Friday, September 30, 2011

Butterfly Feelings And Wise Words Make For A Weak Foundation

I hope maturity is our goal in our relationship with Jesus Christ. No one should ever want to remain a child in anything they do or in any relationship they have. That euphoria of being in love must give way to a mature love that will carry a relationship through the good and bad times of life. If all we ever want in a relationship is that butterfly feeling then we will discard relationships as soon as it seems to disappear in the dark days of life. I think most of us want a lover who will stand with us in the heat of battle, who will fight with us and for us, who will not walk away just because it's hard, but will remember their covenant to stand.

A mature relationship with Jesus is not built on butterfly feelings alone but on decisions of trust and a hope in the things promised but yet unseen. It is a relationship of trust that says we have made a decision to stand even when everything we are experiencing flies in the face of man's wisdom, even when our flesh is telling us to runaway, even when we can't see any possible outcome. Our relationship goes beyond feelings and is based on a love that man's wisdom cannot grasp, a love that says I believe, I trust and I submit.

When Paul went to see the Corinthians he was stepping into a hot bed of philosophizers. These people loved to hear knew ideas and then debate them. That was their pass time just like some people enjoy watching sports today. But it was a position of observers, of no contact, of no getting your hands dirty, not unlike the debaters of our age. Paul knew what he was coming into and he made the decision that he was not going to argue about Jesus. He was not coming in with fine sounding words and man's logical wisdom. He made a decision of how to present Jesus:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

Christianity is not about theory even though that is what we are turning it in to. We have allowed it to become a debate with "wise" and eloquent speakers. We have turned pastoring into a profession with lettered preachers. I pray they are preaching experience and not theory but I do know many preach from books instead of from the fiery Holy Spirit. We are emptying the cross of its power with our words. We can't talk people into the Kingdom, they must experience it.

I heard some wonderful speakers as a child, some incredible pastors and preachers, but not one of them could persuade me by their words. It wasn't until I experienced Jesus myself that I became persuaded and surrendered my life to his love. We have to stop basing our approach on the world's methods and understand in greater maturity that God's methods are very different. It is not based on persuasive words that give us butterfly feelings but on God's power which changes us into a new creation:

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

If we are persuaded by wise and persuasive words that tickle our ears and gives us butterfly feelings then we are doomed to fail at the first testing of our faith. Our faith cannot be based on words that teach us to conform but instead on God's power which transforms. Man's wisdom, even when speaking about Jesus, is empty of any power and cannot provoke any change except the superficial change of our behaviour. However, when the words spoken and the action taken is from the Spirit, mountains move, walls fall, the dead in Christ are raised and the old becomes new. If we think we can reason our way into the Kingdom then we are truly lost. If we think we can romance our way into the Kingdom then we are truly lost.

The mature in Jesus know there is no good thing in us except Jesus Christ. We have nothing to offer our Father except our surrender and obedience. But there is also security in this because we can be just like Paul, messed up and failing, and yet be used mightily by God. It's not about us, it's about Jesus working through us:

I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:3)

The mature in Jesus are never held back by weakness and fear because they know who their strength is. They know who the fight belongs to. They know and trust that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us because we belong to him. We know this, not by theory and butterfly feelings but because the Holy Spirit testifies to this fact to our spirit. And soon, the mature know it by experience. We are sustained in his love because love never fails. It is due to this that we are able to rise up as mighty warriors, ready for battle, fearing nothing and pressing forward. We are those who move mountains, raise the dead, walk on water, heal the sick, send demons running, and laugh in the face of darkness because we know who we belong to and what he is doing through us. So come on, rise up, be bold, speak the words he gives you, do the things he directs to do and show your spiritual maturity.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Maturity Is Not Found In The Philosophies And Practices Of This World

It is sad and upsetting to see people proclaim Jesus as their Saviour and then turn around and quote Gandhi or Einstein, or Oprah or any number of other people who did not or do not have Jesus at the center of their thinking. We can't be saying that we are followers of Jesus and then turn around and mix the philosophies of this world into it. The Word of God tells us plainly that the world system and the Kingdom do not mix. Just pulling something quickly out of the Word:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,”
            declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts."
(Isaiah 55:8-9)

The wisdom of man cannot compare to the wisdom of our Creator. Have you not noticed what happens to followers of Jesus when they start mixing it up with the world? What happens to young celebrities who were raised on the Word, proclaimed Jesus to their fans and then started walking according to the thinking and philosophies of the world? They fell away is what happened and most of them created a mess of their lives. We can only follow Jesus by basing our life on the Word of God, God's wisdom and power, which is Christ crucified for you and me.

As we get older we think we know better. We start start putting more emphasis on fine sounding arguments. The Lord has brought us this far, we have been blessed many times over, he has given us great moments of faith to look back on, but we begin to play with the pretty words and philosophies. We start to listen to other sources of wisdom, start doing things differently, start thinking "Well, if it is acceptable by this society ..." We don't think sex before marriage is that big a deal; people living together is the same as marriage; it's up to the woman to decide if the baby should live or not; it's possible to have a same sex relationship and still be saved; that heaven and hell aren't real, just a state of thinking. These lead to even more deceptions.

If you do not want to be deceived by this world and the enemy of our God, you need to stay grounded with Jesus. Never forget your testimony. A mature Christian does not live in the past but he never forgets it either. If we always remember what we were before we met Jesus we will always avoid going back there:

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

I have often heard people say, "Why would God choose me?" He chooses who he wishes to choose, according to his wisdom and purpose. We look at all the great leaders of the Bible and we find that they were full of faults. Even the great apostle Paul was a murderer and persecutor of the Church before Jesus. Everyone God chose were weak, pathetic, and foolish according to the standards of this world. None of them would have been chosen as "Most Likely To Succeed". So understand God's wisdom in choosing us:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

What an honour to be chosen by God to serve as a testimony to his wisdom and to destroy the boasting of a fallen creation. There is no room for boasting because we are nothing without Jesus Christ, and the mature in Jesus understand this. The immature run after the things of this world but the mature understand their place and their purpose. No Christian can ever boast about being a self-made man:

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

It is true that our God loves us with a love that will take an eternity to fathom. It is true that he considers each of us to be precious and special. Our portion is his love and his constant presence. His grace should be sufficient for us in all situations because the reason he has called us to spiritual greatness is for his name sake. If what we are achieving is a work of our own hands it will not last, but if it is the Lord doing it through us then it will last for eternity. If we are building things, even ministry, based upon the wisdom and practices of this world then it will fail and bring no glory to the Name. If we are allowing God to build through us, according to the Word and by the Spirit, through ups and downs, ins and outs, and we are trusting him in all things, giving him the glory constantly, then we will succeed and all the glory will go to Jesus.

Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)

So my friends, check yourself. What wisdom and philosophies are you building your life on? Is Jesus your everything, the only source to whom you turn in the good and the bad of life? Is your heart overflowing with gratitude for what God is doing or are you beginning to think the world might have something better to offer? What whisperings are you listening to and what are you dabbling in? Do not allow this world to define love for you but learn from him who is love. Choose the path to spiritual maturity, trust God, live in his peace, walk in his righteousness, be filled by his power, serve him with all your strength and love him with all your being.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Are You Sure It Is The Wisdom Of God You Are Leaning On?

Spiritual maturity happens when we stop fighting against the Spirit and instead get in step with him. I will warn you up front that I have to spread this blog over two days because the impact of it is too great to cover all at once. There has been a great bleeding of the world's philosophy into the teaching of the Church. Worse than that, many of our young people have begun to mix the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of God and no longer understand the difference. The Spirit is calling us back to the Father's heart. Listen:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Jesus people are stupid, ignorant, superstitious, short-sighted morons to people who have never met Jesus. The whole idea of God, Jesus, the cross, the empty grave, the heavenly realms are all foolishness to the world. They would rather quote the sayings and philosophies of dead men who accomplished nothing than to trust the wisdom of the one and only living God. The thing is, Jesus knew they would.

My concern is that too many of our spiritual trainers and disciples of Jesus want to find acceptance in this world. There are not enough people to stand with our young people to show them it is okay to be considered odd and foolish by the world as we choose the wisdom and power of the cross. Jesus told us that the world would do more than consider the message of the cross foolish, it would also hate us because of it. This is the natural way because the world does not want to admit to its sins and submit to the love of our holy God. But Jesus told us that we must still love this world even if it considers itself to be our enemy.

To young and old alike I remind you that we are different from this world. We do not think or act like it. We do not find our pleasure in the same places it finds its pleasure. We do not love as it loves or hate as it hates. We do not follow its philosophies or rest on its wisdom:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)

The world does not know as it aught to know. It is not us, who have placed our trust and hope in Jesus, who are foolish, but it is the world, who has failed to understand God's wisdom, that is lost. There is nothing that this world can offer us that can stand up against the glory and power of God's wisdom. The cross on its own flies in the face of the philosophies of this world:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

Be wise my friends. The immature run after fine sounding arguments and pretty philosophies of this world. They will blog about such things and add quotes from these dead men because it sounds so fine. The immature ask what is wrong with this and the Holy Spirit weeps. We cannot put even a moments trust in the wisdom of this world. Why waste such a precious moment when we have the rich wisdom of God at hand? Our life is based on the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Everything else is just foolishness. The immature in Christ need to leave their foolish pursuit and get back in step with the Spirit before they are lost in the darkness of this world again.

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

Maturity comes in as we make God's wisdom, Christ crucified, the center of our thinking and world perspective. Maturity begins to take root as we accept that Jesus is the power and wisdom of God, which far surpasses any philosophies and wisdom man has to offer. There is no love greater than God's.

There are two streams of thought in the world. There are those chasing after spirituality but would rather worship creation over the creator and those who worship the accomplishments and wisdom of humanity. Both lead to destruction so the mature in Jesus avoid them both and walk in the wisdom of God's light. When we take this decision maturity begins to shape everything else in us as well.

There is no getting around this, it should be as clear as day: God is greater thus wiser than his creation.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

So I encourage you to consider what you are leaning against for strength. What are you considering to be wise as you sit in your classes, as you enter your work, as you partake in your entertainment? What ideas, thoughts, wisdom are you allowing to take root? Are you weighing these things against the Word of God? Are you listening to the guidance of the Spirit? Spiritual maturity cannot take root if you are not basing your life on the Word of God and guidance of the Spirit of God.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Am Not The Star And Neither Are You

Let's be honest and admit that we belong to a culture of hero worshipers. We all love a good hero story. Thank you Marvel Comics for your many stories but I am referring more to the human kind of hero. If you ever saw any of the Rocky movies where the underdog overcame many obstacles to win you would understand the feeling it provokes in us. A similar story is found in the Die Hard series or any other story where the common guy rises up and overcomes the bad guy. We love it because we love things that seem bigger than ourselves. This is why there is such a cult following of movie stars and singers.

We really do idolize these people and some of my younger readers have blogs and pictures to prove it. Hey, my nine year old daughter has a poster of Justin Bieber on her wall that is bigger than me. We transfer this kind of idolizing to leadership as well. We start giving our government leaders the same treatment as the movie stars and are disappointed when they don't have that pizzazz and sparkle. I would dare say that we have started to give this same status to our spiritual leaders as well, especially the big name pastors. But there is only one star in the Kingdom of God.

Mature leadership will not allow themselves to be put in such a position and mature members of the Body will not tempt the leadership to be in that position. If there was ever a star next to Jesus it would have been the apostle Paul but Paul demonstrated the healthy mature attitude and understanding that we all need to gain. Jesus called Paul as a servant and no matter how famous or infamous he became Paul remained a humble servant. He knew his only purpose was to point the world to Jesus. All Christians wanting to grow in maturity need to grasp this same truth, that we are dead to ourselves and made alive in Jesus. Paul taught:

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

Spiritual maturity requires that this same attitude would permeate every fibre of our being. As followers of Jesus Christ we gladly serve to whatever end he wants us to, always making sure that it is not about us but about Jesus Christ. The world cannot be saved by us; only Jesus saves.

When the Corinthians attempted to put Paul in this place of hero, lifting him up beside Jesus, Paul wrote to them to correct them:

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (1 Corinthians 1:13-15)

See the maturity of leadership here. Paul was saying, "I can't do anything for you. There is no value in me. I didn't die for you and even if I did my death would have had no benefit."

Today we get caught up in all the trappings of leadership. "What does this leader have to offer? How many books has this one written? How large is his church? What unique take does this one have on Jesus? What is his hook? How successful has he been? What makes him different from his peers?" What a foolish bunch of people we are because if that is what we are looking for in leadership it is also how we see ourselves. But the Body of Christ is not about individual stars or great leaders. We already have our leader and there is no one like Jesus Christ. All the rest are just humble servants serving the Body. Paul said to the Corinthians:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

Sometimes in our attempt to be unique, to stand out from the crowd, we empty the cross of its power. In an attempt to look wise we rest on human wisdom, human sayings, human ideas. Everyone is so hungry for the next Twitter-sized thought or quote. What a foolish people we have become. Maturity requires a servant's heart, to understand along with John the Baptist that we must decrease and Jesus must increase. None of me Lord and all of you. There is only one God, only one Lord, only One Spirit. God must take his place and we ours. Maturity makes its progress in us as we allow this truth to guide our thoughts and actions.

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

I can't save anyone, it's not my purpose or my place. Only Jesus saves.

Monday, September 26, 2011

One Plants, Another Waters, But God Makes It Grow

If you want maturity as a Christian there are some old ways of thinking that you are going to have to let go. When you accepted Jesus Christ everything changed, everything became new but we did not necessarily let go of the old. There are some old ways of seeing things that have become stumbling blocks in our growing up process and one of those has to do with our vision of leaders and the impact it has on unity in the Body.

If unity is a sign of spiritual maturity the Corinthians must have had "fail" stamped on their foreheads. Sounds harsh but they had fallen into the trap that many Christians fall into today - leadership worship. You can't say that it doesn't exist because you can read it all over the internet. I often hear certain teachers and leaders being lifted up more often than Jesus. The problem becomes even more complicated when people start comparing and pitting one leader against the other. That is exactly what the Corinthians were doing:

My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[a]”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12)

You probably have certain teachers you enjoy learning from but I would hope you have a good grasp of the way the Body of Christ works. Each member of the Body has a different function, a different purpose in order that you can be built up and increased in maturity. The differences between leaders and their gifting are for your benefit. In order to move along in our journey to maturity we need to gain a good understanding of the Body of Christ. Do you know what you have become part of, what you belong to and how it functions? The best place to ponder this is in 1 Corinthians 12:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

Division can never take root as long as the various parts of the Body have this understanding along with the knowledge that there is only one head, and that is Jesus. Part of our maturing process is learning how God's love and grace allow us all to work together for the same purpose. The friction happens when we start seeing the leadership through the eyes of the world instead of in the context of the Body. Leaders are servants and leaders are gifted differently in order to meet the various needs in the Body:

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:27-30)

It is important to note that a leader never chose to be a leader, he was appointed by God. I think many churches have by-passed God and appoint their own leaders but that is an entirely different topic. It is enough for us to trust God in the selection and gifting of the various leaders. In doing this we will begin to realize how foolish we are to try to compare them and to lift up one as greater than another. Again, one of the clearest statements on the purpose of leadership in the Body is found in Ephesians 4:

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 again that leaders do not choose their own calling but are appointed by Jesus. Their purpose is clear, "to prepare God's people for works of service". They are the trainers. They come along and teach us, help us, prepare us, train us. We do not get our strength from them, they do not choose our calling, we do not find our purpose in them and they cannot save us. They are not Jesus, only his servants and the servants to the Body.

Returning to the problem of the Corinthians, Paul gives us a great visual picture of leadership in the Body of Christ:

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

Not only does our foolish attitude toward leadership reveal our immaturity it also becomes a stumbling block to our growing up process. We need the Apollos', Paul's and Cephas' of this current age. We need our pastors but we also need our prophets, apostles, evangelists and teachers. We have to stop being the disciples of men and become the disciples of Jesus. Some plant, others water but only God makes it grow. When we let go of our foolish thinking and grasp this Kingdom-fact we will begin moving forward in our growing up process. We allow leaders to serve us but we lift up and worship only Jesus.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

With All My Heart

I like setting aside my regular blogging to simply consider God's worthiness of our praise on this day of worship. I just wish we treated the day and it's purpose with greater respect. Yes, we must worship our God every day but this day is different as we gather with his people and join in corporate worship. Things happen when God's people get together, but often we miss it because we are not attentive.

I am sure that there will be things that will happen or have happened this morning that will try to interfere with the purpose of this day. You will probably arrive at church a bit ruffled or rattled as you rushed around getting ready. You probably spent too long online, checking out FaceBook, Thumblr, YouTube or chatting with friends and left the house late, rushed. You probably arrived at church in a whirlwind and allowed yourself to be distracted by a hundred different things that were going on. You probably had the best of intentions for this day but you end up squeezing God in between a bunch of other stuff.

Even while you are at church your mind is probably racing with different thoughts or you are thinking through plans for things you have to do after church. Oh, you are singing and you are giving it a good effort but to be honest you have to admit it isn't with all your heart. You want it to be but your life is full of so much "stuff". Sunday just becomes an overflow day, where everything you didn't get done during the week ends up filling up Sunday. I'm here to tell you that as important as all that other "stuff" is, you need rest from it. You need a day when you can let the world go screaming by while you simply rest in God's presence. You need this holy rest to keep balance and perspective to guard your heart and mind, so that Jesus remains your everything. So quiet yourself today.

Through the psalmist the Spirit calls to us:

“Be still, and know that I am God;
   I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in the earth.”
(Psalm 46:10)

Even in the worse turmoil in our lives the Spirit brings us to a place of rest and calm as he ministers to the deep places of our inner being:

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
    he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he restores my soul.
(Psalm 23:2-3)

It is a Sabbath day, a day of rest, a day of being restored. During the week we worship, spend time with the Lord, he is always with us, but special things, important things happen when God's people come together to worship. The things of the week fall away, things that have stuck to us, the ugliness, the smelly stuff. We get to take a deep long breath and fill ourselves with the sweet smell of God's holy presence. We get to lift up holy hands together and cry out with one mind, one heart and one voice to honour and glorify Jesus.

It is in this place of rest that we remember the greatness of our God. We remember his works and our hearts are filled with thanksgiving. It is a day of giving thanks through the praises of his people. The psalmist expressed this longing:

Shout praises to the LORD!
   With all my heart
   I will thank the LORD
   when his people meet. (Psalm 111:1, CEV)

With all his heart. That's the point being made here. We can't come into corporate worship with a double mind and a heart that is plagued with the busyness of life. We need to set aside the "work of our hands" for a day. Take this rest and allow your heart to be fully possessed by our spirit's desire to worship with our entire being. Stand in the assembly of God's people and be consumed by his love for you and yours for him. Drink in his restoring presence and focus your mind on his great works of love, mercy, grace and compassion. Allow your heart to be transformed by gratefulness and thanksgiving.

Show your gratefulness to the Lord by setting all your work aside. You have six days to work hard, to study, to watch TV and play your video games. You have six days to chat online, to fill up your FaceBook with all your news, to watch videos, to create. You have six days to clean your house, to do laundry, to wash your car, to mow your lawn, to repair the broken things. You have six days to wear yourself out and one day to rest. I encourage you to set this whole day aside for the purpose for which God gave it to us. Jesus said man was not created for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was created for man. This should not be used as an excuse to disregard the reason why the Sabbath was created.

Just an idea: why not extend the purpose of this day beyond the 1 hour church service? Plan some extra reading time with the Word. Go on a prayer walk with your spouse or with a friend. Have some people over and enjoy some rich fellowship. Have some family time worshipping with your children or have some friends over for the purpose of sharing some favorite worship songs. Whatever you decide to do make it special, different from the other days of the week. Honour Jesus and enjoy some much needed rest in his presence. Be restored as you quiet your heart and allow him to lead you to those green pastures and quiet waters. Enjoy the Sabbath.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Solving The Problem Of Division In The Church

An unmistakable sign of immature in the Body of Christ is division. You can have the most beautiful, intelligent, gifted, generous people but if division is in their midst everything else gets swallowed up. Unity is a good indication of a people who are growing together; learning, serving, praising, loving, maturing. It doesn't mean that we are all going to agree on every point but maturity remembers the lesson that getting our way is not what is important; love is more important than anything else. Division is the first thing Paul addressed in his letter to the Corinthians.

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Division happens when we are possessed by our own importance instead of Jesus'. I know, I've been there. It's when we think we know more than someone else, that we are right, that our opinion is vital to people understanding the truth. It's when we allow ourselves to become more important than Jesus and fail to follow his command to love one another. That command is impossible to follow as long as we are not putting other people ahead of ourselves.

We live in a very "me" oriented society. Maybe not everyone thinks so but I challenge you to keep a notebook on you for a week. Use that notebook to write down every time you put your own needs and interests ahead of someone elses. If you are honest I think you will shock yourself. "Me" is a message we are bombarded with constantly so that it has crept into our psyche. It has become part of us in the way Jesus' mind is suppose to become part of us. We think we are doing well with our little random acts of kindness but in the big picture we are still self-centered and selfish about our time, talents and possessions. I think that many of us are incapable of understanding what Jesus meant when he he told us to love each other as he has loved us. We are incapable until we truly accept his love for us. Once we experience it ourselves we will begin to grasp the importance to love in this same manner. If we could grasp this love, understanding and living it, we would see some major changes in us.

Unity is far more important than any of us give credit to. It even goes beyond unity in our local congregation and encompasses the entire Body of Christ. Unity happens when we set aside our opinions and start basing everything on the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is where the mature mind in Christ dwells. Unity is important because the Word says it is. Let's look again at the process we find in the purpose of 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)

For me this is the complete package, exactly how a healthy Body functions, with purpose. Today I am emphasizing the part of the process that calls for all of us to reach unity in faith and in the knowledge of Jesus, becoming mature. According to this passage this unity happens when God's people work together. We are able to work together when we realize the same goal, the salvation and spiritual maturity of the lost. This passage begins with a plea from the Holy Spirit:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

The plea begins with a challenge to our character, disarming us from our weapons of "self": be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with each other in love, be united in peace. (Do a check-list with yourself.) Then we are reminded there is no division in God. There are not two sides or two opinions in any of this. There is only one truth and it is found in the Word and it is from our God: one body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God and Father. And this one God of all, is over all, through all and in all. This is the truth that permeates everything for those who follow of Jesus. That is where we are united. It's not about denominations and leaders; it is about Jesus.

Often in this age we are too busy defending our denominational positional statements to lift Jesus up with our brothers and sisters. The Word tells us to stop passing judgment based on disputable matters that aren't even based on the Word of God:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. (Romans 14:1)

When we allow these things to divide us it is revealing our immaturity. When we start allowing ourselves to be separated from our brothers and sisters we need to examine the spirit behind it. We need to set ourselves aside and really examine it and ask if this thing is worth the division it is causing; if it really should take priority over the command to love as Jesus loved? If the matter at hand goes against the Word of God then we are indeed loving our brother by pointing this out to him. However, if it is only about preference and has no affect on our relationship with Jesus we need to allow love to cover it and bear with our brother.

There is nothing of greater importance in the Kingdom than experiencing the love and forgiveness of Jesus every day, of loving God with your entire being and of loving everyone in your life with the love of Jesus. If these are your priorities you will come into maturity quickly. But if you allow unforgiveness, disputable matters, things of this world to come between you and God as well as you and people, you know that you have not quite got a grasp on loving as Jesus has loved us. Unfortunately you could become a tool of division within the Body of Christ.

The subject of unity in the New Testament is far too great to exhaust in this small blog so I encourage you to simply search the passages that speak about unity. Let us throw off everything that hinders and press on together in our desire for maturity in Christ.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Maturity Starts With The Leaders

There is no excuse for immaturity in the Body of Christ, especially among those called to leadership. It is not easy to be a spiritual leader because there are not always visible results to measure. Sometimes frustrated pastors will throw themselves into looking after things that can be measured such as an increase in the number of people attending, improvements on the building, new programs, even writing a book. These are all easily measurable and lend a certain sense of satisfaction, but it is not spiritual leadership.

I was struck this morning by apostle Paul's attitude and approach to being called to lead people into a greater relationship with Jesus. As knowledgeable and intelligent as he was, Paul remained humbled by God's grace even in the face of an immature church. I know the problem the church of Corinth was to Paul because I have read his letters to them. He must have been frustrated with their lack of progress and their silliness over unimportant matters, yet he writes:

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:4)

I don't think Paul was lying as he wrote this; I think this is how he prevented himself from killing them. It is hard to kill someone when you keep professing your gratefulness for them. Leaders must always be grateful for the people God has placed in our lives. In fact, this is a great attitude for all Christians to gain. If we took the time and expressed to God and to people how grateful we are for them then our hearts would be tender toward them and we would deal with them in love instead of frustration. Perhaps you don't realize just what a pain these Corinthians were to understand the significance of what Paul was doing here.

Note however that he was not grateful because of anything they did but because of what Jesus had done for them. That changes a lot for us as well when we constantly see people as the object of Jesus' affection. It makes it harder to give up on them or to walk away. Paul wrote this in many of his letter, "I thank God as I remember you". This helps us smell the aroma of Jesus on every person we know, whether they are mature or immature, helpful or a pain, a positive or negative pull in our life. After all, we were not sent to love only the lovable. This is a mature attitude in ministering with people.

Paul also maintain that Jesus was doing something in these people, that they were blessed and that God himself was working on them. He chose to see the good things that were taking place and not just the negative:

For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. (1 Corinthians 1:5-6)

Sometimes this is one of the most difficult things to maintain in our ministry, the balance of the positive with the negative. It takes a mature leader to be able to maintain a balanced approach to dealing with problems in a person's life. It is not all negative. We have to remember all the good things, the many blessings, the great talent and we have to remind people of this fact. We all have messed up in some areas and there are things that need to be dealt with but there is still all the good things God has been developing over the years. When some things are revealed by the Spirit it is not so that we can kill people but instead so we can help them through it into God's glory. It does not nullify everything else that God has already accomplished.

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. (1 Corinthians 1:7) 

This doesn't just apply to leaders in the Church but to every Christian as we interact with each other. It would lessen a lot of frustrations and allow for greater unity as we keep a balanced view of each others lives. We have to remember that the Spirit is at work in each of us, changing, developing, maturing each of us and sometimes dealing with unpleasant matters. None of us are perfect and where we are strong in some aspects of our lives we are weak in others, yet Jesus hasn't walked away from any of us:

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:8)

Paul is writing this to a church that has become a drain on him and he believes it to be one hundred percent true. Paul was refusing to allow these matters to interfere with his responsibility to encourage, teach and correct the people he was given to love. Paul knew what Jesus was doing, that he would keep these people strong to the end, that on the day of the Lord they would be seen as blameless. It didn't mean he was about to ignore these problems but just that he would deal with them in a proper attitude. Despite our frustration, aggravations, and our distaste at having to deal with matters of immaturity, we do it from a point of love and balance. At the end of the day we have to be absolutely convinced that Jesus loves even the most frustrating person, that he is working in them and that he will always be faithful to them:

God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:9)

Being convinced of these things you will possess the mind of Jesus to be able to deal with all matters with the wisdom and love of Christ. Without such a mature view of people we will end up being sheep killers and we can't be that because Jesus would not be pleased with us. It is as we gain this attitude toward ministering with people that we will begin to grasp the Father's love and will have a mature understanding of how much we must love them with this love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Don't rush that passage. Read it again and hold it up to the way you deal with people in your life and ministry. Without this grace that comes from love we are dealing with the speck of dust and piece of lumber in the eye situation. Who will be judged more harshly, the one who acted immaturely or the one who led immaturely? Once we have gained this attitude we are ready to deal with the problems.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I Want To Know Jesus

There should be a real concern that there is a lack of progress in the Church today. Consider it for a moment: Are you in a more mature position with Jesus now than you were a year ago? Many of us will answer that question far too quickly without giving it any serious thought. There are far too many people chasing after emotional experience and failing to actually grow in Jesus. Many people do not even realize that spiritual maturity is a goal. They meet Jesus, have their sins forgiven and think it's a done deal.

How do you feel about that? Are you aware that there is more than the cross to this walk with Jesus? The cross is the beginning place and remains part of everything that follows but there is plenty to follow beyond the cross. There is the resurrection. The apostle Paul expressed this:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

I want to know Jesus. I want to know more of him, to understand more, to be changed by my knowing, to become like him. Every day is a day of learning, growing, changing. Sometimes it comes through the study of the Word and sometimes it comes through the Spirit teaching me in the circumstances of my day. Regardless of how, maturity happens every time I make a decision for Jesus, when I reject the things that do not belong to him, and declare to myself that Jesus is my everything. There may be emotions attached to it but it is not an emotional decision. It is an insisting that Jesus is the priority over everything. This opens up a whole new world of mature decision making.

Maturity is an important matter right now because we have a generation being raised on the idea of being lost in an emotional response to God. I have no problem with an emotional response, been there many times myself, but emotional responses without maturity leads to emotional see-saws; up one moment and down the next. There is a beauty in the function of the Body of Christ to bring us into spiritual maturity:

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)

Some people mistake this to mean knowledge but notice what the servant-leaders' role is: to prepare God's people for works of service. Maturity happens when we take God's Word and put it into practice. I get concerned when Christians attend tons of seminars, teachings, schools of prophets, getting Spirit filled again and again, yet have no impact on the unsaved in their lives. That's not maturity, it's sensationalism.

Many of us should be much further along in our walk with Jesus than we are. Some of us are chasing after the wrong things, wanting to be fed all the time instead of maturing to the point of being able to feed others. Some people would say that they don't want that kind of responsibility and refuse to grow up. Others had that problem too:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Hebrews 5:11-12)

It's time for us to grow up. For the next little while I am going to teach from 1 Corinthians because it is a great lesson in maturity, the basic foundation and what we need to progress. The Corinthians were a church that had it all, tons of talents, all the gifts of the Spirit, and yet they had nothing because they lacked the maturity to know how to use these tools. I am looking forward to this because I want to make sure that my foundation is right, to support my life of faith, so hope will permeate my very being. Joy, everlasting joy, is found in this place of hope. It is time to make some progress in this walk as we move toward the whole measure of the fullness of Jesus. Come grow with me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is It Really Worth Being Angry?

What does one do with anger? We can't lie about it because we all get angry from time to time. Some people get angry more than what is healthy and often times over silly things. When I was a young adult I had a terrible time with anger. I wasn't very expressive with words so I would express myself in action. Not a good thing when dealing with anger. I asked Jesus for help with this and he developed a great deal of patience in me. It wasn't easy and I have experienced a lot of difficult seasons but now I have a greater understanding and love for others, so forgiveness comes quickly. However, there are still times when certain things are able to provoke this emotion in me.

Jesus got angry, right? It was different than what most of us feel. It was a righteous anger, not about some injustice against himself but against his Father. He didn't sit on that anger and let it develop into something else. He took action. Some may say it was negative action but put into context it was a positive action that brought about positive change. He didn't strike anyone but he sure let them know that what they were doing was wrong and it would not be accepted. Sometimes we can deal with certain situations in like manner, and it is healthy to do so. We can confront people and tell them to stop what they are doing. If we have the power or authority we can make them stop and if we don't we can go to someone who does have the authority to make them stop.

However, there are other times when we have to accept that we can't get the tooth paste back in the tube. There are some actions that once they are taken cannot be undone. It may be some kind of injustice done to us or to someone we love. What do we do with that?

Anger is a terrible emotion that is strong enough to tear apart our insides if we don't do something with it. It shouldn't be an emotion we are overly familiar with but once it has been provoked in us we need to respect it enough not to ignore it. Don't let it build a home in you because it will produce ugly children like bitterness and unforgiveness. It will even provoke malice toward the object of your anger. It can become a negative and ugly part of your character. It destroys. The Psalms, the place where many emotions are revealed and dealt with, gives us a few answers. The psalmists did not deny what they were feeling and sought help in dealing with it.

We are told first of all not to allow anger to provoke us into sin. In other words, do not be rash in your anger, reflect for a moment before taking action:

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

Do not allow it to become something that separates you from God. When something is beyond your influence and power it is a matter of coming to accept that God is sovereign and you have to trust him. Nothing is so important that it is worth losing your relationship with Jesus:

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
   do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For evil men will be cut off,
   but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
(Psalm 37:8-9)

If we leave the psalms for a moment and enter the wisdom of Proverbs we discover the same idea, that we cannot allow anger to control us into "knee jerk" reactions. Angry action often only births further angry action:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
   but a harsh word stirs up anger.
(Proverbs 15:1)

The bottom line is that angry words and actions are not cool. They reveal our level of maturity and make us look foolish:

A fool gives full vent to his anger,
   but a wise man keeps himself under control.
(Proverbs 29:11)

It comes down to the fact that anger is a negative emotion that can be turned into something positive when under the control of the Spirit. It is an emotion that we are told to put off from us, never giving it an opportunity to take root. It doesn't mean you won't feel it from time to time but a heart of love does not allow it to come easily or to take root. In the great description of love we read:

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5)

This is a heart that is possessed by the knowledge it is loved and forgiven by Jesus and being in such a condition it allows love to win over the emotion of anger every time:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

So what do you do with anger in a situation where you have no control, power or influence? You set it free. You reflect on the situation and ask yourself whether it is worth allowing this thing to change you, your character and your relationship with God? Or, in comparison to what God has forgiven you, can you afford not to let it go? We have to trust God and allow his peace to dwell in us richly as he fills us with hope? It comes down to that question: Is it worth it?

At the end of the day what will anger ever do for you compared to the joy and peace of Jesus Christ? Knowing him will always produce in us a good supply of love and forgiveness and we know that love covers a multitude of sins. So forgive whoever or whatever has angered you and end this day and every day in the peace and joy of Jesus Christ.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Christian Life Is Simple

If I do anything outside of the motivation of love it has no value. It will whither, spoil or simply fade away. Without love I am nothing and I possess nothing. This is the consistent message from the Word of God, demonstrated to us in a straightforward manner by Jesus:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

Those are Jesus' words and the fact that he did exactly what he said is noted by the apostle John:

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. (1 John 3:16)

This is how we know what love is. But what makes it even more powerful is that we were the enemies of God when he showed us this love:

For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)

And just a simple reminder of what Jesus said about loving our enemies:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45)

I really think we are missing the point. We are missing the fact that it is not complicated and that it is not about us. It starts with understanding, accepting and then welcoming the Father's love for us. Not a love that any of us have ever known on this earth but a totally foreign love that overcomes everything, even death. Until a person basks in this love and is overwhelmed by the power of this light to penetrate our darkened hearts, we will not understand how to love, how to serve, how to live the Christian life.

In the present moment the Church seems to be splintering in all kinds of directions but most of those directions seem to have to do with self. Some of the Church is bent on a more professional direction, increasing education, hanging degrees on the wall, dismissing anyone who does not have letters behind their names. You can't be a leader these days without letters:

We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

I would never dismiss education but knowledge without love is useless. The Corinthians were well endowed with talents and gifts but Paul had to deal with their immaturity because they lacked the foundational experience of love. I would rather sit under the ministry of a garbage man who is possessed by the love of God than a lettered man who speaks without the experience of love.

We also have those who pursue the Spirit as if the Spirit is some drug. They treat worship as a high. They chase after prophecy and a re-filling of the Spirit all the time. They spend their days being taught and "experiencing" God but do nothing with it. The apostle Paul himself said:

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. (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)

Imagine seeing into all the mysteries of God, gaining all knowledge, and having a faith that actually moves mountains. Most of us want that kind of maturity in our relationship but Paul says that without love we are nothing,

The Christian life is simple: to be loved and to love. Like a broken record I repeat myself: this love is not the love that we are able to produce in ourselves but an incredibly powerful love that pours down from our Father, wraps us in its security and then flows through us into others. It is not the sort of love that is like wisps of smoke, hanging around until the winds of our emotions change. This is a love that the Word of God declares never fails; a sure and solid foundation that the house of faith can be built upon and the abundant life of hope exist within.

It is great that we are mighty warriors, but if you don't even understand from what the spiritual weapons are fashioned how can you understand to use them. Understand how strong those weapons are by accepting the basic truth expressed in three simple words: "Love never fails." Not our weak pathetic version of love but God's unfailing love. The weapons we have are forged in the truth of this love:

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Come on people, let's get it together and reject all things in our lives that are not based on the foundation of our Father's love. Let us become the sons and daughters we were called to be. Let his love be our motivator and guide in all that we say and all that we do. Let us be compelled by his love to live an extraordinary life of service to our King:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Monday, September 19, 2011

It Is Going To Be A Most Excellent Day

What are you going to choose today? You have choices you know. Now that you are a follower of Jesus Christ you are no longer a victim of your day. Jesus told us that he came to set us free and those whom he has freed are free indeed. This freedom is from anything that hindered you or bound you, preventing your fellowship with God.  Let's consider those things the negative things in our life, such as sin and the emotions that come along with those sins.

Today is going to be a day filled with many things, some positive and some negative but even the negative can be turned into positive with Jesus. It really depends on where you let your mind go and what decisions you take. You can decide to dwell on the negative things and wallow in self-pity or you can choose to keep focus on Jesus and all of his benefits. That is the freedom you have to choose. Let's look at how simple this really is.

In Colossians 3 we receive instruction on what we need to do to keep today a Christ-centered positive day, despite the circumstances:

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)

Not tough right, except that there will be a hundred things pulling at you and trying to distract you. Most of us know about the obvious sins, the negative stuff, the things that destroy us:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

These are some of the biggies and the most obvious but there are other things, less obvious. These are probably more common to us because they are mixed up with our emotions. Most of us will probably not jump into bed with someone today, unless we are married to them, but consider these negative parts of us that we may encounter:

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Colossians 3:8)

Now these are more likely the things we will trip over today when we allow our gaze to drop away from Jesus and we start focusing on ourselves. If we start to see things as being unfair in our day it means we are not setting our heart and mind on things above. Someone says something to us and we become offended. Someone does something to us and we become hurt, angry even. We want justice which is another word for revenge. We can become jealous very easily if our heart is not in the right place. I don't have to go down through the list, you know the negative emotions you have felt and why.

When we are focused on Jesus, when our heart and mind are fixed on the things from above, the Kingdom things, our reaction to our environment and circumstances are much different because we have a new reality:

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:9-10)

As we face this day our reaction to our new reality should be obvious to everyone. The old is gone and we have put on a new garment because Jesus gave us the freedom to do so:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

These are the positives that we want to live in as we walk through our day. They are produced in us by the Holy Spirit when our mind and heart are focused on the right things, the things from above. It is amazing how our relationship with Jesus turns everything around and upside down. If we were to continue reading on in this passage we would discover that we are told to accept the peace of Jesus and to be thankful, to have a grateful heart. Gratitude is one of the keys to a positive day. When you allow your heart to be changed from focus on the negative parts of the day and you start seeing things with God's eyes, it is amazing how gratitude changes how you see the negative.

So there you go, you have a choice in this day. If you become a victim in this day it is because you chose to be a victim. If you experience a negative day it's because you chose for it to be negative. That is the freedom you have been given. But also remember that same freedom allows you to choose a positive day filled with peace, joy, hope and love. You can choose victory over defeat even in the face of the lions. My friends, choose life instead of death today. Avoid sin, cast off the negative emotions, get your eyes off yourself and fix them on Jesus. Trust him in all circumstances and learn to fly today allowing your heart to be fill with gratitude, peace and love. It's going to be a most excellent day because of Jesus.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jesus Gave Us The Steps We Need For Spiritual Renewal

I want us to be honest with one another here and confess together that we get tired. We don't just get tired from our work and circumstances in life, we also get spiritually tired. Often this happens because we allow our activities to become more important than the relationship. When activities become the focus and we let go of our relationship building with God we start to grow dull in our hearing and it becomes harder for us to receive from God. We start relying on our own wisdom and strength while still trying to do Kingdom things, but Kingdom things require God's wisdom and strength. In time we will be incredibly weak and tired spiritually. This leads to all kinds of dangers, indifference toward God being the greatest.

Indifference has to be the worse mental state possible. It is the sense of not caring one way or the other about a person. Their actions, their words, their attitude simply has no affect on you, like they didn't even exist. This is terrible when we feel this way about a person, it is deadly when we feel this way toward Jesus. It happens more than you realize. Our churches are sprinkled with people who are indifferent toward Jesus, who are there to please someone else or simply because it's habit. The Bible refers to this state as being lukewarm and there is a warning that goes with it. In the book of John's Revelation we come across this power passage of warning:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16)

This state of indifference is a horrible thing that God can only deal with by rejection. Jesus says that he would have us be either passionate or cold toward him because with these he can work but indifference is an entirely different thing. The indifference of the church of Laodicea came about because of their lack of reliance on Jesus:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:17-18)

It is not just riches that blind us to the goodness of our God and our reliance on him. When we start being independent from him, forgetting his benefits, we start relying on ourselves. Jesus says here that we do not realize that we are wretched, pitiful, poor blind and naked. We forget our dependence on his righteousness, that we are only good because he has declared us good, and we start believing that we are okay because of what we do. That sets us up for a fall because then we really think that we are righteous by our hand instead of because of God's unfailing love. The psalmist told us not to forget:

Praise the LORD, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
   and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
   and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
(Psalm 103:2-5)

I think many of us need to experience spiritual renewal again, when the Holy Spirit will come in and reveal to us our true condition, if we are willing to receive it. We have to seek his face, cry out for renewal. We first have to pray that he will call to us because we can't respond if he is not calling. Lord call to us so that we can fall on our face and respond to you. Jesus tells us there are three things that we need to do for renewal.

First, allow everything that does not belong to him to be burned away. Anything that is important will remain but everything else must go so that we will be freed again:

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.

You will probably be fearful at first but let it go so you can possess what is of greater value. Refining fires sometimes hurt a bit as God walks us through some defining moments, but instead of fighting with him cooperate and see what he is doing. There are many things you have taken on that are nothing more than clutter, that are acting as a blockage between you and God. These have to be burned off so you can experience freedom in Jesus again. Allow the Spirit to guide and strengthen you.

The second step in this process is a willingness to confess your self-determination, self-ambition, self-reliance and also confess that only Jesus saves. Being clothed in garments of self-righteousness is ugly, full of decay and death. It is only in accepting the truth that Jesus' actions save us and that we are clothed in his righteousness that we will be able to progress:

and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness

In our luke-warm state we are naked and ugly. Our shame must be covered. You may not "feel" this way in your daily activities but in the quiet of the night you probably "feel" empty and distant from God. The moment we cease our activities we realize that something isn't right. That is the moment when the Spirit will speak and tell us that we need Jesus a lot more than he needs us. Stop trying to earn your salvation and allow God to cover you.

The third has to do with our spiritual eyes. When we become tired, indifferent, self-reliant we also become dim in our spirit and blind in our sight. We can no longer see what God is doing and what he wants us to do. The spirit realm is encased in a fog bank and we are left on the outside. Recognize this, confess it, be entirely honest about your condition. Then, as we allow Jesus to re-establish himself in us, the Holy Spirit acts as a healing salve on our eyes and restores our sight:

and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Indifference will keep us blind and will lead to our destruction. Can you honestly say that you are just as passionate and strong spiritually as you were at the height of our walk with Jesus? Has there been any slippage? Look at your life, the circumstances, the storm you are in. Is there a possibility that God is wanting to walk you through some refining fires:

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:19-20)

The time to worry is when you feel the indifference and nothing is happening in your life. You feel tired, lack any energy to pursue God, have become sick of the Word and prayer and really don't want to hear what God is doing in other people's lives. Your life is okay, no hiccups, no storms, no difficulty. Mind you, there is no joy, no pleasure and life seems kind of pointless right now, so that your only motivation is survival. Let me encourage you to fall on your face right now and repent. Call out to our Father and ask him to call to you. You are in a dangerous place and you desperately need renewal. Seek his face and you will find him but understand, because he loves you he will walk you through some discipline, some refining fires to bring you back to where you need to be. And he has promised us:

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)

Don't delay, not even for a moment; seek his face right now.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

If You Are Too Tired To Care You Need Some Rest

We all get tired for various reasons. Sometimes we have to press on because we don't have a choice but this shouldn't be all the time. Rest is a very important part of our day and our week. Most people do not realize that at the very beginning of time our Creator also created rest. Scripture tells us that on the seventh day God looked at all he had done, was pleased and rested from his work. Do you really think that the Creator of all things needed rest? No, he didn't but he established the need for rest and would make this day of rest a holy day, intended for worship, the strengthening of our relationship with him.

Some would say that God's only intention was to create a day of worship but whatever God establishes spiritually also has purpose physically. Man would need a day to recover his strength after six days of hard work. This seventh day was not just for worship but for regathering our strength, however some of us think we know better than God and we fail to establish a Sabbath day in our week. We think we are being industrious but all we are doing is opening ourselves up for health problems, emotional emptiness, a spiritual void, and a loss of quality to our lives.

Sometimes we push ourselves beyond anything normal, to the point of total exhaustion. We can no longer handle the simplest problem or emotion that comes at us in a normal day. We lash out at those who care for us the most. Little stresses that would not even register on our consciousness suddenly become the catalyst to breakdowns, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I am telling you straight here, if you operate on all four cylinders 7 days a week it is not a matter if you crash but when.

If you are too tired to love and to properly respond to the ones who love you it is time to come aside from everything and spend some quiet time with the Lord. It doesn't matter if you have a hundred things that are not done, if you do not take a break they may never be completed. Go for a casual walk with someone you love, sit under a tree and read a good book, watch a movie with a friend, lay down in your backyard and watch the stars come out, take a long hot bath, quietly sit in the presence of the Lord and allow him to sing over you. Whatever is restful for you, plan to do that thing or a series of things once a week. Sunday is usually the best especially after a great time of worship but sometimes not all of us have a free Sunday so we need to pick another day. The important thing to establish is that this day is as important to you as your work day. Tell people, let them know that you are establishing a Sabbath day in your week and you need them to respect that.

Don't listen to me, listen to our Father who only plans the best for us:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested[a] from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)

It was later, with the people he had called to be his own that he established this day as the Sabbath, a day he made holy and blessed:

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:9-11)

This was not a religious thing or a hard thing, it was done because it is how we were created, needing rest. It was established because of his love for us. And before anyone starts getting religious about it I remind you of what Jesus explained to us about this Sabbath:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)

Jesus did a lot of good things on the Sabbath asking those who criticized him whether it was better to do good or evil on this day. It is a day of rest not a day of going comatose. We are still ruled by love so if someone needs us we are there for them. We can't do what the religiously-mind did in the day of Jesus and say, "Sorry, I can't help you in this time of need because it is my day of rest." Help them and then go back to your rest. If there is no love in it then there is no value in it.

So my friends, as a person who has been through burn out on a couple of occasions, I encourage you to follow the wisdom of our Father. Establish a Sabbath day in your week. Set aside the housework, the homework, the studies, the office work, the lesson planning or whatever it is that takes your energy. Instead do those things that renew your energy. Enjoy our God, family and friends. Play some games, fly a kite, read a book, take a walk, smell the flowers, breathe. God will renew your strength. He has promised:

Do you not know?
   Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
   and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
   and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31)

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Only Tool You Need For Success In Everything You Do

You are more than what people think you are. In fact, you are more than what you think you are. We live in a time where people must possess skills in order to succeed. These are either skills that we were born with and perfected over time or they are skills that we acquire through training. Once we have these skills we begin to market ourselves so that we become a commodity to our potential employee. It is our thought that the more skills we have the greater the value we have so the greater pay cheque we will get. This is how the world works.

In considering this we also need to recognize that there is a flip side because of the inequalities that exist in our society.Not everyone has the same opportunities to improve or acquire their desired skills. Unfortunately a lot has to do with what parents we were born to and what economic situation our family was in. This is not always the case because some people are able to rise above this but most allow themselves to be defined by it. Those born to difficult economic positions often end up with low motivation and fewer opportunities. They have a "get by" attitude. This too is how the world works. But I am here to tell you that this is not how God works.

You are not defined by your strengths and weaknesses in the Body of Christ. Oh I know that there are many who operate in the Church as people operate in the world, assessing a person's skills and abilities. This is dead wrong because God does not call us according to our strengths and weaknesses but instead by his will. Our strengths don't matter and neither do our weaknesses because Jesus is our strength. This means that he calls us and those he calls he equips, not according to our preferences but according to his will.

We are doing such a poor job of teaching this and living it in the Church today as we model ourselves after a secular business model instead of according to the Word of God. We are doing really well at producing attendees of our churches, in some places at least, but a rotten job at making disciples of Jesus. We assess a person's skills and place them in wrong places in the Body. We set them up for failure and heartache instead of listening to the Spirit. We assess in the flesh instead of in the Spirit.

Some of you reading this gave up a long time ago following what was placed on your heart to do. It was laid on your heart, confirmed in the Word, and probably confirmed by at least one other source. But you gave up because it was hard or other voices told you it wasn't for you or some great discouragement came in. I am telling you, you weren't wrong and it is still on your heart. Listen, the Word says this about our calling and gifts:

... for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29)

Now let me tell you something that I think you always knew but were afraid to act upon: Jesus is all the strength you need. It doesn't matter if you feel weak and the task is overwhelming, you are able to do it through Jesus because it is not about you, it is about Jesus. It is not about you, it is about the world coming to know Jesus.

The apostle Paul was reflecting on some of the things he had been through in his calling and he was thanking the Philippians for their support. He told them that even though he had experienced having plenty and having very little he has learned the secret to contentment. I think this is also the secret to faithful service in our calling:

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

The greatest tool we have in our service to Jesus is knowing that it does not depend on our skill set but instead living in the knowledge that he is our strength. Knowing that he uses our weaknesses and strengths should be a great encouragement for us to press on in our calling, even if other people doubt us. Let them doubt but we cannot doubt our calling or our Lord.

The Word does not say that we can do some things. It says here that we can do everything, I said everything, through him who gives us strength. That covers talking to people about Jesus to weathering the latest dark storm to hit us. This means that we succeed with whatever we have, using whatever he has given us today instead of waiting around for a million dollars to do something. The skills, the finances, the equipment don't matter. All that matters is Jesus in me. He is everything, the total resources I need, my arsenal of strength, my encourager, my hope. Don't look in the mirror and give up. Instead look to Jesus and soar with the eagles in your service to him. It is possible to faithfully serve him in your calling because he has made it possible. To God be the glory!