Monday, January 31, 2011

God Said 'Do Not Murder', So Stop Killing People

We are quick to use a lot of labels in the Body of Christ, almost as quick as we are to judge something we do not understand. We are quick to forget where we come from and what temptations or demons we struggle with in our own life. That is not to make it sound like there is a demon behind every lamp post or that our lives are filled with deception. It is only a recognition that there can be a struggle between the flesh and the spirit because we are constantly surrounded by things in this world that want to tempt the flesh. It may not be major things but even minor things like enjoying our sleep too much, having a love affair with too much food, being offended too easily, putting work ahead of God and family, go against the perfect law of God.  Before we throw that first stone we should consider our own lives, especially before using the dreaded label of "hypocrite".

I believe most of us understand that hypocrite comes from the Greek word hupokrit─ôs which means "one who plays a part". It was used in early English for those who played a part on the stage. A fitting name for those who claim to hold to certain beliefs and practices in life but in fact do not and only play at it for personal gain. However, we use this label as an accusation against leaders and other people who fail to live up to our expectations. There is a big difference between the two. One is a complete pretender, the other a fellow sojourner who fails and then is picked up to continue the journey. The unfortunate fact is that leaders fail in their walk from time to time and because they are leaders it effects many people, but they need to be restored like anyone else, not labelled and rejected. They are not complete frauds, only men and women who have been called to something greater than they are.

Jesus knew a group of leaders who were hypocrites. They were deep into the law without understanding it's heart. They were into rules and making people follow the rules without knowing the rule maker. Their purpose was control and profit. They were very much into playing a role for personal gain:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

   “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’" (Matthew 23:1-7)

It was something to be a Pharisee, to be included among these men who swore to protect and uphold the law of Moses. They were the saviours of Israel and her identity. They stood against the great Greek influence, the defenders of Jehovah worship. Perhaps they started with noble purpose but it soon became a class of men who used the law to control people. This is far different from what or who we call hypocrites today. A hypocrite is one who does not believe in what he teaches and preaches. He is a person who insists that people should act a certain way, live a certain life-style but fails to do it himself because within himself he doesn't believe it.

Today we use hypocrite as a label for anyone who tries and fails. It is easier for us to point out someone else's  faults and failings then to deal with our own. However, would we consider David a hypocrite? He failed more often then not, yet God still loved him, considered his heart precious and continued to show him grace and blessings. It was because David desired to know God and to live a life dedicated to him. Would we consider Peter a hypocrite for his denial of Jesus? After all he did deny the Son of God. Yet Jesus restored him by allowing Peter to express his heart, which was filled by a profound love for Jesus. This would also describe most of the leaders and fellow sojourners in your life. These are people with a profound love for Jesus but who have their moments of failings. If they continued in these failings and began to act the part, allowing the heart to grow cold, they would become hypocrites. God did not leave David in that condition nor did he allow Peter to be destroyed in it. God has his way of dealing with his children so that they confess their failings to him in brokenness which is where he renews and restores them.

We know that we fail in our walk from time to time. We shouldn't, but we do. This does not make us hypocrites if we are willing to to be corrected by God. Somehow we need to move away from killing the wounded in the Body of Christ and instead work with the purpose of restoration because we cannot afford to lose one person, not a single person. This means the labels need to go away and the Word of God needs to be put in place. There are people who take upon themselves the position of judge and executioner but God has called leaders for the purpose of being correctors and restorers, and he has equipped them for this task:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

If you attempt this without the anointing you could cause great damage and make a bad situation worse. There are some believers who have a little bit of knowledge in the Word and so use it as a license to kill. Those who have been called to the task understand that God is not interested in destroying a person but instead in restoring his child. As long as there is repentance there is forgiveness. When God confronted David through his prophet Nathan, David quickly fell into repentance. That was the purpose of the confrontation, to give David that opportunity to repent. It is why Jesus met Peter on the beach, to allow him to repent of his denials and to be restored in his relationship with Jesus. God was not interested in punishing or destroying, only restoring.

Let's put away the labels and walk in the love and forgiveness that Jesus demonstrated for us. Let's consider what we have been forgiven and realize that we were shown such mercies so that we would be merciful to others. Let us not become like the Pharisees, where the law became more important than the heart, and realize that God's grace means something, something incredible. We are not a people of the law but a people of grace; our salvation is based on that fact. Grace should be mixed into everything we say and do, especially in our dealings with one another. We need each other as forgivers and encouragers. If this is a struggle for you, if you have a tough time forgiving then ask God to deal with you so you do not become what you may accuse others of being. The Body of Christ, the family of God, is a great place of love and forgiveness, of correction and  restoration. Let's put the killing fields to rest.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Encouragers In The Approaching Storm: Life and Death For Some

Encouragement is an incredible thing, so powerful to change timid hearts and provoke us to great things. Each of us has the potential for great things but often the difference is the people who surround us. What are they speaking into our lives? Are they lifting us up? Are they speaking God's Word into our life? Do they realize the awesome power of God to make us more than we are? Or do they limit us with their pettiness, their need to put us down to make themselves feel good? Do they find all the little things to criticize and belittle the things we achieve? Are they failing to recognize the will and power of God in our lives? Now, let's turn the tables on that and ask ourselves, are we encouragers to the people in our lives?

I was struck by this thought last night as I was reading Psalm 45, a wedding song. It is a beautiful song but I realized it is more than that, as the encouraging words struck me. What king would not be provoked to greatness by these words:

You are the most excellent of men
   and your lips have been anointed with grace,
   since God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one;
   clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. 
In your majesty ride forth victoriously
   in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
   let your right hand achieve awesome deeds.
Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies;
   let the nations fall beneath your feet.
 (Psalm 45:2-5)

Over the years I have noted the effect words have on people, both good and bad. I am sad to say that some of those bad words were mine. What we speak into a person's life effects their heart and mind and we need to realize that it takes effort to measure our words before speaking them.

If a 5 year old child came to you with their latest drawing you would take the time to praise him for it. You would probably talk about the wonderful colours and ask him to tell you the story behind it. You would see him depart from you with such joy because of the words you spoke into him. Now imagine that same child if you had told him his drawing was babyish and you didn't have time for such garbage. We wouldn't dream of doing such a mean thing to a 5 year old but we do it to our teens, to our spouses, to our friends and to our co-workers.

The ministry of encouragement is such a vital daily ministry that requires effort and love. Some would ask how I could say it would take effort. After all, what's a few words of praise? But encouragement is so much more than praise and it requires a selfless heart. In order to encourage we must know what is going on around us, we must be aware of people and we must be willing to be involved in their lives. Encouragement is more than telling somebody they are doing a good job. It includes words that lift people out of discouragement; words of guidance that help people avoid heartache; a listening ear and an arm around the shoulder in times of darkness; it is a hand of friendship when everyone else has walked away; it is forgiveness in a sea of condemnation; it is also the applause and cheering to push someone to finish the task. Encouragers have to be the most selfless people in the world and selflessness takes effort.

I am one who strongly believes that the end times are upon us. As we see the great delusion that is falling on the hearts and minds of our neighbours, there should be little doubt that the enemy is preparing for the days ahead. Christians will be marginalized more and more. We will be referred to as the delusional ones, having some physiological problem, that we would need fairy tales to cope in this world. They will make us feel dump, stupid, uneducated, a blemish on society. They will blame us for everything that is going wrong in the world. We can't do anything about the approaching storm but we can prepare ourselves and we can become great encouragers for one another. The writer of Hebrews left us this message about these times:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

There are going to be very dark days ahead of us as the enemy fights to discourage us, attacking our faith, hacking away at our hearts and minds. That is where the real battle ground will be as the world turns its anger against our faith. Those who are weak in their faith will fall away if we who are strong are not there to encourage them. We need to grow stronger in our relationship with one another. We need to cease to be a community and become family. We are not neighbours to one another, we are brothers and sisters. The Day is approaching and we need each other to make it through. We need to be singing together, praying together, sharing from the Word to each other, standing with one another. Understand the words of encouragement you speak could make an eternal difference to someone who has yet to build the spiritual muscles you have. Don't kill the children, build them up with words of encouragement. We can't afford to lose anyone, not one person, in the storm that is upon us.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Related Article : Called To Do Something Greater Than Build Comminity

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Don't Fall Asleep Now! The Storm Of All Storms Is Approaching!

There is no doubt that hard times lay ahead for the disciples of Jesus. For  many years the Church has enjoyed freedom to worship God and serve humanity. Even if some people did not adhere to the teachings of Jesus they maintained a level of respect for those who did. However, like any segment of society, the Church's history is filled with the abuse of power by men who had no interest in faith but only in the power that they could exert over people. Much of this is now coming back in the face of the Church, which failed to deal with these abusers. But the dangerous times ahead come from many sources and people should be aware of the polarization that is happening in the world and our society at this moment.

I think most of us have seen what is happening in the news in the Islamic states of our world. People are calling for the reform of the governments and are using protests and violence to bring it about. This is a natural thing to happen in places where people feel mistreated and abused for decades. If a better government results from this we see it is a natural way that is repeating history. Some countries, such as Canada, achieved these changes by peaceful means, whereas others, such as the United States and France ended up going a more violent route. Nonetheless, in recent history we have seen that governments that are formed from such action are not necessarily better governments, as we consider Iran. That is the fear right now, that the extremist element of Islam would take a tighter grip in these places. However, there is also something else resulting from these events.

As more and more stories come across our computer screens and television sets concerning the more extreme actions of Islamic believers, all faiths are being scrutinized. There is a growing protest in the grass roots that all religion is bogus and should be done away with. More and more people are referring to the "fairy tale" stories of Jesus, calling him a fictional figure. They refer to the Bible as a collection of errant fairy tales passed down to our society, where it is now molded and used to abuse others. Any good that the Church has done in the past, from the abolition of slavery to the development of medical systems, are all being washed away by people who haven't even looked into the matter. There is a rising tide of protest against faith, with reason being lauded as the only real choice for people, as if faith-people had no reason about them at all, just a bunch of brainless fools. Is anyone else seeing this? Read Matthew 24 and understand what lies ahead for us. But this is not the reason I am writing today.

I am writing to encourage you in your faith, that no matter what happens you need to hold on to Jesus. We need to remember what our God has done in the past, what he has done for our forefathers and what he has done for us:

We have heard it with our ears, O God; 
   our ancestors have told us 
what you did in their days, 
   in days long ago. 
With your hand you drove out the nations 
   and planted our ancestors; 
you crushed the peoples 
   and made our ancestors flourish. 
It was not by their sword that they won the land, 
   nor did their arm bring them victory; 
it was your right hand, your arm, 
   and the light of your face, for you loved them. (Psalm 44:1-3)

This psalm expresses the important thing for us to remember; what has been done for us in the past was not done in our strength but by God's will. If we think we can save ourselves we are doomed to destruction. It is only when we realize that the strength we have is found in Jesus Christ. The world will call it foolishness at best, delusional and a mental illness at the worst. Is this not what Jesus taught us, that in order for us to see God we must have faith? Is this not what he constantly questioned people on, evening pondering whether he would find any faith in this world on his return? Faith is the hardest thing for people of this age to understand and even many of those who claim it don't truly understand it and so struggle to live it. Can we understand what has saved us?

It was your right hand, your arm,
     and the light of your face, for you loved them.

We need to understand who our enemy is. It is not the sinner or the secularist or the Muslim. God made it clear for us that the enemy is not found in bodily form:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

We must always remember that Jesus told us to love our enemy. So those whom the enemy works through are not our targets but instead we are against the forces that control these people. The people themselves we must love because they are the objects of our Father's affection. We are told exactly how we are to fight against this rising tide of persecution that is knocking on our door:

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:13-18)

If you have been neglecting the Word now is the time to get back into it. If you have been neglecting prayer now is the time to re-establish it. If you have allowed your relationship with Jesus to fade now is the time to return to worship with all your heart. Do not wait until the day of evil is upon you, be fitted for the battle today because it is going to be a battle over your heart and mind. We need to do as the psalmist did and declare who our God is:

You are my King and my God, 
   who decrees victories for Jacob. 

Through you we push back our enemies; 
   through your name we trample our foes. 
I put no trust in my bow, 
   my sword does not bring me victory; 
but you give us victory over our enemies, 
   you put our adversaries to shame. 
In God we make our boast all day long, 
   and we will praise your name forever. (Psalm 44:4-8)

We will soon be able to relate to this psalmist as he continues to write, expressing their confusion over God's apparent lack of help during some dark days of trials:

But now you have rejected and humbled us; 
   you no longer go out with our armies. 
You made us retreat before the enemy, 
   and our adversaries have plundered us. 
You gave us up to be devoured like sheep 
   and have scattered us among the nations. 
You sold your people for a pittance, 
   gaining nothing from their sale. (Psalm 44:9-12)

This may be our cry very shortly as we wonder how long we will have to put up with the coming storm. Our neighbours will hate us, our own children will turn against us, society will devalue us, false teachers will offer to guide us, fake messiahs will pursue us, everything we thought we had will be taken from us until we are only left with one question: do I believe?

It is good to read this Psalm because, even though the psalmist questions God about what is going on, he does not let go of his faith and trust. He knows that he cannot save himself. He knows the odds are against him. He knows the future looks very bleak but he also knows what God has done in the past. Now we must look at all of this through the lens of Jesus. God has done something greater for us than he every did for the psalmist or his forefathers. Our Father pursued us with his love, he gave his best so that we could be reconciled to him, he has pursued us to complete us not to destroy us. None of what he did was because we had any worth; he did it all because of his unfailing love. In the years to follow we must remember that he did everything he did because of his unfailing love. That was the basis of the psalmist plea for help:

Rise up and help us; 
   rescue us because of your unfailing love. (Psalm 44:26)

Jesus warned us these days were coming and many have prayed over the years that he would return for us. That day is approaching but all these other things must come with it. Jesus referred to them as birthing pains because God is birthing a new thing. After a baby is born a mother quickly forgets the pain because of the overwhelming joy and love of that baby. Paul reminds us:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

So my friends, get equipped before the day of evil hits with all its fury. Get equipped, be madly in love with Jesus and stand your ground. No matter the personal cost, do not give up the ground you have been told to occupy which is your heart and your mind. Be strong and courageous; do not be terrified or discouraged because the Lord our God is with us wherever we go! Stand firm in the faith, hope and love of Jesus!


Friday, January 28, 2011

Living / Worshiping By Spirit And Truth

I realize I may be repeating myself this morning but it is a subject worth repeating. God has given us some great means of knowing him but there is none greater than the Bible. I am not going to go all heavy on statistics and such but a simple appeal to the heart of any believer who reads this. We cannot understand the heart of God without knowing the Word of God. Despite the ongoing attacks and silly arguments by modern man to discount it, the fact remains that no one can come against the truth that the Bible is the Spirit inspired revelation of God. It is how God chose to make himself known to us in our current age. The problem is, it's interpretation cannot be unlocked unless we look at it through the lens of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit in us. This makes it hard for anyone outside of Christ to understand.

The importance of the Word and its correct interpretation can be seen in the life and ministry of Jesus. He lived his life in the frame work of the prophecies; an impossible feat for a mortal man but as natural as breathing for the Son of God. Everything he said, every dispute he handled, every temptation he faced was dealt with by the Scriptures he used. In fact, it's eventually how Jesus got the Pharisees and priests to leave him alone.

The religious leaders of Israel had been trying to find all kinds of different ways to trip up Jesus by the law. They wanted to arrest him but the arrest had to have a solid basis. The problem for them, that they did not even realize was a problem, was that Jesus is the Word of God and knew the proper way to handle it, beyond anything the leaders were capable of doing. Perhaps Jesus got tired of their games because he turned the tables on them and asked them a question:

“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42)

Seemed to be a simple enough question. No possibilities of getting this one wrong, so they answered it with confidence:

 “The son of David.”

Jesus then replied with something that they had not considered before and should have shown them how wrong they had been, if their hearts had been open to receive the truth:

“How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
   “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
   “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
   under your feet.”’
If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (Matthew 22:43-45)

The shock of this correct interpretation of the Scriptures must have moved through them as a shock wave, stunning them into silence:

No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:46)

This is the understanding we are to have, allowing us to use the Word as a sword and faith as our shield. However, we tend to be one of two types of people. The first is that we attempt to understand the Word outside of the Spirit. We read it as a history book or an instructional book. We do not understand that this is not some old document that simply tells us about God. Through the lens of Jesus it becomes a living, breathing thing that speaks directly into our lives every day. It becomes a mighty weapon that vanquishes the enemy with a single blow. It becomes the solid ground by which we keep our footing when everything else in our life turns to shifting sand.

The second type of people are those who live by the words of other people, living off of testimony and sermons and the belief that they feel the Spirit. These are the dangerous people who interpret some meaning from God in everything in their life. Much of their understanding is only whispers of the truth, with a smattering of superstition. They do not realize that the Holy Spirit will not operate outside of the Word of God and that there are other spirits at work as well. It is only by the Word that we are able to understand the direction of the Spirit. It is through the Word he speaks to us, strengthens us, encourages us, and even empowers us. Confirmation will come by other means but it is first established in the Word of God. If the Word is not the measuring rod by which we consider everything then we are a bunch of fools being tossed about by the opinions of man.

We need to keep in mind that Scripture for us is not as it was for the people before the new covenant. Scripture for us is not like it appears to the people outside of Christ. Scripture is more than words on a paper because the Spirit has now written them on our heart. They are part of us, they speak loudly to us, they change us, direct us, guide us because they are the tool of the Spirit in us. Do not attempt to live your life without the Word of God and do not attempt to live the Word without the Spirit. I am going to leave you with a quote that the writer of Hebrews used from the prophet Jeremiah. Understand the change that has taken place and understand the importance of the Word of God being found on our hearts and in our minds:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, 
   when I will make a new covenant 
with the people of Israel 
   and with the people of Judah. 
It will not be like the covenant 
   I made with their ancestors 
when I took them by the hand 
   to lead them out of Egypt, 
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, 
   and I turned away from them, 
            declares the Lord. 
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel 
   after that time, declares the Lord. 
I will put my laws in their minds 
   and write them on their hearts. 
I will be their God, 
   and they will be my people. 
No longer will they teach their neighbor, 
   or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ 
because they will all know me, 
   from the least of them to the greatest. 
For I will forgive their wickedness 
   and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:8-12)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Following Jesus Is As Complicated As 1, 2, 3

Serving God, following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus is not such a complicated thing. We complicate it. We complicate it because we try to make it an easy thing. I said it wasn't complicated, I didn't say it was easy. It is like at our school; the rules are not complicated but they are not always easy either. They can be summed up in one word: respect. If every student kept that in mind then following all the rules becomes simple, but not always easy. Relationships between some students can become a difficult thing but if respect is kept in place then no rules will be broken. It is not always possible for students to agree with everything a teacher is saying but if respect is kept in its place then things can be worked out. Now let's apply this to being a disciple of Jesus.

When Jesus was tested by the Pharisees they asked a simple question: What is the greatest commandment. A simple question that they thought would have a complicated answer. Keep in mind that the commandments had been expanded by man so now there were commandments right down to how to tie your shoe. That was a lot to choose from and I am sure their intention was to get embroiled in a large and lengthy argument, but Jesus saw what they could not. However, he could not give just one commandment because it went hand in hand with another:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Matthew 22:37-39)

Now what is equally important to realize is what Jesus stated next:

"All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:40)

You see, not complicated but not necessarily easy. Somewhat like the rules of the school, everything that God has instructed us to do, how to live, the relationships that we have are summed up in these two things. Someone might say we can sum it up in one word but I think the word 'love' has been too abused for us to leave it at that. The love God expects from us is all encompassing, all consuming, passionate and sacrificial. Jesus told us that there cannot be any half-measures about it:

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:37)

It is this depth of love that makes it possible to follow Jesus:

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

Not complicated, right? But not easy either because such love demands sacrifice from us. It demands time, effort, submitting our will, setting aside our desires, putting away our opinions. These are all difficult for our flesh to do and require us to lift Jesus up above everything else in worship, prayer and action. It is only when we realize his glory that our flesh is willing to submit. It is no different then the second part about our neighbour.

To love our neighbour as ourself requires that we understand that our neighbour is also the object of God's affection. When we realize just how much God loves us we should also realize how much he loves our neighbour and we should show our neighbour the love and respect due to an object of God's affection. He loves them just as much as he loves us so they deserve our love and respect:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

This is such an important point in our discipleship that Jesus made it clear that everyone is considered our neighbour, even our enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48) 

Not complicated, easy to understand, but requires a complete abandonment to God's love in order to live. So that is the journey we are on, learning how to love as the Father loves us, with plenty of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. God wants all of our heart not just a portion of it. He wants all of our passion. He wants us to be consumed by him because in being consumed we will be naturally obedient in all matters of the heart. Every day we learn to die a little more to ourselves and to become more alive in Jesus Christ. Not complicated unless we decide to make it so.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You Are In error Because You Do Not Know The Scriptures Or The Power Of God

It is amazing some of the crazy questions people will come up with about God just to avoid the obvious ones. People would rather discuss whether God is actually a woman, why he would allow evil in the world, and if Jesus had a beard, then to discuss the more important matters of the heart. Most atheists do not know exactly why they do not believe, they just don't believe. They look at the idea of God, listen to a few opinions and then decide, with no investigation of their own, that there is no God. What amazes me is how many people start believing after they do look into it for themselves.

Jesus had to face a group like this called the Sadducees. Although they had some concept of God they were very liberal in their thinking, becoming more of the world than anything else. They were very much opposite to the Pharisees who saw themselves as the guardians of the law of Moses. It was because the Sadducees were so liberal that the Romans found them to be the easiest to work with and so would choose the High Priest from among them. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, but it did not stop them from coming up with a ridiculous question to test Jesus.

Their question was based on a human concept and not the Word of God. They wanted to know if a woman married 7 brothers successively, after each died, whose wife would she be after she died. A crazy question to waste time and distract from the more important matters and Jesus dealt with it as such:

“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." (Matthew 22:29-30)

It is amazing how many people today have the wrong idea about the resurrection. Some believe we are all going to become angels, get little harps, wings and a fluffy cloud to sit on all day. There are those who do not understand that marriage was instituted by God for this world, not the world to come. We have crazy ideas like the Sadducees for the same reason; we "do not know the Scriptures or the power of God". But Jesus was not about to leave it there. There was a more important matter to deal with than just a silly question about marriage. He addressed one of their false beliefs:

"But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31-32)

Notice that Jesus used the Word to bring correction to their false belief. He used the Word whenever it was a question of a person straying in their understanding. In fact, Jesus used the Word all the time, revealing the depths of its truth to a people too long in the dark. He used the Word to bring greater understanding, correction, and, in the case of Satan, rebuking. Today, the first thing an atheist will dismiss is the Word of God without even looking into it themselves. They will even challenge us to prove the existence of God without the Word. I don't know about you but if Jesus never did anything without the Word, I am certainly not about to attempt it.

The Word and power of God are vital to our growth and understanding as Christians. We cannot be defenders of the faith without a growing knowledge of the Word and we cannot have a growing knowledge of the Word without the power of God, who is the Spirit. We can read the Word with limited understanding but it is when we read the Word through the Spirit that it really takes on life for us. So how do you explain that to an atheist? You can't. You can point out some fundamental errors in their thinking and then encourage them to do their own investigation but most won't.

Like many Christians, atheists really don't want to put that much effort into it. They would rather listen to other people's opinions, watch a few videos and then settle the matter in their own thinking. Theirs is not so much a belief as it is an opinion. Unfortunately many Christians are similar. Many do not look very deep into the matter of Jesus. We don't study the Word ourselves but instead watch videos, listen to popular Christian music, and form an opinion. This opinion is often based on emotions and misconceptions. Not all teachings and Christian music are based on the truth of God's Word. Both atheists and Christians should listen to Jesus' gentle rebuke: "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God."

We all need to become students of the Word so that we can be part of the solution instead of the problem. False teachings and ideas are as viral as urban myths. People just can't help forwarding warnings about FaceBook starting to charge for its services, or many the other silly things that have no basis in any form of truth. The only way to deal with such things is to educate people to the truth, one at a time. It is no different in bringing the truth of God's Word to people. Our temptation is to want to do it in one big production, but something gets lost when we do it like this. Just as Jesus did, we need to deal with the truth one person at a time but we need to make sure that we know the Word and the power of God or we are just part of the problem. Know the Word and become trained in how to handle it properly and please do not get distracted by the silly questions; go for the things that matter the most.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's Not An Easy Thing Living Here And Belonging To Jesus

It is not easy living in this world when we belong to another place. We have to be constantly aware of our environment and it's effects on us while holding on to who we are and where we belong. Sometimes the differences are subtle and we miss them and other times they are huge and scream at us. If we are not careful, if we do not keep reminding ourselves, if we do not keep our heart with Jesus, then it is easy to become re-assimilated back into this place with all its attitudes and manner of thinking. It takes a lot of effort to remember that we are different. The differences may not be what you think they are.

Don't think for a moment that we are better than people without Christ. We've made a decision to follow Jesus and we are being transformed from what we were, but we have all come from that same place of sin. What we are becoming is all about the grace of God but our flesh is still weak and we still mess up. Maybe we do not mess up as often but we still make some pretty good messes. So if the difference is not perfection it must be the way we handle our messes because of the desire of our heart. That's it there: the biggest difference is our heart, our motivation, our desire and then what results from this. Out of the heart flows authentic love which produces repentance and forgiveness. I think these are the two biggest differences, the constant willingness to admit our mess ups, to seek forgiveness and to offer forgiveness. Yet, these are the two things that you will find disciples of Christ struggling with the most, and I believe it's because we belong too much to this world instead of Jesus.

The Word encourages:

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

Jesus taught about the importance of the heart. He told us that wherever our treasure is, whatever we consider to be important and a priority, worthy of our time and effort, that is where our heart will be also. That is worth reflecting on. There are many attractive things in this world that would like to steal our heart away from the lover of our soul. Sin can be a very attractive thing but it is also a divider of the heart from God. It begins with distraction, temptation, before it becomes all consuming. Remember Eve, she was doing okay until the serpent distracted her and she looked at the fruit that became her longing. She looked before she desired which led her to touching and taking. The sin came after when she tasted. There are many things in this world that look innocent at first because the real danger is in its power to distract us, to create a longing in us before it consume us and separates us from our purpose. Set your hearts on things above.

This is easier said then done because we live here and belong with Jesus. We are subject to the rulers and laws of this place but we do not have to possess the same attitude. We have to follow the rules but we do not have to live by the same perspective. We can live by the laws of this land but we do not have to give this land our hearts. In Matthew 22 the leaders had come up with a way of trapping Jesus; they were going to drag Jesus into politics by asking him about taxes. If he said that the Jews should not pay taxes they would report him to the Romans. If he said that they should pay the hated tax to this enemy of Israel then they would lift him up as a traitor, a collaborator of Rome. It looked like a no win situation for Jesus, from the perspective of this world. But Jesus` heart did not belong to this world:

“You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
     “Caesar’s,” they replied.
   Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:18-21)

A simple matter for Jesus which left his would-be trappers speechless in the simplicity of the response. There are things we must do in this world because, while we are here, we are subject to its rules and laws. We must work, pay taxes, contribute to our society, obey the law and pay the consequences when we don`t. Jesus clearly states here that we are not above the law. But the thing we possess that does not belong to this world and belongs to God is our heart, and along with it our mind:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

This is what the enemy works so hard at robbing from God, trying to distract us with flattery, or anything he can use to get us looking elsewhere, anywhere but Jesus. It is usually subtle. Could be things that are good for us like exercise, where we start putting more time there then we do in our relationship with Jesus. It could be our favorite sitcoms, movies, friends, music, gaming, even education. These things in themselves are not bad but the real danger exists in the distraction they provide so the enemy can start working on our perspective and attitude. Anything that distracts our heart and mind from Jesus is not good because we are easily influenced. I would even dare to say that the wrong attitude toward church and worship can become a stumbling block to us, stealing away our heart from the one they are suppose to help us focus on.

So often I hear from struggling disciples of Jesus, "I don`t see him any more", or, "I don`t sense him", "I don`t know if he is real". My first question is always, what have you been doing with your time? There is nothing complicated about it, whatever you consider to be a priority is where your heart is going to be. Whatever is important to you will have your time, attention and dedication. How can you "sense" Jesus if you are not spending the time with him, if he no longer has your heart, if he is no longer your focus point? Jesus is real, present, involved, loving, compassionate and everything else we see him to be toward us but there is one missing ingredient: your heart.

It's not hard to tell if Jesus has your full attention, all of your heart and mind. Just look at your attitude. Are you a forgiving person? Is there any unforgiveness in you, any resentment, a grudge, perhaps hatred? Then Jesus does not possess your heart. Are you a repenting person? Is it easy for you to admit your sins, mistakes, when you are wrong? Is it easy for you to seek forgiveness? You do realize a repentant heart is not a one time thing but a constant condition of a heart possessed by Jesus? There is no room for stubbornness or pride; only humility. Use these two things as a check to see if your heart and mind are distracted or if they are set on Jesus. We may have to abide by the rules of this place but it does not mean we are defined by this place. We are defined by our relationship with Jesus, our Lord, Saviour and lover of our soul. It is not so easy to live here and belong to him, and we must always be aware of just how difficult it can be. The apostle Paul told us to work out our salvation daily; work at it, force your body to obey, maintain your focus, make sure that your heart and mind are set on things above and not anything of this place. We belong to Jesus.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't Mess Around With The Invitation, And Don't Misplace Your Wedding Clothes

Everyone loves a good wedding. Yesterday my wife and I received a wedding invitation  from a couple who we are just getting to know. It is an exciting time for them as they make all their preparations for that special day. Knowing the time it takes to go through the list of family and friends to decide who to invite to the celebration, we consider it an honour to receive an invitation. But imagine how a couple would feel if no one agreed to celebrate with them; if all the guests refused the invitation. This is the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 22.

He likened that moment in history as a wedding preparation period. God was sending out the invitations to his immediate family but the immediate family refused the invitation and even abused the messengers. This was a clear referral to the many times the Jews had rejected the intimate relationship God had called them to. It was not just a nation he had grown, they had become like his children and like any father he longed for intimacy with his children. But they were a rebellious bunch, always focused on themselves, doing what they wanted to do. So when God sent the prophets to them, his people rejected them and even killed some of them. Jesus reminded the leaders of this history through this parable.

Jesus gave more then a history lesson here; he also served notice that a change was coming. God would no longer be exclusive with his family. He intended to have intimacy with his creation so now he was throwing the doors open to everyone, sending invitations out to the rest of the world:

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:8-10)

We are not told how the priests and Pharisees responded to this parable but we can imagine it would not have been received well. They had this notion that they were secure with God simply because of their bloodline to Abraham. However, after all these centuries of disobedience, God was no longer interested in bloodlines, he was looking for a people who would obey out of love. We should be careful to take note here, those of us who rely on their heritage instead of their relationship. Our God is not interested in family histories and traditions; he has invited us into an intimate, personal relationship with him. It is his longing and desire for us, yet we would rather keep him at a distance by relying on traditions and ceremonies and keeping time for him reserved for an hour on Sundays. This is where we find the warning Jesus gave for the likes of us.

Even though we have all been invited to this incredible relationship with the invitation we find in John 3:16, there are still requirements. None of us would dream of arriving at a wedding in our jeans unless the invitation indicated such attire would be accepted. Everyone has a certain suit or dress that they set aside for such formal occasions. With our invitation from God there is a certain requirement for acceptance. The only way that we can accept the invitation is through Jesus Christ:

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 22:11-13)

Jesus Christ is our wedding clothes. The only way we get in is by clothing ourselves in his righteousness and we do that by accepting his sacrifice of blood on the cross. Regardless of what Oprah or many people are saying, there are not multiple paths of truth. These people march through a very wide gate that is leading to eternal destruction. Jesus is leading us through the narrow gate that many people refuse to accept. It is the reason he ends his parable with:

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

For the disciples of Jesus Christ there can be no one more important than Jesus. He is everything to us. He is not an historical figure, good guy, man of love. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end for us. Our desire is greater intimacy, to know him better, to be like him, to serve him with our entire being. There is no mistaking what he said concerning himself:

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

There is no possible way to misinterpret these words, to twist them or excuse them away. There is only one way into the wedding and his name is Jesus. Good works will not do it, or living a good life, or long prayers, or dressing right, or talking right or any other thing we may try to do to earn our way in. There is no earning our way because we don't belong there in the first place. It doesn't matter how good you have been since you accepted Jesus, if you no longer have a relationship with him, if he is no longer Lord of your life, the forgiver of your sin, the conquerer of your death, then you will not be able to get into the wedding. We all come from that same place:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24) 

None of us merit the invitation or the wedding clothes but they are ours for the taking. Our invitation and our attendance is always only by the grace of God. It doesn't matter who you are in life or what you have done, Jesus Christ covers anyone who accepts the invitation. This is the reason we honour him with our lives, why we worship him with all our energy, why we trust him for deliverance. He does not give as the world gives, and he does not love as the world loves, he does not forgive as the world forgives. He's awesome.

Check yourself. Check to make sure you have accepted the invitation; it is going to be quite the party. Also check to make sure that you have not lost your wedding clothes under the pile of life. Make sure you are still covered, that the relationship you have is strong and growing stronger, that the things of this world have not robbed you of the greatest treasure in this world and in the world to come.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The World May Tell You Otherwise But, You Are Forgiven!

There are a lot of things a person can suffer from but the worse things have to be guilt and regret. We can feel guilt for a lot of things in our life, for things we have done and for things people think we have done. It is a shame when we do this because Jesus died so that we would not have to suffer for our sins. He came not only to transform us so that we could be free from the chains of our sinful nature but also to wipe away the sins of our past. This is a hard thing for some people because they have gotten so familiar with these feelings of guilt it has become part of who they are. Some even think they deserve to suffer, as if it is some kind of penance for their sin. I was reflecting on this last night, provoked by David's petition in Psalm 38.

For many years I had problems with David; I didn't like him very much. He was a man of many sins and mistakes and I could not understand why people lifted him up so much. It is only with maturity that we are able to move past the idea of perfection and realize that what God is really looking for is a heart that longs for him. David longed to do the right thing, he was passionate about God, and his heart's desire was to serve God with all of his life. David's problem was that he kept getting in the way of that. Sound familiar? What we find in Psalm 38 is a truly accurate portrait of a soul tormented by guilt:

Your arrows have pierced me,
   and your hand has come down on me.
Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
   there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
My guilt has overwhelmed me
   like a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and are loathsome
   because of my sinful folly.
I am bowed down and brought very low;
   all day long I go about mourning.
My back is filled with searing pain;
   there is no health in my body.
I am feeble and utterly crushed;
   I groan in anguish of heart.
(Psalm 38:2-8)

Now if we stay in this place in our shared experience with David it is a shame because we have something David did not have. This is the thing we need to keep in mind when we read the Psalms and other parts of the Old Testament; they did not have Jesus Christ. There is great value in studying the Old Testament because God's heart is revealed in it. Grace is not a new thing and we discover it has always been part of God's character as we read through the Old Testament. What is new for us is the blood of the Lamb which cleans us completely from all our sin:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:7-8)

Now we are a vengeful people who believe that there is a price to pay for every sin. If someone does something to us we want some recognition of that fact and we want something done about it. So, when we do something to someone we put the same condition upon ourself and feel guilty even after we have paid the price. So it is hard for us to consider that this forgiveness from God is free, that it is already paid for and wipes every sin away. We struggle because it came with no cost to ourselves:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24) 

See the big word there, "freely"? It did not cost us anything because Jesus took the full cost on himself. We do not deserve forgiveness, to be made as if we had never sinned, but this is why it is called grace. The amazing thing is how we receive this grace:

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.  (Romans 3:25)

By faith! Do you understand what this means? We are told that Abraham was the father of this faith because God gave Abraham a promise that looked impossible in the flesh but Abraham chose to believe God and acted upon that faith. The receiving of God's grace, the forgiveness of our sins, the removal of our guilt, works in the same manner. It looks impossible to our flesh but we have to choose to believe and act upon that faith. We have to trust God in this promise and as we do he calls us righteous:

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. (John 3:16)

The hardest part for us is trusting, believing, receiving in faith because it goes against our nature and the nature of this world. In fact, we have two things persistently working against our faith. The first is Satan who is constantly whispering in our ear the same thing he whispered in Eve's, "Did God really say ...", just to plague us with doubt so he can work on weakening us with fear and anxiety. This is what leaves us in the condition that David found himself in, because our trust in God is weak. The enemy will be there to constantly remind us of our past, of our sin, of our offenses against God and man, even though he is the one who stirred that sin up in us in the first place. He is there to make sure we fall and he is there to accuse us of it. Here is the thing to remember: he's nothing compared to Jesus.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

The second thing going against us is the world that operates under a different system. The world does not forgive; the world exacts revenge. The world does not understand forgiveness and grace; it understands punishment. The world uses labels and refuses to forget your past and, like it's false prince, will constantly remind you of your sin. Sometimes it takes more faith to know you are forgiven then it does to trust Jesus with tomorrow. The world would see us suffer in our guilt like David but again, the world is nothing compared to Jesus:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Faith is everything. Without faith we cannot receive God's grace, we cannot see God. If you are suffering as David described then you are doubting the promises of Jesus and your faith is weak. Anyone can trust God to meet their financial needs, to provide direction in life, to fill their mouths with the words to speak but it takes authentic faith to believe you are forgiven. Jesus does not leave us in that terrible state of guilt. His forgiveness is complete and our offenses will never be brought up against us any more. His forgiveness brings peace to those who trust him:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

Now check this out:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Guilt does not belong to the redeemed in Christ. Our experience is not the same as David's. It can be if we decide not to trust. It can be if we listen to the lying whispers of Satan who is out to destroy our faith. It can be if we see ourselves governed by this fallen world instead of the principles of the Kingdom. There is no need for sleepless nights when you confess your sins to Jesus. No matter what they are, when we come to him believing he forgives and makes us pure again, they are removed from us and we are left with peace. If we do not have peace then we need to look to our faith to see if it is genuine. Many times the enemy will come against us, the world will accuse us and God will use it to refine our faith, making us look deeper into him, to hold on in desperation, to proclaim his glory. Regardless of the whispers of the enemy and the accusations of this world, you are pure and innocent because the blood of the Lamb has proclaimed you cleansed.  We are forgiven!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Spiritual Truth That Prevents Baking Disasters

There was a little girl who loved to bake. Every Saturday morning she and her mommy would be the first ones up in the morning so they could get an early start on their baking. She knew where all the baking materials were so she would get them out while her mother took out all the baking ingredients. They would measure everything carefully, making sure everything was mixed well, double checking their measurements. As one thing went into the oven they would start on the next batch. They would do this all morning until they had enough baked goods for the week. One Saturday her mommy was too sick to do any baking so while her mommy slept the little girl decided that she would do all the baking herself. She took out all the materials and then started looking for the ingredients. Confident that she had it all she began her work. It didn't take long for disaster to hit, as she added wrong ingredients, made wrong measurements, set the oven on the wrong temperature. She soon realized that the main ingredient to her baking success was her mommy.

Just a story to convey a spiritual truth that is often hard for us to grasp: although we are to walk in righteousness and we are called righteous, we have no righteousness of our own. In other words, although we are to live free from the guilt of sin, and we are called guiltless, this is only true because our Father has declared it. We are only children, imperfect in every way. We are told to pursue holiness but it is just like the little girl who loved to cook. She knew how to go through all the motions but without her mother beside her, making sure everything was measured properly and that all the proper ingredients were added, her efforts ended in disaster.

Sometimes we hear the words of our Father through the Bible but limit our understanding. We hear him call us righteous but that is because of our relationship not because we are capable of producing any righteousness in ourselves. After we have been walking with the Lord for a while it is easy for us to fall into the trap of relying on our own "right" living and letting go of our dependence on God's righteousness. We start believing in our actions instead of the relationship. Self-righteousness sneaks up on us and leads us into religious thinking so that when disaster strikes, and it will, the illusion of our righteousness falls away and we are left confused and lost. We are left with a whole bunch of useless baking.

The problem is that we can slip into this self-deception while still believing that we are relying on God's righteousness. We can go for years thinking that we are okay, that we are growing closer to God, that we are reliant on him, all while we are growing further away and heading for a terrible fall. A right relationship with God is when we are open and honest about who we are, our condition without him and our need for repentance and forgiveness. In such a relationship we are able to mature but never become independent. Jesus is able to keep us from sin but we will never be strong enough on our own. Righteousness is declared over us when we believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, when we recognize that only he is the source of our strength and salvation. Then our ways become acceptable to our Father as he examines our heart and forgives our actions. One of the psalms reads:

If the LORD delights in a man’s way, 
   he makes his steps firm; 
though he stumble, he will not fall, 
   for the LORD upholds him with his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24)

The first line describes the good relationship we need to have with God. The second line tells us who is measuring the ingredients and making it right, the third tells us that we may make mistakes but it will not end in disaster, and fourth tells us why; because God is actually in control. We are going to sin. We are going to stumble. We are going to make mistakes. Not understanding that it is more about the heart, about relationship then it is about action will lead us to despair instead of repentance when we fail. Read that again, in fact, allow me type it again: Not understanding that it is more about the heart, about relationship then it is about action will lead us to despair instead of repentance when we fail.

This can be a struggle to understand because we can go too far in trusting our actions and we can go too far in grace. We cannot use grace as an excuse to sin. It is always a matter of the heart. What is the desire of your heart? What is your motivation? John writes:

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)

Our responsibility is to walk in the relationship and God adds all the ingredients of love, forgiveness, grace, mercy. It must be an open and honest relationship, where we do not try to hide our sin but we confess it. We own our mistakes and repent of them. And we will make mistakes, we will sin because we are not righteous of ourselves but only because of Jesus Christ. Me makes us righteous:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

We can't allow ourselves to believe we can do it on our own. We cannot do the baking without Jesus Christ. When we mess up the ingredients it should be natural for us to tell Jesus. When we get confused over the instructions it should not be a hard thing to ask to be rescued. We need to have more than belief in God, we need to have faith in the relationship and the promises that are part of it. We have to wake up and join in the baking but understanding that the real ingredient is Jesus. The verse that best sums it all up for me is found in 1 John 2:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1)

If you can understand this then you will be able to live in the joy and peace of the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. If you are becoming dependent on your actions, on your own righteousness then you will constantly fight against guilt and your peace will always be disturbed. Faith is more than trusting God will help in the hard times, it is also living this beautiful relationship every day of our life. Don't attempt any baking today without the main ingredient of your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Facing The End Of My Rope

I think most of us go through our day without realizing the responsibility we have been given. It's a pretty big responsibility and we are the second group of people it has been given to; the first group failed. Some people never realize they have this responsibility and others forget over a period of time. The problem is we are going to have to give an account for what we did with it and there are going to be a lot of people surprised by it. Our responsibility is to live in such a manner that God is able to reveal himself to others through us, no matter what we do in life, and no matter what kind of day we are having.

It was the reason God grew Israel into his nation, to be his people, to be a priesthood to the world, a people through whom God would reveal his glory. This did not mean a golden state where everything was perfect and the people grew fat and lazy. It meant a people completely dedicated to God, honouring him in everything they did so the world could see they were different because they belong to God. It meant that when the enemy attacked they did not fight back but instead took it to God who would decide what they would do. Sometimes small army's fought big battles and won. Other times they didn't fight at all but instead were instructed to sing and watch, and they won. Sometimes the battle was over even before their army could get there. There were battles but they always belonged to the Lord, and he was the strength of this nation. The world could see that the God of Israel was greater than any idols they possessed and they quaked in their boots, but that was not God's intent. He wanted the whole world to know him and return to him.

That's the hard thing about serving God, we have to stand in the face of diversity and demonstrate to the world that our faith and relationship with Jesus will never waver. Remember Daniel and his run-in with the lions. God could have saved him from that situation but he used Daniel's words of faith and trust in God to convict the king's heart. When Daniel emerged in the morning the king announced that there was no God like Daniel's God and worshiped. But God's nation of priests forgot their responsibility and let go of God. They would never be the same again. To this day they are not what they once were. So there had to be a change, and Jesus explained this change to the priests and the Pharisees at the temple.

Jesus gave them a parable about a landowner renting out some farming property for a share of the harvest. However, when he sent servant's to collect his share they were beaten up. Eventually he sent his son but they killed him too. Then Jesus made his parable very clear to those who were listening:

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit." (Matthew 21:43)

After his resurrection, Jesus ascended to the Father and soon after sent the Holy Spirit upon his followers and a new nation was born. It would grow to include people from every race, nation, and language in the world. The diversity of this nation is breathtaking. The Word says:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

A holy nation, a people belonging to God, who have the same responsibility as what Israel had: to declare the praises of God. We are a people who belong to him, and we have a purpose. We are the salt and light in this world and that must always be our highest priority. Higher than any personal stuff we may have going on is the priority to allow God to reveal his glory to the world through us. As for the personal stuff, Jesus told us that if our priority remains the Kingdom then our Father would look after everything else. This is so important because this is where Israel failed.

Israel became like a spoiled child, not willing to be obedient in their purpose. They became more concerned about themselves and let go of God more and more. The division of the kingdom and the start of idol worship in the northern half were all the selfish act of one man, but the entire nation followed. The zeal and passion for God was forgotten. His goodness and mercies were set aside. All that he had done for his people was treated as nothing. He corrected them as any father would a spoiled child but Israel never recaptured that incredible relationship they had. The spiritually strongest generation was the one that emerged from 40 years in the desert because the adversity had forced them to depend on God.

I don't know about you but I have only had mild cases of dependency on God and it has caused my zeal and passion to dim. Sometimes I make it through a whole day without even thinking about his goodness and mercies. I am beginning to forget my purpose, or, I should say I was. At the moment I am facing a great deal of adversity and it has woken me up like a bucket of cold water dumped over my head. I now have to wrestle my flesh so it goes down and the spirit-man in me rises up to praise the Lord. This will either strengthen or destroy my relationship with God and, as far as I am determined, this will be used to catapult me to a higher relationship of trust and praise with my God. I have become keenly aware of how I have set aside my responsibility as a member of this nation, to pursue personal interests. My desire now is that God will reveal his glory, grace and mercy as I stand in faith while the adversity surrounds me. What kind of God would be portrayed through me if I did not stand in the storm?

Faith is useless if it is only good for perfect days. We are useless to God if we are nation filled with people who do not know how to stand in faith in the storms. We have lost our understanding of our responsibility if we cannot see what God is doing through us in these times. We pray that God will reveal himself to the world without understanding what it will cost us. Jesus told us it will cost, he never hid that fact from us. So, as a holy nation from every tribe of the world, we need to listen to the instruction of the Word when it comes to an effective witness:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:12-13)

In most cases there is nothing we can do to prevent the storm. All that is left for us to do is sing, dance, trust, pray and wait for the Lord. It is as we do this the world looks on us in wonder. It is when our God saves us through his strength that they realize how mighty he is :

We wait in hope for the LORD; 
   he is our help and our shield. 
In him our hearts rejoice, 
   for we trust in his holy name. 
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, 
   even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)