Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Are We Losing So Many Of Our Young People To The World?

I love the Church in all her triumphs and defeats, her perfection and imperfection, her radiance and dirty stains. Even in all that we criticize her for Jesus has justified her so that she is his glowing, holy bride. That's you and me I am talking about. She is a beautiful mystery as well as being plainly seen and we are part of her. That is what I want to discuss with you today: how we are members of this thing referred to as the Body of Christ, the Church, the Bride.

Sometimes we look at the Church and then at ourselves and decide we are not part of it. Perhaps that is the thought that goes through your mind as you sit in the congregation  and see all the beautiful talent that is around you, as you listen to the musicians, the singers, the wonderful speakers. Perhaps you sit there and feel disconnected because you have no part in it except as a spectator. Yes, that is what we have turned it into and that is what all of us have allowed it to become, but that is not what it is. If you have received Jesus Christ and been filled with the Holy Spirit you are a vital member of the Body.

There is a big question going on in the Church right now of why we are losing 60% of our young people, especially when they head off to college. As far as I am concerned there are three reasons. First, we don't ground our young people in the Word. Second, they have no understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Third, they don't feel they belong because we have not allowed them to take their place and participate. We have allowed the Church to become a spectator sport and our young people are tired of watching. Read this:

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-16)

This is important to understand because the Word teaches that what you feel about yourself does not nullify the truth. The truth is you are an important and vital member of the Body. We need you in order to function properly. If our body lost a hand we could still manage but we would be less than what we were created for. The same if we lost a foot or an eye. We could manage but not as well as we could if we were whole. Just because you may feel you are not part of the Body of Christ does not take away from the fact you are an integral part of it.

The real fault rests with people like me, the leadership of the Body. We want so much to control everything that we don't trust that Jesus is the head and the Spirit is the controller. We think that if we don't control every person and everything that happens in our congregation that bad things will result. So we train leaders under us to control other people and to keep everyone in line. We create the "priests" and the "congregation" whereas we are all priests and we have all been called to serve according to the manifestations of the Spirit. Men like me do not get to decide; the Holy Spirit decides:

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:11)

I am a trainer in the Body of Christ, one of the five-fold servants to the Church. My role is not to stifle the Holy Spirit but to help train people in works of service. (Check out Ephesians 4) In other words, I am suppose to help people operate in the Holy Spirit. The leadership must empower the congregation to get out of their seats and get to work according to what each one has received from the Spirit. We try to control far too much so that we lose the freedom we have been given and we miss the anointing and power of God among us.

This means our young people head off to sit under the teaching of the world's wisdom without ever having experienced God, without having seen his hand move, without ever feeling they are part of something incredible. They go off in the flesh never having realized they are part of the supernatural move of God. That's my fault and everyone who carries the same mantel of responsibility. We have failed to be trainers and have allowed ourselves to be formed into managers. We manage the Body and we do it in our flesh. Where are the Apostles, the Prophets, the Evangelists, the Pastors and Teachers? They are all siting behind desks pushing papers, writing letters and holding committee meetings. They are performing the duties of deacons instead of training God's people how to serve in the awesomeness of the Holy Spirit. We has castrated the trainers in the Body.

I don't care what age you are, don't settle for less than what the Holy Spirit has called us to. It is time to allow a real move of the Spirit to sweep the Church and put things right. It is time for a Holy Spirit lead revolution to  move through the Body of Christ, to restructure, to re-energize, to re-empower, to re-equip God's people to serve him with all their being through the Holy Spirit once more. I am willing to relinquish control but are you willing to step into your responsibilities?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are You Adding To Or Taking Away From The Body Of Christ?

The Church certainly looks like she is fractured into many pieces with no hope of unity. It is a shame that one group always seems to think they have the total and complete revelation and understanding of God. It is also a shame when a congregation believes it is self contained and needs no one from the "outside". It is a sad thing that denominations are set up in such a way that if you are a pastor or teacher who does not belong to that denomination you cannot preach there. The diversity of the Church in her revelations, understanding, teaching and manifestation of the Spirit is a beautiful thing but we make it ugly.

The doctrines of the various denominations are basically the same with a slightly different emphasis on some aspects of the teaching so unity should not be a problem. But we allow these simple matters of doctrinal emphasis to become walls where one thinks it is better than another. Can I tell you, with such an attitude these denominations are demonstrating they don't understand the most basic teaching of Jesus. They need to go back to "kindergarten". Read this:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

Diversity in the Body of Christ is a given, as long as it is a diversity produced by the Spirit of God. We know unity is the will of Jesus because it was his final prayer for us, that we would have oneness with each other as we have it with Jesus. Unity is made possible because of the Spirit of God. All that we have comes from the Spirit; all our revelations, gifts, ministries come from him. They did not come from us, they were not our idea, they did not happen by our will. If they did we had better shut it all down and run back to the Spirit quickly because we are off track and nothing we have done will survive.

We have been baptized by and in the same Spirit because he has formed one Body. In that Body we have diversity because the Body needs diversity to function properly. The greatness of the Spirit cannot be contained in one person so he has spread himself out among all believers. Let me remind you of my previous posts:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

The diversity of the Body is for the common good of all believers. Instead of attacking the differences we should be celebrating. Instead of trying to copy another person`s ministry or giftings we should be working all that much harder with our own. The fact is I need you and you need me. You have something from the Spirit that will help me in my growth and in my service and what I have you need as well.

We must change our vision and perspective of the Body of Christ. We have to start understanding that we need each other and we must work together. We should be willing to listen to each other knowing that we need each other to be complete. It is the Spirit of God who has done this, who has created such diversity and we need to be celebrators of this diversity. Unity is found in the Holy Spirit, under the authority and headship of Jesus Christ.

I am going to give this out in spoon-sized bits so we can take the time to digest it better. For today just meditate on the understanding that the diversity of the Church has been brought about by the Spirit and that even in this diversity we need unity to work. It may seem impossible but at the end of this chapter we will look at how it is possible to achieve. If you wish to go back and start this from my first posting here they are:

1) Living By The Spirit Of God Is The Only Way To Live In Jesus

Monday, November 28, 2011

To Each One The Manifestation Of The Spirit Is Given

If the Church is dull it is because we have made it that way. If following Jesus is unattractive and tedious it is because we have limited God. If there seems to be a lack of anything supernatural in the Body of Christ it is because we are denying the work of the Holy Spirit. We have turned God and the Church into a one dimensional thing. We have castrated, hog-tied, and thrown out the Holy Spirit from our relationship and service with Jesus. We have an appearance of godliness but we are without the power of God. There is one very simple reason I say all this:

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

We lack understanding and vision of the Body of Christ. This was the plan from the beginning, as the Holy Spirit fell upon the Church in a great baptism of fire. To each of us the manifestation of the Spirit has been given. This is not an optional thing. This is a given, standard issue, part of our relationship with Jesus. It is not given for selfish gain but for the common good. There is nothing dull and empty about the Church; she is alive, vibrant and bursting with power.

I can't emphasize this enough: if you have accepted Jesus as Saviour and claimed him as Lord then you have been brought into the Church, his Body. You have been given the manifestation of the Spirit, a gift or gifts, for the purpose of serving in the Body. God is too much for us, as is his work, as is his power. None of us could handle the full power of God so it has been split up into various gifts or manifestations of the Spirit. These have been spread out among all the believers. Some of these gifts are listed here:

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a 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. (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)

Those who want to deny the Spirit claim that these manifestations of the Spirit were given for a time and are not part of our faith now. They are deceived. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that this was for a time or that they had been removed. They are woven into the very fabric of the Body and without them we are just a lecture hall and community centre. Trying to serve Jesus without the Spirit is choosing to be blind, deaf and mute. Whatever we do without the Spirit we do in our flesh and whatever we do in our flesh is rejected by God. We are supernatural creatures and must serve him supernaturally. Everything that Paul has written to the Corinthians climaxes in these two chapters, 12 and 13. They are more important than you could possibly imagine.

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:11)

This is the work of the Spirit so let me emphasize just how important Jesus said the Spirit is:

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12:10)

Those are the words of Jesus, the one who promised us the Holy Spirit, the one who said he had to leave so that the Spirit could come. The baptism of water is a baptism of repentance which is not a complete work. We require the baptism of the Holy Spirit so that we can live in the full awareness of God and his purpose. The Word says that if we do not have the Spirit we do not have Jesus. Without the Spirit there is no life to the Church or to our service. We cannot deny what is written here, the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each believer, they have been distributed by the Holy Spirit to each of us as he has determined.

Jesus said that the Father would send this baptism on anyone who asks. It is time that the majority of believers ask so there can be life in the Body again. The world needs to see the glory of God; allow him to glorify himself through you today. Step into the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Don't be satisfied with a partial thing.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pity The Lost, Do Not Fear Them

Perspective is everything in life and I love it when the Spirit changes mine so that I am able to see more clearly God`s perspective. This morning the Lord added to my understanding a better insight into those without Christ. Often we are confused about our relationship with them, not understanding the fear we sometimes have or why it is that the Word tells us not to be unequally yoked with them. But there is a reason we should not fear and there is a reason we should not be unequally yoked.

First of all we need to understand that they do what they do out of instinct not out of will. We should know this considering we all came from there; it was our former life. Without Jesus we have no power over sin and in fact we are a slave to it. We can't help ourselves. It is only because of Jesus that we have been brought into this great light of understanding and have been released from the slavery of sin, empowered to overcome it. But those who are still slaves to it have no insight, no understanding and cannot see the reality of our loving Father. The cannot understand the Bible or their own condition without the conviction of the Spirit. The psalmist put it this way:

I have a message from God in my heart 
   concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: 
There is no fear of God 
   before their eyes. (Psalm 36:1)

They have no fear of God. They scoff at us for the warning of the coming judgement. They do not correct their way because they see no reason to repent:

In their own eyes they flatter themselves    too much to detect or hate their sin. (Psalm 36:2)

They are blind to their own sin and without knowing Jesus they are unable to hate it. They are to be pitied and I think we forget this. They are not to be feared with all their angry words and hatred; with their words of doubt and destruction; with all their mockery and belittling. They are like a drowning man lashing out, ready to take down anyone who comes to his rescue. We must understand that it is not a simple matter of correcting their behaviour because it is their heart that is sinful and the great producer of their behaviour:

The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; 
   they fail to act wisely or do good. 
Even on their beds they plot evil; 
   they commit themselves to a sinful course 
   and do not reject what is wrong. (Psalm 36:3-4)

Someone might say that they know people who are kinder and better behaved than most of the Christians they know. That is a shame that they do not know more mature Christians but the fact remains that no matter how hard a person tried to be good, without Jesus they are still slaves to their sinful nature which pollutes their best intentions. Simply put, they "do not reject what is wrong".

Now this is the reason we are here, our mission in this place. We are worshipers of God 24 hours a day 7 days a week, we understand that, but we have a specific purpose in being here. It is not to serve ourselves or to try to get things out of God to make our life comfortable or to be separated from this world by being hedged in. God promised to take care of us but we have to seek the things of the Kingdom. What are the things of the Kingdom? The object of God's affection which is every single living, breathing human being. The Word says that his will is that everyone would be saved.

This is why God's word often came to his servants "Do not fear", or "Do not be afraid". God is with us. He is in us and we are in him and our task is to introduced the light to the darkness. The darkness does not want the light because it doesn't know any better but once they see it everything changes. I realize that in school we were/are afraid of the bully and we may even come to hate him, but Jesus said that as his followers we cannot hate. He told us to love our enemy because he was sending us to that enemy with the greatest story every told. It may mean we get `beat up` a bit as we share that love but we can pray just like Jesus and Stephen `Forgive them Father because they don`t know what they are doing`. It is our purpose to go regardless the cost. We have to totally abandon ourselves, laying down our lives, trusting God and go to a people who cannot help themselves.

I think part of the problem is that we have too much of the world in our vision to remember the glory of the one we serve:

Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, 
   your faithfulness to the skies. 
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, 
   your justice like the great deep. 
   You, LORD, preserve both people and animals. (Psalm 36:5-6)

His love and faithfulness should be constantly on our heart and shaping our mind. They should govern our actions and our words. They should be our shield as we throw ourselves into the darkest dungeon to bring light to those who dwell there. It could be our classroom, our work place, the streets, in the bars, on the Internet. Wherever we find ourselves is the place that Jesus gave us to represent him because the blind have been given the ability to receive sight. They all need to be rescued; they all need to seek refuge; they all need to be saved:

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! 
   People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 
They feast on the abundance of your house; 
   you give them drink from your river of delights. 
For with you is the fountain of life; 
   in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:7-9) 

We can`t be afraid of them, or date them, or even marry them because we have been sent to help rescue them. How can light have anything to do with darkness except to pity them and do everything we can to see them saved? They cannot love us as we understand love. They cannot see what we see because they are blind. They cannot understand our power, authority, motivation or hope. We certainly have nothing to fear from them and it is Jesus` love that should compel us to do something to bring the light to them. This is our purpose, the reason we are here, the reason we were not whisked away, the duty Jesus told us we need to be found faithful doing on his return. So how`s that going for you?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Cannot Win The Race If We Don't Run

I don't dream too often so when I woke this morning with a vivid dream etched into my early groggy thoughts I decided it best to revisit the dream. Perhaps there is something here for you.

I was preaching the Word to a small group of people, explaining how it is possible to have slightly different perspectives on the Bible. There is only one truth but we have different levels of understanding of that truth according to the perspective of our maturity and experience. It is similar to the different perspective we have of a room because of our height. My wife is quite a bit shorter than I am so when she walks into a room she notices things I don't and can't see things I can. She may be looking for a letter that is on top of the fridge. From her perspective it is not in the room but from my perspective it is. The truth is that the letter is in the room but she cannot see that truth unless she is elevated to be able to see it.

This is the reason that we should always be open to gaining new insights into the Word of God and into our limited perspective of what God is doing. It is also the reason the Bible tells us that the strong must always bear with the weak, or in other words, the mature must always be patient with those who are less mature. In our living for Jesus God has arranged it that there will always be people for us to learn from and people for us to teach. The question is, how do we gain a greater perspective or understanding of God's Word and our life in Christ? How do we grow?

I can tell you this, you will not experience spiritual growth by sleeping. You will not gain it by hearsay. You will not gain it by staying as you are. It's time to wake-up and realize that a relationship with Jesus takes a bit of work and growth takes effort. If you starve your body of its proper nutrition it will grow poorly and never reach its full healthy potential. There is no difference in our spiritual growth, we need proper nutrition. Peter put it this way:

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3)

We cannot expect to be gaining maturity and greater revelation, strengthening ourselves for better service by being a Christian in name only. Some of you used to be on fire for the Lord, filled with such great passion for him and the mission for the lost, but now it is only a distant memory. In my dream I saw myself do something that is impossible in the flesh.

I held a candle out to the small gathering and told them that they were like this candle. It was a simple candle that was no longer lit but the wick's tip was glowing red and there was a thin wisp of smoke coming from it. I told them that they had allowed their passion to go out, the flame to become extinguished. But here is the thing we must understand:

"God's gifts and his call are irrevocable." (Romans 11:29)

Just because we have failed him does not mean that we are stuck in that failure. Just because we walked away or set aside our calling does not mean that it has been removed from us. Just because we allowed the attraction of sin to distract us from the glory of God does not mean we have been abandoned. God's grace and mercy are far greater than we could imagine because his love is greater than an ocean. Come humbly to him, repent and see him breathe life back into you with his forgiveness. In my dream I turned to the candle and blew on it. Instantly the ember kicked into flame and the room was washed in the warm glow of the candle.

Return to your passion. Return to your walk. Return to your Lord and continue with your growth. There is so much more to learn, to know, to grow into. Do not think that the little you have achieved is all that exists. We can spend ten life times growing and still not learn all there is to learn in the Lord. I have no idea where you are in your spiritual walk but this one thing I do know, you have only begun. He has promised to take you to the place where eagles soar so keep at it, don't give up. Let's accept this encouragement from Peter:

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Get to work and don't give up! Fan the flame Lord!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Why Can't You Do Miracles?

Perhaps no one has ever told you this but there is much more to being a Christian than worship, Bible reading, prayer and being nice to people. That is where safe people want to keep it and they feel good about those activities. However, as a follower of Jesus, a child of the living God, you have been brought into a different existence where things happen in a very powerful supernatural manner. Now, if you want to play it safe stay with the lot who want to keep Christianity a nice safe religion but if you want to love and serve God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength it is time to discover a greater spiritual maturity.

Jesus did not come to just die on the cross for us, which was a great thing in itself. Jesus also came to set an example for us of how to live by the Spirit of God. Jesus did not do anything by his divine nature but everything he did was by the Spirit of God, the same Spirit you and I have received when we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. We were also joined to the Body of Christ, the Church, which is a wonderful, mysterious  supernatural thing. At least it is mysterious to the world but to those of us with a mind to understand, the mind of Jesus, it is an easy matter to grasp if we are open to the leading of the Spirit. The Church is not an optional thing, we cannot serve outside of the Body of Christ.

The Church is not some building we go into in order to worship with other people. It is not a place that runs community programs. It isn't even a bunch of people who want to form a community so they can feel they belong to something. The Church is a powerhouse, a collection of Spirit-filled people who have been brought together to become united as one, to form the Body of Christ, in order to glorify God and to seek out the lost. There is real power here; power provided by the Holy Spirit who inhabits each of us who have confessed Jesus. Before we deal with the power part of it we must accept the united part and recognize the source of the power:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

"Gifts" refers to such things as revelations, knowledge, tongues, interpretations, and prophecy. "Service" is referring to the various offices in the Body, different ministries, ministers / workers, institutions, such as teachers, healers, apostles. "Works" refers to miraculous powers such as healing. These are not things that have disappeared or been removed by God, we have simply not called upon them or used them. We have allowed the Church to become dull, lifeless, lacking power. If we allowed a few generations to go by in silence, not allowing them to speak, we wouldn't loose our ability but we would have to re-learn how to talk. It is the same with this supernatural function of the Body, we haven't lost the capacity, we only need to be trained again. But consider what is being said here.

Paul writes that the gifts differ but they all come from the same Spirit. The services or ministries are of great variety but they serve the same Lord. There are different miraculous powers but it is the same God who does these things through men. There is only one source for all these which should give us a great sense of belonging together. Perhaps that is how we became so fractured, when we stopped operating in the Spirit. There cannot be division in the Body when we understand that we operate by the Spirit of God. Unity is vital as we work together for the salvation of souls and the maturity of the Body. We became divided and weak because we lacked love, understanding and the power of the Spirit.

If we try to serve the Lord Jesus Christ according to our flesh we will always be a source of division. The flesh works by selfishness, always looking out for itself, feeling offended, seeking vengeance, always wanting to be right and the center of attention. When we put our flesh under our feet and  live by the Spirit we desire to become nobodies so Jesus can increase in us. We have no desire to make a name for ourselves, to become known by the world, to leave a legacy. The only name we want lifted up is Jesus, we desire for him to be the only thing seen in us and we are happy to die as nobodies having testified to the only somebody who matters. To live such a life is a powerful thing and the Spirit can then use us, filling us with great gifts, calling us into various ministries, working with other nobodies to reveal Jesus to the world. He may even decide to work the miraculous through us but in it all we understand that it is not us but the same Spirit, Lord and God doing all these things through us.

We must understand this unity we have through the Spirit before we can tackle the manifestation of the Spirit on Monday. We must understand that we are not the source but only the vessel. Read through yesterday's blog again. Pray for greater understanding for this subject of authority and unity of the Spirit. If you have not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit ask for it over the weekend. Ask for greater revelation concerning all things spiritual and then we will be prepared to deal with the manifestations of the Spirit together.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Living By The Spirit Of God Is The Only Way To Live In Jesus

I am going to try to control myself but I am very excited to have reached 1 Corinthians 12. I could write for hours on the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ. This is the chapter that demonstrates to us how far we have moved away from what we could be in Jesus Christ. This chapter shows us why the world does not see us as a people but as just another religion. This chapter holds out to us just how supernatural we are compared to how normal we act. Too many of us try to live a life for Christ according to our flesh instead of according to the Spirit.

I live in Quebec where 80% of the population speaks french as their first language. Learning to speak a second language is so much more than learning the vocabulary and must include grammar, sentence structure, pronunciation, and cultural understanding. You have to let go of the bonds of your first language to step into a completely different world. You can't speak the second language through your understanding of the first. This is what it is like to be a follower of Jesus Christ because our life is no longer lived through our flesh but through our spirit. Everything changes and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Yet, many Christians have no understanding of the Spirit or even that they are suppose to be empowered by him. This is what Paul explained:

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:1-3)

We try to live our life in Christ through the limitations and understanding of our first language, that of our flesh. It is the reason we fail to love with the incredible power of Jesus' love. It is why we struggle with sin. It is why we seem powerless to do anything for Jesus. We have to let go of of the boundaries of our first language which is governed by man's wisdom and logic. We have to let go and step into a greater reality that operates by the spirit and not the flesh. It is by the Spirit that we are able to confess Jesus as Lord and understand what that means and have it affect us to the core of our being. We can say the words in our flesh but we cannot speak it in the inner place without the Holy Spirit.

One of the most famous chapters on life in the Spirit speaks of this:

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Romans 8:5)

It's a great chapter; you should take the time to read it. In the Spirit our mind has been changed, we have a different perspective, different priorities, different trust and different expectations. Our purpose has also changed and now we only desire to see the will of the Father fulfilled. But it is even more than that; the Holy Spirit never leaves us with any doubt of who we belong to:

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. (Romans 8:9)

Oh wow, I could spend all day here because this is the pulse of who we are in Jesus. This is the place of great understanding, of freedom, of power, of real worship and service. This is the place where all of creation opens up to us, where we understand who we are in Jesus, of the rights and privileges we have been given, of the boldness we possess to approach the throne of God. By our flesh we consider ourselves unworthy and only a worm, but by the Spirit of God we know we are a child who has the right to call God "daddy":

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:13-16)

Before we go on to the supernatural understanding of the Body of Christ we must be sure of who we are supernaturally in Christ Jesus. There can be no doubt in us about his love for us and the promises that are ours. There can't be any timidity in us when it comes to God because it means we do not trust him when he tells us to come boldly as his children. Whatever old school, old ways, old flesh you have hanging on you throw away right now. You are a completely new creation, covered by Jesus, emboldened by the Spirit, a child of God the Father, governed by a different law than this world understands, a place where power and miracles are part of our every day existence. By this same Spirit we are sensitive to God's moving and his will and we are instantly caught up in it. If the whole Church could only grasp this the world would be completely changed by the power of God.

I am reluctantly going to end today with this. Tomorrow we will pick up where I have left off but today I want you to do a word study on the Spirit and see what has been said about him and us. It should be enough to read today that you have no part in Jesus if you are not possessed and controlled by the Spirit. Too many Christians are playing a role, speaking the words but have no power even to control sin in their lives. Let's not be like that. Do a study today, ask the Lord for greater understanding and, if you have not done so already, ask for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have but it is better to ask the Lord.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Live A Life Worthy Of Your Calling

Many of the problems we have in our spiritual walk arise from our lack of maturity. We don't seem to have enough people in our lives who understand the importance of spiritual maturity to spur us on to greater heights. Too many of us stop growing at the entry point. We fall asleep too close to where we get into bed and as a result some fall out. It is a terrible waste of a life not to realize we are suppose to be growing toward greater things.

The church in Corinth had many problems, most of which were caused by their lack of progress, their lack of maturity. One of the most sacred and solemn moments in our worship is the Lord's supper. It doesn't mean that it is a sad moment but instead a moment of reflection and searching our heart. It is a moment to consider what Jesus has done for us, that we are part of him and a checking to see if we are living a life worthy of our calling. Unfortunately, even today, some people give no thought to it at all and consider it just a ceremony. Paul warned the Corinthians and us:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)

It's not a matter of needing to be perfect to take part in the Lord's supper but instead understanding what it symbolizes. When we drink of the wine and eat of the bread we are stating that we are part of Jesus, that we are one with him. Not only this but we are recognizing that we are part of one another in this love. It is a significant moment demonstrating that we are one with Christ in his suffering and death as well as in the promise of the resurrection. It also demonstrates that we are one with our brothers and sisters of faith, united in the Spirit of God.

How many of us take part in this in an unworthy manner? Do you have something against someone? Do you harbour unforgiveness? I know of people who refuse to go to church or have anything to do with it because of something that happened to them at the hands of a pastor or other believer. They consider many Christians to be hypocrites and cut themselves off. They practice the Lord's supper at home with some friends and family. Can I tell you, they take part in an unworthy manner. Their lack of forgiveness and their judgement toward their brothers and sisters reveal their immaturity. The Lord's supper is not about a self-centered view but instead it is an "us" experience. It is a symbol of our Lord's prayer when he asked for unity of the believers, that we would be one with him and one with each other.

Paul described the condition of those who failed to understand this and who took part in an unworthy manner:

That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 11:30)

Weak Christians. Soul sick Christians. Out of step with the Spirit Christians. Sleeping Christians. Fence sitting Christians. Sin supporting Christians. Carrying the label but having none of the power Christians. Paul says to examine ourselves. It is easy to do. Hold yourself up to Jesus and see if there are any blemishes in you. Unforgiveness. Hatred. Disrespect. Selfishness. A list of wrongs committed against you. Resentment. Bitterness. Vengeance. These are all things that fail  to recognize the body of Jesus Christ. These are all things that arise from a lack of Christ-centered love.

But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:31-32)

It is much better if we examine and judge ourselves. The Lord will do it but he may have to do it in a more painful manner to make it plain to us. He needs to do this in order to prevent us from being judged with the world. It is an act of love even if it seems hard at the time. Jesus has empowered us so that we do not need to sin but if we do sin we need to deal with it right away. If we do not deal with sin when we know about it we will fall under the same judgement as the world. That is what the Scriptures are clearly saying right here.

Understanding that we are one with Jesus and that we are part of this huge family, the Body of Christ, is important for us. To deal with each other with love and respect is also important. We are interacting with Jesus when we interact with one another. I can't emphasize this enough, we must love one another with the same love Jesus loved us with. That's what he told us to do and he also said that if we love him we will obey what he has said. So if there is anything in you that separates you from another believer you need to deal with it today. Every day we live we partake in the body and the blood; our living is the practical application of the Lord's Supper. The supper is only a symbolic act of what we experience every day. Do not take part in a manner that is considered unworthy and that will bring you under judgement. Love one another.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The "Divide And Conquer" Tactic Of The Enemy Is Working Well Against The Church

One of the indicators of spiritual immaturity is division, when Christians have a disagreement that they refuse to resolve. Disagreements usually happen when there are two differing opinions on a matter and neither side is willing to consider the opposing argument. Differences are normal and natural with any group of people, but division due to differences is not. How we resolve our differences indicates our level of maturity.

As followers of Jesus our first priority in our service in this place is people. Above our preferences, opinions, thoughts and ideas comes the love and care for other people. So in all discussions we should be able to take the time to consider the other person's perspective. If they are in error we should be able to gently lead them into the truth of the matter with a sound argument. If our argument is not sound we should delay the discussion until we have all the supporting evidence. If they are too immature to have a proper discussion we should set the matter aside. However, if we are wrong in the matter, we should love that person enough to admit it. It is not a thing of pride. There is no pride in love.

Immaturity needs to be right all the time. It doesn't matter how the argument is damaging our relationship with the other person, being right is what matters the most. We may be so caught up in the effort to prove we are right that we may not even see what it is doing to the other person. We may even be right but we are wrong in what we are doing. There cannot be division in the Body of Christ:

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. (1 Corinthians 11:17-19)

We should keep in mind that Paul is writing this to the church in Corinth which was a city just south of Athens. Their pastime was discovering and debating new ideas and philosophies. Debates were as common as street hockey is in Canada. But the Church does not function like that. It is not a place to sit around and discuss new ideas, to debate and to prove or disprove in the manner of the world. The Church is an odd place where people of all different backgrounds come together to be as one in our service to Jesus. Unity is highly important for the advancement of God's Kingdom.

Have you ever noticed how the Jews are seen as a people, how the Muslims are seen as a people but Christians are seen as a religion? It is something to ponder as we consider the prayer of Jesus:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

That's you and me Jesus is praying for there. We have failed in this because we have failed to understand that our spiritual journey is not about self-discovery but Christ-discovery. It is about growing up, gaining greater revelation of the Word, of seeing that revelation come through in our actions and words. It is about discovering every day new depths of the love of God which translates into our love for people. It is a growing away from a ego-centered life to a Christ-centered life which brings other people into focus for us. It is gaining a true revelation of "consider others better than yourselves". (Phil 2:3) It is a process just as our natural bodies go through a process of growth. But it is a progress forward, not a stagnation in what little knowledge we gain.

There is no place for division in the Body of Christ and where there is division there is death. Where there is division there is immaturity. Where there is division there needs to be repentance and reconciliation. Division goes against the very nature of God who paid the greatest price for the reconciliation of man to himself. Now that he has paid that price he expects us to pay the price of humility to allow for unity among his children.

We can argue about it all we want but division is the direct result of immaturity and it grieves the heart of the Father. Let's deal with it in our own lives.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Understanding The Role Of Male And Female In The Kingdom Of God

In our modern view of things the Church may be throwing out the baby with the bath water. There are certain attitudes in the past that led to great abuses in the Church and our society. These came from the nature we have to sin, to be self-centered and controlling. Women were often treated as second class citizens and there was great social injustice. This had to be corrected and it is shameful for us as Christians that this change came through society instead of the Church.

However, I think we have allowed that pendulum to swing too far and we are losing the spiritual significance of the roles God set up for male and female. In our desire to correct the injustice we are throwing out the spiritual authority that God has put in place without taking the time to understand its significance. This is also a matter of maturity because it takes some maturity to look past the surface of this issue to get to the necessary depth of understanding. I can't get into all of it in this simple format but perhaps I can nudge you in that direction so you will seek greater understanding.

First of all, we know in the Lord we have equality, there is no one greater than anyone else:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

We must have love and respect for each other as brothers and sisters belonging to one family, regardless of sex or nationality. Specifically concerning male and female the Bible says:

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (1 Corinthians 11:11-12)

It doesn't matter that Eve came from Adam because after Adam the rest of us came from woman. So from Scripture we can see we have a pretty healthy and loving relationship here. Husband and wife are made for each other and fit well together as two pieces designed for each other. Yet, in the Kingdom there is a thing of spiritual authority that has been established and that needs to be respected in order for the blessings of the Lord to flow properly in healthy relationships. This is hard for some people to handle these days but stick with me until we come to the end of the matter:

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)

Spiritually I am the head of my family and provide spiritual covering for my wife. It means I am responsible to serve my family in the sense of Jesus' service or leadership. It is not an authority as understood in this world because it is the Kingdom authority that Jesus demonstrated to us. It is a servant-leadership, not where the man dominants over his wife but instead where he serves her in the same sense that Jesus served us. I am to sacrifice for my wife, pray over her, fight for her, defend her, help her, strengthen her and long for her success. I am to take the spiritual lead by setting an example in devotion and dedication to Jesus. My prayers over my wife are the most significant and have the greater power for everything necessary.

A husband and wife are a team and both bring something different to the table. In some cases the wife may be the more intelligent and the husband more skilled. In other cases the husband is more intelligent and the wife more talented. One could have people skills and the other one lack it. The wife may have a better job and better pay but this does not take away from the spiritual authority and responsibility of the husband to be the covering of his wife. In some cases the wife may have better leadership skills but this does not give her the right to rob her husband of his responsibility. In fact, it is an act of love for the wife to allow her husband to take this leadership as God has given it to him.

This does not make the husband better than his wife but instead recognizes his responsibility in the family. The Bible makes it clear that in Jesus there are no differences and in a good marriage it can be clearly seen that the husband and wife have great love and respect for each other. This is a simple matter of obedience to the order that God has put in place, the same order that finds the Son submitting to the the Father's authority. I hope this is something you will take the time to look into further so that we are not throwing away the will of the Father for the traditions of man. We have been wrong in the past but that does not give us the right to be wrong in our future.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ascribe To The Lord The Glory Due His Name

So how was your day yesterday? And the day before that? How about the one before that? Sometimes we don't think about it as much as we should and other times we think about it too much. But here we are on another Sunday, a day of reflection, of thanksgiving, of celebration as we worship Jesus our Lord. We have arrived on this day with all the baggage we picked up over the last week and probably with some we have been carrying with us for a long time. We need to do something with all this baggage because it is weighing us down.

It is a perfect day to deal with it because it is a day we are focusing on the greatness of our God. It is important that we deal with it because it is getting in our way. We are not here for ourselves. Our stuff was taken care of on the cross; the day we accepted Jesus as Lord all our "things" were swept away. We were told not to pick up any more "things", that we no longer belong here but we have been left here to serve God's purpose. So we are servants and servants don't take care of their own needs, their master does that for them so they are free to serve. That is exactly what Jesus promised us. He told us not to worry about our needs, that our Father will take care of us, but we are to  seek the things of the Kingdom. That means serve.

If we have all this baggage we keep picking up and carrying around with us we get to the point where we are too busy managing it to be able to serve. Serving is when we are occupied with other people, being part of their life. If we don't love people we need to question our love for God. Worshiping, learning and growing are important parts of our lives which keep us focused and healthy but if that is all there is then we are in the wrong. We are here to be an influence for Jesus in people's lives. Plain and simple. So let's take care of this baggage.

We do that by remembering who we serve and giving all the baggage over to him. We probably can't find solutions to them anyway and it is the reason we are carrying them around in the first place. Jesus can find solutions and restore our peace. So, let's remember who he is. The psalmist wrote:

Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, 
   ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; 
   worship the LORD in the splendor of his
 holiness. (Psalm 29:1-2)

Ascribe means to say that it belongs to the Lord, it is his character, to credit him with this thing. The psalmist is saying realize this is who our God is. So, as you stand there with all that baggage confess with your mouth the glory and strength of our Lord. Allow him to be as big, as large, as mighty, as powerful as he is. As you allow him to be that powerful in your life your baggage begins to look pretty small. Compare it to his largeness instead of to your smallness.

We glorify God for everything he has done in the past, for everything we read in the Word, for what he has done in other people's lives but we often fail to glorify him in ours. What has he done in our lives? What has he done for me? How has he helped me in the past? How many times has he rescued me? How faithful to his promises has he been in my life? I need to credit him with these things. I need to credit him the glory due his name because of the many things he has done for me. As I do this I begin to know I can trust him with this baggage I have refused to let go of because he has been faithful with so many things in my life. I now feel overwhelmed with the need and desire to glorify him by trusting him with everything. That's what happens when we truly worship our Lord.

I really like how the psalmist refers to us as "mighty ones". That is very insightful into what we become when Jesus is truly Lord over us, when we trust him with everything and glorify his name in our living a life of trust. We become mighty ones because nothing can shake us or cause fear to reduce us. We are like mighty warriors who are not afraid of the battle because we are confident of the strength of our King. We serve in his army, glad to lay down our lives because it no longer belongs to us. We realize that our lives are for the glory of our King, that we are here to serve and our service is to others. Jesus said that no soldier gets involved in the affairs of civilians. In other words, the normal affairs of this life are no longer the baggage we carry around. We are warriors and we only carry what is necessary for the fight. Let's enter into worship today recognizing all that God has done for us, ascribing to him the glory due his name, and allow him to take the baggage from us so we can be refreshed for the battle.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Life Is Not What We Get Out Of It But What We Put Into It

Wouldn't it be great if life was easy and everything simple? Imagine if all our plans always worked out and everything constantly met our expectations. It would be absolutely fantastic if no one and nothing disappointed us and our hearts were never crushed. That would be great. What a life. What a fantasy. I think it is some time in our teen years that we begin to realize that life will not always be fair and most things will take a lot of work and a lot of times the rewards will turn out a bit less than what we would hope. Teens shouldn't have to face a lot of this stuff but we are all in such a hurry to become adults. We are all in such a hurry to discover that life requires a lot of work.

Even when we are followers of Jesus we have to face situations that develop because of sin. It may not have been from our sin, it could be the direct result of what someone else has said or done. It may not seem fair but it is the hazard of living in a fallen world, riddled with sin and darkness. We need to learn quickly how to survive in this place and still serve Jesus with joy and peace. That's the point; it isn't enough to survive, we are meant to flourish in this environment so that Jesus can be glorified in us. We have to discover in our experience that Jesus knows all about this place, the darkness in contains and is wanting to help us navigate through. Sometimes he is there just to strengthen us to walk through it but we need to understand it isn't about us; it is about those who he sent us to be with.

There may be moments that we have to cry out like the psalmist:

To you I call, O LORD my Rock; 
   do not turn a deaf ear to me. 
For if you remain silent, 
   I will be like those who have gone down to the pit. 
Hear my cry for mercy 
   as I call to you for help, 
as I lift up my hands 
   toward your Most Holy Place. (Psalm 28:1-2)

That is not a point of weakness or a place of lack of faith. That is the point of remembering where our strength comes from. Seriously, it is a difficult place we are in, representing Jesus while dealing with tragedies and situations that arise from sin. Divorce, violence, theft, bullying, bankruptcy, hunger, insecurity, depression, cutting, eating disorders, lostness, all arise from sin, whether it be ours or someone else's. It comes from a place of selfishness and lack of love. There is no need for it but it is a natural part of this fallen world. It comes from the darkness.

There are days these things threaten to overwhelm us and we get a feeling of uselessness. As followers of Jesus we need to protect ourselves from these moments by keeping our fellowship with Jesus alive and fresh. When these things start having an effect on us we have to stop and lift up our hands to him, recognizing he is our strength and he has promised to carry us through. If we try it on our own we will fail and probably make a greater mess. If we trust Jesus, looking to him for strength and direction, it is amazing what he does in it all. This is important because it is how we walk through these moments that reveal our true heart for Jesus to the world. Our real character always shows itself in moments of stress. Before we enter those moments we need to already know the truth of Jesus:

Praise be to the LORD, 
   for he has heard my cry for mercy. 
The LORD is my strength and my shield; 
   my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. 
My heart leaps for joy 
   and I will give thanks to him in song. (Psalm 28:6-7)

These are the truths about Jesus:
     - he always responds to our prayers
     - he is our strength
     - he is our shield
     - we can and must trust him
     - he will help us
     - joy is a state of being for his followers
     - thanksgiving is a natural attitude when we trust him

This is how we have been equipped to go all the way with him. We are living for his glory, taking part in his mission, we are his servants and he is always with us to assist us to serve him well. We should not be surprised at trouble or hardships, they are a nature part of our living in this world. It does not mean that God loves us less but that we are part of his team. We need to change our perspective from trying to get what we can out of live to giving what we can to life. We are here to serve, so let's throw off everything that hinders us from serving and get to work.

The LORD is my strength and my shield; 
   my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What A Terrible Excuse To Say "I'm Not Perfect, Only Forgiven"

How confident are you about your Christian example? Probably not very and that is the reason we try to water it down. We say things like "I'm not perfect, only forgiven". We hear preachers saying "don't look at me, I will fail you. Look to Jesus". We make it sound good but often we are just using these things to cover up our failings. We are saying to people that we are failures as followers of Jesus and we are going to be satisfied in our failures. We should not be looking for excuses. We should be confessing our failures and looking to Jesus' strength and guidance to be exactly like him.

As long as we think it is okay to be "just human" we will never be able to step into the "whole measure of the fullness of Christ". If I fail in my love for my wife by losing my patience or speaking harsh words I don't turn and around and shrug my shoulders and say "oh well I'm not perfect." If I do I won't be married for long. No way. As soon as I realize what I have done I humbly apologize, ask for her forgiveness and shore up my determination to make sure she knows she is the most important person in my life. My goal in my relationship with her is to walk as one and this means that our love must be defined by God's love. I am determined that she will know every day that I love her by my words and actions. That is what our attitude should be like every day with Jesus.

We cannot be content in our failure to walk like Jesus by shrugging our shoulders and saying "I'm only human". First of all, you are not "only human", you have been re-born, you are a new creation and you have been empowered to be exactly like Jesus. Don't excuse your lack of love or your laziness with cute little phrases that are not true. Step up to the bat and dare to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Instead of hiding behind imperfection get out on the training field and allow the Holy Spirit to build you up in Jesus. You are not merely a "man", you are a powerful supernatural creation because of Jesus' power in you. So stop acting human.

Can you imagine telling people to follow your example? Often we say by our actions, especially preachers, "It's my words that are important not what I do. I am only human. Forgiven not perfected." But that is not what the Word says. James wrote:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

In fact, James states that this is how we will have a blessed life:

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25)

I like that image of staring intently into the perfect Word of God. So confident is Paul of God's ability to change and preserve us that he states without flinching something you and I are afraid to say:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

His example of what? He states just before this:

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:32-33)

His example of love. Paul is saying follow his example of love as he follows the example of Christ's love. He writes this not because he is pious but because he has confidence in Jesus' ability to change him to be just like Jesus.

When we cite our imperfections and our humanness what we are really saying is that we do not have confidence in God's promises or his power to change us and that we really don't believe the things we profess as truth. How can we say to the drug addict "Come to Jesus, he has the power to make you new" and then turn around and say "Jesus is not strong enough to change me"? Look to Jesus, we say, but don't look at the mess of my life. No wonder people turn around and tell us to fix our own life first before we try telling them what to do.

No, enough is enough. If we are followers of Jesus people should be able to see it in the way we love, in the manner in which we speak, in how we handle stressful situations, in our priorities, in our faithfulness, in our willingness to suffer anything to honour the name of Jesus. Every time we complain against someone we tear down the name of Jesus. Every time vulgarity comes out of our mouth we are taking away from his glory. Every time we fail in love, kindness, patience, compassion, grace, mercy, tenderness, joy, we take away from Jesus. Every time we allow circumstances to become greater than the joy he has given to us we are failing him. But I am better than this because Jesus is more powerful than this in me.

We need to stop making excuses, stop hiding behind imperfection, stop talking and doing different things. We need to step out in the confidence of Jesus' power to change and strengthen us. We need to apologize for being less than what he has called us to, stare intently into his perfect Word, cast off the things that tangle us and hold us back, and then press on in the holiness he declared over us. Let's live our lives to glorify Jesus, in his strength and power, with the confidence to say to others "Follow my example as I follow the example of Jesus."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Dare You Today To Live A Day Of Mature Love

Between you and me there are some pretty strange teachings going on in the Church. They have been around for decades, coming from the tradition of man but treated as gospel. For some people it is a sin to watch television, go to the movies or attend a dance. I am not saying that these are necessarily healthy activities and participants need to use discernment, but you aren't going to lose your redemption because of it. Then there are things like women not wearing pants, no jewelry, make up or braids. People who teach this lack maturity in the Word and find it easier to live by a law than by the freedom Jesus has given to us.

Jesus revealed the root of the law to us which is love. If we apply God's type of love to everything we do and everything we say then we will find ourselves fulfilling that which the law was intended. It also governs what type of movie we will go to see and what television shows we will watch. If we love God with our entire being we would never want to partake in anything that would dishonour him. Love governs us. It would also reveal how silly man's traditions are. How is it love to not wear make-up or jewelry? Those traditions are superficial and have nothing to do with our purpose.

However, in love, we would never dishonour anyone who is still governed by such traditions. In love we would restrict our own freedom so as not to offend them. If my wife and I were going to spend some time with people who held to these traditions she would not wear make-up or jewelry. She isn't being two-faced about it; she is honouring our friends because of love. The apostle Paul gives us an example:

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake — the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. (1 Corinthians 10:27-29)

When Paul asked Timothy to come along with him and Silas on their missionary journey he asked Timothy to get circumcised. It is not because Paul saw any value in circumcision but because he wanted to honour those to whom they would be ministering. Paul strongly believed that under the new covenant it is our heart that is circumcised. Circumcision had to do with the old covenant and we are now under the new. Yet, out of love and respect Paul was willing to become all things to all people.

I saw an example of this a while back. Some friends had some of my children over for a meal so they could play with their children. I had taken a vow against alcohol so my children never saw alcohol at a meal before. When my friends poured a glass of wine to have with their meal I guess my son's eyes bugged out. My friend noticed and asked if I ever had wine with my meal. When my son said no my friend immediately poured the wine back and put it away. This spoke volumes to me about the man's spiritual maturity and love.

It is a shame that we shout so loudly about loving Jesus and following him but then lose the whole point of his message. Now that we are redeemed we have to become less and Jesus more. Do you understand what that means? It means that life is less and less about me and more and more about other people. Unfortunately most of the time when people accept Jesus nothing changes; we are still putting all our energy into things that benefit us and forget about other people. It is about my rights, my freedoms, my comfort, my possessions, my retirement, my security, my feelings, my desires, my dreams. Yet we still claim to be a follower of Jesus. Believer maybe, but it costs to be a follower. I am not sure that many of us even understand the cost to be willing to offer it up. We worship without sacrifice and we serve in the same manner.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)

Are you looking for a real definition of love? There you go: "not seeking our own good but the good of many".  Try living today with that as your motto and see what happens. I don't mean what happens with the people around you but what happens to your heart and perspective. See what is the true cost of following Jesus. See how much strength you need from the Spirit of God to do it. Guaranteed you will taste what sacrificial love is, the love of Jesus for us, the love that took him to the cross, the love that he said we must have for each other. Stop being governed by man's traditions and start living freely in the governance of God's love. You will know you are getting close when you start living the value of restricting your freedoms for others.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Abuse Has Watered Down The Most Powerful Word In Our Vocabulary

Love is such an abused and misunderstood word. We throw it around in ways that do not honour its importance or significance. We take the most important word in our vocabulary and reduce it to an expression of our appreciation for things, like television shows and cell phones. Yet, what this word represents has the potential to change the world and set people's hearts on fire with real living.

We are not going to find the true power of this word inside of ourselves, as much as we long to see it there. The love that changes things must be planted and grown inside of us. Too often we act as if God wants to do a renovation in us whereas he desires to do a band new construction. The Word tells us we are a new creation, not a rehash of the old. It tells us that the old has gone and the new has come. It is in this new construction that our heart is changed with a new capacity as Jesus empowers us to love as he loved us.

Love exacts a great price from us. It kills our pride, our selfish ambition, our right to be defensive, our ability to be offended, our right to keep score. It provokes us into kindness and patience, into never giving up on anyone. It takes down all our defenses so that we remain vulnerable even though we have been harmed in the past. Love demands vulnerability and a willingness to be hurt again or it is not love at all. But love empowers us to rise above this hurt for the sake of the one we are loving because that is how God's love works.

This is why Paul was able to write to the Corinthians:

“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Paul was most likely quoting a letter they had written to him or perhaps the latest philosophy being debated in Corinth. "Everything is permissible" is often what we hear from the grace abusers as well. "If God really loves me he will understand." That is a very self-serving statement that gives the person the right to do whatever he wants to do. But Paul says we need to better examine our thoughts and actions and measure them against a new measuring rod or a new standard. We need to ask ourselves if this thing is beneficial and constructive.

We could answer yes almost 100% of the time if we make ourselves the center of that question. Is this action beneficial to me? Yes. Is this action constructive to me? Yes. Out of this comes such great philosophies for living as, "Don't let anyone tell you what to do", "live your life as you want", "you have the right to feel that way because of your past". There is a tone in all of these philosophies that comes from the "you are the most important person to you" thinking. But as long as that is in place loving with the love of God is impossible. The truth is the question of "beneficial and constructive" is not focused on us. Paul explained:

Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:24)

That then defines what the Word is saying when we read that not everything is beneficial and not everything is constructive. The focus is not on us but on others. Is the action I am taking self-seeking or is it beneficial to this other person? Are these words I am speaking focused on protecting me or are they constructive for this person? Are my actions and words building people up or is it tearing them down? Sometimes real love has a bit of both where you have to point out destructive behaviour in the ones you love in order to build them up, but it is never done in anger or hatred. Love always speaks with grace.

Now just imagine what your day would look like if you lived this love that Jesus has empowered you to live. Imagine in every situation where you set self aside and acted and spoke for the benefit of the other person. Imagine putting their interests before your own. Imagine if in a dispute you took the time to see it through the other person's eyes and realized that an apology is an easy thing for the benefit of the other person. We certainly would not need a campaign about random acts of kindness; it would be as natural as breathing.

These days as I interact with people I often find myself asking "how important is this person"? The response is usually that this person is the object of God's affection and deserving of love and respect. This then leads me to ask "how can I show love in this situation"? It is amazing how my self-interest dissipates and compassion takes over. I only wish this happened 100% of the time but I am still young, still learning to surrender my all to Jesus. However, I must say, the longer I stare into the love of Jesus the greater my desire to be the new creation he has declared me to be. We still have so much to learn.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are We Victims Of A Great Deception Or Is It Just Another Conspiracy Theory?

I cannot leave yesterday's subject, it is too heavy on my heart. The great deception is well underway and it is frustrating to experience. There are people who honestly believe they are serving the Lord Jesus Christ at the same time justifying their disobedience to him. They are doing wrong but believe they are doing right. They have no excuse because it has been made plain to us, but if they do not hold to the authority of Scripture they are only left to their opinion. We cannot live a life to the glory of God according to our opinion.

I stand by the Word of God. I know how dangerous my opinion can be, how self-centered, focused on my desires instead of the commandment to love God and others. If I had it my way my life would look a lot different than it does now so I praise the Lord he saved me from my opinion. We have been called to a life of obedience not opinion and we need the Scriptures for this. If we believe that we can pick and choose and that we can call holy what God calls unholy, we are in a place of disobedience and great danger.

We read in the Scriptures:

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)

My friends, we are in these last days. It's the "having a form of godliness but denying its power" is what we need to be concerned about and for which we need to check ourselves. The day we begin to excuse our sin as not being sin is the day we need to accept correction from the Spirit. It is easier than you think to fall for this self-deception. The Word of God is under constant attack these days, even by those who claim Jesus as Lord, and if this attack falls into line with something we desire outside of the Word then self-deception is born. The Word continues:

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. (2 Timothy 3:6-8)

Also weak-willed men and weak-willed youth. It is frightening how many people who know the Word are turning from the truth of it. They acknowledge what it says but refuse to accept it as the truth, always having an argument for it and an unwillingness to be swayed back to the Lord's side. And they can't see it. Honestly, they have become blind to it. Some of them know the Word better than I do but they miss the truth of it.

Standing in the truth of the Word is going to cost anyone who decides to do so. They will be called all kinds of names and even the laws of the land will be changed so they can be legally persecuted. There will not be a lot of love from this world for them and even the parts of the Church that has been deceived by their own opinion will join in the attack. Paul told his friend Timothy:

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:12-13)

Paul encouraged his friend to stay true to his calling, to his faith. He knew that the days ahead would be tough and the Spirit has inspired the Church throughout the centuries with these same words as he is inspiring us today:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

It is that last part that is under attack, that the enemy is trying to undermine so that we are only left with our opinion, so that he can convince us to call holy what God calls unholy. It is comforting to hear the exactness of God's Word as we are told of what the dangers will be in the end days. Paul encourages his friend but also warns him:

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

I am repeating myself somewhat from yesterday but this is such a vital message for young and old alike. There is a great apostasy breeding in the Church and it is snatching our youth away from us. It is based on feelings, opinions and self desires. It disguises itself in the authentic, a wolf in sheep's clothing. It says "I know Jesus too, perhaps even better than you". It takes the Father's love and twists it into a great distortion so that evil becomes good, disobedience becomes obedience and the unhloy becomes holy. Listen to Paul's instruction to the Ephesians and use the armour of God to stand your ground against this day of evil. And pray for those who are trapped in this deception, who are not putting up with sound doctrine and are gathering around them teachers who will teach what they want to hear, what matches their opinion. Pray because it is about all we can do.