Thursday, June 30, 2011

Set Free From The Guilt Of Your Past

I am back with my restored internet. Yeah! Only to discover that my faithful posting of my daily blogs by email failed to work. Boo! I am sorry about that. I have no idea what happened but I did try.

Today I want to pick up again with Paul's letter to Timothy, particularly with something that should assure us of the freedom we enjoy in Jesus Christ. One of the worse thing to suffer is shame, regret and even fear of things we have done in the past. We all know that we seem to live several life-times over our many years as different events change us, molding us into the person we are today. Who we were 40 years ago, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago is not who we are today. Who we will be in 10 or 20 years from now will not be the person we are today; not if we are growing and maturing as we are suppose to. If this is true for us normally, how much more is it spiritually?

To truly accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is to truly let go of what we were. That is hard for a lot of people. Some see Jesus as nothing more than an insurance policy they take out in case something bad happens. He is like that savings account they tuck away in the event of a rainy day. But to accept Jesus is to accept a complete make-over, a complete transformation of our heart and mind (the body transformation takes place in the future); changing our perspective, thinking, attitude, emotions. It is also a confession of what we were, terrible rebellious sinners, separated from God; and an acceptance of what we have become through Jesus, a new creation, the righteous children of God. In the words of the Holy Spirit through Paul:

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

We can accept a lot of things but sometimes this is the hardest because the enemy wants to keep us enslaved to our past, to the things we are guilty of. He does not want us to walk in the freedom that our Father's grace and mercy has given to us as a gift. Just like the Prodigal Son, we want to earn our way out of guilt and shame. But, just like the father of that son, our Father wipes out the past, forgets it and brings us into his home with a great celebration. This is the new reality we have to accept. With this we must let go of guilt and shame for our past, not allowing them to have control over us any more. We do this by understanding the new reality Jesus brought us into:

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

Living this reality will free you up from all bondage to your past. You have been set free because the law no longer applies to you. This is what Paul explained to Timothy:

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

My father used to tell me that locks were for honest people because the dishonest would always find a way in. The law is for those who rebel against society's norms, who act outside of what is considered acceptable behaviour. The righteous have no need of the law. Looking at it in the flesh, if we were to apply the two greatest spiritual laws, to love God and to love others, we would discover that we would not need to fear any law in our society. How much more then the Spiritually laws that were given to define man's rebellion against God? The Word tells us:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Galatians 5:18)

Having accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, having accepted his forgiveness, and now led by the Holy Spirit, we have no fear of the law because we have been transported into this incredible place of God's grace. He has declared what was not righteous to be righteous. He has brought us into a right relationship with him. We have been set free from our past. It does not matter what we were before, it is not who we are now. The enemy, the world, maybe even family will try to keep us in that place, will attempt to label us, but Jesus has removed all such labels. It is hard for people we have hurt in the past to accept this transformation but that does not deny its truth and its power. You cannot allow your past to shape you any more because you have been cut off from it. Don't go back there but press on to take hold of the prize for which Jesus died for you to receive. My friend, you are a new creation; the old is gone and the new has come. Now live! Live for Jesus' glory, having been washed of all your sin, shame and guilt. Let him set you free from that prison so you can soar with the eagles. Be free!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

An Example Of God's Perfect Provision

My family and I are about to hit the road for the weekend but I wanted to leave you with a small example of God's provision. Yesterday I was saying how we often waste time by trying to do for ourselves what God is willing to do for us. What we come up with falls short of the perfect provision of our Lord. I have a wonderful example of that to share with you.

We don't own a car, being perfectly content with our bicycles to get around town. However, there are a few occasions when we need to borrow a vehicle to go further distances. We prayed and God provoked a brother in love to lend us his van. We are very thankful for this because it is a wonderful vehicle to drive. However, there is only one slight problem; it has a CD player instead of a cassette player. No, we are not stuck back in the dinosaur age, carrying around with us bucket loads of cassettes but neither are we stuck in the age of CD's. We are Ipod people who use a special cassette that attaches to our Ipod, allowing us to use the vehicle's speakers. Therefore, no cassette player, no Ipod.

Driving home from picking up the van we discussed this problem to try to discover a solution. This was important because driving with 4 children for 6 hours it was important to have entertainment. We love listening to audio books and it keeps the kids occupied for hours on end. I thought that if we could get a power converter we could bring along some extra speakers to plug the Ipod into. My wife agreed so we decided we would stop at Best Buy on the way home.

The thing was, it was already very late and the stores in our city close at 9 PM. Weird, I know. So I hurried through the traffic and pulled up in front of the store for my wife to jump out. But just as she did they pulled the gates across the door. We missed it by a few seconds. Dejected she climbed back into the van. I thought we should try Wal-Mart because sometimes that store has later hours and they were just across the street. So we rushed to Wal-Mart but as we pulled into the parking lot I saw that the store sign was off meaning they were closed. But my wife noticed that people had just gone into Future Shop, so I made a quick right and pulled up in front of the door. She jumped out just in time to see them lock the door. Completely defeated we decided to head home.

Arriving home I parked the van and started looking around in it. I crawled into the back to see how we would sit the children and what kind of room they had. I was looking in the storage compartments to see how much room they had for their books and toys when I noticed something in the last compartment. I pulled it out to get a better look and discovered I was holding a power converter. I held it up for my wife to see as I sat in the back of the van having a good belly laugh over the perfect provision of God.

Not only had God provided the van we needed but he threw in the little extra things to make it a pleasant trip for everyone. Where my wife and I wasted time running around trying to provide for ourselves, our Lord had already given what we needed. That is my point; we often waste time and energy chasing after things Jesus has already provided us with. Often, when we decide to pray about it, he simply opens our eyes so we can see that he has already answered.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)

They are not just words; they are the perfect promise of Jesus. If we truly love him then we know we can trust him. He provides far greater things than power converters, this was only an example of his perfect provision. He provides everything you need. He only asks us to trust him. Caste your burden on Jesus today; declare your love and trust; and allow his wonderful perfect peace to be the thing that occupies your heart today. To God be the glory!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Every Good Gift Is From Above

God is so very good! If you don't believe and trust that statement you have not had much experience with God. We call him Father because just like a parent he has our best interest at heart all the time and just like a parent he sees what we need as a greater priority than those things that we want. As children we rarely have the big picture in mind because it is so big we can't conceive it, so some of the things he allows into our lives are a puzzle to us but that is where the issue of trust comes in. We need to claim and accept this fact:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Our temptation is to not trust God and his promises. The first thing we run to in an emergency or desperate situation is our ability to get out of it. Prayer is often a second thought instead of the first and usually the last thing we do after we have tried to do everything ourselves. But our Father is more than this, as is the Son Jesus Christ and we are even possessed by his power through the Holy Spirit in us. He cares even about the smallest things in our lives.

Some of you know that my bicycle, which is my means of transportation, busted beyond repair this week. What you may not know is that in less than 24 hours it was replaced by a brand new bicycle. A teenager in my church and his mom felt led to provide me with a new bicycle. It was a widow's mite situation which I know the Lord will use as a seed to pour back into them his countless blessings. I asked the Lord to meet my need and went on with serving him and he in turn touched two hearts to respond. Amazing.

As well this week, I needed a van to take my children to their mom's home for a few weeks. She lives six hours away which makes it a bit hard to cycle to get there. We prayed. We put our need out there. We prayed some more. For a moment we had a van and then we didn't. Then we had another van and then we didn't. Finally, two days before we had to go, the Lord did something and now I have a van sitting in my driveway, ready for our trip tomorrow. A very nice van too. This too came as a result of a Christian brother's heart and his sacrifice for us.

Some would look at this and say that God hasn't provided anything, it is simply people responding to a need. But these people do not understand the Church and God's purpose through the Church. God provides in many different ways but his favorite seems to be to work through the Body of Christ. Jesus had prayed:

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)

The desire has always been that the members of the Body, the Church, would be in complete unity. In explaining how the Body functions with members of such diversity the Apostle Paul explained:

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

This is an important point and one which Paul repeated himself:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

To make it super clear the Spirit also tells us through Paul:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

This is the heart of compassion of our God lived out through the Church, his people. Every act of kindness, every prayer I pray, is not mine but prompted by the Holy Spirit in me. Left to my own devices I would sink to the lowest depths of this cesspool we call humanity. There is no good thing in me without Jesus Christ. So I do not give credit to myself for any kindness and compassion I show. I will not claim to be a good man. Instead I gladly give the credit and glory to Jesus in me. In turn I believe every good thing that is done for me also comes from that same Lord:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

I praise the Lord for the hearts of his children who have blessed me and my family this week by their sacrificial giving. I love them dearly for it. But I must give the glory to God and I know they would want it that way as well, because such things come from the prompting of the Holy Spirit. So I thank the Lord for his love and my friends for their obedience. This happens all the time in our church because we trust God. He gave us his promises and we believe in him for their fulfillment in our lives. He said it and we believe it. This allows his peace and his joy to permeate our daily living. You too can possess this peace and joy but it must start with trusting Jesus.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stop Wasting Your Time With Meaningless Talk

It's Summer! At  long last it is here and we have a little more time to do some of the things we love. Over this summer I am going to use Paul's letters to Timothy as the foundation of my daily devotions. I pray we will find this exploration both interesting and uplifting as we continue in our service to our Lord Jesus.

A while ago I came across a blog by a man with a kindred-spirit for the Church. He stated that there was a reason why Jesus did not choose the educated or religious leaders to be his disciples. If he had then they would still be sitting around the "table" discussing doctrine. He went on to write that the problem with the Church today is that we have turned it into a school, putting teachers and philosophers in charge so that we don't actually get anything done. He said, and I agree, that we need to recognize the anointed calling of those who were plumbers, construction workers, police officers, bakers and such people who see the down-to-earth purpose of God's plan and who have been anointed for the task. We need men and women of action not theory teachers and debaters. This is basically what Paul wrote to Timothy.

There was a reason why Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to give oversight to the ministry there:

Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:3-4)

Sound a bit familiar? Teachings that promote controversies rather than God's work; a work that is by faith alone. Consider teachers like Rob Bell and Rick Warren who have recently come out with things that are causing more division than they are promoting God's work. It is called work for a reason. We are suppose to be busy at it not sitting around writing books and having debates. The disciples absorbed what Jesus taught and then went out and did it. We have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit so we should be doing the same, with a bit of guidance from the Five-Fold ministry, who not only teach but also correct and break new ground for us to work in.

Paul warned Timothy that this was an important responsibility he had left him with and that it had to be done in a Christ-like manner. Correction must be done right. If it is done with a wrong spirit it will only destroy and God does not correct us by destroying us:

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

Paul points out to Timothy that these are the qualities that are lacking in those who are stirring up such controversies at that time. I would say they are easily applied to today as well:

Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Timothy 1:6-7)

We have moved away from a number of things in the Church including the anointing for the calling of any office in the Church. Now a pastor has to have a bunch of letters after his name and have written a few books before anyone will consider him a success. We have turned the Church into a house of academics instead of the House of the Spirit. It is not the anointed we want behind the pulpit but instead the educated so that we can feel we are being taught by a teacher. We have ceased to be "doers" of the Word and have become philosophers, psychologists and debaters of the Word.

God's Word is a supernatural thing and in order for me to understand it I must be taught by the Spirit which comes by the anointing of God. I don't care if someone has been studying the Word for 60 years and is a Doctor of Theology. If he does not possess the anointing he does not possess the Spirit's understanding. It is possible to know the Word without knowing the Word. Without the Holy Spirit and a revelation of God's Word it is all meaningless talk. They want to be teachers but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm as truth. And we chase after them because they are super stars of the Church. Oh Lord, help us!

My friends, don't fall into this trap. Jesus did not leave us here to argue over doctrines. He left us here because the world needs to hear the Good News and to encounter Jesus Christ. The World needs to see his compassion through us but even more than that they need to see his glory. We need to be out there living the Word of God, being "doers", the workers he has called us to be. Yes, we need instruction in the Word in order to become mature but I want you to read carefully the purpose of the Five-Fold in the Church:

It was he (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Note: to prepare God's people for works of service. This does not mean good works but works of service, the work of the Church, every level of work but work nonetheless. This is what brings about unity, not sitting around debating doctrine. Working shoulder to shoulder with the same message and same purpose, we cannot help but feel as one. When Jesus asks us to give an account for our calling and the talents he gave us, what are we going to say? Oh, we had some really good discussions about it and I even wrote twelve books to help people to discuss it further? Are we crazy? Jesus said that when he returns he had better find us busy doing what he has given us to do. If all that is coming out of your small groups and Bible Studies is more discussion and there is no multiplication going on and souls are not being won for the Kingdom, we are wasting our time with meaningless talk.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way Home Last Night ...

Those of you who know me well know that I have one passion: Jesus Christ. He is my inspiration and hope in everything I do, think and plan. My great desire is to hear those words from him: "Well done, good and faithful servant". A far distant second place passion is cycling. I really enjoy cycling but beyond the enjoyment it has a practical purpose; it is my transportation. I don't own a car so it is how my family gets around, how I buy groceries, how we entertain ourselves. Without our bicycles my family is stuck.

Well, a funny thing happened to me on the way home from the Awards Ceremony at our school last night. It was a great time at the ceremony with lots of laughter and a great celebration of the achievement of our students. It finished late as usual so it was very dark out as we prepared to cycle home. We were decked out in all our night cycling gear when we headed out into the transforming darkness of our wonderful city.

We were almost home, one street away, when I felt my seat adjust. I was in conversation with my 6 year old son who I was pulling along in our bike child buggy so I didn't give it much thought. Then I felt the seat adjust again and now it felt awkward. I figured the bolt underneath must have become loose and I would have to adjust it in the morning. Then the seat gave way completely and I was left peddling standing up. When I looked down I was shocked and horrified to discover that some welding on the bicycle had let go and the seat had actually torn away from the frame. The bicycle was a grateful gift from my son who had purchased it for me almost eight years ago from a gentlemen who repaired and sold used bicycles.

I can't even explain how my heart sank. Our entire summer plans just went out the window. We don't have money for a vacation so we had planned to explore the city and out-lying regions on bicycle. I was really looking forward to that. Then the full ramifications hit home. I use that bicycle for everything. We do our grocery shopping by attaching the children's bike buggy to haul the groceries home. We got to the stores with our bicycles, prayer meeting, pastoral visits, to work, to explore, to play. I went to bed feeling very low.

I am glad to say that the Spirit woke me up with a different thinking. I am a man of the Word of God and recently I have made it very clear to people that I have made a decision. It is a simple decision. I have decided to live with the understanding that if God said it then I believe it. Sounds like a catch phrase but it isn't. What is the sense of worshiping a God who we do not trust? What is the sense of study a Bible we do not believe? Why declare that we follow Jesus if we are not going to take him at his Word?

This morning the Spirit reminded me of one of those foundational things that Jesus promised:

   “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
   “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

I wanted to give that passage in it's entirety because it is something that we read, hear about and maybe even think about but by our actions prove that we do not believe. But God said it so we must believe it. God knows what we need so when we ask he provides. It's that simple. He answers our need, not because we deserve it but because he loves us. He provides for us out of his unfailing love. Hmmmmm ... I wonder what you are not trusting him with today?

I am trusting him for a new bicycle, not because I enjoy cycling but because it is essential for me (even though I do enjoy it), and the he says he provides for our needs. He will provide a bicycle for me out of his unfailing love. Standing on this promise restores my heart and fills me with a great peace. For me it is a bicycle but what is it for you? What do you need to be trusting him with right now? What is the need in your life that you have been working so hard to try to deal with, so much so you have been setting aside the things of the Kingdom? Don't allow your needs to distract you from our purpose. Serve him strong, hard and with great joy and never let your passion for the things of the Kingdom to diminish. Today, I declare to you, we have a good God who loves us. God said it and I believe it. Yes and Amen!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's Time To Shut Up Now

For the first time in a long time I went out to a concert last night with my wife and her brother. It was a great gift from my brother-in-law, tickets to an Owl City concert with Matt Kearney opening for him. Perhaps you remember Owl City from the song "Fire Flies" that was popular for a while, but he sings a number of other really good songs as well. Personally I can take him in small doses but I find too many of his songs have the same style so I find myself getting overwhelmed by it after a while. However, my wife and brother-in-law really enjoy it so I enjoyed enjoying it with them.

Something I noticed during the concert was that many of the attendees were more into the music than they were the lyrics. They would move and sway and one girl was dancing all over the place but much of the words being sung seemed to go right over their heads. Owl City sings a lot about God in his songs, giving God honour, glory and expressing his love and appreciation for all that God is. He also sings about all kinds of relationships which seem a lot of people identify with. His music is very positive and uplifting. I may find his style of music to be the same all the time but his lyrics are incredible. Yet, much of it goes right past the listeners because very few people listen to words any more. Words seem to hold very little value to these newer generations that have been bombarded by so many words.

One of the teens in my church told his mother the other day that he didn't see the sense in coming to church because "it's just words". What a sad statement, that the Church is just words. Just words but those words are vital and can be life changing. Even Jesus is known as the Word of God made flesh and that's what I want to consider for a moment. It is significant that to save us God had to clothe his Word in flesh in order that he could take action for us. Words are important; what we say and how we say it has great impact but first we need to convince people to listen. This happens when they are attracted by what we do.

A man may tell a woman that he loves her a million times without any reaction from her but the moment he allows his love to take action by some kindness or sacrifice she is all ears to his words. We tell our children that we love them all the time, and that is important, but they are convinced of our words when we demonstrate it in our actions. The world has stopped listening to our words because they are not convinced by our actions. They are confused with the immaturity they see in the Church, when we fail to love each other because of trifling matters. How can they be convinced of God's love when God's children can't even get along? Allow me to share some important words with you.

Jesus commanded us:  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

The world will know our words are authentic when we love each other as Jesus has loved us, by our actions and sacrifice. Paul, the once great persecutor of the Church, turned great lover of Jesus and his Body, taught:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

I really appreciate how he worded it:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

I could go on and on with the Scripture but allow me to share just one last one from a man who had to learn how to love with great maturity:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)

My point is simple; the world is not going to listen to our words until we have attracted them by our actions. When did the crowds start following Jesus? Was it when he started his preaching of the Good News or when he started healing people out of his great compassion for a suffering humanity? It was because of his great acts of love that people started listening to his message. If we continue telling the world that Jesus loves them but continue to hate one another then they will not even listen. If we tell the world that Jesus loves them but then treat the lowly sinner with hatred and contempt then they will not listen. When did Jesus die for us? Was it after we cleaned up our act? No:

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

You notice, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this". God didn't just tell us he loved us but he demonstrated it in his actions. And he didn't demonstrate it once we were presentable to him but he did it when we were rotten with sin. This is love ...

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)


This is love for God: to obey his commands. (1 John 5:3)


And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 John 1:6)

Perhaps it is time to stop talking until our actions become as attractive as the message. Love is not being right. Love is obedience to God. Actions always speak louder than words!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Take Time For A Spiritual Check-Up Today

I think it is a very good exercise to occasionally take a step back from our life and do a self-evaluation. Just like we are suppose to take our car in a couple of times of year for a tune-up to make sure it is running well. Just like we are suppose to take our bodies in once a year to have the doctor check us out to make sure everything is okay. Taking a step back from our lives allows us to check our perspective and motivations. It also allows us to keep everything in the context of God's plan and purpose.

This is important because we can become too focused on ourselves, allowing selfishness and self-centeredness to creep in and take over. Such things are like death to a Christ-centered heart. Those who have accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord have been re-created, have died to themselves and are now alive in Jesus. They live by two rules that form their motivation for everything they do: love God with your entire being and love others. So you can see how selfishness and self-centeredness could destroy such people.

People who become focused on themselves end up being motivated by self-gratification. Everything becomes about what they want, what brings them pleasure, what makes them happy and these things usually result in the unhappiness of the people around them. All they talk about is themselves. They constantly pray about themselves. Everything is always focused on them. They are the sort of people who buy treats for their kids but eat them themselves. They buy a gift for their spouse so they can use it themselves. It is never about anyone else.

People who fall into this trap also fail in their service to Jesus, it becomes an inconvenience. They don't take into consideration the major inconvenience Jesus went through for us because his suffering and death don't seem real to them. In their self-centeredness they lose sight of the reality of Jesus' suffering death, of his great sacrifice to even become one of us, of his taking on all of our sins. Most of us are glad to serve him out of respect, love and gratitude for what he has done for us. We gladly set aside what we want , what we desire, in order to serve him according to his will. We realize that this will cause some inconvenience but what is that compared to what he has done for us? When our lives are focused on Jesus' love for us everything changes and we become givers instead of takers,

Taking a step back from our life and doing an evaluation goes a long way in helping us remain healthy Christians. When we look at our actions in perspective with Christ's love it doesn't take much to see if there is any selfish way in us. Selfishness leads to weariness but service to Jesus leads to constant renewal as we serve in his strength instead of our own. Check it out for yourself and see if "love God" and "love your neighbour" are the focus of your life. Don't allow selfishness to undermine all that God has been doing in you and through you.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

As We Worship Today, Understand There Is Purpose In Unity

Like many of my fellow Canadians I have been shocked and appalled by the images that have come out of Vancouver from Wednesday evening. It is unbelievable that riots can develop after a sports events here in Canada. We were use to seeing such things happening across the ocean as other people's passions for soccer would get the better of them, but here in Canada? Over hockey? After several years in several different cities we have to face the fact that this has become our reality too. Yet, out of the destruction we are catching glimpses of heroes.

It is amazing to see young men standing in front of the mob, refusing to allow them to destroy innocent businesses. Instead of getting caught up with the mindless destruction and unchecked greed, these people stood up for what was right, in the face of uncontrolled violence. These were just ordinary people who had no connection with the businesses for which they were laying down their lives. They simply knew that there was a difference between right and wrong and they made the decision to stand for what was right.

What I noticed was those who stood together as a group were successful and those who tried to do it on their own ended up getting beaten. It was heart wrenching to see one man who dove in to stop the rioters end up getting beaten by a bunch of cowards. I think the problem was his technique.

The poor man dove in with passion and visited violence upon those who were being violent. He picked up an object and rushed the crowd to push them back but the crowd swarmed around him and beat him from behind. He was a lone man doing something right with the wrong method. His motivation was honourable but his manner was not. Thankfully others jumped to his rescue and he was taken away to safety.

Those who did succeed in holding back the rioters were those who simply stood their ground. They did not threaten anyone. They did not brandish any weapon. The did not try to push back the crowd. They simply stood, shoulder to shoulder, arms crossed or arms held out in a cross shape, and stared back at the evil before them. From what I could see in the videos, not one of them was touched and no one even attempted to get by them. These heroes simply stood united in their belief that good is better than evil and they proved it was stronger too.

What an incredible lesson for us as members of the Body of Christ. The Word tells us that we are united by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit in us, and that we are to stand together in the face of the rampant evil of this world. We are told to stand our ground, the ground we have been given:

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)

That is what those brave souls did in Vancouver, they stood in the face of evil. But it is important to realize that their real success was found in the fact that they did not act alone. It was in their unity that two turned away thousands, that a handful kept even more from passing through. In the face of united good evil can never triumph. That is the Church:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. (Philippians 1:27-28)

I believe that most of us are taking a stand against evil but at the same time we are missing the importance of unity. We allow the least little things to divide us, usually because we allow our flesh to have control over our spirit. We have reached a stage in the history of man where the children of God need to step into maturity in the Spirit, to set aside self, to be united as one, and make our stand. If a bunch of Canadians could it to protect some stores, can the Church not also do it to see millions of people saved?

As you go off to worship today please keep this in mind. As you worship our wonderful Lord and Saviour also deal with the wounds, pains, hurts and unforgiveness of your heart. Remove any barriers that must come down so we can move forward in our united front. Let us lift up God and others above our self-worth and self-needs. There is a world that needs to see the power and glory of Jesus Christ; let us not fail them by failing each other. To God be the glory!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Glow-In-The-Dark Face Is A Reminder Of How Foolish I can Still Be

I think we imagine ourselves to be fairly wise and of good intelligence but the truth is that we have great moments of foolishness. Mind you, I am speaking from a man's perspective, but I have seen many a foolish thing from women as well. We know the evidence that talking on a cell phone while driving causes accidents, yet every day I see people talking on their cell phones. We know the evidence that smoking causes cancer yet I still see a few hundred people a day sucking on those cancer sticks. We know that bicycle helmets help prevent brain injuries yet 50% of the people I see on a bicycle have no helmets. The problem is that many people don't think anything bad is ever going to happen and I am one of them.

This weekend is our school's car wash and we had a great day yesterday. The sun was out all day and it was warm without being hot. The low humidity made it an enjoyable day and we had lots of customers. We made sure all the children had ample sunscreen in thick layers, re-applied every few hours. The sun of today is not like the sun of my childhood and there is significant danger from sunburns in this age. However, that did not cause this foolish man to pause for a moment to apply the stuff to himself. No, he thought he was the exception, that nothing bad would happen to him. 

What is strange is that I am a stickler for not talking on the cell phone while driving, always wearing a bike helmet and teaching children of the danger of smoking. I made sure everyone else understood the need for sunscreen and it even crossed my mind at one point that I should stop and put some on, but it was just a fleeting thought. It wasn't until a friend told me I was looking pretty red that I asked my wife to help me with some sun screen, but that's like closing the barn door after the horses have run away. It was only when I came home and looked in the mirror that I understood the extent of my foolishness. Don't laugh! You know if we are willing to be honest, there is something in each of our lives that reminds us of our foolish nature.

We are foolish by nature, even if it only reveals itself in one or two things. We may be wise in many areas of our lives but waste a lot of time watching TV. We may be great at a lot of things but exercise is not one of them. We may have great intelligence for our work but we throw friendships away like they are yesterday's socks. We know the truth about eternity and the importance of Jesus but we are always going to improve on that tomorrow.

This has to be the most foolish thing that we can do, putting off Jesus, because it is an eternal matter. We accepted him as Lord many years ago but we just haven't found the time to grow in him. We know that we should do better but it's hard to find the time to go to church. Maybe we do find the time to go to church but we can't find the time to do any of the other stuff to grow in our relationship with Jesus. Bible reading, prayer, personal worship are not religious things but instead stepping stones to getting to know Jesus better. Developing friendships within the church helps set up accountability because we all need accountability. In fact it is accountability that often saves us from our foolishness, knowing that we have a friend that will ask us the tough questions and who desires the best for us.

My accountability partner told me several times yesterday that I needed sun screen but sometimes men just don't listen to their wives. That is another foolish thing men do because most women have a natural wisdom that men desperately need. We need some accountability in our lives, especially spiritually, to help us get beyond our foolishness. We must grow in Jesus and accountability will help us get there. You don't want to arrive on the other side of eternity and have to stare into the results of your foolishness.  

Once we are gone from this place there is no chance to close those proverbial barn doors. Now is the time to take action and do something about our relationship with Jesus Christ. Today is the day we need to take a step closer and get ourselves oriented to him so that everything in our lives rotates around him. That is how salvation works. That is what is meant by a new birth, a new creation; everything changes. Today is the day to apply that "sun screen", removing all fear, foolishness and anxiety, so you can simply enjoy your "day". Throw off your foolish ways and get serious with Jesus today.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Keeping It Real In The Face Of Personal Failure

I am going to keep it real with you today because I did something I am ashamed of last night and I want to learn from it. I have been helping my wife out at the gym, coming up with a plan for her weight training and encouraging her while she does it. She had a rather hard and exhausting day yesterday, leading the Sports Day at school. She really didn't feel like going to the gym last night but I know that discipline requires us to push past what we feel in order to do what is best. So, I convinced her to go.

She was a real trooper about it, reminding me she was tired but working through each exercise. She wanted to skip the cardio part of it but I reminded her of the importance of the cardio in her weight loss program. Seriously, I am telling you, physical fitness is all about discipline and pushing our bodies to go places they just don't want to go. So this is what I have been helping my wife do.

We were on the last exercise before the cardio. It was a simple exercise for the calves because it was her day for legs. She doesn't like the machine that was designed for this exercise because it leaves marks on her shoulders for a day or two so I decided to have her use a leg press machine. I put the amount of weight she would normal do on the other machine and told her to give it a go. She gave it a go but said it was too heavy. I told her she could do this and moved in to help her a bit. She honestly tried but then gave up saying it was hurting her back. That's when the ugly thing happened.

What I should have done was taken her day into consideration, remembered that she had been telling me she was tired, and considered for a moment the different purposes of the two machines I was comparing. I should have also trusted my wife, that if she said it hurt then it must be hurting. I should have either said we had done enough for the day or simply reduced the weight. That's what I should have done.

Instead, I allowed myself to get angry with her. I use the word allowed because over the years I have learned to deal with anger and how to not allow it to possess me. People refer to me as a very patient man and that is exactly what I want to be. Yet, in this moment, with the person I love more than any other, I allowed anger to possess me. I didn't yell, didn't scream, didn't throw anything, but I did speak to her in such a way that she knew I was angry. I wanted her to know I was angry. I didn't reassure her, didn't speak kindly to her, didn't smile, instead I backed off emotionally and left her alone.

This upsets me that I allowed this to happen, not because I am perfect but because this is a lesson I learned a long time ago. Anger for me is a negative and useless emotion in most cases. It does not belong to someone of my maturity or position in life. In other words, anger is beneath me. I married a younger wife and my place is to love, support, encourage and respect her, yet anger undermines all of that. It goes against one of the basic principles of my life:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself. (Romans 15:1-3)

Now don't misunderstand what I am saying here. I do not consider my wife weak, far from it. She is one of the strongest ladies I know and her maturity is way beyond her years. She is my equal partner and I have nothing but admiration and respect for her. Yet the reality is that there are weaknesses and strengths in all of us. Where we are weak we need people to be patient with us. Where we are strong we need to have patience with others. This is how the Body of Christ functions and why people of such diversity are able to work with each other and love one another.

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

My life has been based on the principle of the strong protecting the weak, the mature being patient with the immature, the wise putting up with the not so wise, of serving others instead of pleasing myself. I teach my boys that they have the strength they have to protect those who lack that strength; that they are never to lord it over anyone, but instead to see themselves as a servant to others. Maybe then you can see how I failed myself last night, giving in to the temptation of anger instead of allowing the Christ in me to rise up. I failed and caused hurt where there had been joy and I am sorry for it.

Now I have the choice of wallowing around in that all day, allowing my emotions to nullify anything good that God wants to do in me and through me today, or, I can accept the forgiveness of God and my wife and move forward. We all have the responsibility of dealing with things and moving forward. We must always be moving forward. It is a lesson I need to keep close to my heart, understanding that I must still remain on guard against such moments, but it is not something to die in. There are moments of weakness when we fail in temptation but out of these failures we learn and grow. That is my desire today, to learn and grow. May God receive all the glory in the good and bad moments of this day, and may forgiveness freely flow for one another. Amen!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can You Answer The Question "What Is Truth"?

"What is truth?" asked Pilate to Jesus and then walked away. "What is truth?" asks the world to us and then walks away. I am sure you have had one of those conversations with a person who contends that there is no God. Or perhaps it was with a person who asks you which of the many religions have it right. "Who has the truth?" they ask. The thing is that, just like Pilate, no one is really prepared to listen to the response. Believing there is no answer because "everyone creates their own truth" they either stop listening or walk away. That is a shame because Jesus has the answer for them.

When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his departure he told them that they had all the understanding they needed to succeed in the truth of the message Jesus had delivered. He told them they knew the way. Thomas spoke up and stated that they did not know, they did not understand, they did not possess the truth. Jesus' response was direct:

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

What is the way? The way is Jesus. What is the truth? The truth is Jesus. What is life? Life is Jesus.

All Jesus had to offer Thomas and the others was himself because he is the answer to everything. When Pilate asked Jesus "What is truth?" he was actually asking it of truth. When the world asks us "What is truth?" our only reply is Jesus. When the world asks us which of the many religions holds the truth our response is none of them. The answer is not found in religion, which is man's attempt to define the unknown. The answer is only found in the person of Jesus Christ. No religion offers what Jesus offers, as he holds out salvation from ourselves and freedom from everything that enslaves us. Religion is about what we do for the gods, but Jesus came to do for us.

Jesus stated:

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (John 12:46)

He said:

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:9-10)

He came that we may have life and to have it to the full. We have nothing else to offer this world but Jesus. He is the answer to every question, every doubt, every fear, every wound. If they are not willing to accept the truth that is up to them but we have no other answer to their question.

We have to be careful with this because some ministries are being built on acceptability. They are "good works" based instead of Jesus Christ centered. They almost come across like we can answer all the evil in this world by the works of our hands. Although "good works", kindness, love, patience and such are the fruits that are produced from a Holy Spirit possessed heart, they are not the answer to the question of truth. They are not the salvation of the world. They are not the way to the Father. They are not the light of this world.

If our response is not Jesus; if everything does not flow from Jesus; if he is not our entire focus, then we have got it wrong and we are not able to respond properly to this world. Jesus did not speak in riddles about this matter. He spoke plainly:

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Jesus Christ is the freedom giver, he sets us free from everything that binds us, including the falseness of man's philosophies and religions. As the world asks the question and you cannot respond with Jesus, it is best you remain silent. You yourself need to come into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then you too can hold out the truth to the world. Jesus warned that many are called but few are chosen, that broad is the way to destruction and narrow the way to the Father. What is truth? His name is Jesus.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Betraying The One You Love

Betrayal is a terrible thing to experience, when someone fails to act appropriately toward us. It usually happens over a trust issue, when a best friend tells other people our deepest, darkest secret, when a spouse breaks the marriage covenant, when a government changes what it had promised to do. The worse betrayals are the intimate ones; those that involve the heart. Such betrayals have no winners as both the offended and offender end up hurt  by the action or decision taken.

Probably the most famous betrayal was when Peter denied being one of Jesus' disciples even as Jesus was facing the darkest moments of his life. We can make up all kinds of excuses for Peter; he was scared, he felt alone, he was confused. But at the end of the day it still came down to Peter denying any connection with Jesus in order to save his own skin. It would be like your best friend facing a bunch of bullies and someone turns to you to ask if you are his friend. Because you don't want to suffer the same fate you deny that you even know him. He hears you, looks right into your eyes and you can see the great hurt that you just inflicted on his heart; betrayed by his best friend, left to suffer on his own:

One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. (John 18:26-27)

If we flip back a few hours, we are reminded that Jesus had actually told Peter that this moment would come; that Peter would deny his connection with Jesus; that Peter would betray Jesus just like all the rest:

“I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:34)

Peter was adamant that he would do no such thing, just as we are adamant that we will always love Jesus and stand by him. Yet, how many times have we denied Jesus, betraying the bond of trust we have forged with him? Perhaps we have not denied him with words like Peter did but what about our actions?

We have been brought into a relationship of trust with Jesus, a relationship based on the foundation of love and forgiveness. In this relationship Jesus has said that because we love him we will do what he has commanded. It means that every time we fail to forgive someone who has harmed us we have denied Jesus; we have denied that we belong to him; we have denied that we love him. Every time we fail to show kindness, or to put other people's needs ahead of our own, we are denying Jesus in us. It is a colossal failure on our part to stand with Jesus in what he considers to be of utmost importance in the Kingdom.

Like we do with Peter we can come up with excuses for our failure but in the end it is usually a matter of us putting ourselves ahead of our relationship with Jesus. We don't do things we should, we are not the people we should be because it usually means that it is going to cost us something, we will be put out somehow. Yet, Jesus made the conditions of our relationship with him clear from day one:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

The only betrayal that should be happening is the positive betrayal of denying our sinful nature, when we turn our back on our flesh, taking up our cross every day and following in the example Jesus gave us. We can't follow Jesus and be a miserable person. We cannot pick and choose who we will love. We cannot withhold kindness from someone who does not please us. We cannot deny someone forgiveness just because the hurt goes deep. We must walk as Jesus walked, do as Jesus did, become as he is now. Anything less is a betrayal to the covenant that we have with him, a denial of our relationship.

The great thing is that Jesus has a heart of compassion and understands all our weaknesses. Just as he forgave Peter his betrayal, the three acts of denial, he is also willing to forgive our actions and be reconciled with us. But don't think this gives you license to do what you want and to say what you please. Every denial of Jesus is a hurtful thing so that the one who we proclaim to love above everything else ends up wounded by our actions and our words. In all things deny your flesh and respond to the things of your day in a manner that would bring Jesus glory. Spend more time with Jesus because the more time you spend with him the more you will be like him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We Can't Be Faithful To Jesus By Feelings

There are probably some jobs that many of us would not be able to do. It's not that we don't have the intelligence or even physical skills but we lack something of greater importance: faithfulness, dedication and determination. Some jobs require a special breed of people who show up to work in the worst of conditions regardless of how they "feel" about it.

A soldier can't get up in the morning and decide he won't show up for duty because he's too tired or because it's too muddy out. Imagine in Kandahar a soldier deciding it is just too hot to go out on patrol. It is a ridiculous thought. Instead they insure they have all the necessary equipment and supplies to survive the heat and they head out.

Can you imagine a fire fighter hearing the alarm and deciding not to respond because minus 30 degrees Celsius is just too cold? I can't imagine what goes through their minds on such a day but they get ready just as fast as on any other day and rush out the door. It's a tough duty on such a day and no amount of money could make it worth it but for such men and women it has nothing to do with money and everything to do with duty (although a good pay cheque helps).

Even our dear mail carriers have that sense of duty. I have never missed my mail due to a rain storm. There have been some snow storms that have delayed them but those are the days when the entire city can't move. Regardless of the heat, the rain, the cold, the wind, these men and women spend hours making sure we receive our birthday cards, our unpleasant bills, our letters from mom. They don't go by feeling but by duty.

Before his arrest Jesus spent time in prayer talking over the plan with our Father. Three times Jesus asked that, if it was possible, the "cup" would be taken from him but each time he finished with "not my will but yours be done". When the mob came to arrest him Jesus set aside his "feelings" and stepped into his purpose. We can clearly see that he did not want to do this just as there are unpleasant things we do not want to do but we know we must. Just like the fire fighter has to rush out into the freezing night because there are lives that must be saved.

Jesus was not locked into this course of action. He could have asked and our Father would have sent legions of angels to rescue and protect him. He could have just walked away but it was love that kept him true to the course the Father had set before him. Even when Peter, dear wonderful Peter, tried to rush to his defense, a fisherman with sword in hand, Jesus got after him and said:

“Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)

He was sent for this purpose and now that it was at hand was he suppose to refuse it? He couldn't. He came willingly to do our Father's will and it was time to step up.

Perhaps it is hard for us to understand such an approach to life because we have always gone by our feelings. We know what we need to do but we allow how we "feel" to dictate what our actions will be. We are mad at our co-worker because he can be such a jerk so we withhold our kindness. Yet, kindness is not an option for us as followers of Jesus Christ. It is something we are compelled to do by the love of Jesus. We can allow feelings to interfere with that but it is like the fire fighter staying home because it is too cold out.

We can name a number of examples but it all comes down to knowing what we need to do and knowing how we feel. Knowing what you need to do should far outweigh how you feel about it. You may not like it, you may struggle with it, you may have to submit yourself to it as Jesus did, but at the end of the day it is important that we are faithful to the Father's will. His will is not hard to figure out when our life is based on "love God with your entire being" and "love others as yourself". We can't allow circumstances, bad days or feelings to become excuses in our failure to fulfill our purpose. If we allow the love of the Father to be the greatest force in our life it is amazing how easy it is for us to face the most unpleasant moments of our purpose with overwhelming joy. So, let us fix our eyes on the things above and not on this earth, and respond to the call of love regardless of how we feel about the circumstances of our day. To God be the glory!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Are We Facing An Identity Crisis On A Monday Morning?

I still remember the trauma and the drama of those adolescent years when I spent so much time trying to define myself. It is all a normal part of growing up, when it is time to take a step back from your parents and decide for yourself what values you want to hold on to, what you believe and what direction you want to take. If only it was that simply put and understood when I was in the midst of it instead of it being such a confusing time of life. Some people walk through it with some ease, never rebelling, always sure of their faith, slowly evolving in their perspective. Others go through a rather dramatic struggle, kicking against all authority in an attempt to "find" themselves. The good news is that everyone eventually gets there.

The real problem arises in later years when that, now adult, person begins to question if they made the right decisions during those years. They may even begin to experience an identity crisis as the things they have based their life on begin to erode away. Are they who they are suppose to be or is it all a fa├žade they have maintained for years? Sometimes I look at this and wonder if that is where most Christians are, lost in an identity crisis.

Looking at how we respond to the things around us, the decisions we make, the words we speak and the things that overwhelm us at times, it is as if we have forgotten who we are and who we belong to. Sometimes we allow the simplest things to fill us with fear and to rob us of our joy. We allow nonsense things to change our moods in an instant. We act as if we have no spine, failing to stand in the face of uncomfortable circumstances, as if we have to face these things alone. I honestly believe we have failed to understand the authority we have as brothers and sisters of the King, children of our heavenly Father.

For me, one of the most striking moments in the gospels came with the arrest of Jesus. A crowd had come to capture Jesus, to bring him to a secret trial before the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious council of Israel. Some think this crowd to have been made up of Roman soldiers but it wasn't. There were a few temple guards, some servants, but most were hired thugs. They were led to Jesus by one of his own, Judas, who had been paid for his services. The disciples were still groggy, having just woken from their nap, so there was a lot of confusion to what was going on. There was yelling and lots of noise but out of it stepped Jesus:

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” (John 18:4)

For most of us our fear is rooted in the unknown where we imagine worse-case scenarios that rarely transpire. We suffer from unfounded fear. Here Jesus knew what was going to happen, that it was the worse-case scenario, yet he stood there with authority not with fear. He was the one taking command of this thing, not them. He was the one asking the questions, not them. So they responded:

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. (John 18:5)

Now I want you to pay attention to what happens as Jesus speaks with the authority he possessed, the same authority we have been given:

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:5-6)

As Jesus spoke they could not stand in the face of this authority. This is the same voice that commanded demons to flee. The same voice that spoke health and healing into countless bodies. The same voice that commanded life back into the dead and called his friend out of the tomb. Are we really surprised that they could not stand in the face of such authority?

Not for a moment did Jesus struggle with his identity, who he was and who he belonged to. People struggle with their identity when they do not know their parents or when they reject their parents. Those who are able to accept who they are do so because they are able to embrace where they came from. Jesus' identity was maintained because of his relationship with our Father. He spent a great deal of time explaining to his disciples that he did not come in his own authority but his Father's. He also told his disciples that by knowing him they also knew the Father. This spoke of the depth of this relationship.

We have this same authority as Jesus and it is not because we are mighty and powerful or because we have knowledge and wisdom. It is not the result of long years of study or any skill we possess. It has nothing to do with us at all. We have this same authority for the same reason Jesus had it: because of relationship. Our identity is found in Jesus Christ. It is due to our relationship with him that we have been transformed. It is due to this same relationship that we have gained such knowledge of the Father. It is by this relationship that we are possessed by the Holy Spirit. It is because of this very intimate relationship we have with Jesus that we are able to speak with such great authority to the things that threaten to destroy us.

We should not be suffering from any identity crisis as we move through our day today. We should feel no fear, worry or anxiety about anything because we know who we are and who we belong to. We also know our purpose which hinges on loving God and loving others. Today should not be a day filled with distractions from this mission as we love people and allow Jesus to reveal his glory through us for them to see. No circumstances can rob our mouths of those words of kindness and gentleness. No trouble can remove our infectious joy. No hardship can cause us to forget that it's no longer about us but instead it is about others. We can deal with all of these things because of our relationship with Jesus who has given us such wonderful authority so that our lives would bring him glory. Today is not a day of defeats but of wonderful victories. Today, we know who we are and who we belong to and we will live to bring him glory.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Don't Try To Bargain With God, Just Delight In His Love For You

If you have ever done any evangelizing or have ever spoken to anyone anywhere about Jesus Christ you know there is a certain rhythm these conversations take on:

"Do you go to church?"

"I used too."

"Do you know Jesus?"

"Yes, I pray once in a while."

"Do you know where you will spend eternity."

"Oh, I am a good person. I have never done any harm to anyone. I live a good life."

After two thousand years we are still not effective in getting people to understand that what God has done for us has nothing to do with what we have done or what we deserve. But even those who do understand about salvation do not understand that this continues to be true in every aspect of our relationship with God; even when we get in trouble.

Plain and simple: because God loves us he has saved us. It has nothing to do with whether we live a good life, do good things or never hurt a person. In reality, we are all sinners and deserve eternal punishment. God in his love has paid a high price personally for us so that, if we choose to be, we can be rescued from our destruction. But it is because of his love for us that he has given us mercy, not anything we have done to deserve it. We don't deserve it but he has given it.

This also applies to us after salvation, when we neglect him or when we slip up and sin, or when we fail to act maturely. We don't deserve mercy but because of his love he gives us mercy and grace. I want to share one verse in the Bible that is repeated many times that has changed me so that I am able to remain in Jesus' peace at all times:

Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; 
   save me because of your unfailing love. (Psalm 6:4)

How many times have we called out to be delivered from something in our lives? How many times have we tried to bargain with our God?

"Lord, I have obeyed you and followed your commands." "Lord I have served you faithfully and at great personal cost." "Lord, I have given up everything to follow you." "Lord, I could have been ________ but instead I heard your voice and followed you."

What? Is God suppose to feel grateful for what we have done for him? Is he suppose to appreciate our sacrifices? Hardly. Consider this:

I have no need of a bull from your stall 
   or of goats from your pens, 
for every animal of the forest is mine, 
   and the cattle on a thousand hills. 
I know every bird in the mountains, 
   and the creatures of the field are mine. 
If I were hungry I would not tell you, 
   for the world is mine, and all that is in it. (Psalm 50:9-12)

Our God does not need our sacrifice or anything else from us. He is not dependent on us for anything. We cannot do a thing for him that he can't do for himself. Mind you, he does take great pleasure in our obedience but it is in the same order as a parent delighting in an obedient child. Our God has invited us to join him in his mission but it is like a father asking his five year old to help him mow the lawn. It is more for the relationship than for anything we can contribute. Yet, in this same psalm we read:

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, 
   fulfill your vows to the Most High, 
and call upon me in the day of trouble; 
   I will deliver you, and you will honor me. (Psalm 50:14-15)

It is the relationship that God wants and in the context of that relationship he has given us promises; promises that are based on his love for us. One of these promises is that he will save us, rescue us, deliver us because of his unfailing love. Not because of anything we have done but because of his unfailing love. I really appreciate the emphasis on the "unfailing" part. We may fail God but he will never, and I mean never, fail us. He tells us to call on him in the day of trouble and he will deliver us because of his unfailing love.

We do not need to bargain with Jesus. We do not need to try to manipulate him or butter him up. We do not need to make wild promises to try to provoke him into action. If we do these things we are acting more like a stranger than as family. No, all we need to do is check our heart to make sure we are in a proper relationship with Jesus Christ, call out to him for help and then witness his hand of deliverance. It's the relationship that is important because the promises have been given to his children. He will rescue you as any good earthly father would pay whatever cost to rescue his child. Not because that child is wonderfully perfect and obedient but because he is his father's child.

As you go to worship today, cast your burdens upon the Lord and take delight in the relationship you have with him. Sing, shout, dance, laugh, rejoice because God is good all the time, faithful in all that he is. Whatever you need to be rescued from, big or small; whatever form of deliverance you need; whatever needs to be done or fulfilled in your life, you can have confidence that it will be done because of God's unfailing love for you.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Stop Wasting Your Life - Enjoy It!

I was in the gym the other day, finishing off my workout with some cardio on the stationary bike when two younger ladies started on the bikes beside me. I was getting a kick out of their conversation as they slipped between French and English, not even noticing they were doing so. An older gentleman, about my age, who obviously knew them came over to ask how a party was the night before. This turned the conversation to various parties they had all been to in the last year. Before returning to his workout the gentleman leaned in close and said to them, "Enjoy yourselves. Life is too short".

I do not know the gentleman well enough to know what he was advocating here but so often many people see entertainment and self-indulgence as their aim and purpose in life. They work hard to earn good money so they can party, party, party or so they can purchase things of entertainment. There are some who consider it a wasted youth if it is not spent on self-indulgence, as if there is a switch that is thrown at some point that forces a person to become responsible. Yet, there is also an element of truth in this notion of enjoying life that many Christians have set aside thinking it is a wrong thought to hold on to.

Although our focus is different, many believers should consider this supposed anthem of the youth, "Enjoy yourselves. Life is too short". Let me tell you a few things life is too short for:

1.   Unforgiveness
2.   Hatred
3.   Pettiness
4.   Jealousy
5.   Bickering
6.   Joylessness
7.   Dullness
8.   Loneliness
9.   Worry
10. Fault finding

Lord forgive us for denying your joy in our life, your promise of abundant life, using you as an excuse. Amen!

Now don't mistake what I am writing here. I believe a life focused on self-entertainment and self-indulgence is a colossal waste of a life. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we could waste his sacrifice. He did not invite us to follow him because he was going to show us the shortest way to a life focused on us. The first rule in the Kingdom is love God with your entire being. The second is love others as yourself; all the good you want done to you you need to do to others. It is a self-sacrificing life but it is also an abundant life. It is an enjoy-your-life-because-it-is-too-short life but instead of being filled with empty and shallow thrills it is filled with incredibly important things:

1.   joy in abundance, with Jesus as the source
2.   peace that remains despite circumstances
3.   people, lots and lots of people (friends and family)
4.   self-denying kindness to others
5.   laughter, lots of laughter
6.   the thrill of giving
7.   the constant presence of God, never being alone
8.   the ever flowing blessings of God
9.   the strengthening and encouraging acts of worship and adoration
10. the overwhelming wellness of love

Life is not about entertainment but it is also not about being a prude. There is an underlying mission and purpose to us being here but it is in this journey that we enjoy the life we have been given. We should be enjoying every day as we let go of the deficits in our life and focus upon the blessings. There should be so much more laughter than tears and so many more days filled with people than with emptiness. Don't use Jesus as an excuse to stay holed up in your house or your church. Get out there with your friends and let the world see what real love is and what it results in. If you are truly focused on Jesus and not the man-made religion surrounding him you will find your source of abundance of love, of peace, of joy, of life. My friends, enjoy your life in Christ and the journey you are on, it is far too short to waste.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Church Has To Stop The False Advertising

I have been working very hard to improve my physical condition. Over the last few years I have made some major decisions about the foods I consume and the activities I participate in. It is not that I was over weight but I knew my health wasn't great and I have 9 children I want to be around for as long as God will allow me. But I was tired all the time, had difficulty concentrating and just felt blah! So with hard work I have gone from 218 lbs to a consistent 195 lbs and with my activity routine I have gained a great deal more energy. Currently I spend five days a week at the gym doing weights and cardio as well as cycling and walking daily as part of my normal lifestyle. I tell you this as some background to something I saw last night that got me laughing.

I was at the gym last night doing about 17 kilometers (about 10.5 miles) on the stationary bike. It is a complicated routine where I cycle at 1 level for a minute, going up a level for the next minute. I start at level 8, go to level 17, back down to 8 and so on until I have gone up and down three times. It takes me close to an hour and by the time I am finished there is a pool of sweat around the bike.

So here I was in the middle of this, going strong, knowing that this was all worth it when a commercial came on in the middle of the basketball game they were showing on the television. It was advertising one of those zero calorie soda drinks and the thought of it almost made my stomach go sour. The thought at that moment of putting one of those syrupy drinks in my body made me cringe. Note: I was once the biggest consumer and promoter of Coca-Cola.

It struck me though how many would-be athletes were watching that game who actually believed that drinking that product would contribute to their health. I refer to them as the great pretenders, those who have in their mind that they aren't that much out of shape or those who think they are actually making gains in their weight loss by drinking that stuff. Let's be honest here, that stuff is not healthy any way you want to slice it. If we were really serious about losing weight and becoming healthy we would cut all that stuff out of our life and get up off the sofa and go outside for a walk. Let's stop lying to ourselves, it costs to have good health.

It was as that thought screamed across my mind that a spiritual reality also set in.

We do this same thing to people spiritually through our church programs and other activities we label as Christian. It is true that these programs have less of the world in them and they make people feel good but it is not the stuff they need for a healthy relationship with Jesus. We train people how to live a good life, how to lessen sin in their life but we fail to get them to consume the Real Thing, who will transform them forever. It's like we think we can ease them into a relationship with Jesus Christ but there is only one way and that is to just do it.

Judas was one of these great pretenders who looked for a short cut, or so we assume. He wasn't satisfied with doing it Jesus' way, he didn't want to take the long route, and tried to consume a false product. He surrendered Jesus to the enemy thinking he would provoke something, wanting to see Israel governed by a proper king again. It is so sad to read this knowing that he was so fooled by the enemy:

So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. (John 18:3)

But are we any better? How many of us are trying to offer short cuts to the unsaved? How many of us are trying to make it easier for them by presenting a false product. It doesn't get any easier than what Jesus provided. He said that it would cost us our life, that we would have to be totally consumed by God's love and our love for God. He said that this genuine love would provoke us to love one another. He said it would cause us to hate the things of this world and to be hated by the world. He said he gave us peace for our hearts but our relationship with him would cause division with others who did not accept him. He said family members would abandon us, not understanding. He has promised us so much and he has given us so much but it has cost us what we were so we could become who we are.

Later in the basketball game another commercial came on. It portrayed lots of people doing various activities. Some were cycling, surfing, skate boarding, snow boarding, and skiing. It showed them facing various challenges and overcoming them. It looked fun and attractive but from where I was sitting I knew what it cost them to be able to do those things and I felt respect for them. The commercial ended with the familiar "Just Do It". In contrast to the previous commercial this one was encouraging people to get off the sofa, to turn off the TV and go out and do something that would benefit them. Not everyone will, but some will listen to that message and decide to change.

That is our challenge as well, not to offer a substitute but to promote the real thing. Not to allow people to be fooled into thinking they are doing something of some benefit but to embrace the real change that needs to happen. It is not good enough to know about Jesus and to live a good life, loving others the best we can. There are no short cuts. They need to meet Jesus, to know him and to make the decision to allow him to transform them through a second birth. They need to die to what they were and come alive in who God has created them to be. They need to get off their spiritual sofa, turn off the spiritual television and participate in an active life with Jesus Christ. And the only message we really have for them is - just do it!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

You Are Being Robbed Blind

We are being robbed blind and we don't even realize it. Our life is suppose to be one filled with joy and peace and yet we open the doors to many thieves who gladly come in and rob us of these promises from Jesus. We don't mean to do it but so often we feel like we are tied up and have no power to prevent it, but the truth is we are lying to ourselves.

We need to understand that we are lied to by many things but the biggest culprit is ourselves. Our body lies to us all the time and we listen. We know we should be looking after ourselves better but our body convinces us that we are too tired. We know we shouldn't eat so much but our body convinces us that we need that food because we are hungry. I won't get into the science of it but you should look it up; we eat far more than what our body actually needs. But it's not the only thing we lie about.

We also lie about our addictions, that we are trapped and can't get out of them. Whether it's overeating, smoking, TV watching, the computer, pornography, drugs, alcohol, sex, anger, we have a way out but we convince ourselves that we are stuck. We become comfortable with our addictions, the things that keep us enslaved so that, even though we hate ourselves for it, it is the place we feel the most comfortable.

This is also true for the things that we allow into our lives that rob us of our joy and peace. I guarantee you that the things that disturb our sleep the most are not the things that have happened but the things that might happen. It is not actual events and problems but the shadows, the possibilities that might arise. Oh we listen to the words that are preached and taught. We read the promises for ourselves. We try to let them get beneath the surface, to sink in deep, to touch our heart and mind, but it just won't take root. The psalmist of Psalm 23 wrote of these unrealized fears and he stated clearly how he kept them at bay:

Even though I walk 
   through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, 
   for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
   they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

Now don't miss this. The psalmist declared that he would not fear these shadows, or possibilities, because of God's presence. "You are with me" he stated which filled him with courage, not fear; joy, not mourning; peace, not panic. Words alone will not do it for you. Even reading this Psalm will not do it for you. It is only the presence, the realization of a deep relationship with Jesus that is going to maintain our peace and joy.

I love to worship as much as the next person but worship will do no better than reading the Bible if there is no relationship, if Jesus is not real, if you do not trust every word he has ever uttered. Jesus knows us because he became us. He knew exactly what would try to destroy us so he taught:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

And it's true, each day has enough for us to handle without adding to it the burden of tomorrow's shadows. Don't you envy those people who seem to be able to throw off concerns for tomorrow as they live in the moments of today? How many times have we laid out plans for things that have never happened? How many nights have we laid in bed and figured out what we will do if this thing fails or that thing arises only for those things never to arrive? What a waste of time, energy and thought. We were robbed those nights of a peaceful sleep, of loving conversation with our spouse, of sweet dreams.

The only answer to these things is a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. The Word is part of that, as is prayer and worship but these must be rooted in relationship. A relationship in which we have cast all our doubts, fears and anxieties, trusting that what Jesus has said is true and trusting that he is able to maintain the peace he has given us. It is not something that just happens, we have to actively pursue this relationship. Every time thoughts of those shadows creep in we have to cast them away by declaring the promises of Jesus. We have to remind ourselves, with every appearance of these robbers, who Jesus is and who we are in him. Dig deep and know his promises. Declare them as you wake up and as you fall asleep. Declare them over your children and spouse. Rise up and take action against those shadows, taking courage and comfort from the presence of Jesus Christ.

There is no need for us to fall victim to the shadows of tomorrow. We are being lied to and the liar is ourselves. We are being robbed of abundant life by mere whispers and shadows that provoke unfounded fear, worry and anxiety. It is time to cast it off as we walk in relationship with Jesus and rise up as the victorious people that we are. We are more than conquerors, stronger than you could possibly imagine and capable of great feats of spiritual strength. Today is a day of joy and peace because this is the day the Lord has made. We will be glad and rejoice in it because nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus and that is all that should matter to us. To God be the glory for the great things he has done, and is doing, and is going to do!