Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let's Start Doing Things Right

Although it carries with it a lot of responsibility, it feels great to be in control. Go ahead, admit it, you like to control things in your life. So much of our life is following someone else's direction so when we have things we are the boss of it feels good. It feels so good that we forget that we are always suppose to take direction from the Holy Spirit in all matters of our life. Many times we show that we like being the "master of our own destiny", failing to even check with our Father on his will for us. Yet, when things go terribly wrong because we have made wrong choices we turn to him hoping he will bail us out.

Somehow we need to make some changes in our thinking and perspective in life or we are going to remain ineffective Kingdom workers. The reality of it is we do not get to tell our Father what part we are willing to play or what jobs we are willing to do, which is great as far as I am concerned. I have been in the boss's position for the great majority of my working life and it comes with a lot of responsibility. I find it to be of great relief when I seek the Father's will and direction because my responsibility becomes a simple matter of obedience. When I am involved in the Father's work I am aware that the choices and responsibility belong to him, and he always provides direction. There are so many times that I begin to pray over people and the Spirit takes over, filling my mouth with Words and my mind with images to bless and encourage the people by speaking into a place I knew nothing about. He has done this and similar things with me whenever I remain sensitive and obedient to him

I think that we sometimes forget that we represent Jesus in this place and we have been promised that the Spirit will equip us with what we need. One of the greatest things he provides is the words to speak. These are not our words, or carefully crafted speeches or prayers, but words that fill our mouths from the Spirit. Jesus had warned and promised his disciples:

Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:17-20)

I don't think we trust Jesus, especially in this matter. I don't think we believe him. I think we think that this does not pertain to us. I praise God that Peter did not think like this when he stood and addressed the crowd after receiving the Spirit. A simple fisherman who stood before thousands of people but who spoke through the anointing of the Spirit, and conviction fell on thousands that day.

We have turned the Church into a house of strategy instead of a Holy Spirit anointed powerhouse. We make all of our plans of how to plant churches, using techniques proven in the business world, and so we build our small business based on religious needs and we sell our product. We sell our product. We become nothing more than a salesman instead of the Holy Spirit filled, powerhouse of God's anointed words that bring convict to the hearts of men. We are too busy filling our mouths with our own words, relying on our own wisdom. We forget Paul's words to the Corinthians:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Do you see why Paul chose to rely on the Spirit? "So that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." We need to stop controlling the Kingdom and leave Jesus to be the boss. We need to stop rehearsing our words and practicing our actions. We need to start trusting what Jesus promised and just step out there in faith, trusting he will give us the words to speak; words filled with his anointing and not our wisdom. It may not be the most eloquent thing you have ever said, but it will be the most powerful, and it will provoke change. Are you brave enough to give it a go? More importantly, do you love him enough to let go; to let go of the control and let Jesus be the boss who you trust with your life and all other things that are important to you? Let's start doing things right again. Let's leave Jesus to be the boss.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Do The Wolves Look Like Sheep To You?

It is amazing how quickly we can adapt to any long term situation we find ourselves in. In fact, it is amazing how quickly we can accept the abnormal as normal if that is the environment we we are exposed to for a period of time. Children who are raised in a one parent family will consider that normal. Children who are raised by a same sex couple will find that normal. Children who are raised by an abusive parent will find that normal. I could go on to include dirty homes, non-working parents and a whole list of abnormal situations. The point is that most of us will accept the situation we are in as normal until we are introduced to something that is truly normal.

Most people, before meeting Jesus, did not realize just how out of sorts they were with God. Most of our neighbours consider themselves to be good people living a good life. It is not until they are introduced to Jesus and are convicted by the Holy Spirit that they are given a new standard of normal. However, we do not need to turn to our neighbours to see this effect in action. Many of us, even after having received Jesus, still consider the world to be normal. We have grown up in it. It is what we are use to. It is our environment which we accept with very little questioning. Of course there is the major stuff that not even the world accepts such as rape, murder, violence and tax evasion but then there is all the other stuff which has become unnoticed.

The point I am making is that we can't afford to be stupid as Christians. We need to be aware of the hostile environment in which we live. I am not referring to the people but the forces behind the people. We need to understand that there is little that should be considered innocent because everything has been touched and distorted by the enemy. It is simply that we are use to and do not know any better. As Jesus was sending out his twelve he told them this:

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

How quickly we forget that in and of ourselves we are totally defenseless in a world that loves to rape and pillage people, their lives and their families. Sheep have no defenses and the wolf is a born killer. Wolves are not evil, they only act according to their nature. People in the world are only acting according to their nature but their nature is to destroy sheep. How quickly we can forget the hostility of this place simply because we have been raised in it. We don't even see the wolves because we have grown up thinking they are sheep.

Jesus gave the instructions that we are to be shrewd as snakes. There is a problem here for most believers because of the double negative image. Most of us hear the word shrewd and we think of a businessman who is out to make a buck using whatever means he can. Add to that the image of a snake, which most people do not like, and we end up with confusion. However, the word shrewd means to be sharp in practical matters. It means to possess keen perception, to be intelligent, discerning. Let's grab the last word, discerning. Jesus is telling us to have eyes that see and a mind that understands what is going on around us. Be aware so that we can avoid trouble where possible, avoid traps of the enemy, and not to fall in with the wrong crowd.

At the same time Jesus tells us to be innocent, not to get caught up in the things and attitudes of this world. Some people think we can use the methods and the attitudes of this world to accomplish the goals of the Father. Jesus faced these same temptations and walked away untouched by the enemy, innocent of wrong doing. We forget that we must operate within the righteousness of our Father, not relying on the methods that we have grown up with. It can be a hard thing to switch our mindset, perspective and methods when that is all we have known but that is why Jesus is making it clear here that there has to be a difference.

If we leave the house messy enough for long enough, everyone will stop seeing the dirt and the clutter. We may have stopped seeing the dirt and clutter of this world. We actually think that the wolves are simply a strange breed of sheep. We need to listen to Jesus, become shrewd as we become sensitive to the Holy Spirit and capture the innocence that we need to have as a child of the Father. It really comes down to being aware and being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Stop fooling yourself, understand what we are up against and let's get to work.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Releasing The "More" Of Life

There is more to life then we could ever dare imagine. So many of us are stuck in the daily grind that our greatest goal for ourselves is just to make it to the end of the day. Our motivation becomes supper and relaxing in front of the television or computer screen, to lose ourselves in some fantasy world. We want to escape from a life we do not understand and do not want to face because we fail to see what remains hidden to us. There is so much more than the daily grind. There is so much more than the things we are facing. There is so much more than what we are seeing right now, and the incredible thing is, our Father wants you to see and to experience the "more" he has given us. To release the "more" should be our goal today.

The interesting thing about the Kingdom is that it works in paradoxes to our thinking and our way of doing things. If you listen to Jesus' teachings you see these everywhere; if you try to save your life you will lose it; if you lose your life you will gain it; the first will be last and the last first; the least is the greatest; if you want to lead you must serve. One of the hardest for people to understand and live is, we have to give in order to receive. This requires a great deal of faith. Some of you have automatically started thinking of money but I am talking about love, forgiveness, mercy and encouragement. You can't be blessed unless you know how to bless.

In this morning's reading from the Word we find we are still looking at Jesus' instruction to the 12 disciples as he sends them out on their first training mission. He gives them these instructions:

Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. (Matthew 10:11-13)

I take us back to my opening comment: there is more to life than we could ever dare imagine. We are a people of blessing because our Father is a Father of blessing. We fail to understand the power of the words we release, but lack of understanding does not strip them of their power. Our days are dull and dreary because we fail to understand our place of blessing. In this case Jesus is specifically instructing his disciples on blessing the home that takes them in but in other places in the Word we can see the role of blessing people in general. It may be peace as is spoken of here, but it can also be the blessing of encouragement, of health, of finances, of love, of forgiveness, of friendship, of any number of things that the Father wants to speak through you into the lives of others. We may not understand what is being released in their lives as we bless them but we don't need to know. Soon enough our workplace will change, our neighbours home will change, our school will change, that hospital room will change, because wherever we are, that's where the party is.

We are a blessed people because we are a people of blessing. If we are not blessed it is because we are failing to give blessings. We cannot receive if we are not giving out. The more we give out the more the Father pours into our lives. This is why earlier Jesus told his disciples, "Freely you have received, freely give". It is the very nature of the Kingdom. However, if we are selfish and try to bless ourselves we will slip into a dark and cold place in our lives. If we fail to see the hidden things, the costly things, the joyous things of life, we will be stuck in Dullsville.

Some of us have mistakenly thought it was our place to curse, to call down the fires of heaven upon those who reject our curse us. Two brothers thought the same thing and Jesus rebuked them by telling them that he had not come to destroy but to save. Life is too short and too costly to keep a tally of the offenses in your life. The list of unforgiveness you tuck away would be too long and too heavy to carry. If you truly want to experience life in the technicolour our Father has reserved for us you need to let go and be a person of blessing. As you speak blessing into people's lives you too will be freed from what has shackled you and our Father will be pleased with you. I am not saying your life will suddenly be filled with butterflies and daffodils, but it will be filled with brilliant colour and purpose.

There is so much more to life than what we imagine. Let's not allow the hidden things to remain hidden. Let's not stay stuck in Dullsville. Let's not waste another day of lack of blessing. Let's jump into this day head first and be determined to speak our Father's blessings into the lives of every single person we encounter today. Let's release the "more" in life. Start with the blessings of joy and encouragement and see where that gets you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Money Is What Makes The World Go Round, But Should It?

As we look around at our crazy world in North America we can't help but conclude that people seem to have one motivation in life. In fact, money seems to be the great motivator in all aspects of living. Bosses use it to satisfy their employees, governments use it to influence voters, even some parents use it to bribe their children into good behaviour. Even in my school we have used it in the sense that without it our students will lead a terrible life. We have them do two budgets, one based on a minimum wage job and the other with an education based career. Sad to say, in most cases it has proven successful at motivating our students to do better, but at what cost?

We aren't going to lie to ourselves here, the song writer was correct in saying that money makes the world go round. The more we have the more we are able to do. Without enough money we have to constantly live on the edge of need. But who is to say how much is enough? Something I have discovered is the more money you have the more you need. If last year you scraped through on $12,000 and this year you have $20,000, you are still going to scrape through. The more you have, the more you spend. As much as we need money to live, it cannot be our motivator for living and not living; for doing and not doing.

In his preparation for sending out his twelve disciples, Jesus gave these instructions:

Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. (Matthew 10:9-10)

These 12 disciples were being sent out to serve but they were also being sent out to learn and one of the greatest lessons we need to learn is that we serve a generous Father, not money. Jesus did not say they would go without; he said that the worker is worth his keep. Isn't that how we see ourselves, as God's workers? Jesus did not want these 12 men relying on any of their own resources because they had to learn the valuable lesson that God's work is not dependent on Man's resources. Even if every Christian entered into rebellion and withheld their tithes, the Father's work would still move forward. He is not dependent on our tithes, which is an act of love and adoration not a method of bankrolling the Kingdom.

Too often our plans are frustrated by lack of finances. In these cases we should ask ourselves if these things are the Father's will or our plans, and if they are our plans we need to drop them and seek the Father's will. If we are spending more time raising funds than we are serving Jesus then we have gotten ourselves all messed up. If we are going to work every day because of our pay cheque then we are out of step with the Spirit. If our motivation is money and not love then our lives are being wasted.

Now listen carefully, I am not saying that we should all quit our jobs and become flower children, I am asking you to check your motivation this morning. Check what is the driving force behind what you do. In this instant Jesus told them to take nothing, but in another season Jesus told them to take everything they could, they would need it. The difference is that they were instructed then to take it in the same manner they were being instructed here not to take it. Money itself is not bad, not bad at all, but the reason behind it is what needs to be checked. If God has told us to do something and we are not doing it because of lack of money then we do not have a clue what it means to live by faith. We can't wait on money to do the Father's will, unless he has instructed us to wait. We can't go ahead and do something just because we have the money, unless our Father has told us to go ahead and do it.

Money is simply a tool, not a motivation. It cannot be your motivation to go to work today. Our motivation needs to come from Jesus' love. We do things out of obedient love. We serve our boss, our neighbour, our family because of his love for us. This motivation of love will see us move mountains, swim oceans, traverse jungles, face giants, cast out demons, forgive sins against us, love the unlovable. Sometimes the Father will provide a job for us to pay the bills and other times he will provide it directly. Our part is to listen, to obey and to love. Our part is to be completely dependent on the Father's instructions and to trust those instructions with all of our heart.

Obedience is the key, even when you don't understand. The disciples will go out in complete obedience and experience the power of God in their service. When we obey in love, we too are astounded when our Father does everything right, as we see demons flee, and the dead rise. It is not so much what the instructions are, to stay or to go, to take or to leave, as long as we do what we are told. Our dependence is on our Father in all things, and the sooner we all learn that, the sooner we will all be better off. Now excuse me while I go and adjust some of my lesson plans.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Freely You Have Received, Freely Give

I think all of us can relate to being sent on an errand. I remember as a child being sent on many errands, but I wasn't very good at it. I was the sort of child who would go into a room and then spend fifteen minutes standing there, trying to remember why I had come into the room. I'm smiling right now because people in my life today thinks it is a result of age, but I have always been this way. Eventually my mom learned to write it down for me and then I became great at running errands. It isn't that I am too dumb to remember but instead that my mind is too busy; always thinking, always figuring, always prioritizing, and always letting go of the insignificant. Certainly my mother did not consider the errand insignificant but, as an 8 or 9 year old boy with adventures to experience, it seemed insignificant to me.

Perhaps you can relate or perhaps you have always been good at running errands, either way, we need to come to grips with the fact that we have a very big errand that we have been sent to do. Some of us are very much like me, not understanding the significance of the errand, getting lost in our own thoughts and our desire for our own adventures. Others of us are great at the errand and instead of coming up with excuses we need to learn from them. We know the errand as the Great Commission, when Jesus told us to go throughout the world and make disciples. We also know it as when he told his disciples that their mouths would be filled with his words at the appropriate time. We also know it from when he told us we would do even greater things than we have heard he did. Matthew gave us much of our errand in one neat little package.

In Matthew 10 we find Jesus sending out his 12 disciples on an errand and with instructions. They were being sent in his authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. Some of what Jesus told them was significant for the moment but some was also given concerning their future and applies to us today. What struck me this morning was his specific instructions:

Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:5-8)

Jesus was anointing them for the moment with the same type of anointing that would become permanent with the giving of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit could not come until Jesus had finished and returned to the Father. In the past the Holy Spirit would rest on people and not dwell in them as he does now. This anointing he gave to his disciples was a "resting upon". What stands out for me is the last statement, "Freely you have received, freely give". It's a statement, a command that causes my spirit to stand to attention as it reverberates through my relationship with the Father.

So much of Jesus' instruction deals with our relationship and attitude toward other people but this command speaks to something deeper. It takes us to the heart of the matter just like when he told us not to hate and not to lust. We are vessels through which the Father is reaching out to the world. Every one of us represents Jesus but in a way that is significantly different then the way an ambassador represents his country. An ambassador is limited by his own gifting and abilities. Some of them are great public speakers, others are not. Some ambassadors have great people skills, others do not. Each ambassador serves his country to the best of his ability, but that is not how we serve Jesus. We do not serve him according to the best of our ability but we serve him in obedience, according to his ability. We truly are nothing more than a vessel of his greatness.

Our failing is not realizing this. We want to offer him our best but Jesus can't even use our best because our best is filled with us. We need to stop trying to serve him in our strength and weakness and realize this errand is supernatural and requires supernatural abilities. Our love is not good enough to save the world. Our compassion is "on again off again". We get tired and cranky. Our words contain no wisdom. Our kindness has no changing abilities. Our greatest strength is our absolute surrender and availability to Jesus. "Here am I Lord, send me" but with the understanding that we go naked, with nothing to offer. It is as we stand naked before the Lord that he is then able to equip us for the errand.

This is the thing, we are involved in a supernatural work which requires supernatural equipping. Jesus is filling us with every good thing we need to serve him here to the best of his ability. We are only bearers of these blessings, in the same way we only bear the fruit of the Spirit. These things are poured into us, produced in us and we only need to be obedient vessels to carry it so others may benefit. It is a humbling realization that God does not want our abilities but wants us to serve according to his anointing. This is the reason he is able to use anyone, regardless of his education or station in life. He uses whoever he chooses, which leads us to all kinds of problems when we think it is us who do the choosing.

The other problem we have is when we become selfish about these gifts. We start using them for our own profit and become a disobedient servant, lining his own pockets. What fools we are not to realize that we receive so that we are equipped to give. Whether the blessing is love, mercy, forgiveness, time, strength, encouragement, riches, patience, understanding, revelation; it is given for us to give out. "Freely you have received, freely give." We cannot afford to be selfish with things that have been given for other people. How do we feel about governments who receive aid for their people in times of disaster but keep it for their own purpose? That is exactly what some of us are guilty of doing. We have been given things so that other people may be saved out of disaster but we are using it for our own selfish gain.

I really do not want to be in those shoes when Jesus recalls his talents and asks for our accounting of them. "What have you done with the things I have given you?" Some of you understand about the world of investment better than I do. Jesus has given us his riches to invest in the lives of others and he will be asking us to account for every last one of them. These things do not belong to us. We have freely received them with the instruction to freely give them out. We need to be operating in this anointing, casting out demons, healing the sick, preaching the good news, loving the unlovable, feeding the poor, sharing the light in the darkness, investing in lives that seem worthless. We need to do this because we have been told to do it. "Freely you have received, freely give."

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Nagging Question

I awake but refuse to get up immediately. The house is quiet, except for the soft noise of the tv from the basement, signaling that at least one of my children has risen early on this free Friday. The tinkle of a tiny bell comes from the kitchen; the cat is on the move. That was an interesting idea MJ had, to attach a small bell to the collar. At least I always know where the cats.

The lady upstairs is yelling at her children, or perhaps her boyfriend this time. The sound of boots clomping across the floor confirms that her anger is aimed at the boyfriend. Soon the thunderous foot steps of her boys will fill my quiet house.

The deadened sound of car doors opening and closing makes it way through my closed windows. Lately the nights have been cooling off, to the point that I am now forced to sleep with my windows closed again. It dampens the sound of the waking neighbourhood put the sound of cars moving up the street tells me that the race to beat rush hour has begun. A wave of pleasure washes over me as I enjoy the feeling of my day off; no rushing anywhere. It a while the awakening will be over and I will be left with my quiet house in my quiet neighbourhood.

This is when the thought strikes. It is the thought that strikes every time I am left with some quiet thoughts about the life that is surrounding me. People are living and dying around me every day. They are living and dying in ignorance of the truth of the complexities all around them. They are living in a state of separateness from their Father without even realizing their loss. They are ignorant of this fact but not innocent. Something inside of them whispers that there is more than what they are living; more than what they are seeing; more than what they are feeling. They are ignorant but I am not. This is where the thought needles my consciousness; the thought that prompts me to consider my own life and actions; the insistent thought that wears on me like a steady, slow moving stream.

Are we doing enough?

There it is; written out on my computer screen, staring back at me, begging to be answered. Listening to the life around me, awakening from its night of slumber, I wonder if we are doing enough to awaken it from its spiritual slumber. Without a doubt my life is full and it is busy but as I listen I can't help but wonder if it is busy with the right stuff; stuff that would please Jesus. Are my choices the right choices, ones that give priority to God and people? Am I busy with what I think Dad wants or with the things I know he wants because Jesus made it plan to us?

As I roll to my side and grab my Bible, I open it and consider the text for this morning. I laugh as I am confronted by the fact that Jesus was a very busy man too:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. (Matthew 9:35)

It always struck me that in all his busyness Jesus was never occupied by his own needs. I see this busyness and then I read about his motivation for it:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

Jesus' motivation was a compassion that flowed from a heart of love. He did what he did in obedience to his Father but even that was motivated by love. Jesus wanted to reach everyone, heal everyone, bless everyone, save everyone. The work was huge because the need was huge. So Jesus told his followers:

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matthew 9:37-38)

Is the need any less in the age in which we walk this planet? With so many billions of people, with so much suffering and death, with such a need for healing, with such an outcry for salvation, how could I ever think that the need is less? Is this question being prompted by the convulsing crowds of hungry and desperate people? Is this what it feels like when compassion claws at becoming the priority of the heart? Am I doing enough? Am I doing anything at all?

The tv is getting louder. A sign that that another of my children as awake. A scream! Yup, they are all waking up now.

It is nice to have a day off, to enjoy my children, to run some errands, to prepare for my marriage but can the world afford it? As the noise of life increases around me so does the pressing awareness of the mission I have been given, that we have all been given. Yes, let's pray for more workers but let us pray that the workers we have will realize the immediate needs that are surrounding us. Let us begin by asking for an increase of love for the lost, for people, for the objects of our Father's affection and let us measure our priorities according to this love and our mission. There is so much for us to do and a lot less time to get it done. We should heed Jesus' warning to us, his professed followers:

Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. (Mark 13:33-36)

I roll to the edge of my bed and sit up, letting my feet down on the cool floor. I hear the door close as the neighbour leaves for the day. With the nagging question on my mind I set my heart to one simple truth; it's time to get moving!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There Is No Room For "Ifs" In A Relationship Of Trust

Some times our thinking toward God can border on the idiotic. Whether it is riches or happiness, people try so hard to find a pattern or formula for getting what they want from our Father. Often we miss the point that the thing that does not change about him is his character but the methods he uses to cause his will to be implemented is as varied as the snowflakes that fall on a winter day. There is no formula for his methodology, in fact, there is no methodology at all. Our Father uses whatever is at hand and there are no magic words and special things we must do. We are required to have only one thing; the one thing many of us lack.

We saw this in yesterday's devotions concerning the woman who reached out to Jesus for healing. We find it again with the incident of the two blind men who refused to give up. They followed Jesus through the streets, in the crowd, calling out for healing. They followed him all the way to the house where Jesus was staying. They wanted this healing badly and they saw that Jesus was their only hope of receiving it. This is what is recorded:

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" "Yes, Lord," they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you"; and their sight was restored. (Matthew 9:28-30)

Sounds like a Sunday School lesson, right? Then we need to go back to Sunday School because we are failing to learn the lesson. It's a simple one to see and to know but it takes desperation to live. Jesus asked them a simple question: "Do you believe I am able to do this?" He was looking for a statement of faith from them. They declared their faith and Jesus told them it would be done to them according to this faith. Now I ask you, what part are we failing to understand here?

Our entire relationship with Jesus rests on the answer to that question, "Do you believe I am able to do this?" Whether we are talking about forgiveness, eternal life, or daily bread, it all comes down to how we answer that question. There can't be any "if's" in the relationship; if you are real Jesus, help me; if you love me, rescue me; if I am forgiven, give me peace; if you want to, use me; if you are able, heal me. So many "if's" that we live with and that we allow to weaken the power of God's love in us. So many "if's" that keep us anchored to a world that cares nothing about us and that considers us just another mouth to feed. So many "if's" that keep us married to our sin and that keep us under the enemy's thumb. Sometimes we border on the idiotic.

Throughout his ministry Jesus taught that faith was key to living the life we have been called to live. He said in very plain language to these two blind men, "According to your faith will it be done to you". To the woman we read about yesterday he said, "Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you". Even, James, the brother of Jesus, gave it to us in plain language:

But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:6-8)

Perhaps you don't doubt his ability but you do doubt his willingness because you doubt his forgiveness. It still all comes down to the fact that you don't believe, whether it is in his ability or in his will. You don't have because you are doubting even as you are asking. How he does it should not matter to you. The fact that he will do it is all that should be in your heart. We can't serve him even for a minute if our relationship is going to be ruled by doubt. Jesus said that if we repent we will be forgiven. Believe! Jesus said if we need anything we can ask and receive. Believe! Jesus said that he would never leave us or forsake us. Believe! Jesus said that he is coming back so that he can take us to be with him in the place he has prepared for us. Believe!

We will have it done to us according to our faith. Unfortunately for a large number of people this means they will continue to live according to their own strength and ability. This is a real shame considering the love and power that is available to them. The fact is, even the blind could see better than we can see in this current age. We need to stop trying to dig our own way out of the hole we are in and seek Jesus' help. We need to stop suffering in our own weakness and receive the power to overcome as Jesus has promised us. We need to stop living weak and small lives that do not honour the reality of who Jesus is and step into the real Kingdom of promise. There is no place for "ifs" in this relationship of trust. Believe and it will be done to you according to your faith.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Extraordinary Living

The last thing any of us want to do is lead an ordinary life. Perhaps to some people our dreams may look ordinary but to us our dreams take us out of ourselves. The last thing we want is to live someone else's life and end up looking like just another face in the crowd. Deep down we want to be different, unique, special to someone. We want our life to matter to someone. We do not want to end up in a life that has no purpose and no meaning. Now, what a special life with purposing and meaning looks like is different for each person but the important thing is that we are never considered ordinary.

Perhaps you disagree with me and an ordinary life would be perfectly acceptable to you. Well my believing friend, all I can say is that you must not have met Jesus yet. After meeting him there is no way that any of us could accept an ordinary life. Jesus is not a story of a good man from ages past. He is not an ideology that makes our life a little easier to handle. He is not a moral compass to keep our society civil. He is not a collection of sayings like Buddha and Confucius. He is not an ideal that we live towards. Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the Word of God made flesh. He is the Son who obeyed his Father and died so that we may live. He is the Resurrection, the first born of many to come. He is all this and so much more and he has told us that we would do greater things than he did when he walked our planet. So what is the problem with us?

The problem is that we don't believe; we don't have faith; we don't trust the Promise Maker. Even people who did not know who Jesus was but saw what he did, had greater faith than what we who know him have today. Consider the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. This was her thought:

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed." (Matthew 9:20-21)

The woman did not fully understand, all she knew was that this man was doing incredible things. She did not realize all she had to do was ask, thinking it was a matter of touching him. But method did not matter to Jesus, all that mattered was faith. Faith was a thing that was lacking in that day because they had a huge tradition based on the priesthood, sacrifices and living a list of rules, albeit a long list of rules. Faith was not needed in such a culture of "doing it myself", not unlike our "self help" culture of today. This is the reason Jesus often used the phrase, "Oh you of little faith", and why he applauded those who demonstrated real faith like this woman. Look at the result of this woman's faith in Jesus:

Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9:22)

As simple as that; she had faith, acted upon that faith and received the healing she sought. She rose above the ordinary in that moment. I am sure that Jesus was being pressed upon by the crowd, many of them would have had needs, but only this woman acted upon what she believed in her heart. Just like the blind man who wouldn't shut up and kept calling out through the crowd. Just like the man who sought Jesus' help because his daughter was dying. Just like the different Gentiles who had insisted on Jesus' help. All of them demonstrating an insistent faith. The real question for us is, do we believe enough to have this same faith?

Extraordinary living does not happen when you are willing to be part of the crowd, when you decide to never allow your faith to become any greater than the people around you. We know some things about the God we worship. First, he is incredibly powerful. Second, he exudes love because he is the very definition of love. Third, he has called us out of an ordinary life, enslaved to sin, through the sacrifice of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Fourth, his desire is to see every single person saved from the disastrous death they are heading toward. Fifth, he has called us to partner with him in this mission of saving this world from this disastrous death. There is no way he has called us to an ordinary life when he has filled us with the resurrection power and told us to live a life of faith in the Spirit.

I am not saying we have been raised up to live a super star's life or to be rich or to be anything that has any direct bearing on our own comfort. We have been called as his servant's to live a life that demonstrates trust and faith in him. He has called us to no ordinary life of love, where we have faith to love our enemies and forgive those who come against us. He has called us to a life where he works miracles through us in the lives of other people. He has called us as his representatives in this dying world and there is no way we can represent the Creator of all things by living an ordinary life.

What does an extraordinary life in Jesus Christ look like? One that is filled with, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control". This cannot be produced in an ordinary life. This can only be produced by the Spirit in us when we have given up everything of ourselves to follow Jesus. And this is only possible when we are willing to believe and show that same amount of faith as this suffering woman.This kind of faith is only possible when we realize that we cannot help ourselves, that we are desperate for Jesus and we allow that faith to take action. Then we will begin to believe in the impossible and then we will see the impossible happen. It only happens in an absolutely surrendered life where we lose the phrase, "I can't" and "It's impossible" and we step into, "Jesus can" and "Everything is possible for him who believes".

Go ahead, rise up into the extraordinary life you have been called to.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Are You Wrapping The New Gift In The Old Wrapping Paper?

I wonder if anyone else out there has ever pondered why following Jesus can seem so hard at times. We read and study the Word, doing our very best to apply it, just like we are told to do. We tithe and worship as we are instructed by those of greater learning. We even maintain a wonderful prayer list of people and situations that we faithfully bring before the Lord every day. Yet, even with all this, there are days that it seems so hard; it seems like God is a million miles away; it seems like there is no spiritual inspiration at all. Perhaps it is because we are trying to do all these things in the same package, attitude, perspective we had before turning our lives over to Jesus.

In Matthew 9 we read of an incident where John the Baptist's disciples came to ask Jesus why his disciples did not fast like they did. Either they were wanting to point out the human effort they were making to draw closer to God or they legitimately wanted to know why he did not require it of his disciples. It was either a question of spiritual pride or honest inquiry. It seems Jesus chose to consider it the latter as he responded:

How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. (Matthew 9:15)

It appears to be a reasonable answer that took care of the immediate question but Jesus rarely left it on the surface of things, dealing only with the immediate. Even now as we go to him he often goes past the surface problem and deals with the deeper root of it. So he continued with these disciples of John:

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matthew 9:16-17)

I think many of us have attempted to do this, pouring the new wine into the old wineskins and it is the reason we cannot fly with the eagles. Hey, we can't even get our feet off the ground. Jesus was pointing out that a new thing had arrived with the fulfillment of the law and prophecies. However, this new thing could not fit into the old system of priests and sacrifices. All the old attitudes and thoughts had to be let go of. The old system that had provided security for so many worshipers had to be cast aside and the new had to take its place. We can't see or understand from our perspective of history what an incredible radical change followed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit but everything changed as the new wine was poured into the new wineskin.

Don't let history fool you. What happened to the Church in the years that followed was a terrible thing. Man took hold of the new and slowly clawed it back to the old. As the Church became a political tool we see the priesthood emerge again and the gospel of grace was smothered for the purpose of control. Many of us think we enjoy the freedom of the Spirit now but we are still holding on to the things that are familiar to our human nature. We still maintain the attitude of the priesthood. We require pastors to be men of learning instead of men of anointing. We have our temples, our sacrifices, our priests and we just come in and have our seats and enjoy it all, playing our little part.

Now transfer that attitude to the individual and you will see the limits we put on Jesus in our life. The Spirit is permitted to operate within acceptable parameters; we follow the letter of the law, entirely missing the spirit of it; we have fixed in our minds the way God works and the way he doesn't; our lives are governed by the "do's" and "don'ts" of our religious beliefs. We say we live by the Spirit but honestly, when is the last time you let him move in your life? That would mean letting go of the controls and I am not sure many of us trust Jesus enough to do that.

Before you get too annoyed at me for writing in this manner, check your life and your heart to see if I am speaking the truth. You have accepted Jesus but other than going to church and maybe Bible Study, has anything else really changed? Do you think differently? Is your attitude any different? Are you still making all the decisions in your life? Do you live by the security you have or do you operate in the "risks" of faith? Would the world consider you radical in your love for people or do you still disappear in a crowd?

In speaking about the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus has called us to, Paul stated:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

We are a new creation but we are a frustrated new creation if we allow ourselves to be stuck in the inflexibility of the old wineskin. If we are indeed children of the Spirit then we must have the freedom to move, dance, fly, climb, dive or whatever else the Spirit would have us do. We have been called to throw off all of the old with its failings and sins, and put on the new garment that would see us live in power and love. The old will only frustrate us whereas the new sets us free. Let go of the religious practices and attitudes which has kept you from breathing and maturing in Jesus, and step into life in the Spirit where he directs us in all the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Be free so the Spirit is freed to work in you and through you the great grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stepping Out In Faith Might Look Different Than You Think

Here is a rhetorical questions that we should ask ourselves: "Who do I spend most of my time with?" The reason I think it is important is because it reveals a few things to us. In growing up my parents tried hard to help me pick the right friends; friends who would not lead me down the wrong path. They were a great believer in "Bad company corrupts good character". This attitude has bled over into my adult life so that when I look at my friends now I do not have one who is not a follower of Jesus. That is sad. Although it is a very wise attitude for children and the less mature Christian, it is actually contrary to the example of Jesus.

Yes, I am saying that "sinners" should make up a good percentage of your friends. You are mature and you have a healthy relationship with Jesus. As long as you maintain that relationship every day there is nothing that the "sinner" can entice you to do, especially when you understand this friendship is part of your mission. Consider for a moment when Jesus invited Matthew to join him.

Matthew was a tax collector, a traitor to Israel, or at least that is how most Israelites would have looked at him. He was hired by Rome to force tax out of the people, and often times they forced a little more than they needed to in order to line their own pockets. However, it wasn't the thievery so much as working for Rome that got them lumbed in with the "sinners". Knowing this then we can understand why choosing Matthew to be his disciple would have caused a stir. What was even worse was when Jesus joined in the party at Matthew's home:

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" (Matthew 9:10-11)

The Pharisees were the defenders of the Mosaic law, a bunch of really stuck-up religious types who would have frowned on things like dancing and public displays of affection in our day. They had a certain code of conduct that they applied to all Rabbi's. They didn't like Jesus in the first place, because he was from Galilee, but they had to admit that his teaching put him in the category of a Rabbi. However, his behaviour was unacceptable. There is no possible way that they could bring him into their circle if he was going to hang out with these people. He was even treating them like human beings, like equals.

Jesus made it clear to them, and to us, what his perspective was on the matter:

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:12-13)

Many of us live with the same attitude of the Pharisees even if we don't want to admit it. We live with our rules and our lists about what is acceptable and what isn't. Just like the Pharisees we have the things we have attached to the Word to better define and understand what it means. Some people have the rule about no dancing and others about no drums. Some people would never let a girl wear pants and another considers dying the hair to be wrong. Others would never be able to accept Christians hanging out at bars or going to concerts. There are hundreds of additional rules people live by that are not an actual part of the Word of God and all these rules do is put more distance between us and those we have been sent to love.

Now, a cautionary note: Jesus spent time with them, hung out with them, broke bread with them, but he did not enter their sin. He accepted them where they were and he shared the good news to equip them to escape from their sin but he never joined them in their sin. Jesus would never have gone to a bar with his friends and gotten drunk. He would not have gotten caught up in the craze of the performers on the stage. He would not have smashed police cars, or joined a riot. It is possible to be a friend to "sinners" without agreeing or entering into their sin and this is where the immature in Jesus have the problem and why so many of the mature don't want to go there.

The secret to our mission is to remain in Christ; is to allow our passion and love for him to remain on the surface of everything we do and say. He must remain the center of our universe and the reason for our mission. It is wrong to delude ourselves into thinking that we are hanging only with Christians because that is what Jesus demands when in actual fact we are hiding because we know that our faith is not what it should be. To carry out our mission requires us to be in the world and a friend to sinners as Jesus is but this also requires a vibrant, real and passionate faith in the King of kings and Lord of lords.

This means, for many of us, myself included, the real reason we stay separated is because we are cowards of the faith, not heroes. For whatever reason, we do not feel that our faith can stand the testing and battering that happens as we step into the world. We do not believe that others will look at us and known there is something different about us. We do not believe that we are strong enough to be used by God to bring the light and the truth to the darkness. Well, I am glad Jesus was all that and more when he entered into the ugliness of my world and called me friend. So I need to remember that in calling me he also sent me, and he told me that same thing he told you: follow my example. It is time to throw our faith into action and enter the real mission field he sent us to. It is time to dust off our faith and start loving those who are without love and hope. It is time for us to enter the ugliness of this world to share the beauty of Jesus.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Making Mole Hills Out of Mountains

In life we all face challenges, some of which may feel heavy enough to crush us. These challenges may come in the form of our health, finances, relationships, or perhaps our work. Sometimes we assess the level of difficulty and decide to walk away. Other times the matter is so important to us we will attempt it even if it means certain failure. Thankfully, life is also filled with those things that are a pleasure because of the ease of facing them. These are moments of great joy, which we would prefer to always be experiencing. However, we are also a foolish people, making what should be easy into a difficult and challenging moment.

I am convinced that some of our worst moments of our lives are due to our own stupidity. We can often be our own worst enemy. There are some simple things in life, some basic things, that we have complicated and made into a huge mountain to block our spiritual and mental growth. One of these things is the ability to forgive. Forgiveness should never be a struggle for us unless we turn it into a struggle. I think part of the problem for many of those who struggle with forgiveness is that they are too focused on themselves, perhaps thinking too highly of themselves. Forgiveness happens when you place greater value on the person you are forgiving then on yourself. Our society and culture is not wired this way any more. Now we promote "me-ism".

I praise Jesus every day that he did not think like this. Here he is, God, the Word made flesh, the most important and significant one in all of time and throughout creation, and yet he placed such value on us that he made himself less than us. Perhaps you can't see it like that because you are too familiar with the story. In order to take our place on the cross Jesus had to put a great deal of value on us, to give up his life for us, to face torture and an agonizing death so that we could have life, so that we could receive forgiveness. Understand , we were the enemy of God. We were in rebellion, living in a state that was opposite to the character he had created us for. We had no value. We were rebellious trash that deserved only death. Yet, Jesus reached through all of that, lifted us up, put himself down, forgot all the pain we were causing him, and offered us forgiveness, if we would accept it. Consider for a moment what happened at the scene of the paralytic man who has brought to Jesus by his friends.

Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." (Matthew 9:2)

For us the obvious need of this man was the use of his limbs but Jesus sees what we cannot. Instead of dealing with the flesh Jesus saw that the greater need was the heart and he forgave the man. Perhaps this was like cooling water on a burning soul, wracked by years of guilt and torment. His greatest need at that moment was to hear the words "your forgiven". For some people they are mere words but for others who are longing for them, they are like a key unlocking the prison cell. Now consider how stupid we can be:

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!" (Matthew 9:3)

According to where they were stuck in their traditions and understanding, according to their ignorance and limitations, this looked like blasphemy. Are we any different from them? The Church developed an attitude of penance because forgiveness should never be given without a payment, or so our leaders thought at the time. Stupid. Taking the fundamental belief of grace and sticking it at the back of the closest because of a need to make forgiveness cost something. As individuals we are no different. We refuse to forgive because the person did not apologize or did not grovel enough. We refuse to forgive because we are hurt so deeply. We refuse to forgive because the person has not earned it. We want to see them dance to our piper before we offer what should be offered freely. This attitude put Jesus off:

"Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." And the man got up and went home. (Matthew 9:4-7)

Obviously it is easier to forgive than to pull of such a physical miracle. Jesus was making a point here that the entire crowd missed. What was it that amazed them, the ease of forgiveness of a tormented soul, or the repairing of the limbs?

When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:8) 

The thing they were in awe of was the authority to heal not the authority to forgive. We are a crazy people turning the easy things of life into mountains. You probably disagree with me thinking that forgiveness is not an easy thing. Forgiveness is not easy only if you are self-centered and thinking too highly of yourself. If you have true understanding as a follower of Jesus Christ you know that the priority in the Kingdom is to love God and to love others as yourself. You should understand that we should be doing to others what we want done to ourselves. If we are mature then we understand that forgiveness is something we are all desperate for so we should be willing to offer it freely. Getting in the way of it spells disaster for ourselves. Remember the attitude the Apostle Paul said we should be maintaining:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2:3-8)

We need to spend some time repenting before our holy Father, confessing our lack of forgiveness and asking for a renewed heart. We have to get off the center stage and allow Jesus to be there along with all those people he loves and dies for. It is in understanding his love for everyone, ourselves included, that we begin to understand the importance and ease of forgiveness. It is important to us and to those who we love and those who consider themselves our enemies. Without maintaining an attitude of forgiveness we will not be able to see the face of Jesus and it is not a difficult thing. Resist the temptation to make a mountain out of this thing that is easy to do and that brings relief to so many. Today, forgive as you yourself want to be forgiven.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stepping Out Of Our Comfort Zone

We are a people who enjoy our comfort but it is our desire for comfort that could be causing a number of problems for our mission. Not many of us are willing to set aside the things we are familiar with in order to move into the things that we find challenge us. I am discovering as I get older I am actually challenging many of the things in my life against the Word of God and I am finding many disturbing habits from which I need to step away. Even many of my approaches to people and situations along with my perspectives are often being challenged these days. I have been a creature of comfort but there are many ways that is changing.

It is an easy thing to be involved with people of similar interest and beliefs. It is like putting on your favorite outfit or your most comfortable slippers. We refer to this group as homogeneous, and it is greatly encouraged in the Church. We develop cell groups that way, we have women's ministries, youth groups, mom's & tot's, senior's groups, and we minister to these groups that have much in common. It makes it hard for us then to function in our mission in the world as we find it hard to associate with those outside of the Church, those who do not fit into our interest group or perhaps economic group. Sure, we will minister to them but we would never actually allow them to enter into our world. Do you see what I am saying? We will take food and enter the world of the homeless but we would never invite the homeless home into our world.

However, if you are at least making the effort to enter into their world I applaud you because many of us do not even attempt that much. We have this thought that if we remain separate and live a righteous life, people will naturally see Jesus in us and we don't have to leave our comfort zone. Can we honestly believe that is how Jesus saw it when he told us to go and make disciples? Let's consider one incident that may help you see better.

Jesus entered a region of Palestine referred to as the Decapolis, a group of ten Greek cities that were aligned with each other that obviously had a large population of Greeks. As Jesus approached he was confronted by a demon possessed man. Matthew's account referred to two demon possessed men. The demons recognized Jesus' authority and begged not to be sent back to where they came from; they would even rather possess animals then go back. It is here that we note just how much this region is filled with Gentiles or Hellenists as Jesus sent the demons into a nearby herd of pigs. No proper Jew would ever be found tending pigs. At this point let's pick it up with Matthew's account:

Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region. (Matthew 8:33-34)

This is a rather strange reaction compared to how Jesus was received in the other regions. This was an obvious display of authority that would have been gladly received in any of the cities of Galilee. However, the majority of these people would have little knowledge of Jehovah or his prophets and did not share in the same expectancy of the promised Messiah. This certainly was not a region that was in step with many of the other regions of Palestine and would have been uncomfortable for many of the disciples even to be standing there with Jesus. But Jesus did not come to be comfortable. He did not come to keep his hands clean and his clothes white. Jesus' coming into our world was not natural and was uncomfortable from the beginning to the end. He hung out with those who were his enemies, and I am not referring the the religious elite. I am referring to people like you and me, who were ignorant of Jehovah and led a life of sin and degradation. Jesus hung out with the simple folk as well as the elite and it was all uncomfortable for him, seeing that he is the Son of our heavenly Father.

We should be asking why Jesus would even attempt to go to these ten Greek cities, considering how far out of the homogeneous group they were. The reason is because he had come to bring the good news to all the Jews regardless where they were and what they were involved in. He was limited to the Jews because that was the purpose of his mission. As the Apostle Paul said, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. After Jesus finished his mission he turned to his followers and told them now to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples. When the Church failed to follow this command, because they were enjoying their homogeneous group in Jerusalem, a persecution of the Church was permitted to scatter them to the ends of the earth.

These are simple things to take note of and to act upon. If Jesus could leave his comfort to enter into our world, a world filled with rampant sin and filthiness, it can't be all that tough for us to step out of our homogeneous groups to befriend those who may make us feel uncomfortable at first. Near the end Jesus told his disciples that he now called them friends. It was not because they were any better than they were at the beginning. Remember they were about to betray and deny him. It was because Jesus had entered their world, took them on, became part of their lives, became very close, loved them and called them friends. We need to follow his example even though it may be the thing that costs us the most in our entire lives; to allow people we are not comfortable with, to become our friends. It is an incredible way to introduce the lost to Jesus.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

O Us Of Little Faith

Perspective must be one of the greatest factors to a changed life or a changed attitude. I once had a friend I visited in Capetown, South Africa who was the pastor of a small church. As we know from recent historical events and even current events, Capetown has had its share of troubles. The challenges to be a pastor in this city, in the country, would be plentiful. He told me that on days when his challenges threatened to overwhelm him he would climb Tabletop Mountain which towered over the city. He would find a place where he could seek his neighbourhood in the city and then he would try to locate his church. He said the changed perspective often put his challenges back into perspective as he realized how insignificant they were compared to the larger mission.

There are many days in our lives when things, situations, people, circumstances threaten to overwhelm us. Emotionally or mentally we just want to shut down and find a cave to crawl into. Either that or we spend hours crying out to God to rescue us. Often times though these things are meant to strengthen our faith and to increase our maturity. No one likes the idea of going through these things as a form of training but neither do any of us want to be seen as a 98 pound weakling in our faith. Often times we ask God to remove the challenges and out of compassion he does, but that doesn't mean he wanted to. Consider the incident with the disciples in the storm.

Jesus stepped into a boat to move to a new region and his disciples faithfully followed him. Here, I will let you read it for yourself:

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!"
He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. (Matthew 8:23-26)

Some people look at Jesus' rebuke and conclude that it was for the disciples doubting that Jesus could do something about the storm. Others may consider that the rebuke was for the disciples not taking care of the storm themselves. However, I think the rebuke was due to the fact that the disciples had feared the storm in the first place and asked to be rescued. God does not always desire to rescue us.

Fear is a faith killer and if we do not realize the size of our Father many things in life, which are bigger than us, frighten us. We forget that nothing is bigger than our Father. The disciples did not think this through. Yes, the storm was huge and looked like it was going to capsize them but they were with Jesus, and Jesus had a mission from the Father. Even if they did not fully understand the mission they knew enough now, they had seen enough now, to know the mission was real. Just from that perspective they should have understood that nothing was about to happen to them and to Jesus. In the face of that storm they should not have been calling out for rescue, they should have been growing in their faith as they watched the Father guide them through it.

I used to pray for people to be rescued from their difficult situations. As a pastor I hated to see what they were going through and often interfered with what God was doing to try to rescue them myself. My church often prayed that God would put a hedge around people, to protect them in the situation. Then one day the Spirit rebuked me for this attitude and perspective. He gave me clarity by taking me up to a "mountain" and allowing me to see some things through his eyes. Then I understood we should not be praying for hedges to hide us away but for strength in our faith to push on through. Pushing through develops spiritual muscles and a solid relationship of trust with our Father. Hedging in weakens us and turns us into "you of little faith" in the storms of life.

I believe we should be developing more of a perspective and attitude like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Their faith was unlike what many of us have. Our faith seems rather shallow and tinny compared to the great depth of trust they showed. When the king became angry with them because of their persistence to honour Jehovah as the one true God, he prepared to throw them into a specially prepared furnace. They did not cry for mercy, they did not panic, they simple made a statement of faith that, to this day, shakes the foundations of any earthly kingdom:

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18)

In the face of their storm they did not back down and Jehovah met them in it. The fire was not put out and angels did not descend. The king was not killed and there was no last minute change of mind. They were put in the furnace and there God preserved them, strengthened them, increased them and as a result the king bowed down and worshiped their God. How many people in this world are desperate to see that kind of faith so they too can discover the God who strengthens us in the storms of life because he knows us and knows what is best for us? Try climbing God's mountain today to take a look at your place in the scheme of things so that Jesus is able to give you a new perspective, a proper perspective that will also give you a new attitude to the things in your life. When we are able to see these things with his "eyes" we will start becoming the people of faith he has called us to be and the world around us will be changed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Cost Of Letting Go

Everything in life comes with a price tag. It does not matter what you consider in this world, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Things in your life are either going to cost you time, money, energy, emotion, or any number of things. If you want to stay healthy it is going to cost you time, energy, effort, discipline and, in some cases, money. If you want friendship it is going to cost you plenty of time, effort and emotional involvement. If you want wealth it will be a large investment of time effort, and energy. If you want a solid family it is going to take plenty of work, sacrifice, time, effort, and emotions. These are in no way exhaustive lists because these few things I mention here will cost different people different things.

Some people come to Jesus with the belief that he will make life easier and perhaps in comparison to some of the troubles of this world it is easier. However, easier does not mean easy; easier does not mean there is no cost involved. In fact, Jesus made it as plain as day that there was a great cost to following him, not that many of us actually follow properly.

Jesus was preparing to move camp when a teacher of the law came up to him and stated that he was going to be a disciple of Jesus. Obviously he like what he heard and saw and was willing to submit himself to Jesus' teaching and discipline. I am sure Jesus looked him right in the eye as he told this teacher:

"Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20)

To follow Jesus is to submit ourselves to his teaching and attitude. Jesus claimed nothing in this world. He had no earthly possessions at all. He had no home, no investments, no bank accounts, no income. He had the clothes on his back and his Father's mission to fulfill. His was not a complicated life. In comparison, a teacher of the law was a community leader who would have been paid well and lived well. He would be use to a certain lifestyle as are most of us. So how does this translate into today?

I would say it has a lot to do with attitude. Most of us own too much "stuff" and we are too attached to this "stuff". I am not going to go on about it because you either know it to be true or you don't. Many of us have cluttered our lives with the insignificant and have neglected the more important spiritual matters of relationship with Jehovah and relationship with others. I would say to own "stuff" is not the real problem but to be owned by it is. We have too many attachments to this place and it is impacting our walk with Jesus. We need to de-clutter in a major clean out of our "stuff" and attitude towards it.

Then another disciple came to Jesus with a simple request: "Before I follow you please allow me to go and bury my father." This sounds reasonable but here is Jesus' reply:

"Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:22)

Doesn't that sound harsh to you? The problem was the man's father wasn't dead. He was stating he would submit to Jesus after he fulfilled a traditional obligation. We are talking a cultural thing here similar to the idea that if a son declared his financial obligation to his widowed mom to be an offering to God he could get out of supporting his mom. Jesus said that this was bogus. Culture does not trump the righteousness of Jehovah. Either follow or don't, but do not use cultural excuses for disobedience or rejection.

This is a big one today because we have allowed non-biblical traditions to run our lives and often interfere with the directions of Jesus. The Church is steeped in traditions that have no impact on our relationship with Jesus or the mission we have been given. In fact, some of these traditions get in the way and hinder both relationship and mission. Allow me to challenge some of you. What is more important the baptism of water or the baptism of the Spirit? Where does it say that people are not permitted to dance? Where does it say a person cannot enjoy a beer at a bar? In fact, where do you think Jesus hung out? Where does the Word tell us that our current church structure is a must or that we are stuck in this form of Sunday service? Where does it say that a minister of the Word, a pastor, an evangelist has to go off for training and receive papers to prove it? Where does it say that a pastor has to have an educational degree or a business diploma? Is not the anointing of the Spirit the only criteria? Again not an exhaustive list of a rather lengthy list when you stop and consider traditions over Biblical directives.

Following Jesus comes at the cost of letting go of our earthly ties and our earthly traditions. It means stepping into the unfamiliar and being retrained in the Spirit. It means willing to have our perspectives shifted and turned upside down. It means a change of priorities and values. It means a re-birth in our thinking concerning all matters. As I said, it means letting go. Many of us struggle with that. Many of us struggle with allowing the Spirit to operate as he sees fit. We want him to operate within our narrow parameters. If you want to be a real follower of Jesus Christ you must be willing to allow the shift to be real, to allow the Spirit to be real in your life. Stop saying, "God doesn't work like that", or "God would not ask that of me", or "God would never do that". The only thing God would never do is sin or go against his Word. Everything else is wide open. We have to let go. Are you prepared to pay the cost of letting go? 


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Adventure Of The Interrupted Life

I love road trips. The sense of adventure, getting away from the normal, the spirit of exploration, the mystery of the unknown journey ahead, those moments of discovery, the joy of good companionship. I like the road trips where the journey takes on equal importance to the destination; where getting side-tracked by a delicious looking river or waterfall is perfectly acceptable because you know the destination is patiently waiting. It's those unexpected "distraction" that make a road trip so special and delightful but you do not have to go on a road trip to discover the delight of distractions.

I have managed most of my life in a disciplined manner, having goals and purpose. I operate by a daily agenda, with a "to-do" list close at hand. I know, for the most part, how my day will begin and end. It is an efficient life. It has to be because of the great many things I must do in ministry and because I am involved in the lives of many people, all of whom are important to me. Yet, I have not always been this way. I have the spirit of a writer / explorer, wanting to be lost in adventure as I live my life in a come-what-may attitude. I love the idea of following unknown trails in the day and ending up in wonderful places at the end of it. Perhaps most people could use a bit of discipline and structure to their day but not to the point of ignoring distractions because often it is in the distractions that we discover what the Spirit is really doing.

I am not speaking about distractions such as TV shows, movies and other things that we use to escape reality but more along the thought of people and their lives that seem to punctuate and interrupt our daily agenda. I use to get extremely frustrated by people who would "hi-jack" my agenda, or who would interrupt my very important plans. I can even feel the memory of those frustrations now as I had to set aside my well disciplined day to deal with someone's mess. However, that was before I discovered that those distractions were people and people were the focus of my calling. Everything else was just structure and I could take care of structure at any time but lives were changing, happening, being lived in the moment. As I came to accept this I also discovered that the day is filled with the great adventures of the road-trip of life.

Yet, there are times I forget and there are times I allow the structure to take on greater importance than it should. I forget to enter into the "distractions" and see what the Spirit is doing but Jesus' example is a constant reminder of the importance of the "distractions". He expressed that he had two purposes; to cast our demons and to preach the good news. The first was related to the second because he needed to cast out the demons so that the people would be free to hear the good news and make their own decision. Now look what happened along the way:

When Jesus came into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.  When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. (Matthew 8:14-16)

Although we are told that he was casting out demons we see here a very personal touch of healing the sick. Healing the sick had nothing to do with his mission of preaching the good news. Healing the sick was a "distraction", a side trip, an extra thing that Jesus did. The only purpose to it was related to his heart. Jesus healed because he could not stand the sight of suffering. He healed because of his compassion. He did not heal because it was part of his agenda. He did not heal to convince people to be saved. He did not heal to show the "mighty hand of God". He healed because he loves us so much and he could not stand to see the suffering. He healed anyone who asked for healing.

It did not matter if he was in the middle of teaching thousands or if he was rushing off to tend to a friend or if he was in the middle of a banquet, Jesus was willing to be distracted by the needs of people. Some of the things that have attracted us to Jesus are found in those moments; the man being lowered down into Peter's house by his friends, the woman who touched the edge of his clothing out of desperation, the blind man who called out even though the crowd was telling him to shut up, the desperate father whose daughter lay dying. All of these and so many more were things that happened as interruptions to Jesus' day, to his purpose, yet he never hesitated to respond. In truth, the cry of an earnest heart is no distraction to Jesus but is a joy and delight to which his heart responds with gladness.

It we could discover the joy of the "distraction" in our day we may find what we have been looking for most of our life. If we could stop seeing people as an interruption and begin seeing them as our purpose we would be able to make better sense out of things. If we could understand the heart of compassion that turns us into great adventurers we would also discover our "joie de vivre" as we walk in the same footsteps of Jesus, who spent his life as a "drink offering", being poured out into the lives of anyone who called on him. If Jesus could do this in the flesh, and he has left us here to carry on, I think it may be important for us to grasp this lesson.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Are We Really That Dumb?

There are times I think we are the dumbest creatures on the planet. Oh sure, we have thumbs that give us a great advantage and we think on a much higher level than the rest of the beasts who share our oxygen but you don't see any of them worrying themselves to death. I dare say that the vast majority of us have some level of anxiety, fear or worry in our lives and most of the things that cause it for us, we have no control over. It is as silly as worrying that the sun won't rise tomorrow. Even if it doesn't, there is nothing we can do about it.

For 100s of millions of us this goes beyond just accepting our fate and dealing with it; we claim to have faith in Jesus Christ. We say that we have surrendered our lives to him. We say that we are only here to serve him, to spread the good news, to be a light, to add flavour to lives that are desperate for it. We say it but what do our lives really reveal as the fear of tomorrow paralyzes us? What are we saying to our neighbours when we "boohoo" about not having money to pay our bills, or about our failing health, or about the strained relations with some family member, or about our dying child in the hospital? Are we not declaring that the Jesus we profess is a lie and that we don't believe he can do any of the stuff we have been claiming he can do?

In the holy Scriptures we find a moment of clarity for those who were following Jesus at the time. It was a moment that took place during their daily activity. There was no prior announcement that it was approaching. There was no lead up to it at all. Jesus did not even give a heads up; "Hey guys, watch this". It happened out of the blue and it came by way of a Gentile; a Roman soldier; a Centurion of all people:

"Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering."

An amazing statement, considering who was doing the asking. He received a surprising response:

"I will go and heal him."

Yikes! Now there is political suicide for you. Jesus, a proper Jew, albeit a Galilean, but still, even THEY knew how to behave around Gentiles. He was prepared to break the law by associating with a Gentile; to go to his home even?

And what about the Zealots? Here this great Rabi, the healer of the sick, the lover of the sinner, was about to conspire with the occupying force?

But this is where the moment happens. In no more time than it takes to exhale we are given this great moment of inspiring faith that millions of followers still struggle to demonstrate to the world today:

"Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." (Matthew 8:8-9)

Say again? A Gentile who understands the authority of Jesus, that all he has to do is speak and everything in creation, good and bad, must obey? Do you know how awesome this moment was? Even Jesus was caught by surprise:

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. (Matthew 8:10)

Imagine that; surprising Jesus. I'm grinning now just thinking about it. I picture Jesus grinning too. I picture Jesus grinning a lot. What a moment of clarity, that even those with sparse knowledge of Jehovah could look at Jesus and understand his power and authority.

So what is our problem? We know him, worship him, admire him, follow him, express our desire to be like him but fail to understand him and to trust him? I don't get it. Does the world have more faith than the believer?

Perhaps the problem is we don't know him as we aught to know him. Perhaps if we got to know him better, spend more time with him instead of filling our lives with things about him. Perhaps if we talked more with him we would actually begin to see him for who he is. From what I understand he is extremely approachable and always available. If we have only known him through our parents, friends, aunts and uncles, preachers and teachers then we haven't really known him at all; only known of him. No wonder we are so full of fear, anxiety and worry; we haven't met the one who holds our days in his hands. It's about time we do, don't you think?

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29) 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

We Are More Than Ordinary

Don't you absolutely love it when you suddenly burst into a great and wonderful revelation of some passage in the Bible you have been studying. We read through the Word again and again, sometimes understanding, sometimes relying on someone else's understanding. Then, one day as we are reading that same passage for the hundredth time, bang! it hits us and we see clearly. How does that happen? Perhaps it is the same way the man with leprosy knew Jesus could heal him.

Jesus had finished up some of his teaching and he was on the move. His purpose was to cast out demons and preach the good news. He had not yet started healing anyone. Yet, here comes this many with leprosy who declares that if Jesus wanted to he could heal him. Jesus wanted to and did. I really enjoy the simplicity of this exchange:

When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. (Matthew 8:1-3)

So how did this man know this for such a certainty that he had the courage to walk up to this Rabi and declare such a thing? After all, he was leprous and the law demanded he keep a distance from everyone. Yet he approached close enough for Jesus to reach out and touch him. Perhaps it was the first real human contact he had in months. The answer seems to be pretty clear to me, the Spirit was hard at work here, opening the eyes of anyone who was willing to see. This man knew that Jesus was more than a Rabi and somehow could bring the healing he longed for. He experienced something that many of us lack today; the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Having pastors and teachers of the Word is a great blessing, one that we should not take for granted. Our Father has blessed us with men and women who have responded to his call to set everything aside in their life and do nothing but serve him. They are not priests of old but men and women of the Spirit. They do not perform tired old ceremonies with little value but listen to and follow the direction of the Spirit in everything they do. However, they are not our sole source of inspiration and learning. Our greatest teacher is the Spirit of Christ, our Comforter, our great Counselor.

Jesus stated:

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)

John told us incredibly that the the Spirit teaches us through the anointing we have received and it is our greatest guarantee of not being led astray:

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:27)

The pastors and teachers are our accountability. They keep us from going astray. They often confirm what the Spirit is teaching us directly. They are not to be cast aside because they are part of the design of Jesus for his Bride, the Church. What we need to be careful of is that we do not set them up as the Old Covenant priests, acting as if God only speaks through them. We need to be people of the Spirit.

What we lack is faith and trust in the Spirit. We are afraid to stick our neck out, to step out trusting the Spirit to be with us, to guide us, to give us the words to speak and the actions to take. It is like jumping out of an airplane while doubting the effectiveness of the parachute strapped to our back. Too many of us are still relying on our own insights and intellect. We rely on our own intuition. We lean on the understanding of the giants of faith of the past without learning the lessons from the Spirit ourselves. Here we are, the most blessed generations in the age of grace and the Spirit, yet we are stumbling around like a bunch of blind people.

To be honest, most of us do not give the Spirit any consideration at all. We move through our day following the general will of the Father, loving people and testifying about Jesus. These are good things but we have been called to and been equipped with far more. We are not priests of the Old Covenant, we are the Spirit-filled children of our holy Jehovah. We are given his specific will at times in our lives, what to say, what actions to take, what power to share. We need to become and remain sensitive to the Spirit who dwells in us for a reason. We are not powerless or sightless when it comes to spiritual matters. We are greater than those who practice witchcraft and more knowing than many who call themselves theologians. They may understand the history, the background, the context but they have not experienced the relationship, the understanding, the power of the author. We have!

We are able to be just like that man with leprosy, knowing without being told. We need to trust what the Spirit is showing us and step out, even if it means condemnation from the crowd.That man took a big chance to trust what his heart was telling him. He trusted in the action he took because he knew Jesus was more than a good man. The Church is more than a building. The Body is more than a collection of people trying to improve their character. The Bible is more than a collection of old wise sayings and stories. We are more than just worshipers and "do gooders". We are Spirit-filled children of Jehovah and servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, who are on a mission to save the world from its own destruction. Go ahead, listen to what the Spirit is telling you and step out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I've Got The Power

It is a shame that many followers of Jesus act like victims instead of the victorious. I have witnessed so many sincere followers of Jesus remain victims of their circumstances instead of stepping into the authority they have been given. Jesus was a man of great authority. He calmed the waters and the wind in great storms; he spoke to demons who ran away; he commanded the dead back to life; he vanquished disease; and he forgave sins. When he taught the people this is what they noted:

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.  (Matthew 7:28-29)

The teachers taught about words on a scroll. They taught actions without understanding. They taught rules and regulations. Jesus taught from the heart because he is the Word made flesh. Jesus taught relationship that effects actions. He taught that we are governed by the Father's love. He taught this because he knew it first hand. So do we. We have experienced this love for ourselves and not in a small dosage. As a result we have been given authority through Jesus. Without Jesus we have no authority, as certain brothers discovered in the book of Acts when they tried to cast out demons like the Apostle Paul without knowing the Jesus of whom they spoke.

Before Jesus was arrested and nailed to the cross in our place, he stated this:

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Going to the Father meant that he was able to send our Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Jesus was limited in this place in that he had taken on our limitations. The Holy Spirit is not restricted to one place and represents Jesus' presence with us no matter where we go. He resides in each of us who have accepted the Lordship of Jesus over us. We do not always recognize the power and authority we have as a result. It is what turned Peter from a failing fisherman to a powerful orator and miracle man. The Holy Spirit changes us from people who teach words on paper to people who teach with authority from the heart. Before departing from this place Jesus told his followers:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Some of that power and authority appears in ways that we do not always fully understand, such as the power to forgive. It is a real authority to forgive and it takes the power of the Father's love to do it. Of all the things Jesus did, forgiving sin caused the biggest fuss for him. They thought him to be a blasphemer because "only God can forgive sins". But Jehovah has called us to himself and has called us his children. He has given Jesus as our example, the first born of many, and has told us to be like him. The Father's heart is love and forgiveness. That is the Son's heart as he takes his character from the Father and it is to be our character as well. The greatest authority Jesus gave us is to forgive those who offend us and Jehovah:

And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."  (John 20:22-23)

It is great that we can raise the dead, cast out demons, feed five thousand from a simple lunch, heal the sick but without the love that prompts forgiveness it is all useless. We are not victims, we are the children of Jehovah. We are not powerless, we have the authority of Jesus Christ. We are not dictated to by our circumstances because we have the power to love and forgive in the face of all things and there is no greater power than this. Knowing Jesus and being known by him is the greatest thing that can ever happen to us and everything else pales in comparison. It is nothing to tell the lame to take up their mat and go home. The real power lies in the ability to forgive without reservation; to forgive in the full authority of the Father's love. That is the most important power Jesus gave us in all this authority in which we serve. We've got the power so we need to stop being victims, become the "more than conquerors" that we are, and serve him with the great passion of love again.