Saturday, December 31, 2011

When Being Needy Is A Good Thing

Would you consider yourself a needy person? I doubt very few people want to consider themselves that way. Most of us want to see ourselves as strong, independent people who survive by whit and talent. We don't need help from anyone, parents, friends, teachers, because we are determined to succeed by our own merit. No one else is going to lay claim to our success.

Okay, so that may be a bit excessive but it's not too far from where most people are because we have no idea that we were created to be needy. The last thing Jesus wants us to be is independent and strong. Perhaps that is a shock to some people as it flies in the face of today's philosophies of life. I like the honesty of the psalmist:

Yet I am poor and needy;
come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay. (Psalm 70:5)

We were created to be dependent on God because he wants to lavish his love on us. We can do incredible things on our own, in our own independence but they are nothing compared to what God wants to do through us. We can become famous and rich but it is still nothing compared to what God wants to do in us. We were created in such a way that God is the only one who can make us feel complete and at peace. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are dependent on Jesus, and that's a good thing.

We are at the last day of the year, when many people make resolutions and promises, all of which have to do with improving our condition. Many follow the philosophy that we can do whatever we put our mind to. It is a very self-centered and rebellious philosophy where we say "No one can tell me what to do". Such a philosophy leads to a lot of disappointment, broken hearts and disillusionment with life. The fact is we can't do whatever we put our mind to because we have limitations, either in ourselves or in our environment.

However, when you change your desire from self-improvement to relationship improvement many things will change. When you realize your dependence on Jesus and make the decision that you want to improve the relationship, get to know him better, become more reliant on him, to stop making all the decisions on your own and to consult God on your plans, then you will see real improvement taking root. When you realize that you can't do all things in yourself but that you can do all things through Jesus, then you are in for an incredible year.

The fact is that we are not so independent, we have been created to be needy and the one we need is Jesus. Don't go it alone this year. Trust Jesus.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Most Christians Are Possessed And They Don't Even Know It

A couple of days before the new year and the reality of the Christmas season is setting in on some people who are receiving their first bills. Unfortunately too many of us didn't follow our plan, if we had a plan in the first place. Unfortunately too many of us rely on credit, living far beyond our means. Unfortunately there are too many of us who are feeling like the psalmist as the bills come rolling in:

Save me, O God, 
   for the waters have come up to my neck. 
I sink in the miry depths, 
   where there is no foothold. 
I have come into the deep waters; 
   the floods engulf me. 
I am worn out calling for help; 
   my throat is parched. 
My eyes fail, 
   looking for my God. (Psalm 69:1-3)

The question we should ask ourselves is, who is our god, because it certainly does not appear to be Jesus. If it is then we seem to turn our back on him during the Christmas season.

I am not judging any of you here because the vast majority of us are in the same place. I have no credit available to me but I am sure that if I did I would have used it. I managed to live within my means this Christmas but only because I was forced to. But what we are really saying as we rack up the credit is: "Daddy you are not a good provider."

I know a number of you are going to take exception to that. You will say that credit is necessary for cars and houses, that you need to use a credit card to establish your credit. Yes, I understand and agree to all that but it is only a theory. In reality we are owned by the credit card companies. A few people of exception pay the balance off at the end of each month but the large majority of us carry a balance from month to month. Come on, be honest here. If we carry a balance we are not living within our means which means we are saying to our Father: "You are not a good provider", because we have to go beyond what he has supplied us with. I really believe that we need to say with the psalmist:

You know my folly, O God;
   my guilt is not hidden from you.
May those who hope in you
   not be disgraced because of me,
   O Lord, the LORD Almighty;
may those who seek you
   not be put to shame because of me,
   O God of Israel.
(Psalm 69:5-6)

It is wrong of us to live this way. It  destroys our witness and robs God of his glory. If you are going to make any resolutions for the new year, one of the ones near the top should be to become satisfied with God's provision; to live within your means. You can get help with this if your "god" has you suppressed. There are credit experts that can exercise that demon right out of you. They can help you get the thing under control and then vanquished from your life. The motivation should not be to save money but because you recognize that you are robbing God of his glory. Your motivation should be love and if it is then I am sure you will be able to beat this thing.

For those of you who do not consider this problem with credit a spiritual matter, I leave you with the apostle Paul's instructions to his friend Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Do something about this before it destroys you and your faith.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

This New Year Keep Smiling

As we face yet another new year we also face a lot of uncertainty. Young people often only consider their immediate environment failing to understand that the local is often a victim of the global. As we get older we take more notice of what is going on in the world and how fragile everything seems. The economy is not great and appears ready to tank at any hint of a crisis. The Arab states continue to be a powder keg, with the relationship between Israel and Iran always on the front burner. We add to that the uncertainty of the new leader in North Korea and we have have a lot of unstable regions in the world. Then we have the various famines, crop failures, wacky weather, the rising cost of food and we realize that nothing is certain for 2012. Well, at least if you are not a follower of Jesus Christ it is not certain.

That's the thing for Christians to keep in mind, we don't belong to this place or receive our peace from it. Whether you are concerned about things in your school, community or the global situation there is no reason for us to feel any fear or trepidation about our future. In fact that should be the hall mark of any Christian, the peace we have in any and all situations. Ours should be a path of certainty as we realize that joy is ours in everything. The psalmist wrote:

But may the righteous be glad
and rejoice before God;
may they be happy and joyful. (Psalm 69:3)

Look at the vocabulary here: be glad, rejoice, be happy, be joyful. Why? Because of who our God is, because of his promises, because of what he has done in the past and because of what he promises for the future. It should be enough for us to consider the eternity Jesus has prepared for us to see joy poring out of us. This is to God's glory. Forget about the health benefits of a cheerful and thankful heart that the doctors talk about, it is enough that we bring glory to God through these things. Too many of us have witnessed the ill effects of a mean tempered person who claims Jesus as lord. I really don't think they would know Jesus to trip over him. In Proverbs we read:

A happy heart makes the face cheerful. (Proverbs 15:13)

How can we ignore the great theme of all the writers of the New Testament:

Be joyful always. (1 Thess. 5:16)

Joy is ours because Jesus Christ is ours and that is all that matters to us. If we trust him then we have joy but if we do not trust him we do not possess his peace which allows for joy. Most of the time what troubles us are things we have no control over so it is always best to trust the one who has control over everything.

I am not one who sticks my head in the sand, I do not ignore problems hoping they go away, but neither do I allow those problems to so block my vision that I can no longer see Jesus. Our Father is in the rescuing business and he loves to look after his children. I am very aware of what is going on in the world but I am more aware of what is going on in my relationship with God. I have a purpose and a function in the Kingdom and despite what it looks like in the world I will be faith to my duties. I know I have a duty to reveal God's glory in every situation. I refuse to rob him of this glory by failing to be joyful in my relationship with Jesus. It gives me great joy that, despite the changing times in the world, our God never changes. I leave you with this blessing:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Keep smiling!

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Motivation Is The Determining Factor To Resolutions

People have begun their preparations for the new year, buying new agendas, making new resolutions, planning to make it a better year than the one before. We can't help ourselves as we desire to be better, to do better. We have the right idea as we make efforts to become organized, set goals, determining new priorities, but Jesus' words come to mind: "The spirit is willing but the body is weak."

We know that in most cases we fail to keep our resolutions and it is often a fault of our motivation. When our motivation is wrong then our determination can be rather weak as well. Remember what James said, "You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures". We often fail because what we attempt to do only has the motivation of self but when you do things for the benefit of others we tend to have greater determination.

As followers of Jesus we tend to seek greater blessings at this time as well. We make greater covenants with God, promising to be more Christ-centered, desiring to receive more from God. This brings to mind Psalm 67 which starts with:

"May God be gracious to us and bless us,
and make his face shine upon us ..."

That's where many of us are, constantly seeking greater blessings from God. We may not say it and we may not even see it in ourselves but check your prayers and your thinking and see if you detect any of it in you. There is nothing wrong with this prayer but the question is why are you asking for it? What is your motivation? What do you think is the purpose of God's blessing? The psalmist continues:

"... that your ways may be known on the earth,
your salvation among all nations."

The last thing we want to do as God's nation is become selfish and self-centered as was the Israelite nation. Our salvation is bigger than ourselves as is God's blessings. We are intended to be advertising for God in our words, actions, attitudes, generosity and the sharing of God's great blessings. We act like a great dam, selfishly holding in all the blessings for ourselves but we are intended to be as free flowing as the mighty Saint Lawrence river. God cannot be glorified among the nations and a lost people cannot discover his incredible love.

If we are looking for change in ourselves that is great but let's make it a positive change that benefits the nations. Let's ask God to change our perspective, to shift our thinking, to improve our vision so that we no longer see ourselves at the center of the universe but instead as a member of God's family with the mission of sharing God's blessings. We should be the most generous people on the planet; generous with time, talent, possession, friendship. As we seek God's blessings for this New Year let us check our attitude and gain the perspective that we are the vessels of God's blessings and glory to the World. May the New Year see the nations bend their knees to Jesus, not because they are forced but because they are convinced of God's love.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Joy In The Midst Of Boxing Day Madness

I did something yesterday that I have never done in my entire life: I went shopping on Boxing Day. The rest of the world probably doesn't have this tradition but in most of North America the stores offer deep discounts on their products the day after Christmas. In the province of Quebec the stores are not permitted to open until 1 pm but the line ups start forming hours before that. Thankfully it was not a terribly cold day but after a couple of hours in minus degree weather anything feels cold.

So we stood in line to get into the store. Then we stood in line in the store for certain products. Then in another line for another group of products. Then there was the huge line to actually purchase the products. And after that? Another line to get into another store. I felt like I was at Disney World but as my wife and I stood in those various lines I enjoyed watching the character of people come to the surface by way of their actions.

There were the polite and patient people who quietly stood in line chatting with people they had only now met. Then there were the people who felt they were above the rules and shouldn't have to wait in line, cutting in despite the protests of the people around them. There were those protesting people who wanted justice for the inappropriate actions of people who were not following the rules. There were people who should not ever get involved in events like this, who's anger simmered just below the surface, ready to explode at the least provocation. Then there were the poor store workers who steeled their heart in preparation for the worse of human behaviour.

Some of these workers dealt with various problems with humour, always laughing, smiling and making the customer feel glad to be dealing with them even if they could not help them. Others dealt with it in almost an emotionless state, not caring, just doing their job. Then other workers should have just stayed at home. They were the grumpy ones, the ones that convinced you never to shop at that store again. They are the ones who are probably going through a divorce or whose mother is in hospital dying or who just had a car accident that morning. Their head just isn't there but none of the customers knows or understands that. Some wouldn't care even if they did know.

I enjoyed myself yesterday because I went with the Spirit of Christ. I was determined that the character of Jesus was going to be seen in me in the midst of the chaos. I kept a smile on my face and I meant it; I was glad to be there. I spoke politely and showed courtesy to fellow customers and store clerks. I especially spoke kindly to those workers who seemed to be having a really bad day. You know what? I got a lot of smiles and kind gestures back.

What really amazed me was that I had gone into the day determined to be a blessing and I came home blessed. My determination to allow the Spirit to reveal the character of Christ in me turned the day into a great experience. I felt happy, joyful, full of peace and very much content as I walked through my front door. Because I was determined in this way I also saw a lot of good things in people while dismissing the bad. My heart was warmed as I saw kind gestures, heard polite words and saw the evidence of forgiving hearts. The character of Christ really does not keep record of wrongs and sees the best in people.

Where we choose to fix our eyes, mind and heart every day and in every situation really does have an impact on how we see and react to things. As followers of Jesus we should make it our desire and ambition to allow the Spirit to reveal the character of Jesus in us. The first and most important step is remembering that, despite the behaviour of people, God loves every last one of them, and so should we.
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Monday, December 26, 2011

How To Avoid The Christmas Blues

So, Christmas is over. After all that rushing around and preparation, the gifts are open, the feast has been eaten, the anticipation has ended. Now what? That's the feeling that sometimes gets to people in the days following Christmas. So much went into the preparation, now that it's over they are left with a void. It's only natural so in order to avoid this feeling we need to switch our focus from the activity back onto the reason for that activity.

A good thing to do is make a list. Yes, there I go again with the list, but this list is helpful in getting our focus back in place. Make a list of all the blessings from God you have experienced in the past year. It's kind of like the top 20 songs on the past year, or the top 10 movies. It will take some reflecting and remembrance, which is always a good thing too. I can make a short list for you just from this past month as an example:

1. We found out that my wife is pregnant
2. God arranged for all of my children, except one, to live in the same city
3. He provided the finances for me to help move a friend
4. He provided the finances for all the school staff to be paid before Christmas
5. He gave me a glimmer of hope in a situation where there was no hope so that I could have peace this Christmas
6. He reminded me this month of the great friends he has given me as they helped me on a project for someone
7. He allowed me to see the fruit that is being produced in the people of my church
8. He provided a good Christmas for all my children who were together to celebrate it

As I make this short list just from this past month my heart begins to feel really warm and any void that may have started to grow has been stuffed full of these blessings. I suddenly feel very thankful for the love and faithfulness of my God. I want to shout from the rooftops my praise and thanksgiving. He is so good, so very good to me. Now you give it a go.

If you begin to feel this void over the next few days don't think you are a failure or that you don't love God. Such a feeling is natural after a busy season of preparation. What you do with this feeling is what matters. I encourage you, make your list; get your thoughts, heart, and eyes back on Jesus, the one who we are celebrating. With him there is no emptiness or disappointment, only love and security.
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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Gift Of Christmas Is An Inclusive Gift

Merry Christmas everyone; the day God surprised the world. The gift was not unexpected but the extent of it, the largeness of it, the generosity of the giver was certainly a surprise.

Israel was expecting their Messiah but they had no idea of God's full plan because they were a self-centered people. They always thought that their relationship with God was exclusive and for their own blessing. They never seemed to grasp God's purpose of raising them up as a nation of priests so that he could reveal his glory to all nations through them. They thought God was only for them, their personal protector and 'genie in the bottle' to meet their every need.

When Jesus explained his purpose to a leader of Israel late one night he did not tell him that "God so loved Israel". No, he told him that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life". The "so loved the world" and "whoever believes" is what we are really celebrating this morning. It is an inclusive statement and we love our Father for it. Regardless of what gifts you have received today I will guarantee you no one has given you a gift like our Father has.

I repeat myself on this Christmas morning, the message of Christmas is not "peace on earth" but "For God so loved the world that he gave" and what he has given is himself. Jesus told us that if we choose to accept this gift we have the responsibility to tell everyone about it. Jesus gave himself to save us from our destruction and he came for the entire world. Maybe it is only the followers of Jesus who celebrate the true meaning of this celebration but the gift was intended for everyone.

As we celebrate and we practice that God spirit of generosity with those we love, let's keep in mind that the gift of Christmas is not exclusive but inclusive. Share it with your family and friends as you gather with them during this season. May your Christmas truly be a merry experience as you allow the joy of the Lord to overflow your heart.
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas: Trying To Thwart The Plans Of God

It's strange how different people react to Jesus differently. Some are mildly amused, others couldn't care less, some are violently opposed and others totally devoted. We have people today who claim that education should be enough to stamp out silly old superstitions but when we look back in Scriptures we discover that the supposedly educated and powerful people often set themselves up as opponents of God. People cry out today that anyone of any intelligence would never use religion as a crutch. It is a shame that they cannot recognize the pattern of our rebellious sin nature that causes us to want to set up gods after our own image and remain enemies of our Creator. Sometimes, people of intelligence and power are their own god.

For the last few days we have considered how God surprised people with the birth of Jesus. There were none more surprised than king Herod. He was enjoying a good life, walking a tight rope to make sure all the different political factions were appeased but that was his job and he was good at it. Now he has these men of learning from foreign countries knocking on his door asking him where the new king was, the one that the stars had announced. SURPRISE! If you ever want to bring insecurity to a man of power, start praising someone else in his presence. A new king? Really?

Immediately Herod had his people search the Scriptures; at least he still recognized the authority of the Scriptures. They discovered that the prophets foretold of the great King being born in king David's city, Bethlehem. You can almost hear king Herord thinking, "Not on my watch he isn't". Armed with this information he tried to turn these visitors who were seeking this great king into spies for his own purpose. He told them to get back to him with the location because he wanted to pay homage as well. Men using the guise of religion for their own design is nothing knew. People today look back in history and see the atrocities committed by such men and then criticize the religion. They are unable to see the difference between the men of greed and power who manipulated religion and the people of sincere devotion and belief.

This is where we should be able to see the genuineness of what was happening around Jesus. These learned men found the child (not the baby) with his mother and offered their gifts. It was likely Jesus was 2 years old at this time. No, sorry to disappoint, it was not a crowded stable on the night of Jesus' birth. After their visit they were warned by God not to return to Herod. In one simple dream God thwarted the plans of his enemy. But, as is so often the case, when the enemy can't have his way through trickery, he will make his plans more obvious through violence.

When Herod discovered that the visitors had left without divulging the information he sought, he sent in his soldiers to do a sickening thing. This shows us just how evil the man's heart was and just how desperate he was to try to spoil God's plans. He had no idea that God's plans were bigger than some small kingdom in the middle east that wasn't even in charge of it's own affairs but in a submissive relationship with Rome. God was out to bring man back to him in a manner no one could have fathomed. If God was capable of such a thing then surely he was capable of protecting a tiny baby.

Before the solders could arrive God warned Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt. Herod showed the darkness of his heart as he ordered the murder of every male child two years old and under. What a terrible lose of life with no results for Herod. Perhaps Herod died thinking he had defeated God; a number of people do. What a stupid  thought to have on your death bed, "Hahaha, I have showed God who is boss. I never once obeyed him. I remained free and independent". And may I add, dead. You still end up dead and now you will discover what God was trying to save you from.

This is the saddest thing about people like Herod who think they can do what they want for their own gain, even fight against God. It also holds true for those people who have made it their mission to try to convince others to turn away from God as well. They all end up dead and they all end up facing what they wasted their life trying to deny. They chose the wrong thing. They chose to not accept the gift of life, peace, joy, hope, faith and love that God held out to them. They chose not to accept the hand of rescue. They chose wrong.

Nothing frustrates the plans of God. If we try to prevent it one way he is already aware of it and has made his plans to cover that. God's will can never be denied and life is filled with blessings when we work within that will instead of all the natural curses that come with fighting against it. Look at the beauty of Christmas and realize that the sending of this gift reveals the incredibly beautiful heart of our Father. We can choose the ugly way of Herod or we can see the beauty of God's desire for us. I hope the beauty of Christmas this year will remind you where the real joy and blessings are found because they are never found in us but always in Jesus.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas: A Close Encounter Of The Jesus Kind

Have you ever been out in the countryside at night, away from the city lights? I used to live out in the country where, when you step outside at night, you disappear into the dark. The only light was from the stars and when you looked up at them it was like you could see a billion of them all at once. The longer you looked the more you could see. It was quiet, dark and lonely. That's pretty well how I imagined it was for the shepherds on the day of Jesus' birth, when God surprised them.

When I read how the glory of the Lord shone around them at the angel's sudden appearance I can understand why Scriptures say they were terrified. To have the pitch black of night go to the brilliance of the day in a second would be enough to frighten me but then we add to that the appearance of the angel. It was believed that if you saw God you would die because no sin-filled man could ever survive the brilliance of the purity of  God. This is why the messengers of God always started with "Do not be afraid". But the message of the angel was more than that:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8)

Note the part where he says that he was bringing good news of great joy that is for all people. The good news goes beyond the manger scene and takes us to a life lived in the Spirit as an example for us, to a cross and then to an empty grave. We have to tell people the whole story which we are not very good at any more.

We are more into one line zingers; catch phrases that people will remember. "Jesus is the reason for the season" was popular for a while, but why is Jesus the reason for the season? That's the problem with these marketing ideas, there is no substance. We are trying to reach the whole world whereas we should be taking the time to reach a few people with the substance of the good news. We need to take the time with people, one on one, and explain why we celebrate Christmas. When they come to know Jesus they will be so excited about the "good news of great joy" that they in turn will tell people they know. We can't win the world with slogans but we can by making disciples.

Notice that the angels only went to a handful of shepherds. They could have gone to the whole world at once or to the governments at that time, but perhaps God knew that only the shepherds could appreciate what was happening here and respond correctly. They went to verify what the angel told them; he basically told them to when he told them where to find the baby and how to recognize him. After they saw it with their own eyes they had to tell everyone they met:

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:17-18)

Now if the shepherds hadn't verified it with their own eyes they would have only been able to tell people what the angel said. That's what it is like for those who have never encountered Jesus for themselves but instead live off the testimony of those who have. That's what slogans produce. But those who have sought God and seen his face, have encountered Jesus for themselves, know exactly how those shepherds felt. You just can't keep that good news to yourself and you want to share it with everyone you encounter.

Let's throw away the slogans, the signs and the bumper stickers this year and actually share what that good news means to people. Let's share more than the manger scene, more than the fact that Jesus was born. Let's actually explain to people why Jesus was born, what it means for them today and how it impacts our eternity. Let's surprise a few people this season with how much God loves us and what he did for us because of that love. Then indeed it will be "good news of great joy".

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas: Obedience No Matter The Cost

Christmas has always seemed to be a magical time for children and for some adults who are still able to see with the eyes of a child. They whole world seems to be transformed. Here in Canada we usually have the natural transformation of a blanket of snow, then add to that all the Christmas lights on the houses. The inside of the house goes through some transformations as well, as things get moved around to make room for the tree, lights get added and various decorations go up. In some fortunate homes, the ones where mom's still bake, the house gets filled with the smell of Christmas treats. Add to that the anticipation of the gifts on Christmas morning. For some there will be a few great surprises.

Christmas has always been about surprises. Yesterday we considered how God surprised Mary and Zechariah with the appearance of angel Gabriel and the announcement of pending children. We have all heard of the possible risks to Mary, being found to be pregnant before the consummation of her marriage. The penalty was to be stoned to death but that is almost non-relevant. I don't even think Mary thought that God would do this and then not protect her from such a thing. Sometimes we are not always intelligent in our faith. Whatever God calls us to do he will equip us to complete. But have you thought about Joseph?

We know that when Mary told him she was pregnant he had in mind to divorce her quietly. That speaks much of his love for her, that he would not publicly denounce her but it also speaks of his pain to be betrayed in such a way. We can't condemn him for that. How many of us would have believed Mary if we had been in his shoes? Many people today still don't. But God was about to surprise Joseph too.

Just like with Mary, Gabriel paid a visit to Joseph and confirmed to him everything Mary had told him:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

Talk about a surprise. Hey buddy, you've been chosen to raise the Son of God. Some have considered the risk Mary took in saying yes to God but have you considered the hit Joseph's reputation took? He was the local carpenter, a righteous man according to the Bible. He was most likely well thought of, even respected. But here he rushed the betrothal and had sexual relations with Mary so that he had to bring her into his home before the year of engagement was over. At least that was how everyone would have seen it.

It's not that this manner of marriage had anything to do with Scripture but it is what developed in the Jewish tradition. The engagement was as binding as a marriage but the marriage was not consummated until one year had passed. After the year was over the bride would then move into her husband's home and the marriage would be finalized. This was the tradition of man but God is no respecter of man's traditions. Because of man's traditions there would have been a lot of gossiping going around, Joseph would not have been seen as so righteous any more and his business may have even taken a hit, but Joseph was the right kind of righteous. He was righteous enough to set aside concern for himself and his reputation to be obedient to the Lord.

Joseph's righteousness was like Mary's, but more importantly it was like Abraham's. These people received a promise from God and they believed him. They just didn't believe by the words they spoke but in actions as well. They acted upon their trust in God. Yesterday we looked at Mary's response to God:

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

Now consider Joseph's act of obedience that came from his heart of righteousness:

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

Who cares what the gossips are going to say; God said it and I believe it. The question remains whether we would have done the same. So many of us are shackled by the traditions of man that have nothing to do with Scripture. We worry more for our reputation than for our obedience. We say that we love God with our words but our actions are lacking. Few of us are prepared to be surprised by God; we lack the faith of an Abraham, Mary and Joseph. Yet it is that faith that has the power to see this world transformed. Jesus said it takes a child-like faith to see and believe. What better time of the year to have that faith renewed than at Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas: Surprised By God

Christmas has snuck up on me this year. Oh, I could see it coming and I have been listening to all the Christmas music in the stores but without any snow on the ground it still feels like it is weeks away. It is time to look again at the scriptures surrounding the event in preparation for the celebration on Christmas day. So setting aside our current look at 1 Corinthians I want us to consider our reaction to Christmas.

Every year I like to look at the reaction of Mary and Zechariah to compare how they responded to the surprise announcement of the angel. Zechariah was an old priest; Mary was likely a 14 year old girl. Zechariah was carrying out his priestly duties, making offering to the Lord; Mary was in her bedroom. Zechariah had been praying for a child; Mary was not, she had only recently become engaged. Which of these two  should have been expecting something extraordinary from God?

Now consider how they responded to the angel's announcement of the news. Each had a question. They sound similar but were very much different. Zechariah's question:

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

Mary's question:

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

Zechariah's question was one of disbelief followed by a demand of proof. Mary's was one of amazement since she was a virgin. The angel responded to Zechariah with correction but to Mary he responded with explanation. Zechariah left humiliated because of his disbelief whereas Mary has always been honoured because of her humble response:

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

Mary was only a 14 year old girl but she knew better than Zechariah, the old priest, how to respond to God. But don't be too hard on Zechariah because that is how most of us react to God even when he answers our prayers.

Seriously, how many people would be inspired by our reaction to God when he surprises us? And should it be a surprise when God responds to our prayers? Zechariah should not have been surprised that God would do this thing even in his old age. Did he even know the God he served, the God of Abraham who had a child in his old age? Not just any child but the child that was the seed to the promise God had given to him. We have a God who is amazing, who often goes beyond what we ask for. Zechariah ask for a child and God gave to him the prophet who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

We have to stop being surprised when God responds to our prayers. What is the sense of praying if we aren't going to believe in the first place? I do not want to be considered like Zechariah, a man who should have known better than to doubt God. I would hope that my testimony and witness is as strong as Mary's and people would consider me a man who trusts God. There was nothing special about Mary, except for that one important fact that when God spoke she chose to believe and submit herself to his will. May that be said of all of us.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Time For Us To Grow Up

There is nothing consistent or permanent in life. As a child we thought everything was eternal; our family was always going to be the same; we will always live in the same place, have the same friends, do the same things. That is the limited perspective of a child but as we grow older we begin to realize how temporary everything is. There is nothing consistent or permanent in life. Everything changes.

Well, that's not exactly true but to make my point let's assume it is. We are told that even important matters such as the gifts of the Spirit are only temporary:

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 12:8)

These will not disappear because God will remove them but instead because they are a temporary part of our 'childhood'. We can't forget that we are growing toward a goal, a purpose. It is sad in life that many people stop maturing at a certain point. They reach that point in life where they become satisfied and then they just exist. There is no progress, no more learning, no more revelations, no more growth. It is the same spiritually but we have to beat that because we have a greater goal than this place:

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10)

That is the scary part when it comes to many Christians; they fail to accept what we have here so how will they ever handle the perfection that is coming. The manifestation of the Spirit is only a small taste of our new creation state of being. When Jesus comes to call us home everything will change for us when he brings us into perfection. If we can't handle the gift of healing in this place how will we ever accept what we will become with perfection? We are suppose to be progressing in our maturity, growing toward the whole measure of the fullness of Jesus, yet we can't even bring ourselves to know the Word of God. We have to at least get to the point of knowing that we need to mature:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Yes, we are only children in this place but Jesus will be bringing us into full adulthood. We can at least be mature children here with all the limitations of a child. We know there is a difference between a toddler in diapers and a ten year old who has learned to do most things for himself. I don't want to be found in a diaper when Jesus returns. But we also acknowledge that a ten year old does not have the knowledge or ability of a 40 year old:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

The last part is what I am really desiring; to know God as well as he knows me. What an incredible thought. To know everything about him and to live in eternity with that knowledge. Childhood is such a short time of our life compared to adulthood. This place is such a short period of our existence compared to eternity. That needs to be our perspective here, that we are being prepared for eternity, for adulthood. So what's a little bit of hardship and pain in comparison to knowing the greatness and glory of our Lord?

The question remains, what does maturity look like in the context of this place, in the context of childhood? It is when we realize what is truly important in life. It is when we let go of the things that hold our progress back and makes us less than what we were created to be. It's when we cut the things out of our life so that the things that are most important are able to grow in us:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  (1 Corinthians 13:13a)

We know we are reaching that maturity when we not only understand but live the truth of life:

But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13b)

The fact is that in those who are progressing toward maturity the truth of love prevails over everything else. If there are things like fits of rage, jealousy, envy, pride, hatred in you then you know you have a lot of spiritual growing up to do. Love overpowers all of these things when we are mature enough to allow it to have full reign in our life. "Love never fails" becomes our reality not our wishful thinking. In the mature faith, hope and love are the basis of everything they do and say but it is love that makes it all possible.

Not everything changes in life. Faith, hope and love should be the permanent and consistent elements of our character. Love should always prevail in every situation. It's time for us to grow up.

The rest of the series on 1 Corinthians 13

The Single Greatest Lesson That All Other Things Are Built On

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Faith Isn't An Easy Thing But Without It We Can't See God

Faith isn't an easy thing. You don't just wake up one day and have it. You can't borrow it from a friend. You can't read a book and walk away with it. Faith is a decision we have to make every time we need it. A decision to trust God in the dark. A decision to believe what he has promised in the face of overwhelming odds. A decision to hold on when the easiest thing is to let go or to let go when the easiest thing is to hold on. It's not easy at 3 AM when you wake up filled with anxiety to say to God "I choose to trust you" and then roll over and go back to sleep. Yet, it is that faith that allows us to see God.

Do you know why God loved David so much? It wasn't because he was perfect and it wasn't because David was always obedient; it was because David took God at his word. He trusted him. He loved him. Such trust would have developed when David was young and had to watch over the family sheep. As a young man he had to defend those sheep against lions and bears all on his own. David learned to have faith in God's love. The same faith he learned in those lonely times is the faith he had while he ran away from Saul and his army. We have rough days but few of us have had the kind of days David had to endure with a whole army out to kill him. Yet he wrote:

I cry out to God Most High, 
   to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. 
He sends from heaven and saves me, 
   rebuking those who hotly pursue me; 
   God sends his love and his faithfulness. (Psalm 57:2-3)

David never let go of that fact, that God sends his love and his faithfulness to us.  Faith is not easy and we are not born with it; it is a choice that we make to trust God. That is the thing we must learn, how to develop this faith. Watch what David does here. First he states his situation:

I am in the midst of lions; 
   I lie among ravenous beasts— 
men whose teeth are spears and arrows, 
   whose tongues are sharp swords. (v. 4)

Yet in the next breath he is in worship:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;    let your glory be over all the earth. (v. 5)

From that moment of praise he goes back to his situation:

They spread a net for my feet— 
   I was bowed down in distress. 
They dug a pit in my path— 
   but they have fallen into it themselves. (v. 6)

Then David speaks to himself, to that inner place where we commune with God. Faith is not easy and it does not come naturally. We have to stir it in ourselves. We have to remind ourselves who our God is and what he has promised:

My heart is steadfast, O God, 
   my heart is steadfast; 
   I will sing and make music. 
Awake, my soul! 
   Awake, harp and lyre! 
   I will awaken the dawn. (vv. 7-8)

Now this is us, our responsibility, what we must do in order to stir that faith within ourselves. We have very poor memories so that even if God rescued us yesterday we will forget about it today and panic. The disciples saw Jesus feed the five thousand yet they were afraid when they forgot to bring some food along. We are just like that. God rescues us time and again yet every time is like the first time. We have to remind ourselves, stir up that faith, make the decision and trust.

We can't expect to ignore God for days on end and not have it effect our relationship. We can't expect to have nothing to do with him and then suddenly, during some crisis, we will have this great faith. Faith is not a magical thing but it is a relationship thing. The stronger our relationship with God the stronger our trust. The closer we are to him the greater dependence we have on him. Just like David watching those sheep we have to be developing a greater and deeper understanding of God's love and faithfulness. In this way when some of those storms hit our first response will be to say to God, "Even in this I trust you".

Don't wait until the darkness is upon you, start praising him with all your heart in the daylight so that you can still sing of his glory in the darkness. It is by faith we are able to see God even when the darkness closes in:

I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations;
   I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
   your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
   let your glory be over all the earth. (vv. 9-11)

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Jesus Threw Away My Lists, part 2

I wrote earlier today about my love affair with lists and how it is easier for me to follow a list like the Law of Moses than it is to allow love to govern me as Jesus taught. However, Jesus has removed any need for lists in our lives because he has revealed to us the greater way of love. In saying this I do want to share with you one list that I find to be amazing.

It is something you have read before and maybe you may have even taken note of it. It is a list that I find sums up so much of what we desire to be and do in our relationship with God. It is a list that can help us with a greater intimacy with Jesus. I don't consider it a law but more the guard rails on this path of love Jesus has placed us on. It prevents us from wandering away from this life of love and dedication.

We find it in the book of wisdom, Proverbs, specifically chapter 3. The pure simplicity of this list struck me the other day and it starts with the most important part of our relationship with God:

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; 
   bind them around your neck, 
   write them on the tablet of your heart. (v. 3)

I am telling you the greatest pursuit in our life should be to discover the depth of God's love. There should be no more important desire than this, to learn how to love as Jesus loved. What does God mean by love? How does it impact our living? And as you discover these mysteries make sure you are living it, applying it to everything you say and do. The result is evident:

Then you will win favor and a good name    in the sight of God and man. (v. 4)

If you are honestly spending the quality time with God that you are suppose to be it will have a radical change in your life, how you see things, how you respond to people, the words that you speak. People may not agree with your faith but they certainly will not be able to hold anything against you when love is written on the tablet of your heart.

With love firmly fixed in place we are ready for the rest of the list. In fact the command to love makes everything else possible. Item number two:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart 
   and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways acknowledge him, 
   and he will make your paths straight. (vv. 5-6)

This is a huge stumbling block for most people and I could devote an entire book to this subject of trust. Love leads us to trust, to letting go of what we think we know and acknowledging that God knows far more than we do. This is where we falter in our relationship with Jesus and things begin to unravel. You know what I mean. We want something but God seems to prevent it so we fight against him. We want something and God is saying no but we don't want to accept that answer. We are in a situation that only God can rescue us from but we allow fear and worry to propel us into a rash act that only makes things worse. It's easy to say we love God on the sunny days but it is in the storms that our love and trust are tested.

This naturally leads us to the third point:

Do not be wise in your own eyes;    fear the LORD and shun evil. (v. 7)

This is another big problem we have, when we think we know better than God or the godly council he has surrounded us with. We ask godly people, who we trust, for their wisdom and they give us excellent council from the Word of God but then we decide we know better. Every time this mistake leads to disaster. If we hold God's wisdom up to the highest esteem, giving him our respect and turning away from everything that is evil there is great benefit:

This will bring health to your body    and nourishment to your bones. (v.8)

Worry, fear, anxiety take years off of our life. We begin to look old fast and we become feeble quickly. Living by our wisdom instead of God's will lead us into situations that will provoke worry, fear and anxiety in us and we will not be able to see the peace Jesus has given to us. What a foolish people we are.

The next point should be a natural out pouring of our love but you would not believe how many people try to get out of this. They lie to themselves, they use their own wisdom, they try to argue the point but in the end they are only robbing themselves of a greater freedom and intimacy with Jesus:

Honor the LORD with your wealth,    with the firstfruits of all your crops; (v. 9)

It is amazing how people allow money to separate them from the Lord. It becomes their stumbling block but they are only robbing themselves. They forget who the Provider is and how we honour him in this matter of the first fruits. It is something that love provoked long before the Law of Moses was established. We can read about it with Cain and Abel and the fact that Abel gave his best and was blessed by God. It led to the first record of jealousy and murder in the history of man. When love provokes a cheerful giver there are results:

Then your barns will be filled to overflowing,    and your vats will brim over with new wine. (v. 10)

The last point in this list has to do with keeping a proper perspective in our walk with God. So often we accuse God of being mean and unfair because we are looking at it from the perspective of a comfortable life in this world. We need to understand that God's perspective is one of eternity and he is preparing us for it:

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline 
   and do not resent his rebuke, 
because the LORD disciplines those he loves, 
   as a father
 the son he delights in. (vv. 11-12)

Discipline is not punishment in the same way that correction is not punishment. I do not punish my children when they do wrong because punishment has to do with vengeance and there is no lesson and improvement in vengeance. No, our role as parents is to correct our children, to teach them from their mistakes and to reinforce that lesson so they will not forget it. God disciplines us because he loves us and he wants to make sure we will be prepared for eternity. So instead of weeping, wailing and complaining, look around and see the lesson at hand, learn it quickly and move on.

The items in this list in Proverbs 3 are great guardrails in our daily walk with Jesus. They will make sure that we do not wander off of this narrow path to the narrow gate. They will help us stay in that place of intimacy and growth with Jesus. However, these things are absolutely useless if our great pursuit is not growing in the love of the Lord. Like all lists there is a danger that we will seek our salvation in it instead of in Jesus Christ but understand that in this list you will find a great summary of the elements you are responsible for in your relationship with Jesus; love, trust, honour, giving, and submission.

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Jesus Threw Away My Lists, part 1

Are you a list person? I am a list person. I love my lists; my to-do list, shopping list, prayer list, project list. Anything I can write down in point form makes me supper happy. I love PowerPoint; organizing my thoughts in such a concise presentation, making everything clear and clean for understanding. Yeah! That`s why I have to be so careful when it comes to God and the Law.

The Law of Moses is pretty simple to understand: Do not Lie, Do Not Steal, Do Not Murder. A nice list, easy to understand but not so easy to follow because of our sin nature. But Jesus came along and he is not so keen on lists. In fact, he has taken us much deeper than the list and causes us to look at our motivation; what we are plugged in to that provokes us to do the things we do. He showed us the greater way. When asked about the greatest law Jesus took us to the deepest place:

Love God and love your others because everything hinges on these two commands.

Now instead of following a list of does and don'ts we are governed and guided by God`s love which provokes us to greater things than the Law of Moses ever could. He also taught us that there is no formula for knowing him and obtaining things from him and there are no special holy places on this earth where must go to have a deeper experience of God. He moved us into a new plane of understanding. When it comes to our relationship with him he took us to a much deeper place:

True worshipers worship the Father in Spirit and truth. These are the worshipers the Father seeks.

No lists here, just freedom in the Spirit to go to the deeper spiritual places with God. To worship God in this spirit opens our eyes of understanding to the depth of his love. Spending time with God in this manner changes us completely and fills us with such an overwhelming love that we begin to appreciate how everything in the universe hinges on the command to love. Our lists begin to look like a pathetic attempt to get close to God as love is the deeper place of motivation.

The Word tells us that what matters to God is a man`s heart. Jesus does not improve our heart condition but he replaces the entire thing with a new one; a new creation. This heart is capable of containing God`s love but we must be willing to completely die to ourselves, our opinions, our thoughts, our desires and allow the Spirit to take us to the depths so we may drink in that love.

Yet I do have a list that I found in the Word of God that will help you in your walk with the Lord. If you can keep this list in mind during your daily walk it will improve your intimacy with God and your service to man. However, before I share this list with you I encourage you to ponder the freedom we have been given in Jesus, the freedom from laws and lists. But also ponder the great responsibility found in love that has been given to us. Re-read 1 Corinthians 13 and begin to appreciate that most of us have yet to come to grips with what Jesus meant when he told us the greatest of the commandments is to love God and others.

I`ll be back with the second part.
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Friday, December 16, 2011

"Love Never Fails." Are You Kidding Me?

There are three words in the Bible that overwhelm me and yet assure me every time I ponder them. Three words that are incredibly powerful and earth shaking. Three words that cause us to shake our head and mumble "It isn't true". Three words we have misunderstood and refused to come to grips with:

"Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:8)

How do we deal with this? How can we say that love never fails? How many times has your heart been broken? How many times have you been stabbed in the back by a friend? How many times have you failed to be there for someone? How many times have you allowed vengeance and hatred to overwhelm love? Love never fails? I don't think so.

You don't think it to be true? Then let's start with Paul's definition of love. In fact, we will only consider the last part of this definition:

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

When I read that I think about the countless times I have failed to love my family, friends, and even strangers. Just that one, "always protects", or even "always trusts" causes me to see what an utter failure I have been in the love department. But then again that is the problem; love didn't fail, I failed to love.

If we examine our failures I think we will see clearly that in every case we failed to love the person we failed. Say that out loud with me "Love didn't fail, I failed to love". Let it sink in for a moment. All the troubles, hardships, heartaches, division and separation we have experienced in our life is due to the fact that there was a lack of love involved. Perhaps you wish to argue the point. Well consider that love is not these things:

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5)

How much of our failure has been caused by self-seeking, even if that means we were seeking to be loved? Love is not a game and it isn't a fuzzy feeling; it is a very serious commitment where we are engaged to pour ourselves out into another person's life. Love is a constant giving, emptying of self but the great thing is that the source of this love is Jesus Christ. The more we give the more he pours back into us. We can't out give God. But understand that love is a conscious decision to speak certain words and take certain actions that flow from this river of love in us.

If you decide to get mad at someone and yell at them, understand you have chosen not to love. If you decide to punish someone by withdrawing your kindness, you have chosen not to love. It you walk away from a friendship out of frustration, you have decided not to love. If you decide to allow differences to build a wall between you and another person, you have chosen not to love. If you decide to shut someone out of your life because of the pain they have caused you, you have chosen not to love.

In all these and many more cases love has not failed, we have. It is when  we decide to apply love to every situation and every person that real power begins to flow. The power of forgiveness and reconciliation is mountain moving stuff. The power to bring healing to a broken heart and to build unity among God's people is incredible. What a beautiful thing love is when we apply it. Love never fails.

Just a foot note: We need to always keep in mind that this is the entire point in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Love is the underlying theme throughout the Word of God. The whole point of Jesus is love, "For God so loved the World that he gave ...". Jesus' final command was for us to love as he loved us. Even Paul launched into his definition of love with these words, "And know I will show you the most excellent way". Love is not optional and we must spend our life discovering the depth of it and applying it to everyone we know and meet.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Do You Want To Know What Real Love Is? It Will Cost You

Are you the type of person who likes watching YouTube videos of people getting hurt because it happens in a funny manner? You probably don't even realize what you are doing. It's like watching a slapstick comedy only these people are real so their pain is real. It looks funny as they fall down the stairs, or slip on the ice, or walk into a car but that is real suffering at which we are laughing. That is our society but it is not the Kingdom of God.

We have the same problem when it comes to vengeance and wanting our enemy to suffer. It is like watching the school yard bully finally getting beat up. We have this comic book hero mentality where we think that there needs to be pay back Old Testament style, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This may be justice but it is not love. We are not believers in karma. In fact, we take delight in breaking that karma cycle in people's lives:

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6)

The people of God take no delight in the suffering of any person. We do not want to see the school yard bully beat up in the name of justice but instead we want to see him saved under the blood of Jesus. As followers of Jesus we want nothing to do with vengeance, lying, cheating, cutting corners, compromising, or anything that would throw dirt on the purity of God's love. I find the most powerful statement of what makes God's love different from the world's is this:

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Do you sense the power of this statement? Do you see the transforming power in relationships? Do you see why forgiveness is not enough for a Christian, we must also work at reconciliation in our relationships, even in the ones that have caused us great pain. Notice the word "always". We are commanded to love as Jesus loved. God loves everyone; we are to love everyone. God loved his enemies (us); we are to love our enemies. What does this love look like?

Love always protects; not just our family and friends but our enemy as well. We have a hard time doing this for our family and friends so how will we ever be able to do it for our enemies?

Love always trusts; even those people who have hurt us deeply by breaking our trust. This is why I said forgiveness is not enough, we must reconcile as well. In order for love to be sincere we must be vulnerable to the pain of betrayal.

Love always hopes; even when the person shows no sign of change. No matter how stubborn a person is we continue to hold out hope that they will become everything they were born to be. Just as a fat ugly caterpillar is destined to change into a graceful, beautiful butterfly so God has destined every person to move from being his creation to becoming his child. We do not let go of this hope, even when the person is the ugly school yard bully.

Love always perseveres; which goes along with hope. We never give up, pack our bags and walk away from anyone. If we do it means that we do not love as we say that we love. According to God's love, which we are to possess and have for each other, there is never an excuse for giving up on anyone. We give up only when we start measuring the cost to us. Love is expensive, it cost our Father his Son. What is it costing you?

When we measure what we call love against this definition of the love we are suppose to have ours ends up looking pathetic and sick. We realize that we haven't even begun to grasp the fundamental truths of God's love. There is so much in us that has to die and be pushed aside. It is the reason Paul said to his friend that he needed to work out his salvation daily. We have to grow and mature in this love in order to be the effective workmen we have been called to be. We cannot fail in love and then just shrug our shoulders. There must be a daily breaking and surrender to the will of the Spirit so he can enable us to live this love. It is not optional, we must move forward in our desire to live this with our entire being. We have been called to love with God's love that he may be glorified through us. Do not delight in evil but instead rejoice with the truth.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Power Of Authentic Love

What we call love in our society is pretty pathetic. It is based more on a euphoria of feelings and hormones. It can better be described as a feeding trough; as long as we are getting something out of the relationship we are happy but don't expect us to put anything into it. Love is described as how we feel, so I may be in love today but tomorrow who knows. What we claim to be love today has very little substance and absolutely no stick-to-it-ness. Today love fails because it is no love at all.

It is no different in our relationships in the Church or with God. That is quite the command he put in place when he told us to love him with our entire being and then to love our neighbour as ourself. This is a powerful thing, an incredible love, a demand of complete devotion. We rob it of its essence and make it a thing of attending church and reading our Bible but the love of which God speaks is a thing of power. Consider this as Paul continues with the Spirit's definition of love:

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5)

I know a lot of Christians who fail the love test with this first word describing what love isn't. I have been embarrassed countless times by my behaviour as well as the behaviour of other believers when we allow our feelings to get the better of us and we react in rudeness. In fact, there are some people who I think have never met Jesus because of their daily wrong behaviour in this area. Teens are rude to their parents, parents are rude to the sales clerk, people are rude because someone was rude to them. Young adults should look at their love interest and if they experience rudeness in that person realize that their love is not authentic or at least not mature. There is never an excuse for being rude.

If I had to describe what passes as love today I would use the word self-seeking. People are always looking for what they can get out of a relationship instead of what they need to put into it. I think it best describes our relationship with God as we continue to treat him like a genie in a bottle. It is always what we can get out of him, including in worship. Worship is about blessing our God from a thankful heart but we come in wanting that great feeling we get from worship. If we don't get that feeling we walk away feeling dissatisfied. Love is always about what we do for others, what we do for God, what we give to that relationship. If it is about us, what we want, what we expect, what we desire then it's not love.

When I was a young adult I had an anger problem. I could become angry in an instant over the smallest thing. I could see that this was damaging to relationships and asked God to save me from it. He did this by taking me to the place of service. He showed me that love meant I was glad to serve others, to be kind, to sacrifice for the benefit of other people. This became my ambition, my desire, to love in action instead of words alone. Love replaced my anger problem so much that when I tell people who know me today that I had an anger problem when I was younger they don't believe me. Most claim that I am a very patient man and I hope I am but I know I have a long way to go in my understanding of God's love. One thing I do know, anger has no part to do with love. A quick temper does not belong in the Body of Christ.

I believe with all my heart that forgiveness is a key ingredient in all relationships, but not a forgiveness that simply sets the offence aside. A forgiveness that comes from love removes the offence and never brings it up again. That kind of forgiveness makes a conscious decision to live like it never happened. So many relationships accumulate a ton of baggage along the way, never forgetting even though forgiveness was offered. Every time there is a disagreement a list of past offences are read out but love doesn't do that. Love doesn't keep score. Love offers authentic forgiveness so that there is also complete reconciliation and trust again. Love does not accumulate baggage but instead travels through life without even the carry-on bags.

Now can you imagine the power of this love shown to the world through the Church? Can you imagine what the Church would look like if we lived so that love is patient, love is kind? Can you begin to imagine relationships in the Church where love did not envy or boast and was not proud? Could you imagine authentic love in the Church so that people were not rude, self-seeking, easily angered and kept no record of wrongs? Are you beginning to see that our wimpy sentimental version of love is no love at all but is rather ugly compared to the authentic love of God?

It doesn't matter how much we try we cannot produce this authentic love in ourselves. We cannot wake up today and say "Hey, I am going to be more authentic in my love". They only way we can possess it is if it is produced in us by the Holy Spirit and this happens when we are completely sold out to Jesus Christ, living like we have died to ourselves. But that's a different posting. It is enough for now to desire this greater love and to seek it from God with all our being. If it is really the desire of your heart then Jesus will take you to the depths of his love where you will learn to love as he has loved us.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Understanding God

God is under contract with us. He must do what he said he will do. 
It’s a contract of his choosing. He did not have to make any promises to us but he decided to. He didn’t have to love us but he made that choice. With those choices came obligations.
Can you believe it? God has obligated himself to us.
It’s not because we are worth the effort. Come on now, we don’t have a faithful bone in our body. Give it half a day and we will have broken our part of the contract at least a dozen times. The contract is not dependent on our worthiness of it.
But here’s the thing: God made us worthy.
He declared we are worthy of his affection which means we are disrespecting him when we think of ourselves as worms deserving nothing from him. He said we deserve it because of the choices he made.
He is true to his word, his promises, his choices because of his unfailing love. Love cannot fail because God cannot fail. He will do what he promised because his character dictates that if he said it he will be true to it.
Yet, we do have a part to play here. God cannot dance with us if we refuse to dance. He can love us, promise things to us, be faithful in all he has said but if we refuse to accept it from him he will not force himself on is.
That’s another thing about our God: He is gentle.
He loves us. He will be faithful to his promises that he has given us. He will always pursue us. But he will never force us.
It comes down to this: If you choose to go it alone, to not believe God, to not take advantage of his promises, that is your choice and you will live with the consequences. God’s choice is to love and that love never fails.

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