Monday, October 31, 2011

Is It Ever Okay To Date An Unbeliever?

Recently I have been asked by a few young people if it is okay to date unbelievers. To be honest I wish young people wouldn't play the dating game at all, at least not until they are old enough to be serious about dating. Affairs of the heart are the most troublesome and dangerous things to deal with for an immature heart, and I don't use the word immature in a negative sense. Adolescents are in a growing stage and it is rapid growth so that their feelings are often in conflict. The emotions have not yet developed discipline and maturity so it is easy to fall in and out of love. In the end, dating at this age only introduces our youth to the idea that relationships are disposable.

I don't mean to be a prude about it. What should have been the best years of my youth were spent writing poetry while I fell in and out of love, but I also know what it did to me. There were not any good lessons that came out of it and even the poetry was bad.

However, if our youth are going to ignore the sage advice of experience then they at least need to listen to God's Word on the matter of seeking a life partner. Believers should not be entangling their hearts with unbelievers. The Word is clear on the subject so it should not even be a question for us. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians he is talking to them about marriage and what happens when one spouse is a believer and the other isn't. He says that the believer should remain in the situation he was in when he accepted Jesus, as long as the non-believing spouse is willing to remain in the marriage. He also speaks about widows and he says this:

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:39)

She is free to marry whoever she wants as long as he is a believer. Good for widows but maybe it doesn't apply to teens dating, right? Well, Paul expanded on this in his second letter to the Corinthians where he makes it crystal clear:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)

It's hard to ignore this passage even though our heart is attracted to what is not good for us. It's hard to haul the emotions back in once we have let them out. We start coming up with all kinds of reasons why God wouldn't mind and why this one case is an exception, but it's all a lie we tell ourselves to fool ourselves. That's how most sin and disobedience wins its way into our hearts. You need to understand that this was not and is not the opinion of a man but comes from the loving heart of God. It is not something new. He has always felt this way about his children, not wanting them to get involved in situations that would take them away from him:

What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16)

We say that we love God, that Jesus is our all but do you love him enough to make him a priority over the infatuations of your heart? I'm not saying it is easy because we all want to love and to be loved but when we are young we need to make God the object of our affection until we have gained the maturity to be wise in this important matter. It is simple, if you are not old enough to marry you are not old enough to date because dating is about finding a life partner not someone to "fool around" with. Jesus did not save us so that we could entangle ourselves in sin again.

The Old Testament reveals God's heart on the matter of believers and unbelievers and Paul quotes from Isaiah, Ezekiel and Samuel:

“Therefore come out from them 
   and be separate, 
            says the Lord. 
Touch no unclean thing, 
   and I will receive you.” 
“I will be a Father to you, 
   and you will be my sons and daughters, 
            says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)

God's will in this matter is clear. Your obedience is the only thing in question now.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

You Can't Even Begin To Imagine How Significant You Are

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could have an instant full understanding of everything in all of God's creation, especially concerning our relationship with him? We miss out on a lot simply because we do not fully understand this relationship. We put ourselves through a lot because of this lack of understanding. We face a lot simply because we do not know that a better way exists. However, there is a joy in the discovery.

It is kind of a pleasant thing when we suddenly burst into a new revelation of who we are in God and who we are to him. It's like being lost in a thick forest, cold and hungry then suddenly stumbling out into a beautiful clearing full of the most delicious wild berries and the warming sun. It is the greatest moment in the world and you want others to experience it with you. I think most of us go to church with a desire for such a moment.

Life can make us feel pretty small and insignificant, lost in a great forest, feeling overwhelmed most of the time. There may even be days when we wonder if it is worth pressing on. Why not just stop here and give up? Even when we consider God's greatness, his power, his strength, his glory and holiness it only makes us feel smaller and less significant. Who are we compared to the glorious creation of God? What do we have to offer him? The psalmist put it this way:

When I consider your heavens,
   the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
   which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
   the son of man that you care for him?
(Psalm 8:3-4)

What am I? What am I compared to a glorious sunrise or the thunder of a majestic waterfall or the delicate beauty of a wild flower? What possible glory could I bring to the Creator of all these incredible things? Just look at how insignificant the night sky makes us feel as we stand and stare at it in amazement. What am I compared to that? But such questions come from an inexcusable ignorance of our relationship with God.

God does not see us as insignificant; far from it. He created us with purpose and from a place of love:

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
   and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
   you put everything under his feet:
   all flocks and herds,
   and the beasts of the field,
   the birds of the air,
   and the fish of the sea,
   all that swim the paths of the seas.
(Psalm 8:5-8)

Does that really sound insignificant to you? It is how God sees us. It is how he interacts with us. He made us rulers over the works of his hands. He put creation under our feet. He loved us enough to give us a way out of the rebellion that ensnared us. He paid the price for what we could not afford or do for ourselves. He looks at us, knows our heart and still chooses to love us. That doesn't sound insignificant to me; that sounds like we are the objects of his affection.

When we are willing to realize this relationship and throw off everything that hinders us from it, we will begin to live with boldness and confidence. We will begin to understand why he gave us so many promises and why he is faithful to them. He loves us. He really truly loves us and has done so since the creation of the first man. Even when we chose to become his enemies and lost ourselves in our rebellious nature, he loved us and put in place a plan to rescue and reclaim us. I think the thing we must do today is react in the same manner as the psalmist:

O LORD, our Lord,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8:9)

Let this be our reason for going to church this morning: To praise the One who loves us and who created us to be significant to him.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Enemy Is Looking For Easy Targets To Destroy: Are You One?

"The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made." (Psalm 145:9)

This is a truth that the enemy wants to separate you from and he will use whatever method he can to do it. He hates you. I mean he really, really hates you. He will use any weakness you have to defeat you. If you are insecure he will build on that. If you lack confidence he will use it to attack you. If you feel any guilt he will twist it so that it is misshapened, ugly and large enough to take over your every waking moment. You cannot even begin to imagine the quality of his hatred and it's simply because you are the object of God's love.

He wants to hurt God by hurting you but he can't as long as your eyes are fixed on Jesus. So his plan is to distract you so that you don't see Jesus any more. He loves to use things that will be sure to constantly fill our thoughts, such as worry and fear. Worry is the big one because it also seeds mistrust which destroys faith but he also likes to use emotional pain and heartache which leads to anger and self-pity which can consume us. Once we are consumed by these things it becomes more difficult to pray, read the Word, worship with all our heart, and to be occupied by the things of the Kingdom. Soon we lose the joy of the Lord.

It may take some effort but we need to force our eyes back to the Lord. We need to remind ourselves of his character:

"The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does." (Psalm 145:13b)

If we are allowing other things to crowd out God we need to set aside those other things for a time while we immerse ourselves in God. Re-read important passages, worship him, go for a walk and just praise him for everything you see, write down all the things he has done for you. Allow God to take center place in your life again and allow him to be large again. Once this is re- established you are able to deal with those other things in the light of God's greatness.

"My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever." (Psalm 145:21)

Do not allow the enemy to get any foothold in your life. Don't allow him to win a single battle in your life. Do not allow him to get to our Father through you. Stay alert. Put on your full armour warrior. Hold the ground you have been given to defend which is your heart. Seek the things of the Kingdom and God will take care of the rest. Trust.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Is It More Blessed To Be Married Or Single?

You have to love apostle Paul's passion for Jesus. Maybe not everyone can understand how the Spirit spoke through him on some subjects but there can't be any negative discussion concerning his love for Jesus and his followers. I smile every time I read what he has said about marriage:

"It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband." (1 Corinthians 7:1-2)

He consents to the need for marriage with such reluctance. Paul had such a passion for the Lord he couldn't understand why everyone didn't feel like him. To Paul marriage would just get in the way of his service. He definitely would not have made a good husband and he realized this:

"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs - how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world - how he can please his wife - and his interests are divided." (1 Corinthians 7:32-34)

And how right he is. He says the same about about women in the verses that follow. The problem comes when we sacrifice relationships in the name of Jesus. We can't sacrifice our spouse and children in the name of sacrifice to Jesus. If we are married we have responsibilities and if we do not fulfill these we couldbe opening the door to the destruction of those we love.

When we are married or are involved in a relationship moving toward marriage, we have a responsibility to make that relationsip work. It means we can't give as much as we want to the Lord. He would not be please if we allowed these relationships to fail. As Paul says, if you want to give it all to Jesus it would be better for you not to marry. Not everyone has been called to tbis so you have to figure that out first:

"I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that." (1 Corinthians 7:7)

Maybe tbis seems like a strange subject to you but it is a thing of maturity. If you want to be totally dedicated in your service to the Lord don't enter into another relationship. However, if you do marry don't act as if you are single. You have responsibilities to fulfill. But don't pretend you can be 100% dedicated when you are divided in your heart and you long for a spouse:

"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)

So don't just assume in this matter of marriage. Understand the cost, make it a matter of prayer and tben be joyful with the choice. Once this is settled in your heart you will have more peace to pursue it. Don't let society choose for you but instead inquire of the Lord. This too is a matter of maturity.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where Do Broken Hearts Come From?

Relationships play a big role in understanding maturity, as some of my adolescent readers can testify to. It is hard for adults to deal with affairs of the heart in a mature manner, imagine how much harder it is when you are still trying to figure out who you are. That is why I advise teens to put off relationships for as long as you can. Give yourself a break and wait until you have gained some maturity before you start handing out your heart to be abused by immature, self-centered wanna-be mates.

The problem is, I don't think there are enough people taking affairs of the heart serious at whatever age. Understand that God says that the two become one. When we give our heart away to someone we begin the process. It doesn't matter if you are 14, 24, or 104, giving your heart away is a serious thing that may end in total disaster and heart break, because the two have started the process of becoming one. Our thoughts and emotions begin to intermingle. The final step in the process is the physical act of coming together.

Today we treat sex as if it is a casual thing not understanding that it is the last step of a process, a step that is meant to seal the deal. Do you want to know how far off the mark we are? Today couples do not even understand what it is to be married. To be married I give up my right to my privacy, to it being about me and allowing it to be the other person. Marriages either fall apart or fail to live up to their potential when the two fail to become one and remain as individuals. Here is God's design for you:

"The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife." (1 Corinthians 7:4)

Do you see how complete the surrender is to each other? I no longer live for myself alone but also for my wife. Every action I take affects her as if she is part of me. This is why relationships should never be entered into half-heartedly or with the casual thought that we can tbrow it away if it doesn't work out. Some of you have already fallen victim of a broken heart, when you gave away your heart and it was abused and abandoned.

We need brave mentors who are willing to remind us that thisis not a game but a serious matter. It takes a certain level of maturity where we can see past ourself and live for the benefit of another person. Are we brave enough to set aside our flesh desires until we or someone we trust is able to tell us we are ready? Radical idea I know but love is a radical thing that needs to be dealt with those of some maturity.  Broken hearts come from a place of immaturity, a place where we are still the center of the universe. If that's where we are we need to leave love aside until the Lord has prepared us to give ourselves fully to our partner.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Facts About Sexual Immorality

Our society has changed a lot over the past number of years but it doesn't mean the Church has or should. Today our society expects and prepares 14 year olds to be sexually active. It does tbis because it considers sex a natural function of the body lime eating and going to the bathroom. I want to remind teens and everyone else that sex is not a natural bodily function as it is in animals but has spiritual ramifications tbat science may have a tough time measuring.

I want to explain this thoroughly so I am taking verses from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, chapter 6, verses 13-20.

First understand that our purpose changed when we accepted Jesus and went through the re-birthing experience. We went from being controlled by our sin nature to being controlled by God's righteousness. So Paul explains:

"The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."

What a lot of people don't understand is that when we died with Jesus, when we repented and accepted him as Lord, we could no longer live on our own so we were raised alive in him. He is in us and we are in him. Knowing this then, if we expose our body to sin we are also exposing Jesus to sin:

"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!"

What we are failing to teach and what many do not understand is that something more than physical happens in the process of sex. It has been this way from the beginning and may be a shock to many people who have had multiple sexual partners. Teens and adults listen carefully hear:

"Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh.'"

We are meant to be united but that unity is to be with Jesus:

"But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit."

Our spiritual desire should far outweigh any appetite our flesh has for sinful cravings. We don't say no to sexual immorality because of fear of diseases or pregnancy. We say no because we are united with Jesus and want nothing to do with sin.

Sex seems mysterious, so intimate, so inviting but it is a sin that carries devastating effects that could last a lifetime and into eternity. I amnot saying that to scare you but instead to bring you to some maturity in the Word of God:

"Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body."

And this then brings us to two important facts. The question is what will do with these important facts? Will you simply shrug your shoulders and continue on to do what your flesh demands or will you make the wise and mature choice and decide to obey the Word of God and his Spirit in you. Fact one:

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?"

Fact two, and this is very important for us to understand, accept and live:

"You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body."

This is a must in our spiritual understanding, growth and maturity. As long as we feel we have a choice we will choose wrong but if we can understand and accept how things have changed we will be able to make the right decisions, the mature decisions because we see no other choice but Jesus. If you desire to live your life for the Father's glory and not your desires you will always be strengthened to make the right decisions.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Even If It Is Permissible It Doesn't Mean It Is Beneficial

Have you noticed how no one wants to be told they can't do something? The attitude is "I can do whatever I want". If you try to tell someone that limits exist the attitude you get is "Who are you to tell me I can't do something?" We believe we have an inherent right to do whatever we feel like doing. This might be true if we were the last person on earth and there was no sovereign God over all but because neither of these are true, Paul has a response to this attitude:

"... not everything is beneficial."
"... but I will not be mastered by anything."

I guess the Corinthians were trying to make a point about grace; that God's grace covers everything. Paul's point is that even if God covers everything there is no benefit to sin. What good ever comes out of the things we have been instructed not to do? Have you ever benefitted from stealing where your conscience has not weighed you down? Have you ever yelled at someone where it still felt good 3 days later? Was it beneficial? We may be able to get away with things because of God's grace but there are natural consequences to the things we do as well.

We also not alone in our life. What may seem to be good for you may have terrible consequences on someone else. Having sex with a girlfriend may seem good in the moment but how is she going to feel the next day? How is your future spouse going to feel about that moment? What will the benefit of tbis 15 minute pleasure going to be in ten years?

Sometimes these things we feel we can do in grace can also lead to our slavery again. There is nothing specifically that says I shouldn't drink, take drugs or gamble but these are all powerful tools of enslavement. They are things that we hand our authority over to so that we soon are mastered by them. Don't believe me? Well let's talk in 10 years. We can be mastered by any sin when we give it authority. Things like lying, sex, work, shopping, gossiping all can take mastery over us.

We were created to be mastered only by God; we belong to him, bought at a great price. Why would we want anything else to have mastery over us? Where is the benefit? The only benefit that exists is that which we find in our relationship with Jesus. Everything else is a short term contract that ends with the grave. We need to be very careful here to make sure we do not slip into this attitude. We only want to do this that bring honour and glory to God. That thought should guide us in all we do and say; to God be the glory.

Monday, October 24, 2011

You Better Believe There Are Consequences For Our Sin

I wonder if we take the holiness of God seriously. There has been a lot of talk recently about the existence of hell and God's love and I fear people are looking for a way around God's holiness, looking for a green light to sin. Afterall, if there is no hell and God is going to rescue everyone due to his love, why do we need to worry about it? Go ahead, enjoy life, do what you want. God's love and grace have us covered. The only wrinkle in this is the truth of God's Word.

Our sinful nature made it impossible for us to live by the character of God but Jesus changed all that. He made it possible for us to become a slave to God's righteousness. So now we need to take it more seriously not less when we read:

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?" (1Corinthians 6:9)

Paul writes this in the context of a church that was protecting a believer who had entered into sexual immorality instead of dealing with him as they should. Paul wanted to make it clear what happens when people remain in their wickedness instead of repenting from it. Yes, it is more than a mistake we make, it is sin, an offense to the God we claim to love. Making it clear even against today's popular teachings, Paul writes:

"Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1Corinthians 6:9-10)

Perhaps you should read that list again. We have become very casual about our sin to the point where we don't think it is sin any more. Besides God's love will cover us, right? No. God's love sent Jesus to the cross so our sins could be forgiven but it still requires repentance. It requires us to acknowledge that our behaviour is not acceptable by God and turn from it. Instead we simply ask for forgiveness and continue in it. That is not repentance.

Our God is a holy God and we have been called go be his holy people so that we can say with Paul:

"And that is what some of you were."

Past tense. It is what we were but aren't any more because something wonderful happened:

"But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1Corinthians 6:11)

The same God who had the power to defeat sin and death has the power to sanctify you. You came from a place of sin but you belong to that place no more. There is a hell. If you have sin you cannot enter the kingdom, you are disqualified. We cannot treat sin lightly or as a joke. It is serious stuff so we need to examine ourselves carefully, ask hard questions and listen to the Spirit. It does matter how we live because we are to live for God's glory, not our own. I am not kidding; take God at his word.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Whispering In The Dark To A God Who Loves You

Is there a more reassuring passage in the Word of God than Psalm 139? Funny that I would be reading this while traveling so far away from home. I love traveling but not so much when it separates me from my wife and children. Being away without them makes me feel that part of me is missing. But some people travel without going anywhere.

Some people allowing situations, difficulties, trials and hardships to separate them from people. It may not be a separation of distance but it becomes a separation nonetheless. What foolish people we are not to take God at his word. If God said it our only response should be to believe it and if we don't we should never claim to have faith because we are a liar. Paul stated that nothing can separate us from Jesus' love and this Psalm demonstrates why.

First of all, God knows you intimately:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord (Psalm 139:1-4)

That is intimacy. No one else knows us like our God and this is a good thing because he understands everything about us. He understands our loneliness, emptiness, lostness, our ups, downs, ins and outs. He understands our mood swings, our reactions, our plotting and our sin. He knows without excusing and he forgives with our asking. You are not far from him, not for a moment. Do not think your sin hides you because he sees right through it. We can't run anywhere witbout him already being there. Just ask Elijah or Jonah.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens , you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

Don't think your moods, emotions or even the dark pity of depression can keep you from him. He is always there to rescue you even with the slight whisper of a desperate prayer. No form of any darkness, emotions, drugs or sin can hide you from his love.

If I say "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:11-12)

So here I sit in a motel room hundreds of kilometers from my family but I am far from alone; I am never alone. There you sit, separated from people, lost in the darkness, cut off my your emotions, actions, sin. But you are not alone either. Jesus sees you. He knows you intimately. Even though you may feel hidden from him he sees you by his love for you. He's just waiting for you to say the word and he will whisk you away to make you whole again. Go on, just say it, even just a whisper and he will show you just how close he is.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

It Starts Before Your Feet Hit The Floor

As you wake up on this fine Saturday morning what are your first thoughts? Are they ones of organizing your day, satisfying your hunger, or perhaps of thanksgiving? I have trained myself to thank the Lord for each new day and the blessings it will contain before my feet hit the floor. I find it helps condition my heart in preparation for the day. But the question is, what are we thankful for?

Often I hear people expressing thanks for their family and many of their material possessions and we should. The Word tells us that every good gift is from above, so we recognize and show appreciation for our Provider, but we can't let it stay there. We can't let our relationship with Jesus be about our "good" life because if we do, if we allow it to be about possessions, then what happens when we lose those possessions? The thing I am thankful for above anything else is Jesus himself and his unfailing love. These things are mine no matter what life may bring. They will stand the test of time and outlast life itself. The psalmist wrote:

I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart;
   before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
   and will praise your name
   for your love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
   your name and your word.
(Psalm 138:1-2)

The praise that was being offered up was for God's love and faithfulness, and for God exalting himself above all things. Oh how thankful I am that God lifts his name and word above everything, that I can call on someone greater than myself and anything in this creation; that when I read his Word I know that it is the most solid thing in all of creation. Still, there are other benefits that we should be thankful for before our feet hit the floor.

We have reduced life to what we can possess. Often our security is found in our homes, jobs and bank accounts so we give thanks to our God for these things. Yet none of these provide any security. They are here today and gone tomorrow. However, our God never leaves us and never forsakes us. He does things for us that cannot be measured by possessions:

When I called, you answered me;
   you made me bold and stouthearted.
(Psalm 138:3)

Often we call out for rescue when we are facing difficult things but our God is wiser than that. He recognizes the benefit of the battles in life increase our strength and bring us to greater maturity. The Word tells us if the battle is too much for us he will rescue us from it but when he knows we can face it and survive he does something different; he makes us bold and stouthearted. How can one measure the value of that in any currency?

That's probably one of the things I am most grateful for every day, that Jesus is with me to lend we strength where I need it and to protect me from anything that threatens to overwhelm me. His plan is not to destroy me but to see me increase. The psalmist felt the same way in his thanksgiving:

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
   you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes,
   with your right hand you save me.
(Psalm 138:7)

I am thankful for that confidence as I face every new day and I know that it is not a day without plans. Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen today and he has laid down plans to use me for the sake of others. I don't belong to myself, I have been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus and I am glad to be possessed by God. I am glad for the opportunity to serve. This is my thought no matter what I have to face today, be it pleasant or unpleasant, God has a plan and a purpose. We live much differently knowing that we have purpose:

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
   your love, O LORD, endures forever—
   do not abandon the works of your hands.
(Psalm 138:8)

As my feet hit the floor this morning they do so supported by a thankful heart; thankful for Jesus and all of the benefits of my relationship with him. I am thankful for his unfailing love, for the boldness he has given me in living this day for his glory and for the purpose he has brought to my life. I live in the security of his love and the assurance of his plan. I have Jesus, what can man do to me that could ever rob that joy from me? I will tell you what - NOTHING!

I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart... (Psalm 138:1)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Don't You Want To "Grow Up"?

Spiritual immaturity kills churches and believers. Immaturity is expected of a new believer but when that same believer refuses to "grow up" and remains immature after 10, 15 even 20 years they will be a source of heartache in the church. Many of us enjoyed being 6 years old, even 16 was good but I doubt those of us who are adults would want to go back there. We would not be accepted in very many places if at the age of 30 years we acted like we were 6 years old.

Can you imagine what would result if a police officer acted like a six year old, or a doctor, a judge or a mom and dad? Taking our place in society is a responsibility and requires maturity and wisdom. If this is true for the world how much more for the Body of Christ? How much damage do we do when we act, react, and make decisions without maturity and wisdom? It is our responsibility to desire to "grow up" in Christ so that we can take our place of responsibility in the Body.

The Corinthians had every gift and every blessing but they were a mess because of their lack of maturity. One example is relevant for us today:

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? ... But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers. (1 Corinthians 6:1,6)

Most of us don't even think twice about this. We rely on our legal rights instead of thinking of what is best for the Body. We put our own interests ahead of the witness we are to Jesus' love. I have even heard pastors counsel people to take other believers to court instead of being willing to judge the matter for them. In fact, I doubt anyone in the Body would even consider asking the elders to judge a matter for them. We have really slipped in our understanding of the health of the Body. Paul points out the problem here:

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? (1 Corinthians 6:2-5)

You probably haven't even thought of it that way have you? We have denied ourselves maturity, of our responsibility, of the authority we have been given. We have allowed ourselves to be reduced to a building on the corner that runs a day care. We are neglecting our spiritual responsibilities in this world and are instead allowing the world to make judgement over us instead of relying on the wisdom and direction of the Spirit. We will judge this world at the end of the age as well as judging the angels but we shirk the responsibility of judging the trivial matters of this world. Crazy.

It gets worse. There is an underlying problem here. The fact that there are matters that need to be judged speaks about how spiritually pathetic we are:

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. (1 Corinthians 6:7-8)

There's a radical thought for you: Why not rather be wronged? Why not just suck it up when you are cheated? If we are spiritually mature we understand exactly what Paul is saying here. If we are immature this thought makes no sense whatsoever. We have our rights. If we have been cheated or offended we have the right for justice. Isn't it a wonderful thing that our God decided on mercy instead of justice. Imagine if he had decided to give us what we deserved. Instead, in love, he paid the price for our offence. What are your rights compared to the salvation of souls? What are your rights compared to love for your brother? Instead of holding on to that offence it should be washed away by the forgiveness that comes from a heart possessed by the love of Jesus. That's maturity.

There can be abusers in the Church, wolves in sheep's clothing, but the previous chapter dealt with that:

But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

In these matters you have been given the ability to judge, so walk in that authority and deal with things in the wisdom of maturity. We need to "grow up" and get on with our service to Jesus. It is time to throw off the immaturity of childhood and step into our responsibilities as adult believers. Of course maturity has very little to do with age and everything to do with the decision we take to grow up. Paul told Timothy to be an example for the believers and that is what we need, examples of spiritual maturity. You can be that for someone today, if you rely on the Word instead of your flesh, walk in the Spirit instead of the world and accept the authority you have been given in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Who Exactly Are We Told To Judge?

It is clear in the Word of God that we are not to tolerate sin in the Church, in our fellow believers. For some reason we have come to define love as tolerating that which separates us from God. The Word tells us to turn away from an unrepentant brother for two reasons. First, that we will not begin to accept sin as normal in our lives as well. Second, that the unrepentant believer would realize the danger he is in and repent. However, there is a difference between the sinner who has never know Jesus and the believer who refuses to repent of his sin.

The Apostle Paul was giving instruction to the Corinthians because they were supporting a man who had entered into sexual immorality and who refused to repent of it. But he wanted this church to understand that there was a difference between associating with this sinner and those in the world. That is important for us to understand as well because many believers attempt to remain pure by avoiding the lost, but Jesus commanded us to go to the lost:

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10)

Often we judge the world, point fingers, and put pressure on them to conform their ways which is all pretty silly considering they are only behaving according to the nature that has enslaved them. They have no choice in what they do. That's the whole reason Jesus had to come, to bring freedom so that we are able to make a choice. Paul writes:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

Some might say, "But I thought we are not permitted to judge anyone?" We are not to judge the repentant heart. When a believer sins and repents we must let it go and celebrate the victory. However, when a believer sins so blatantly, as in moving in with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or who is bragging with pride about their sin and refuses to repent, then we are to judge correctly and walk away. Remember that repent is not simply confession but is also a turning away from that sin. So if I confess that I have sex outside of marriage and then continue doing it my confession is useless. The Word is clear on this:

But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. (1 Corinthians 5:11)
I have to admit that I have been part of the bleeding heart club but I am not even sure my motivation was so much compassion as it was timidity. But Paul warns that this sin is like yeast and will work itself into our lives until we too are deceived. Don't think it's true? Consider how many churches have begun to sanction homosexual marriages, that don't consider living together to be a big deal, and who teach more about living a good life in place of teaching the Word of God. Paul wrote:

Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:8)

Our relationship with Jesus must be sincere and based on truth. We cannot call a lie a truth and have a proper relationship with Jesus. If we think we do we have deceived ourselves and are now on the road to destruction.

It is important that we draw the distinction here between the sinners in the world and those who claim to be a believer and yet refuse to repent of their sin. We are to enter the world of the sinner with great love and compassion, presenting Jesus to a people lost in darkness. This is our purpose and we are told to bring these people into our lives so they can see Jesus in us. Yet we are to have nothing to do with those we deceive themselves in the Body of Christ. We can warn them but when they refuse to turn away from their sin we must turn our back and leave them in God's hands, praying for their deliverance. 

We must turn away for our own sake, that we too will not fall into the same self-deception. Tolerating sin in others raises the danger of us tolerating sin in ourselves. Paul writes it clearly for the Church, quoting the old scriptures, "Expel the wicked man from among you." Not those who recognize their sin and repent but those who harden their hearts, refuse to acknowledge their sin and do not turn from it. This is what we are refusing to do and we are becoming weaker because of it. Choose life today, choose Jesus and the counsel of his Word. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Love Should We Tolerate Sin In The Church?

To be able to operate as a mature Christian we must be able to be honest about where we have come from and what we were saved from. Along with having Jesus believers also have our background in common; we all came from sin. Every one of us were sinners that have been saved not by our own merits but by the grace of God. This above everything else should help us feel compassion not judgement for those who are still lost in the darkness of their rebellion against God. However, maturity also means that we refuse to ever enter into that darkness again.

Immaturity in our relationship and love for Jesus can see us weak in our faith and understanding so that we may slip up and enter into sin on occasion. We don't have to but we make bad choices and decisions and we have not yet learned to rely on the Spirit for power and strength. We praise the Lord for his mercy and grace that when we failed in our immaturity he was there to pull us back. However, as we step into maturity we have learned much about love. Jesus' love along with the power of the Holy Spirit strengthens us against all temptations. Yet, we always remain one decision away from sin.

The real problem arises when we fail to deal with sin, when we refuse to admit our wrong, when we begin to justify ourselves. There is no justification for sin, it should never be accepted and there must always be repentance. This is what Apostle Paul was dealing with in the Corinthian church. Someone had entered into a sexual immorality and instead of repenting he became proud. Sin that we justify can cause pride to become a blindfold for us. What's even worse is when those who love us start to make excuses for us.

And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (1 Corinthians 5:2)

Sometimes it is hard for us to deal with a situation like this. Our best friend comes up with some vague Bible verse to justify their actions. They refuse to admit their sin, still claim to be Christian but refuse to turn away from what they are doing. Maybe they have moved in with a girlfriend or they are having sexual relations with someone. Perhaps they are stealing and justifying it by their need. There is one thing we all must agree on about sin if we are going to grow into a mature believer: sin leads to separation from Jesus and to our destruction. We cannot tolerate it in ourselves or in any of our friends. Wrong is wrong no matter what fancy clothes you dress it up in.

Sin is bad enough but to refuse to repent of it is where death occurs. This is why Paul tells the church not to excuse it or to tolerate it at all. In fact, he tells them to turn their back on this person:

When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)

Does this mean we are to abandon every believer who falls into sin? Don't we have a responsibility to them, to help them come back into the light? Yes, we do and we praise the Lord that most believers who fail in temptation also realize it and repent of their sin. But we can't help those who refuse to repent. Those who become stubborn enter again into their rebellion against God. We cannot tolerate this rebellion, excusing it because of our love for this person. When they refuse to repent we have to walk away, turn our backs and leave them to their rebellion. All we can do is pray. If we tolerate this rebellion it acts like yeast and begins to work in us and anchors that person even more firmly in their sin:

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:6-7)

This church was boasting about their love and tolerance for this rebellious person but that's not love. Love is speaking the truth to your friend even if they will hate you for it.

A personal example of this is when I was 18 years old and I decided to turn away from my faith. I wanted to see how the other half lived not realizing I had never really discovered anything about the half I claimed to belong to. My pastor at the time was a very wise man. He met with me and tried to persuade me not to do this. I was stubborn and resolved to go down this path refusing to turn back. Instead of chasing after me he told my parents that God would turn me back and then he and the church left me alone, entering into a a time of petitioning for my salvation. A year later I came face to face with Jesus, abandoned my rebellion, fell on my face at his feet and repented of my sins. Salvation is the work of the Spirit not of man.

It can be a hard decision to "hand this man over to Satan", but it's death to tolerate sin. By tolerating it the person will never be brought face to face with the reality of their rebellion. By refusing to associate with them in that rebellious state we can only pray that they will come face to face with Jesus and repent. It sounds cruel to a heart that is full of love and compassion but that's because we don't really understand the love of God, which sees past the moment and considers eternity. Don't allow pride to blind you to the death of the sinner.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The "Secret" Of The Manifestation Of The Spirit

I am convinced that there is one single reason why we do not have the manifestation of the Spirit in believers today. We cannot have the manifestation if we do not understand where the power comes from. The source is far more important than the manifestation because without the source there is no manifestation.
The conduit of this power is the love of Jesus Christ. What does Paul say at the end of his explaination of the manifestation of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12?
“And now I will show you the most excellent way.”
He then says that even if he had all of these manifestations of the Spirit but remained without love he was in essence nothing and he possessed nothing.
“This is nothing new”, some people will say. “I understand love”, they say.
Really? Funny, after all this time I am still plumbing the depth of understanding the very two things Paul uses to define love: patience and kindness. 
“But we aren’t perfect. We can’t love like God?”
If this is true then God is a lair. Do you want to accuse him of lying? Jesus commanded us: 
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
He would not have commanded if it was not possible.
Our problem is we do not want to surrender control to the Holy Spirit who has been given to us to enable us to live this command. If we can grasp this, really come to understand the depth of this love and allow it to be the motivator of all that we say and do, we will discover the manifestation of the Spirit in us. There will be power in the Body of Christ once again.
It has always been about God’s love.

Are We Even Paying Attention To The Conviction Of The Spirit?

I am convicted in my spirit that we have turned the Body of Christ into something it was never intended to be. Our churches have become community centers, lecture halls, and places of entertainment. We go to sing great songs, listen to elegant words and meet up with good people, but where is God? Surely his holy presence must cause more to happen than good feelings from singing? Where is the power? I am telling you, there is a great power deficit in the Body of Christ today.

Earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul had stated:

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)

A little later he writes again:

But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. (1 Corinthians 4:19-20)

Right now it is easy for anyone to claim to be called of God into whatever office they like. If they study hard and prove themselves to be a good person then they are in. But the Body of Christ is supernatural as we are supernatural. We can't operate the Church and treat the servant-leaders with the same system as the world. 1 Corinthians 12 should be a good indicator that we are doing church wrong. We treat church as entertainer-audience whereas the Church is a body with everyone as part of it with a specific function that everyone needs to work as a whole, for the glory of Jesus:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

Let me emphasize here, "to each one". To each of us who follow Jesus Christ. To everyone of us the manifestation of the Holy Spirit has been given. Everyone. And this has been done for the common good of the Body of Christ, the Church. We are talking super natural power here. This isn't a maybe but a must. It is how the Church functions and is effective in her purpose. What are these manifestations of the Spirit? Hold on to your hat:

To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:8-11)

Again, allow me to emphasize, "and he gives them to each one". Tell me how there is any room for the Spirit to operate in our worship services today? Sure, he touches our hearts, convicts us, moves us as he is suppose to do, but where is the room for the manifestation of the Spirit to operate? Where is the teaching? Where is the expectation? There is none because the pastor must meet the expectations of the elders and congregation. In to worship, 3 or 4 songs, 20 minute message with announcements, maybe a special item of music and then back home. This isn't church, it's organized religion, but no one will admit it. Some criticize the Catholics but the Evangelicals have set up a similar attitude in their system. Oh how I pray the Spirit will blow the top off of all man-made systems so he can have the freedom to operate and to manifest in us.

You will hear people say that this no longer applies, that this age belongs to the past and we are in a new age. Really? What is their Biblical basis for that? The only thing I read in the Word is that the lack of power is a sign of the lack of Jesus:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

I hope you are feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit as you read these words - "having a form of godliness but denying its power". We have beautiful churches, great worship songs, wonderful programs but do we have the power? Do we have the manifestation of the Spirit or do we deny the power of God in this age?

We should be afraid and ashamed. We should fall on our faces and repent for what we have allowed it to become. We should seek God's mercy and grace, and open our hearts to his will and deny our own. What are we doing? What are we producing? Are we producing after our own kind? We have to stop this and seek again for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that we would become the true Body of Christ. I wish I could put this message into the hands of every Christian in North America so they could be convicted by the Holy Spirit with the Scripture I have shared.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Imitate Me

There is a great tear in the moral fiber of our society and it is having a devastating pull on the Church. As much as we fight against it in our society we must also understand that they are only doing what comes natural. Sexual relations outside of marriage, homosexuality, pornography, violence, murder, it is all natural to a person without Jesus Christ. It is what we were all born in to. We may work hard at conforming our society to act as if it is Christian but what it really needs is the transforming power of Jesus Christ, a new birth. What we should really be concerned with is how the degrading morality of society is eating away at the edges of the Church and taking away our boldness in Jesus.

One of the "cop outs" we use now is when we tell people not to follow us but to follow Jesus. This makes sense in that we cannot save anyone but at the same time we want a little elbow room for when we slip up, make mistakes and sin. We don't want to feel guilty for anyone following us into sin. It is a lazy man's way of thinking and living. Imagine saying this to people:

Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (1 Corinthians 4:15-16)

The last thing we would ever say to anyone is "imitate me" and it is a sad thing. It means that we don't trust the power of Jesus Christ. It means that we don't believe he has the power to save us and keep us until his return. It means that we are anticipating that we will fall because we don't trust Jesus. We have been hearing a watered down gospel from weak men of faith, and I am one of them. Let's review for a moment here.

This man Paul, who we consider to be the greatest follower of Jesus Christ also said of himself:

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16)

So this "worst of sinners" was telling people to follow his example, to imitate him. Paul was a murderer and persecutor of innocent people. This was the man who ended his relationship with a dear friend over a dispute about a relative. He did not know how to obey the Holy Spirit at the beginning. He was far from perfect yet, he had such a confidence in the sustaining power of Jesus that he stepped into a life of boldness. He stepped out of the old into the new. He allowed the power of Jesus to transform him. This same boldness that enabled him to stand before angry crowds and proclaim Jesus Christ enabled him to speak of the confidence he had in the power of Jesus to keep him from sin, to fill his life with patience and kindness, stripping away everything in him that leads to sin.

Sin is a choice that we have. We can no longer claim that "the devil made me do it" because sin has no power over us any more. When we accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour the power of sin over us was destroyed as our sinful nature was crucified with Jesus. This is the reality that Paul lived and he loved Jesus so much that he made the choice for Jesus every time sin presented itself. Here's a fact:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

So, if God makes sure that we cannot be overwhelmed by temptation it must mean that sin is a choice we make. It means that we are immature in our love for Jesus. It means that we need to grow up and live this life of boldness and trust. If we keep putting in an "escape clause" with other people it means that we do not really believe that Jesus has the power to preserve us until the coming age. We lack faith and trust, and even more importantly real love. Faith and trust grow out of love.

Paul told the Corinthians he was sending Timothy to them for a specific reason:

He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:17)

What are people seeing when they look at your life? Are they seeing someone who is spiritually weak, who lives by an "escape clause" such as "I am not perfect, only forgiven". Or do they see a boldness and strength that they are attracted to as you choose every moment of every day to live your life in the power of Jesus so that he gets all the glory. Your life is no longer your own but now belongs to Jesus which he uses to bring glory to the Father. So live your life as an example to other believers:

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. (1 Timothy 4:12)

You have the power of Jesus Christ to do exactly that.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ask Yourself, Why Are You Going To Church Today?

Seriously, why are you going to church today? Is it because you have such great friends there and you enjoy hanging out with them? Is is because it is what other people are expecting of you? Is it because you are simply following in the footsteps of your parents? Is it because you have experienced God there in the past and you just want to experience that again? I think that at least a quarter of the people going to church this morning don't really know why they are going.

We go because we are the children of the God of promises. We go because God is faithful to the promises he has given us. We go because our hearts are overflowing with thanksgiving for these many promises that are applied to our lives. We go because we  desire to worship our God of the promises. His faithfulness goes beyond our failings. It even goes beyond our unfaithfulness. It goes beyond the darkness of sin. It reaches down into the depths of the deepest caves and up to the heights of the tallest mountain tops. It even reaches to the far side of the oceans. His promises go wherever we can imagine going because his is an unfailing love.

The psalmist understood the faithfulness of God as he reminded him of his promises to David:

For the sake of David your servant,
   do not reject your anointed one.
The LORD swore an oath to David,
   a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
   I will place on your throne—
      if your sons keep my covenant
   and the statutes I teach them,
then their sons will sit
   on your throne for ever and ever.”
(Psalm 132:10-12)

We can be such a foolish people, running about, trying to save ourselves, trying to find our own solutions, behaving as if we are all on our own. What crazy nonsense from the children of the one who created everything. Do we think he lacks the power or is it his will of which we are not convinced? Do we not realize that every promise ever uttered by God is applied to every generation of his children? Are we not yet convinced of his love? Was Jesus, the cross and the empty grave not enough for us?

The Word says:

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. (Hosea 4:6)

We do not call on the promises because we do not know the promises. We lack knowledge and we are perishing because of it. We are wandering around in the dark, falling into great pits, hurting ourselves for no reason. If we knew the promises we would remind God and find our joy in his faithfulness. If we knew the promises we would enter worship this morning with hearts that are exploding with worship and praise. We would live in great confidence and boldness. Our worry and fear would disappear and anxiety would find no foot hold in us. We would walk the streets with a smile on our face and a song in our heart. No matter what life would bring our way we would handle it with the promises of God. He is faithful. He never fails us. All he asks is for our trust and obedience.

Why are you going to church today? I don't know about you but I am going to worship my Jesus with a grateful heart because he continues to cover me in the promises of God.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Life Is Complicated But Our Response Is Simple

Why do we complicate things? Sometimes I look at my life or the lives of others and see the knots we tie ourselves in over matters that we have very little control over. Other times we complicate simple things to the point where we lose control over those matters. It's mean but sometimes this thought pops up: Keep it simple stupid. Lose the word stupid and perhaps add straightforward and you will have the message for this generation. Simplicity is always the best way to go.

Sometimes life does not present itself as simple with all its complications, problems, headaches and unexpected events. No one plans a car accident. No one plans disease. No one plans a house fire. No one plans heartache. No one plans failure. None of us welcomes loss with open arms. Life can be one big disaster.

We can't do anything about what we have no control over but there is always one thing we can control: our response to it. Life may be complicated but our response to it can be simple.

Trust God.
Hope in Jesus.
Love everyone.
Push your faith forward.

We have to accept that we are limited. There are some things that are beyond us. They are beyond our ability to fix. They are beyond our ability to understand. If we want a simple response to the complications of life we have to see things like the psalmist:

My heart is not proud, O LORD,
   my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
   or things too wonderful for me.
(Psalm 131:1)

It is true that we have the mind of Jesus so that we are able to understand spiritual matters beyond the understanding of those without Jesus, but it does not mean that we will understand what God is always doing. Yet we do know that it is God who is always doing it. We have the mind of Christ so that we can trust, knowing our Father has everything well in hand. When we don't understand we trust, and that takes a vibrant faith.


“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
   neither are your ways my ways,”
            declares the LORD.
(Isaiah 55:8)

It takes humility like the psalmist's to finally come to accept our place in the Kingdom. We are not God. Having accepted that some things are beyond his understanding, the psalmist controls his response and trusts:

But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
   like a weaned child with its mother,
   like a weaned child is my soul within me.
(Psalm 131:2)

There are several things about a weaned child:

- we have been told to become like children in our faith
- such a young child is still dependent on his mother
- life is simple for such a child
- during weaning the child is selfish, crying, demanding what it wants
- after he is weaned, the child is content and prepared for more mature food

Being faced with the complications of life the psalmist took action. He humbled himself and forced his soul to enter a place of calm and trust. Instead of allowing fear, worry, doubt and anxiety control his response he stilled and quieted his soul. "Be still and know that I am God." He brought himself in line with God so that peace could freely flow through him. The situation did not change immediately but his response to it did. He quieted himself and became like a weaned child, trusting. hoping, instead of wrestling for control over it.

Life can be complicated but our response is simple: faith, hope and love. The final words of the psalm should ring clear and true through the complications of our life:

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD
   both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 131:3)

In all of life we only have one hope and his name is Jesus. May his peace be renewed in you today.

Friday, October 14, 2011

When "Scum Of The Earth" Becomes A Cherished Title

When I write I try my best to remain positive because we serve an awesome God who overcomes everything. Why be negative when nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus and when he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world? It's really amazing when you stop to consider it for a moment. What is there to be negative about? Except that we tend to err on the side of stupidity. We tend to shift everything so it is always about us, whereas our awesome, incredible, magnificent Saviour said that it isn't about us.

For some reason we have lost the understanding that we are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and not vice versa. His place in the Kingdom is not to wait on our every little want but our place is as friend/servant/warrior, living in obedient action to him. Jesus already told us not to worry about our own needs because our Father has that covered, but we are to seek the Kingdom things, which is the salvation of the lost. He said it would be tough, but warriors don't go home because it is raining or cold or snowing or because the enemy is calling them names. Warriors press on because that is their purpose.

Perhaps a few words from the Apostle Paul would be appropriate at this time to wake us up from our spoiled little lives. He was answering a letter from the Corinthians where they had been boasting about all they had achieved without Paul's guidance. You will have to excuse him but the Apostle uses some sarcasm in his reply:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! (1 Corinthians 4:8-10)

This reminds me of those Christians who never stick there necks out, who never get their hands dirty, who never take "risks" but criticize those that do. They sit in their little "palaces" spouting off about prosperity and looking down on those who weather trials and hardships for the name of Jesus. Well you know what? If you are doing it right then those trials and hardships are just par for the course. Jesus said so.

Christianity is not about building huge congregations and developing professional teaching ministries and writing hundreds of books. It is not about measuring success with the same instruments as this world. Christianity is about paying the cost to love the unlovable. It's about taking the risk of rejection and persecution. It is the willingness to be laughed at because of love. It is the desire to lose it all in order to gain it all. Are we better than the apostles?

To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (1 Corinthians 4:11-13)

The refuse of the world. Right now, around the planet, people are mobilizing to protest against the economic system that seems to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. What about the spiritual condition of this world that has robbed people of their soul and has allowed such heartlessness to exist. The protesters are sacrificing work hours, sleepless nights, the rain and the cold to bring their message to the World. What are we sacrificing, giving up, risking for the sake of the greater message that Jesus saves? Most of us are too afraid to even talk about Jesus to our friends because of the risks involved. How will we ever bring the message to the world?

Right now, today even, Christians are being arrested, beaten, thrown into prison, even killed because of the name of Jesus. These Christians consider the message more important than their lives. What about us here in the Americas? Is Jesus more important than our luxuries, our comfort, our lives?

When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.

And we wonder where the spiritual maturity has gone to. Maturity happens when we are able to consider everything a loss for the sake of knowing Jesus. It's time to get some dirt on our hands. Talk about Jesus today with everyone you meet.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Don't Make Assumptions About God

We all have wonderfully active imaginations so that what we don't know we make up by assuming. Most of us don't want to look dumb so if we don't know an answer we make an assumption our answer. This is how a lot of half-truths get accepted as facts. It is what a lot of Christians do with the Word of God that they have never managed to read or study. It is amazing how some people become experts on certain passages and just make assumptions about the rest.

It is for this reason that you will find most Christians quoting men or women instead of the Word. They listen to other people's opinions on the Word of God and assume that they are correct. I am not anti-Pastor or anti-Teacher, it is what I am and what I do here, but people must check the Word for themselves. We must be students of the Word, actively putting into practice the lessons he have learned. So many of us call ourselves Christians but we know neither the privileges nor responsibilities because we don't know the Word of God.

This was the problem the Apostle Paul had with the Corinthians; they were more interested in the messengers than they were in the message. They did not want to search the scriptures for themselves but instead follow the philosophies of a man. They wanted to identify themselves with a certain teacher like Paul, Apollos or Peter. Paul wrote to them:

Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. (1 Corinthians 4:6)

A teacher has no meaning other than to teach what they have been given. It is not that they are more intelligent or wiser, only that this is their calling and purpose in the Body of Christ. What they have did not come from themselves but from God and is plainly found in the Word. We don't have to make the Word sound more spectacular than it is or add promises that are not there. The Word does not need to be added to because it is already stuffed full of the revelation and promises of God. Paul makes an important point here:

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

We all have access to the Word of God and the Spirit gives us understanding of that Word. It has been given to all of us to understand and to live. We can live it because of the Holy Spirit in us. There is no one who is given a revelation outside of this Word. There is nothing God reveals about himself that is not found here. There is nothing in ourselves that reveals anything about God that is not in the Word. What we know we have received from the Word.

This is why it is important that if people want maturity in their walk with Jesus that they get into the Word and make its study a matter of life and death. How can we serve a God we do not know? How can we hold on to his promises that we have never heard about? How can we be encouraged by the Spirit if we have never hidden the Word in our heart? How can we possibly take part in this spiritual warfare if we are not even familiar with the weapons? Don't make assumptions. Don't fill in the blanks with your imagination. Don't lean on other people's revelation of the Word, know it for yourself.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Whose Approval Are You Seeking?

In my twenty years of pastoring I have met a lot of people who had given up their faith because of the words and actions of other people. I realize that this meant their faith was not very strong to begin with but still it is sad to give up Jesus just because of what another Christian said or did. Our faith should never be affected by the words and actions of others because our faith is based solely on the words and actions of Jesus. Yet, I have encountered an even sadder thing than this.

I have met a few former pastors who had walked away from their calling because of the way the church had treated them. It is horrible to pastor a church that gives you nothing but heartaches and that works against you and always seems to want to destroy you. Even if you are a pastor who trusts the Lord, loves him with all your heart, and operates by the Spirit and not the flesh, it is a tough go. But tough does not mean impossible and it is those type of immature churches that need strong men and women of faith who will take it on the chin in order to help equip them to come into maturity. A pastor can end up beat up, but when we operate in the Spirit, when we minister through Jesus, he sustains our joy and peace.

Anyone in ministry, whatever that ministry is, must learn a very important lesson. I have met people who have been overly critical of their pastor, taking this verse as their theme:

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2)

What they fail to understand is that Paul was not talking about proving himself faithful to the Church or to Christians. These people fail to continue to read:

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)

If you have been given a trust in any spiritual matter you do have to prove yourself faithful, but not to people. Prove to the Lord your faithfulness in the task you have been given. Jesus made this clear with various parables he told, such as the one with the talents and the one about the master of the house going away. In these Jesus speaks about servants having been given a task and the expectation that they will be found having completed this task on the Master's return. Those servant's are you and me so this is the warning Paul gives about judging fellow servants:

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)

My friend, it doesn't matter how old or young you are, there will always be people who are going to judge you. They will judge your appearance, your actions, and your words. Some will make fun of you, others will reject you but some will choose to be your friend. As a follower of Jesus Christ none of that matters. We do not live for the approval of man but of God, and God knows the things that are hidden from everyone's sight. He knows our thoughts and our motives. He knows our heart. Live to be approved by God and that approval comes when we are clothed in the garments Jesus has given us and as we walk in his example, proving ourselves faith to our task.

Christianity is far more than attending church, going to small group, posting nice sounding Scripture, being good. Following Jesus is about living the life he lived as an example to us. We have received the same Spirit he operated with. We have been given his love to share with everyone we encounter.We has given us our mission to make disciples. He told us to go. He will judge how faithful we have been to this on his return. It doesn't matter if we have the approval of our parents, teachers, friends, even our pastor. These people are important, we must respect them and listen to their council, but at the end of the day it is the approval of Jesus that matters. So live your life to be approved by Jesus not by man.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

There Is A Reason Why Sexual Sin Is So Devastating

To be a mature adult in our society there are a few things we need to learn and to practice. You may turn 18 years of age but age alone does not make you mature. Understanding your responsibility in society and living that responsible life indicates that you have matured. Such responsibilities include a respect for authority, following the laws of society, being courteous with neighbours, paying bills, paying taxes and helping when help is needed. It is possible to turn 18 and not care for anyone or anything. Sure, you are an adult but you still have a lot of learning to do.

This is also how we should see and understand spirituality and our relationship with Jesus. Many things change when we accept Jesus' forgiveness and experience the second birth. We become a new creation but we have to grow into a mature new creation. We have a lot to learn and often a lot of breaking to go through as the Spirit of God moves us through each lesson. One of the basics to learn is that we no longer belong to ourselves. That's a hard thing for a young Christian to grasp. Read and learn:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

You are that temple. A mature Christian understands that we house the precious Spirit of God which makes us different than the greater portion of people in this world. We are unique. Even more precious than Israel because the Israelites only had the presence of God with them; we have the presence of God in us. It is an incredible thing God has done. Let me emphasize again that we no longer belong to ourselves:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

This is why any sin you commit with your body is so devastating in nature. Today it is expected that teens are going to have sex at an early age because the world is beginning to see it as natural. How can we stop what is natural, right? This is the same excuse for homosexuality. To be honest, the experts are right. These are natural acts of a fallen world, coming from our sin nature, but these are not natural to the Kingdom of God. These are rebellious acts that separate us from God. As a Christian these sins are a conscious decision because they go against the Spirit in us. We have the power and authority to say no because sin no longer has a hold on us.

As a new creation with Christ and being the temple of the Spirit of God, no longer belonging to ourselves because we were bought at a tremendous price, what makes us think we have the right to do with our body what we wish? It is no longer ours to pollute with poisonous substances. It is no longer ours to use for sin. It is no longer ours to mark up and deface. Of all the people in the world we should be the ones who understand the importance of respecting our bodies, feeding it well, exercising it, keeping it clean and presentable. We don't worship it because it is only a temple that contains the object of our worship but it is holy because of who has taken up residence. We honour God with our body.

The thing to grasp here is that it is not an option but a must. We are the temple of the Spirit of God, we no longer belong to ourselves, we were bought at a price and we have been told that we must honour God with our body. Do not allow that temple to be joined with sin; do not defile that which is used to honour God. Look after the temple and use it to bring honour and glory to God. This is the mature understanding of this clay vessel which is far from perfect and yet the temple of the Spirit. Realize who you are and who you belong to.

Monday, October 10, 2011

We Really Don't Know Much About God's Desire For Thanksgiving

I am still taking a break from my writings on maturity because today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada and I would like to address the idea of thanksgiving to God. Most of us think we are a people with a grateful heart but in truth we act more like spoiled rich kids. Most of our prayers are centered on ourselves and we treat our Father as if he is a terrible provider. We are seldom satisfied with his provision and are constantly demanding more. Those who disagree with me I encourage to consider the amount of debt you are carrying on your credit card. The credit card is a huge indication of our dissatisfaction with our Father's provision.

Setting that aside for a moment I want us to consider how we give thanks when we do manage to remember we owe it to our Father. Many of us do not like the thought of sacrifice because of our selfish nature. For a few people the great act of sacrifice is giving up Sunday morning to attend church and the tithe they put in the offering plate. Let's consider those two things and the attitude we have concerning them.

Would you say that you have a joyful attitude in going to church or is it a thing you need to do because it is what is expected? The real expectation is that our relationship with Jesus would fill us with such a joy that we would be rushing to get to church, and I mean rushing in the good sense:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
   and his courts with praise;
   give thanks to him and praise his name.
(Psalm 100:4)

It is a worthless "sacrifice" to give up your Sunday morning if your attitude nullifies your action. It you realized the great things Jesus has done and is continuing to do you would be overwhelmed with the desire to praise him. There should be excitement to enter into corporate worship. There should be an atmosphere of expectation and longing in offering up the sacrifice of praise.

Then there is your sacrifice of your tithe. Considering that everything you have has been given by the grace of God, offering back 10% is not much of a sacrifice. And before the anti-law crowd jumps all over this, the tithe is a heart response not a law requirement. Abraham existed long before the law and yet he offered up his tithe out of a grateful heart. Back in the beginning Cain and Abel brought sacrifices out of thanksgiving. Abel brought the very best and it pleased God. It is not that God needs these tithes. As he told us, he owns everything anyway so it is not that he needs it, but what we bring and how we bring it reveals our heart toward him. Do we really love and appreciate our God?

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Does love not compel us to bring our very best to God? It is sad that we use God's grace as an excuse for our lack of love toward him. Dressing up for worship does not make a person better but what we wear can reveal our attitude in the same way that our tithe does; in the same way we treat people does; in the same way we do our work does. God's grace should propel us to the top of everything as we want to respond to God with our very best in everything we do, say, write, create.

We have been called to sacrificial living as we deny ourselves to serve Jesus. Most of us want the best of both worlds but if our relationship is authentic then we are glad to give up the one to possess the other. Our salvation is not by works but by the sacrifice of Jesus, given freely to us. But our heart response to this is obedient love. Our response is a sacrifice of praise. Our response is to freely give, with great generosity. Our response is to love each other in the same manner Jesus loved/loves us. He calls on us all the time to set aside our needs for the sake of others, to be consumed by people and this is our worship.

In Isaiah 58 God is dealing with a people who have the right appearance but the wrong heart. Among the things he says he asks these questions:

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
   only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
   and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
   a day acceptable to the LORD?
(Isaiah 58:5)

I encourage you to read the whole passage to understand the impact of these questions because it is followed by this revealing of God's heart and what he considers to be the true sacrifice of worship. Think of Jesus' teaching and example concerning the Sabbath day as you read this:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
(Isaiah 58:6-9)

We have a lot to learn about the sacrifice of thanksgiving and I pray we will continue our learning today. Many of us will stuff ourselves on this day in Canada with fine food. We call it a day of thanksgiving but I wonder who we are giving thanks to, and if we are worshiping ourselves instead of God. Make it a true day of giving thanks by sharing your food with the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the wanderer and looking after your family. Do this and God will find your sacrifice of thanksgiving acceptable and pleasing, and it will reveal your heart of love.