Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For Sale: One Slightly Used Mountain Moving Business

So how was the beginning of your week as you came down the mountain to face the reality of the world that was waiting for you? Funny how the work we didn't finish on Friday is still patiently waiting for us on Monday. Did you encounter any screaming bosses, unforgiving deadlines, annoying co-workers? How about some inept disciples and a demon possessed boy along with a desperate father looking for your help? That's what Jesus had to face as he came off the mountain.

I know you can relate to this because we have all had that experience. We have an incredible moment when the whole world fades out and nothing else matters but that moment. In that short space of time everything is almost perfect, everything feels so right, you are lifted above everything else as you are bathed in the reality of the Father's love. However, as we considered yesterday, we are not permitted to build a house on that mountain and dwell there. All of us must leave those moments and face the reality God has us in to serve him. The difference can be like day and night, just like it was for Jesus. One moment he was conversing with Moses and Elijah and the next he was facing a simple problem that his disciples did not have enough faith to overcome. Sense a bit of his frustration:

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (Matthew 17:17)

When his disciples asked him why they were unable to cast the demon out, Jesus gave them a more gentle rebuke:

“Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20-21)

Now I am going to turn this around on us somewhat and apply what Jesus was saying to us. We are happy to have the mountaintop experiences with God. He welcome the encouragement he brings to us as we worship and pray. We love to receive such blessings from him and are tempted to stay there, to consume all that we can consume. But when it comes to practical application of faith in order to do his work in the face of the reality of this dying world, we are lacking. Do you understand why Jesus was rebuking the disciples? It was lack of faith that caused them to fail in the casting out of the demon. When was the last time you cast out a demon? When was the last time you had enough faith to do anything Jesus said we would do? We claim to be a people of faith but are defeated by simple daily tasks like paying bills.

Honestly now, when someone asks you to pray for their cold do you pray believing for healing or do you simply ask God to sustain them in their illness? Are you frightened of something or do you simply not believe? What worth is your faith if you fail to believe that Jesus' healing power flows through you? What worth is your faith if you do not believe that God has you facing the ugliness of this world's reality so that he can glorify himself through you? We step out from our mountaintop experience so we may demonstrate the love, power and authority of Jesus Christ but we can't do that if spiritually we are afraid of our shadows.

My apostle tells a funny yet sad story of a group of ladies who claimed to be prayer warriors. They were covering him and the church in prayer, praying down the strongholds of the enemy. They decided to meet in the church and all arrived together, determined that much would be done in the Spirit that day. They entered the church with much enthusiasm but instead of meeting the enemy head on they encountered a mouse. All the women went running out of the church, refusing to go in until someone did something about the mouse.They thought they were ready to take on the enemy but they did not even have the courage to face down a mouse. This is often the reality of our faith as well. In our mountaintop experience we are ready to take on the enemy but in facing the reality of the world we choose not to believe.

Let the weight of Jesus' reality rest on you. He said, plain enough for us all to understand, that with faith nothing is impossible for us. Nothing.Not because we are capable but because Jesus is. Not because we have any authority but because Jesus is the authority. Not because we are professionals but because Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Even the most foolish and simple man in this world can move mountains through faith but we get frightened off by the little mice of life like bills, discouragements, health, other people's actions. We get discouraged, lose our focus on Jesus and end up faithless. We have enough to believe for our salvation but not to complete our mission today, to do the impossible.

“You unbelieving and perverse generation.” Those words were not provoked by the sin Jesus saw but by the lack of faith. Such a lack that the disciples were unable to complete the task Jesus had given to them. My friends there is much more to the tasks he has given to us than simply doing good deeds, as important as they are. We have been called to great works of faith so that Jesus will be glorified in what we do. How is he glorified in us doing what is possible in the natural? We have been called to the "impossible". Don't clip your wings. There are mountains to move in this world, mountains that are standing in the way of people believing. We are in the mountain moving business so lets get to it. Movers need muscles and yours come in the form of faith. Nothing is impossible! "Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monument Builders and Mountaintop Dwellers

We are a people who love to build monuments. We build them to remember important events and people. We also build them to honour ourselves. There is something in us that wants to create things that go beyond the moment, for others to share in an experience that does not belong to them but that we want them to feel part of. This is partly what Peter was doing when he offered to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. They were all on a mountain when Jesus was transfigured, the three disciples saw part of his glory and they were joined by Moses and Elijah. What a moment to want to preserve.

Looking back I wonder if Moses had been tempted to stay up on the mountain when he had his encounter with God. How easy it would have been to just ignore the world waiting below. We have those moments in our churches. Perhaps yesterday was one of them. The worship seemed to be transfigured, the Spirit was so overwhelming it felt like Jesus was physically present, the Word seemed to explode with clarity. All your life and challenges were put in perspective and you broke down in tears of joy. It is a momentous pause in your life and you do not want to come down.

The thing is, the reality of this world is waiting at the base of the mountain. It was waiting there for Moses when he descended to discover a people who had already rebelled against God. It was waiting for Jesus as he descended to the crushing needs of humanity, inept disciples, and more effects of the enemy on God's children. I wonder what was waiting for you when you descended from the mountain, leaving the church yesterday or waking up today. I wonder how quickly the glory will fade from you as you face the stark reality of a sinful world bent on destroying itself. Maybe it's not all that bad. Maybe it's only a bowl of spilled cereal or missing socks. Maybe.

Regardless of what has met you at the base of your mountain, that is where God wants you to be, to serve him faithfully. Moses represented God's voice, his law, his direction for his people. Jesus is God himself, revealing his heart and the realities of his Kingdom to a lost world. We are representing the King as we allow him to glorify himself in us so that others will see him. We can't do that stuck up on some mountain, building monuments to remember an occasion that was meant to encourage us for the battle. The battle isn't on the mountain top, it's at the base.

I encourage you to hold on to whatever encouragement you received yesterday but don't try to live in that moment. I encourage you to enter this day with praises and thanksgiving but live in the reality of your service to the one you are praising. Don't be discouraged by the crush of the suffering humanity around you but instead be engaged with it as Jesus uses you to reach out to them. Don't be overwhelmed by the events of today but instead be encouraged that the same God who met with you yesterday, who touched you to encourage you, is still with you today and will touch you again and again. The monument that gets built is the one Jesus puts in our heart, that we take with us wherever we go. Jesus is that monument. He is our remembrance. He is our encouragement, our strength, our purpose, our hope, our pride, our celebration, our love. So whatever reality you are facing today, face it with the joy of the Lord. It's time to leave the mountain behind you.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

You Probably Won't Want To Read This

So many people think they know God but they only know the god we have created. I have written posts in the past about the "plastic dashboard Jesus" describing an attitude where we want a convenient and silent god. We want one that we can mold after our own image and who will remain close enough to respond when we need help. We want a Jesus like what Peter wanted; one who will fit into our expectations; one who will give us health, wealth and happiness, as if that is God's purpose in our life. What a self-centered generation we are. In the last two days we have seen Peter declare who Jesus is and then deny what Jesus must do simply because it did not meet with his expectations. So Jesus turned to his disciples and made it very clear what it meant to be his disciple:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done." (Matthew 16:24-27)

Even though Jesus spoke plainly here I am finding that most people follow an "idea" of Jesus and not the "reality". We follow Jesus for what we can get, not realizing that to be a disciple means to give. We go to church with an expectation to receive but few of us understand that we must go with an readiness to give to the Body of Christ. We ignore these things that Jesus taught:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)

Following Jesus requires that we "deny ourselves" to "take up our cross" so that we can "follow Jesus". This means a harsh reality check. Our life, our comfort, our pleasure must come second place to the Kingdom of God.This is where we get stuck. This is where we find it easier to ignore the reality of Jesus and make our own little plastic version. People would rather chase after their own comfort, pleasures, riches, fame then deal with the reality of the attitude in which Jesus called us to serve. He set an example for us that we too easily dismiss. What do we really think "taking up our cross" means? Blessing people so we will get something back? Seeding money so we will get 100 fold back? Is our bottom line always what we will get out of it? This is not the attitude of a servant, or a disciple of Jesus Christ. Let Paul's description sink in:

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 2:5-8)

Not too many of us are able to achieve this attitude because we have allowed ourselves to become duel citizens. We want the best of both worlds but it doesn't work that way. We are far too attached to the things of this world, ignoring the warning of Jesus:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other." (Matthew 6:24)

Although our heart has been transformed and our spirit desires to serve God, our body has yet to be transformed and is the source of a lot of struggles for us.Jesus stated that the spirit is willing but the body is weak. It takes effort and a decision to "deny ourselves" and to "take up our cross". To cast off the trappings of this world is not easy but everything is possible for those who believe. Faith is not simply singing praises. Faith is turning those praises into actions. Faith is allowing the fruit of the Spirit priority over the fruit of the flesh. There is a reason why Paul states that we need to work out our salvation daily until we also reach that point of submission as Paul did when he declared that he had learned the secret of contentment in a life that saw such extremes:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Can we find contentment in Jesus and only Jesus, accepting the season of need and the season of plenty without being distracted from our service? Can we give the highest priority of our life our service to our King and set aside the distractions of this world? It is what Jesus said we had to do to be his disciples. Not only that, the mission he gave us was not to go and make believers but to go and make disciples. How can we do that if we do not even know what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? It is time to put away our little plastic Jesus and bend our knee to the King of kings and Lord of lords, to deny ourselves and take up that cross that has been waiting for us. It's time for the Body to rise up in power and strength as we discover our true inheritance. Arise my soul, arise! 

Friday, November 26, 2010

There Is A Reason Why You Are Being Robbed Of Victory

I have been writing these devotions in one form or another for 9 years now and there are some days when it is easier than others. Today is one of those days when I must force my body into submission. It is as Jesus said, "The Spirit is willing but the body is weak". I fully understand what Paul meant when he said that he had to take authority over his body, whipping it into obedience. Sometimes I think we forget how hard it can be to swim against the desire of our body. The easiest thing to do is stay in bed for an extra hour, to ignore our running shoes, to eat that extra helping, to watch TV instead of read that book, and many other such things. As Paul said, "everything is possible, but not everything is beneficial". So here I am, forcing my body into submission.

Yesterday we considered Peter's confession of faith. He declared what perhaps the disciples had been discussing, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. I don't know if you have noticed yet in your walk with Christ but every declaration you make provokes opposition. We declare that we are setting everything aside to serve only Jesus and suddenly it feels like we are in quick sand. How about when a congregation starts making spiritual breakthroughs, people are being saved, healing comes in, people start rising up with new strength? Then someone's mother dies, someone else receives terrible financial news, another person is facing pressures at work, the pastor gets sick and the church roof begins to leak. I am not saying the enemy causes all of this but he certainly uses it to bring in discouragement so that our focus on what the Spirit is doing is shifted to our own needs.

Peter made a huge declaration of faith and the enemy was quickly upon him. After his declaration Jesus spent the next few days laying out the Father's plan. Now that the disciples had realized who Jesus was he felt comfortable in revealing to them the whole plan. When we have spiritual breakthroughs, when we begin to acknowledge what God is doing around us, he begins to give us fuller revelation. The problem is we don't always like what we see. We are still young and still gaining wisdom in how God sees things. Often these things go against our flesh and we begin to refuse the plan, thinking something has gone wrong. This is what started happening with Peter. He had fixed in his mind that things were now going to go in a certain way. He was seeing the plan according to his own fleshly desires, shaped by his understanding of the world. Remember, he did not yet have the Spirit. He rebuked Jesus for this plan:

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22)

Can you imagine the nerve it would take to rebuke the Son of the living God? Don't laugh too loud; we've done it too. Have you ever been in prayer when you started telling God what to do? "God, bless this family." "God, heal this man." "God, pay these bills." Have we sought for understanding? Have we even asked God what his plan is in this matter or are we assuming according to our limited perspective? How many times have you prayed in opposition to what our Father was doing? Would any of us have understood and accepted what Jesus was saying if we had been in Peter's place? Of course not. It is this limited understanding that the enemy feeds on. He uses our limited perspective to discourage us about our circumstances. He introduces fear because of the unknown. He distracts us from what God is doing by getting us fixed on our own needs and problems. It is an easy trap to fall into because, although we tell Jesus we love him and trust him, most of us have not matured in that love and trust. We are like the soil with the rocks beneath the surface; we do not let the seed take a deep root so that when trouble comes our faith and trust evaporate. The enemy loves to play on this.

So understanding this, we should be able to understand that Jesus was not harsh in his response to Peter. He was not speaking to Peter as much as he was rebuking the enemy for attacking the faith of one so young in it:

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:23)

There is the point for this morning my fellow sojourners; do we have in mind the concerns of God or merely our human concerns?Too often spiritual victory and celebration has been robbed from us because of mere human concerns; worship leaders who become offended, pastors who become jealous, church treasures who become discouraged, prayer warriors who become fearful. In our own families, mothers and fathers become despondent because of wondering children. Instead of continuing on faithfully in our service we begin to turn to other sources for help; books, counselors, medications, whatever we can to try to find the solutions. Mere human concerns.

How many times do we need to read the Bible before we come to understand that victory comes when there is a battle. God gives us seasons of peace but he also gives us seasons of war. The greatest generation of Israelite's were those that emerged from the 40 years in the desert. Mighty warriors, people of obedience, a nation that had come to trust their God in the harsh conditions of life. If our Father leads us into such seasons understand it is for our development, growth, and strengthening. The enemy will try to use it to discourage us and he will succeed if we are not determined to trust our Father. We need to cast off mere human concern and begin to live according to the concerns of God. Realizing this may be one of the greatest victories in your life.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

We Need Help To Make This Confession Of Love

There are a lot of major decisions that we have to make in our life. The single largest financial decision we can make is whether to purchase a house. The single most important relationship decision we can make is who our life partner will be. However, the single most important decision of all our life and eternity is whether to follow Jesus or not. It really should be a no brainer, life or death, but there is that element of faith that is required. Is Jesus who he said he is? We all must face that question in our life and make a decision on the matter.

In Matthew 16 we find Jesus bringing his disciples to this point of decision. He asks them, "Who do people say I am?" We do the same thing. We consider what others say about Jesus. We listen to their reasoning, to their testimony, to their thoughts on why he is just a myth. Everyone seems to have an opinion but few look into the matter with any earnestness. They simply decide whose opinion they will side with and stick to it. The opinions about Jesus have always varied. The disciples answered Jesus' question:

“Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)

Then Jesus made it personal, as he always does with us. He asks them point blank, "What about you? Who do you say that I am?" There seems to be no hesitation from Peter on this matter. He says with no shame and no question, "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God." Perhaps they had been kicking this idea around among themselves for a while but it had to be spoken in the open. It needed to be confessed so that it would become concrete in their hearts. We have a lot of notions and ideas running through our heads. Plenty of dreams and emotions, but they do not take on a life until they are spoken. We may feel that we love someone but it is not proven to be true or false until we confess that love. It is the same for hate and plenty of other things. Even ideas become clearer for us when we speak them out loud to people. There is something very important in this moment that Jesus has provoked; a confession of faith that will carry these disciples through some very dark days that wait in their pathway.

It is here that Jesus makes something very clear for us. It is impossible for us to come to this conclusion on our own. The idea of Jesus, his purpose, what he did for us and what the result is in our lives is a concept that goes beyond mere human logic. It is the reason why it is rejected by so many people. In fact, as humanity plods on we are getting more assured of our own logic and reasoning and less accepting of this matter of faith. Our hearts are growing harder. Jesus makes it clear here that we need help to have faith:

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven." (Matthew 16:17)

We cannot come to accept Jesus Christ without the intervention of our Father. During a different time Jesus explained:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day." (John 6:44)

This is the reason why the greater portion of the world closes their ears to the good news of Jesus Christ. They do not want to be saved from their sins. They are pleased to continue to their destruction.The people of this world are filled with pride and self-determination. Until they realize their true nature they will not have "ears to hear". Often it is only when they are absolutely desperate that they begin to open their ears and hearts to possibilities other than the limited reality they see around them. It is in these moments that the Father is able to touch their hearts. It is in these moments that we, his people, need to be found faithful in our confession of Jesus, in our testimony, in our acts of love. 

We who claim to be followers of Jesus need to examine ourselves and ask the question, "Who do I say Jesus is?" Sometimes we can find ourselves following the traditions of our family instead of walking in a vibrant relationship of faith. Traditions will not save us. Only an encounter with Jesus, a confession of our faith is worth anything. We need to settle it in our hearts and stop being tossed back and forth. If we truly believe he is who he has claimed to be then we also accept every promise he has given us as true. This means there is no room for fear our worry in our life.We must accept the whole package not bits and pieces. Do you understand all the promises, the complete package or are you just looking at the eternity bit? What about the here and now? What purpose does he have for you? What has he promised for the mission he has given you?

It starts with the declaration of faith but it is followed by a lifetime of service.Peter confessed it and Peter faced the price that came with it. We want to confess it because of the benefits we see that comes with it but do we realize the cost? The stronger you get the more the enemy will try to destroy you. With the confession comes warfare. Tomorrow we will consider the cost of Peter's confession.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why It's Not Good To Be A Spiritual Pillsbury Doughboy

Misunderstandings between people happen so easily. Sometimes it is the fault of the person sending the message and sometimes it is the fault of the person interpreting that message. What we considered with yesterday's devotional was Jesus' disciples misinterpreting the message due to what they were preoccupied with. Their current worries and fears acted as a filter so they missed what was being said to them. This morning I want us to consider the actual lesson Jesus gave them.

As the disciples sailed across the lake with Jesus, worrying about their lack of provisions, Jesus gave them this warning:

“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6)

We understand that yeast is used in baking. It spreads throughout the dough and causes the dough to expand by introducing air. It is not that the dough is increased but only that it is puffed up with air. We should consider that this teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees does the same thing; spreading and puffing up. They did not contribute anything of any substance to the relationship with Jehovah but instead the teachings spread like wild fire and caused people to become puffed up with nothing.

The Pharisees were only concerned with appearance and the outward ceremonies. There was not substance to it for them as their hearts were as sinful as any other persons. However, they insisted on forcing people to do as they did. Jesus pointed out their attitude in needing to be more religious than any other person. They made sure that everyone saw them being religious with their prayers and attendance at ceremonies. We know that the Scribes added volumes of interpretations to the law and the Pharisees were there to put them into action. This led to a religious pride that caused their hearts to be cold to Jesus, to the point where they denied him as Messiah even though it was plain to see.

The Apostle Paul referred to this group as the "circumcision group". Wherever he went preaching grace this group followed behind to enslave people back into law. They could not find it in themselves to accept that Jesus would do for us what we could not do through the law.The law is perfect but sinful man could not live the perfect law. This was the struggle of Paul's age, to move from our outward appearance to the inward condition. It is still our struggle today and one of the reasons why the Catholic church is the way it is. We find it much easier to earn salvation than to accept God's free gift. It is a matter of pride. However, we need to open our eyes because many of us are going the way of the Catholic church.

We may not have all the trappings of idols and false teachings on penance but we still run the risk of the yeast of the Pharisees. Many people act as if attending church, paying tithe, reading their Bible, doing good deeds, and saying grace is an indication of their salvation. They lean heavily upon these activities while harbouring sin in their heart. Their relationship with Jesus is non-existant but they go through all the motions as if the motions is what will save them. In all honesty, they are no better than the Pharisees who Jesus often corrected and scolded for leading the people into such misery.

Jesus taught us many times, as did the writers of the epistles, that the Kingdom of God is a matter of the heart. It is from the heart that good and bad pour out into actions and words. It is from the heart that we give authentic worship to our God. It is from a Christ-filled heart that we are able to love and be loved. It is from a heart knowledge of grace that we are able to show grace to others. Jesus taught so much on the heart and of the fruit that grows from the heart. It should be plain to us that baptism and communion will not save us. Reciting the Lord's Prayer will not save us. Lifting our hands in worship will not save us. Selling all that we have and giving it to the poor will not save us. Neither will attending church, paying our tithe and giving our testimony. Only Jesus Christ saves. It is only his act on the cross that makes it possible. The only act that is acceptable from us is to bend our knee, confess our condition, ask for forgiveness and receive his free gift of salvation. After this our heart begins to affect our words, actions, and attitudes, and from us flows the love of Jesus in power and boldness.

Look to your attitude. Are you trusting anything else for salvation? We cannot save ourselves. Only Jesus saves. It is easy to lose our way and fall into that religious spirit. Confess it today and be free of it. Allow Jesus to establish the true Kingdom of God in you today and heed his warning against the yeast of the Pharisees. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Danger: Interpreting The Spirit According To Our Needs

We have a lot of responsibilities in a day. As parents we have to get our children up and out the door to school, which includes clothed and fed. Even if you homeschool you still have to do that on top of the responsibility of teaching them. We have cooking and cleaning. Bills have to be paid. Shopping has to be done. Then throw on that the responsibilities we have at work. Plus there is the extended family and our church. However, all of this mess is useless and burdensome if we forget our responsibility to stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit.

It is a shame that most of us see the physical and spiritual as being separate things. We fail to understand and then live by the principle that the spiritual is impacting the physical all the time, as is the physical impacting the spiritual. We move through our day in the physical world, accepting everything as we see it. We miss the voice of the Spirit as he is wanting to instruct and explain everything we are experiencing. We are like a colour blind person who refuses the help to see in colour. We are dull and boring and often overburdened because we refuse the help of the Spirit to see with Jesus' eyes.

It is not unlike Jesus' disciples as they were crossing a lake. They had suddenly remembered that they had forgotten to bring food. They were so preoccupied by this that when Jesus began to instruct them they interpreted what he said by what was occupying their thoughts:

“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” (Matthew 16:6-7)

You may consider this a minor point but it is pretty major in our growth into maturity. We major on what this world would consider major problems; lack of money, lack of job, health problems, overworked and such. Yet, with Jesus' perspective and understanding we are able to see that these things are minor compared to the important Kingdom things we are suppose to be occupied with. The reason the other things are minor is because we have a Father who provides all of it and helps us with all of it when we allow him to. It requires, faith in what Jesus promised. Do you trust what he promised? In the physical, not bringing food for their journey should be a major problem for the disciples, except that they should have learned by now who they were with:

“You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?  Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?  How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:8-11)

It is unfortunate that we do not hear the voice of the Lord clearly as we move through our day but instead try to interpret everything according to our needs. How often do we get it wrong? How often do we hear a disapproving voice when in fact Jesus is not even addressing what is occupying our minds? As soon as Jesus removed their worry by reminding them past provision, they were able to clearly understand that Jesus was teaching them:

Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:12)

We keep forgetting that we are not here for ourselves. We are here as the children and servants of our God. We are here because of the mission. As we are occupied with this mission we are being instructed and taught. As we focus on Jesus and others we are able to see, hear and understand clearly as we see the spiritual impact the physical world around us. We receive encouragement, strength and council from the Holy Spirit. We are empowered to impact our small part of the world. Let's not get distracted by majoring on the minor things. Let's not allow our self-centered interpretation of things discourage us. We can be our own worst enemy as we discourage ourselves by concentrating on our own interpretations according to our needs. Let's throw that off today. Push it away and open your ears to the instructions of our Lord. Ignore your needs and look around to see what God is doing and listen to know if he is inviting you to join him there. Perhaps you need that fresh wind and fire today. Perhaps you need your vision renewed. Perhaps you need to clean house so Jesus can take his rightful place. I encourage you, do not let this physical world overwhelm you. Get your eyes fixed on Jesus and get occupied with the mission.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Where Your Heart Is ...

Over the last few weeks I have written a great deal on signs and wonders. Many in the Body of Christ believe that the days of such supernatural things have past and we live in a different age. I would not mind such people instructing me on the passages that say that such a thing would come to be because I cannot find any. What I do know is that we have become spiritually weak and as such lack the sensitivity to the Spirit we need. Many of us have stopped heeding the warning about what we allow to enter in through our ears and eyes and what we allow our hearts to be distracted by. How can we ever expect to be sensitive to the Spirit when we are constantly dulling ourselves with the entertaining sins of this world? Can we hear the gentle whisper of the Spirit with the sounds of guns, murder and sex blaring through our heads? Signs and wonders are as much for this age as as they were for the past, but we also need to keep in mind who they are for.

In Matthew 16 we find that a group of Pharisees and Sadducees had come to test Jesus; they wanted him to give them a sign. This was asked of Jesus on several occasions, especially after Jesus had run the merchants out of the temple, and even as he hung on the cross. They wanted Jesus to prove who he was, that his claims were legitimate. They were actually asking for a private showing because Jesus had never done anything in secret. Every healing, every miracle, every sign was on public display or had many witnesses. If the Pharisees and Sadducees really wanted proof all they had to do was open their eyes and look around. However, if all it would have taken was a sign to convince them, I am certain that Jesus would have given them one.

Yet, Jesus saw it from a different perspective. These men would not believe a sign because they did not believe the prophecies. These were well educated, well versed men who knew the Scriptures and prophecies better than the common person on the street. If their hearts were really open to a sign then they would have been open to the Scriptures. Jesus' reply to them was from this perspective:

“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." (Matthew 16:2-3

The signs and wonders were not for such as these, who knew the Scriptures and the prophecies and who had full advantage to believe from a place of faith. The signs and wonders were for those who were ignorant of the Scriptures and who had no understanding of the prophecies. It is these who needed to see the hand of God. It is the lost, the ignorant, the spiritually uneducated people who need the signs and wonders to believe God is real and powerful enough to save us from those things that separate us from him. Remember this:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

The greater path for us with such knowledge is that of faith but those of us of faith should also be instruments of signs and wonders for those who cannot get to that place without seeing and believing. Unfortunately too many of us are becoming like the Pharisees, where we have the knowledge but not the faith. We can quote chapter and verse but we crumble at any adversity and challenge.We have the knowledge but our faith is no stronger than a wet noodle, and much of it has to do with what we immerse ourselves in to weaken ourselves. We cannot become spiritually strong when we permit ourselves to be entertained by the sins of this world. Consider how Jesus saw these Pharisees and Sadducees:

"A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. (Matthew 16:4)

He saw them as an adulterous people. What is adultery? When you give yourselves to someone you do not belong to. These men, who belonged to God, in their arrogance had given themselves over to the enemy. Are we much better with our appearance of godliness but no power thereof? Don't let me be your accuser as I accuse myself but instead give the Spirit the freedom to examine you and, for the sake of this dying world, listen to his honest reply. We are to be a bold and powerful people, allowing Jesus to glorify himself through us, especially through our weaknesses. Do not allow the distractions of this world to knock the feet from under you. Rise up and make the decision to live for Christ and Christ alone. 

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)

I want to live a bold and powerful life with Jesus, for this lost world. It starts with the decisions I make today to remain hyper sensitive to the Spirit in me. Let nothing of this world to cause his glory to fade in you.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Time To Move On

I am not ready to leave the incident we read about yesterday, at least not yet. If you recall, a group of Pharisees had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to challenge Jesus on a matter of national interest: hand washing. That still makes me smilet. I just find it such an obviously dumb thing considering all the other things Jesus had already been doing. However, I do not want to rehash what was said yesterday but instead I want us to consider another matter that arises from this confrontation.

Jesus' entire message centers around one simple premise: the Kingdom of God is a matter of the heart. This put him in direct opposition with the Pharisees whose teaching all centered on ceremonies and actions. The Pharisees did not care about the condition of the heart as long as a person made the appearance of doing what was right according to their many rules. This is the reason Jesus turned to the crowd with this instruction:

“Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:10-11)

This was an "in your face" moment from Jesus. It may have been said in the subtlety of teaching but it was not a subtle teaching. So much so that his disciples came to him later, very concerned:

“Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matthew 15:12)  

The disciples were concerned because the Pharisees were important and powerful men. They were the promoters and defenders of Jehovah worship. They were busy with the preservation of the culture of Israel through its religious observance and worship. Yet, there is an important point here to make: when you are wrong you are wrong. It does not matter who you are, how important, how knowledgeable, how famous; if you are teaching wrong then you are wrong. Hopefully all of us are open to correction in our understanding of correct doctrine especially those of us who are teachers of the Word. We should take warning from Jesus' response to his disciples:

“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:13-14)

The words that strike me the most in this is "leave them". I hear "don't be bother with them". What would cause Jesus to walk away from a person like that? A hardened heart; unteachable; stubbornness. There is nothing anyone can do with people who are convinced they are right and will not listen to the truth. Leave them. It is sad that there are so many blind guides, people who have a little bit of knowledge but who do not understand the truth. They build entire doctrines around unimportant matters, such as hand washing. Just like the Pharisees, they are more concerned about a persons behaviour than they are about their heart. Often the people who chose to follow such blind guides are themselves blind to the truth and refuse to hear anything else.

I have met too many Christians to count who were more concerned about my lack of a suit and the length of my hair than they were about what I was teaching. I would rather be corrected in my teaching than corrected in my appearance because my appearance is a matter of "hand washing". There are far to many "Pharisees" who want to dress people up and get them into church, as if that would save them. They chastise people for missing a Sunday instead of checking to make sure their heart is okay. They will correct them for their lack of tithing instead of understanding this is a symptom of a deeper problem. We have to be a people who see beyond appearances to speak to the heart condition, as Jesus did.

If you know anything of Jesus' talk with the Pharisees Nicodemus in John 3 you will recall that he came to Jesus with an opening statement to try to discover more about Jesus:

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”  

However, Jesus brushed this surface statement aside and went to the heart: 

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 

Them seem to have nothing to do with each other because they don't. Nicodemus wanted to talk about signs and Jesus moved it to the heart. He did the same thing to the Samaritan woman at the well, which we find in John 4. Jesus had asked her for a drink and her response was about appearances:

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

Jesus reply went to the heart:

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Jesus did not "leave" these two and many others like them because they were open and teachable. The woman so accepted what Jesus taught that she ran and brought out the whole village. They were teachable concerning the matters of the heart.

We can't afford to get this wrong. As we daily live to fulfill our mission we need to make sure we understand the message of that mission. We are not in the business of trying to conform people's actions to a set of rules or a law. We are simply vessels of a message that, with the power of God, will transforms the hearts of those who are lost. We can't get this backwards. It doesn't work from the outside in. The Kingdom is a matter of the heart, a heart transformed by the love, mercy and grace of the Father. It is with this transformation that it moves outward and also transforms our actions.

There are too many who are dying without Jesus for us to get caught up in arguments and debates with people who are unteachable. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in the beginning but after that he did not waste any more time on them. There are some people who you will just have to leave alone because they have hardened their heart to anything else. Continue to pray for them but realize the fields are ripe for the harvest and there are plenty more people who are willing to be saved. It is a sad notion because everyone is important to our Father, but when the "sea" is filled with people willing to be saved, we can't afford the time to waste on someone who is determined to drown. Just because you need to move on doesn't mean that God has given up. After some further experiences he will send another prophet to that person who may be more prepared in the future to listen. But for today, it's time to move on. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Speak To The Heart And Not To The Hand

We can be pretty dumb as Christians. Like when we expect a sinner to conform to our behaviour before encountering Jesus. It's hard for us to see people talk and act in a way that dishonours God but their heart condition dishonours him more than their actions. It is something we need to adjust too but it is hard when we are so geared to how people act. Check it out: what concerns you more, the lack of respect from a bunch of young people on the bus or, the fact that they are without Jesus? We are geared to try to conform behaviour instead of being used as an agent of transformation.

This was the biggest problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. They were great at keeping all the rites and rituals, attending all the ceremonies and insisting that everyone else do the same. However, when it came to the heart they were far from God. I really do not think we want to be producing that in our churches, preferring to make disciples over clones. However, I am not even sure we are able to answer the question honestly: Are we more concerned about behaviour than we are over salvation? What about when it comes to our children? Are we more concerned that they are polite and respectful than we are that they know Jesus?

Jesus had some Pharisees travel all the way from Jerusalem to criticize him over hand washing of all things. Here he was healing people on the Sabbath, calling himself God, warning the people against the teaching of the Pharisees, but the thing that concerned them was that his disciples did not wash their hands before eating:

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:2)

We are not talking about the practical washing up before eating but instead a useless ceremonial washing of the hands, a tradition of the elders. All of Israel was falling apart, filled with Greek-Gentiles, a lose of national identity, a lack of Jehovah worship, occupied by the Romans, the worship of false gods, even a lose of culture and language; but they came all the way from Jerusalem to question Jesus about a useless ceremony of hand washing. Can we understand why Jesus would get upset with them? These were the leaders who had the potential to do a lot of good for the spiritual development of the people. Jesus quoted Scripture to them just as he did with Satan:

 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
   but their hearts are far from me.  

    They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’” (Matthew 15:8-9)

I think that deserves some reflection. What is our heart condition? Are we more concerned about traditions and behaviour than we are about the heart? Do we take personal offense and reject people because of their language and attitude? What fools we are. These are the people Jesus sent us to. Do we really think that when he hung out with the prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, farmers and other rejects from polite society that the language was pure, that their behaviour was holy, that they would have been welcome in our churches? Hardly, yet Jesus did not chastise them; he befriended them, taught them, and gave them hope that they too were welcome in the Kingdom. Concerning this matter of the hand washing, Jesus spoke to the crowd:

"What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11)

Later, to his disciples he explained:

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:17-20)

Our behaviour and language reveals the condition of our heart. It is the heart that matters and from its overflow people will either be cursed or blessed. We are called to a mission to go out into the world and the world is a sewage. It stinks, it is vile, it is a nasty place to be as a child of God. However, this is the place where the objects of our Father's affections are dying. He has told us to go into this vile, smelly place so that he is able to rescue as many of these people he loves as possible. We cannot criticize and condemn people for their smell when they live in a sewage. First let's show them how to escape from the sewage and then the Spirit will work his great transformation in them. We cannot be offended because the world acts like the world. We cannot run away just because a sinner lives in and enjoys his sin. We would be no better than the Pharisees.

It is not an easy mission we have been called to but our own hearts must be changed if we are to succeed in it. We must lose all forms of criticism, judgment and condemnation if we are to be effective workers in our Father's mission to rescue as many of those who are perishing as possible. We must be transformed by his genuine love, honestly possessing compassion for those who are suffering in their sin. We share the Word of life, we explain where the exit is, we show them love and compassion, we allow Jesus to be gloried through signs and wonders, but the choice will always come down to the individual. How much easier it is to make that choice when we speak to their heart and not to their behaviour. Let's have nothing to do with the yeast of the Pharisees so that we might be greatly used in our Father's work.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Power And Authority Of Jesus Revealed Through You

Why did he do it? Why did Jesus walk out to his disciples in the middle of a storm? Was he pressed for time? In all that I known about Jesus I have never seen that he was ever in a hurry. Was he fearful for his disciples? I see nothing in Jesus to indicate he was ever fearful. Besides, many of those disciples were seasoned fishermen. I am certain they knew how to weather a storm. Was it simply a matter of convenience, a faster way to reach his disciples? I highly doubt it. This is the same Jesus who refused to turn the stones to bread near the end of his long fast in the desert. No, there was greater purpose in this miracle than simply a convenient way to get around. We find it near the end of the account of the miracle:

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:32-33)

This was one of those miracles with the purpose of glorifying Jesus, as Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples. There were no crowds around, just his chosen followers, and this was a miracle to bring them into further knowledge of who Jesus was. Did you notice that the storm disappeared after they climbed into the boat. There was no further need for it; Jesus had made his point.

There are some miracles that have no other purpose than to provoke the question, "Who is this Jesus?" The world has stopped asking that question. They figure they know all there is to know. I talk with people who discredit the Word of God because of its many translations, not understanding the Holy Spirit in all of it. They are practical people, believing only in what they see. They do not note  any difference between believers and non-believers because believers have forgotten how to live by the Spirit. I am one of the worse perpetrators of this faithless and powerless crime. I didn't even have enough guttso to get out of the boat as Peter did. I have failed to demonstrate to the world the power of Christ in my life to overcome the simplest things. I have been humbled by a failed marriage and bankruptcy. How am I any different then my unsaved neighbour? Where did I demonstrate the power of Jesus to do miracles in my life? Where did I demonstrate any faith? I have heard those words, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I am changing though. Jesus never gave up on me. He has continued to teach me and reveal himself to me and now I am convinced that the salvation of the lost depends on our willingness to allow the power of God to work through us. Jesus wants to glorify himself in the miracles of our lives but also in the miracles he directs us to do in the lives of others. The world has moved on from Sunday School stories but they need to come into the knowledge that the Word of God is more than a book. The world requires the Word to come in the authority and power of Jesus Christ. It is how Paul brought it to those who would not recognize the authority of the Word:

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 human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

It is unfortunate that the world has reduced our Holy Scriptures to a book of wisdom for living a good life. That is not who my Jesus is. He is the greatest authority in and out of all of creation. Everything has been placed under his feet and a time will come when every man, woman and child will have to acknowledge his authority. We need to work to make sure that as many people are able to do this willingly as possible. We want people to see Jesus in all his authority today so that on that day they will have great joy instead of great fear.

The salvation of the lost depends on your willingness to allow the power of God to work in you and through you. It depends on your willingness to allow that power to be revealed in your weaknesses as well as your strengths. It depends on your willingness to trust the God who split the sea and raised the dead. It depends on your willingness to pray over the sick and dying and see miracles worked through you. It depends on your willingness to claim Jesus' authority over your life and everyone and everything belonging to you. It depends on your willingness to allow Jesus to be glorified through all these things, to allow him to be lifted up by the Spirit in your life. Only when Jesus is glorified will people start trusting the authority of God's Word. However he chooses to reveal himself to the lost, you must be willing to allow that power to flow through you.

He's the same God. He's the same Lord. He's the same Saviour. He's the same one who cast out demons, taught with authority, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, walked on the water and told us that we would do greater things. My friend, it isn't about you. It's about your obedience and willingness to allow Jesus to be glorified through you. It's about Jesus and his great passion for the lost. It's about them. Allow Jesus to work through you today, to touch the hearts of the lost by his power and Word. Today is the day of salvation. Yesterday was the day of encouragement and equipping; today is the day of work.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You Go!

Praise the Lord!

The platform was practically empty. A great wave of relief washed over his entire being as he descended the last two steps of the stairs to stand on the Metro platform. He took a moment to look up the platform and then down, just to verify his answered prayer. He hated crowds.


The station was empty except for four other people. To his far left, practically to the extreme of the quiet platform stood two young people, locked in each others arms. The young man was quite a bit taller than his friend but she was enjoying that difference, clasping her arms around his neck while standing on his feet. It looked as if they were dancing to some unheard music, oblivious to the world around them. He smiled as the image of them locked in this embrace with train after train having come and gone, played out across his vision.

Love one another.

A bit up from them, but still at a comfortable distance, was a very serious looking man. Most people have probably seen the type; briefcase in hand, overcoat open, suit underneath, tie perfectly done up. This man seemed to avoid colour, preferring the standard gray and white. He seemed to be pre-occupied with studying the many newspaper bits strewn haphazardly around the station. To be honest, the place was a mess. Papers and discarded fast food wrappers were laying about, lodged wherever the wind of the speeding trains carried them. They were evidence of a society that did not care about anything. It did the same to people as it did to objects it no longer wanted. He imagined the papers as people, their bodies wedged into nooks and crannies all over the station. The vision shocked him. He turned away.

You are like that.

As he turned, his eyes came upon the last person sharing the platform with him. She was the closest to him, an almost uncomfortable 50 meters away. She was anything but threatening. An older lady, probably in her eighties. She was nicely dressed, with practical shoes but dressed up in some nice jewelry. He imagined she had a nice dress on to go with the jewels but it was hidden behind her beautiful London Fog overcoat. She presented herself as an elegant person and only her etched face gave betrayed her age. She also carried with her a very satisfied looking Yorkshire Terrier. Probably a substitute for her children. He imagined her living alone, in a one bedroom apartment, with her children either living in Toronto or on the West Coast.

Love one another.

After assuring himself that he was safe from being disturbed he took a seat on the bench beside him and placed the ear buds in his ear. Glancing at the station clock he saw that he had three minutes before the next train. Plenty of time to listen to the final point of last Sunday's sermon. He had been trying to listen to this the entire day but kept getting interrupted. He wanted to go through this again because his pastor had brought up a subject that had fascinated him. How thankful he was that his church made these digital recordings available. He was a person who liked to understand every fine point of practically everything, but especially concerning Jesus.

One of the things that fascinated him the most was the power Jesus demonstrated to help others and the fact that Jesus said that those who came after him would do greater things than he did. It was this topic that the pastor had preached on this past Sunday. He explained about the Holy Spirit who enabled Jesus' disciples to do the same things, even though we don't see it today. That's the part that troubled him the most; why were we not seeing these miracles today? Jesus said we would do greater things and he sent the Holy Spirit so we could but all it seemed that we could do is good deeds, preach and write books. Where was the power?

Do you believe?

Troubling, is all he could say to himself. Perhaps he had it all wrong then. Perhaps there is no such God called Jesus. Perhaps it was all a matter of controlling the masses with a fanciful tale of a God who cared enough to become one of us, part of his own creation. Perhaps people were self-delusional and this was nothing more than a way of finding greater importance to their birth. If even his disciples today did not believe in miracles, how is this God glorifying himself? Why should he believe?

Even as these thoughts were reaching into his young faith, something out of the corner of his eye screamed for his attention. He turned to see the uptight man collapsed on the platform, his briefcase protruding from under the crumpled heap. Shocked, he looked down the platform to the young couple still embraced in the eternal dance of love. Desperate, he turned to the older lady but she was suddenly occupied with her tiny companion. Panicking, he looked around to see if any unnoticed person could assist this poor man. There was no one in sight. For a brief second it struck him how bizarre it felt to suddenly want a crowded platform.

You go!

The need of the man outweighed his need for solitude. But the thought of stepping out of his world into that of a complete stranger frightened him. Something in him pushed that fear aside and, a mere few seconds after seeing the man fall, he jumped to his feet.

He seemed to see everything in slow motion as he felt himself hurl his body into motion. He could feel his legs pumping underneath him; push, catch; push, catch. He noticed strange things, such as how many wads of gum had missed the trash and were now flattened on the platform as if they had become one with it. He saw the names etched into plastic benches that seemed to fly by in his flight toward the man. People's attempt at some kind of immortality, he thought. He saw the pattern in the tile floor, a pattern that he had never noticed in his ten years of using this station. And then he was beside the fallen man.

Breathing heavier than he should have been, he knelt beside the man. Not knowing what else to do he stuck his hand in front of the man's mouth to see if he was breathing. How awkward would this be if the man was suddenly to sit up. He felt nothing. A sudden pang of regret for not having taken that CPR course jabbed at him. He just stared at the man's face, desperate thoughts racing through his mind; panic nipping at his consciousness.

"Do something, dude!"

The sudden interruption to his scattered thoughts caused him to almost jump out of his skin. He whipped his head around to find the young lovers standing behind him. In his desperation he hadn't heard them approach. He was looking into the face of a young man, maybe in his late teens. The boy had a mixed look of concern and anger, perhaps for being interrupted from his eternal dance. He looked back to the body and then up the platform, to see the older woman approaching. Great! Now he had an audience. What was he suppose to do? Nothing came to his grasping mind.


He reached out and loosened that man's tie. It didn't seem to do anything but give him the satisfaction of having done something for the man. No signs of life. His own breathing continued its heavy rhythm and he could feel the sweat running down his back. For the first time he noticed just how hot it was in the station. Perhaps that was the problem. He unbuttoned that man's suit to allow him more air. Still nothing. He was useless. Why didn't someone else do something?


"Dude, you're useless. I'm calling for help."

He didn't know what brought the greater relief; hearing the young man's cries for help or the fact that he was almost alone again. He just wanted to be back home. He wanted to be curled up in bed. He wanted to be a thousand miles from this place. He wanted to be anywhere but here, kneeling beside a dead man without a clue what to do.


The image of Jesus reaching out to the sick flashed across his vision. He imagined he could hear the desperate cries of the crowd; "Heal me, Jesus." "Help me." "Rabbi, my son needs you." "Help me see again." It was like a deafening roar in his ears. Then it was gone. His mind reeled. Then the image of the hand laid upon the sick child. The opening of the eyes. The knowing smile on the face. The return of laughter. The celebration. The acknowledgment. He realized it's how they knew he was indeed the Messiah. The image vanished and there lay the body of a dead man; a body without life.


He couldn't possibly. The older lady was now standing by him. He could see her practical shoes out of the corner of his eye. What would she think? But the thought was taking root in him, growing, compelling him. He hesitated, then reached out his hand but hesitated again to put it on the man's head, as he had seen in his vision. What if ....?

"Go ahead, son. Just do it!"

The soft, reassuring voice of the older lady seemed to be the defining moment as he placed his hand on the man's head. Everything else to faded away now. The shoes were gone. The platform was gone. The cries for help were gone. Even he seemed to be gone. All he could sense was the cool flesh of the man's forehead and the words that were welling up in him. Just for the briefest of moments he realized all fear and doubt had vanished as well, and then he began to pray.

"In Jesus' name, I command life back into this body."

Ever so faintly, as if from another world, he heard the voice of the older lady: "Amen".

There was a great rush of adrenaline that raced through his body. A boldness seemed to overtake his wimpy character. He knew before he opened his eyes what he would see.

He opened them. So did the dead man. They stayed there frozen, staring at each other. One was in shock, the other confused. Then ... a telling smile began forming at the corners of his mouth.

I am real.

For the second time that day he found himself wishing for the crowded platform.

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

All That They Need Is A Miracle

I find that sometimes we become so familiar with the gospels that we miss the importance of some things contained in them. It is important that as we read we also pray, asking the Spirit to allow us to see the Scripture with a fresh heart. Sometimes we become too familiar with the parables and the miracles so that they lose any significance to us. We seem to be prone to this because we do it with people in our lives as well, taking for granted those that mean the most to us. Spirit give us a fresh heart so that we will see with new eyes the nuggets of gold from your Word today.

Most of us do not give any thought to the miracles Jesus did in his three years of ministry on this earth. Plenty of us understand that the miracles of healing were in response to the suffering humanity that he faced every day, but what about the other miracles? Jesus did other miracles which had the purpose of provoking people to ask, "Who is this man?" In today's reading we are looking at the feeding of the five thousand. We see that this is a group of people who followed Jesus and for whom he had compassion:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)

This was simply an out pouring of God's love as he reached out to this suffering crowd of people with compassion. As evening approached his disciples suggested that Jesus send the crowd away because there was no food in the vicinity. It is here that we can see that the tone is somewhat different and Jesus' response is frank:

"They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." (Matthew 14:16)

There was a lesson coming up for the disciples, big enough to cause them to wonder, question and seek a better answer for "who" was this they were following. It is similar to the response from the first miracle when Jesus was told by his mother to do something about the lack of wine at a wedding. Jesus did not do this miracle out of compassion but out of obedience to his mother. Even so, it was used to cause the disciples who were with him to realize that this was no ordinary man:

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (Matthew 2:11)

Jesus revealed his glory and his disciples believed him. Jesus did this many times for the benefit of his disciples and at other times for the crowds who followed. Jesus wants his glory revealed. He wants people to know that he is not some wise man, philosopher, great teacher who tried to give us words to live by. He came with power and authority, he saves with power, he transforms with power, he keeps with power, and he is revealed in power.

We have lost our belief, understanding and faith in such matters. There is a difference between healing from compassion and the signs and wonders that reveal Jesus' glory. There are times that the Spirit prompts us to reach out in compassion. There may be no other result than the fact that the person is healed. It may not result in salvation at all but is a simple work of God's grace and compassion. Then there are times when God wants to use us as he used Moses, when he tells us to stretch out our hand because he is about to reveal his glory. Our problem is that there are not many who walk this planet who still believe that God desires to reveal himself in signs and wonders. There are not many who are willing to trust their reputation to him and be willing to work in obedience. There are not many who are willing to become a target as Peter and Paul became. We read about their lives, dream about their lives, imagine we are like them, but we fall short in our willingness to allow Jesus to do what he wants to do through us.

The way the world is turning completely away from Jesus, there has been no better time for his disciples to start laying down their lives, reputations and all. There has been no better time to start understanding the purpose of the signs and wonders. There has been no better time for God's glory to be revealed to a world that has stopped believing. Jesus still heals the suffering out of compassion and he still reveals himself in signs and wonders. The only question is will you allow him to do it through you? Perhaps he will not use you to do signs and wonders but the question remains, are you willing, expecting and available? There is a world dying without Jesus Christ! What are you willing to do in obedience to Jesus? Go! Be! Do!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Can Faith Ever Be A Private Matter?

I have this thought that is forming and as I write I am looking for clarity. I have always held on to the belief of what Jesus stated that we should not throw "pearls" to the "swines" because they will only trample on them. Unless you know the value of pearls you will not appreciate them. Unless a person recognizes the authority of God's Word it is useless quoting it to them. In fact, it is a complete waste of time to have any kind of debate with a person who sees no value in the Word of God because it is on this great pearl that we stand. It is only those who are convicted by the Spirit who are able to hear the Word and be changed by it.

On the other hand, I feel sick to my stomach when I hear people say that their faith is a private matter, that they keep in to themselves. If it was real faith that person would know it cannot be kept to ourselves. Jesus Christ is such good news that we can't keep it bottled up, that is, unless we are selfish about it. We may be tempted to keep it private when we think we can keep all the blessings to ourselves, but it doesn't work that way. We may decide to keep it private because we are not too sure about it and don't want to be judged by others for it. That's really bad because Jesus told us that if we are ashamed of him he will be ashamed of us, and that won't work out good for us. Another reason to keep it quiet is because we are simply disobedient.

Aside from the fact that we feel compelled by Jesus' love to tell others about him, there is also the matter of obedience. We don't get to keep it to ourselves because Jesus told us to go and make disciples. He also told us that we have freely received so we now need to freely give. The world needs to know about Jesus and that world includes our neighbours, our co-workers, the school crossing guard, our class mates, our children, grandchildren and everyone else in our portion of the world. However, some people are afraid of conflict. They are afraid that something like what happened to John the Baptist would happen to us:

He ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. (Matthew 14:9-11)

Don't laugh. As a kid I thought something like this would happen to me if I talked about Jesus to my friends. Of course the two cannot be compared. John was a prophet who denounced the actions of a puppet king who cared more about his personal pleasures than he cared about anything else. This king knew what he was doing was wrong and John constantly warned him for the sake of his eternity and because of the bad example he was setting for the people. Some people are called to this but most of us are called simply to tell the world about Jesus, not to stand in condemnation of it. To speak out for Jesus does not mean spewing hatred at a people who do not know any better.

I would say most people keep their faith private because they do not want conflict in their lives but that is because they fail to understand that we are not to debate or argue people into the Kingdom. Sharing our faith means letting people know about Jesus' love and how he can change their lives. We answer their questions if they have any, but if they want to argue and debate it is best if we move on. Allow them to see it in our actions instead. This takes us back to the pearls that Jesus was talking about. The Word is filled with divine wisdom and incredible spiritual insight. These are the pearls we have been given and which we cherish. We use them to encourage one another, to go deep with Jesus and to correct those who have wondered off but yet still see the value of them. However, if people refuse to see their value then there is no agreed upon common ground to begin a debate or an argument. They refuse to recognize the only ground on which we have to stand. Its like the old hymn states:

I want no other argument,
I need no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.

That is our story. It is our testimony. It is the start and finish to our faith. It is too wonderful not to share and it is too beautiful to be seen trampled upon. We must share it but we must also be prepared to switch from words to actions when it is refused. We cannot strong arm anyone into anything. However, we can live the example Jesus gave us and show his love by loving those who hate him and us. It is our responsibility to tell about Jesus and the Spirit's responsibility to convict. It is the Father who draws men, women and children to the Son and it is the Son who reveals the Father to them. We have a big part to play in this because we are the story tellers. We tell the story but we are not responsible for how it is received. Sometimes, most times, that story must be told in actions because the words are rejected. However, if we keep it a private matter, how will the dying ever be saved? How will the lost ever be found? How will the darkness ever receive the light?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Claiming The Greatness That Is Your Destiny

There are some people and some things in your life that want to keep you from being everything you were created to be. I know you were born for greatness because that is what the Word of God tells me. You have been born by the will of our Father and he laid out a plan that would see you step into greatness as you were transformed by Jesus and filled with God's power through the Holy Spirit. You are known as an overcomer. That is what we call one who is more than a conqueror. Listen carefully to the Word:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30)

You have been called to greatness. Here are the facts as the Word of God gives them to us:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Allow that to sit in your thoughts for just a moment. Really examine it. If God is for us, does it really matter who is against us? If God has blessed us, does it really matter who has cursed us? If God has planned good things for us, does it matter who has planned evil?

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

All good gifts are from above. Every good thing that is in your life has been given by the Father. There should be no lack in your life. If there is it would be from you not trusting Dad enough to ask him. The Word tells us that we do not have because we do not ask. When we do ask, we often do so with selfish motivation, forgetting that our priorities are God first then others. Gifts should be flowing through us as we intercede for other people. We should be a fountain of blessing for others. In blessing others we in turn are blessed. We are a mighty source of blessing for everyone we come into contact with. Don't forget that.

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33)

This is the point I want to make this morning. There are people in your life who will never allow you to step into greatness. No matter what God does in you and through you they will always deny that greatness. They will speak smallness into your life. They will laugh at your dreams and the visions God gives to you. They will always have a list of reasons why you cannot achieve the things God has given you to do. They will always remind you of your past sins and mistakes. But I want you to listen to me right now: they are not allowed to do this. They do it in rebellion to God. No one is permitted to bring any charges against you. God has justified you. He has called you. He is equipping you. He is on your side because you are on his. Are you getting this:

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

No one of any significance is condemning you. Maybe in your mind they are significant but to God they are nothing. They are especially nothing if they are coming against his plans and his designs. With Jesus interceding for you why do you need to worry about those who would hold you back from your greatness? Jesus understands exactly what you are going through. He was also limited by those who would not give him the authority to do great things in their lives, especially when he visited his home town:

“Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. (Matthew 13: 54-57)

Perhaps this is what you are facing right now from those people who are the most familiar with you. Truthfully, there is nothing you can do about them. You are not responsible for their thoughts, heart or actions. However, you are responsible for your own. This same passage says that Jesus did not do many miracles in his home town because of their lack of faith. Sometimes it is the people who claim to love us the most who want to keep us down. It is sometimes these people who try to rob us of our greatness because they are not willing to allow God to be bigger than their own prejudices, ideas and opinions. It hurts, but we have to turn away from such people and realize that Jesus is all we need; it is Jesus who we serve and answer to; it is Jesus who called us to greatness.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (Romans 8:35)

So here we get to the important realization. We can no longer be dependent on the opinion of man, even if they are the dearest people we love. You are not small, insignificant and incapable of greatness. We need to close our ears to the ones the enemy tries to use to keep us low and realize this truth:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:37-39)

It is by this love that we step into greatness, that the enemy is defeated, that the walls come tumbling down, that the dry bones become flesh, that great acts of faith pour out of us, that miracles are done, that Jesus is preached, that signs and wonders follow, that even death itself is defeated, that we become more than conquerors of these things that would hold us back.

You my friend are called to greatness and it is time to shut out those voices that cannot, will not see the truth about you. You are a new creation; the old is gone and the new has come. What you were before no longer matters. What matters is today and your obedience in this day to the one who loved you enough to give his all to you. He stands with you in this day. He stands with you to encourage you and to empower you to do all things in his name. Today, you will be the most significant thing that happens in someones life because of the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Be Aware, Be Alert, And Take Action

There certainly are plenty of things that disciples of Jesus must be aware of and alert to. One of the things we must be aware of is that the world is not getting any better. In fact, the mask is starting to come off and we are beginning to see clearer the depravities that exist in the "every man's" heart. If you want to see it for yourself, take the time to warn someone of the consequences of death without Jesus, then you will see the ugliness revealed. But this is normal for the world and we really should not be surprised by it. However, what we need to be alert to is much more disturbing, and that is the distorted and twisted teaching that is being put out there by those who carry the title of Christian.

As disciples we know that sin is sin. If we fall into it we do it by choice. That is very clear. However, this second danger is much more insidious and affects those who have an average or little understanding of the Word. We might think that such false teaching is easy to spot but when it comes wrapped up in the guise of God's love many believers fall for it. This teaching robs Jesus' sacrifice of its power. It tries to sweep under the bed the truth of the coming judgment. It attempts to mask the fact of absolute truth. It does away with holiness in action and abuses God's grace. It is subtle and it preys on the weak of understanding.

The prevailing thought is that disciples of Jesus have it wrong about the judgment. They paint us as being proponents of condemnation, of hatred, of discord simply because we cannot accept sin as not being sin. We get labeled with lots of names so that when we try to explain about sin and our separateness from God we are told that we are spreading hate. They fail to hear that we are saying that we understand them because we have been there in that place of depravity, where sin had us completely under control. They refuse to hear us say that it is because we were there that we now know the truth of the matter because Jesus set us free from it. Yet, I can accept this from the world; in fact I expect it from the world; it's natural from the world. However, I am shocked when I am told this from Christians. Where are these people getting their teaching; from; one of those "ministers" who picked up their ordination papers for $50 off the internet?

This really concerns me because they are picking and choosing what to hear from Jesus. We need to hear, understand and live everything that Jesus taught, not just the stuff the suits us. Jesus taught that there will be a judgment. a time when the good and bad are separated. We are currently reading through Matthew 13 and in this one chapter alone we have two examples of Jesus warning about the separation that will take place at the Judgment. We read a few days ago about the field that was sowed with good seed but the enemy came in a added bad seed. In this Jesus warned that at the harvest the wheat would be separated from the weeds and the weeds would be burned up. Today we read about fish:

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47-50)

Jesus could not be any more clear on this fact. The world won't recognize it because the world refuses to acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures but surely believers should recognize this. Sadly there are believers who no longer consider Jesus the only way, even though he said:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) 

However, those of us who have this saving knowledge of Jesus should not be content in the knowing. What a selfish people we are if we are content with our own salvation. No, we have the responsibility to be involved in the rescue of as many people as we can. It should be our greatest thought every day as we walk this earth, looking for the opportunity to grab another victim of sin and haul them up onto the Rock of salvation. Not everyone is ready and there is no good end to arguing with anyone about Jesus. However, there are millions of people who have been prepared by the Spirit and who are just waiting to hear about Jesus from someone, anyone. 

Just because the world is an unfriendly place for us does not mean we have permission to stay home and do nothing. Jesus said to go and make disciples. There are those who are under threat because of the confusion in teaching. There are those who are perishing under sin because they are not even aware of their condition. The day when the angels come to separate us is approaching. Every day that passes is one less day we have to rescue people. The disciples of Jesus should be feeling the urgency of the matter and we should be examining our days to see if we are missing opportunities. I am happy I am well saved but I cannot rejoice in my selfishness; I must be busy with the Father's plan to rescue as many as who are willing to be rescued.

So be aware of what is going on in the world; be alert to the false teaching that is growing among the believers and be determined to remain as a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Yet, go beyond that. Recognize the purpose we have and get to work. Get involved in the world around you and in the lives of people who need Jesus. Don't waste the talents and gifts you have been given. The separation is approaching. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fan It Into Flame

I find it disturbing when church becomes a thing we tolerate. Some people treat it like a dentist appointment; they go but only because they must. Church becomes a social obligation, something to be done with the family, something we do because it has always been a tradition since childhood. There is not excitement, expectation or joy in the act of worship but it is more an interruption to our week. Even a watered down version of this sentiment is sad because it is evidence that such people who fill churches have never encountered Jesus.

It is a far cry from how Jesus described a person who had discovered the Kingdom of God:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." (Matthew 13:44-46)

From everything Jesus describes, the discovery of the truth is an exciting event. Here he describes it as discovering a great treasure. Of course we will do whatever is required to possess it. In other places he describes discovering the love to cause all other love we may have to pale in comparison. In fact, Jesus says that all other love will appear like hate in comparison. He refers to the Kingdom provoking such a love from us, it will consume our heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is no small thing when we discover the truth of Jesus.

It is sad when we start losing that excitement and anticipation. It is sad when we start going through the actions with no real heart for the matter. It is sad when we sit, feeling empty and alone when there is such vibrant life taking place all around us. The reason this happens is because we forget that such a treasure requires us to forsake everything else to possess it. We start off well but then we start trying to have the best of both worlds. We start to compromise our love. We try to take back some of what we had sold to possess the treasure.

It's craziness. There is nothing we have given over, to possess this treasure in the first place, that is worth losing the treasure to try to repossess. Would we really give up the love of a good woman for a hockey game? Would we really give up the love of a good man over "girl's night out"? The answer is yes, if we were foolish enough to allow our love to fade so that it took second place to other interests; selfish interests. The more we allow this to happen, the more we allow that love to take second place, the further we move away from it.

Over time treasure can lose its value to us when we allow it to lose its significance; when we forget how precious it was to possess; when we stick it in a closet somewhere instead of keeping it on display. The value of the Kingdom of God only remains significant as we grow in Jesus. When we allow other things to become of greater value, greater importance, the significance fades. We may continue with the act but there is no substance to it. It never comes to an abrupt end; it always fades with the passage of time and neglect. The power becomes less, the love diminishes, the significance weakens, and other, less powerful, less important things takes its place in our hearts and minds.

To retain the excitement of what we have forsaken everything to possess we must keep our love for it alive. Do not stop diving head first into worship. Make worship part of your day, the most significant part of your day. Make it exciting. Dance! Sing! Pray! Study! Surround yourself with fellow disciples of Jesus. I say disciples instead of believers because anyone can believe and yet not be in love with Jesus. Disciples are people of action, and they are exciting to be with:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Just as including your spouse in your day keeps your love alive so does including Jesus in everything you do. Talk to him throughout your day. Ask him for council in the decisions you have to make. Thank him throughout the day for everything you experience and receive. Talk about him with people, whether they are disciples or not. Be excited about talking about Jesus. Ask him to open your eyes to see his hand and presence in everything around you. As you do these things and more, the treasure you possess will not only remain exciting to possess but will grow in value. Do not allow such an exciting thing to diminish in worth through the neglect of time. Fan it into flame, pour your heart into it, give it center stage in your heart and you will soon discover that Jesus will glorify himself through you. There is no greater honour than this.