Monday, February 28, 2011

Why People Reject Jesus Christ!

People don't make any sense or perhaps they do. I guess they make perfect sense if we look at it from our selfish nature, our need to get the best for ourselves. I have many conversations with people about Jesus, the Bible and what they are willing to accept and it shouldn't surprise me that they only want the bits that feel good. It seems we are in the business of designing a god after our own liking, always leaving the uncomfortable bits off. If we aren't going to own up to the fact that we are contrary to God at the heart of our nature then there is no possible way that we are going to be willing to look at the uncomfortable bits in the Bible; the bits that tell us that we have fallen short of the glory of God.

Nobody wants to hear that they are wrong and nobody wants to face the reality of what we are before our holy God. He is perfection and we are imperfection. He is holy and we are not. He is love and we haven't even begun to understand what love is. God is far more than I could ever express in a million words and we can be described in two words - messed up. But we don't want to hear it, face it or even consider it. We shut down our thinking process and we throw up ridiculous arguments that don't make any sense. When we are faced with the wonderful logic of our God, with his impossible love, with his unending forgiveness, our circuit breaker goes off and we yell to drown him out. You don't believe me? What a shock! ;-) Then consider Jesus' trial.

Pilate had questioned Jesus and found nothing to charge him with but because of the political situation in Jerusalem Pilate could not simply let him go. Although he was the Roman governor the Jews were a pain in the neck. It is possible that he had orders to keep the peace and if he did not then there would be consequences. Could there have been worse places to be posted as a governor? So he had to find a way to release Jesus without taking any of the blame. He settled on the tradition of releasing one prisoner as a Passover offering. He settled on giving the people the choice of Barabbas or Jesus. He probably figured it was a safe bet; a choice between a murderer and a peaceful teacher and miracle worker. How little Pilate understood.

We are told the priests and elders were in the crowd stirring the people against Jesus and once a crowd starts moving in a certain direction there is no stopping it. Look at the illogic of it:

“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” (Matthew 27:21-23)

Can you hear the bewilderment in Pilate's question of why? Was there any logical argument? None whatsoever because none existed. The crowd had no reason to demand the blood of this prophet, this miracle worker, this profound teacher of the holy Scriptures, and yet yell for it they did. The reason the priests and elders wanted him dead was because Jesus was perceived as a threat to the order of their life. He was an authority they did not understand and that they could not control. They wanted the ability to continue to live in their own comfortable ways.

It is no different for people today; they want to be able to do what they want to do. They do not want to consider for a moment that what they want to do is separating them from our heavenly Father and being separated from him at judgement is not going to be a good thing. The vast majority of people would rather deny his existence then face the consequences of their nature. Those that do acknowledge his existence only want to accept the bits that will allow them to continue in their comfort. But here's the thing, that comfort is also know as sin and sin only has one outcome, "For the wages of sin is death".

We have to accept the uncomfortable bits before we can dive into the good stuff and there is lots of good stuff, because our Father loves us:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

In order for us to understand the magnitude of what Jesus has done for us we must first recognize and confess all the bad bits in us, sin and the ugliness it creates. Then, when his light shines on us we are able to realize the great gift he has held out to us:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Yet, so many people stand in the dark, yelling their illogic that God does not exist. They don't want him to exist because they do not want to be honest about their condition. They will criticize the messengers of God's Word of love and will even hate them for it as a way to fortify their own position. They will call us ugly, prejudiced, unloving, uncaring, hurtful all so that they can keep lying to themselves. Crucify him! Get him out of our comfortable lives! He is making me feel bad. Away with him! They don't want to hear from the Word. They deny it's authority. They make their feelings, their thoughts, their opinions king over everything else.

The facts are, God created us in his perfection and we messed it up by introducing sin to his perfect creation. Sin trapped us and enslaved us and has kept us enslaved for thousands of years. Sin has turned us into vial, ugly creatures that live contrary to the perfection of God. However, our Father loved us too much to see us destroyed so he did what we could not do for ourselves through Jesus. It was by his love and sacrifice that he opened the door for our reconciliation with him. Even though we were lost in rebellion he still gave his all to win us back to him. His great desire is for everyone to be reconciled to him and it begins when we are honest with ourselves about our condition.

So don't be put off when your children, your parents, your friends, your co-workers and your neighbours reject Jesus Christ. Don't be put off by their illogical arguments and shouting. Don't be put off when all they want to do is avoid you. The Spirit has a way of opening the door. Keep at it. Keep shining that light of truth. Keep persisting even in the blast of their illogic. It is a matter of life and death so don't give up! God hasn't.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Allow Me To Ask You For The Third Week: Why Are You Going To Church?

So , we are all getting ready to go to Church to worship the Lord Jesus Christ who gave up everything so that we could be reconciled with the Father. How's your heart? Are you ready to engage with all our brothers and sisters? Are you ready to pray for a world on fire with sin and death? Are you prepared to pray for your enemies? I wonder. We may not think of ourselves as religious, or exclusive, or even as a sinner but often times we are. We stick to what we are familiar with and are often judgemental of the rest. Perhaps you don't feel it but this separates us from the one we claim to love with our entire being and the one for whom we are leaving our homes to worship this morning.

The psalmist certainly realized his sin when he allowed the actions of other people to separate him from the God of all things. A heart that is filled with bitterness, hatred, jealousy, even just a little bit, is a barrier to the love, joy and peace of Jesus:

Surely God is good to Israel,
   to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
   I had nearly lost my foothold. 
For I envied the arrogant
   when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
(Psalm 73:1-3)

A slippery place indeed because it is never solid ground on which we stand when he take our eyes off of Jesus and look around us. It can cause us to be puffed up, thinking more highly of ourselves and allowing it to become a barrier between us and God. We are no different then the people around us except for the one important fact that we have accepted God's grace. But it can also cause us to become envious, even jealous. Look at what this psalmist was looking at:

From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
   the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
   in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
   and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
   and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, “How can God know?
   Does the Most High have knowledge?”
This is what the wicked are like—
   always carefree, they increase in wealth.
(Psalm 73:7-12)

Whoa! Do you see that? He has actually becoming jealous of them, of their supposed freedom. He is envying them and look what it lead to:

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; 
   in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. 
All day long I have been plagued; 
   I have been punished every morning. (Psalm 73:13-14) 

Wow, that really is slippery ground to be standing on yet most of us end up there at one time or another, especially if you are young. We look at the time we are spending, investing in our relationship with Jesus. We could put that to better use watching TV, going out with friends, doing what we want to do. Are we just wasting our time? Yes, if that is all it is to you. If it is just a religious engagement, just activities void of purpose, something that everyone else does, then yes, you are wasting your time. If this is your attitude, the only way it can be corrected is if you are renewed in that relationship, renewed in the Spirit, renewed in purpose. Look at why the psalmist says he ALMOST slipped:

When I tried to understand all this, 
   it was oppressive to me 
till I entered the sanctuary of God; 
   then I understood their final destiny. (Psalm 73:16-17)

It is amazing how perspectives are changed after spending time with Jesus. The lost are never to be envied and we should never be jealous of them and they should never be the source of bitterness which causes a barrier in us, because their final destination is eternal death:

Surely you place them on slippery ground; 
   you cast them down to ruin. 
How suddenly are they destroyed, 
   completely swept away by terrors! 
As a dream when one awakes, 
   so when you arise, O Lord, 
   you will despise them as fantasies. (Psalm 73:18-20)

But being in the presence of Jesus does more than just open our eyes to the plight of the lost around us, it also reminds us who Jesus is for us:

Whom have I in heaven but you? 
   And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 
My flesh and my heart may fail, 
   but God is the strength of my heart 
   and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)

The difference in this psalm and in our understanding of God's plan is Jesus Christ. We do not celebrate the destruction of sinners but instead we partner with Jesus to fight for them. Because of Jesus we have realized the Father's love for everyone and our purpose is to be engaged with sinners so that they will know Jesus and be reconciled with the Father.

As we head off to Church today we do so because we need to be renewed in our love for Jesus and in our purpose in this world. We need to be reminded of his love so that love will compel us to press on in the battle we have been called to. In worship we are reminded of God's glory, power and love so that our tiny problems are put into perspective. This ensures that we will not be overwhelmed in the battle but instead will stand victorious with Jesus. Look to your heart this morning and do not allow anything to remain that would become a barrier to his great love. It is not about church and church activities; it has always been and will always be about relationships. Love the Lord your God with your entire being and love your neighbour as yourself.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Are You The Real Thing and How Do You Know?

So, we say that we are Christians, that we are followers/disciples of Jesus Christ. Do we have proof? I'm serious! Is our life lived in such a manner that people know? Perhaps a few people will put up the argument that the Kingdom of God is a heart matter and that we can't judge a person's relationship with the Lord by their actions; we can't judge a man's heart. These people are right to a point but we aren't talking about other people, we are talking about ourselves. The Kingdom of God is about the heart but the heart is also the root of what we do. Jesus taught:

“What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:20-23)

This is the reason Jesus spent much of his teaching on the necessity for the heart to be changed, however, we cannot change our heart. We need God to transform our heart and if there is no transformation we have only conformed our behaviour in an attempt to appear like a Christian. This is not necessarily our fault when you take a moment and listen to much of the teaching and preaching in the Church today. Much of it is about how we need to change, how we need to behave, how we need to love; it sounds like any number of self-help seminars going on in town. We are forgetting to preach and teach that these actions are the fruit of a transformed heart and only the power of Jesus Christ can transform the heart. This is the reason we need to be honest with ourselves.

Consider the last month; how was your behaviour in moments of stress? I don't want us to consider when the circumstances are perfect in our lives but instead when the heat is on. It is in the difficult moments that a person's true character reveals itself and it may even be a surprise to that person when it happens. We can think we are well saved according to the preaching we hear every Sunday but the reality could be that we are conformists instead of disciples. It is better to be honest now then lost later. It is the reason why so many people fall away, because they conformed their behaviour instead of being transformed by the blood of Jesus.

Do we handle stress by lashing out at people? Do we become violent in our anger? Do we end up yelling at people in our disappointments? Do we feel hatred toward people who don't do what we want them to do? When we need to deal with someone's inappropriate behaviour do we become nasty, saying mean things, tearing them down? Do we become a negative person when things don't go according to our expectations? Do we quit instead of push through? Let's be honest here, this is not the behaviour of Jesus and it is not the behaviour of a transformed heart.

Now don't let me get you confused here. It is possible to slip occasionally; I am not teaching perfection here. However, another sign of a transformed heart is one that quickly senses the conviction of the Spirit and humbles itself to apologize. Humility and repentance are huge ingredients to a disciples heart, a heart that is possessed by and for Jesus Christ. The biggest ingredient is love, which is what compels us to do what we do, even to apologize when we are wrong. Apologizing is second nature for a follower of Jesus because we recognize that life is all about our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. The Word and our heart are clear on this matter that if we do not have love for a brother then we do not love God.

We know the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

But we cannot produce this in ourselves; we cannot conform our behaviour to mimic this actions. The fruit can only be produced by the Spirit because we are compelled by Jesus' love for us. Love produces the desire to be like Jesus and that desire allows us to be submitted to the training of the Spirit. However, failure does not make us an actor or without Jesus. Failure to get back up, failure to apologize, failure to repent should be a huge warning sign that we don't have it right with Jesus.

There is a difference in those who follow Jesus Christ. It is a natural difference that comes from the sweetness of Jesus in us. It's source is from being loved and it is that love that produces love in us. It is easy to love others and see the fruit of the Spirit in us when we are convinced that we are loved by God the Father. It is a good and honest thing to check your heart by examining the motivation of your behaviour. The world needs the real thing and they need to see it today.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Am Convinced That We Have Forgotten The Message And Ministry Of Reconciliation

The Body of Christ is a place of forgiveness, restoration and reformation but what do we do when people stop listening? There is nothing worse than a person burdened by deep remorse and nowhere to turn for help. We have all been there, in the darkness of the despair of our past sins, overwhelmed by regret and a great desire to do something to make up for our words and our actions. But there are times when there is nothing we can do to make up for what we have done, no words to speak other than "I am sorry", no actions that could possibly express the anguish of our soul. It is a dark and ugly place to find yourself and we long for some relief. The psalmist expressed it like this:

When I kept silent, 
   my bones wasted away 
   through my groaning all day long. 
For day and night 
   your hand was heavy upon me; 
my strength was sapped 
   as in the heat of summer. (Psalm 32:3-4)

Yet, when the psalmist realized that there was someone he could turn to, someone he could trust, someone who knew and accepted him, he discovered a great release:

Then I acknowledged my sin to you 
   and did not cover up my iniquity. 
I said, “I will confess 
   my transgressions to the LORD”— 
and you forgave 
   the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)

Understand that this was before Jesus Christ, so if the psalmist could understand this then how much more should we understand and be able to share this great news with others. Unfortunately, the Church seems to have forgotten the core of the message, which is reconciliation of man to God. The first step in reconciliation is the acknowledgement of our wrong followed by forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the center of everything we do in the Body and yet it is what we are so terrible at doing. We end up failing to bring relief to people with the good news of Jesus, and instead leave them in a similar condition to Judas.

Jesus had just been condemned and now they were working out how they could bring the Romans to understand why this man needed to die. This was all thanks to Judas' betrayal. But Judas didn't want Jesus to die and was immediately filled with regret for his actions. It didn't turn out like he thought it would and now he wanted to find relief for his remorse:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. (Matthew 27:3)

He tried to undo what he had done, or at least his part in it. Then he confessed his sin to ears that would not receive it:

I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:4)

The chief priests and the elders had no direction, no words of comfort, no pity or sympathy, no talk of seeking God's forgiveness. There was absolutely no concern, compassion or love; no relief for this remorse that overwhelmed him.

Unfortunately Judas confessed to the wrong person. If he had sought Jesus and even from afar had expressed his sin, he would have found forgiveness in Jesus. He would have found restoration as Peter did later. But Judas did not turn to Jesus, he sought relief from the only option he thought was left to him and hanged himself. How like so many people lost in the darkness of their sins today, having no place to turn to for relief. They turn to the world and the world offers little comfort, only distractions and false promises. Councillors tell them to find someone else to blame so they never have to face the reality of their actions. Friends tell them to forget it and get on with life. The world says set it aside and come and play. It is never dealt with, never confessed, never forgiven and so it slowly eats away at us in the dark place, where no one can see.

Do they find anything different in the Church or are we not able to see the person past the sin? The chief priests and the elders did not have time for the wretched, tragic figure of Judas. Do we? Do we care that there are billions of people lost in the darkness of their sin, countless millions who are being eaten away by remorse, who can imagine no other relief but death? We are so caught up in people's actions that we forget that Jesus came after the heart of man. Once the heart has been taken care of the actions will change. Jesus came to allow man to be reconciled to God even though man is a wretched creature at best. Have we forgotten this?

As the Body of Christ we are not suppose to see people as the world does because we have been given a new perspective because of our transformed hearts:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) 

This must be central to every church's and Christian ministry's mission statement. The power of reconciliation changes hearts, causes a new creation, that what a person was is no more and they have become new. This we must believe for every single person regardless of their sins and actions so that when they turn to us we know we have the answer for their remorse. Now pay attention to this my brothers and sisters:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

He gave us the ministry of reconciliation, the message of reconciliation so that those who are drowning in the hopelessness of their remorse would be saved and brought into an excellent relationship with God. But what are we doing with this message? Honestly, what are we doing? Are we those who condemn and enjoy it, wanting to see sinners suffer for their injustices, or are we those who realize that God loves the worst of sinners and rebirth is found in the forgiveness of Jesus? Reconciliation is the ministry and message of the Church:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

We are here for the Judas' and Peter's of our age. We are here for those locked away in prison and for those who are locked away in the prison of their own heart. We need to be engaged with the sinners of this world, not separated from them. We do not engage in their sinful activity but we have to be close enough that when they are convicted, when remorse overwhelms their soul, we have the message of reconciliation to share with them, but we have to believe it ourselves. We have to be absolutely convinced of it so that we would never cause a Judas to turn away from Jesus. Instead, we must take them by the hand, lead them to the foot of the cross, and introduce them to the one who offers them a new creation. Thank you Jesus for loving me enough to forgive me for my sins and for giving me a new heart so that sin would never control me again. May the ministry and message of reconciliation burn deep in my heart and may your Church return to her purpose.

The world is desperately waiting to hear this good news.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

You Have Faith For Today, But Will You Have Faith For Tomorrow?

Each of us has the potential to deny Jesus Christ. Perhaps that shocks you, but many of us are untested in our faith, never having been put into a situation where declaring Jesus could cost us our lives. This is happening daily around the world but seldom in North America, so we are good at playing the life of faith but can we do the real thing? Most of us continue to think that faith is no more than trusting God's provision to help us put food on the table and to pay bills for which we have no money. There is no denying that this too is a form of faith but our depth has to be greater than food and bills. Too many of us live in our own strength with Jesus on the side where we only call on him during the tough moments. We don't think we do but we do:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Understand, this is not hope as the world understands hope, a longing for something that there is a chance you won't receive, but instead a hope that is certain, of which we know we are guaranteed, that we lean on and put our trust in. So much so that when it comes down to choice we know the reality is that we have no choice because we are sticking to the one thing we are certain of receiving. We know that even if every single thing was stripped away from us and the world was turned upside down, we would still have Jesus, and that is all we need. But we are also capable of being traitors to our own faith.

We have to be very careful that our faith is not born out of our own determination and our own strength because that is not real faith but self-ability. We are capable people and when we put our mind to it we can overcome most things. This is why we should not despise the testing of our faith, when we are put into situations that are beyond us, taking us to the point of breaking. It is better to have our faith tested here then to find out that our faith is useless as we are standing before Jesus. There is no way we want to find out on that day that our faith is counterfeit. We may be praising Jesus today in the sunshine but will we be praising him tomorrow in the rain. Peter thought he was stronger than he was, but Jesus knew the truth of his heart:

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matthew 26:33-35) 

Mere hours later we find Peter doing exactly what he said he would not do:

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. (Matthew 26:69-70)

Peter was lost, scared, alone and just trying to survive. The determination he had spoken before was real in the moment but he could never have imagined it would be like this. His whole world was gone, all his expectations were shattered, three years of his life just turned to smoke. All he had left was his life and now that seemed to be under threat. This was not just a casual denial, it intensified as it went along:

Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:71-72)

With an oath this time. He was really scared. Jesus was no longer there to fill him with courage. As long as Jesus was around he felt special, strong, overjoyed. But now Jesus was hidden away and Peter did not know if he would ever see him again. Now he was under attack and if this crowd could verify that he was indeed a disciple of Jesus he might just lose his life too; "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you."

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.”
Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:73-74)

Calling down curses on himself and swearing that his lies were the truth. Peter had slipped back into his old ways. It had only taken a few hours to go from defender of his faith to a lying denier of it. What would it take to strip our faith away, if indeed what we have can be called faith? Are we much different then Peter? I hope so because there are some fundamental differences.

First, Peter has yet to encounter the resurrected Jesus. Even though he had confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God he did not understand the reality of this. The reality would come in a few days, in the meantime Peter was alone. We know the resurrected Jesus and his power and all the promises he has made to us. We are rich in the Word and are in a better place than Peter.

Second, Peter did not have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would not be given for a number of days yet. Jesus had to do a bit of work after the resurrection and before his ascension. It would not be until his return to the Father that he would send the Holy Spirit to live in all those who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Saviour. What a difference in Peter when he does send the Spirit. That is who we are today, those possessed by the Holy Spirit and the resurrection power. We are not a normal version of ourselves, but instead we are a transformed creation, fully possessed by the Holy Spirit, having the presence and power of Jesus with us all the time. We have no excuse for denying Jesus. But is this our reality?

If our faith is genuine we will be able to stand up in any storm, even in the storm to end all storms. Even if we are not here for the duration of the end times we are going to be here for enough of it. It is going to get bad and our faith will be tested on many levels. If it is not genuine then we risk being swept away by fear, worry, anxiety and the doubt these things produce. If we are strong in Jesus then nothing can touch our faith but if we have only been play acting then we will be in a lot of trouble. The days are really getting short now, the fig branch is tender, the season is upon us so now is the time to check your heart, check your relationship with Jesus, clean house, get rid of the garbage, submit to the love and direction of the Father. It is time to make sure that you have no hatred or bitterness in you, that forgiveness as a result of love has swept everything clean out of your heart.

It is time to make sure that you are anchored to Jesus. When the storm hits it will be furious and those who are not anchored will be swept away in an instant. There will be a great falling away from the faith and we need to do everything we can to make sure that you and I and the people in our sphere of influence are not part of that falling away. Check yourself and then encourage others. Do not be like Peter, self-confident one hour and in the next denying Jesus with curses. We are more than that and we have a duty to each other:

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

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10) 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Weeping May Remain For A Night, But Rejoicing Comes In The Morning.

There appear to be a lot of things going on in the world these days, from revolutions, to wars, to earthquakes, floods, draughts and solar flairs. There are other things looming on the horizon that the average person is not even aware of. Crops have fail in Brazil due to flooding, Mexico due to the cold, Australia due to flooding, China  due to draught. An unprecedented famine is knocking on our door and all most people can see is higher grocery prices. Disruptions in the northern African countries are sending oil prices higher. If these revolutions spread to Saudi Arabia we could be looking at incredible disaster as the higher prices push us into an economic world depression. We also know that scientists are expecting the next big pandemic to strike, which we could also refer to as the plague. Yet, people do not have the eyes to see and the ears to hear or the heart to understand.

We haven't even touched on the huge changes in the climate, resulting in the growing natural disasters that are hitting. Natural disasters are normal but the size of the disasters are getting larger. Haiti was devastated, New Orleans drowned, Christchurch crushed, Australia and Brazil flooded, the largest hurricane recorded and now it is reported that the earth is changing its axis. Yet people do not have the eyes to see and the ears to hear or the heart to understand.

Then we have the changing morality of our societies. Parental rights are being superseded by the state. Sins of the past are being accepted as normal in the present. Homosexuality is being embraced, the laws against polygamy are being challenged and will likely fall, people have dropped marriage and simply live together, changing relationships like they change socks, millions of babies are being killed every year. Solid Biblical teaching is disappearing, demonic teaching is replacing it, false prophets are a dime a dozen, there are people claiming to be Jesus, others giving us the exact date of his return, prominent Christians claiming there is more than one way to God. In simple terms, there is a lot of confusion going around. Yet people do not have the eyes to see and the ears to hear or the heart to understand.

With all this going on in our day, we still have the nerve to look back in the gospels and ask "Could they not see?" Don't fool yourself, they knew who Jesus was as he stood before them, hands tied and accused by false witnesses. Take note that they were trying to find false witnesses that would agree because they needed at least two that would agree, and they had to be false because Jesus, the Son of God, stood innocent before them:

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. (Matthew 26:59-60)

It was happening just as Jesus told them it would and Peter was there in the shadows as a witness to this mockery of a trial. He told his disciples plainly that he would go to Jerusalem, be arrested and then killed, but on the third day he would rise again:

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)

They did not have the eyes to see and the ears to hear or the heart to understand. Jesus did not tell them these things to scare them but instead to prepare them. He wanted them to know what was happening while it was happening so that they knew something better was coming. Those were very dark days for those disciples as they coward in the dark in various places in the city, too afraid to even move. For them it was the end of the world, everything that was familiar to them was no more, changed forever. Jesus spoke these words so that when it all went wrong they had something to hold on to; hope.

What we see going on in the world today has already been told to us, not to frighten us but instead to prepare us. We know that it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Entire economies are going to crash, disasters will increase, famine will spread, disease will set in. We know that the United States has to fall because she does not have a role in the end times power struggle. When she falls the world will really take on a new shape. We can look at these things and be very afraid or we can look at them and rejoice for what is coming. Jesus told his disciples that what he had to go through had a purpose and hope would be realized on the third day. Jesus and the prophets have also told us that these days have a purpose and we need to keep an eye, not on the storms, but on what comes after; the return of the conquering Messiah, our Lord, our King, our God, our friend, our brother and our Saviour.

We have some rough days ahead and we need to be praying for wisdom, discernment and strength. We need to be busy with the Father's work, reaching out to a world that will become more and more confused. They will turn on us and hate us but that does not remove from us the responsibility to reach out in love with the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we become fearful and concerned with our own welfare how will they ever know the transforming power of Jesus? More than ever we need to be selfless and seek the best for our neighbour and we know that the best is Jesus. So hold on my friends, we are in for a bumpy ride which is going to require a great deal of faith and trust, and for which we need to keep our eyes on the goal which is our salvation. Let's run this race in style and cause Jesus to smile at our tenacity as we sing his praises in the darkest hours. To God be the glory.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What? Do You Think You're Special Or Something?

With age comes wisdom, right? I am hoping so because wisdom has not always been my strong suit, though one thing I have learned over the years is that just because something is possible for you to do does not mean you should do it. In other words, not every door that opens to you is one you should walk through. We often see open doors as being from the Lord, and many are, but I have realized that they aren't all from him and some of them result in terrible consequences.

There is a quote from the Apostle Paul I like very much and I am going to use it here, slightly out of context:

“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

The Apostle Paul was writing in the context of believers' freedom and his argument was against what the Corinthians had written to him concerning this freedom. Paul taught that due to the love of Jesus we must be willing to limit our freedom for the sake of other people. The question then is, just because it may be permissible does it mean that it is beneficial, or constructive? He follows this with the statement:

Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:24)

This is a key point to our understanding of what flows from the commandment to "love our neighbour as we love ourselves". In fact, this is a large part of what Jesus demonstrated with his life.

If we simply look at one of the most stressful moments of Jesus life we discover the golden moments of his character. If you want to know the true heart of a man watch him when he is under stress, or when he is facing a life and death situation. This is when the fa├žade falls away and the true heart rises up. It is not always pretty but in Jesus' case it is absolutely beautiful. A crowd of thugs have come to arrest him in the middle of the night, led by the betrayer, Judas. In the scuffle that ensues Jesus' disciples try to protect him. One draws out a sword and cuts off someone's ear. Jesus stops them all and confuses them with these words:

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52)

Twelve legions of angels at his disposal. Do not think for a moment that Jesus' disciples failed him. They probably would have died to the last man protecting him but Jesus stopped them. His words confused them and so they ran away in that confusion. Do not think for a moment that Jesus was defenceless. He knew what was available to him. He could have had 12 legions of angels at his disposal at any time, even while he was hanging on the cross. He could have walked through either of these open doors that were available to him, but would it have been constructive or beneficial? Jesus accepted the fact that he had to walk this path because this was the way that had been chosen for him. He trusted his Father. Do we?

Some of the hardest moments of my life have been a direct result of me walking through doors that should have remained closed. In fact, some doors were closed and locked and had to be busted open to get through. I took it to be the enemy resisting God's will for my life but in fact it was my Father trying to protect me from heartache and needless pain. What a terrible thing it is to go against the will of God. Just because something is permissible does not mean that it is God's will for you. Anything that is not constructive and beneficial to others is wrong in our Father's eyes. If Jesus had not walked that path it would have gone poorly for all of us but, because he did choose to walk it, the whole world has benefited:
Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

I'm not going to pretend that it is easy. The beatings, torture, ridicule, bad treatment, humiliation, and then the pain of the cross and the experience of death was not exactly a walk in the park for Jesus. There was no benefit in it for him, other than a grateful Father for an obedient Son, however, there was great benefit for us. This is how we should measure the worth of the doors that open to us. We should never consider the doors that benefit us alone, perhaps at a cost to others, because that is not what we have been called to. We have been called as servants for the benefit of other people and these are the doors that bring glory to God, when we choose to live a life that benefits others.

Let me be honest with you, there is no glamour in such a life. The world is not going to be lifting you up as a hero. Most people are going to think you are crazy. People will look down on you for missing the opportunities to benefit yourself. Although it may have a certain romantic appeal, no one likes a servant. Your actions will be misunderstood, people will consider you weak, you may get verbally beat up, your reputation may be destroyed and some may even decide to crucify you. You won't be the first and you won't be the last but you will belong to a great host of servants who have suffered much for the benefit of others, even though others didn't have a clue. I recall this from Hebrews 10 taking note of the last line:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. (Hebrews 10:32-38) 

The world was not worthy of Jesus or of the thousands who followed in his suffering who laid down their lives so the world could hear the good news. I think of the many Christians in the persecuted Church of today. They could have chosen easier paths for themselves but they dared not walk through those doors because they were called to lay down their lives for others. And what about us? Have we been called to anything different? Are we specially blessed or something that we would be permitted to walk through doors that benefited us alone? Or are we living lives that are actually displeasing to our Lord Jesus who went to the cross for us? It is true that everything is permissible but ask yourself if it is beneficial for others. Yes, we have great freedom in the Spirit, everything is permissible but is it constructive in the lives of others?

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
   taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2:5-8)

You know, he could have called 12 legions of angels!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Defeat Of Monday Mornings

So how are you feeling this morning? Great day yesterday? I was reading lots of good reports via Twitter of great things happening in many churches yesterday as the Holy Spirit was moving. I even heard of a four hour soaking of worship and prophecy last night. It must have been awesome. We too had an incredible time in the Spirit as he came in and broke us, melted us, and began to re-mould us and I pray filled us. Sundays can be such incredible moments of break through and growth when we allow them to be. We are surrounded by our spiritual family who love us and who we love in return. It is a time of heightened awareness of the Spirit, of ourselves and of what God is doing. Things get dealt with on Sunday, in worship but especially in the Word. Then there is Monday morning.

I worry sometimes that Sunday can be an artificial thing for us. It makes us feel good, great things happen, we are encouraged, but it all happens in the emotions so that nothing is really changed. Just dealing with emotions means that we are staying safely on the surface of things and nothing ever gets changed on the surface. The testing ground is really Monday morning. We either wake up with a changed heart, changed perspective, changed way of thinking, with more love, grace, patience, joy and forgiveness or we wake up no different than we were last week. If you wake up changed then you definitely spent time in God's glory yesterday but if you wake up the same then all you did yesterday was enjoy singing and having your emotions stirred up. This is sad if you spent four hours "soaking" and woke up the same. Spending real time with Jesus changes us. Still, our greatest battle will continue to be ourselves. We have a perfect illustration to understand this.

Jesus was facing is gravest hour. The time of his arrest was approaching. He did not want to be alone and he needed to be in prayer, so he brought Peter, James and John with him, to join him in prayer. It was a difficult moment:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 6:38)

Strange words from Jesus but he understood what was about to happen. He understood the pain, the abandonment, the sense of loneliness, the torture, the nails, the weight of the world's sin, and death. God was about to experience death. The Creator was about to understand the suffering of his creation and experience death and all he asked was that his friends would stay with him, pray and wait.

Our body is a terrible thing you know. It is our weakest point, the place where we often defeat ourselves. It becomes hungry and weary. It has cravings for sins. It puts demands on us that displease God. It becomes tired. How many times have you been determined to spend time in prayer only to fall asleep? How many times have you wanted to spend time in the Word only to become too weary so you watched TV instead? How many times have you wanted something spiritual only to be undone by your flesh? The disciples were no better. Perhaps if they had understood what was about to happen it would have been different, but we seldom know what is about to happen. We need to trust when the Spirit prompts us to pray, even when we are woken in the middle of the night:

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

So often our spirit wants so much more than what our body, our flesh is willing to yield. Three times Peter, James and John fell asleep:

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. (Matthew 26:43)

You know what that feels like, when the weariness, the exhaustion is just too much and you can't fight the heaviness of your eyes. I have experienced it more often then I would like to admit. So many spiritual moments, so many blessed times in the Spirit are interrupted by our flesh. This Monday morning may be one of them if you are not paying attention or if you were not sincere in Sunday's "soaking". Perhaps this is the reason the Apostle Paul said that he would not allow his body to dictate to him but that he would force his body into submission:

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)

If Sunday truly was as great as we think it was then we should be prepared to force our body into submission today and allow our spirit to rise up in control. When things come against us today we will not allow our bodies to tell us how to react or allow our emotions to take control but instead our spirit will rise up in praise and adoration and we will trust the Lord. When the bad mood tries to undo what the Spirit did yesterday we will push it aside; no, we will kick it aside! and praise our Lord Jesus. We will trust that he will equip us for today, to overcome the things that would defeat us so that we can serve him by living a life of love, grace, forgiveness and patience. We cannot spend time with Jesus without his character rubbing off on us.

Remember, we are more than those disciples were in that moment. They did not have the Holy Spirit and we do. The Church had yet to be birthed but today we are living stones within her walls. We are surrounded by the Body of Christ, we are possessed by the Spirit, we have the knowledge of the Word, we are surrounded by a great host of witnesses who testify to the changing power of God lived out in our lives by faith. We have no excuse for Monday morning syndrome, for falling asleep during these spiritual battles. Let's continue Sunday's great celebration right through this week until we gather again to celebrate this week's victories. God is good all the time; even on Monday mornings.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Again I Ask, Why Are You Going To Church Today?

I have asked you this question before and I am asking it again: Why are you going to church today? Is it because it is what people expect you to do? Is it your way of showing the world what a good person you are? Is it because you want to show God what a good person you are? Do you go to participate, to take part, to serve or are you there to criticize, take up space, to be noticed? It is good to check your motivation because God does. He knows exactly why you are going and what pleases him is his children coming to worship with a right motivation, the motivation of love and gratefulness. Consider the psalmist:

Shout with joy to God, all the earth! 
Sing the glory of his name; 
   make his praise glorious!
 (Psalm 66:1-2)

With joy! Oh how I want that to be the anthem of my heart today; shouts of joy to my Lord Jesus. Not because I want to prove anything to him or to anyone else but because of the gladness, the gratefulness, the love and adoration I have flowing out of me because of who Jesus is and what he has done for me. I can't do anything that would measure up to any worth to offer him but I can offer up my grateful praise this morning:

Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! 
   So great is your power 
   that your enemies cringe before you. 
All the earth bows down to you; 
   they sing praise to you, 
   they sing praise to your name.” (vv. 3-4)

Yes indeed, all praise is due him! Imagine that day when every knee will bow and every tongue will have to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all things. Imagine the praise and worship on that glorious day. I want to taste a bit of that today. I want to pour out my heart with my brothers and sisters so we can taste a little bit of his glory, the glory owed to Jesus. We worship, not to earn anything but instead because Jesus earned it; we owe it to him out of grateful hearts:

 Come and see what God has done, 
   how awesome his works in man’s behalf! (v. 5)

You know, if all Jesus did for us was to take our place on the cross so that we could receive forgiveness; if all he did was rise from the dead, breaking the power of death, so that we could have eternal life; that was enough to earn our eternal adoration. But Jesus has done even more than this. He sent us the Holy Spirit so that we could have his presence in us, enabling him to encourage us, teach us, and preserve us until his return. Think of what he has done for you this week alone. On top of that, he birthed the Church, his Bride, where we find our home, our place of sustenance, our encouragement, our support, our family. It is the place where we get trained and where we find the tools for maturing in our faith. Wow! for this gift alone I will be eternally thankful because the Body is awesome:

Praise our God, O peoples, 
   let the sound of his praise be heard; 
he has preserved our lives 
   and kept our feet from slipping. 
For you, O God, tested us; 
   you refined us like silver. 
You brought us into prison 
   and laid burdens on our backs. 
You let men ride over our heads; 
   we went through fire and water, 
   but you brought us to a place of abundance. (vv. 8-12)

Maybe you have some issues with God the Father over his refining process or perhaps his methods of correction, but not me. I want to dance and shout even louder because these things prove to me just how much he loves me, how much he cares, and how involved he is in my life. He wants me to succeed! He wants me to overcome! He has made plans to prosper my soul and not to destroy me and this overwhelms me with gratitude. Oh, what testimonies do we have to share this morning? What anthems of praise should be shouted from the depths of our hearts:

Come and listen, all you who fear God; 
   let me tell you what he has done for me. 
I cried out to him with my mouth; 
   his praise was on my tongue. 
If I had cherished sin in my heart, 
   the Lord would not have listened; 
but God has surely listened 
   and heard my voice in prayer. 
Praise be to God, 
   who has not rejected my prayer 
   or withheld his love from me! (vv. 16-20)

Oh God, all honour and praise is due you from my heart, to be spoken on my lips, because you have not rejected me! You have never withheld your love from me! Even when I deserved nothing but death from you, you covered me by your love and grace. I come before you a broken man but your love makes me whole. I come before you a wretched man, sinful from birth but your love and mercy cleanses me and makes me a new man. I come before you with nothing to offer, poor of spirit, not a thing I possess worthy enough to be an offering but your love transforms my life and produces acts of righteousness through me so that I can lay it all before you on the alter today. Father, I pray that the praise and worship of my heart is pleasing and honouring to you today and every day of my life. There is no one like you. You are my God, my Lord, my King. Let the earth declare your glory and every nation on the earth proclaim Jesus as their King!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

In A Dry And Weary Land

I woke up this morning with an overwhelming desire to be in the presence of the Lord. It seems there are times when we feel we need Jesus more than other times. Perhaps we are feeling lost or lonely, maybe we are facing difficult situations, maybe we are afraid of something or perhaps we are just struck by the beauty of his love. Whatever the reason there are times when the need to worship and rejoice explodes within us:

O God, you are my God, 
earnestly I seek you; 
my soul thirsts for you, 
my body longs for you, 
in a dry and weary land 
where there is no water.  (Psalm 63:1)

We should gladly admit that there is nothing in this world that is able to satisfy our thirst. There are lots of substitutes but nothing is able to reach into the driest, thirstiest areas of our soul. Compared to Jesus, the world is a desert, empty, with nothing to offer but death. When you spend too much time in this place without acknowledging the presence and love of Jesus, you can become very dry and thirsty yourself, to the point that your spirit is desperately calling out for the rich fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This is especially true of those who have enjoyed a great relationship in the past but have somehow allowed themselves to dry out:

I have seen you in the sanctuary 
and beheld your power and your glory. 
Because your love is better than life, 
my lips will glorify you. 
I will praise you as long as I live, 
and in your name I will lift up my hands. 
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.  (Psalm 63:2-5)

As you read the words of the psalmist can you feel the flame ignite within you, to be possessed like this again, to know this satisfaction? I sometimes wonder how many of us have had the privilege of experiencing that Jesus' love is better than life and where our praise is provoked by this love and not because of other reasons. This love is suppose to be our motivator for everything we do. Not that we say, "Oh, I guess I need to do good things because Jesus loves me", but instead a longing, a desperation to respond to his love with love, for him and everyone we know. As the Apostle Paul explained, it was because of this love that he felt compelled to do what he did. Compelled is a strong word. Am I compelled today? What is the motivation of our praise and worship? What is our motivation for service?

Perhaps we have no motivation. Perhaps we are warn out in this dry and thirsty land? Have we become weary? Have we allowed ourselves to lose the source of our motivation? Are we waking up today with a longing in our body to be with Jesus, to fellowship with him, to worship and glorify him, to serve him with all that we are? Are we beginning to realize that we are missing something?

On my bed I remember you; 
I think of you through the watches of the night. 
Because you are my help, 
I sing in the shadow of your wings. 
My soul clings to you; 
your right hand upholds me.  (Psalm 63:6-8)

This is what we really need, to understand that he is the source of everything for us. He is our strength, our hope, the one we cling to, the one we fix our eyes on. If our world does not revolve around him then we do not understand who he is to us. If Jesus is not always on your mind and in your heart then you do not understand what he has done for you. It is never about what you can do for Jesus because you can't do anything for him; it is all about what he has done and what he is doing for you. What we do is only a response, a compelling, a big thank you in appreciation for his acts of love. Our actions are only a fruit of what his love has grown in us. I think of him throughout the night. I sing to him as I seek his protection from all harm. I cling to him as he holds me tight. This is what it is to love Jesus, a response to his love. The Apostle John said that we love him only because he first loved us.

I pray this is your experience today. I pray that if your love has grown tired and weak that he will revive you by a reminder of his love. I pray that if this world is starting to get you down and you are questioning everything you have ever known, that you will experience his loving embrace today and his Spirit will ignite the flame in you again. If you have the spiritual blues today the best thing you can do is worship Jesus for what you know he has already done for you. Then seek out his promises in the Word. After that pour out your heart to him and then return to worship. Set aside a good chunk of time today to "earnestly seek" him. Get really thirsty for God and be prepared to be amazed at how he will respond to you.