Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Must Be Born Again To Enter The Kingdom Here Today

Most of us find people who can't get to the point rather annoying. They take 30 minutes to tell us what most people can say in five. There are also the people who beat around the bush because they don't know how to ask what they need to ask, whether from embarrassment or avoidance. Then there are the people who will never say what they are thinking even though you can sense that there is something wrong between us and them. The leader Nicodemus was somewhat like this as he came to Jesus under the cover of darkness. He had some questions for Jesus but wasn't sure how to approach him so he started trying to ease into it. One thing we know about God is that he knows our heart.

Jesus was not one who beat around the bush. He said what had to be said, whether it was with direct and clear language or through story telling. Those who needed to understand what he was saying understood it clearly. In Nicodemus' case Jesus went right to the heart:

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

Today we take this for granted, even though few in the Church understand it and fail to walk in it. However for Nicodemus this was the very first time he had encountered such a thought. Of course in the natural it sounds ridiculous and that was Israel's problem, all the leaders thought in the natural because they did not have spiritual minds. So Nicodemus' response was not a strange one nor a surprise to Jesus:

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)

Come on now, in the natural that is exactly what Jesus was saying, but Jesus wasn't talking in the natural. I caution you here that I differ in my understanding of the text that follows from other teachers but I don't want you to get lost in this. What is important is that we understand the significance of the need for re-birth. Jesus reply was straight to the point:

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." (John 3:5)

Now here is where I differ from some people. The water Jesus is talking about is not baptism but our natural birth. Jesus is talking about two births in this passage. I believe in baptism because Jesus told us to baptise. I do not believe that baptism has an effect on our salvation because it is only a symbol of what happens spiritual to us. It would be like the Jews saying you have to be circumcised in order to be saved. Look at what Jesus said next:

"Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:6)

You should be able to see this in the context of the entire conversation; Jesus is talking about the birth of the flesh and the birth of the spirit; a physical birth and a spiritual birth. The "water" birth is not as significant here as understanding that a transformation must happen before we can enter into the Kingdom of God. Even on this earth we are in the Kingdom because the Kingdom is in the hearts of men and women; the Kingdom is a matter of the heart.

In this day and age this passage is vital to understand. We have far too many people who do not understand the need for this second birth and they think that simply changing their morality is all that is needed. They fill the church, teaching right from wrong, getting involved in all the activities, seemingly a good Christian, yet all that has changed is the outward appearance while the inside remains untouched. We must understand that everything hinges on our encounter with Jesus and the second birth that is offered to us.

The Word is clear on the importance of this matter:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

This is not the only passage that makes it as plain as this.

We have to stop treating the Church like some business that is selling a product that makes people feel better. The Bible cannot be found in the self-help section of the book store. The pastor should not be preaching the psychology of man. There is only one solution, one hope, one way and it is found in our re-birth in Jesus Christ. We need to understand that the Spirit lets us know after this re-birth that the only life we have is in Jesus because we are made alive in Jesus. Aside from Jesus we are dead because eternal life is not found by our flesh but instead in our spiritual re-birth. The Church is not a matter of the natural but the spirit.

Jesus tells Nicodemus:

"You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8)

And so it is with all those born of the Spirit. This world has lost it's hold on us. We are not chained down by the values or thinking of this place. We are lifted to a higher plain of understanding that everything must be obedient to the authority of Jesus Christ. How can we hope to minister to the lost of the world if we do not understand the result of the transformation that takes place in our re-birth? We are a new creation. The same old rules no longer apply. God can do incredible things through us because we have been freed from the restraints of this world. Darkness no longer has a hold on us. Demons must flee at our command. Illnesses must leave. Health must come in. Circumstances must change. This is who we are in Jesus and the world needs to see this authority to know it is real.

The second birth is not a poetic imagery that Jesus gave us. It is an actual event that takes place when we encounter Jesus and accept his sacrifice for our sins. It is the moment that the Holy Spirit moves in and writes the law upon our heart. It is the moment our minds are renewed so that we can comprehend the things of God, with a new perspective. We no longer see people as we used to. Let's stop teaching morality in an attempt to change from the outside in, and let us preach the need for the second birth so the Spirit can change us from the inside out.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No Ordinary Man

Being that you are surrounded by the Jesus culture you may not have noticed that there are a lot of people in this world who do not know who Jesus is. Oh, many of them have opinions of who they think Jesus is and what he did. If you ask, some people will tell you that he is a fictional character but most will agree that he was a man from a long time ago. Some will tell you he was a prophet, a holy man, a good teacher, an advocate of love. Most of them don't get the whole "Son of God" thing and really don't understand why people keep telling them that Jesus loves them. How can some guy who died 2000 years ago love them and why would they care if he did? After all these centuries the world remains confused and unconvinced about Jesus.

Nicodemus is a good example of this. He was drawn to Jesus but he couldn't really explain why, so he came to him under the cover of darkness. It only made sense since he was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin; he needed to protect his reputation. As he stood before Jesus he felt obligated to recognize what he did understand so far:

“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2)

Jesus ignored the lack of recognition and went to the heart of the reason why Nicodemus had come to him, but we will consider that tomorrow. For this morning I only want to use Nicodemus' statement as a means of recognizing that we are not always successful in conveying who Jesus is to the world. It is sad to think that people lump Jesus in with men like Gandhi, Buddha, and Muhammed; supposedly wise men by the standards of this world. Jesus was no ordinary man and made it clear not only by his actions but by his statements.

There was a point when Jesus wanted to draw out of his disciples who they thought he was. He asked them what the world was saying about him and they gave him a mixed reply, somewhat like we still find in the world:

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

The world considered him a wise man, even a prophet but Jesus wanted his disciples to make up their mind who he was to them and asked them plainly to sate it. It was Peter who spoke for the rest of them:

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

Now consider Jesus' response to his disciples:

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

Jesus called this divine inspiration and that is still what it takes today in order to see Jesus for who he is. Jesus told us that no one can come to the Father except through him and at the same time he said that no one will come through him unless that person is drawn to him by the Father. Divine inspiration. Sometimes I am not sure that we are entirely convinced of who Jesus is. By the way we talk and live it looks like Jesus was nothing more than a wise man who came to give us a new morality code.

Jesus did not come to teach wisdom but instead to proclaim that the door was opening to a restored relationship with the Father. Jesus stated clearly:

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

Jesus was not some wise man with an emphasis on love. Jesus is the door to the restoration of the relationship we once had with God, and it was his blood shed on the cross that makes it possible for us to be cleansed of the sin we were powerless to do anything about, the sin that separated us from God. There was something in us that we were born with, that we could never remove, that kept us from seeing, knowing and obeying God, but Jesus made it possible for the power of this thing to be broken and removed. Jesus was born to die.

That's another part of all this, people think that Jesus was the victim of some tragedy. If they read anything about Jesus they see that there was a plot against him, that there was a failed attempt at a trial, and that he fell victim to a crowd mentality, a crowd that wanted to see blood. But Jesus was no victim; he went willingly to the cross. When Peter tried to rescue him and protect him during the arrest, Jesus stopped him and told him:

“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 26:52-54)

There is so much more to Jesus than the world knows and, I think, than we know at times. We, the Church, seem to forget that we are no longer victims of anything because Jesus made us victorious over everything. We have no reason to feel lost, defeated, overwhelmed, oppressed or any of the rest of it. Jesus' victory on the cross over our sin which had us bound up has set us free to live lives of victory. This is what the world needs to see to know that Jesus is not some ordinary man with a message of love. They need to understand that there is power in the blood that was shed on the cross and they need to see it in our transformation from what were were to who we are in Christ today. We have to be just as Jesus was with Nicodemus. We have to be available to answer questions without being offended and we have to be able to cut through the surface stuff and get to the heart of the matter. But even more, we need to live the victory of Jesus so that they can see Jesus' glory in us. Jesus is no ordinary man so we should not be living an ordinary life. Let the world see the power of Jesus in you today.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jesus Christ Is Not A People Pleaser

It is amazing how much the way we function in a day has changed by the phenomena of social networking. A mere ten years ago the Internet was used by a growing number of people to look up recipes, send emails, write blogs and surf from web site to website. Today, with the introduction of services such as FaceBook and Twitter, and with the new phones using apps, much of our day is focused around sharing our lives with family, friends and complete strangers online. We share our activities, insights, and opinions with anyone who is willing to listen. It is a real joy to have those insights and opinions shared and spread around. We feel highs and lows as we gain and lose followers, and some spend their days trying new techniques to increase their "audience".

Some have speculated what Jesus would have done with this technology if he had come in this age instead of 2000 years ago. I think John gives us a bit of insight into this:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. (John 2:23-25)

Jesus was big time into revealing his glory in the miracles that were done, through the message he brought and with the casting out of the enemy. But one thing Jesus was not into was the popularity game. It did not matter to Jesus how many "followers" he had. Even with an audience of one Jesus remained the same, and that one was keenly important to him. The crowds swelled and they fell away but Jesus remained consistent in who he was and what he had come to do. Something of which churches should take note.

John says that Jesus would not entrust himself to these crowds that came running after the miracles because he knew all men. Jesus knew what motivated people and he knew they would abandoned him as quickly as they took up his name in praise. It was not popularity that motivated him but instead his love for our Father and for us. There were times he would point this out to the crowds, getting after them for being more interested in the free lunch than they were in the message he brought. He had to avoid the crowds at times due to their desire to make him king simply because they saw what they could get out of him if he were king. Their motivation was all about what they could get and not what they could give back to God.

It is both comforting and disarming as we read, "He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." He knows us so well because he is the instrument of creation:

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)

Jesus was not looking for popularity from these people because he knew them, their motivation and their desires. They believed only because of what they saw and that belief was limited to seeing him as the possible Messiah. They envisioned the glory of Israel renewed, conquering army's, riches, a comfortable life, a brilliant future in the renewed kingdom. Yet Jesus offered so much more than this, something of far greater worth but they could not get past their own comfort and needs. This kind of popularity Jesus could do without.

Perhaps it would do us well to reflect on this for a moment and search our own hearts for our underlying motivation for following after Jesus. Is it a selfish motivation, what we can get out of the relationship, looking for Jesus to make our life here easier? It is amazing how this selfishness can creep in when we think our motives are so pure. We claim we just want to serve Jesus, to see him glorified but how quickly our song changes when we face any kind of personal discomfort. The greatest commandment as well as the second that is similar to the first are all about love provoking a selfless giving of self to God and to others. Is that how you would describe yourself, a selfless giver to God and to people?

Jesus hand picked his disciples because he knew them. He knew their hearts and he knew what they could become. This tells me that each of them had the potential to become a "Peter" or a "Judas". One of the most comforting things Jesus said was:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15:16) 
I knew my calling even before I submitted myself to Jesus, perhaps it is the reason I wrestled over that relationship so much. When I encountered Jesus and surrendered my life to him, accepting the re-birth offered, the calling came alive in me. Jesus knew me and called me to him, knowing I had the potential to serve like Peter or abandon him like Judas, but I trust he saw a desire in me to overcome the darkness in me. Jesus is not interested in the popularity of the crowds but instead he desires the adoration and fulfilment of the individual. Crowds are a tricky bunch; one minute they want to make you king and are singing your praises and the next they are crying out for you to be crucified.

Churches and individuals need to learn from this. Too many churches have gone the popularity route, chasing after the crowds, willing to dance to their song instead of staying focused on the purpose and the message of Christ. They preach a popular gospel instead of the truth of the Word so they can swell their ranks. Individuals do it as well to swell their "followers" because it gives them a rush to have so many people repeat their opinions, insights, and thoughts. Jesus knows these people as well and warns us against them. You, however, know who you are, whose you are and the purpose for which he has called you. His word is on your lips and in your heart. You don't care if the crowds are following you or not, you are determined, in the strength of the Lord, to stay true to the message he has given to you to share. My friends, stand firm then and refuse to give ground to the notion of popularity. To God be the glory!

Monday, March 28, 2011

I Want To See God In Action

As children we learn most of what we learn by watching our parents. It is a simple process of seeing what they do and then trying it for ourselves. As we grow our influence changes but it is still the same basic principle as we watch our friends and do what they do. Often it is also how we grow spiritually, as we place ourselves under the authority of a more mature disciple of Jesus and learn from them. It is true that we learn from the Word and we learn from what we are taught but the most effective lessons as those we see in other people. Jesus taught his disciples with a lot of words but he also taught by doing. He even revealed himself to those who hated him by what he did.

In a previous blog we had looked at the reasons why Jesus had cleared the temple in Jerusalem but what we didn’t consider was that this was the exclusive domain of the chief priests. The temple was like its own little city; it even had its own soldiers, and was governed by the priests. Yet, Jesus simply walked in and turned their little domain upside down. Of course, Jesus saw the temple a bit different than they did. After all, it was not actually their domain but instead the representation of God’s presence in Israel and the center of worship. However, when Jesus upset the order of things, his authority to do so was quickly challenged:

Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (John 2:18)

The apostle John refers to them simply as Jews but the other writers of this account identify them as the chief priests. It seems like a fair question. If Jesus is going to come in acting like a prophet then they wanted some proof that he was a prophet who was acting on God’s will. However, if these were the chief priests one would think that they would be a little more sensitive to God, his will and know when he walks through their front door. Nonetheless, Jesus gave them a simple reply:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19)

The Jews did not understand what he was talking about. Without giving much thought to his words they jumped all over him because they assumed he was talking about the structure around them:

The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (John 2:20)

This is a bit of a cautionary tale and is an example of the misunderstanding we can have with what God is speaking to us. There are times when we need to reflect on his Word and give the Spirit time to teach us and show us what it is that God is telling us. In this case Jesus was talking about his body. The Jews would indeed destroy his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus would raise it again on the third day. In other words, Jesus was telling them, watch me. If you want to know my authority, then watch me. His disciples watched him for three years, every miracle, every kindness, every single thing he did and they concluded that he was the Christ, the Son of God.

I wonder how many times we miss this with God. I wonder how many times he has said “watch me” to us when we have cried out to him, when we have been filled with doubt and fear, when we have been lost and alone. I wonder how many times he has challenged us to “watch him” when we have shouted at him in anger, despair or great sorrow. Our God is a God of action, who reveals his glory in action, who reveals himself to us in action, who teaches us who he is by action. The cross is the greatest testament of his love in action but he didn’t stop there. He reveals himself to us every day in the many things he does for us but we have to be watching. We can’t be like the chief priests who didn’t even recognize God when he walked through their front door. We need to be like children, learning from the actions of our Father.

If you can’t see him then pray very simply, “Open my eyes to see you in action today Father”. Pray it and then take a good look around you today, in the circumstances, in the miracles, in the answers to prayers and in the faces of the people around you. Look and learn because our God is saying to us, “Watch me and you will know me”.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Are We Merely The Old Creation Acting Like The New?

I am afraid that we have failed to understand the mystery that God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We say that we know Jesus, that we have accepted him, but we fail to be changed, preferring to live as we have always lived. Maybe I am reading a different Bible than everyone else but mine tells me that encountering Jesus causes a very big change; so big we are now referred to as a "new creation".

That is the part we seem to lack understanding in, that God did a new work through his Son Jesus. He created a new being because the old was flawed. It isn't that Jesus came to give us a new morality, a new set of laws by which to live. God was not interested in trying to conform us to a better behaviour. God set out to create a new creation through Jesus Christ, that he would be the first born of something new, something better, something transformed from the useless material we had become.

So here we are a new creation acting like the old, operating like the old. We fail to understand that in order to pour the new wine in God had to create a new wineskin:

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins. (Mark 2:21-22)

Our problem is that our bodies will be the last to be transformed and that will happen when we are called home. In the mean time we have to keep our bodies submitted to the Spirit and allow our spirit to be dominant. We have to live and operate in the Spirit and when our body complains or tries to rebel, we have to put it in its place. An athlete does not always feel like training, forcing his body to do what he is willing it to do, but he knows that he must force his body if he hopes to win the prize. The Apostle Paul told us that this also needs to be our attitude toward our flesh that still wants to respond to sinful desires.

We are a new creation which means that we are no longer subject to the rules of nature. Trusting that this is true, by placing our faith in this relationship we have with the Father through Jesus, we are able to live by God's promises. When we ask, things happen. We are healers, workers of miracles because nature must respond to the authority we have in Jesus. Demons must flee and evil must back away. Even our own bodies must respond to this authority. When our bodies, this flesh that would keep us subjected to sin, refuses to respond, we must force it to submit to the leadership of our Spirit.

We live as if there has been no change. We still allow our flesh to dictate to us. We fail to understand the authority we have. When we look to what fills our churches we see no difference to what fills the world. We are a people failing to walk in the strength and the authority we have been born into as a new creation. Someone has convinced the brothers and sisters of the King of kings, that they are nobodies, just common people who have to scratch out a meager living in this world. Someone has been lying to us and it is time to throw off that lie. We are not common, and we are not subject to the darkness of this world. We belong to the Light and the Light has authority over all things. We are more than just creatures rescued from the light. In that rescue we were changed so that we no longer belong to the darkness, we don't fit in there, we can't even stand the thought of that place because we have been changed.

Come on people! Is this the reason why Jesus wondered if he would find any faith in this world on his return? Aren't you tired of living lies? Aren't you tired of feeling sick, weak, useless, with no purpose. How can the blind lead the blind? How do you expect to lead others out of darkness when you find no hope in yourself? You must be strong in order to be a rescuer and you are, if you would only realize it. Stop letting your flesh lie to you and making you weak and oppressed. Rise up in the power of the new creation that you are. Jesus told us this simple truth:

“Everything is possible for him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

Do you live as if this is true? Do you live as the new creation you are? Do you walk in the authority that has been given to you? Do you still speak in "ifs"? Do you still look for a way to cover yourself "if" it doesn't "work"? You are no new creation then. You are the old creation clothed in a desire to be more; a mere "wannabe" who has not permitted the encounter with Jesus to transform you. Spend some time in Romans 6, Galatians 5, 1 Corinthians 15 and see what I am talking about. The world is looking at us but they are not seeing a Holy Spirit filled, Christ-centered people, filled with the power and authority that God has promised. Considering that God is a keeper of his promises, the problem must rest with us. Open yourself to the Spirit and read this:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,  because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:1-17)

Be transformed my friends not conformed.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Overwhelmed By The Suffering Of This World

Just looking through the news this morning it is obvious that there is a lot of misery and suffering going on in the world. Christians are being killed for their faith, protesters are being killed because of their political stand, natural disaster victims are dying from lack of assistance and this does not include the people dying from famines, curable diseases, or simple neglect. We don't even need to look around the world to find it, just look to the street you live on. The lonely young adult lost in a world of drugs, kids stuck in the middle of parental violence, a teen hiding from a drunk, abusive mom, a senior who can't look after herself and has no one to help. It is all around us and can overwhelm us if we do not have eyes to see the good in the midst of the bad.

As disciples of Jesus we need to be careful as we consider the misery we see all around us because there are several ways of dealing with it. We can either stick out heads in the sand and ignore it, or we can allow it to overwhelm us and blame God, or we can look for what God is doing and join him there. As Christians we need to always maintain our understanding of things:

     1. God did a great job with creation but we introduced the destructive force of sin when we rebelled
     2. Sin has made the world a dark place where the worst of humanity breeds and grows
     3. God made the decision at the beginning to give us the freedom of choice and is not backing down from this
     4. Without infringing on our ability to choose, God is running a rescue mission to save those who want to be saved from the darkness.
     5. Those who do accept rescue he has asked to join him in rescuing others
     6. He has appointed a time when all this will end and we will have to give an account for our choices
     7. In the meantime, the Light is hard at work in the midst of the darkness

Knowing this, as followers of Jesus, we must be careful in our attitude as we begin our day. We are involved in God's rescue plan. The world is filled with darkness but we are no longer under it's control because we have been saved from it. However, we must be careful because we can be contaminated by things from the darkness. We must be sure that we are watching our attitude and we are staying strong in our relationship with God. The best and most effective way of keeping your heart clear of anything that comes from the darkness is to maintain a heart of thanksgiving. Being thankful for every good gift above assures that you will maintain the much needed Father perspective. The psalmist wrote:

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 
Worship the LORD with gladness; 
   come before him with joyful songs. 
Know that the LORD is God. 
   It is he who made us, and we are his; 
   we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:1-3)

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of daily worship. I am telling you, as I meet with various Christians, I know who has been in worship and who has been neglecting this vital part of our relationship with God. Worship puts everything in perspective and reminds us that God is God and we are not. Worship has us coming to God with thanksgiving, having our troubled heart transformed with joy. If any of the darkness has been trying to take root it falls away as we remember all his goodness. God is good, all the time and his promises are guaranteed to us. Do you even know what those promises are? Learn them, know they are yours and be grateful for them:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving 
   and his courts with praise; 
   give thanks to him and praise his name. 
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; 
   his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5)

Can't you feel your spirit desiring to rise up even as you read these simple words? Your flesh may not feel like it, you might think you don't have time, you may feel low, even depressed, but your spirit still pushes to have control so that you can rise in response to this worship.

People in this world will challenge your faith because they do not understand the story of God, man and the darkness. They cannot understand that the whole world is suffering because of rebellion and stubbornness as well as ignorance. They cannot understand that Jesus, the light of this world, is trying to rescue them despite themselves. They cannot see the things God is doing in the midst of all the suffering and misery. The can't see but you can. So don't concentrate on the misery we have brought to ourselves but instead look for the light, the great and positive things God is doing in the midst of the suffering. Look to him and join him in the mission.

Instead of being overwhelmed be part of the solution. Speak out against the things that enslave people. Men, take a stand against things like abuse, fatherlessness, pornography, and the many things men are part of. Volunteer at homeless shelters, look in on your elderly neighbours, have a conversation with that lonely adult, invite people to take part in your life so that they can encounter Jesus there. Women, there are so many good things you could be doing just on your street alone as you show the tender and compassionate love of God to those hurting in this world. And talk about Jesus, all the time. Let them know your motivation, share the story, let them know of God's rescue plan. In these things you will also find that your thanksgiving grows and your worship becomes sweeter still, as you see God rescue the lost one person at a time. How can we not start our day with thanksgiving and praise when we realize that our God has not given up on this race of fools?

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; 
   his faithfulness continues through all generations.

The darkness cannot overwhelm those who are centered on the Light of this world. You are filled with the Light. Do not take away from his glory by living without joy, by reflecting the misery around you, by the ugly moods of the dark, by stealing from his glory to lift up the darkness of this world. If you are lacking joy this morning, fill your hearts with thanksgiving and worship our God. For sure your mood will change to reflect the glory of the Light in you.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Allowing Our Anger To Be An Healthy Thing

When I was much younger I had a terrible problem with anger. If someone did or said something I didn't like a rage would take over and would express itself with a kicked garbage can or a slammed door. I remember once I slammed a door so hard that I put it right through its frame. I had a problem with expressing my emotions and also had an unrealistic expectation of people. I praise God that he transformed me so that he eliminated this from my character. He gave me an ability to understand things from other people's perspective as well as making me a patient man. However, I have found over the years that it isn't anger that is wrong but instead that we can do wrong things with our anger.

Anger can sometimes propel us into doing great things and even overcoming great evils in the world but we need to understand the difference between the healthy and unhealthy. An unhealthy anger is one that is provoked when someone offends us. It can provoke us into inappropriate actions toward people or things as we release the pent up energy in us. An healthy anger is one that arises when other people are wronged, when we feel a need for justice, when we feel a need to defend. God's Word does not condemn anger but instead warns us:

In your anger do not sin; 
   when you are on your beds, 
   search your hearts and be silent. (Psalm 4:4)

Before you take any action make sure you understand your anger so it doesn't lead to sinful actions. If someone has offended you then the best way to deal with the anger is to forgive them and allow God's peace to be established in you. If it is because you see wrong done to others then respond in a way that is appropriate and God honouring. God honouring action may not be as some people understand it. Jesus' actions at the temple is an example.

Most of you are aware of the incident when Jesus came to the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the center of the relationship between the people and God; it replaced the ark as the representation of God's presence in Israel. It was a place of teaching, prayer and sacrifice. It was intended to be the most holy place in Israel. I wonder how many people had been disappointed over the years to arrive and find what Jesus found:

In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. (John 2:14)

It had become a den of thieves. The sacrificial animals pilgrims would bring from their homes would always be  found to have defects so they were forced to pay exorbitant prices for those being sold at the temple. The temple tax had to be paid with temple currency so general currency had to be exchanged, at incredibly high exchange rates. People who had come to worship and pray found themselves to be victims in the very place where they expected to find righteousness. I wonder if that sounds familiar to anyone in this current age. Jesus could not stand the sight of people being harmed in the name of God:

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:15-16)

Jesus did not bring bodily harm to anyone but he sure did scare them. Imagine the chaos as this "madman" came at them with a whip, yelling with such passion. People, money, animals were scattered in every direction. I wonder how many ran more from guilt than from fear. But take note in this that Jesus reacted because of what people were doing against God not because of anything they did to him. In fact, Jesus never defended himself, only the message he was given to pass on to us. He would defend the lambs from the wolves who were their teachers. He would come against those who put such heavy loads on the people but they themselves did nothing. Jesus did much to defend others but when it came to himself he did nothing. He did not stop them from striking him even when they had no just cause. He did not defend himself even when the accusations were absurd. He remained silent before Pilate. He made no word of complaint when they ripped the skin from his back and nailed him to the cross even though he was the most innocent man to be born and live on this planet, even though all things were created through him and for him.

If only we possessed as much zeal for God and his righteousness. If only we would get angry over social injustice in this world and not just when someone cuts us off on the highway. If only our anger would be directed to positive change instead of negative. The thing we should note is the same thing the disciples noted:

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 1:17)

Are we zealous for the things of God? Do we get offended when people use Jesus' name as a curse? Are we defenders of the weak? Do we lift up those who have been disadvantaged by society? Do we step in when people are being harmed in Jesus' name? There are so many abuses in this world that have been perpetuated in that most holy name by people who were filled with self-interest and who had no compassion for people at all. Are we there to defend and protect these victims, to speak up when laws are unjust, to become passionate and perhaps even angry when we see wrong? This is the good anger, the healthy stuff that brings about a healthy change. Such anger never harms or destroys but instead defends and builds up out of love. Anger can be an healthy thing if we can understand the difference.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Probably One Of The Most Difficult Lessons To Learn

Mothers can be a bother sometimes, dragging us into things we don't want anything to do with. I remember my mom dragging me over to meet people I didn't want to meet or volunteering me to do what I didn't want to do. Yet, at the end of the day, we would do whatever our moms asked because we love them. Moms can do any amount of wrong but we can't stop ourselves from loving them. They could be the worse mother in the world and we would still love them, defend them, protect them, stand by them simply because they are our mom. So we should be able to understand how Jesus felt about the first miracle.

Perhaps on the surface the events at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee may not look like they contain a universal theme but I think submission to authority is pretty universal. We are going to assume that the bride or groom were either somehow related or otherwise connected to Jesus. Jesus is not a famous figure in Galilee yet and his mother was also present so it is safe to assume a connection simply because of their presence. We can also see it in Mary's concern over the lack of wine.

Some of these traditions get lost in our North American cultural experience. It was a grave matter to run out of wine before the end of the celebration and could financially ruin this young couple as they started their life together. In this culture great gifts were brought to the wedding. If guests did not find the celebration worthy of their gift they could sue. It was also true that if a gift was brought that was not equal to the celebration the couple could sue the guests. So financially and reputation wise this could be a major disaster. Thus, Mary turns to her son.

Obviously Mary had seen some evidence of what her son was capable of but Jesus knew it was not yet time to reveal such things to people:

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5)

You have to love the persistence of a mom. Mary totally ignores her son's objections and gives instructions to the servants. Again we see that Mary must have had some importance here that she would have some say over the servants and why would she know they were out of wine before anyone else was informed? Nonetheless, Jesus submitted to his mother's request.

Here is Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ, the agent of creation, God's Word made flesh and he is submitting to his mother even though he disagrees with her. There is a certain order that God has created and, even though he is the ultimate authority, he has placed other authorities over us as well. As a child we were given instructions to obey the authority of our parents. Right or wrong, agree or disagree, they are our parents and the first level of obedience we had to learn:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)

If we do not learn the lesson of submitting to authority as a child then we will have difficulty in our adult years because in our adult years God has placed other authorities over us. We have the government, which is responsible for making and upholding social laws.The Word explains that it is God who has given them authority over us and he is the one who raises up and brings down governments. This may be a hard one for us to grasp but we obey God because we love and trust him and we obey governments because God told us to. He has also placed over us people of spiritual authority:

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

In our current age most people do not want to hear this because we are free and responsible for ourselves but just because we think this way does not mean we are right. We have to re-learn God's expectations for us when it comes to authority, even when they are wrong. It is not so much the person as it is the office that they hold. Even if you do not like the Prime Minister, even if you disagree with him, you must respect the fact that he is the Prime Minister. It is the same with you in the United States. Even if you disagree with your President, according to God's order, you must respect and submit yourself to his leadership. I think this is more difficult for Americans then Canadians and it is also biblical. When Jesus was addressing a crowd of people about the Pharisees who were plotting to kill him, Jesus told them:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 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." (Matthew 23:2-3) 

We emphasize the latter without much thought to the former. Jesus taught that obedience must be given simply because of the position they are in. Yes, he warned the people not to become like those leaders but he did not give them permission to rebel against them. That is hard for us to understand because we are rebellious by nature. In fact, it is much easier for us to rebel then to obey, but this goes against God's order and also comes from our sinful nature. However, those of us in Christ have been re-born with a new nature, so we should be able to understand God's order, and even though it may be difficult at times, we need to obey him.

Jesus obeyed his mother and God the Father prevented too many people from finding out about Jesus' glory. We are told only the servants and the disciples knew about it and it resulted in the disciples placing their faith in Jesus as his glory was revealed to them. Some might be tempted to say "mother knows best" but I think in this case it was a matter of God's grace. Even if Mary was wrong Jesus revealed the Father's heart by submitting to her authority. Jesus never led a rebellion. He never called for the downfall of the politicians. He did not attack the king as his cousin John did. He did not even call for the overthrow of the Pharisees but he did challenge their teaching. Perhaps this is a difficult lesson to learn but as disciples of Jesus Christ we must learn what it is to submit and respect authority.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We Need To Stop How We Major On The Minor In Life

We are a strange bunch of people, often majoring on the minor things in life. We will not worry about the hundreds of dollars we are wasting by leaving our thermostats turned up all day but we will become angry with one of our children for breaking a 12 cent egg. We will forgive our co-worker for the hundred annoying things he does in a day but when our spouse forgets to put the cap on the toothpaste we are upset. I don't think I have to give too many lame examples, you understand the point I. We choose to ignore the "elephant in the room" and deal with the spider crawling up the wall instead. We major on the minor.

I see an example of this with Jesus' invitation to Philip and eventually Nathanael. Jesus had come across Philip and for some reason he invited Philip to join him. Philip saw something in Jesus that caused him to accept this invitation to be his disciple, enough so that he ran to tell his friend Nathanael. Now understand that Philip didn't just tell Nathanael that Jesus was a likeable guy with entertaining stories. He told him that Jesus was the one, the Messiah, the dude the prophets had told them about. Nathanael's reaction was one of disbelief but there was something about Philip's reaction that caused Nathanael to at least go and meet Jesus. The encounter between Jesus and Nathanael was interesting:

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
   Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
    Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (John 1:47-49)

What was there about Jesus that caused these men to drop everything to follow Jesus, without question? We had the first two Jesus called, of which Andrew was one, who spent a single day with Jesus and gave up everything to be his disciple. Andrew brought Peter along and Peter left everything after a simple encounter. Then we have Philip who dropped everything simply because Jesus invited him to be a disciple. Philip brings Nathanael along and he declares Jesus as the Messiah simply because Jesus had some foreknowledge of him. There was obviously more that they were seeing than what is possible to record on paper.

Now here we have Nathanael declaring Jesus the king of Israel simply because he told him that he had been sitting under a fig tree. I wonder what simple things of God amazes us. Is it when he provides the exact amount of money we need for that unexpected bill? Is it when make it to the end of the month not knowing exactly how we managed it? Is it when he heals our back pain or when our neighbour suddenly forgives us? Is it any of the number of "small" things he does in our life? Jesus said to Nathanael:

“You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51)

This is the sad thing, because we major on the minor and we concentrate on these things, we often miss the major things in our relationship with God. He may have healed us of that nasty flu but we don't notice when a co-worker's heart has been prepared to receive our testimony about Jesus. We are yammering on so much about the miracle of our healed cold we miss that God is prepared to heal a heart. It is like the question Jesus asked, "What's easier to do, to heal a broken body or to forgive?" What's a broken body compared to the restoration of our heart for God? When the poor broken man was lowered down through the ceiling on a body board, what was the first thing Jesus did? He forgave the man his sins. He healed him to make a point with the leaders who were criticizing the forgiveness.

Remember when Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs on their own. He gave them authority over diseases and demons and told them to preach the good news. When they came back they were all excited because of the miracles they had been involved in and because the demons had to obey them. Jesus told them not to rejoice over these simple matters but instead to rejoice over the fact that their names were written in the Lambs Book of Life. Do not major on the minor things in life, or even in the Kingdom. God's provision is a simple thing. Be thankful for it but be more amazed at those who can come to know Jesus through you.

I have a friend who has been going through some tough times. He has had relationship issues as well as health issues plaguing his life. He has gone through a lot of discouraging things in his life. One day I was explaining to him the importance of getting his life sorted out with God, that this had to be his priority over everything else. He astounded me when he stated, "I wish Jesus would do something to convince me of his love for me". My answer came quick, without much thought because there was only one response. "He did," I said, "it's called the cross." He was majoring on so many minor things that the cross had become obscured from his sight.

If we honestly love Jesus Christ as we should, with all of our heart, mind, soul, body and strength, the minor things of life will remain minor. Forgiveness will come easily, and I mean the real kind of forgiveness. The kind that also causes you to forget, never holding it against the person, and never bringing it up again. So we will not become easily offended, we will not panic over the small mountains in our life like bills and health problems. We will be able to focus on the larger issues and trust the love of Jesus for us, so that, along with Paul we can declare:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Raise your expectation level and open your eyes to the greater things of God. Lift your eyes from the pebbles and look to the great mountains. It is time to crawl out of the gutters and put on your princely robes. Stop expecting so little in your relationship with Jesus Christ. God our Father has given us many promises; you need to learn these promises and treat them as good as gold. These promises have been given to you to live and you need to live the truth that the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. Stop being amazed that God knows you and start being amazed at what he wants to show you and how he wants to use you. You are not insignificant. Our Father knit you together in your mother's womb, filled you with purpose, and Jesus died for you so that you could be restored to our Father and to this purpose. Lift up your eyes and see the real work of our God.



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Great Neglect Of Today's Christian

There should be no greater thrill for us then the thrill of being an active participant in introducing someone to Jesus. What a great experience it is to see their eyes light up and their face beam with the supernatural re-birth, as the love of the Father washes over them and through them. Unfortunately it doesn't happen as often as it should. We have become a very organized and busy bunch of people, goal oriented, purpose driven. Somehow we are losing sight of the fact that our purpose is to be an active participant in the salvation of others.

Jesus should be of such value to us, so important, that we can't wait to tell others about him. Obviously the ones who should be impacted are those we are in relation with. Sometimes it is much easier for us to witness to strangers, since we will never see them again, but our family, friends and co-workers we have to live with. Yet the most effective work is with the group of people we are closest to because we get to encourage them after their re-birth. Besides, it should only be natural for us to want to introduce the most important person in our life to the other important people in our life. That's what Andrew did, because it was only natural for him to do so:

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. (John 1:41-42)

The first thing he did. It was probably the first thing we all did after our re-birth. There is something so incredibly special and powerful in meeting Jesus that we want everyone to know right away. Then over time we settle into routine and we become complacent about it. We start worrying about our reputation and only talk about Jesus if someone else brings him up in conversation. Often though it is not Jesus that is talked about but instead it is about our church or our church activities. Who gives a flying hoot about our church activities, it is Jesus who saves not the church. For some reason, something that should be so natural for us becomes something we have to turn into a church sub-committee. "Outreach", as we like to call it, because a thing that a committee or a group of people try to organize as one of the many church departments. Sometimes I think we do it more from tradition than from calling and purpose.

Just before Jesus ascended he told his group of disciples this:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

The Holy Spirit came. The Church exploded in Jerusalem. Everyone became quite content and no one went anywhere. Jesus told them to go but it was more comfortable to stay. Hey, they were doing the Lord's work! Maybe, but they were not being obedient. Jesus told them to go and they disobeyed so a great persecution arouse and the believers were scattered throughout the world. In fact, the instrument of that persecution was later transformed to become the greatest evangelist of that age and also gave us much of our New Testament, laying the foundation of the teaching of the Church.

Evangelism, witnessing, outreach, participant in the salvation of others does not belong to some sub-committee of the church. In fact the only way we can say it is the responsibility of the church at all is when we recognize that we are the Church. It is the responsibility, no, it is the honour of each of us to be witnesses of the grace and love of Jesus Christ. We are incredible examples of God's forgiveness and intervention in our lives. Andrew did not have his Master's of Theology to introduce his brother to Jesus, but he did have a story. He simply told Peter what he had seen and heard; he told him his story. You do not have to preach to people and you do not have to quote the entire Bible at them. Just simply tell them your story. Tell them what difference Jesus has made in your life. Jesus should be a natural part of our conversation. Remember, this is a supernatural thing that is happening. It is not a matter of powerful words but the power behind the words. While you are talking the Holy Spirit is doing his thing.

The Church was suppose to impact the world with the love of God demonstrated through Jesus Christ. That impact is suppose to happen through you and me. It is not up to the next guy; it's up to us. It should start with our family, friends, co-workers and then we should start bringing strangers into our lives, expanding our world to include others. The Kingdom is all about people. We enjoy the tools of the Church but the real Kingdom is found in the hearts of people so it is all about people. Thus, people and their salvation should be the great priority in our day. The days are getting shorter, the end is approaching, salvation should be a thing of urgency for us. Make the most of every opportunity today, and create some opportunities if you must in order to be an active participant in the salvation of others.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Happens When We Ask Silly Questions?

If we were able to ask Jesus one question, face to face, I wonder what question we would come up with. We have the opportunity to talk with Jesus every day but I wonder how deep our conversations go. We tend to be a silly bunch of people who major on the minor things in life. We like to consider ourselves intellectual and maybe even a bit refined but what is it that we spend most of our time thinking about? We probably waste most of our energy and thinking on things that will quickly pass away. As we begin to consider the calling of Jesus' disciples, I find it almost comical the first question he was asked by them, showing themselves to be such deep thinkers.

Jesus had already been revealed to John the Baptist and it was the day after Jesus had been baptised. For some reason he was passing by that way again and when John saw him he pointed Jesus out to two of his disciples, saying, "Look, the Lamb of God!" I can only imagine how much John had been speaking of the Messiah to his disciples, teaching them everything he knew and preparing them for the arrival. Now, here he was, walking past them. Of course they were curious so they decided to follow him.

Who knows what they expected to see or to discover. It may have simply been a fascination to see this man John had been teaching them about for a while now, or maybe they hoped to catch a glimpse of something that would reveal his greatness to them. John said this was the Messiah but what did he mean by "The Lamb of God"? Clearly they had no plan in their head except to follow him. Imagine how surprised they were when Jesus turned and asked them what they wanted. If this was who John said he was, the Messiah had not only noticed them but he had asked them a question.

Imagine if you will someone who you consider famous; perhaps an entertainment figure, or maybe a politician, or even a famous pastor or Christian leader. You saw them walking down the street so decided to follow them out of curiosity. But after doing so for a few blocks they suddenly turn around and ask you what you want. It is an unexpected moment. I wonder what you would say. Maybe ask them what they think of events in the world, or what their opinion is of the political situation in the country, or perhaps if they are doing anything to help to people in Haiti or Japan. I doubt you would squander such an opportunity to ask them for an autograph or perhaps which hotel they are staying at. Maybe then you could understand why these two disciples of John responded the way they did in this unexpected moment:

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” (John 1:37-38)

Here is the Messiah, the long awaited Messiah, and they ask him where he is staying. Of all the silly questions to ask. However, God never misses an opportunity to be part of our lives and Jesus turned this silly question into a wonderful opportunity. Instead of just telling them he invited them to join him, to see for themselves:

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
 So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. (John 1:39)

No question, no approach to God is a silly thing. Jesus will use any opportunity to bring people into relationship. I am being a bit critical of our silliness at times but it is in a "tongue in cheek" attitude because I know God is not interested in measuring our intelligence by the questions we ask; he is only thankful that we actually engage him. There are unexpected moments in our day when God seems to catch us by surprise and we may react in a similar manner, coming up with whatever is at hand. Sometimes it is just surface stuff, not things of great importance, but God uses that to draw us into relationship.

That one day that those disciples spent with Jesus changed them for the rest of their lives. If they had just run away when Jesus turned around or if they had not accepted his invitation to see where he was staying, they would have missed out. When we respond to God with surface stuff and he invites us to go deeper with him, don't miss the opportunity. The fact that you were willing to engage him could be the first step to something incredible. Your conversation may not start off with the most intellectual premise but I doubt that God is going to be too impressed by your intelligence anyway. But when he invites you to spend the day with him, to take a walk, to see what he considers to be important, take him up on the invitation. See what is important to God because you may never be the same again. There is no such thing as a silly question with God, only opportunity.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

We Are Going To Church Because ...

Come on, let's admit it; most of the troubles we face are things we have caused ourselves. There are a few rare things that we may be totally innocent of, but for the most part we bring trouble to ourselves. Either we forget to do things we should or we but it off, not dealing with it right away, or we out-and-out just refuse to do what is right. We say things we shouldn't, do things we mustn't, and desire things we should run away from. It is true what Solomon wrote:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, 
   but fools 
despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)

Understanding that the use of "fool" here means those who are morally deficient, we can relate. The fact is that without Jesus Christ in us we would be left to our own terrible selves, getting into all kinds of trouble and mischief. As much as we want to picture ourselves as a moral race, advanced from previous generations, all we have to do is take a good look around us and see that we are morally bankrupt. We may have a few shining moments in our lives and in our society but it's the other moments that cause the problem. We are not capable of building a moral society because our own nature will de-rail our efforts every time. We need Jesus, who is the only one who can transform us into a new creation, with a transformed heart and mind.

Why are you going to church this morning or even tonight? Is it not because you want to be something more than you are? Then we need to recognize that attending church will not change us any more than attending a garden party will change us. It may have a momentary effect on us but it will not last very long and it certainly will not hold up against the opposition of our nature. We need a new nature and that only happens through the transformation that takes place when we encounter Jesus. I don't mean the decision to change because of the guilt that comes on us from the preaching. I mean the supernatural transformation that takes place when we decided to allow ourselves to die to everything we know and accept about ourselves, and then are raised into new life, a new birth, when we are made alive in Jesus.

Now here is the thing; when we have experienced this re-birth we realize that nothing else matters to us more than the life-giver, Jesus Christ. He becomes our everything. We recognize he is our life and even the breath we breathe is owed to him. He is our great provider and sustainer. When we feel that old nature wanting to join with us again, wanting to haul us back into that slimy pit and when we begin to feel the pressures of this world because we don't fit in, we rely on the same truth of which the psalmist wrote:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” 
   your love, O LORD, supported me. 
When anxiety was great within me, 
   your consolation brought joy to my soul. (Psalm 94:18-19)

That is why we are going to church this morning, to celebrate the great things he has done for us, the mighty works of his hand. How often has his love sustained and supported us this week? How often has his work in us flooded us with a joy unspeakable, even when people around us were overwhelmed by despair and anxiety? We go to worship Jesus today because he is our everything:

It is good to praise the LORD 
   and make music to your name, O Most High, 
to proclaim your love in the morning 
   and your faithfulness at night. (Psalm 92:1-2)

It is not us so much that we have become stronger but instead that we now know our source of strength. When things become hard we lift up our eyes to the LORD and he rescues us. When we feel that we are faint and weary, we call out to Jesus and he restores our strength. When we feel we cannot resist the overwhelming nature of sin, he steals us away on his wings of love. We sing and shout with the psalmists today:

But the LORD has become my fortress, 
   and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. (Psalm 94:22)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
   will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, 
   my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)

We go to church this morning to celebrate. We recognize that we could not save ourselves from ourselves; it took the supernatural act of love from Jesus Christ and the Father. We recognize that we cannot live for Jesus without being alive in Jesus, which is not a thing of the flesh but is supernatural. We recognize that we have adversaries that would love to destroy this supernatural work in us but he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. We celebrate because Jesus is our everything and, if we want to enter his glorious rest, must remain our everything. Enter in with thankful hearts this morning, even if you faced some storms this week, especially because you faced those storms. He has proved to be a very solid fortress indeed. Sing! Dance! And Shout! the glorious praises of our LORD today!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It Is Good To Praise The Lord

There is a reason some disciples of Jesus grow weak, tired and weary of their spiritual walk. It is not a difficult matter to understand if you can understand the nature of our relationship with Jesus. Some see Christianity as nothing more than a religion that you are born into, a system of rights and passages, a place of ceremonies. If you are willing to see you will even find this attitude among some evangelicals. However, our relationship with Jesus is no more religious than it was for the disciples. To be a disciple is not a one-time act but instead an ongoing and developing relationship.

Weariness creeps into any relationship where effort is not being made to discover new things. A marriage will only stay vibrant if both people are pursuing intimacy, a desire to be with and to know each other. This is also true of friendships that will have any relevancy in the years to come. Friendship cannot be based on what was but must instead be built on what it is today. This all takes an investment of time and effort and it is no different in our relationship with the most important person in our life, Jesus Christ.

When someone starts telling me that they are feeling spiritually weak and that God never seems to be around any more, my first few questions are predictable, "How much time are you spending with Jesus?" "How much effort are you putting into your Bible study?" "How are you doing with developing your conversation with Jesus?" Usually the answer comes back that things are not going so good because they feel like they are talking to the air and that the Bible is feeling dry and useless. Then they seem a bit surprised by my follow up question; "What do you do for worship?"

In most cases the idea of worship outside of Sunday seems like a ridiculous idea to people but ever since I was 19 years old I found that daily worship, in whatever form, to be essential to a growing, vibrant relationship with Jesus. Worship is what keeps everything in perspective. It keeps God big and us small. It turns our gigantic troubles into "light and momentary" things. It often reveals God's glory, his greatness and we realize what a privilege we have to know him. It doesn't matter the form of worship.

When I was younger I would write poems of worship or read off the hymns as poems of praise. I have also read out loud different psalms as an offering of praise. These days, thanks to tools such as YouTube, I am able to worship in song. It is as the psalmist wrote:

It is good to praise the LORD 
   and make music to your name, O Most High, 
to proclaim your love in the morning 
   and your faithfulness at night, 
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre 
   and the melody of the harp. (Psalm 92:1-3)

It is good to praise the Lord. It feels good, physically, emotionally, spiritually as we thank him for his love in the morning and his faithfulness at night. In fact, it is worship that brings to life our study of the Word of God as well as our conversation with him. Oh what incredibly tender moments of prayer I have had after taking a walk out in the woods and praising him with songs. It caused my entire being to focus on who he is and who I am in him. I would even dance and shout in those woods until the Spirit would move me to silence and my eyes were opened to the beautiful presence of God. What blessed moments those were as I emptied my heart into him so that nothing, no fear, no worry, no anxiety, no desire remained hidden from him.

It is as we worship that we are reminded of his greatness and how foolish this world is:

For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD;
   I sing for joy at the works of your hands.
How great are your works, O LORD,
   how profound your thoughts!
The senseless man does not know,
   fools do not understand,
that though the wicked spring up like grass
   and all evildoers flourish,
they will be forever destroyed.
But you, O LORD, are exalted forever. (Psalm 92:4-8)

So maybe you have never thought of worshipping outside of Sundays but you are desperate to do something because your relationship with Jesus right now is dry. Here are a few things to keep in mind. First, it is not enough to simply listen to worship, you need to participate. YouTube has great worship with lyrics. Look for the slide shows that contain the lyrics. It is all about participating. Second concentrate on the lyrics, what you are singing. Save in your favourites those songs that speak to your heart, that speak to you of God's greatness, that make you feel you have actually worshipped. Third, worship every day, especially before you do any Bible study or go into prayer. Allow me to give you a couple of suggestions to start with and you can start building from there:

Misty Edwards - Soul Cry
Misty Edwards - You Won't Relent

If you want further suggestions or some help with developing worship you could contact Gerry Desjardins who sends out a daily list of worship songs via email. He is found on FaceBook as "Worshipper777".

We have no excuses for allowing our relationship with Jesus to grow tired and weak. We have the Spirit, worship, the Word, prayer, and the Body of Christ. If we are serious about growing in spiritual maturity then all it takes from us is the desire and the discipline, the same discipline all relationships require. If you neglect these things then you should not be surprised to find yourself "in a dry and thirsty land" but just know that this can be avoided. Don't wait for tomorrow, take the time to worship Jesus Christ today with a heart of thanksgiving and remember, "It is good to praise the LORD."

Friday, March 18, 2011

To Whom Does The Work Of Salvation Belong?

It is difficult to suppress the thought sometimes that we are doing it all wrong. I mean we still have this old world idea of treating salvation like factory work. We set up a system, teach everyone the system and then expect that we will mass produce salvation. We consider our factories (churches) successful when we start achieving high numbers and we are able to turn out new Christians by the hundreds each week. Praise God if this is his hand at work and praise him even louder for his great work of grace, but woe is us if we have left out the most important step of our "method". There can be no salvation if the Father has not revealed the Son.

There can be no authentic salvation if the Father has not revealed Jesus to the individual. We can make impassioned pleas and play on the hearts of our audience. That audience can respond to the emotions or even to the logic of our argument but such a response can dissipate in a short period of time because the work was done by the argument of man. Salvation is a wonderful work that belongs to God. If God does not call the individual and reveal to him the Son then how can a person "know" Jesus as a personal Saviour?

The Word also makes this clear, that the Son must be revealed by the Father. Let's start with John the Baptist:

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34)

John said he would not have known Jesus except that Jesus was revealed to him by the one who sent him. He was sent by the Father. Later we have Peter's confession of Jesus, when he declared that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus' response:

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

We have gone through a few decades now of the Church Growth movement but the problem started long before that. It started as soon as man thought he could come up with a method to make it easier for people to accept Jesus. However, today it is difficult to see past the business of salvation and growth in the Church; all our fancy programs and tools geared to maximize the attractiveness of the Church. Don't get me wrong, I think everyone has their heart in the right place but my concern is for those individuals in our "system" who think they know Jesus but become disillusioned after a while. The reason for their disillusionment is because Jesus never really became real to them. They joined us because people were friendly and welcoming and it felt like family. They stayed because it gave them a sense of belonging and purpose. They loved the entertainment value of the music and the humorous pastor. People really seemed to be going somewhere, there was a clear vision and a common goal. Yet, they still felt empty and lost and eventually everything else faded away because Jesus was never revealed to them.

Jesus explained:

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

I am not saying we stop preaching, teaching and evangelising. No, in fact I believe we need to be doing more of it, but it is powerless without the anointing of God. We are not busy with the work of this world and so the methods of this world have no lasting effect. We must understand that we are involved in a supernatural work and we must see the words we speak and the actions we take as having a supernatural effect. We must leave God space to work and we need to understand he will use whoever he wants wherever he wants. We only need stay close to him and obedient to him. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit because there are those around us who are ready to receive and others who are not. We must be ready for every opportunity and we must understand that our words do not matter but the anointing does. Paul explained:

I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

I praise God for the great orators in the Body, the great communicators of God's Word, the deep teachers who correctly handle the Word of God because we need them. But they are not the mass producers of salvation because salvation cannot be massed produced. Salvation is individual and it comes from the anointing of God as he reveals his Son to individuals. I praise God for those he has called to work the trenches, those who get muddy in everyday life, who work with the unclean masses, who remain sensitive to the Spirit and who are present to make the most of every opportunity. They are not necessarily the best educated, the greatest communicators, the best with social skills or even the most liked but what they are is anointed. As they speak the Father reveals the Son and people step into the Kingdom for eternity.

I would like to see us get back on track. I would like us to start seeing who is responsible for the salvation of man. I would like us to step back from our methods and concentrate more on our relationship. I would like to see us give more room to God to work. I would like to see a real revival among God's people, a revival for the lost. I would like to see a great awakening in our land but understand that this can only happen if God is calling to the people. My prayer, my conversation with my Father right now is that he would begin to call so that people could respond. My place is simply to explain that voice to people who are hearing it. I don't need to argue them into the Kingdom because God will be revealing the Son to them and I will only explain what they are seeing. This is God's work of Salvation and I am privileged to be part of it.