Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gone Fishing

Taking the week off from blogging. Have a great week everyone and God bless. I am now officially unplugged.

Needing And Being An Encourager In The Church - A Mighty Ministry

From the very beginning of time God had designed that man should not be alone. We have a deep seeded need for friends, a longing to gather together. Alone time is desired occasionally but real loneliness is one of our greatest fears. We can have all the money in the world and yet feel absolutely poor without friends. Or, we can have no money at all yet feel absolutely rich with an abundance of good friends. There is a reason why Jesus birthed the Church; we need each other on this incredible spiritual journey. We especially need each other as we get older.

Youth are a fantastic bunch. They are full of energy, enthusiasm, dreams, ambition, know-it-all-ness. They are like my 8 year old daughter yesterday. Jennifer decided she wanted to go cycling with me when I announced I wanted to go for a picnic. It was going to be quite the distance but I wan't sure how far. It ended up being 57 kilometers and took us four hours. She started off with lots of enthusiasm and energy, biking ahead in great bursts of energy. I kept warning her that she needed to peddle consistently, even and steady because she needed to spread out her energy. Of course she knew better. But her energy and enthusiasm carried her for the first half of the journey.

Our youth are like this, with their own ideas and not always listening to the advice and guidance of wisdom. Often their enthusiasm and energy will carry them quite the distance but in life we can get banged up a lot. We aren't always wise when we are young. We don't always learn how to handle hurt, pain, and suffering. We enjoy the good times when the sun is shining but we struggle through the storms. We don't always hold on to friends as we stubbornly hold on to our independence until one day we arrive at a point feeling all alone, lost and banged up from life. The psalmist wrote:

Listen to my prayer, O God,
   do not ignore my plea;
    hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
     at the voice of the enemy,
   at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
   and revile me in their anger.
My heart is in anguish within me;
   the terrors of death assail me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
   horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
   I would fly away and be at rest—
I would flee far away
   and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
   far from the tempest and storm.”
 (Psalm 55:1-8)

These are the things we can accumulate from our living life until we get to the point where we want to run away from it all. "Oh God, rescue me from all of this. I'm so tired." We put such an emphasis on youth ministry and we should in order to try to get them some proper mentoring to avoid this problem in the first place, but the larger emphasis needs to be on the older generation, who need the encouragement now; encouragement to go all the way to the end, to finish the race. The ministry of encouragement is quite the ministry when applied to the older generation.

As I said, my eight year old daughter cycled 29 kilometers on pure energy and enthusiasm but it was the journey back that required more from me. Now that her energy and enthusiasm was spent it required some excellent encouragement to get her home:

With every rest stop, "You are an incredibly strong girl. Excellent work. I'm glad you are here with me."

With every hill we encountered, "Come on my girl, you can do this. You are more than strong enough to beat this hill."

At the top of each hill: "Well done Jennifer. I am so proud of you. Excellent work. I knew you could do it."

Every time she started to slow down too much: "Come on my girl. We are almost home. We are almost done. Think of that nice big Mr. Freezie waiting for you."

She did all the work but it needed a lot of good encouragement from her father, a man who was stronger and able to help her along. With my wisdom and experience we took just enough breaks but not too many. With the right words to spur her on she completed the entire 57 kilometers, which is a lot for an eight year old, going further than her older brothers ever cycled before, and she finished with joy, a big smile and (most importantly to a 8 year old little sister) bragging rights. Her enthusiasm carried her out but her companionship encouraged her home.

This is part of the purpose of the Church, that none of us would attempt this journey alone. We need to hear encouraging and kind words as we face the "hills" of life. After the enthusiasm wears off and the energy of youth has left us we need to hear that we are doing well. We often need someone who is stronger, not to lean on because that is God's place, but to tell us when we need to take a break, to remind us to refresh ourselves, to remind us of the goal. Sometimes we need to be reminded that "home" is just around the corner and we only need to complete the journey.

The apostle Paul saw encouragement as a constant ministry in the Body of Christ and wrote of it often, telling people what an encouragement they were to him. In his first letter to the Thessalonicans he told them specifically to encourage each other with words (1 Thess 4:18). He also told them straight out:

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

We neglect the older generation but they are the ones who have often suffered through so much of life and have been banged up pretty bad. They are the ones wrestling with unrealized dreams and failed expectations. They are the ones who have sometimes become disillusioned with man's idea of God and are ready to quit the whole thing. They are the ones who have become exhausted from living and just want to be left alone. These are the people, the children of God, the followers of Jesus Christ who need encouragement the most, who need to be cheered home, who need to hear "well done", "I'm proud of you", "almost there", "you can do this".

Today, as we gather to worship, don't assume a person is doing well just because they are over 60 years old, that they don't have fears and struggles they have carried for a long time. Take the time to encourage someone  with your words. Befriend someone and make it your goal to be their encourager, their cheerleader, their travelling buddy and help them keep their eyes on the prize. It is an incredible ministry and you will be the better for it. May our worship today be an expression of thanksgiving for ALL the good things and people he has given to us. To God be the glory!

PS - This will be my last post for a number of days as I take some time to encourage and bless my wife and children this summer.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Is More Important Than Justice?

I am continuing my little exposé on our resistance to making hard choices as followers of Jesus. Many Christians would agree that social justice is important but I ask, important to who? Sometimes we take things into our own hands and make a mess of it instead of waiting for God to work it out. Yes, it can be frustrating waiting for God but when we wait for him it is always better than what we could have done. Let me use two examples from history.

The people of the United States grew tired of the injustices the suffered at the hands of England and so entered into a rebellion to fight for their independence. It was hard fought and many lives were lost. It also caused hard feelings for a long time. They won their independence which they are willing to defend with their lives. In contrast we have countries like Canada and Australia who also received independence but they did it through political means. It took a bit longer but not a single drop of blood was spilled.

Using the States as an example again we can look at the abolishing of slavery, long over due. To free the slaves of the southern States the Americans entered into a civil war that tore the country to pieces. I realize that this is an oversimplification of the situation but it was at least the excuse at the time. Eventually the North was victorious and the slaves were set free. In contrast we have the English Empire. Here slavery was brought to an end with a hard fought political battle as a brave group of men would not relent until is was dealt with. It took a little longer but not a single life was lost.

Sometimes we find ourselves facing a situation that we feel we could overcome with force but we need to remember who we belong to and that God has his way of changing hearts. It doesn't mean that we give up, instead we should prepare ourselves for a long and determined battle. In the apostle Paul's day slavery was rampant. Anyone could find themselves turned into a slave. But instead of telling them to rise up against their oppressors Paul, inspired by the Spirit, told them that the message of Jesus was even more important than their freedom:

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. (1 Timothy 6:1)

Sometimes we think that justice, social or otherwise, is always the priority. However, the consistent teaching of the Word and of the Spirit is that love must trump all other things, including our needs. This love provokes mercy and grace in us, not for ourselves but toward others.

This passage is easily translated to any situation you are facing where someone has an upper hand over you; where you are under someone else's authority. Perhaps it is with a parent who seems to treat you unfairly. Perhaps it is with a boss or a teacher . Maybe they are too demanding, overbearing, perhaps even unfair. This world would say to rise up because you have the right but Christian responsibility does not work that way. Responsibility outweighs any rights we may feel we have in this world. Our responsibility is to love because only in love can we manage to respect those who mistreat us. You think this is hard as a student? You should try it as a slave, which is what the Word of God teaches.

No kidding, our flesh wants to walk in our rights, to fight injustices and social evils. We want everyone, including ourselves, to live a life of liberty where they can do what they want. But this is often not God's way. Rebellion is never his will. Love and respect are his choice and with these tools we can bring about change in the most awesome way, without damaging anyone. It just takes time. Remember the priority in everything we do, that God's name will not be slandered. How many times have we heard, "I thought you were a Christian", when we took things in our own hands? Even the world knows how we should be acting. Our struggle, the real problem, is that we don't know how to make the tough choices. I am glad Jesus knew how to make the tough choices and followed the Father's will and plan instead of his own. I am glad he chose the cross instead of a rebellious uprising like so many wanted him to. He told us we have to make the same choice. After all, what do you think he was telling us when he said that we had to take up our cross and follow him? We are called to a life of sacrificial service for the sake of other people, putting ourselves last for the sake of salvation for others.

This may not seem like much but I encourage you to think about it today. Often we bear the name of Jesus but we still react and respond according to the methods of this world, through rebellion and hatred. The world is confused by what we say and then what we do. Are we followers of Jesus? Then we need to follow in word and deed. We need to make the hard decisions and fight the battles according to God's direction instead of our strength. Whatever we do needs to be done with love and respect. That is when we will see things changed for eternity. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

WARNING: This Is Another Blog On Responsibility - You May Want To Skip It

It's funny what has happened to my blog for the last few days. As long as I am writing about encouragement as well as wonderful things about God and his kindness to us, this blog gets reblogged. However, the moment I start writing about our obligations as followers of Jesus no one wants to read it. It's the same if I put up a few nice verses of Scripture, but the moment I put pictures up of the famine in Africa ... nothing.

I am not saying this because I have concerns over my readership because my attitude over the last 10 years is that I write and people read, c'est tout. My concern is that as followers of Jesus we are not prepared to handle the responsibilities of being a disciple, to deal with the tough stuff. We just want to live in our little bubble of faith; us worshiping God and God taking care of us. Allow me to pop that bubble, if you will, with a little example found in Paul's first letter to Timothy.

Paul is giving some instruction to Timothy on how to give oversight in Ephesus. In this context Paul is giving instructions about widows. Widows are usually looked after by the family but in some cases it fell to the church. So here is Paul's instruction on the requirements of a widow to be put on the widows list:

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. (1 Timothy 5:9-10)

This is not the "do what you want as long as you come to church" attitude of leadership today. This is not the "worship" culture of today. This is direct and demanding leadership. There were expectations of those who were members of the Church, that they would do as Jesus did. If good deeds were not being produced in a person's life then the leadership considered that to be a sign of lack of genuineness. Now we leaders only hope that people show up so we try not to interfere in their personal lives. Pastors who interfere are considered controlling and are marked as people to avoid. Now it is true that there are some controllers out there but you need to look at the motivation. Are they interfering for your benefit or for their own? The fact is, it is the pastor's responsibility to be involved in your life, giving instruction, guidance and correction where it is needed. There is much more to Christian living than what we are demanding of people today. Arew e demanding anything of them?

Today there is not much to being a Christian because people do not understand their obligations as followers of Jesus Christ. The obligation is simple, it is an obligation of love. Love produces things in us by the Spirit. From love springs kindness which is the root of good deeds. We do not do good deeds to be saved but instead because we are saved. It should be a natural thing that we want to do because Jesus' love compels us. If our life is not filled with kindnesses and good deeds then we should question our relationship with Jesus. Do we have a real relationship that is provoking changes in our perspective of life and people? Paul put the matter this way:

The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden. (1 Timothy 5:24-25)

Following Jesus is more than reading your Bible, praying, worshiping, going to seminars, talking to people on the Internet and, yes, more than reading blogs (for that matter, writing them too). Jesus was compelled into action by his great compassion. If he set for us an example of the life we are to live then many of us aren't even in the same ball park. It is time to let go of the things that are holding us back and allow our love to become a thing of action. Start with Africa. Reach out to the thousands who are dying daily. Show the compassion that comes from a heart dedicated to Jesus. Tell Jesus you have issues with loving others and that you are willing to learn from him. Then go and become accountable to your pastor for how you are living your life.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Do Our Actions Save Us From The Condemnation Of Our Heart?

I wish I was a better writer, that I could use words to convey the fact that Christianity is about making the tough choices. Christ centered songs of worship and testimony help to remind us who Jesus is and who we are in relationship to him but some of us limit our experience to these songs. Some of us are able to convey our inner thoughts with wonderful words but we limit our experience with God to these words. Some of us are great at organizing things, perhaps for the church or a ministry, but this is what we limit ourselves to and are really nothing more than dry bones. We talk about it, write about it, think about it but we really don't live it. We don't live as a people completely consumed by Jesus. We don't live a life brimming with passion for the King of kings, because if we did we would be making the hard choices and the world would be a different place.

Men like Hudson Taylor could not stand the thought of so many people dying without Jesus. He did everything he could to prepare himself and then off to China he went, to spend his life reaching a nation that was lost without Jesus. It came at a high cost but he had to do it because of the love and passion that Jesus' love provoked in him. He just could not live knowing that so many people were dying every day without knowing Jesus.

Men like George Muller had that same passion but it was worked out closer to home and was focused on the lost and destitute of society. He could not stand the thought of orphaned children being raised in mental institutions because they had nowhere else to go, so he started his orphanages, trusting Jesus all the way. Jesus' love compelled him to take action.

These are the simple people, the common people of their day, the people of faith, hope and love that I hold up against this current age and shake my head. Don't worry, I shake my head at my life as well. We have the appearance of godliness but we don't understand the power of it, the power to provoke change in people's lives and situations in our society. We are suppose to be the catalysts for change but instead we allow ourselves to be changed and influenced by society, by our culture. We become numb to violence and suffering, we walk by those who are in trouble, we don't get involved with those who are hurting. We limit ourselves to praying (if we do that much) but we don't let anything disrupt our lives. We get by with as little ripple in this world as possible, satisfied with ourselves and only ourselves.

In his letter to Timothy the apostle Paul wrote something that stands out from the rest yet seems so simple we miss it:

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. (1 Timothy 5:4)

I like the phrasing. We can make it speak directly to us, "put your religion into practice". In this context Paul was telling families to look after their widowed mothers, as was their responsibility but we can put it into the larger context of our Christian walk. You may say "It's not a religion, it's a relationship" as is the catch phrase these days, but if you understand this then you have even less excuse for living your life without passion for the lost and suffering of this world. What good is this "relationship" if it doesn't compel you to love others, a love that provokes you into action?

This love is a love of tough choices. Taylor left everything behind and sacrificed his reputation because of this love. Elliot set aside his future and dedicated his life to the least valued members of society because of this love. We don't have to go half-way around the world to work it out. Tough choices include loving those who hate you and persecute you. It means setting aside your personal prejudices and loving with Jesus' radical love. It is practical, awesome and requires action.

If you are loving God then you are only living half the truth because God's love also compels us to love our neighbour. John told us that if we don't love our brother then we don't even know God let alone love him. The love of Christ is a radical love, never seen or experienced before, when understood from God's perspective. That love, when experienced, provokes that same kind of love from us, radical and unstoppable. Faith is not even a question when it resides in a heart overwhelmed by this love; compassion, grace, and mercy spring up without thought. How is this radical love working itself out in your life? How is it impacting the world that you know?

The Church is stuck in a place of mediocrity because those of us who make up the Church are bathing in it. We allow movies and celebrities to influence what Jesus' love should be influencing. We are satisfied with a good life, as long as our family and friends are happy. We mourn the lose of a singer who dies wrapped in her own personal pain, and we cry over the victims of a madman in a faraway country but when we can actually do something to help we simply ignore 11 million people starving to death. We walk past the homeless on the street. We politely ignore the neighbours as they yell at each other. We avoid the group of youth on the street because of all the television we watch. How is the world a changed place because Jesus saved me?

You know, words are not enough; love requires action. If we truly belong to Jesus Christ then conviction comes in by the Spirit and the Word. Let's end with this then with the undeniable truth of God:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:16-20)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It May Be Summer But The Lost Still Need Jesus

Ahhhh, the summer. I think we would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't enjoy the slower pace of life. Getting away from the busyness of the normal routine; spending extra time with family and friends; eating breakfast out on the balcony; doing things we don't usually have time to do; sleeping in. For those of us in northern climates we enjoy the warmth (heat) of the summer, when we get to shed as much clothing as modestly possible, swimming, biking, hiking in the great outdoors. Many of us enjoy our BBQs and backyard parties. It is simply a wonderful, slower pace of life.

Unfortunately not everything takes a break. The bills still arrive according to their regular pace, illness still happens, bad things still come knocking on our door like heart attacks and cancer diagnoses. People still have car accidents, hearts get broken, emotions get messed up, depression and loneliness are still major factors in some people's lives and people still need Jesus.

We live in an age where more and more hearts are turning cold to the approach of Jesus. More ears have been stopped up by the enemy against the Good News. More people have decided to lean upon man's weak wisdom and dismiss any value in faith. As this happens we, the followers of Jesus, have retreated further into our own culture, almost hiding from the aggressive nature of the world. We have developed our own music industry, our own movies, our own social activities, our own great youth groups, bowling leagues, women's groups, men's groups, camping clubs, sports teams, and I can go on but wish I couldn't. Whatever the enemy comes up with we copy in the hopes to keep people from being attracted away from Jesus. We have become comfortable within our own self-made Christian culture and seldom venture into the frightening world of the unbeliever. We have forgotten Jesus' command to "go" and often look down on those who have obeyed.

We look down on the believer who has made the conscience decision to walk among the filth of this world, who goes with friends to bars, who attend concerts, who goes to movie theaters, who rubs shoulders with the lost. We who look down on them have become a bit like the Pharisees, looking down our noses, forgetting what Jesus did and where he hung out. Just because a person goes to a bar with his unsaved friends does not mean he is getting drunk. Just because he is at a concert with these friends does not mean he agrees with the lyrics. We have to be where the lost are if we hope to follow Jesus' commands. But these mighty warriors must be extra diligent.

Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Those who make an extra effort to minister where we should all be ministering need to be so completely lost in Jesus that they would be aware of every temptation that comes knocking. A double minded man cannot effectively minister in these places. A nominal believer will be totally swept up. Only those who are completely sold out for Jesus, who are constantly aware of their fragile state of faith, who fully understand their dependence on Jesus, is of any use in these places. These warriors must spend a lot of time in prayer and study so that they are supper sensitive to the Spirit and are completely submitted to his direction. A luke-warm Christian cannot use ministry as an excuse to enter these places of darkness. Only people who know what it is to watch their life, who know their weaknesses, who know how to avoid the things that would destroy them, and who know the Word well enough to use it as a sword should dare enter into these places. The rest of us should be in training in our relationship with Jesus to be able to do the same.

We have not been saved for our own pleasure; we have been saved to serve. Unfortunately we have misunderstood and have turned that service into building our own culture just as the Pharisees had done. We are not Israel, we are the Church, and Jesus' command to us was not to stay but to go. To stay is to our shame and if we are not of sufficient maturity to go, there is a major problem.

We are the warriors of Jesus which means that wherever we are this summer, whatever we are doing, God will open the doors of opportunity. The mission field is the beach we are relaxing on, the camp grounds we have retreated to, the bike trails we are adventuring on, the highways we are travelling, the back yard we share with our neighbours, the library we are visiting, the public pool we use. All of it is part of the command to go into the world. It may be the summer with a slower pace of life but the world still needs Jesus. Do not shut yourself off from that need.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is The Internet Killing The Significance Of Christianity?

As I read through my Blogger, my FaceBook, my Twitter and my Tumblr this morning a thought came to mind: Is the Internet killing Christianity? It was a joy reading through the various scripture quotes and the thoughts on them. It was great reading how young and old are receiving revelation on these scriptures. It was encouraging to read the encouragement of one young Christian to another. But as I read this one scripture I was reminded that Christianity is more than words:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

We know that love cannot remain as a word, a concept or even a theory because love only has power when it takes action. The best form of preaching is not with words but with what we do in our living.

My gifting in the Body of Christ is as a teacher so I would never say there is not a place for teaching and preaching, but what use is it if we never put into action what we are taught? Then again, I do not believe that we can put the Word of God into action unless we are surrendered to the Spirit. This means that we have honestly sought forgiveness for our sins and surrendered what we once were so that we could come alive in Christ. We are honestly dead and are only able to live in Jesus, through his power and will. It is a transformation and nothing short of a miracle. Living in submission to Jesus means that the Word comes alive in us and we live what we are taught.

Sometimes we treat Christianity as if it were some code for living a good and healthy life, a way of becoming prosperous. Our focus is all wrong as we concentrate on what it can do for us instead of understanding that it is all about God working through us for others. We are not a dam to hold in the teachings and blessings of God. We are a canal for those things to flow through us into the lives of others. This is done as we live this life of victory with the people around us.

I spend my days working with words, crafting them to convey various messages and teachings but if they only remain as words in me then they are nothing more than theories. Christianity is not about theory, it's about living. Too many of us have stopped living and exist only in words to our various friends online. I also teach Internet Safety and I know that any of us can make ourselves out to be anything we want to be, whoever we want to be. With a few key strokes I could become a 10 year old girl, or a war hero, a doctor, a techie person, a geek, a jock or a stellar Christian. The truth of who we are is not found in our words but our actions.

Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy on this subject. He instructed him:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Timothy 4:12-14)

Set an example Paul told him. We set an example by our living, affecting the people with whom we do our living. It's great to have the encouragement of people online but the real proof of who we are is found in how the people who are closest to us see us.

Paul said to set an example in the way we speak. There are people who work very hard at being careful of what they say but in moments of weakness, tiredness, frustration, or anger the real content of our heart is revealed. If we have fellowship with our Holy God then nothing ugly can remain in our heart to flow out when our guard is down. It is more than being careful, it is making sure it doesn't exist in the first place.

Paul said to set an example in our living. As we spend time with Jesus we become like Jesus. We start acting as he acted and reacting as he reacted, not because we are mimicking him but because we are being transformed to have his character. It is seen in how we live our life, in our actions and attitudes. This is difficult to see online, although a glimpse can be seen in the way we respond to those who write hateful things.

Paul said to set an example in love. This is a biggy because love should affect every area of our living. It is important that we understand God's love which is not an inconsistent thing but is applied in the same manner all the time. How you love is a good indication of your heart condition. It is not that we are perfect but that we are made perfect in love. In other words, when we hurt someone love compels us to seek forgiveness, or when we are hurt we are compelled to give forgiveness. We never allow any offense to rest in our heart to allow hate or bitterness to take root. The Word says:

Love "is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." (1 Corinthians 13:5)

Paul said to set an example in faith. How is faith being worked out in your life? This is something we need to be very careful about because we all know that tomorrow can be a scary thing. We have to trust that God is completely in control and that we are prepared to live his will and not our desire. Life can be disappointing if we live according to our desire instead of God's will. Everything we say with our words can be destroyed in one moment of living according to our desires. If our living is only done online then it is hard for us to affect others by a life of faith. To read about it is encouraging but to actually see it is life changing.

Paul said to set an example in purity. Imagine if your online friends were to hang out with you for a month, would they discover purity in your life? Again, this is not something we can put on because it must be produced in us through the transformation through the Spirit, every day. We can hide behind our words and we can "put it on" for a period of time but sooner or later the mask is going to slip. The people we live with know us much better than the people online.

So often we mess up our living, become angry and frustrated in our lives, have fallen out with our friends and so escape to our perfect life online. If serving the Lord is important to us then we need to serve in honesty and truth. These things we are to set an example in are best seen in the adversity of our lives. We have to be willing to reveal our weaknesses to people in order for them to see the glory of Christ in us. This is demonstrated for us in the Word when Paul was facing some kind of short coming in his life. He asked for it to be removed and the Lord answered:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The perfect example I saw of this online is with a young lady who has been very frank and open about her struggles with sex. Even though she had surrendered her life to Jesus she ended up pregnant. She did not hide her failings and refused to allow others to place her in a box. She fought to live and explain the grace of God. She continues to testify to God's goodness, love and forgiveness. She does not treat her sin lightly but neither will she live as if she is still in that sin. She has been forgiven and she knows it has been forgotten and so she lives her life according to God's reality instead of the judgement of man. People want to put her there in that box to keep her small but she has a profound understanding of God's mercy and grace, and despite having to live with the consequences of her sin, she is living a life worthy of Jesus. She does not simply quote scripture but she shares the practical victorious life that she lives in relationship with Jesus.

If we can get past the platitudes and the simple quoting of Scripture and allow that scripture to come alive in us; if we are willing to be honest in our living and allow the power of Christ to be seen in our weakness; if we are willing to be less in people's eyes so Christ can be more, then perhaps we can save Christianity from fading in significance on the Internet. Our internet friends need to see the power of Christ to redeem "the chief of sinners" so that they know that Jesus' love is for them as well. We don't need to try to make Christianity relevant; it is the most relevant thing in existence. All we have to do is live it in all its practical applications. So let's set the example in word and deed, allowing the glory of Jesus to be seen in us. Make your faith, belief and trust a relevant thing to the people you interact with every day and amazing things will happen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Hope More Solid Than The Belief Of Tomorrow

Do you know that song from the story of the orphan Annie titled Tomorrow? Part of the lyrics say:

"When I'm stuck a day
That's gray,
And lonely,
I just stick out my chin
And Grin,
And Say,

The sun'll come out
So ya gotta hang on
'Til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
I love ya Tomorrow!
You're always
A day
A way!" 

That's one thing about the human race, most of the time we manage to hold on to the hope that tomorrow will be better than today. It is the reason that we can face so many catastrophes and continue on. We somehow manage to pick ourselves up out of the mud, clean ourselves up and hold out for a better day. We do that as a race but not necessarily as an individual. Many people get over taken by an excess of sorrow and despair. Many people lose all sense of hope, disappearing into the darkening world of drugs, alcohol, entertainment, even things like movies, to live through other people's experiences. The sorrow does not disappear. Hope does not come in. Eventually, some of these people can no longer endure such a life of existence and bring it to an unfortunate early end.

The human race has an ability to hold on to hope based upon nothing really. That hope is more like wishful thinking. Perhaps as a race we look at history and see that things usually get a bit better so we base our hope on this. But that is hard to do as an individual because these things are more intricate and delicate as we examine the capacity of the heart and mind to cope. We know that the world will respond to the starving people of Eastern Africa and that we as a race will overcome this disaster and that society will re-establish itself. But we also know that hundreds of thousands of individuals will die. It is hard to hold on to hope in this situation, even the hope that the sun will come out tomorrow. Despair, a lack of hope is possibly the darkest form of human existence. Yet, there is a hope that overcomes even this great darkness.

We have a Father who loves us dearly and has shown us this love in the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. It is not an emotional love as we understand romance but a love that provokes a self-sacrificing decision for the benefit of others. It is a decision love. It is this love that supplies us with a hope that is not based on wishful thinking or a desperate attempt to avoid despair. This hope is something tangible, solid, something that keeps the darkness of despair far from us because it is based on a love far greater than we have seen in any other place in our life. It is a love that is not earned or merited but instead freely given, even when not deserved. The apostle Paul wrote to his friend Timothy, encouraging him with this reminder:

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:9-10)

It goes beyond "In God We Trust" to the deeper place of "In God We Hope". This speaks of something beyond what we can produce in ourselves. It speaks of those times when we are unable to pick ourselves up, unable to find our own solutions, unable to see past the darkness of today, when we really don't know if the sun will come up tomorrow. This speaks of a hope that does not arrive with tomorrow but is present in us today. This hope is not based on the past but is planted deep within the promises of God. Paul stated that this hope in God was the purpose for all their labour and striving. This was the hope that he was holding out to anyone who would take the time to listen, the hope for which he faced so much hardship, the hope for which he gave his life.

This hope is found in these gentle words spoken by Jesus:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3)

This hope goes beyond this day; beyond our circumstances; beyond any physical discomfort. This hope propels us into eternal thinking, in the understanding that God is working it all out. This hope reminds us that we belong to him and he is sovereign. We are reminded:

... 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 hope is not dashed upon the rocks of circumstances or lost in the storms of life. In fact, this hope only burns brighter in these times because the more bitter the circumstances the sweeter the hope. We don't live for tomorrow because we live for Christ and in Jesus we hold on to this truth today:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

We have hope right now, in this moment, even if we are surrounded by the darkness of despair. And this living hope will burn away the darkness as we hold on to Jesus. Our hope is not based on bank accounts, houses, possessions of any type. It is not based upon relationships or systems or any man made solution. It is not based upon the desperate belief that the sun will come out tomorrow.Our hope is based upon the unfailing love of our Heavenly Father, to whom we hold on to with all of our heart, soul and strength. 


Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Beauty and Radiance Of The Bride Is Not Found In Her Many Walls But In Her Freedom

Regardless of how we may see her and what we may do to her, the Church remains the radiant Bride of Christ. We are that Bride, you and me. It is impossible for us to deny her, reject her, walk away from her and still be part of her because to reject her is to reject Jesus. This radiant Bride is also the Body of Christ and this Body is also God's nation. Being part of her we have become a people, a nation where there was no nation. We should have the same mentality of the Jews before the UN gave them some land back. They were a nation without any territory, a people united by a common faith and a common history. That is how we should see ourselves.

We have all heard that the Church is not a building because we are that building yet we anchor ourselves to a building or location of worship. We imprison ourselves there, feeling free only in that place, behaving one way there and another outside of those walls. It becomes a place of strength and source of joy whereas Jesus desires to be those for us. When he was challenged on the location of proper worship Jesus' answer revealed what we are suppose to be today:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)

An incredible profound insight and prophetic statement that most of us glaze over, denying it's significance. Jesus has freed us from such confines for worship in the same way that we, as a nation of people, have been freed from the confines of a territory. Nothing holds us in, we have no border, no building, no religious ceremonies, no system. We are free to worship 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in spirit and truth, as the Body of Christ, as the radiant Bride and we are beautiful.

The psalmist of Psalm 48 bragged about the beauty of the great temple of Zion:

Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, 
   in the city of our God, his holy mountain. 
It is beautiful in its loftiness, 
   the joy of the whole earth. 
Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, 
   the city of the Great King. 
God is in her citadels; 
   he has shown himself to be her fortress. (Psalm 48:1-3)

You can feel his great love for this sacred place as he gushes with pride:

Walk about Zion, go around her, 
   count her towers, 

consider well her ramparts, 
   view her citadels, 
   that you may tell of them to the next generation. (Psalm 48:12-13)

Yet, it was destroyed, not once but twice. It was destroyed, but the nation was not. They nation was scattered throughout the world for a very long time and many of the people were blessed and prospered as they continued as a nation that worshiped God. From this we must be able to see God's heart in the matter. Territories and buildings are not what is important but the heart of his people is what matters most:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

"They are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." It is not the size of the walls or the riches of the temple and city that made her great but instead the love and dedication of the people:

Within your temple, O God, 
   we meditate on your unfailing love. 
Like your name, O God, 
   your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; 
   your right hand is filled with righteousness. 
Mount Zion rejoices, 
   the villages of Judah are glad 
   because of your judgments. (Psalm 48:9-11)

The greatness of the Church is not her many buildings or the beauty of them, it is not her great earthly riches or her many activities, it is not her great vision and plans for expansion, The greatness, the beauty, the radiance of the Church, of the Bride is her love and dedication to the Groom, our Lord Jesus Christ. As we gather to worship the Lord as his people, his great nation, we do not worship because of some obligation; we do it in response to his great love for us. We gather as a people longing to worship in the overflow of our grateful hearts. We don't have time to criticize the rest of the Body, to find fault with other members, to tear down because we are too busy building each other up in love as we concentrate on the greatest activity of the Church, the worship of the Groom.

We are the Body and the world will know it by our loving actions and words for one another. We are the Bride and the world will know it by our love for the Groom. We are the Church and the world will know it by our worship.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

There Is A Choice To Be Made Today - What Will You Do?

This world is messed up. Cars blowing up along with buildings and people. People walking around shooting people and kids. People thinking they are serving their god by killing themselves and other people. Corrupt governments mismanaging their countries resulting in people and children starving to death. Perhaps you are feeling a little uncomfortable watching on your television 11 million people starve to death in Africa. But do you realize that Africa is not the only place with drought? It is however the only place with people dying from it.

I look to my local community and see the same sort of suffering. People who have the responsibility to protect citizens shooting those they are meant to protect. I look at my local news and I am shocked to see the suffering people are causing people. There are stabbings, shootings, muggings, and other such actions where the strong are forcing themselves upon the weak. What else can we expect from a world and societies that are infected with such self-absorbed character based on a "me" mentality? It's all rather depressing.

However, I don't have to look to the messed up world or my messed up city to find suffering and misery. I don't have to look any further than the mirror. I look at my own life and see how I have affected many of the people I know. Left on my own I have managed to do good to some and cause harm to others. There are people suffering because of my "me" mentality, too selfish and self-absorbed to even realize the harm I was inflicting on others. In my mind I have always been a nice guy, a good guy, kind, compassionate, patient and loving. But as I take a survey of the people I "love" I see many hurts, pain, and wounds that I have inflicted. At least that is how the enemy wants me to see things on this Saturday morning. He wants to make sure that I see all my sins and the hopelessness of my life and this world. He wants to make sure that I don't do anything other than go back to bed and pull the covers up over my head.

Yes, I can sit here on this new Saturday morning and choose to be self-absorbed in my sufferings and pity party. I can look at this world and allow it to depress me. I can allow the sins and mistakes of my past to haunt me and dictate to me today. Or ...I can praise my Lord Jesus that he can make beauty from ashes.

The greatest thing we have as we start today is hope. Not hope as the world understands but hope in the certainty of God's promises. Such hope prevents us from drowning in this suffering world, keeps our head above the circumstances of our life and saves us from our own misery. It brings light to darkness and allows us to see that God is not satisfied to allow sin to dictate or for the enemy to have his way. He called us overcomers for a reason, greater than conquerors. God has a plan and he is working that plan.

Do you realize that when Jesus was sent he was sent with a purpose? His task was to caste out demons, preach the good news and to die on the cross. His task did not include healing the physical sufferings of this world. But as Jesus walked in the midst of a lost and suffering humanity, his compassionate heart compelled him to reach out and heal. There was no other purpose to it than an act of love and compassion. This is God's heart exposed to us. This is the reason he has never given up on us. This is the reason he has pursued us even when we have rejected him. He is simply reaching out to a suffering humanity, out of his great compassion and love. We have a choice, to remain in our suffering or to receive the hope he has held out to us.

I have a choice this morning, to pull the blanket of the darkness of depression around me and suffer in my day, or to throw open the windows of my heart to the light that the Lord brings to us in his love. He holds out to us forgiveness, mercy, grace and the power for us to do the same with other people. He has the power to restore relationships, heal wounds, relieve suffering, light the darkness, to show us hope. This is what I read in Psalm 47. In all that was going wrong in the world at that time the psalmist reminded himself of the authority of God:

For God is the King of all the earth;
   sing to him a psalm of praise.
God reigns over the nations;
   God is seated on his holy throne.
The nobles of the nations assemble
   as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God; 
   he is greatly exalted. (Psalm 47:7-9)

We must never forget the sovereignty our Father. This world may have been abducted by a false prince but that false prince cannot even come close to the brilliance of our holy God, the LORD God Almighty. Our world suffers because it has chosen to suffer. It's roots are rotten from sin and there is no way it can help itself but Jesus holds out a healing hand of compassion and love. Even our own lives can become a source of great hope and healing as we allow him to change our perspective and way of feeling and seeing. We can make the decision to be part of the problem, suffering in our misery, or, part of the solution, trusting God and living a life of hope.

The decision is in your hands this morning. This can be one of the best days in your life or it can be just another day of misery. You can focus on all the negative things in your life or you can turn your gaze upwards and praise the One who has given you life, hope and love. You can either resign yourself to the lost state of this world and be overwhelmed by its suffering or you can rise up in the power of God's love and compassion, to reach out with that power to bring relief to the suffering. You can simply give up or you can trust the one who has showered us in promises. The choice is yours today. Who will you serve?

Friday, July 22, 2011

For Physical Training Is Of Some Value, But Godliness Has Value For All Things

It has been noted that I am not a supporter of the self-improvement preaching of the day. Instead, I am a proponent of the supernatural transformation that happens under the blood of Jesus. In non-Bible terms, Jesus' actions provoke a non-self change in our character and perspective. My real concern is what happens after this initial transformation. 

In most cases this transformation springs up from an encounter with Jesus during a crisis. It is usually something that we can't handle, whether it is conviction of sin, circumstances beyond our ability to cope or some other such thing that provokes us to look beyond our own resources. We discover that there is something bigger than us, something that provides answers and resources that we need. So we surrender our lives and accept everything God has for us. It is after this initial transformation that we need to start making right choices, when we need to seek God's character, when we need to put on the new while we take off the old. This is where we can get mixed up with the self-improvement people.

We can't really change anything about our heart. We were born with it and unless it is transformed by Jesus we will die with it. We were born with a rebellious heart towards God and only he can rescue us from that rebellion but even with a transformed heart it is easy for us to slip back into the familiar. It isn't that sin has any power over us any more but it is often more familiar, more comfortable, easier for us to understand than this new thing that is happening to us. When someone hurts us it is easier for us to hate them than to forgive them because hatred is familiar. When someone does us harm, vengeance is a first thought because love is still unfamiliar. When we have to respond quickly to something the familiar is usually the first reaction. This is where we need training.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

Timothy was ministering to a people governed by myths and old wives' tales. Even his Jewish upbringing was probably mixed with some Greek traditions. We are a people who get overwhelmed by the culture in which we are found. Our young people are immersed in it and fall into that trap so easily. It is not a simple thing to swim against the popular current, especially when the popular current is disguised as individualism and freethinking. They and we need to train ourselves to be godly.

We need to know God and learn how he thinks, what his values are, and how to respond to the stimuli of our culture. "Train yourself" is what Paul said and this we confuse with "help yourself", "improve yourself". What it actually means is for us to force ourselves to turn from the familiar and look to Jesus, to spend time with Jesus, to allow him to affect our heart and mind. After the initial crisis that caused the transformation we need to grow in our new character and perspective; we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. This is a choice that we are responsible for.

Paul refers to physical training. Perhaps you have tried physical training. If you have you probably know that our body is a liar and it is very lazy. It will try to convince you that it can't do certain things. It will try to convince you that it is weak, tired, sick, and hurting. It will affect your emotions and your perspective. You will give the training a noble start but it won't be long before it convinces you that you are too old, too tired, too out of shape. Those who succeed are the ones who force their body into the right action, making it overcome all the obstacles.

Training ourselves in godliness is similar yet different. All of us have the ability in ourselves to change the course of action of our body. Any of us can get up at any time to take a walk. Any of us can begin to ride our bike. Any of us can make the choice to eat healthy. That is in our means but often we are just too lazy to continue. Godliness is different in that we cannot change our heart but we can change it's source of influence. It is like Paul wrote:

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

Godliness happens when we let go of the things of this earth, when we let go of our old priorities and get our hearts and minds focused on Jesus. It is not any more complicated than that. You will know how well you are doing by your quick reactions. If your knee-jerk reaction is to spew hatred then you are not focused on the right source. If your reaction is to strike back then your heart and mind are not looking where they need to be. Is the fruit of the Spirit being produced in you? Then you have your heart and mind set on things above, not on earthly things. 

It does take some training to remind our heart and mind that they are the result of a new creation, that the old has gone and the new has come. We do have to take off the old garment, the old character, and put on the new, the new garment of godliness. Our part is to get the focus right but it is Jesus who continues with the transforming. The closer we are to him, the more focused we are, they more like him we will become. There are no short cuts. You can't take a quick pill. You have to ignore the teachings that will tell you that you can have quick results with 5 minute devotions. There are no secret lists, no self-improvement methods, no special prayers. There is only a life-time of training ourselves to let go of this place and focus on the things above. It is something we have to do every single day of our life and as we do it what is familiar to us will change. 

Ask yourself where you heart and mind is focused today?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

God's Thoughts Are No Longer Just His, They Are Ours Too

We know a lot about Yahweh but the more we learn the more we know we don't know. There is much that remains a mystery about our God. We know his heart, the promises he has made and kept and we know that he loves us with a love we struggle to emulate but that leaves us with a lot of why's. Why does he love us? Why does he even bother with us? Why didn't he just wipe us out and start over again? Why does he forgive and forget? Why does he work through us, such an imperfect people?

I think that is one of the greater mysteries: why does God tie his will to our actions and prayers? A simple example of this is after Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the son of God. Jesus turned to Peter and prophetically spoke of what was to follow, the Church. Peter had demonstrated the faith of Abraham when he simply believed God. This is what Jesus said about the Church:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19)

For those who think he was literally speaking to Peter this incredible promise, I refer you to a couple of chapters later where Jesus is dealing with the matter of church disciple and forgiveness. He states to all his followers:

I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)

And if that was not enough of a mystery, God tying himself to our prayers, Jesus adds this little bit:

Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:19-20)

This is one incredible relationship we have with our God. The problem comes when we don't believe it. It is more comfortable for us to leave God in heaven doing his thing and us on earth doing our thing. We would rather just live our lives and have the freedom to blame God for all the big stuff that is happening in the world. We would rather be able to turn around and accuse God of not protecting us, of not preventing things, of not fulfilling his promises. But the truth is, all we have to do is ask.

The simplicity of it is often too much for us. We want to believe that God is God and man is man, that he is beyond us and that we have nothing to do with his will. But we forget that we are a new creation. At one time we were separated from God but not any more. Now we have the privilege of knowing the mind of Christ, the will of God, and our Father has called us into partnership with him. One of my favorite passages use to be Isaiah 55:8,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

But that is not true any more because our condition has changed and we are no longer just born of the flesh but have experienced a new birth and are now also born of the Spirit. Jesus said:

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 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 15:14-16)

Important bit there; he no longer calls us servants because a servant does not know his masters business, but we do. We know our master's business because we are  not longer at a distance, we are no longer mere servants. We serve but we serve as friends. He has called us his friends. More than that, we are family because Jesus became the first born of many so that we are now called the children of God. We can learn from the Old Testament but we no longer live there because we are a new creation in a new relationship with God.

There are many in the Church who want to deny this because it washes their hands of any responsibility but that fact is we are responsible. We are responsible and we will have to give an account of what we have or have not done in this new relationship. Those who claim to not know the will of the Father are people who just didn't bother to find out. Instead of getting more intimate with God they held off, treating the relationship as a thing of academics, making sure God stays in his place and we in ours. They completely miss the point of Jesus becoming like us, giving us such incredible authority and bringing us into this mysterious relationship. Why would God do this? I have no idea, unless it is for training purposes.

The best thing a father can do is keep his children close, involve them in everything he does, teaching them as they go along, having them help even when he doesn't need their help. We may be busy doing God's business in other people's lives but I think it is us, his children who benefit the most from it. Don't fall for the false notion that we have nothing to do with God's will. We do as he works it out through us. Our most important role is to become even more intimate with him so that we will not be mistaken about his will. It is what Jesus has called us to, to know the Father's will and to do it. He has given us the authority to speak blessings into people's lives, to seek their healing, to seek provision for them, to cover them in forgiveness, to fight for the salvation of their souls. It is an incredible truth but a truth nonetheless, we are partners with our Father in his business and our greatest desire should be to do his will. We are responsible for the authority we have been given. Choose to be intimate with him today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Mask Must Come Off The Church - It's Time To Get Messy

One of the biggest mistake we make in the Church is not talking. Oh we talk a lot about different things such as sports, the weather, church events, vacation planning, childcare, parenting but we seldom have serious dialogue about the serious matters. We are messing up and becoming a mess because we don't talk about our temptations. We don't talk about things that are bothering us. We don't talk about sin. We don't talk about the dark areas of our lives because we don't want to be the first one to start. We are afraid that if we start the dialogue no one else will join in and we will be left looking stupid and alone. That is a terrible feeling, so we avoid it.

The fact is we are not china dolls, we are far from perfect, we mess up and often times we need help figuring things out. We need hep. We need to talk. And we need a safe place to do it. It's time to pull the mask off the Church and let it be real as Jesus wants it to be real. He didn't pretend sin did not exist. He dealt with it as it came up. He got people to talk, to bring it out in the light and it was dealt with. The woman at the well is an excellent example where Jesus helped the woman bring her sin into the open where it was dealt with. As long as we keep it in the dark it has power over us.

The Church was always meant to be a place of freedom, acceptance, new beginnings, re-birth, dealing with the darkness, exposing the ugly things so they could be made beautiful, a place of trust, a place of love; real love where wrongs are not recorded but forgiven and forgotten. It is like an emergency room where people come in with their wounds exposed so healing can be given. But we turned it into more of a theater where there is lots of acting and nothing real gets dealt with.

What about the kid who is being bullied at school or online, who is left in a place of dark fear, too afraid to tell anyone because people will think he is a wimp? What about the kid who is curious about his sexuality but doesn't feel comfortable to ask questions in an atmosphere that judges and condemns? What about the woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage or her husband who is completely confused about the purpose of his life? What about the couple who have completely messed up their finances but carry on pretending all is well? What about the pregnant teen who is so scared to tell anyone because of the shame so is thinking of ending it? What about the girl who tried some drugs last night and thinks her boyfriend did something? What about all these things and so much more that are done in the dark and the secrecy of the forbidden but are messy so no one wants to deal with it? Parents who are afraid of what people will say. Elders who are afraid of what people will say about their church. Do these things not need the healing touch of the Lord, the compassionate arms of the Father, the supernatural touch of the Spirit?

If we can't deal with these matters how can we hope to deal with the more complicated spiritual understanding? We can't afford to forget about the confusion of faith and the teaching of the Word. We can't be afraid to deal with questioning doubts, fears, worries and false teachings. We can't ignore these things and hope they go away. We need open and frank discussion and teaching. We need the Church to be a place where we are open and honest with each other. If it isn't we are going to be losing a lot of people. The Spirit revealed to the apostle Paul that this is going to be a problem in the end days:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3)

We are seeing this today as people abandon the Church because they do not understand why we teach the things we do about homosexuality (the new leprosy), abortion, fornication, adultery, drugs and the like. Instead of being a place where people can dialogue without condemnation the Church is a place of segregation and rejection. Why would a young man ask questions about homosexuality and the confusion he is sensing at the age of 14 if he is going to be jumped all over, judged and then condemned. What about the person who has been questioning the existence of hell or the person who is now confused about the Trinity? Is is wrong to ask questions about the relationship between the Christians and the Muslims, if there is any? Instead we jump all over them without listening to the questions and cut them off from us. This is love? Instead of listening and responding to the uncomfortable questions, we would rather lose souls.

We have a lot of growing up to do in the Church and I hope we do it quickly before we lose an entire generation to the enemy. There are some individuals out there who are trying to change this, who are trying to open up the dialogue, who are not hiding behind church rules and conformity. Many won't join them because they don't know the Word well enough themselves to help people, so instead of helping they state what they have been taught and tell them to take it or leave it. Not so loving. Not much compassion. Not a great deal of teaching and explaining. I salute those individuals who are strong enough in their faith to make a difference in the lives of those with questions, doubts and fears. I pray that the rest of us will decide to take off the mask and join them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Lesson Of Love Is For The Young and Old In Jesus

It seems that people are a little tired of the message that nothing works without love. Maybe it's because we seldom see it in action that has made us cynics but without understanding, accepting and operating in this truth we are just spinning our wheels in the Church. This is a word for the young and old alike because we are missing two important elements in the Church which grows from the root of love; tolerance and respect.

The critical importance of love is clear in the Word of God:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

We would do well to consider these words carefully. Taking out the poetic element, it clearly states that without love we are nothing and we gain nothing. If you don't consider love important enough to reflect on for a few minutes you had better consider Jesus' command:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

Jesus never said it was optional for us. And this is not just any love, it is the same love that Jesus has shown us. Not an emotional love but a love of choice. "I choose to love you so my actions will demonstrate that love." In fact, love is what defines us:

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)

Pretty clear, so let's move on to what I want to address; the fruit of this love.

Have you noticed how disrespectful much of the youth is toward the older generations. Perhaps it's just me in my corner of the world but I am afraid it is much of North America. I am not just talking about those who speak rudely or refuse to give up their seat on the bus. It's not just those who steal old ladies' purses or mug old men. I am also talking about those who dismiss the wisdom of the grey hair, those who laugh at the advice of those who have gone before them, those who think they know it all because they possess a little bit of knowledge. Do you know what love says about this situation?

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. (Romans 15:1-2)

You can put different words there instead of "bear with". How about "put up with", "tolerate", "be patient with". I know many of you would like to go back to the Old Testament days when parents would take their disobedient children down to the city gates and stone them, but not many would consider that an act of love. That was when they had to protect the integrity of the newly born nation. Now the command is love and love tells us we need to make the decision to "bear with the failings of the weak". But that doesn't let the younger generations off the hook. There are many passages that deal with respecting authority which is impossible to do without the understanding of love.

Before any other lesson can sink in we must teach the younger generation the lesson of love. Not the emotional kind but the love taught to us by example from Jesus. The love that says "it doesn't matter what I want or what I think" and puts the needs of others first. Respect does not come from what a person deserves but based on the decision taken in love to treat the person right:

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)

Authority is not established out of fear or even forced upon anyone. Authority in the Church is established in love. This is why the most important lessons to teach the younger generation is the lesson of God's love and the command to love one another. We are banging our heads against the wall and wasting our time if we are trying to establish anything outside of of love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

This is the reason we must show our love by "bearing with" the immature in Jesus until the lesson of love has been established. A child cannot learn to run until they have first learned to crawl and then to walk. It is hard and I wish there was a short cut. I wish we could just download our knowledge into them but to be honest, at the age of 47 I am only now beginning to just scratch the edges of this knowledge of love. So many years wasted focused on myself. I am so glad God surrounded me with people who "bore" with me as I moved through the various stages of maturity.

Without a doubt our young people, the immature in Jesus, need to be taught. But they will not learn in an atmosphere of criticism, impatience and intolerance. We have to bear with their blunders and mistakes, loving them through their messes, teaching them from their mistakes, but always being there, never abandoning them, even when they run away from us. Remember that at the end of the day there are only three things of any importance in our life; faith, hope and love. If love is truly the greatest of the three then we should be examining our actions a little more. Are we spending enough time with Jesus that this great thing is being produced in us? If we do not have enough patience, if we are intolerant, if we would rather stone the immature, if we are not showing respect for those over us then we are not spending enough time with Jesus.

They will know us by our love for one another.