Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Now What Is This About Attitude? (fasting series)

Fasting is not any easy thing. I find it is not so much the hunger as it is the delight of the taste of food that I miss. I never realize how much I enjoy the taste of food until I have missed 20 or 30 meals. However, I will not allow this to break my resolve to set aside these things for the purpose of being changed and brought closer to the Lord. For me it is not enough not to eat; I want a stronger resolve than this so I carry on life as normal. In fact, I go beyond normal.

I do not avoid food at all while I fast. I sit with my family for all meals and enjoy their enjoyment of the food. Truth be told, I insist on preparing all the meals for my family, baking bread and blessing whoever I may with the extra time on my hands. It is not that I believe I am supper human and I am not trying to prove anything to anyone because it is not always an easy thing to do. The fact is, my fasting has nothing to do with anyone but me and Jesus. I just want to know that my love and dedication for him is real, that I can be resolved to go the distance not matter the adversity and trials I might face. It is not easy but either is our walk with Christ in times of adversity.

I believe that is one of the greatest reminders I receive during my time of fasting; Jesus never said it would be easy to follow him but he still invited us to follow. He even warned us that choosing to follow him would be a choice for a life of adversity but he also promised that he would see us through to the end. Unfortunately, in North America and other parts of the world, we don't live our life that way. We seem to cave with every little trial that comes along. We see it as some personal affront to our person, a trampling of our rights. We fail to understand the spiritual muscle the Lord wants us to develop. We act more like cream puffs than warriors. We want the whole world to know we are suffering and why. Little do we understand that we are robbing God of his glory, that we are saying to the world "My God can't look after me".

Jesus told us that when we fast not to allow our appearance to look as if we are. If you have fasted for longer than a week you know that your appearance begins to change. You become thinner looking. You lose some energy. You may get dizzy spells and may have to turn down some of the more rigorous activities. You start minding the cold. If you want people to know you are fasting it is an easy thing to let them see. Jesus said not to. It is the same with adversity and trials in our lives. Continue on as normal, trusting that our Father will look after everything. Don't go around telling everybody your problems, looking weak and frail, robbing God of his glory by complaining about him. He said he would look after you and he will. Have a little fortitude and resolve to trust his promises, to go the distance, to come out of it with your faith and witness intact. Show Jesus you meant in when you said that you love and trust him. Tell him that when you said that you give him everything you really meant everything. Did you not promise to go all the way? Was that only as long as the sun was shining? And what about attitude? What is the sense of going through the difficulties for Jesus but then rob yourself of the glory of it my complaining or being in a rotten mood?

Psalm 100 exhorts us to worship our God with thanksgiving and praise:

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving
     and his courts with praise;
     give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
     his faithfulness continues through all generations." (Psalm 100:4-5)

Just as apostle Paul told us to always be joyful, we should make this psalm the anthem of all our fastings and in this way maybe we will remember to do this in all adversity and bring God great glory. Yes, I will continue to demand the greatest resolve from me in all things and I will test it in my fasting. I am resolved to go the distance in all things with the Lord. I want to give in as much as the next person but then I remember that Jesus went the distance for me. And I don't want to just do it, I want to do it in style, with laughter, joy and the praises of my Lord upon my lips at all times. He is great and he has done great things; he deserves our very best.

The Solution To The Distracted Life

Have you ever gotten distracted? I see it happen to students all the time. They have a research project to do so they faithfully and diligently turn to their computers to begin. About fifteen minutes into the research they come across a related article, video, perhaps game and they check it out. This leads to another link and then another. About three hours later they realize they haven't accomplished anything on their project. I also know a lot of adults who can relate to this.

Distractions happen when we don't keep our goal in mind or in front of us. If I have ten days to drive across Canada but keep stopping at every interesting site or turning off to go on some grand adventure, I am either going to arrive much later or not at all. Deadlines help a little bit to keep us on track but the goal itself, the destination, the importance of the final product will be the true motivation. If we forget the purpose of the journey then we will probably become distracted.

However, the level of the importance of our goal is also a determining factor for staying on target. If your school project is not worth anything but is only a learning exercise you may have a different attitude toward it than if it was worth 75% of your term. If I have 30 days to complete my trip across Canada with no real importance to completing it I will have a different attitude than if I have 7 days to get to a relatives wedding. Unfortunately some of us on our Christian walk act more like a person on vacation than people who are attending a wedding.

Too many of us have a laid back attitude about the resurrection and our eternity. We act as if it is a second rate goal, something we do not need to keep in front of us, and because that is our attitude we keep getting distracted. We keep allowing other things to pull us off the trail. We wander around aimlessly for a while, realize our mistake, get back on the path and then get distracted again. Can I tell you, our resurrection is a big deal. The shedding of these mortal bodies for the immortal will be a great highlight in our eternity. Entering into God's glory and beginning our real life, one that will surpass all the pleasures of this life by a billion percent, is something we should always keep in front of us. We have a grand destination. Scripture tells us that keeping this in mind, remembering it is our destination should be a motivation to keep on keeping on:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

This life we are living (our journey) is not without purpose or destination. It is not a matter of "eat and drink for tomorrow we die". In fact, this is just a precursor, a small journey we must take before we step into the full extent of God's reality. There is a lot to do along the way on this beautiful journey but we need to stand firm in what we know and in the tasks we have been given. We can't let anything distract us or persuade us to take a detour. We have to fix our eyes on Jesus as he bids us move forward.

The destination is the most important thing but the journey itself is also full of purpose. We have been given work to do along the way by our Lord Jesus. We are told to give ourselves fully to it. This means 100% concentration on the task at hand so we can reach that destination. Unfortunately we are far too distracted. The Lord's work is a hobby, something we work at in our spare time. We have weighed ourselves down with so many things but the Spirit is calling us back to renewal. He is showing us how to get out of the detour and back on the path. He is wanting to lighten the baggage that we have been carrying that slows us down. He wants us to travel light, to not get connected to anything here, to bring along as many people as we can, to send ahead our treasures of good works, kindnesses, acts of love. He wants us to arrive in style, where our Lord will welcome us with a "Well done my good and faithful servant, enter into my rest".

I urge you, examine your journey. Do you have the destination in mind? Do you know what work has been given to you to do? Have you gotten distracted at all? Is there anything that has become more important to you than Jesus himself? What has your attention? What are your priorities? Do they reflect your work, your journey, your destination? Stand form my friends, let nothing move you.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

The Breaking (fasting series)

In this season of fasting something incredible begins to happen; the insignificant begins to fall away and the important things of God begin to rise up. Fasting brings many things into clarity and the fact that we are an unfaithful bride is one of those things. We give ourselves to so many things, compromising without recognizing the compromise. We love our Lord but it's not as pure and wonderful as we may think. So many things have crept in that we take to be normal but when the light of Jesus falls on them we see them for what they are, ugly and unwelcomed. You will be amazed at what some of these things are. You will say, "I didn't realize".

There is a breaking that takes place as we realize what we have done with this relationship and as his glory and holiness grips us in those arms of love; we only what to live for him. We want to let go of everything and throw ourselves into those arms, giving ourselves without comprise, only wanting to see him glorified in our life. You may even feel jealous of the woman in the Bible who poured out her love with the lavish gift of expensive perfume. So many who did not understand this act of love criticized such an abandoning gift but I really don't think she noticed and if she noticed she didn't care. In Mark 14 we see Jesus accept this gift with thankfulness and look how quickly and thoroughly he defends her:

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (vv 6-9)

You better believe it is told. We constantly give her a big shout out, for representing us, our love for our Lord, at such a dark moment. That was an act of complete devotion that told the world to go jump off the cliff because she was going to love him any way she could.

As we draw closer to Jesus in our fasting we too will experience this and be overwhelmed by it. It will come in various forms but it will always provoke a desire to re-dedicate our all to him. His love is so great and ours is so small in comparison but we want to give to him, even if it is as poor as our love. He deserves it. He deserves so much more. He deserves our undying dedication and our full attention. Enough with these distractions and the duplicity of our lives. He said it was all or nothing. He said we could not serve two masters. He said he has done it all for us so that we could serve him with our all. The fast will bring you so close that everything that does not belong to him will become repulsive to you. Let it happen. It's a good thing.

Allow the breaking to come. Allow it to wash over you. Allow the cleansing to be complete. Allow his love to fill every crevice, crack and rough spot until his holiness makes you smooth and beautiful in his image. He is our God and we serve him all our days with all our passion and desire. To God be the glory in our life. Come Lord, be the fire inside of me.

Correction and Unfailing Love

I was in prayer, worshiping the Lord while seeking his wisdom and guidance. My heart was troubled and I did not want it to be troubled. A number of things have not been right lately and I want to get my finger on it, to understand and to correct those things. I want everything to be aligned with God's heart. Generosity has been overwhelming me since the start of my fast. Generosity and grace.

As I prayed I was overwhelmed by his presence and found myself on my face in my kitchen. I was overwhelmed by his peace and a quietness came to my troubled heart. Images began to flash through my mind but I could not focus and what I saw I did not understand. The moment passed and he had me rise and turn to the Word. This is what was read:

"He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long." (Lamentation 3:2)

I was not encouraged by this but neither did it sink deep into my heart. I read:

"He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, 'My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.' I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me." (Lamentations 3:16-20)

Again not an encouragement and again it did not sink deep although I could easily identify with the scriptures. But then I read what caused my spirit to take flight and for my hope to be renewed:

"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'" (Lamentations 3:21-24)

"I will wait for him." I will wait for him. I will wait for the lover of my soul to call to me, to lift me up, to bring me out of this situation, to rescue me. We call to him and wait patiently for him, not struggling in our strength but knowing he is the only one who can meet with us in this need.

"The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."  (Lamentations 3:25-26)

But while we wait on the Lord let us follow the direction given to us. Let us seek him with all our heart, an openness to be examined and corrected:

"Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: 'We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven.'" (Lamentations 3:40-42

Only, we do know that he forgives. Through Jesus we are covered by his mercy and grace. If only we would turn our face, our hearts to him, to look upon his glory and understand where we have wandered from his path, his direction and his purpose. Nothing is hidden from the Lord but everything is forgiven when we turn back to him. Let us lift up Holy Hands and worship him with all our passion and strength, confessing our sins and waiting on him for our rescue.

You are faithful Lord and we trust you. We empty ourselves to you and seek your council, your direction, your purpose for us. We believe Lord in your unfailing love. Here we are, we stand with our arms wide open, to the One, the Son, the everlasting God.

God Has A Plan And You Are In It

Way back in the beginning, in the garden where God had placed Adam, he gave him one rule: don't eat from the tree of knowledge. The fruit of this tree would bring man into the awareness of good and evil, would destroy this wonderful place of innocence. He had also warned Adam that to eat from this tree would bring death. God had created man with this wonderful ability to think for himself, to make choices, to have his own will. Unfortunately Adam and Eve exercised this gift in choosing to disobey this one rule.

That choice did bring death on two levels. One was the physical death that we all now have to face. Only Enoch and Elijah escaped this experience but everyone else from Adam on down has had to face the consequence of this choice. The other death was the death of that innocence and the wonderful relationship there was between God and man. A barrier now existed where God had to separate himself from this creation that was now tainted by sin. I can only imagine what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to go from that wonderful place of innocence and intimacy with God to the harsh, cold reality of being removed from God's presence.

Unfortunately this was lost on the generations to follow. God was unknown to them. They knew there was someone but they did not know who. They were not even aware of what they were compared to what God had desired them to be. So God raised up a people who would belong to him, so that through them he could reveal himself to all the nations. He gave these people a law, a most holy law, so that they could understand what they were in comparison to where he wanted them to be. He knew they could not live by this law because it was perfect and they weren't, so he gave them a temporary system of sacrifice that would allow God to forgive them. This was important so that he could dwell with them. Without this forgiveness they could not experience the blessing of his presence. All of this was so that his glory would be seen by all the nations. But it was a temporary solution while he worked on the final fix.

The final fix was for God to remove what caused the barrier in the first place, the sin of the disobedience. This was impossible for man to do for himself so God would have to do it for him. It was a complicated thing because a sacrifice had to be made so the barrier could be removed but it had to be a sacrifice that was not tainted with sin and, unfortunately, everything in creation was tainted. Only God himself was without sin, so the Father sent the Son on this very important mission, to rescue man from his own destruction.

Yet, this plan could not be forced on man; God would not take away man's free will. He had to be given a choice. So Jesus came and lived an example of how to live a life by the Spirit of God while still clothed in mortality. Then he became the sacrifice so that man could receive forgiveness and have the barrier removed, if he so chose. But that was not the end of the plan because there was still the matter of the consequence of sin which was death. Jesus was then raised from the dead, breaking the barrier of death, making a path for those who would follow him, so that man could be clothed in immortality again. This put an end to the two deaths that resulted from Adam's sin. It has made it possible for us now to say:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54)


“Where, O death, is your victory?    Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

We can say this because Jesus dealt with this with one mighty blow. He brought us out from underneath the perfect law that condemned and placed us under grace which promises life. We did not earn or deserve this rescue and we have paid nothing for it. It was a direct gift from God, by his grace which sprung from his love. The Scriptures say:

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:56)

Because Jesus brought us from under the law and has covered us by grace, sin no longer has any power over us. We have been set free. Now because sin is powerless it means that the sting has been removed from death. There is no longer any defeat in death because Jesus has taken victory over it, so we no longer die in sin but instead sleep in Christ until he comes to call us to him in the great resurrection. Can you imagine the celebration on Resurrection Day? God is good. How can we not spend our days praising the name of the one who has brought us such great victory? Praise the name of Jesus from now to evermore for only he is worthy to be praised! Today, this very day, we enjoy the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and experience the presence of the LORD God Almighty. Thank you Jesus!

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

What Does A Fast Change, If Anything? (fasting series)

Do you mind if I ask you a personal question? Why are you fasting? No, I am being serious. What are you hoping to get out of it? Some people do it to lose weight even though fasting in the Body of Christ is a spiritual matter. Others fast because they want something from God? They want to earn his favour or twist his arm to get what they want. Fasting is neither of these, and if it is for you, you may find yourself complaining like this lot:

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, 
‘and you have not seen it? 
Why have we humbled ourselves, 
and you have not noticed?’ (Isaiah 58:3)

Of these people God said:

For day after day they seek me out; 
they seem eager to know my ways, 
as if they were a nation that does what is right 
and has not forsaken the commands of its God. 
They ask me for just decisions 
and seem eager for God to come near them. (Isaiah 58:2)

But God sees more than intention, he also observes the fruit of our heart. They may have been fasting and seeking to come closer to him but their action toward others during their fast showed anything but a heart for God:

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers. 
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
(Isaiah 58:3-4)

If our fast is not changing who we are, bringing us closer to our Lord, allowing our heart to be changed to be more like his, then we are wasting our time and sacrifice. God asks this question of us:

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)

What kind of fast do you consider would be acceptable to the Lord? One that has benefit for our eternity, one the brings us more into line with his heart, one that changes us:

“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?
  (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Consider for a moment what you want from this fast. Consider your motives and desires. Honestly, what do you want from this? If there is an selfishness or manipulation involved then either change your heart or quit the fast. We can't earn anything from God. Everything comes from his point of grace. The greatest thing we can desire for ourselves is a heart like Jesus and if fasting opens me up to this change then I will fast. That is the purpose of fasting, to be changed so that we would desire and understand the will of God. If we enter into it with this purpose, to be changed, he tells us things are going to happen:

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness 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 58:8-9)  
Isn't that our great desire, to hear the voice of God say to us "Here am I". Open our eyes Lord! We can't live without your presence.

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Are You Sure You Want To Hear From God?

Have you ever desired to hear from God directly on something you were facing? Perhaps it was something of such great importance that you wanted to hear directly from him because you feared making a mistake. Did you listen and actually follow his directions or do you think he just didn't bother with you? He actually answers us every time, it's just that most of the time we don't like the answer.

In the book of Jeremiah we see our human tendency to not really want an answer from God. To make a long story short, the king of Babylon had taken most of Jerusalem into captivity but left an Israelite in charge to give guidance to the remnant. Some other Jews, who had fled to other countries, came back and killed this man, even though he was a good man. The few Jewish solders who were left tracked down and killed the murderers. Now they had a problem; what were the Babylonians going to do when they discovered the man they had put in charge was killed?

This is when they turned to Jeremiah and asked him to inquire of the Lord for them, as to whether they should stay in this promised land given to them by God or hide away in Egypt. They said to Jeremiah:

“May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the LORD your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the LORD our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the LORD our God.” (Jeremiah 42:5-6)

Sounds great, right? Sounds great if you think God is going to respond with what you want. The problem comes when God doesn't want you to do what you want to do. They really wanted to go to Egypt but God told them to stay. He promised them if they stayed he would bless them, protect them and they did not need to fear the Babylonians. It really wasn't what they wanted to hear. In fact, he told them if they didn't stay they would be killed in Egypt. He told them the thing they feared happening where they were would follow them to Egypt and it would happen there. Can you guess how they reacted? Of course their fear won out and they blamed the messenger:

“You are lying! The LORD our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’ But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 43:2-3)

Yes, this is our typical response and is the reason we think we don't hear from God when we inquire of him. What a foolish people we are. We tend to always allow our fear to speak louder than anything God has to say. We don't really want to know God's will, we only want him to rubber stamp what we have already decided to do. When he responds to us we twist and turn what he says so that it ends up being in our favour and we convince ourselves it is what he wants.

If we really want to hear from God we need to throw out all our ideas, thoughts and opinions and come to him with a blank sheet for him to write on. Before we approach him with our inquiries we should ask ourselves what is more important to us, what we want or what God wants? Don't answer that too quickly. You may even want to take a few days to ponder the question. We have a long list of our own plans, ideas, dreams, desires, but to truly follow Jesus we have to die to all of these, to what we think is logical and instead go with the direction of the Spirit.

Of course it only made sense that these solders would flee to Egypt with the remnant of their nation and try to protect them from harm. But God does not work according to our logic. He told us through the prophet Isaiah that our thoughts are not his thoughts. He doesn't operate according to our logic or feelings. He operates according to his unfailing love, his grace and his power. So if you are asking God for direction today make sure you are actually willing to be obedient to it. "Not my will but yours be done."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Don't Leave Out The Conversation (fasting series)

With fasting it is important that we do not make the fast the focus of this precious time we have set aside in consecration with God. We must not focus on what we have given up but instead on what it is we are doing in the place of that thing. Perhaps we are fasting food, maybe just animal products, perhaps sugar, television, FaceBook or any number of other things. The reason  we are doing this is to try to remove some distractions from our life so that we are able to more fully concentrate on God. We want to draw as close as we can to him, to hear his voice without the filter of the distractions. So the last thing we want to do is forget about God.

I have written previously about the importance of God's Word in our fast but let us not forget prayer either. That is a tragic waste of time and of a precious sacrifice if we leave out such an important part of our fast, our conversation with God. This is the private, intimate time we have with Jesus, that is referred to as our closet time:

"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:6)

Public prayer is great, both encouraging and powerful, but our time alone with the Lord is precious and comforting. It is the time to express love and seek forgiveness. It is the time of breaking and building up. Jesus told us to make sure it was not a time of silly babbling, a repeating of words that mean nothing:

"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:7-8)

Jesus told us there needs to be certain elements to our conversation but he did not intend for us to repeat a prayer that has no meaning to most people who repeat it. Didn't he just say not to do that? He did say to include worship, a desire for God's will over our own, an explanation of our needs, repentance and petition for others, as well as protection as we do his work. Too many of us are too busy with his work to actually take the time to fast and pray. This needs to change. How can we be in ministry, doing his work with no connection or at best a fleeting connection every day? We need intimacy. He longs for intimacy. Fasting is a great tool to open the door to this greater level of intimacy.

Make sure your fasting is not simply a physical thing like a diet and don't let it become a mechanical sacrifice that is void of purpose. Along with your fast dwell in his Word and spend lots of time in conversation. Fasting is all about better intimacy with Jesus.

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Fasting With The Bread Of Life (fasting series)

What is a fast without the Word of God and prayer? The answer, is a diet. We need to fast in the same way we need baptism and communion. None of it has anything to do with our salvation but everything to do with obedience and relationship.

Fasting has no power in of itself but it is a tremendous instrument in changing us so that we are better focused on the lover of our soul. Now who wouldn't want that? But like the psalmist, we have to have a hunger and longing for the Word of God. Instead of filling our bellies with food, we are taking the time to fill our spirit on the Bread of Life.

Reading and studying the Word of God should never be a chore for those who love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, should and strength. It is our sustenance. And we say with the psalmist:

"I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word." (Psalm 119:15-16)

As you fast, draw close to God by dwelling in his Word. Listen carefully to what he has to say directly to your heart. Don't allow your fast to be considered a diet but instead allow it to be what it is intended for, an instrument to hear clearly from God.

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Radical Christianity - Is There Any Other Kind?

There seems to be a real disconnect in this age of mass marketing Christianity as to what it means to "follow" Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is not a convenient thing. At times it is not even a pleasant thing but it is always a joyful thing that is marked by daily surrender. Unfortunately people do not understand this because much of our spiritual understanding is now mixed with the spiritual understanding of the world. We are so full of humanism now that we find ourselves agreeing when people quote "We are the masters of our own destiny".  The only sense that this can be true for anyone is that Jesus has given us a choice of our destiny but we are masters of nothing.

The prophet Jeremiah very simply confessed to God:

"I know , O Lord, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps." (Jeremiah 10:23)

If believers could understand this to be truth there would be a lot less anxiety, fear and worry in existence. Jesus spoke the only reality that we should understand as followers, the only option there is for us:

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:33)

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (Luke 9:24-25)

I hear people talk about radical living and radical Christianity. Is there any other kind? If these quotes aren't clear enough then try this:

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

The emphasis there is mine. But get what follows next:

"When Christ, >>>>> WHO IS YOUR LIFE <<<<< appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:4)

You can't be a follower of Jesus if he is only part of your life. Jesus has to be your life. He has to be the reason for you breathing, thinking, talking and doing. He has to be the very essence of life to you. We have to be able to say with Paul:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

"I no longer live." Say that a few times and let the reality of it sink to the depth of you consciousness. There is no part time Christian or partial Christian or "I go to church" Christian. It is either all or nothing. And it isn't a sentiment. It is a radical change, a new birth, a death to self. That means everything we do must have purpose in Jesus, directed by Jesus. We do not get to control our life. We don't get to decide. It is as Jeremiah said: "A man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps."

What does this mean for you? A lot. But the exact details are only discovered as we live a daily surrendered life. We do a lot of things in our life every day that are still focused on us. It is habit. We have to ask the Spirit's help in breaking those habits. Our life is not our own, it belongs to Jesus and we must be living for his purpose. Examine your day and see what you do for your own gratification, what has nothing to do with Jesus whatsoever, how you are wasting this life you are suppose to be living in and through Jesus. Remember, you have been crucified with Jesus and the only life you have is the one Christ lives in you. To this world, the only Christian life there is is a radical one. Remember, you no longer live, it is Christ who lives in you.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Resolved To Go The Distance (fasting series)

As I read through the book of Daniel again I am struck by the very first chapter. It is something that I believe would help us today improve our service to our Lord:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. (Daniel 1:8)

For whatever reason Daniel was given not to take part in the rich foods of the royal court. This is a type of fasting and Daniel was resolved that he would serve the Lord even in this place according to what was laid on his heart. Do we really think that would have been an easy thing? All that choice food and wine, rich in its appearance and aroma? But Daniel was resolved.

We could use a lot of resolve in our walk with Jesus these days. Far too many of us are allowing ourselves to be "defiled" as we are attracted to the richness of sin and distraction. There is very little resolve in us to give all of ourselves to God. I think we believe we can do it on a payment plan or something, giving a little bit every day until our account is paid up. But this is not what the Lord has called us too.

There are certain things in our life that reveal the lack of discipline and resolve in us and one of those things is the discipline of fasting. Perhaps you have never gone there and perhaps you see no need for it. That is the current attitude of the Church that not everything is necessary that we read in the Word, but I find it in great men of faith like Daniel, in the prophets and even in our Lord Jesus Christ. Our problem is that our lack of resolve in this reveals the lack of resolve in our walk in Jesus Christ. The Christian walk is not a flimsy thing that you can drop off and pick up where you want to. If you want to be used of God, to be convinced of the presence of Jesus and overwhelmed by the power of the Spirit we must learn the discipline of going the distance and serving in the hardest of circumstances. Discipline, resolve, sticktoitness is what we are missing.

Yet, even in this God's grace covers us. Where we are lacking he will provide. If you simply put your hand to it, determined to go all the way, he will enable you to go all the way with him. You will be known as a person who goes the distance. Even if you have failed in this in the past he will make you capable today. You can do it because he enables you to do it. Let's be a people of resolve. Let's set aside the things that defile and seek his will in everything in our lives.

Sorry, I Thought You Said You Trust God

Sometimes we don't have to say very much about God's Word, it speaks for itself:

Cursed is the one who trusts in man, 
   who depends on flesh for his strength 
   and whose heart turns away from the LORD. (Jeremiah 17:5)

It is the ongoing message of the Scriptures; trust in man and you are doomed to misery and failure. Often we make plans or have ideas that we think will please the Lord but they come from our own wisdom. We even declare God's Word thinking it means one thing in our flesh but when we are tested in it we discover that either it wasn't what we thought or that we weren't really living it in the first place. How can a man say that he "loves Jesus and will follow him even to death" one day and the very next day be lost in despair and fear over something to do with the flesh? Either God is God or he isn't. Either he is in charge or he isn't. Either we are believers or we are not.

Who are we trusting, God or man? God or ourselves? God or our bank account? God or our employment? The Word is not gentle with those who say they trust God but trust man instead, who turn from the Lord and lose themselves in the despair of the flesh:

He will be like a bush in the wastelands; 
   he will not see prosperity when it comes. 
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, 
   in a salt land where no one lives. (Jeremiah 17:6) 

That is not God's choice for us but instead the result of our poor choices, to rely on our flesh. However, it is a completely different situation for those who do trust God, even when it looks like death is what is waiting for us. Maybe it's not that drastic. Maybe it is only a broken heart or lost employment but those things can feel like death. Yet look at what the Word says is the result for those who choose to trust:

But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,    whose confidence is in him. (Jeremiah 17:7)

He calls us blessed. And for good reason. Realize what is promised to those who trust:

He will be like a tree planted by the water 
   that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
   its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
   and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:8)

Do you see that? The man who trusts in the Lord, who continues as he must, who continues in his place of witness, who allows joy to be his attitude, will never fail to bear fruit. Our roots will always be in Jesus Christ who will sustain us in all kinds of circumstances. We will not fear the heat, we will be kept green, full of life and we will have no worries in the time of drought, during difficult circumstances.

It comes down to choice. In our times of crisis our "knee jerk" reaction tells us a lot about our character, the condition of our heart. To come back after a blow is good but to stand up under it with joy is far better. To return after running away shows good character but to not run away in the first place shows mature character. To trust at all times is a sign of maturity, a sign of mature love. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him!

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To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain

I realize I have been harping on the same subject now for a number of days but it is an important subject. It is so important that when we start living its reality much of our perspective is changed. Eternity is real and we will be part of it. The resurrection is real, Jesus defeated death and the resurrection of those asleep in Christ is set. We will not be going into his glory as we are, we have to be changed. When we realize that what we are heading for, the things of this world start to become pretty dull and boring; our problems begin to look pretty small.. As we gain an eternal perspective our priorities in this place begin to change and they must because they are really messed up right now.

Let's start with the fact that what we are right now cannot inherit eternity. First our hearts must be completely reborn. We are not talking about a renovation job, I mean a complete refit. The old is cast aside and the new is installed. Jesus referred to it as a second birth. Then our minds must also be renewed. This can only happen with a new heart. So everything is being redeemed, brought into alignment with God. The slavery to sin is broken as our sin nature is overcome by the power and forgiveness of God. It is still around but it does not have the control over us as it once did. It no longer dictates to us. However, there is still a major stumbling block.

Our heart and mind are made new but they are still housed in this weak flesh that we have. It is why Jesus said that our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak. It is why apostle Paul spoke of disciplining the body, keeping it in check, making it answerable to our spirit. The Scriptures teach that in submission to the spirit our bodies can be used to glorify Jesus Christ. Paul describes them as jars of clay:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Clay jars were cheap and disposable. When you look at how fragile our life is, how easily it is ended and how these bodies are discarded, and the fact we are made from the dust of the earth, clay jars is a fitting term. But they will not be coming with us into eternity. They serve a purpose now but just as our hearts and minds have been transformed so will be our bodies. They have to be:

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:53-54)

When Jesus was resurrected he appeared in his resurrected state to well over five hundred people. He entered locked rooms, ate with people, walked with them, spoke with them, they touched him yet he appeared different to them. Mary did not recognize him until he spoke her name. The two disciples on their way to Emmaus did not recognize him until he did something they were very familiar with. These clay jars of ours will be replaced by the imperishable and immortal.

Always keep in mind that Jesus came not only as the sacrifice for our sin but as the seed to what we will be. He showed us how to live a life in this body under the power of the Holy Spirit. What he did we can do too and what he was we are by the Holy Spirit. He was also the fore runner, the first born, the one who blazed the trail for us. He went ahead of us and destroyed the power of death. The cross meant forgiveness in this place but the empty grave means eternity with God. Jesus made it all possible. Although we serve here with all that we are, our focus, our longing needs to be eternity. If that is where our focus is we will do everything in this place that we can to bring God glory. Heaven is where we are to store our treasure and that is what makes life here tolerable. In all that you face and do today remember that Jesus has given us greater victory than we can presently grasp and also remember this scripture to keep it all in perspective:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Have You Prepared What You Are Taking With You When Jesus Calls?

Are you ready? Seriously, are you ready? So often we get ourselves ready for vacations, exams, even for emergencies. Here in Canada intelligent drivers carry a winter emergency kit in their car, just in case. We are also encouraged to have at least a three day supply of food and water on hand at all times in our homes. Students spend long hours in preparation for their exams. Parents spend nine months in preparation for the arrival of their baby, with eager anticipation. There are so many things that we spend time preparing for so shouldn't we also be preparing for eternity?

In fact, Jesus instructed us to be doing just that, preparing for the life to come:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

We are pretty distracted from what I can see, too busy storing up treasures here to give much consideration to the life to come. We allow worries, fears, anxieties, busyness, and plans all centered on self to distract us from the vehicles for storing up treasures in heaven, which are summarized by loving God and your neighbour. Paul gave this instruction to Timothy:

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:18-19)

The reason it is important is because we have not been given the departure date. We have no idea when it will be time to go but we do know one thing, we aren't taking anything with us except those things we have sent on ahead of us. Our "treasures" will be waiting for us but everything else will be left behind to be destroyed:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:50)

All those things that you have worked so hard for, all those treasures in this place, even the hard work you put into being physically beautiful will all be gone. It's going to happen so quickly you won't have time to pack a bag or even prepare yourself. You need to be prepared to go at every moment of every day:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

In a flash we will all be changed so that we can take the voyage; so that we can move from this life into what is real life. All our tiny problems, useless plans, wrong priorities will be left behind. There will be no time for preparation so we must make sure that every moment of every day our goal is to know Jesus more, to love our neighbour as ourselves. Now is the time to be storing up those treasures, those acts of kindness, the acts of love and compassion. Now is the time to go as deep as we can with Jesus so that our heart fully belongs to him. Now is the time because when that trumpet blows our time will be up. When it does blow I think we will realize how much time we wasted on things that have no importance. Perhaps it is better for us to evaluate that now and make the changes that are necessary so that we are investing in eternity instead of in this temporary land of shadows.

Are you ready?

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Body To Match The Beauty Of Our Spirit

It is sad that so many people are bent on making life a dull existence. The "eat and drink for tomorrow we die" group want everyone to believe that "here and now" is all there is. Look around, this is all you get so make the most out of it. No wonder there are people who choose to end their life if there is no hope beyond this. Who would want to live knowing that there is absolutely no meaning to anything? You are born, you struggle with life, you die. I am thankful we know the truth of the matter.

Praise our wonderful Father that this is not all there is. Since the dawn of time man has worshiped that which is beyond him, even if he struggled to know what that was. He could see God all around him but he could not know him until God made himself known, which he did at the time of Moses. He birthed a nation to represent him to the world, so that he could glorify himself through them and draw all the nations to him. Unfortunately Israel wanted to keep God all to themselves but that didn't stop God and his plan to reconcile the world to him. So he sent Jesus. We know the plan and we are thankful today for that plan but my point is that there is more to us and to life than what we see. We are more than flesh. Our flesh only houses the greater part which is spiritual.

There is more than what we see and Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." (1 Corinthians 15:44) Even followers of Jesus sometimes act like there is nothing more than this as they desperately try to build a life for themselves with all the comforts they can manage. But consider a moment what we have to look forward to. How many of you are suffering from diseases or perhaps birth defects. These are natural to this sin burdened life. Disease and defects are all a result of the fallen state of this world. Our bodies are weak, frail, and susceptible to temptation. But God has a plan to redeem our bodies along with our heart and mind:

So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:45-49)

I get excited about this by many of us don't, dismissing it as uninteresting as we pursue whatever comfort we can here. I am looking forward to it because I will finally be able to shed the thing that hinders me from expressing the full joy that I feel. Sure I can sing, dance and shout now, but imagine what we will be able to do with our spiritual body. Imagine how much more beautiful we can sing the praises of our Lord with this spiritual body. Presently I do not have a good singing voice but in our perfect spiritual bodies we will all have great voices. We will have endless energy to dance, shout, leap with the praises of our God. Right now I get tired, I have to sleep. My voice gets sore, my legs weak. I have limits. But not with the spiritual body we will be receiving.

I realize it is hard to imagine but just try for a moment. This spiritual body that will be ours at the resurrection will be absolutely perfect. No blemishes, no eating disorders, no diseases, no concern about beauty or of growing old. There will be no dieting, plastic surgery, beauty contests, ugly comments. There will be no lose of energy, sleepless nights, aches or pains. We will be fully transformed and redeemed with a body created to last for eternity. When God looks upon us now that is how he sees us because he has already declared it. We are now only waiting for the appointed day for it to be done.

Please, when you look in the mirror don't look at the temporary shell we have been given but look at what God has declared and planned for us. See yourself with God's eyes. You will soon have a body that matches the beauty of your spirit and most importantly we will be just like Jesus. What we have is temporary, in seed form and when we are buried, as if dead, that seed will be transformed into the beauty of God's design. So rejoice, God has a plan and you are included in it.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eat And Drink For Tomorrow We Die

Spiritual maturity comes with understanding and accepting the full plan of God. Some people live as if this is all we are getting. They may follow Jesus but feel cheated if their life is more difficult than someone else's. We have this attitude that we need to eat and drink today because tomorrow we die. What foolish people to think that what we are experiencing here is of any value compared to what we are maturing towards. This place is a brief staging area for the eternity Jesus is preparing us for.

If we could understand what will happen with the resurrection I think many of our attitudes would change in this place. We would be less concerned about what we don't have and we would be less bothered by any troubles we have to live through. Paul expressed it this way:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17) 

If we are bothered and disturbed by the things of this life it means we are too attached to it and may not understand what is coming. It is like those who are afraid of death. They don't want to experience death because they are too in love with this life. They have yet to realize that death is simply the door to the eternity that has been planned for us. In fact, to call it death is not a correct term for Christians as we know that we are simply falling asleep in Christ until his return. And what a return it will be.

Have you stopped to think about the resurrection and the new body you will receive? This body we have, this flimsy vessel, so weak and prone to sin is only a seed to be planted so that the eternal body may be born from it. The Scriptures are clear in regards to our eternal body:

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. (1 Corinthians 15:36-38)

We fret so much over this temporary thing that houses us. We regret that we were made too short or too tall. We try to measure the beauty of it but we are always seeing the imperfection. We try to convince ourselves to "love the skin you're in" as if this is all we will ever have. Well, this skin grows old, it only lasts so long. It will have pimples and blemishes when it is young and it will be wrinkled when it is old. It is susceptible to disease, it requires lots of attention to remain healthy. If we abuse it it will break down and cost our society tonnes of money. It is described as a clay vessel because at that time clay was cheap, weak and disposable. Yet we waste so much time on it. It's just temporary folks, disposable, a seed to be planted to become what we were intended for:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

This is our reality! This body and this place is temporary for us. This perishable, dishonoured, weak, natural body is going to be reborn, transformed just like our heart and mind so that it is imperishable, glorified, powerful and spiritual.

So stop living the attitude of "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die". That is the attitude of those who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It is the attitude of those who do not have faith in Christ. It is the attitude of those who believe that "this" is all there is so enjoy it while you can. Don't be one of those people, it is a sad life. Instead, invest what you have been given. Store up for yourself treasures in heaven. Spend your life in service to the King, not worrying about the distractions this world has to offer. Live in such a way that you show that this world is only a shadow of what has been promised to us, so to die is gain for us. To die is to plant that perishable seed so that it becomes the imperishable in Christ. Live your life to the fullest in Jesus and stop worrying that you are missing out on something. The best is yet to come.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Why Is Life So Complicated?

So much noise. So many voices. So many distractions. It's a wonder we can hear God's voice at all as we overcrowd our life and complicate it beyond anything reasonable. It would be interesting to make a list of all the essential things and activities in our day and then make a list of all the non-essential. I wonder which would be the longer list? I wonder if we would be able to tell the difference between the two? No wonder we are getting the philosophies and ideas of the world so mixed up with God's Word.

Every day I am hearing or reading things from Christians that come directly from the current thinking in the world system. "Believe in yourself." "You can do anything you put your mind to." "If you think you can, you will." Yet, until we realize our total fallen state and that we have nothing of any worth to offer Jesus, we will not be able to fully accept his grace, mercy and compassion. As long as we believe that there is some good in us God can do nothing for us. We have to realize that Jesus must and has done it all for us, that there is nothing we can do for ourselves, before we will begin to understand the extent of his love for us and everyone else.

Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:34)

There are two parts to this. First of all we need to come back to our senses and stop sinning. The problem with the Corinthians is that they had started twisting the gospel Paul had brought to them. They started rejecting the fact of the resurrection. They were philosophers and they loved talking about new ideas and new religions which they would then take on or reject. Somehow they were allowing the philosophies to dilute the truth of the gospel. Not unlike today as we pick and choose from a whole grocery store of thoughts, ideas, and life philosophies. Instead of sticking to the clear Word of God we are creating our own beliefs from bits and pieces of everything that tickles our ears.

Second, these people were distracted from their purpose. Instead of doing what God has called us all to do they were distracted by their great debates and discussions. They preferred to sit around and talk about the gospel instead of actually doing the gospel. Paul said it was to their shame that some people were still ignorant of God. Isn't that crazy? It's like working at a grocery store and spending all day discussing the best way of stocking the shelves without actually stocking the shelves. It is great that we have opportunities to study the Bible but the Bible is more than a piece of literature to be discussed and studied; it is an instruction manual that tells us what we are suppose to be doing. The most important thing for us to be doing is getting out of our churches and into life so we can share the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are complicating our lives whereas God has made it simple for us. You have not been saved for your own pleasure but so that you could be used as an instrument in someone else's salvation. We have not been left in this place to chase after the things of the pagans, to pursue our own entertainment and pleasures but instead to live for Jesus by serving other people. It's all about getting your head screwed on right, coming back to your senses, to stop sinning, to stop making life about you and instead making life about Jesus and others. Examine your day, cut out the non-essentials and see what you are left with. Then start filling your day with the purpose of your life. Remember, you died to yourself and now you live in Jesus. Without him you have no life. As Paul stated, Jesus is our life and we live for his purpose, not our own.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

God Has A Plan

It is easy to forget in this world that God has a plan and we are part of it. Sometimes we may wonder what God is doing as we see so much ugliness, hatred and injustice in the world. At times it seems so out of control and we may even be tempted to say, "Where are you God?" It's at these times we need to take a step back and remember some of the big picture.

Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the farmer who planted good seed and the enemy who came in and planted weeds? When the farm workers realized what had happened they asked the farmer if they should pull up the weeds. Makes sense, right? But the farmer told them to leave the weeds and the good seed to grow together because pulling up the weeds might damage the seed. He told them at the harvest they will separate the good from the bad. That's the big picture we need to remember.

This is the reason Jesus told us not to be afraid of the world because he had overcome it. He told us that there would be bad things because we are left to grow among the weeds, but he would strengthen us to go all the way. This was the same encouragement Paul was telling us when he told us to run the race to win, to go to the end of it. Our responsibility is to not allow the weeds to overwhelm us but instead to remember we are the good seed and we must go to the end of it to see God's justice. Don't let the evil, the hatred, the ugliness take away God's glory from you, he has a plan.

The good seed says together:

For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD; 
   I sing for joy at the works of your hands. 
How great are your works, O LORD, 
   how profound your thoughts! (Psalm 92:4-5)

We do not fret over evil but instead we fix our eyes on the maker of heaven and earth and trust his plan. We are not overcome by evil but instead we overcome evil with good. We allow his light to shine through us with love and are determined never to take glory away from that light by allowing sin to overwhelm us. We do not belong to the weeds, we are of a different nature. We know the full story. We know how it ends:

The senseless man does not know, 
   fools do not understand, 
that though the wicked spring up like grass 
   and all evildoers flourish, 
they will be forever destroyed. (Psalm 92:6-7)

It doesn't matter if the weeds seem to be winning or taking over. It doesn't matter if we seem to be outnumbered a thousand to one or even a million to one. It doesn't matter if our whole society slips into the anarchy of godlessness, Jesus Christ is still going to win, has already won, has snatched victory away from the enemy. If you have read the book then you know you have a choice to remain a weed or be transformed into the seed and if you have read the book then you know which will be victorious in the end.

No matter what we have to grow up with, the good seed can rejoice because God has a plan and together we proclaim:

But you, O LORD, are exalted forever. (Psalm 92:8)

This is what we know to be the truth, the promise we have been given because it is the plan of our Lord and nothing can come against him. This is his plan for us and because of it we gather to rejoice today:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, 
   they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; 
planted in the house of the LORD, 
   they will flourish in the courts of our God. 
They will still bear fruit in old age, 
   they will stay fresh and green, 
proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; 
   he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psalm 92:12-15)

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Let Us Keep In Step With The Spirit

Sometimes I worry that with all our vision and planning in the Church we are sending the wrong message to our youth. Scripture makes it clear that we are to be attached to nothing in this place. We who are controlled by the Spirit should have the freedom to come and go as the wind. We are to take our direction from the Spirit, sometimes through visions and dreams and other times from what the Spirit lays on our heart through the Word. Too often  we move ahead with plans because they seem good and reasonable. Good and reasonable does not mean they are the will of God. I can do a lot of good things in my flesh, powerful things, great things but good, powerful and great are not always what God desires. Sometimes he wants simple and steady.

For too long we have taken our lead, even submitted ourselves to the the teachings of men and women who have fashioned the Church after business principles. This has led to some success in numerical growth but in the Kingdom we are not interested in such growth if there is no spiritual growth to accompany it. As a people of the Spirit of God we can fully understand the psalmist as he wrote:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
   will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, 
   my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)

That is the experience that we live every day, or at least we should. Instead we have large segments of the Church that look no different from the world as people are overwhelmed by fear, worry and anxiety which leads to physical and mental illnesses. The only thing I can conclude is that we are doing this wrong. God is who he is but are we who we are suppose to be? First of all it might help if we took our counsel from the Word of God and the Holy Spirit instead of the wisdom of man:

Stop trusting in man, 
   who has but a breath in his nostrils. 
Of what account is he? (Isaiah 2:22)

You should read the context of that message from the prophet Isaiah, you may find it interesting. It is the mistake that the people made when they wanted Moses to be between them and God and again when Israel wanted a man-king instead of allowing God to be their king. We are always wanting to put someone between us and God. That is exactly how the Church ended up with clergy whereas we were called into a direct relationship with Jesus in the context of the Body of Christ. (read 1 Corinthians 12).

Our problem now is that we are trusting people to interpret God's Word and teach it to us. Yes, some have been called for this purpose but we have also been given the Holy Spirit as our teacher so we can know the Word directly, to know whether what is taught is of God or man. We have been given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to keep us on track but we in turn must have enough of the Word and be in the Spirit to know if what is preached is correct. It sometimes happens that it goes wrong. Wrong people with wrong motivations end up in wrong positions of spiritual authority. They are not to be confused with men of God who are sincere in their calling and teaching but who on occasion may speak a lesser teaching only because of their lack of maturity. Isaiah warned again:

Woe to those who call evil good 
   and good evil, 
who put darkness for light 
   and light for darkness, 
who put bitter for sweet 
   and sweet for bitter. (Isaiah 5:20)

A teacher of the Word must chiefly desire to remain humble and empty of self, self opinion, self direction, self wisdom. Too easily a little bit of knowledge puffs up:

We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1)

We must be careful every day that we remain in submission to the Holy Spirit, that we do not think too highly of ourselves, that we do not allow our calling to become our god:

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes    and clever in their own sight. (Isaiah 5:21)

It is never about us and always about Jesus. Our knowledge and wisdom amounts to nothing in comparison to the riches we find in Jesus Christ. We must make sure that we are not using God's Word for our own agenda, that it is his truths we are speaking and not our own opinion. We can't allow fickle popularity to become a sign of God's approval. Success does not make it right and failure does not make it wrong. All things must be according to God's will for God's glory. That is the biggest thing we need to keep in mind: none of the glory belongs to us and all of the glory belongs to God. Let's make sure we are living by the Spirit of God, the will of God and not by our own feeble goals and wisdom.

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