Friday, December 31, 2010

Pulling The Plug On New Year's Eve

Clean slate, eh?

That's the attitude toward the New Year;

     New dreams.
          New hopes.
               New desires.
                    New determination.

That would be nice wouldn't it, that we would have the opportunity once a year to wipe it all out and start with a blank page?

However, you and I both know it doesn't work that way. We know there is nothing magical about New Year's Eve. We know that we will wake up with the same problems on January 1st that we woke up to on December 31st. Thankfully we also wake up to the same blessings and the same joy.

God gave us the measurement of time when he created day and night. Ever since then we have gotten more precise (some would say annul) with the measurement of its passage and placing significance on marking certain events in it. We celebrate the dawn of a new year much like we celebrate birthdays but does such marking of the passage of time hold any significance? Is a person any better off for being one year older? In our society we have decided that a certain age determines the difference between childhood and adulthood but most of us would agree that such an achievement does not depend on the passage of time but instead the maturity of experience. What is more important to us, that a person has achieved a certain age or that they have grown wise in their living?

The passage of time means nothing unless we are using the experiences contained in the year to gain wisdom and understanding. Instead of wanting to start with a clean slate why don't we reflect on what we have learned from our dirty one? Don't avoid the pain, learn from it? Don't forget the embarrassment, examine it and gain understanding. Don't forget your mistakes but instead use them as teaching tools so you won't be doomed to repeat them. The saddest thing is if you are exactly the same next year at this time as you are right now. Our desire should never be to stay the same but to grow, to be more than we are today.

However, I need to be perfectly frank with you. Determination is not going to do it. Did it do it for you this past year? How long did it last? Did you end up quitting for whatever reason? Determination is a good thing but it is never enough. You could have a great will power but there are always things around the corner that are capable of knocking the wind out of your sail. You desire to be a better person. You want to improve. You want to overcome. You want to be more than you are today but there are hundreds of things that can work against you at any point. Marking a New Year could be the mark of a starting point but you are still dragging all your baggage with you plus all you weak character traits plus all the things life naturally throws at you. There is only one way to see real significant change in your life; you have to change your heart.

The heart is the key to everything. If you want to see changes it has to start in the heart but the problem is that we do not have any real control over our heart. We have the illusion of control but consider the amount of failure in your life; big, little, doesn't matter because all failure comes from the same place. If you want real change the heart has to change. The only way the heart is going to change is when you allow the Creator of that heart in to make the changes. Jesus said it has to start with a re-birth:

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. (John 3:3)

Paul described this event as a new creation:

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

This is the only hope we have of making permanent changes to our lives because this gives us a new heart and then after that it becomes a process; a process that requires us to live life with all it's ups and downs. Several passages encourage us to face the challenges of life with great determination, understanding that they are God's classroom for us:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5)

If some people were to consider Paul today they might say that he suffered from a messiah complex or something but this message is not just from Paul. James also writes:

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

And let's not forget what we find in the letters from the great Apostle Peter:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)

No, I believe in only one clean slate and that happens whenever I turn to Jesus for forgiveness. As for New Years, my determination remains what it is at the beginning of any new day; to know Jesus more than I did yesterday so I can serve him better today. I pray that this coming New Year will see you growing in wisdom and maturity as you build upon the opportunities of the experiences our Father gives you each day of your life. I pray you will discover the largeness of his love and the depth of his forgiveness, and the marvel of his grace. And I pray you will grow into the richness of the fullness of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Trust God with the past as you do with your present and, as I hope, with your tomorrow.


Friday, December 24, 2010

How We Respond To God Can Determine Our Future

Our future depends on how we respond to God. No surprises there, nothing new, yet we fail at it all the time. Maybe you don't even realize that God is interacting with you every day. He is our constant companion and those moments when you feel he has moved off are most likely because you have been too distracted to notice him. So if we are so super distracted how can we expect that we will be able to respond to him properly and if we don't respond to him properly we need to expect things won't go so well for us.

Right away people some people are going to twist what I am saying. There are natural consequences to not responding properly. It is like a driver who gets distracted while driving. Can he blame his accident on the manufacturer of the car? I am sure some have tried but the fault is his own. God warns us through his Word and through the Spirit when we are heading toward danger but we get too distracted to be studying the Word and we allow ourselves to become insensitive to the Holy Spirit. Yet we still blame God for the mess we find ourselves in. We say things like "Why didn't God stop this from happening?" He tried, but the choice is still ours. It is a natural possibility of freedom of choice; God had to accept the beauty and ugliness of it. However there are also things that God does in order to teach us, to provoke us into maturity.

This morning I am considering the difference in the response of Mary and the Zechariah to the angel Gabriel. Mary was just hit with some pretty major news; she was going to have a baby. We all know the possible consequences she faced under the law for being pregnant while pledged in marriage to Joseph. There is no sexual contact for a year in this state of their relationship, which is how God needed it to be. There had to be no guess work at this, people needed to know that it was his Son. Yet, it meant the possibility of death for Mary because of the law. That is a pretty overwhelming possibility for this 14 year old woman. How does she respond?

How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

Take note that this is a simple question of how God was going to do this. I am sure most women would ask the same question. That is when she gets hit with the news that it is God who will do this not man and that her Son would be the long awaited Messiah. Even with this possibility of death and the knowledge this child would be of God, Mary's response is a simple one, born from a heart of dedication and obedience:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

This is the response of trust is what many of us fail to give. We are more like Zechariah.

As we all recall Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were beyond the years for having children. They had longed for a child all their life and had made it a subject of prayer. God, in his infinite wisdom, had held off on their prayer because he had something bigger in mind, something where he would get all the glory. Zechariah and Elizabeth needed to know that the child they were about to have would become a very special man to God. So, Gabriel showed up and spoke to Zechariah. He told him God's plan, to answer their prayer for a child and that this child would become a great prophet. Now remember that Zechariah is a priest, he is in a proper relationship with his wife, the only problem is their age. His response is not one of curiosity but of doubt:

“How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Luke 1:18)

Just in case you did not know it, the wrong response to give to God is a response of doubt. Think about it; what are you doubting? You are doubting his love, grace and power. The consequences for Zechariah was that he became mute for the duration of the pregnancy. It was only in his obedience in naming his son, which was an act of accepting God's plan, that his tongue was loosed. That was nine months of reflecting on the Word of God, on God himself, on his own failings and weaknesses, on his stupidity. Imagine the worshiping he did when he was given back the ability to speak.

Our future depends on our response to God. We cannot receive his blessings without faith in his love, grace and power. We cannot respond to his will for us and our loved ones without faith in who he is. The Word says that we cannot even see him without faith. We cannot participate in his work without this same faith. We can face natural consequences to our distraction from our faith in God and we can face lessons that he gives us so we can learn. The easiest way to live in service to our marvelous Lord Jesus is to respond as Mary did, in love and submission to what God is planning to do, so it will go well for us. Do we not recall the promise from the ten commandments that came with honouring and obeying parents, that the people would have a long life and that it would go well with them. Study the Word and you will realize that the same holds true for those of God's children who obey him in faith. There is a little chorus we use to sing in the Church that reminded us of this fact and may be a good for us to sing each day over the next few days as a reminder of how we are to respond to God:

Trust and obey
For there is no other way
To be happy in Jesus
Then to trust and obey.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Then Neither Do I Condemn You

Christians have done a horrible job at presenting Jesus Christ to the world. Someone has said that God needs a new PR man and I tend to agree but still he has chosen us. So much of the unsaved world sees the Church and Jesus with a perspective that astounds me and then I remember that the enemy is there to twist everything that is said so it comes across void of any love and compassion. Still, most of us do a terrible job at representing the entire plan and many concentrate on people's actions instead of their heart. What is so important about what they do when what they do is a result of their heart? It is when we turn our heart over to God that we see actions changed, so our emphasis should not be their action but the understanding that Jesus wants their heart.

Everyone sins! Can we agree on this? It doesn't matter how we sin, that fact is that we all sin. The problem begins here for those who are lost to God. They do not want to acknowledge that what they do is sin because they want to do whatever they are doing. We have to start at the beginning with them, where God created everything to be perfect. It was us who introduced imperfection into God's perfect creation and because of it everyone of us has been born into that imperfection. So people without God who state that they were born that way, with those desires, with that way of thinking, unknowingly acknowledge the truth of man's depravity. But understand Christian, we were all born to it, everyone of us. We all sin because none of us are capable of living up to God's perfection but that is not God's fault. He did not create us this way. He created us with perfection and he has given everything to bring us back there.

This is the thing, and it is what Christmas represents, God has been working to bring us back to him from the moment we walked away from him. It is not true that he has chosen to discriminate against a group of people because of their actions, because of the way they were born. He is not showing a lack of love by sending people to hell. It is just the opposite. He told us from the beginning that losing our innocence would lead to our death. He warned us. Then we decided to disobey and each person now faces that spiritual death. However, our Father does not want to see one single person face that natural consequence to our decision. He has been working on a rescue plan; a plan that would give us another choice. Adam had a choice between good and evil and he chose evil so that we were all condemned by that choice with no hope of rescue. Jesus came to open the door to choice again, so that those who want the ability to choose can have it, but God will not force anyone to choose. He is desperate for us to make the right choice but it is up to us.

Now, the problem comes when we Christians get in there and start yelling at people that what they are doing is wrong and we represent God as such a negative God, making it look like he sends people to hell and takes great pleasure in it. People do have to be informed but what they need to be informed of is that without Jesus Christ they cannot be reconciled with God. Their actions are not the real problem, only the fruit or symptom of the deeper problem. We have all seen the dramatic change that happens to people when they encounter Jesus, so that is where we need to help bring people. We need to stop condemning people's actions. They could live a perfectly good life and not sin in any way that would cause a Christian to speak out and still be lost because they are without Jesus Christ. Read Jesus' words again:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." (John 3:16-18)

I am sure that you see it here; it is Jesus Christ who saves and it is deciding against Jesus that leads to condemnation but it is a self-condemnation. God is trying to rescue us like we might a drowning man. But if that man refuses to be rescued is that our fault? Did we kill hill him? Did it matter that he was lying or sexually immoral as he was drowning or was drowning enough to kill him? Now consider how our actions reveal the condition of our heart, our relationship with God:

"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)

Of course those who have chosen to live in the darkness want to stay there but they don't even realize it is darkness. Of course they do not want to be told that what they are doing is sin, something that is contrary to the perfection of God. Of course they will hate us for coming against what they want to do, which is natural to the nature to which they were born. This is the big challenge that we Christians have, presenting the Light when people are quite happy to stay in the darkness. They do not see that they need rescuing and yelling at them for the evil they do is not going to make it any better.

It is far better for us to concentrate on the relationship with Jesus Christ, the love and wholeness that he offers. We need to represent him in our actions and words, being compassionate in every situation. We make the mistake of first presenting what God is against so that people see him as an "anti" God, ready to condemn us in an instant. We need to understand for ourselves that God is "anti" Christlessness which permits sin to continue. It is true that sin separates us from God but we are powerless to do anything about sin. Our nature lends itself to sin and we are actually enslaved to it. How can we condemn a slave for being a slave? We can't but making the decision to remain a slave when they are offered freedom is what condemns them. We need to concentrate on helping them see Jesus, the one who rescues us and sets us free. That is the hope that Christmas represents; our Father revealing his rescue plan to those who are lost and enslaved in the darkness. It is a great celebration of a great and loving Father.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why We Can Be So Stupid About The Simple Things Of God

Sometimes people are deaf to what is being plainly said to them. I am sure you have had the experience of trying to explain something simple to someone but no matter how many times you explained it they just did not get it. What probably frustrated you more was the fact he was an intelligent person. Perhaps you have been on the other side of the table and you were the person who could not see what was plain for the other person to see. That can be extremely frustrating. It seems like something was inserted in our brain to block the signal that would allow us to understand. There is a simple explanation.

Often times this happens when the instructor is seeing it from one perspective but the person being instructed is looking at it from a different perspective. It would be like a mechanic trying to explain a problem in the engine while you are trying to understand by looking at the tires. Perhaps you could relate better if I said it would be like  an IPad user trying to explain a problem to a Dell owner. Until people gain the same perspective it is hard for the student to understand the teacher. This is what was happening with the disciples and Jesus. They could understand and accept most things that he taught them but they could not understand about his suffering and death:

“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:18-19)

Sounds really plain and clear to us, but we are reading it after the fact. Jesus is the mechanic explaining something about the engine to a bunch of men who are trying to understand by looking at the tires. For them, Jesus was the expected Messiah, but not as we understand the Messiah. They understood the Messiah to be the conquering king who would rid the land of the enemy and re-establish Israel as the greatest nation in the world. This is what the Torah said and this is what they were expecting. No one understood the parts of the Torah that spoke of the suffering Messiah followed by the conquering Messiah. They were expecting the Jesus we are expecting to return now, not the suffering servant who had to come first. So when he spoke of his suffering and death, they had a mental blockage and could not understand the words he was speaking.

I am afraid this happens a lot to us when it comes to God and his will for us. We have certain expectations which we believe are backed up by isolated verses from the Bible. We have certain expectations of God, coming to him with a specific perspective. We fail to recognize that he is the brain surgeon trying to explain the workings of the brain to a plumber. Our Father is more than aware of this problem with communication and that is the reason Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit. One of his purposes is to help us gain God's perspective and to teach us according to God's ways. This does require us to acknowledge that we know nothing and need help to understand. "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil." (Proverbs 3:7)

One of the most important lessons we can learn about God is that he does not think like we do and he has a much different perspective of things. He is so much greater and higher than his creation that it is not worth the effort to compare. For this reason alone, knowing how much he loves us, it is best just to trust him, even when we don't understand. In fact, things would go so much better for us if we would just relax, listen to the instructions and just do it. Sometimes we are like those people who buy Ikea furniture and try to put it together without the instructions. They end up in a mess. Although the instructions are long and look complicated, they are actually easy to follow if you start at the beginning and take it a step at a time. When it comes to Jesus, stop getting in the way, relax and listen to the Spirit. If it seems strange it is because you are limited in understanding. It is the reason we are told that without faith we cannot see God.

God is speaking plainly to us even today, do not choose to be deaf to what he is saying. It is possible to gain his perspective for better understanding but we have to lose our thoughts and opinions and allow him to teach us. That blockage in our brain can be removed and the signal can get through if we allow our minds to be renewed in the Spirit. We need some rewiring done. Let's stop complicating things and allow the Spirit to speak plain and simple to us the Word of God.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

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If You Want To Succeed In Business Do Not Adopt God's Principles

It takes a lot of wisdom, energy and time to run your own business. It certainly is not for the faint of heart as you have to sacrifice almost everything to keep it afloat. As it grows and you have to hire on staff you soon discover that the real strength of your business is found in the people you have hired. The right staff can cause your business to soar, whereas the wrong staff can cause it to flop. As a business owner you soon understand, the more you look after your staff the better things will go for your business. The last thing you would want to do is adopt God's attitude as a business principle.

Jesus had just finished dealing with the rich young man and had to deal with his disciples who suddenly wanted to know what was in this whole thing for them. He explained to them that the reward they would receive would far surpass anything they gave up here. But he also warned them that the Kingdom works on different principles than this earth does; that the first will be last and the last will be first. To make his point he told the parable of the landowner who hired some people to work his land. The full parable is found in Matthew 20.

In this parable the landowner went out and hired some people first thing in the morning at a certain wage. They agreed to work for that wage. Then he hired some more people at noon and then another group with only a short time left in the working day. When it came time to be paid the first group noticed that the last group was paid a certain amount so they figured they would be paid more, even though they had already agreed on the amount of their wage. It only made sense, they had worked the longest, probably twelve hours compared to the last group who worked 1 hour. However, when it was their turn to receive their wages they received the same amount. Of course they complained; we would as well. But the landowner's reply was simple: "It's my money, I'll do what I want with it. If I want to be generous what's that to you?" Jesus ended it again with, "The first will be last and the last will be first".

Obviously this would never fly as a business model because the principles of the Kingdom are far higher than greedy principles of this world. This is the reason we can often find God to be unfair because he does not deal with us as the world deals with us and that is a very good thing. Because of this we have salvation by grace, we have received his mercy and we possess his great blessings without having earned it. But this also means there is no one greater than anyone else in the Kingdom. Everyone who loves and obeys God are cherished and loved by God. We receive the same blessings regardless whether we started serving five minutes ago or 50 years ago. This may seem simple to you or it may seem highly unfair to you, depending on where you are in your relationship with God.

Jesus told the parable of the son who took his inheritance and left home. He lost that wealth on unwise living and he worried his father. He repented and returned home, prepared to be a servant in his father's house. Of course they father would not hear of it, welcomed him home as his returning son stating that the lost had been found. However, this son had an older brother who was a responsible man. He stayed by his father's side, faithfully working the family business, never giving his father a day's grief. When he saw the extravagance of his father over this "lowlife" son he became bitter and angry. The older son did not see his little brothers as equal to him any more and saw himself as the better son. Yet, the father could only see them both as his sons and loved them equally.

This is very important for us to understand and accept. There is no "lesser" and "greater" in our Father's eyes. His love is extravagant. His generosity has no limits. His forgiveness has no end. It does not matter to him if we are newly adopted or have been part of the family for 50 years, we are the same to him. He celebrates our faithfulness as well as our repentance. His blessings are the same for each of us as are the rewards. We should not be looking for advantages as Jesus' disciples did but instead we should just be glad for the opportunity to serve in whatever capacity our Lord chooses to use us. We should also be great encouragers of others with no jealousies. If they have been called to something different it is to our advantage. Whatever we do benefits the body so it is the same for whatever others do; it benefits us as part of the body. We need to celebrate each others gifts and talents, promoting the Kingdom not the person.

This would not work as a business principle because businesses by nature are self-centered and greedy. It is all about profit whether it is a worker friendly business or not. Whereas the Kingdom is all about promoting others, serving others, celebrating others, encouraging others. When one person succeeds we all succeed. When one person suffers we all suffer. This is the Body of Christ and we do not mind at all that the first will be last and the last will be first. I do not find it a hard thing to be the first one on the field and the last one off, and I do not mind at all that the newest workers receive the same amount as the older workers. How could I possibly complain about the generosity of our Father. I am just glad that I was chosen and I decided to answer the call. It is a privilege to receive from God's generosity, it is a privilege to work his land. The Kingdom is always all about others and the sooner we understand that the sooner we can get on with our joyful living. The first will be last and the last will be first, is something to celebrate.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Will Anyone In North America Go From Last To First When Jesus Returns?

We live in a self-absorbed society in North America. No matter what we do we evaluate it's worth by the question, "What's in it for me?" We may not even realize we do this because we may phrase it a different way, "There's no benefit in this", "I'd rather be doing something else", "I don't feel like doing this". Most of the things we evaluate for worth we do so with a self perspective. It takes effort to watch a movie we are not interested in because someone else wants to watch it. It takes effort to participate in an activity we don't like because someone else likes it. So it shouldn't surprise us that Peter also wondered what all their sacrifice would get them after the rich young man walked away. Jesus told them it was hard for the wealthy to escape from their trap and enter the Kingdom. At this the disciples panicked and Peter asked the question:

“We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)

The first thing that strikes we is the fact that the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. Most of us don't. In fact, for many current day disciples there is very little difference between pre-conversion and post-conversion. It is like we have taken on a new hobby and the activities for it are Bible Study and Sunday worship. Most churches have done away with the prayer meeting because people stopped coming. There may be Men's and Women's fellowships but really, other than these "hobby" activities nothing much has changed. We have the same jobs, live in the same house, probably have the same friends, where the same clothes, participate in the same activities, read the same books, go to the same movies. Whereas the disciples of Jesus left everything, homes, businesses, family, to follow him and never went back. They were learning to become servants, giving of themselves for the benefit of others so Peter's question, although natural, was also very unnatural after all this time with Jesus. However Jesus had a great deal of patience for these disciples:

Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matthew 19:28)

This was specific for the inner circle, the group of 12 disciples but Jesus continued with something for all of us:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19:29)

Some people have taught that this means here and now. I know God is not above blessing his servant's with such things now but looking at the context of what is being said we should understand this to be the promise of what is being prepared for us. If not then Jesus is a liar because many good servants have died with nothing to their name after having given up much more than we have today. What did the disciples have and how did they die? They gave up everything to become hunted men with nothing to their name who died cruel deaths. Unfortunately we are allowing our society to taint our understanding of the Word and we are looking for promises of prosperity in this place when Jesus is more concerned about prospering the souls of the lost. Perhaps this is the reason why he gave the disciples a slight rebuke as he finished answering Peter's selfish question:

But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. (Matthew 19:30)

The Kingdom does not work on the principles of this world. Leadership is not what we understand leadership to be. What gets rewarded are not people who promote themselves. In this place we celebrate the "self-absorbed", the people who made something of themselves, the rags to riches stories, the people who have overcome great adversity to go on to "success". So what if their lives are really messed up and they have gone through six marriages and they have great addictions. As long as they are rich, live in big mansions, drive expensive cars, wear costly clothing, they are a success. We turn heroes out of anyone who is on TV or in the movies. People who get a "reality" tv show become instant stars and we want to read all about their lives and what their opinions are on everything.

We may be an idiotic society but God's Kingdom is not. Those who choose to follow Jesus, to be his disciple, must turn their back on self-absorption and become a servant. Our purpose is to demonstrate Jesus Christ to the world through our service to the world. We give up what we want for the sake of other people. We preach and teach as an act of service and not because we want the spotlight. We befriend people, not because of what we can get out of it but because of what we can put into it. We get involved in activities, move into neighbourhoods, devote ourselves to others because we have something they need and we use all our energy to share it.

I know us. We would rather work our 9 to 5, come home and shut the door, turn on the TV or computer, maybe pick up a book, and just crash. We would rather surround ourselves with a few low-maintenance friends who we get together with occasionally. We would rather make our home our sanctuary for us and the two children, slowly adding nice things and building our retirement fund. That's comfortable but Jesus did not call us into the comfortable life and most of our rewards for good and faithful service are not in this place. The blessings we receive now are intended for others. If we have a nice house it is so we can practice hospitality. If we have a car it is so we can use it to serve others. If we have money it is so that we can plant seeds for the  Kingdom. Whatever we have is because we have been equipped for the work. We cannot be like the rich young man and allow these "things" and our attitude to block us from the Kingdom.

We are in a lot of trouble in North America as we allow our desires to overtake our devotion; as we allow the attitude of our society to taint our understanding of the Word. We do not have to be poor to follow Jesus but we do have to understand that we possess nothing. Everything we have comes from the Father and it's purpose is to equip us for service. If we take any other attitude it will become a noose around our necks. Servants do not look for rewards in this place and are willing to sacrifice everything for Jesus. Our reward will come and it will be glorious as we enter into eternal life. We need to fight here in North America to make Jesus first and last in our lives. It is not an easy task as we shed the attitude of self and allow our purpose to become others. It is good to remember in this servant attitude Kingdom that the first will be last and the last will be first.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Only Thing You Can Be Certain Of Is That Nothing Is Certain, Except For One Thing

I was driving down the 401 in Ontario, going from Montreal to Kingston. It was an exciting day; I was picking up four of my girls to bring them home for Christmas. All the way down the highway all I could think about were the big hugs I would receive and the lively conversation home. Like their dad, my girls like to talk. It had been a couple of months since I had seen them last and there was plenty of news to get caught up on.

I started off in Montreal with a beautiful morning, albeit a bit cold. The sky was fairly blue and the sun promised a good day. All the way down the highway it was looking good, traffic was light and even the number of trucks on the highway were few in number. Being so close to Christmas I figured there were not a lot of goods left to ship. I had brought along my wife's IPod and I was catching up on some of my favorite CBC radio shows that I had fallen behind on. All in all in was an excellent drive. Then someone hit a switch.

Seemingly from nowhere I ran into a wall of snow. I was only at Cornwall but it was like I had been teleported to a different world. In a blink of an eye everything changed. Snow started covering the highway and speeds dropped. I found myself in a long line of cars which were down to 40 km/h. Then we started hitting whiteout sections and I could only pray that everyone was still moving at the same speed because I couldn't see them. The wind died down for a moment and I could see cars in ditches and off to the side of the highway. I was amazed how quickly everything changed. But I guess that is life.

Sometimes we think that life is a fixed thing, that nothing will change, that nothing can disturb our little bit of peace. Then we get that phone call, or email, or we have that meeting that changes everything. That's when we realize how fragile life really is as our house of cards come tumbling down. Illness can do that or the impact of someone's decision, a wrong move on our part or some disaster in the world. Really, it doesn't take much to disturb the delicate balance of our lives. Just like what happened with that freak snow storm, everything can change in the blink of an eye. You can't depend on your health, your bank account or even the relationships in your life. As good as all of that is, it can all be taken away from you. I learned that the hard way and it was the reason I was going to pick up four of my girls for Christmas. Everything can change.

Jesus told the parable of the farmer who had a bountiful crop. It was so big that he had to build some extra barns to store it. We may consider this to be a prudent man, laying up provision for his future but Jesus called him foolish. The crop was far more than the man could possibly use but he went through the expense of building barns he did not need to store up the food he did not need. Jesus said that he would not even get a chance to admire what he had done because that night his life would end. At the same time Jesus told us that our life should not be filled with concerns for tomorrow because we have enough to deal with today. In fact, if you read through the many teachings of Jesus you can't help but notice that Jesus encouraged us to live in the moments of life.

Too often we waste what we have and do not appreciate what we have because we are pursuing tomorrow. So many people fail to live today because they are working for their future. They figure life will begin at 65 years of age, as they retire. But life is today, joy is today, salvation is today. We have no idea what the world will look like tomorrow. We cannot rely on our health because so many things can impact it. We cannot rely on our wealth because it can so easily be taken away. We cannot rely on our relationships because people change. Although we can enjoy all those things while we have them, our life cannot depend on them. There is only one thing we can rely on, that will never change, that our life can be built upon and that is our Father's love.

Jesus promised:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

Everything in life is like shifting sand. You can try all you want to keep everything the same but the nature of life is change. The question is, what solid thing will you build your life on:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand." (Matthew 7:24-26)

If you are a wise builder, you may be shaken by the storms of life but you will not be destroyed. You may lose everything that is familiar but you will still possess the only thing that is of any real value. Enjoy what you have today but don't become dependent on it. Enjoy it but don't worry if it will still be there tomorrow. Enjoy it today but keep yourself centered on Jesus who will never leave you or forsake you, even in the blinding snowstorms of your life.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Great Hypocrisy In The Church: "Pray As If It Depends On God and Work As If It Depends On You"

I think I have figured out why we have a hard time believing that anything is possible with God: too many of us believe that everything depends on us. Oh we won't say that with words and we will argue about it with anyone who would dare say that, yet we demonstrate it in our actions. Honestly now, when something goes wrong, what is your first reaction? Do you call someone for help, turn to someone for council, try to find your own solution or is your first reaction prayer? Now don't lie to yourself about this, be honest. We may wish for all things to be possible with God but we only turn there when we have exhausted all other possibilities. The fact is, our salvation depends on this being true.

After Jesus had finished with the rich young man he turned to his disciples and said in reflection:

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

It is not as difficult for a poor man to give up all that he is to follow Jesus as it is for a wealthy man with many possessions. Faith comes easier to a person who has nothing to lean on. A wealthy man has all his security in the things he possesses so it is easy to understand why it would be harder for him to turn his back on all of that to follow Jesus. A follower cannot follow unless he is fully dependent on Jesus Christ for everything he needs and this is where we make a major mistake. I've heard a famous quote that typifies our attitude these days:

"Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you." - St. Augustine

I understand the context in which this was intended but we use it in such a way that it is far from the truth. No wonder we have lost sight of the "all things are possible" God. "All things" are not possible for us; we all have limitations. However, "all things" is possible for our limitless God. When the disciples heard Jesus say this about the rich man it sent them into a panic because they were from the old system of sacrifices, earning or buying forgiveness. The age of grace was upon them but they did not yet understand:

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25)  

Imagine their thoughts. If this rich man with all of his advantages, who has lived a good life and did everything right according to the law, has difficulty getting into heaven, what hope did the rest of them have? There's that system of earning your way; living a good life, eating the right foods, dressing properly, talking properly, paying your tithes, going to church, hanging out with the right people, watching the right movies and so on. There is nothing wrong with these and they all have great value as fruit of a righteous heart but they do not produce righteousness. Nothing we do can produce righteousness; it all depends on God's work. So Jesus answers them:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

The blessing of salvation is 100% the work of God. Nothing we can say or do can earn us that salvation. In fact, it is an impossible thing for us to receive. Someone might say that we have the work of receiving it, of accepting it. That's like saying you earned the Christmas presents you receive this year. The only part you play is actually saying thank you; it is an unearned gift, as are all the blessings of God. Certainly we have the choice of rejecting the gift, returning it to the sender but how foolish we would be to do such a thing. Our salvation is dependent on the truth that "all things are possible" with God.

Now, if he has given us salvation through the Son how will he not give us all good things? That is the question Paul posed when he was writing about us being more than conquerors through Jesus:

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)

Let's get this into our thick heads, we serve the "all things are possible" God. You may not see it or understand it but all you have to do is believe it. Look to the examples of the past. Look to what God has accomplished through men and women who chose to believe it. Consider the victories you have had in your life when you had nowhere else to turn but God. We just need to change our pattern of thinking so that God is the first one we turn to instead of the last. Allow me to give you one simple example.

Yesterday my wife called me to ask me to pray for her and her friend who were stuck in the middle of the road. The van they were driving was too light and they could not get off the sheet of ice. Instead of praying immediately I gave her instructions on how to rock the van back and forth until they were able to move. After she hung up I prayed. They also prayed. Even though they gave their best effort they were going nowhere. Then suddenly, out of the blue, a city's work crew came around the corner with a small truck full of sand and salt. Within minutes they were out. My advice accomplished nothing. The people who tried to assist them did nothing. But prayer sent the right people along who could do something.We continue to limit our limitless God by doing the work in our limitations instead of allowing God to work his limitlessness for our benefit. 

George Muller told a story about his first orphanage. They looked like they were going to have to close down because they did not have the money. Unknown to him, his staff were selling off the furniture and paintings to keep things going. He kept praying but God was not answering. Then when there was nothing else to sell and they had no more resources, a knock came on the door. It was a lady who was visiting next door who brought with her a large sum of money to donate. She explained she kept wanting to come over but every time she looked over the staff were coming and going with furniture and paintings and she did not want to disturb them in their busyness. The donation covered all their expenses for the next year or so. In trying to do God's work in our own effort we get in the way of what he is doing.

All things are possible with God. Instead of being so busy we need to quiet our hearts and minds so we can hear his instructions and do what he tells us to do not do what we think he wants us to do. God is still in the business of miracles and impossible things but he needs his people to believe and to allow him to do it. Stop working as if it depends on you and start listening knowing that it depends on him.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Are You Absolutely Sure We've Got This Right?

There's a question for you: "What must I do to get eternal life?" We have come up with various answers over the centuries but the current popular is, "Live a good life". Then we are left to interpret what a "good life" looks like. Give to the poor. Don't harm the environment. Look after your neighbour. Perhaps it is following the rule of not bringing any harm to anyone? Each of these provokes further questions as we begin to build a philosophy of living. However, none of these end with Jesus saying, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Do you recall the encounter? All we know about him is that he was young and rich with a desire to gain eternal life. According to his response to Jesus, this rich young man lived a good life, following the law, being careful to honour both God and man. We would probably be quite impressed with him and may find ourselves responding to him in the same fashion as Jesus did: "Jesus looked at him and loved him." (Mark 10:21) I am sure you have had a similar experience when you have encountered someone and only after a few minutes you found that you had admiration for this person, almost like a bond with him. This young man had a good heart and wanted to do everything right to please God. But there was still the question of eternal life.

This is the point where we need to be very clear about something. The love that God has lavished upon us cannot have a cookie-cutter response. It is not a scientific formula. It is not even a thing of manipulation. If you are not sure of what love is then review 1 Corinthians 13. This is the love that God has freely poured out on us and demonstrated through Jesus Christ. Our response can only be a genuine total giving of ourselves in complete dedication, adoration and surrendered service. His love compels us to obey, not because we have to but because we want to. We love him, not to gain anything but in response to his everything. This is the context in which Jesus tells this rich young man that he is only lacking one thing:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Seems hard? That's Jesus, giving the hard responses to the hard questions. Either we are a lover and follower of God or we are not. We are either dedicated to him or we are not. There are no half-measures. Jesus warned that it is better to be hot or cold because he will spew out those who are lukewarm. You can't claim the title of Christian because your parents were Christian and then do whatever you feel like and expect to gain eternal life. The Kingdom of God is about the heart and our response to his lavish love is to dedicate our heart to him fully. We will still mess up because our flesh is weak but even in that a heart response to sin is 100% repentance.

Something was dividing this young man's heart. It could have been something he owned, maybe it was his entire wealth, but Jesus wanted his whole heart. I think this encounter should be a catalyst, provoking us to get rid of anything that is dividing our heart. Take a moment and think about this. Who are you more alike, Matthew who walked away from all he knew to follow Jesus, or this young man who couldn't let go? Are we worshiping with our lips, serving with our hands but only offering half of our hearts? Does he have all of my passion; not a fragment but the whole thing? Am I content to worship the baby in the manger but not the risen Saviour at the right hand of the Father. It's not difficult to answer this. Consider for a moment if you have dark periods in your emotional life, if you find yourself being selfish about things, including thoughts, if you always look at everything as how it affects you. Consider how you respond to people and that is how you are responding to God's lavish love. Maybe a simplistic test but that's God's incredible love, simple.

There is something wrong with us, the Church, when everything is always focused on us. There is something wrong when we are not finding ourselves sacrificing for others. There is something wrong when we are getting tired of God and his people. There is something wrong when we are not being compelled into good works, united with our brothers and sisters. There is something wrong when Jesus is not our motivation for everything.

I am afraid that we are fooling ourselves into believing that we are something we are not. Owning a Bible, attending worship, calling yourself Christian will not gain you eternal life. There is only one thing we lack; a response to God's lavish love with all of our heart, mind, soul, body and strength. It is out of this mutual love that everything else flows.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Interview with director Gabriel Desjardins

Parents, Stop Ignoring The Elephant In The Room Before It Sits On Your Kids

Considering I am a principal of a Christian school and a pastor of a church filled with children, one would expect that ministry to children is important to me. Actually, I believe it is one of the most privileged ministries to be involved in and is increasingly challenging in the age we find ourselves. The challenge is overcoming the growing distraction of the world and helping children understand the great relevance of Jesus in a world of increasingly distractive technology. Regardless of the challenges, Jesus spoke of the validity of this ministry when people were trying to keep the children away from him:

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. (Matthew 19:13-15)

Some parents rely solely on the one hour Sunday School each week to instill in their children the importance of faith. As important as this vital ministry is, one hour is not going to be enough to compete against 105 hours of other influences. Some parents elect to send their children to a Christian school which is a help but not the complete solution. Christian schools are great but are also limited to 35 hours of influence. With Sunday School and Christian school there is a total of 36 hours compared to 69 hours of other influences. The other problem is that much of what is taught is taught by people with limited contact with the children and so there are the issues of trust and openness. There must be a better way to minister to these children so that they are able to see Jesus Christ revealed through modeling.

I apologize if I am being too obvious but the solution is found in the family. Until they are teenagers it is the family that has the greatest influence on children where Jesus should be taught and modeled. Even with teenagers, if parents have been able to cultivate a good relationship along the way, they are able to have a good influence on them throughout the exploration years, even though the influence of friends takes on a more important place in their life. The fact is, parents are the greatest ministers in their children's lives. What is taught at home, through Bible teaching, devotions, small talks, prayer and even through correction will last a lifetime.

Parents have their challenges though. They are trying to balance their budgets, do well in their jobs, manage the house, help with homework, put out the daily fires, be involved at church, minister to others, volunteer, keep their marriage alive, and all the other things that make up being a parent. Sometimes in there the children take a second priority and as long as they are happy, doing well in school and coming home every night we are content. But this isn't enough. We have the responsibility to disciple our children, to train them in God's ways and the only way that is going to happen is when we make them a top priority.

I could give you lots of statistics about the importance of teaching a child early. I could also give you all the familiar commandments from the old testament about training up a child. But let's face it, if you are still reading this it is either because you are one of my students and have to or because you are a parent who already understands the importance of this matter. The problem is probably the application of it; how do you find the time? Like anything else that is a priority in your life, you have to take the time. It means changing your routine, getting rid of some activities, turning off the TV, maybe even dropping the soccer practice. Whatever it takes you need to make discipling your children a priority. It can happen in the car on the way to the hardware store, while you are grocery shopping, even while you are doing dishes together. You need to make it habit forming, getting them to talk about their problems and guiding them in Biblical solutions. You need to demonstrate in your own life that Jesus is your greatest priority.

You can and should enlist others to assist you in the discipling of your children but you have to remain the prime influence in their lives. There is no better day to start than today. Take some time in prayer and ask for guidance. Those of you who are young and without children, you can start making it part of your prayers for when you do start a family. And those who are my students, who are still under the influence of your parents, ask your parents to disciple you. If they don't know how they can always seek advice from your pastor or youth pastor. Our eternity is not something to take lightly and Jesus Christ is too important for us to ignore or even give a second place in our life. Give him priority in your life, in your family, in your children and watch how quickly things will change. He told us to make disciples and that must start at home before we start turning to the world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Perhaps It's Better That You Don't Get Married

Relationships are the most wonderful and, often times, most frustrating things in our life. Like many things there are seasons to these relationships that we need to learn to recognize in order to make them long-lasting. It is rare these days to find friendships that span many decades and we all know the rate of divorce but most of this is because we fail to recognize the seasons. Change upsets us. It can cause fear and panic, and often leads to rash and wrong decisions. I'm not a relationship expert or a psychologist but I am an observer and a student of the Word, and I have observed these seasons as I have experienced some of them.

The most important relationship a person will ever have is with their spouse. It is not with your children because children are temporary in their dependence. One day they will move on with their life, always keeping a place in it for you but, as a parent, you will take a secondary role. It's all part of the seasons. However, your spouse has been intended for life; more than a lover, more than a friend, more than a companion, a part of you. God said it in the beginning and Jesus repeated it for clarity:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one." (Matthew 19:4-6)

There are seasons to marriage, wonderful, beautiful seasons that if understood can be celebrated and enjoyed. However, many refuse to accept change (which is really a maturing of the relationship) which causes confusion and insecurities and can end up in a broken relationship. Now understand that when I say broken I mean ripped apart. In a divorce you never end up with two single people but instead we have two halves. Jesus made it clear that divorce was never part of the plan when he put things in motion. However, sin entered the world and distorted everything beautiful that God had created and the closer we get to the end of time the worse the situation is getting.

Relationships are not an easy thing and each season brings new challenges that couples need to work through. Unfortunately many people put it into cruise after the first few years when the children have arrived and much of the relationship becomes about parenting. However, even in the season of parenting there are changes as the children get older. If couples are not aware of the seasons, the changes, and fail to make adjustments as they go along, they will wake up one day next to a stranger. Couples have to grow together with the seasons of life or they will grow apart. One thing for sure, separation and divorce should never be part of a couples vocabulary. There has to be determination that no matter what they face and experience they will do it together with a guarantee and promise that they will never give up on each other. God joined "male and female" together for life; it is a spiritual covenant that displeases God when broken and carries with it consequences that everyone needs to consider.

Marriage takes work, so much so that Jesus said that some may be better off not getting married in the first place. Give it serious consideration. Can you make the kind of commitment and sacrifices that marriage will require of you? To become half of one is not an easy thing and to become so dependent and connected to a person that you don't do anything without considering your spouse first is not so easy for everyone. When the disciples heard this teaching on marriage and divorce they declared it would be better not to marry. Jesus responded:

“Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Matthew 19:11-12)

What I think we need in the Church is more marriage coaches. We need more successful older couples who are willing to disciple younger couples so that younger couples will realize that a lot of what they are experiencing is normal. Younger couples need to be helped in adjusting to seasons, so that they can appreciate them and adjust to them. My favorite season is the Spring but I enjoy Summer and Fall as well. However, I have learned what to expect in those seasons and I have learned how to dress to enjoy them. I dislike Winter but I have learned how to adjust to it to survive in it so it doesn't kill me. But it took a mother and father to teach me and now I am teaching my children. We need a lot more "mom's & dad's" to teach others about the seasons of relationships so more couples will survive the winters.

We need to start taking this more seriously to save people from breaking a covenant that is as old as the dawn of time. This covenant is not found in a ceremony and it certainly is not some man made document or contract. This covenant is etched in the spirit as the two become one. As one this couple can face any adversity or adversary understanding that Jesus is the strength they need, but they need to be taught. To make myself perfectly clear here, they need to be taught in every season, so even at the age of 60 they still need coaches to come alongside to help them through. This is part of the purpose of the Church, to build each other up, to encourage one another, to cheer each other on. Let's get the coaching team in place and perhaps we can stem this tide of failing marriages.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Forgiveness Is Hard To Cultivate After You Have Made 200 Kills On Your XBox

It is incredible the damage we do to ourself with the unforgiveness we hold on to. I am not saying that forgiveness is always easy and I would never deny that it comes at a high price but it is also necessary. Unforgiveness actually carries with it a greater price. It causes loss of sleep, joy, relationships and even salvation. It leads to bitterness, resentment, hatred and many other negative emotions. It also sets up a barrier between the unforgiving heart and God. In an age when killing 200 or more people each evening on your XBox is the norm, cultivating a forgiving heart can be a challenge. I said it last week but it is worth repeating: forgiveness is an essential part of the Kingdom of God. Without it we cannot know God.

Right on the heels of Jesus's teaching on how to deal with an unrepentant believer, Peter asks a question of Jesus concerning forgiveness. He asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother for sinning against him. Even according to today's standards Peter was being generous when he suggested 7 times. Most of us have a "three strikes" policy. Jesus must have shocked Peter when he gave an answer that basically meant that he should always forgive his brother. Then Jesus launched into the parable concerning the  unmerciful servant. You should take a moment and refresh your memory; it's at the end of Matthew 18.

Jesus makes the need to forgive hard to ignore here. In case we didn't understand the parable he sums it up for us:

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35) 

According to the parable it is not a matter of earning the Father's forgiveness by forgiving others but instead we are to share the forgiveness we have been given. It is like when Jesus told the twelve disciples that what they have freely received they must freely give. The way we are examples of Jesus is by allowing all the blessings of the Father to flow through us into the lives of everyone we encounter. Some of us are more like dams. The blessings come in and only a tiny trickle comes out. When we do this we stop the flow of the blessings and we will soon discover that what we were freely given has been taken away. Love, mercy, kindness, forgiveness and all the other blessings that have been lavished on us must also be lavished on others by us.

We have no options here. This is the expectation of our Father and it should be a normal reaction from us to such grace and mercy. Forgiveness is pivotal in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to forget what we once were and what we could easily become again. We cannot afford to forget that this forgiveness we have received was never earned but was freely given by the grace of God. People should not have to earn our forgiveness. We should never withhold it from them as a form of punishment until we think they have suffered enough. When we accepted the Father's forgiveness we also let go of any right we thought we had to exact revenge on those who come against us or are mean toward us. All we should feel toward anyone because of grace is mercy and forgiveness.

I am not trying to make light of this situation. You may have suffered terrible things at the hands of terrible people. I know I have caused more than my share of pain, hurt and suffering in this world. I dare say you probably have as well. There is not a single person reading this who is innocent of causing pain and hurt to someone else. In a crowded life, such as we all live, it is hard to avoid stepping on someone's toes or elbowing someone in the gut as we try to navigate through life. Sometimes we are responsible for greater hurts than something so simple as these. We all need forgiveness and we all need to forgive. It will come at the cost of letting go of your pain, your suffering, the blame game, your hurt, your pride; all the things that have become so familiar and sometimes make up who we have become. Some of the hardest things to let go of is the anger, bitterness and resentment; they really define us.

The thing is that everything changes, I mean everything, when the reality of our Father's forgiveness settles upon us. When forgiveness becomes more than a word and becomes an experience then things begin to let loose in our life and we have to make the choice to let them go so we can be overwhelmed by this love that births forgiveness in the depths of our heart. The reality of our Father's forgiveness is hard to grasp, especially for those who find it hard to forgive:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
   so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:11-12)

Now because we have received it we are changed and we are capable of living it. We will be judged on what we have and have not forgiven. The servant of the Master was thrown out of the Master's house and into prison to be tortured simply because he was not willing to forgive a small debt after having been forgiven such a large debt. Perhaps our problem is we do not realize what a large debt we have been forgiven. Perhaps we do not realize all of the things we have done against God. Perhaps we think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Perhaps we need to ask our Lord to open our eyes to the reality of our sin so that we would have no doubt as to the greatness of the forgiveness that has been shown to us. After all, Jesus said that he who has been forgiven much will love much.Yes Spirit, open our eyes to our own condition in the presence of the Holiness of God so we can be reminded of what wretchedness we have been saved from and the greatness of the mercy and forgiveness that has been shown us by grace. Once we have seen it, understood it, embraced it, let's make it our mission to live it, share it, celebrate it. We will all be that much richer in joy if we live with a forgiving heart.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Are We Still Raping And Pillaging The Bride Of Christ?

If someone was to ask me to define the Church my short answer would be that the Church is any time two believers come together in agreement. We get hung up in all the trappings of how the Church has been defined over the years but over the years the Church has been abused by man. She was used as a tool of power by greedy men who did not have a clue what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. To this day men and women of selfish intent use the Church as a guise to rob sincere people of riches and devotion. However, the Church has little to do with power, or at least as the world defines it, or manipulation, or liturgies, or buildings or even large gatherings. It is a real shame that we remain closed minded and trapped in this thinking when it comes to this beautiful Bride of Christ.

The Church is you and me, as believers, united together in Jesus by the Holy Spirit, coming together for a multitude of reasons. The Church is the small group of people meeting together around someone's kitchen table, discussing the Word of God and how to apply it in their lives. The Church is five friends meeting together at the local food bank to volunteer some time. The Church is a couple of friends meeting with and praying with a person in the hospital. The Church is a husband and wife lifting people up in prayer before turning in for the night. The Church is the Christian youth getting together to shovel the driveways of the elder members of the community. The Church has no walls, no pews, no hymn books; that is what we call a building but the Church is able to use any building, any place for worship.

There is structure in the Church but perhaps not as we have developed it. The Church has spiritual trainers who we often refer to as leaders. But these are not leaders as we understand leaders because these men and women are there to lead as servants. Their responsibility is not to tell people what to do but instead to teach them, demonstrate, help them to grow into maturity. We mistake the Church as a business, with its committees and boards, its executives and its staff. This is what we have made her but it is not what she is. The Church is a family and the spiritual trainers are like parents who do what they must to bring their children into maturity. There is a lot more freedom in the Spirit than what we allow for in our current structure of the Church.

At the end of the passage where Jesus is teaching how to deal with a brother who sins against you and then refuses to repent or make amends, Jesus teaches this fact about the Church :

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)  

The Church is not about budgets, planning meetings, social events, building funds, pew sitting, or any of these trappings we have fallen into. The Church is about people; about unity; about coming together; about agreement; about realizing the presence of Jesus with us. The Church has nothing to do with the selfishness of man and everything to do with expanding the Kingdom of God. It has nothing to do with what we can get out of it and everything to do with lifting our hearts to God and reaching out a hand to man. It is about growing the Kingdom not growing the budget. It is about salvation not attendance and other such statistics. It is about the freedom to move with the Spirit, not being barricaded in by walls that keep us in and them out. It is not about power but instead everything to do with service.

Jesus said "anything they ask for". Imagine what could be done if only two or three were to come together in agreement and wage war in prayer against the dark forces over our cities and over our children. Imagine what a difference the Church could really make in this land if we only understood our true nature, purpose and  power. "Anything" is what he said. Anything. If only we could break out of these man-made chains and allow the Church to step into her full glory as the Bride of Christ. If only we could realize there is no slave or free, no male or female, no rich or poor, no youth or aged, no Pentecostal or Baptist, no Salvation Army or Alliance, no pews or walls. The is only the Church which is you and me and every other believer who calls on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Together we need to unite for the purpose of Jesus and start asking for "anything" in agreement with each other. Together, let's step into the spiritual maturity we have been longing for:

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Lesson I Learned When God Organized My Garage

An amazing thing happened to me in my garage yesterday. My eldest daughter is moving back home in preparation for finishing off her school, so I am giving up my office for her. This sounds easier than it is; I have to find a place to store all my office furniture and files. Thankfully I have a double garage but therein lies the challenge. My double garage is already full of church and school storage along with a dozen bikes I have promised to repair. There is no more room. So yesterday I found myself standing in the middle of my office totally overwhelmed at how I was going to do this.

Over the years I have learned a few things and one of the most important of these is, when I am not sure about something I need to pray. So, in the midst of being overwhelmed I asked the Lord for guidance. The second thing I have learned is, once you have prayed you need to take action. I turned to the garage and I started moving things around. I am a fairly decent organizer of limited space and I knew I had already arranged the garage as well as I could, but as I started moving things I began to see things a bit differently. Four hours later I had regained half of my garage; more than enough room to move my office. I immediately recognized the source of this "miracle" and began to praise him.

I found myself praising the Father for the many times he has made something from nothing or next to nothing. The truth of this fact settled on me and I knew I had to write about it because this is who our God is and this seems to be his preferred way of doing things. It is certainly a guarantee for him to receive the glory. I am no fool, I know my limitations so I know the garage was not my design but the Spirits guidance. I have repaired and built so many things in my life with no knowledge simply by asking for help from the Spirit. As I sat this morning reflecting on this I realized the many ways our God has done this throughout history in small and big ways, creating something from nothing.

This is the Creator who spoke what had not existed into being. God said and there was. God said let there be light and there was light. That's a pretty big thing but fast forward and we find Jesus on a hill telling his disciples to feed a crowd of over 10,000. The Word says 5,000 men so you add up the women and children and suddenly we have a hockey stadium full of hungry people. When they couldn't figure it out, Jesus simply accepted a little boys lunch and made something from practically nothing. It was only a lunch but wow! what a lunch. Let's go backwards again and consider the nation of Israel. God chose two simple people who did not appear any different from most people. He chose Abraham and Sarah to create a chosen nation. He grew a great nation out of practically nothing. Consider though that the boy had to be willing to give up his lunch and the couple had to be willing to follow instruction and believe.

Now realize what our God does with lives that are willing to allow him to work in and through them. Consider David who was nothing more than a simple shepherd from a simple family. There wasn't anything about David that made him stand out from others. It was David's willingness to submit and obey God's will and commands that allowed God to make something great from practically nothing. David was so aware of this that when it came time for him to step down and allow his son to reign as the new king, he acknowledged the one who had accomplished all of this:

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you." (1 Chronicles 19:14-16)

We could also consider Gideon, who was nothing in his community let alone the nation. He was just a man, afraid of the enemy as much as anyone else. He was a man who only wanted to eek out a living without drawing any attention to him or his family. That is until God showed up and called him a mighty warrior and made something out of practically nothing. This is the man God chose to use to lead the smallest army in the history of man to drive out an occupying force that had been there for a very long time. Something from nothing.

Think of Joseph and Mary as we begin to celebrate this Christmas season. They were nothing special, just honest hard working people who were looking forward to a life together. Their greatest dreams were probably about building a family and putting food on the table every day. Then God showed up and called this peasant girl favoured and their lives were changed forever as was the world. We could go from them to Peter who was just a simple fisherman, trying to keep up his end of a partnership; hard working and just wanting to provide for his family. A man who, if we would describe kindly, we would call rough at the edges. Uneducated, simple, rough, no experience with the world outside of his village until God showed up and said "follow me". Peter, the rock, the great apostle who everyone would turn to for guidance and strength.

Then there is you. You are probably nothing special according to this world but all God needs is a willing and obedient man or woman so he can make something from nothing. He needs someone who will recognize that they have nothing to offer but are open and available for when he shows up and calls them "mighty warrior"; someone who will believe when he says that he is creating something too big to imagine; someone who says "may it be to me as you have said"; someone who is willing to allow God to receive all the glory by saying "all this is from your hand not ours"; someone who is willing to leave everything they have known when God says "follow me". Our Father can accomplish great things from nothing when that nothing is willing to be used.

Too often we limit Jesus by our limitations. We refuse to see the impossible or to acknowledge his great plan. We would rather stay in the desert, eek out a meager living, stay safe and warm, allowing life and God to pass us by. Don't stay there. When you hear his voice today respond with "here am I Lord, send me". Be willing to trust, to believe, to risk it all for the greatest adventure. Realize that we are servants of a great and mighty God who has many things he wants to accomplish and we have the privilege and honour of being chosen to join him in the work. Let go of your limitations and realize that our limitless God is once again wanting to make something from nothing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stop Acting Like The Victim - You Are More Than That

It is a shame so many followers of Jesus do not realize the power they have. Too often we push through life with a victim attitude, expecting that we deserve sympathy, wanting a "ahh, poor is you" from people. We hardly look like the victorious people Jesus declared us to be. One would never know that the resurrection power is pumping through us and that we have the constant attention of the Creator. We take on the role of the offended, the victim of someone else's cruelty and brutality whereas the truth is, we have the power over them.

Yesterday we considered the passage in Matthew 18 that told us how to handle a believer who has sinned against us. We concluded from this that if the person did not make an effort to amend the wrong that we must change our attitude toward them. That did not mean to hold a grudge but instead to realize that they did not have a saving knowledge of Jesus and we must minister to them as we would any other person without Jesus. Some might call this a judgment but it is the direction from Jesus because anyone who does not have a repentant heart when they realize they have wronged someone could not possibly have encountered Jesus.

We see in this passage that the person who was offended did not consider themselves a victim, trying to build up a wave of sympathy from people. Instead the attitude is that we take control of the situation, face the person who has offended us and expect repentance. There is no victim attitude here. The power is actually with you because the offender cannot forgive himself, forgiveness can only come from you. The important thing to note is that he cannot receive forgiveness for something he is not willing to recognize as wrong, so remember we are talking about believer to believer here.

The power rests with the forgiver and it is an awesome power. In this same passage about how to handle offenders, Jesus explains:

“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 18:18)

Allow me to explain it with a further reference from Jesus:

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

This sounds incredible until you bring in the complete teaching on forgiveness. Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant? He had been forgiven much but then he refused to forgive a small amount so he was cast into jail. Jesus also taught that if we forgive we will also be forgiven. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of all Jesus taught and did so if we have really encountered him and made him King over us then forgiveness is also the cornerstone of our life. Forgiveness does not come without a cost to the forgiver. It cost the Father his Son and it cost the Son the cross. It may cost us rejection but it will definitely cost us our pride. It will cost us the "right" of justice or vengeance, which ever way you wish to see it.

When we forgive the offender he will no longer have to give an account for it because Jesus has also forgiven him. If we do not forgive then the offender will have to give an account for it but we in turn will have to give an account for our unforgiveness. This is where you see where the real power rests. As long as you refuse to forgive the offender he has power over you. As a believer you will have to give an account for the unforgiveness and that is the real tragedy. However, in forgiving the offender you place yourself above it, you become the rescuer and you receive the blessing of the Lord that comes with it. The real power rests with the forgiver, even when the offender refuses to acknowledge their offense because even in this you become the rescuer trying to save them from that place of sin.

Let's face it, if we have the relationship with Jesus that we are suppose to have we are able to put those offenses against us in the light of God's love and eternity. The Apostle Paul referred to such things as "small and momentary" in the light of God's glory, and you know what he went through and the offenses committed against him. I am not saying it is easy in comparison to the standards of this world but this is where we as believers must push our flesh down and allow our spirit to rise up. This is the only way that we can walk as Jesus walked and do as Jesus did. Even as they nailed him to the cross he called out for their forgiveness. We have to capture the attitude that another person's salvation is more important than our rights, our need for justice and our desire for revenge. It's not about us; it's about them and Jesus. It's what it is all about, love that produces forgiveness.