbour mow his lawn lends to our testimony of God's love, whereas bailing a neighbour out of a tough financial situation is considered the right thing to do, but no need to embarrass your neighbour in doing it.

Perhaps that could or should be our plumb line in the matter of what is a good deed and what is an act of righteousness; the effect it has on the other person. To lend a hand to a neighbour that helps him without demeaning him is a good thing. Helping him build his garage is something that would cause him and others to be thankful. Letting it be known that you had to lend him money would reveal his weakness and would embarrass him. To stop and help change a flat tire is a great thing and one that would be appreciate and told to others. To tell the tale of how you had to rescue someone because they ran out of gas would cause that person to be ridiculed because of their foolishness. The acts of kindness in embarrassing or awkward situations need to be kept private. Jesus pointed out:

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Matthew 6:2)

You see the motivation? In this case it was done to prompt honour from people. This is different than shining your light so that the Father would be praised. Jesus taught:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)

The difference here is the giving to the "needy". No one wants to walk around with a label. No one wants the world to know they are needy. So when we bless a person in their need no one other than the Father needs to know. It saves embarrassment.

Our motivation in what we do matters to our Father. If we are living in a way to prompt the praises of people for ourselves then we are not pleasing God. Our whole life is motivated by the desire to please our Father. We want to do things that will delight and honour him. Treating other people with dignity and honour reflects the love that our Father has for everyone. Trying to promote ourselves will never please our Father, never! It is a simple question to ask ourselves as we respond to the needs of the people around us; "Who will get the glory for this, me or the Father?" "Will this act of kindness bless or embarrass my neighbour?" How we treat our neighbour matters big time to our Father.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Deep Calls To Deep

There has to be more to Christianity than just going to Church, reading the Bible and being nice to people. I meet a lot of nice people through the Internet every day. I meet nice people in my city all the time. Some of these people claim to be followers of Jesus and others do not, yet they all seem very nice. So if it is just about being nice why do I need all the other stuff? These are the thoughts that come from surface Christians, those who dwell with God on the surface of things instead of going deeper to the place where God wants to inhabit with us. It can be a difficult journey to get to that depth when people have always lived on the surface and have never really even attempted to deal with the deeper matters of life. They shrug it off, make light of the situation, pretend everything is fine, lie to themselves, shove it away; anything to avoid dealing with the depths because in the depths you discover things about yourself you just do not want to know about. 

To live with Jesus is to throw away the fake because life with Jesus is a constant abiding in the depths. Going to Church, reading our Bibles, being nice are outward responses to the things that are changing in us. It is not always easy to walk with Jesus as the Holy Spirit transforms our character by transforming our heart and mind. To live as he has called us to live requires us to put effort into it every single day of our life. There is a reason Paul told us to continue to work out our salvation daily. In fact, let's put this into context:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18)

Note the obedience, to submit to God's good purpose. The obedience Paul refers to is deeper than following a set of rules, it is obedience in our understanding and perspective. It is an obedience to the change God wills for us so that we are transformed into his children. It is not a matter of "acting" like his children but "being" his children. As we try to get our minds around this let us consider the next portion of Jesus' teaching on the depth of the law. He says:

"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." (Matthew 5:43-45)

This is how far removed we are from the ways and and thinking of our God. You think this is easy? How far can your enemy come against you before you start hating him? God never reaches that point, even with all the atrocities that have been done in his name, he still cannot hate. What should strike you in this passage is that Jesus tells us that by having this character we show ourselves to be children of the Father. Then he does a beautiful thing. He reveals the heart of the Father, his perfect character with its perfect love:

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)

The beauty of our God is that his love is all inclusive. It doesn't matter if you don't believe in him or deny him, making yourself his enemy, he still loves you with the same love he has for those who worship him. It doesn't matter what sins you have committed against other people, God loves you with the same love he has for those who have sought his forgiveness. Now, those who walk with Jesus are expected to have this same character that provokes this perfect love. Jesus wasn't "beating around the bush" about this either:

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? (Matthew 5:46-47)

Jesus taught it and he lived it because it is who he is. He could not stop himself from loving his enemies because his character demanded it of him. The one group he constantly scolded because of their hypocrisy was the Pharisees yet he never denied them his time. When they came to him in the middle of the night or invited him for a meal, he gave himself to them because even the Pharisees were objects of the Father's affection. Then Jesus says something astounding:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) 

Love perfects us. Not just the love we receive from the Father but this same selfless love we are to share with everyone, neighbour and enemy. To receive God's love is life changing but to live this love is perfecting. John wrote about this in such an awakening manner that every time I read it I forget to breathe:

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. (1 John 4:16-17)

Isn't that amazing? "Love is made complete among us" when we love as the Father loves. We can begin to understand better our purpose as we read "because in this world we are like him". Not because we accomplished great things and building great ministries but because we learn to love as our Father loves. This is our aim. This is our goal. This is our purpose. This is our daily working out, as we learn to love as Jesus loved us. He died for everyone, that whoever believes in him will possess eternal life. We are to live and serve in this same condition of love, so that we will be like him, and we too will be children of the Father.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Great Big Pile Of Burning Coals

In our exploration of the deeper meaning behind the law of God we have dealt with some of the easier topics. Murder, adultery, divorce and oaths are rather light weight in comparison to some of the things Jesus is about to address in Matthew chapter 5. Perhaps these topics I have mentioned are some of the areas that we consider to be the "biggies" of sin because they are the more obvious, but don't forget that Jesus is dealing with the heart matters that underlie all of our actions. With murder it was hatred; adultery it was lust; divorce it was selfishness; and oaths it was lack of dependability. However, now we are about to enter the difficult parts of this demanding law that reveals the Father's heart and character.

Christians are very good at picking and choosing which parts of the Word we will adhere to. It is such a evolving revelation of God's heart that we forget sometimes that the beginning reveals the outward but the ending reveals the inner impact of following Jesus. Many Christians love to quote "an eye for an eye" from the law not understanding that Jesus gave us a greater responsibility than a simple act of revenge. "An eye for an eye" existed within the limited revelation of God but now Jesus was giving us the full revelation. He taught:

You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

Our human nature demands justice; if someone punches me I have the right to punch him back. If someone takes from me then I desire to take from him. If someone kills someone I love then I want to see him die as well. We justify this "giving in" to our nature with scripture from the Old Testament. We find it convenient to overlook the teaching Jesus gave us that reveals the deeper nature of the law. Come on, face it, we have always struggled with "turning the other cheek", of not resisting an evil person. Like the Pharisees we try to put some definitions on it so we can limit its impact on us, but its right there, as plain as day. It is hard to explain away.

It's even harder to explain it away when we see it on display in Jesus' living and interaction with people. The finest example we have is during one of the most stressful moments of Jesus' life. They came to arrest him and the world seemed to get turned upside down. His disciples tried to protect him against the armed thugs. There was yelling, pushing and in the heat of the moment someone's ear got cut off. It took Jesus to re-establish the calm again and in one solitary act of restoring that man's ear, Jesus revealed to us what it really means to have good character. It did not matter if this man stood there as an enemy, Jesus did not consider him an enemy. It did not matter that this man represented evil, he was still the object of the Father's love. This love compelled Jesus to show kindness to his enemy by healing his ear.

I doubt that these men who arrested Jesus had any idea that this would lead to his death, but they were still the instruments of evil. As they arrested and bound him I am sure our enemy, the devil, was squealing and dancing with delight. Later, as they spit on Jesus, slapped him, punched him, whipped him and scoffed him we tend to see him as a victim. Do we forget who he is and what was available to him? Do we forget the power that was his? Do we not think that the one who calmed the storm could easily blow off a few soldiers? He was the one who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, restored useless limbs to life, raised the dead. What were these evil men to him? What they were is something we often forget; they were the objects of the Father's affection.

Why would Jesus teach us to "turn the other cheek", to walk twice as far as what was demanded of us, to give twice what was demanded? Why is he telling us to be generous in our suffering at the hands of injustice? Perhaps it has more to do with this:

   If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
       if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

   In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
       and the LORD will reward you.
(Proverbs 25:21-22)

Our purpose is not to look out for "number one". He are not here to demand justice every time someone offends us. We are here representing the heart of the Father, which is hard to do when we don't understand some of the basic principles of his character. What we are talking about here is living a life of grace, where other people do come first in our thoughts and actions, when even being insulted and hurt will not stop us from demonstrating God's love and grace. Does our enemy deserve food and water from us? I doubt it, not according to our nature. But God's nature is different and his love demands it. We are not here for ourselves, we are here to help rescue everyone the Father loves, and that includes those that hate us and want to destroy us.

We need to lose the attitude that we are God's children so no one is allowed to touch us. Or the idea that people dare not touch the anointed of God. Do we actually think we are better than Jesus? We are not to look for revenge on anyone. We are to take the bruising, the name calling, the slurs and we are to pour kindness and love on it. We are to present the other cheek so it can be slapped too. We are to give more to our enemy than what they demand because we do not see them as our enemy but as objects of God's affection. The world may see it as weakness and our flesh may be calling out for justice but the Spirit in us is speaking peace and deep fellowship with God as his character shines out from us. This is where the Church is found and this is real spiritual maturity, far greater than any prophecies, any preaching, any teaching, any evangelism, any righteousness because this is the heart of the Father,

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Promise Is A Promise

Change is a natural thing in life and as much as we try we cannot stop it from happening. There is very little in life that remains the same as the days, months and years march on. We grow older; the people we love grow older; society grows older; and the older we get the more things change. Technology seems to have multiplied this rate of change by a 100%. It's hard to believe that most of the things we take for granted as being a natural part of our daily life now have only come into existence in the last 13 years. However in all this change there should be one thing that refuses to change and instead grows stronger; good character.

Good character is a decision that we must take because it does not come naturally to us. What comes naturally is self-preservation. We lie to protect ourselves, we cheat to get ahead, we steal to possess what we want. It is the same pattern that Eve fell for in the garden; we look, we desire, we take, we taste. At any point in that process we can walk away, but we don't because it is a natural part of us. However, God desires righteousness, good character in us. We know the power of Jesus Christ in us makes this possible because he has broken our natural character, giving us the freedom of choice where once we were slaves to sin. The law reveals just how far we fall short of what is important to God and one of those things is the strength of our word, or our promises. Jesus taught:

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.". (Matthew 5:33-37)

You know what he is talking about here; swearing on the Bible is just one example. We swear by things when we want to make a point with people. However, our character should be such that when we say something it is as good as done or that people believe that if we say it it is the truth. Such a trust in our word only comes with time as we gain in reputation for having a strong word. Unfortunately in this age it does not seem to be a priority for a lot of people and we do not consider too many people in our lives to be credible in this thing, especially leaders.

Perhaps the problem is not the good intentions of people when they make a promise or state something as fact but instead the real problem could be the haste in which honest people speak. Sometimes we do not consider everything or investigate the facts before speaking so we set ourselves up to breaking our word because we have put ourselves in an impossible situation. I think many politicians fall prey to this as they speak their intentions to us. They do not understand that they have given their word on the matter and it is not good enough to come back with excuses. People will judge that their word is no good and will judge them in light of this next time they speak.

Parents are guilty of this quite often. I think many parents speak in haste because they are only speaking to children. They consider it not important if they are unable to follow through and keep their word. They are only children who love their parents and who will forgive them. But why put them in the position of needing to forgive in the first place? Sometimes we speak only to placate the children in the immediate moment and are willing to deal with the disappointment in the future because, well, it's in the future. We fail to understand the pattern we are establishing in our children and how they cannot trust the promises of people.

I have been a terrible person of haste. My life is impossible, my schedule atrocious, and my work is complicated. It is easy and often that I become a victim of my own planning. I actually set myself up to fail when it comes to keeping my word because I have forgotten to value its importance. I have forgotten how much my Father values it. I often speak in haste concerning my intentions, failing to understand that each time I fail my word becomes that much weaker. I laugh when my children scoff at my promises, "sure dad", thinking it cute and hilarious whereas it is actually very sad. I use little catch phrases now just to deal with the immediate so I can avoid disappointing people not realizing that using phrases such as "We'll see", "maybe", "perhaps" weakens our word even further. In fact we weaken it to the point that we have to swear by something to show people that we are serious this time; "I swear on my mother's grave", "I swear to God", "I swear by everything that is holy", "I swear on a stack of Bibles". I am sure you have some you can add to the list.

As followers of Jesus Christ we need to become familiar again with the truth that our word is important to God. "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No' 'No'." Whether it is a matter of trying to please everyone, trying to get rid of pesty people, or avoiding the immediate we need to start putting value on our own word by not speaking in haste. It should be our desire to hear people saying of us, "His word is as good as gold", or "You can take his promise to the bank", showing people put value on the promises we make. If you cannot follow through don't make the promise. If you don't have all the facts, wait until you do. Check your schedule before booking the date. Have some fear about breaking the word you give. Remember, its not just about you, it's also about Jesus, who you represent. It is true that everything changes with time, but good character should always remain strong.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Are We A Bunch Of Quitters

We are a bunch of quitters, or at least that is the direction much of our society has been moving toward for the last few decades. Perhaps there is a glimmer of a changing attitude but it is only a glimmer. For many people the easiest way to deal with problems is to walk away. It is how we treat our possessions and relationships. If our stove breaks it is easier and cheaper to buy a new one. It is not saying that we can't fix it but buying a new one appears to be the best solution. We do the same with relationships. A friend is becoming too much of a drain, is not giving as much as they are taking, are doing things we do not agree with so, we get rid of them, just like putting the stove by the side of the curb. We may do the same with different groups we are in and we certainly know a look of teens do it with school. When it gets hard it is the easy solution to walk away instead of trying to overcome the challenges.

No wonder so many marriages fail. Mine did. It's not the easiest thing for me to write about this morning but it is the right thing to do. As we learn to quit various things in our lives it gets easier as we go along. Dating certainly does not help with promoting faithfulness. In dating, people enter and leave relationships like a bee going from flower to flower. We taste the nectar and then fly off to check out a different flower. These things get ingrained in our thinking so it is how we deal with so many things. We don't like our job so we fly off to a different flower. We don't like our church so we fly off to a different flower. We don't like our friends so we are off to try a different bunch. We don't like our spouse, so off we go. Now here we are, a bunch of quitters trying to teach our kids to be faithful without understanding it ourselves. What do you think they will learn from us?

Divorce is now everywhere we look. It is in my family and I dare say it is in yours. We all know someone personally who has faced this and is trying to survive the aftermath. Can we possibly understand why Jesus taught:

It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

They were a bunch of quitters in Jesus' day as well. It had gotten to a point where a man could divorce his wife if she burnt supper or didn't make the bed right. When a man married he was expecting a perfect woman who would do everything right, cooking perfectly, raising the kids perfectly, looking after the house perfectly so that if she did not meet his expectations he would get rid of her and try the next. He wasn't looking for a wife but was trying out house maids. The purpose of marriage was being abused.

Besides our union with Jesus, marriage is the ultimate commitment. Through the sexual act two people become one flesh, and this was intended for life. The only way this union can be broken is when one of them joins with another person. But even then our God prefers reconciliation. Israel had gone too far in its unfaithfulness, with the certificates of divorce, and Jesus brought them back to the reality of the Father's heart. What is that heart? We can see it here in Malachi:

Another thing you do: You flood the LORD's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
 Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
 "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty.
      So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.
(Malachi 2:13-16)

Our Father is heart broken any time we break a covenant, a promise or do not follow through on our word but I think we have become desensitized to this fact. When we do something long enough it fails to have an impact on us any more which leads us to further failures.The Church is becoming desensitized to divorce. It hurts but we accept it. In this age of grace we know that God forgives our sins when we turn to him in repentance but sometimes I think we are becoming grace abusers. The Apostle Paul warned us:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:14-18)

I write this as a man who has faced marital failure. I failed. I caused pain to my Father and to many people in our lives. My family is split and some of my children are filled with rage. It has set a pattern in their lives that only Jesus can re-write. They are facing many challenges now and they are at a disadvantage compared to those with loving parents. My failure is deep and long-lasting. We do this in so many areas of our lives, not understanding the importance of small and large covenants. Our Father dislikes unfaithfulness because he has experienced so much of it and it offends his character. Is our desire not to please our Father? Do we live for ourselves or for him? I think we may be losing the big picture, the understanding that we are suppose to be slaves to God's righteousness and not him to our desires. I think we dishonour the purpose of repentance and treat grace as a "Get out of jail free" card.

I long for a glimpse of his holiness so that my orientation can be corrected. I long for a drink of his living water again so that the plumb can be set straight in my life again, so that wrong is wrong and right is right. Is it just me or does the Bride need another glimpse of the wonder, grace, beauty and holiness of the Groom? We need to put an end to this attitude of quitting in our lives and we need to stand on the ground he has given each of us; to stand faithfully, to stand in the face of all the storms of life. And after we have done everything we can to stand, to trust Jesus to strengthen us further to stand until the end.

Open the eyes of my heart Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see You. I want to see You.

To see You high and lifted up,
Shining in the light of Your glory.
Pour out Your power and love,
As we sing holy, holy, holy.

Holy, holy holy. Holy, holy, holy.
Holy, holy, holy, I want to see You.                       - Paul Baloche

Friday, August 20, 2010

We Are Such Fakes

We are such fakes. We have this problem in North America with keeping up appearances, of keeping our problems and struggles to ourselves, of not admitting when we are in trouble. I should know because I am the worst perpetrator and I have met many people who come in close second. We do not like people to know or to see our weaknesses so we keep them hidden, hoping they will go away or at least not show their ugly face to anyone. I once had a supervising pastor who worked very hard at being open about his struggles and he did this to encourage people around him to do the same. He used to talk to me about his male flesh that would try to tempt him every time an attractive woman would walk by. He would laugh about how well he got to know the tops of his shoes in the summer because he dare not look around in the season of shedding clothes. It was refreshing to know that he was real and that he was still working out his salvation daily.

This is one area that men have it hard because we all know men are visual. We appreciate good looking things, from art to architecture, from cars to women. I am not trying to imply that women are objects to look at but only that, in the list of beautiful things in this world, for men women are at the top of the list. Yes, I know that beauty is more than the exterior appearance of a woman, that true beauty is found in the heart, but men are still naturally drawn to the beauty of appearance, at first. This gets us into a lot of trouble because it is a fine line between appreciation of beauty and the desire to possess.

It is here we find another example of Jesus taking us into the deeper understanding of the law. For the performance part of the law we know that adultery is forbidden, but there is more to it than that:

You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

This is where men have to be very careful. It is true that we can appreciate beautiful things but we know if we spend too much time thinking about those things we begin to desire to have them, such as cars. I think we all appreciate a well designed and performing car, and we may even refer to it as being sexy. Although many of us cannot afford these expensive cars there is nothing stopping us from wishing. However, with women it is a different thing because it effects a different part of us. If we look too long then our looking prompts desire and when you begin to desire a woman it does something to you. You just crossed over from appreciation of beauty to the ugliness of lust. Jesus is saying that by doing this you have committed sin in your heart because it is adultery.

We forget that although no one knows our heart except us, it is the place where God dwells and is the most occupied with. It is our heart that concerns him because it is from there that everything flows. If we allow our heart to become corrupted by sin then sin is what will work itself out in our actions. Everything is first born in the heart long before it is given life in our actions and words. Jesus taught there is only one way to deal with it:

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

In other words, stop doing whatever is leading you into sin. If looking at beautiful women is leading you to lust then stop looking. There are some men who think that Internet pornography isn't hurting anyone. People try to convince them to quit by explaining the abusive situation many of these women are in but I don't think that is very effective. Men have to come to understand that they are destroying themselves with this. Their heart is becoming so polluted that God can have nothing to do with them. It may appear not to harm anyone but it is eating away at them, who they are and who they are in Christ. Jesus says if it is leading you to sin get rid of it, so men, if you have lost control, fess up to it. Get rid of your access to the Internet or to cable / satellite, whatever the source is, until you can get some help getting your heart back.

I am not saying that women do not have a problem with this, it's just that it is a bigger problem for men. It is how we are made. But just because God made us to appreciate beautiful things does not mean he gave us an excuse to sin any more than putting that tree in the garden gave Eve and Adam an excuse to eat from it. Men have to be aware of our weakness and know where the line is. God had to deal with it in my life but he did deal with it because I invited him to. Each man reading this right now knows the power of that weakness but you also have the power to overcome it because Jesus overcame all the sins of this world. You are no longer a slave to sin but instead to God's righteousness, if you turn your heart away from sin to Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul explained:

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

The problem is that men often think no one is getting hurt and they don't realize they are killing themselves. Jesus said that this lust is adultery of the heart and adultery is sin and sin separates us from God:

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23)

Sin is never innocent. It is not the performance sin alone that will kill you but the hidden sins of the heart. This is why Jesus took the time to lead us to the deeper revelation of the law. Living the appearance of a well performed life is not going to get you anywhere if the center of that life is rotten with hidden sin. Men, be aware of your weaknesses, understand the consequences of the dangers, and perhaps many of us need to become more familiar with the tops of our shoes.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Something Worse Than Murder

We are picking up where we left off yesterday. Jesus had explained the importance of the law and that we are not to make the mistake of thinking he was removing the law or replacing it. He said that he had come to fulfill it, allowing the Holy Spirit then to write it on our hearts and to enable us to also fulfill the law through the grace of the Father. But Jesus also came to give us a greater revelation of it, a deeper understanding, to move it from mere performance to heart attitude.

The first topic he touched on was murder. You can't get much further away from "love your neighbour as yourself". Murder is probably the greatest crime that can be perpetrated against someone. To take away a person's life with no authority to do so is terrible but it is also only an outward action, a performance. If we only address outward actions we will never see real change in ourselves. We can change the outward actions but inside we are as rotten as a beautiful looking apple can be rotten. Jesus taught that we need to deal with the heart condition:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

That's not putting too fine a point on it, "will be subject to judgment", "will be in danger of the fire of hell". Obviously this needs to be taken seriously but we seldom do. The Word of God is filled with instruction on how we treat others so we should take a clue that this stuff is important. But do we take our treatment and attitude toward others as a serious thing or are we more concerned about how we are treated? Do we give any consideration to our words, to needing to be right, to wanting to remain in a position of strength with people?

Consider this for a minute: which businesses or stores do you appreciate the most? Which are the ones that you tell your friends about? Which are the ones you really enjoy dealing with? Are they not the ones who are friendly to you, the ones who smile when you walk in, the ones who make you feel important and give you special deals just because its you? I have stayed with business who do not have the best products simply because of their attitude toward me. To my friends I talk about and promote businesses because of their customer care. I appreciate being treated with kindness and understanding. Now translate that to our treatment of other people. Would we be able to fit into a company like that; kind, friendly, caring, respectful? If a business can understand these principles taught to us by God, why can't we?

Now consider what Jesus teaches next about our attitude toward others. He tells us that this matter is so important to God that it needs to be taken care of before we do anything for God. Messed up relationships must be dealt with before God will accept any service from us:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

This amazes me that Jesus puts this kind of emphasis on the matter. I used to be a great relationship guy but things happened in my life that made me withdraw into myself. Now I offend people easily, often putting myself first, not communicating my intention which complicates and magnifies hurts even more. Jesus has said this affects my service to God. How can I concentrate on loving God while ignoring loving others? I can't. And if we are sensitive to others then it would be our desire never to leave matters "up in the air". We cannot claim to be passionate about God while leaving bodies wherever we go.

Then Jesus presents it from another perspective:

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:25-26)

It is for our benefit to take care of matters quickly. If we allow things to stay on people's hearts for too long it begins to grow and escalate beyond what it should have. By not dealing with people and perhaps the hurt or perceived hurt that you caused, it will balloon into something that will be deep and long lasting. An apology does not cost anything except for pride and what has pride ever benefited anyone? Make restitution. Give some peace offering but make sure you are sincere. Our motivation should be the fact that this other person is an object of God's love. It does not matter if they are Christian or not, God loves them. You have hurt someone God loves deeply so you had better do something about it. By doing this you will avoid a great deal of trouble.

If the person refuses to forgive you and you have honestly done everything you can with a sincere heart to reconcile, then there is nothing more to do than to pray for God to intervene and help change their heart. The important thing is that you understand and honour the importance God puts on the relationship we have with other people. Do not make the mistake of thinking that all that matters is you and God. If you think this then you do not know the Word and you do not know the Father's heart. Listen to Jesus' words, allow them to wash over your heart and see that it is more than your actions, it is what motivates your actions that is important to God. It is the deeper law that Jesus has revealed to us.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Preamble To The Revelation Of The Deeper Law

Jesus did many things during his three years of ministry, not the least of which was demonstrating God's compassion as he healed the sick and disabled people who surrounded him. Many today still seek him for this same reason. Something else we all appreciate is how he revealed the Father's heart to us so that we can plainly see his love for us and the grace he extends to us. This is something we lean on heavily as we journey through each day. However, there was something else he showed us that we try to push aside in our preference to promote grace. Do not get me wrong here, without grace we would not have a leg to stand on in a relationship with our holy God, but that's just the point. Jesus took us to a greater understanding of the law and without this law we may forget our need of grace.

Imagine, if you will, that you studied all the highway laws. You knew that it was the law that everyone in the car had to wear a seat belt. You knew you had to use the turning indicators before switching lanes. You knew to check your mirrors before switching lanes. You knew to be courteous and polite to other drivers, allowing them to move in front of you in merging lanes. You knew it was the law not to talk on cellphones because they distract you from your purpose. You even knew that the underlying purpose was to keep you, your passengers and the other drivers safe. But what if you never understood the heart of the problem was that speed kills? What if you never knew that going faster than the speed limit made all these other rules useless because they would not protect you with excessive speed? Not a perfect illustration but it help somewhat to understand that Jesus came to teach us the deeper meaning of the law, not to remove it.

The law's purpose is to reveal to us the holiness and righteousness of God. It shows to us how far we have fallen from what God had created and why it needed to be fixed. On our own it is impossible for us to be reconciled with God. The law of sacrifices was a stop-gap, a band-aide solution. God had a great plan that would see us restored to him again but he needed to make sure we understood our predicament. This is the point where we are at in our reading through of the gospel of Matthew. Jesus gives us this preamble before launching into his revealing of the deeper parts of the law:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

Do not misunderstand what Jesus was saying in this last part. The Pharisees were a very righteous group. They set an example of living the law for everyone in the community. They knew the law and even added further definitions of it, explaining it so no one would be able to misinterpret it. They dressed in such a way that everyone would recognize them and they were well respected among the Israelites. However, for them the law was all about appearance and performance. Jesus was saying that our righteousness would have to be a greater righteousness than that of performance.

From my limited viewpoint of the Church I see the danger we have fallen back into, that appearance is more important than substance. It is something I question in myself as well. We become overly concerned about a person's actions instead of their heart. We cannot see people transformed by insisting they conform to a bunch of rules that they have no real understanding of the purpose. Once we understand that the law reflects our God's righteousness then perhaps we can understand the importance but even then conformity will not help us.

Without dismissing the law Jesus is telling us that the righteousness we need goes beyond mere appearance. Through further teaching Jesus reveals that this righteousness is only possible as we allow God's plan (the blood of Jesus) and power (the Holy Spirit) to transform us into a new creation. But this transformation and the grace of God is not a license to break the law, instead they give us the power and ability to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees as we obey the law written on our heart. With the transformation the Holy Spirit takes the law off the page and writes it on our heart so that we obey from the inside instead of with mere appearances. It becomes our desire and purpose to please God in everything we think, say and do. When we fail in this our Father still covers us by his love with his grace but it is our desire not to fail.

Keep this in mind as we journey to the inner layers of the law over the next few days and discover the righteousness of our Holy and Perfect God. May he lead us into better heart understanding and a greater relationship with him.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What It Means To Shine In An Exposed World

We live in an age where privacy is prized as it is slowly eroded away. Never before have we had such an opportunity to share with so many people who we are, what we believe and what we are doing. At the same time, there is a growing desire among some in our culture to turn it all off and remain hidden, unnoticed. Their thought is that they do not want to share their life with strangers and it is nobody's business what they are doing. There is also another group that thinks it is a useless act of self-display. They ask questions like, "Who's going to be interested in the fact I am grocery shopping." I would like to address this last group first.

There was a time when biographies were important for inspiring people to greatness or at least to things of greatness in the mundane. Children would read and learn about great men and women of the faith. Adults would read about great figures from history. We would read about their victories and defeats, both public and private, and we would be changed. Now we have the opportunity to see a lot more heroes daily and not great people of history. The ordinary guy has become a source of inspiration and hope. I know that I am daily inspired by many of the people in my social network, doing ordinary things in an ordinary way. We know life is not about the extraordinary events but about the faithful daily prodding. I like how people find inspirational moments in their day, in the grocery store, the parking lot, taking the dog for a walk, even in an ordinary conversation with a son over a bowl of cereal. When we share what we are doing and some of our thoughts on our experience in the day, we have no idea who we are inspiring and who we are offering hope to in their day.

There are people who consider it a waste of time and I agree if you fill your day with it and forget to live your life. However it is not a waste if you treat it like a great interactive book that you are writing with some friends. You don't spend all day with your nose in a book, but you do cherish those moments when you can curl up with it. It is also a waste of time if people are not being honest and are trying to project an image. This is where Christians have an opportunity to shed that veneer and allow the real light to shine. We are not perfect and people are turned off when we try to project that we are. Where Jesus is really seen in us is in our weaknesses, our failures, our warts and wrinkles but that is hard for us to share. Jesus taught:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

A city on a hill is expose at night. In the dark everyone can see the light reaching out. If we hide our life, staying hidden away, no one can see the light of Jesus in us. Jesus told us our life must be on display if that light is going to be seen. We want them to see Jesus, not us but often the real Jesus only shines out as we work through the challenges of life. People want to see how our faith helps us overcome the same things they are trying to overcome. If we do not admit to our addictions, our mistakes, our heartaches, how will they know that Jesus can heal these things?

Jesus' life was definitely on display. The only time he removed himself was when he needed to have some private time with his disciples. In fact, his life was so greatly observed that he was able to say to his accusers:

"I have spoken openly to the world," Jesus replied. "I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said." (John 18:20-21)

I recently met with a pastor who had some questions for me. As we spoke he told me that he had been looking through my Twitter and blog to get to understand me better. At first I was taken aback; it was the first time I had met a lurker and it kind of threw me off. I suddenly felt naked, exposed because he knew many of my thoughts, feelings and the actions I had taken yet I knew very little about him. Even coming home I started thinking about the number of people who could be lurking in the shadows watching my life. My natural reaction was to stop exposing myself so much but after some more thought I reminded myself that this had been my goal, to be accountable and transparent as much as I could. My life is not a shining example but a series of failures. However, Jesus has exposed himself in these failures, demonstrating his forgiveness, love and grace. The general thinking is, "if he has done this for me, imagine what he can do for you".

I have a good friend who lives this every day. The best way to describe him is as a bull in a china shop. He gladly exposes his life for the sake of others. He wears his weaknesses and failures but always for the purpose of preaching Jesus. Not everyone can take him. To be honest there are times he is too much for me but I can tell you this, he is genuine. His love is real, his compassion is amazing, he is generous to a fault, he is big, he is loud and he is a great person to have as a friend. He does in person what some of us try to do through technology. He is old school and there is nothing wrong with that because his motivation is the love of Jesus for the lost. Those of us who try to do it with technology need to check our motivation because sometimes we can forget and we start thinking it is all about us. It isn't. It's all about Jesus and the Father's desire for everyone to be saved from the coming judgment. We cannot hide away our lives because the light is shining through us. We need to be willing to be exposed, to be involved, to admit our mistakes, to admit our fears and doubts and then let the world see how Jesus deals with all of it in us.

Some people are going to appreciate it, even if we do not hear from them. Other people are going to misunderstand and think we are self-important. Others are going to hate us because we are exposing things they fear in themselves. All we want is for people to see the active love and grace of Jesus in our daily living because there are people who want to know there are others out there struggling to keep the house in order, who is facing a rotten boss, who loves hockey even though their team constantly fails, who is dealing with a sick child, who understands what it is to feel alone in a crowded house. You working out your salvation daily as your plod along in life can be the greatest inspiration some people need. You are a daily hero, don't hide away the light.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pass Me The Salt Please

It is corn season in my part of the world and many of my friends are loving it. I do not know why I am not partial to it but they obviously love it. Going into the grocery store we find a big bin overflowing with the delightful treat, all wrapped up in its protective husk. Beside the filled bin is a large empty container for the use of the stores customers. For those uninitiated to the tradition of corn husking this may seem a bit strange. The thing is that with the corn all tucked away in its husk you never know what you are buying. Imagine how disappointed you would be to get home, your mouth watering with great anticipation, the pot of boiling water waiting to receive its object of purpose, only to discover rotten corn as you pulled back the husk. Perhaps an insect had crawled in and spoiled the corn or perhaps it had dried out. There are any number of things that could have made that corn unfit for consumption. So this is why most people husk their corn in the store to make sure they are getting a good product.

The Christian life can be compared to this corn. On the outside everything looks great but when we peel back the image we often project we may be surprised, even horrified with what we find at the heart, where it really matters. I am one who believes that it is possible to be a vibrant, alive and even passionate Christian and still end up rotten. It is a matter of neglect, laziness, maybe pride, lack of maturity and understanding that can lead people to let go of Christ and start believing in their own abilities. The sad thing is that these people can fool themselves into believing that everything is okay and that they are on track.

What we know is the Christian is suppose to have a certain flavour about him. We could say aroma as well but for the purpose of the scripture we are using we are going to stick to flavour. Jesus taught:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. (Matthew 5:13)

The only way we can retain our flavour is by remaining in Christ and Christ in us. Jesus gave us a great image to understand this relationship:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:5-6)

It is possible to remove ourselves from the vine. It is possible to become a dry twig that fools itself into believing it is still connected to the vine and producing. However, in the Body of Christ it is an easy thing for people to know what is at the center without doing any peeling. Perhaps it is a thing we choose to ignore because we do not want to be accused of judging and we don't want to get mixed up in any problems, so we ignore the evidence. Yet, Jesus taught us how to know:
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 7:16-20)

We must make every effort to stay connected to the vine, because no one has the authority to remove us except the Father and he will only do it if we are not producing fruit. We know the fruit because it is the fruit of the Spirit:

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. (Galatians 5:22-23)

We cannot fake this fruit because the fruit is not produced by us but by the Spirit in us. The Spirit produces it in us because we are connected to Jesus. Without Jesus there is no Spirit and without the Spirit there is no fruit. The fruit is not the source of our connectedness with Christ but instead it is the result.

We have a specific flavour about us, whether the world appreciates it or not. That flavour is not us but is of Jesus. The last thing we want is for the world to taste our flavour because there is no value in that. We have nothing to offer this world except Jesus so if we are without Jesus we have no value. We are as disappointing to people as that rotten corn is to the hungry man. The solution is not a difficult one: make your relationship with Jesus Christ the most important priority in your life. Hold on to that saltiness by holding on to Jesus. Immerse yourself in his love, in worship, praise, testimony. Write about him, sing about him, tell stories about him, talk to him, walk with him. He must be your everything and remain your everything if you are going to be a fruit bearer. Value in this life is only found in Jesus Christ. The sooner we understand and accept that the sooner the Spirit is able to produce things in us that please our Father.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Blessed Are Those Who Press On; They Will Be Rewarded

Let's be perfectly honest here for just a moment; it is sometimes frustrating following Jesus, isn't it? Sometimes I feel it would be great to be able to set it all aside and just believe in fairy tales, where everything ends with proper answers and conclusions. It would be nice to think that everything we face in our life would have an answer and that it would all tuck away neatly at the end of the day. However, I think we are all grown ups here and we all know that life gets really messy, that following Jesus gets really messy and sometimes the only happy ending we are guaranteed of is found in God's glory.

I do not mean to be down on life here but the reality is we sometimes expect too much from it and we do not follow Jesus in the reality of it. To answer your question, I am feeling perfectly fine today, rather joyful in fact and have great expectations for today. However, I am concerned that we are not dealing with the reality of our God, his perspective and his promises. I had a friend ask me yesterday, "Where is all this prosperity?" Good question. Some followers of Jesus seem to be very prosperous and others do not. Does that mean those who are wealthy and in a good place in life are more blessed and better loved, perhaps more obedient, than those who are struggling through life? I do not believe so. What I do believe is that we are failing to look at it with the right set of eyes. In Matthew 5 we find this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.
 Blessed are the merciful,
      for they will be shown mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart,
      for they will see God.
 Blessed are the peacemakers,
      for they will be called sons of God.
 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:3-9)

We see much of this in Jesus' teaching, like an action and reaction, cause and effect, seed and harvest. We have little sayings that try to explain it, such as "Don't judge a book by its cover". With God things are never as they appear because he is always working it out. It's just that sometimes that working out is not concluded until glory. The happy ending was never intended to take place here, at least not the happy ending that matters.

What is Jesus saying here, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"? Are the people blessed because they are poor in spirit? Of course not but they are blessed because God has a plan to overcome it and the blessing is found in what will result. It is similar to the thought that we cannot have victory without a battle. Are we blessed because we are in trouble, struggling, facing great difficulties and heartache? No, but we are blessed because of what God is going to do for us and in us because of this stuff. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." They are not blessed because of the loss they are experiencing but they are blessed because of what God will do with this condition.

We are always encouraged by preachers and teachers to look beyond our circumstances, to fix our eyes on the eternal and trust God. We are only defeated when we think that this moment in our lives is all there is, when we make God as small as our circumstances, when we start measuring the value of our lives according to the standards of our culture and society. God finds great value in our lives whether we are rich or poor, strong or weak, successful or failing and each of these circumstances open a specific blessing God is able to lay on us to "more than make up" for what we have suffered. Jesus said:

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

Now there is the attitude that sometimes gets on our nerves; Rejoice and be glad. Paul told us to rejoice in all things. In fact, he was so insistent that he said, "I tell you a second time, Rejoice!" But this kind of attitude requires a certain level of understanding. Jesus told us to rejoice and be glad because whatever we must suffer and face in this place will be more than made up for by our rewards in heaven. Jesus is saying here that even if we are suffering and paying a price because of all these things we can know we are blessed because of the happy ending that is waiting for us.

So those parents who remain strong, faithful and loving with their rebellious teenage daughter will be rewarded. The wife who remains steadfast, loving and faithful in a poor marriage will be greatly rewarded.Those who pay a great personal price to remain friends with the unlovable will be greatly rewarded. Those who continue seeking the face of God in those dark periods of their lives will be greatly awarded. The pregnant single teen who suffers through all the struggles, problems and cost of having that child and being his mom will be rewarded. All those who pay the price of doing the right thing in difficult times and situations will be rewarded. All those who do not give up and give in will be rewarded.

The honest truth is that God loves you but because he does he desires the greater things for you. He could give you what you desire here and now but you may end up losing the things of greater value that God wants you to possess. If going through those "valleys of the shadow of death" will bring about the great blessings of God then he will lead you through them, never leaving you alone and always encouraging you to press on. Man's idea of prosperity is a fleeting thing and with it we must always remember that our Father's priority is our blessings in his eternity over our comfort in this place of shadows. So, let's fix our eyes on what cannot be seen, speak encouragement to our soul, and press on "to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Confession of Shame

As I opened the Word this morning I was struck by one single thought: What do you hope to get out of this relationship with God today? It is not that odd of a thought. We all give and take in relationships but the healthier relationships are those where we are more concerned with contributing than receiving. In healthy relationships the giving takes effort but the receiving is a natural effect of the giving. This has been normal with me in my relationship with Jesus. I have long desired and worked at developing a servant's heart, believing that it was my responsibility to respond to his love by giving everything I have to him, to serving him, and not worrying about receiving. After all, it is part of his nature to give back. At least, that is what I thought I was doing, until last night.

I am planning to get married in October to the most incredible woman who has profoundly touched my spirit and heart. It is an event I am anticipating with great joy. We have been talking and planning with the help of friends so it looks like it is all coming together. At the same time I am busy getting ready, along with my team, to open our school for the new school year. However, yesterday I received some bad news that, due to some unforeseen expenses, our account has been drained and we had to borrow money from the church to cover it. This happens from time to time but in taking from the church my salary goes with it. Again, this is normal and now I scramble to see if I can cover my bills. Then it struck me last night, I have no money for a wedding. My spirit sunk. Immediately I started feeling bitter toward families that have monies outstanding to the school and toward the people who have stopped tithing regularly. The thought going through my head was, "Oh no, not another year of this. It isn't worth it". That is how I went to bed.

This morning I woke, not feeling so dark, but still under a cloud. I want to get married! I opened the Word as I do every morning to prepare this devotional and this is what I read in Matthew 4:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. (Matthew 4:23-25)

It suddenly struck me, "You are not serving Jesus, you are trying to use him". Look at the three things Jesus was doing at the time; teaching, preaching the good news, and healing. What was it that the people wanted from Jesus? His teaching that revealed the heart of the Father like never before? The preaching of the good news which set the captives free? Or the healing? The people wanted their needs met so they could get on with life. They considered him a great man, a wonderful prophet but people were not listening to the message that would see them all transformed from what they were. They just wanted their immediate needs dealt with and they came at him in great crowds. They wanted to use him to get what they wanted.

In other Scripture we see that Jesus saw his mission was to cast out demons so people would be free to make their own decision without the influence of the enemy, and to preach the good news. These two things were at the center of the Father's desire for everyone to be saved. He is interested in our hearts more than anything else. The reason Jesus healed is because he could not help himself. His compassion compelled him to act, to reach out, to alleviate the pain and suffering. He is still more concerned about our hearts than our comforts and he still responds to our needs out of compassion. However, his response to our needs has to do with life here and we should have our eyes fixed on the life to come.

It is as I read the response of the crowds that I was struck with the thought that I too am just using Jesus to get what I want. I am no better than those crowds who flocked to him for healing and who wanted to see the spectacular. All this time I had thought I was serving him out of a pure response to his love, with no concern for myself. Now, as I look back through my years of service, I realize that many times I gave with the expectation of getting back. I expected that if I gave my time, talents, energy that God would give back to me things to make my life easier. After all, a person would have to be a fool to volunteer their time and pay the expenses out of their own pocket.

The fact is that my God has never left me in want. He has always responded to my needs. He deserves better than my doubts. Every year we face this and every year he has led us through. These are facts that I remind myself of, but right now, as I type this, his provision is no longer my concern; my attitude is. I want to be better than the crowd who chased after him for the "free meal". I desire to have an attitude like Paul, who served the Lord faithfully in the face of great trial and persecution, who never worried about the cost but only about his faithfulness to the Lord. I thought I had learned this and I thought this is what I had been doing but if I had I would never have questioned whether it is worth it. Of course it is worth it because it is Kingdom work, it is the Father's will, and it is for service to the Lord by serving others. The cost doesn't matter because there is no more important relationship in my life than my relationship with Jesus.

So now that I am totally chastised by the Spirit, I repent of my doubt and fear, I check my attitude and I press on. There is no greater challenge, no greater joy and no greater purpose than serving Jesus Christ and participating in the Father's mission. May he give us all eyes to see and ears to hear and may we respond to his voice today.

(PS - don't you even think of taking God's place as my provider. This was an illustration of my weakness in service and not an appeal for money. Just making this perfectly clear. My strength is found in the Lord.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

God Is Not Afraid Of Getting His Hands Dirty

I don't think we get God. I think we think we do, but we don't. The more I study and the further along I get in life, I realize that most of us are still worshiping a plastic Jesus instead of the authentic one. We worship a plastic Jesus because we want to live plastic lives, all neat, clean and simple. However, our God is complicated and life is complicated. We have a God who is willing to get his hands dirty because that is what our lives require. He makes tough decisions and demands some very difficult things from us. We have tried to candy-coat him over the years because there are some difficult things to explain to people and if we don't then people may not decide to come to church. However, we need to get real again.

The fact is, the number one thing at the center of everything our Father does is eternity. The one thing he is constantly working towards is preparing us for eternity. This makes our hearts his first priority and not necessarily our creature comforts. This is why we often do not see eye to eye with our Father because we do not maintain the same priority. Consider for a moment a situation we find in Matthew 4. Perhaps it is rather tame compared to some of the other things Jesus will demand of people later on and perhaps you have not given this situation much thought, but for poor Zebedee Jesus was trouble. We read:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20)

And then, what seems to be an unrelated incident:

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:21-22)

This was a significant moment as Jesus called these men because three of them, Peter, James and John would later become the inner three, the ones Jesus took with him when he left the others behind. However, for poor Zebedee this meant disaster, or at least the appearance of one. If nothing else it meant more work for this man. It turns out that Peter was partners with Zebedee in this small fishing business. More importantly, Zebedee just lost three men from his team. His world was changed by two simple words, "Follow me". Later we will also discover that Zebedee's wife was one of the women who traveled with Jesus, supporting him with finances and looking after the needs of his group. Meanwhile, Zebedee is back home trying his best without his wife, sons and fishing partner. How fair is this?

Our Father's work is not about what is fair here but about what needs to be done to get people into the Kingdom. Over the centuries our God has asked very difficult things from his people. The example I continue to bring up is Hudson Taylor because I can almost taste the devastation of the sacrifices he was asked to make. In his mission in China he ended up having to bury several of his children over the years and then his wife. According to today's gospel he should have been over there in fancy clothes, living in a big house, and driving a big car. Instead he was dressed in native dress, living in a small home and sacrificing his food so his fellow workers could survive. The sacrifice that gets me though is when he had to make the decision to send his children back to England to live with friends, for their own health and safety, while he continued on. Hudson Taylor loved his children very much and this sacrifice effected him deeply.

Today people would never believe that God would ask that of us. He would never tear a family apart for his mission. He wants us all to live in nice homes, driving nice cars, living nice lives with our nice families. This is our plastic life worshiping our plastic Jesus. The reality of what we live every day should remind us that life is messy and so is the Father's will because his priority is different than ours:

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

Our comfort is not his priority but our eternity is. When we sign up with Jesus we also sign up for this mission and we will be called upon to make sacrifices and to let go of many of our notions of who God is and what he would or would not demand of us. He will sacrifice one life to win a soul to the Kingdom because the fact is the first life is already safe. We have this distorted view of our life here because it is difficult for us to see it through eternity. The Apostle Paul is good at getting us to see more clearly.

The Apostle Paul was called upon to suffer and sacrifice a great deal. It never seemed that he got a break and even in the end he died a prisoner far from home. However, Paul refused to look at things from his poor perspective and he forced himself to look at everything through the mission we have and eternity:

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)

We fix our eyes on what is unseen because what is unseen is eternal. This is the priority of the Father and is the reason why he will require sacrifices that people today deny. He will separate parents from children and demand people to live in poor conditions. He will expect us to give up our most prized possessions and will sometimes allow us to fall ill and die. He will require us to miss meals and live in used clothes. He will do and have us do whatever is required to give everyone the opportunity to enter the Kingdom. If you think this is too much then I remind you of what it cost him.

At the end of the day I believe Zebedee was well saved and pleased to make the sacrifice of giving up workers, his sons, his wife and some of his wealth to support Jesus in the mission. We know this because in that culture his wife would have required his permission to leave to help Jesus. I think it was hard for Zebedee to carry on without them because sometimes those who are left behind to continue on make the greater sacrifice. In the end, we all have the same mission, same goal, and the same destination. Let's not be afraid to get our hands dirty.