Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Problem With This World Is ... Me

I have been trying very hard to put a positive spin on the things I have been receiving in the Spirit lately. After all, who wants to read a blog that is going to point out our faults all the time. It's not that the Spirit is mean, just that lately he has been directing me to several things that have been steering us wrong. For example, this is Saturday morning. It would be great to have a nice light subject for a Saturday morning. Something whimsical to read with our morning coffee as we sit in our housecoat and slippers. Instead I get this:

“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. 
   They walk about in darkness; 
   all the foundations of the earth are shaken. (Psalm 82:5)

I got this last weekend as well but I skipped over it and wrote around it. Yet, here it is in front of me again this week. It's not that it is negative, as in the Spirit is calling us stupid; it's more pointing out our natural condition that causes us problems with God. The Spirit is not trying to be mean; he is pointing these things out in love because he wants us to live up to our full potential in Jesus. This means that we need to be made aware of things that have to change.

It is true that we have the attitude of 'gods', always wanting to be in control and changing things to suit us. We are always trying to change the environment around us for our own needs. If we are not happy with ourselves, our appearance, what we possess, our current situation, we take it upon ourselves to do something about it. As a race of nations, our many wars are caused by someone rising up as a 'god' and trying to take whatever suits them. Nation fought nation over land, gold, water rights, oil, philosophies, idols and such. Lives have been lost over things 'gods' wanted to possess.

We actually believe that we are the "masters of our own destiny", a thought that comes out of a poem by William Ernest Henley called "Invictus". The last bit of this poem reads:

"It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."

This is the arrogance of man. "I am in charge of me." "No one is going to tell me what to do." We admire this in people and defend their right to such an attitude. It comes from the root of rebellion that we have against God. He gave us the freedom of choice, to choose this rebellious attitude if we want, and we have run with it. What a mess we have made of things. Anyone who thinks our world is better off "captained" by this attitude must truly be completely blind in a pitch black world.

When Jesus walked among us he demonstrated God's heart to us, which is a completely different attitude than our 'god' attitude. Jesus came to give his life, not only in his death (the cross) but in his living as well. He lived a life of a servant, giving himself over to the needs of others. He preached the Good News so people would turn away from destruction. He healed out of compassion. He was never concerned about his own needs, always put others ahead of himself and trusted the Father for everything. Does that describe our lives? I highly doubt it.

Even with the name Christian stamped on us we fail to rise up from the 'god' trap. Occasionally we consider Jesus and turn to him in repentance but to live by the Spirit, totally dependent on the provision and direction of God is often beyond us. It is not difficult to see where we are with this. Just check your attitude toward other people and toward life in general. I don't mean just your actions but your thinking and feeling as well. Jesus told us it is not just our actions that matter but our heart condition in the matter as well. It is just as bad to sin in your heart as it is to sin in action. It is not good enough to say yes, you have to do it as well. Check your attitude with this verse:

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

It is not good enough to say you are a follower of Jesus, you have to live it too. I am not talking conformity but transformation. Our hearts have to be transformed supernaturally to be like Jesus, our minds too. We have to allow our 'god' complex to be crucified with the rest of the things of the old rebellion against God and put on the garment which has been provided by Jesus. Our life must be govern by the the love of Christ, a love that always puts the needs of others ahead of our own. Imagine if every Christian would stop living for themselves and start living in submission to the Spirit. Imagine if every Christian stopped defending themselves and started attending to the needs of others. Imagine if every Christian actually laid down their life and started to allow Jesus to live through them. Imagine what a different world we would be living in right now.

We ought to know better. We ought to start listening to the Spirit.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Understanding The Existence Of Two Churches Is Vital

It is a shame that our society and culture has such a strong pull on us, but it is nothing new. For centuries the Church has been pushed, pulled, and shaped by society. Certainly the Church was a major influence on society for centuries but we have to consider who was leading the Church and what was influencing them. For centuries the Church was used and abused by people who saw her as an opportunity to have power over people. It is a wonder that she has arrived to this day with still a notion to her own identity. But then again, she was not born of man's thinking but of the Spirit of God. No matter what man might try to do with her, the Spirit will always preserve the Church.

From the very beginning the Church was different from man's society and culture. She was not born out of any ideas of the age and she was never meant to be shaped by a changing philosophies or a shifting societal value system. The Church has always meant to be a beacon of light in a darkened world. She has not been there to try to control people but to influence the "sick and dying" of this age to turn to Jesus for "healing". We are not the movers and makers of man's politics but the voice calling out of the wilderness, that Jesus is the answer for everything. The message of God remains the same, it does not change as society changes. Hell does not suddenly disappear because it is out of favour. Jesus does not suddenly become one way out of many because of a multi-cultural society. Accept it or reject it, Jesus is the only way to the Father. That is at the heart of the message of the Church.

Some people might be surprised to hear, after all these years of fighting for equal rights, that the Church held out equal rights to everyone from the very beginning. Remember I am talking about the Spirit led Church, not the abomination that some called the Church. Read the Word of God and understand the relationship within the Body of Christ:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

There it is. We need no other argument nor any other plea. You and I are one in Jesus Christ. Neither our age, gender, height, size, colour of skin, level of education or anything else matters. The only thing that matters is our faith and because of that faith you and I are on equal footing, cherished and loved by our Father.

Now if we examine the history of the Church we will discover all kinds of things that happened that came against this very simple truth found in the Word of God. But remember, there is the Church that is shaped by the thinking of man, by the practices of our society, and then there is the true Church, led and controlled by the Holy Spirit, whose members live by every word found in the Word of God. These are those who refuse to be swayed by society and who hold out these truths as divine. I think many people would be shocked to discover the real truth if they could just get past the marketed version of the Church of this age. Many think they are living by the Word but in reality they are living by man's opinion of that truth. People need to read and study the Word for themselves.

Many of us are victims of the influence our society has on the Church and of our own selfishness. The Word says no but our society says yes. We find some arguments of why the Word doesn't really mean what it says so we can do what we want to do. I have done it. I have made major decisions, wrong decisions based on what society finds acceptable but the Word of God guides against. Most of us have. We have to stop and get back to the Word and study it for ourselves. We have to stop excusing it away and make the hard decisions. We have to stop watering down what the Church is, what she represents and the cost of being a stone in her walls. We are the Church, born of the Spirit, based on the Word, saved by our Lord and loved by our Father. Society has nothing on us as we give our hearts and minds entirely to Jesus. Be influenced by the Spirit and Word and refuse the pull of our dying society.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

It Really Is A Joy To Be Alive And Free

Sometimes we get so involved in the living of our day that we forget to put it in the context of our life. Today may seem horrible and so we think we have a horrible life, but that is only how we feel for this moment. Last week we felt much different as the sun was shining, the birds were singing and everything was great for us. The same with 2 years ago and so on. We have had great days in the past and we will have great days in the future. This moment is just a brief thing that will pass because we have a great life. This is putting things in the context of our life.

We need to do this with God as well. Sometimes we get so caught up in our present-day struggle that we forget to put it in the context of his great plan. We have to remember that he created man to have a relationship with him. Man rebelled against him. God had a plan to bring man back into fellowship. He chose Abraham to be the beginning of a nation of priests through whom he would reveal his glory to the world. When this people had become a nation he gave them a law so that they would see how miserable we really are and gave them a system of sacrifices as a temporary way of administering his grace. But his plan was to raise up one priest who would become the one great sacrifice to cover man's sin so that God's grace would be available freely for those who wanted it. He sent Jesus to be that priest and revealed his great plan of redemption through him. Now today, anyone who believes is immediately covered by that one sacrifice and God adopts them as his children. It's a wonderful plan that should explain to us why the law was given and why it no longer applies to those who are covered by the grace of Jesus Christ:

Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. (Galatians 3:19)

Take note that it says "until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come". That seed is Jesus Christ. The Law was given because of man's sin. God needed a way to reveal sin to man so he would understand his condition. He gave them a temporary system of sacrifices to cover them as they realized their condition, because he knew that man could not live this law. When Jesus came, he fulfilled the law and replaced the system of sacrifices with his one sacrifice on the Cross. No sacrifice can save us but the one Jesus Christ did for us. Does that mean the law is now sinful? Not at all:

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (vv. 21-22)

If any law could have saved us it would have been this law but we are too imperfect for this law; sin is too powerful in us. The only thing that can break our marriage to sin is the most ultimate, powerful sacrifice of Jesus. The power of what was done on the cross cannot even be fully understood this side of eternity, but we can see the effects of it.

Those who turn to Jesus are changed forever. The power of sin over them is broken. For the first time in their lives they have the ability to breathe, move about, make decisions and to respond to God. That is the freedom we have been given back through Jesus Christ. He breaks all sin that keeps us in bondage; violence, drunkenness, drugs, sex, pornography, thievery, lying, selfishness, and the list goes on. All these things we were enslaved to and they have kept us from God. The law showed us how far we had fallen short of God's glory, that we are not worthy to look on his face. But Jesus changed all of that so that we are washed clean, freed from those chains and now have the ability to look on God's face any time we want. We are his people, redeemed from our filth and adopted as his children.

This is the context in which we need to live our lives. This is the context that tells us our days are no longer miserable but are opportunities of God's grace. Each day is destined to be a day of victory. Each day is a day of revealing more of God's grace and love. Each day is a day closer to eternity. Each day is the potential of declaring more of God's glory to the world. This is our life and it is wonderful to live it in Jesus.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Something Worth Celebrating

What a beautiful day! To wake up to the reality of God's love and his presence can't help but put a song in our heart. He loves us! That is the reality in which we live; He loves us! And because he loves us we have nothing to fear or worry about. Apostle Paul put the truth of it quite simply when he wrote that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Try to name one thing that you think God's love is not strong enough to overcome. It has overcome sin and death so what little insignificant thing do you think is more powerful than sin and death?

Part of the problem we have is that we do not understand just how strong God's commitment is to us. If we consider it in legal terms, we all understand what a contract is. If I enter into a contract with some person or some company we have come into agreement with terms that spell out the responsibility and obligation of both sides to each other. No one can add to that contract and no one can take away from it. If either tries then there are consequences spelled out in the contract. This is how Apostle Paul explained it to the Galatians:

Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. (Galatians 3:15-18)

What God promised to Abraham he fulfilled in Jesus Christ and he signed that covenant with us in blood. There is no way that God is going to break that covenant because our God is not a man that he would say yes today and no tomorrow. Our God is the God of "yes" and "amen". He is the promise keeper, the Rock, the only one we can fully depend on. Come on now, he has even defeated sin and death to get to us with his love, so what is a little morning blues to that?

We need to find a way to get rid of our doubts, shake ourselves up, realize his love and purpose for us, and live in the grace and power of that love. We have no reason to face this day with fear or worry. We have no reason to feel defeated or overwhelmed. We have no reason to feel weary and burdened. We are loved by our faithful, loving, powerful God who has promised us all things. We have been told that whatever we need we only have to ask for it in the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we have become the children of God and as children we have access to the throne.

The access I speak of is not revoked because of our unfaithfulness and sin. Are you kidding? God's grace is so amazing and so plentiful that when we sin grace is immediately applied as we repent. Look at Abraham. He was far from perfect. In fact there were times that he was a terrible man, giving up his wife to another man to save his own skin. But God's grace constantly covered Abraham and Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Come on my friend, don't allow this spirit to stay on you. You are not defeated and you are not weak. You are a mighty warrior, victorious in all things because God is on your side. More than that, through the Holy Spirit in you, Jesus himself is with you today and in his authority all darkness is vanquished from your sight. You have no reason not to smile, laugh and enjoy this day. You are loved with a love that no force in all of creation or outside of creation can touch, disturb or destroy. You belong to the great Covenant Keeper and that is worth celebrating.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Do We Need To Have Faith? What's The Big Deal?

I realize I have been going on for quite a bit about the Law and grace but there is a vital lesson here that most people are not understanding today. Some people are still basing their salvation on following the Ten Commandments. Others are turning parts of the New Testament into a new law to live by. We must understand that there is a difference now with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Law has been lifted off the parchments and has been written on our hearts. The Law has become part of us because of Jesus Christ but it is a deeper thing; obedience is provoked by love not fear. And where we fail, because fail we will, the cocoon of God's grace covers us. This is a relationship thing, not a salvation thing. Salvation only has one source and that is the work of Jesus.

Today we make up our own laws to observe because they are easier than the law the Spirit writes on our heart. We make Bible reading, prayer, worship, church attendance part of this law to earn our salvation, but these things are relationship things. The same with acts of kindness which we turn into works for salvation instead of a loving response to God's love for us. The Word is very clear on this matter:

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Galatians 3:10)

It is very simple with God's law: You break one part of the Law, you have broken all of it. We cannot win God's favour by living by any law because we cannot do it. No matter what you set up as a law you will fail. If you use Bible reading as a means of salvation, or prayer, or worship, what happens when you miss a day? Does that mean you are now condemned? Of course it does. No matter what you try to do to earn God's favour, even if you could outside of Jesus, you would fail because we are too weak in ourselves.

Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” (v. 11)

It sounds easy but we are a people who are prone to trust no one and to rely on our own resources. It is our downfall in our relationship with God. If we are not aware of our weakness we will slowly slip away from faith and fall back into doing what we think is the right thing to do, relying on our own wisdom and strength. But the righteous must live by faith. There is no other way. Simply put:

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” (v. 12)

Any law we may try to live by, to earn the favour of God, removes faith from our lives. Our life should not be complicated, or burdened, filled with worry or fear. Peace has been promised to us and is ours when we learn that faith means trusting God with everything, especially our salvation. If we do not have faith that he loves us and has poured his blessings out on us, why even bother pretending to serve him? However, for those who live by faith, the truth is a simple thing:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (vv. 13-14)

And there is the part that much of the Church fails to understand, "so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit". The Spirit is absolutely vital to a continued walk of faith. The Spirit is vital to everything to do with us and Jesus. Without the Spirit we have nothing, we do not have Jesus yet he is everything to us. Jesus is absolutely everything, our very life, our sustenance, but without the Spirit we do not have Jesus.

Without faith we cannot please God. Without faith we cannot have the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit we do not have Jesus. Without Jesus we do not have salvation. Without salvation we are facing destruction. The Law ends up working against us when we try to live it. The Law only produces death. It is holy and perfect but it's purpose was to show us how much we needed a saviour; how much we need Jesus. Live by faith, according to the grace of our Father and allow the Spirit to write the law on your heart. Trust that when Jesus declares you redeemed that you are redeemed and stop trying to save yourself. Relax in the Spirit and do the things that burn in your heart to do out of obedience and not in a desire to win favour with God.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

So Where Is This Faith You Claim To Have?

To say it's all about faith is an understatement. Either you believe God, everything he has said and everything he has done, or you don't. If you believe and act upon that belief then you have faith but if you don't then you don't. It is not all that complicated, but we make it complicated. We are willing to have faith until the possibility it may cost us something, look a bit risky, or may leave us looking like a fool. If we feel any of these things when it comes to acting on the promises of God, we do not have faith and without faith we cannot please God:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6)

Why serve a God who you do not believe desires the best for you, who you do not think wants to bless you and increase you? It is amazing how many people think they serve a mean-spirited God. So it goes beyond having faith to believe and also encompasses what you believe.

We are told that Abraham is our father because he was the first to have this faith in God, so in this sense he is the father of our faith. This is important to take note of because then we know what faith is. Faith is simply to believe God:

So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  (Galatians 3:6)

God's promise to Abraham was simple: Do what I tell you and I will make you into a great nation that will be a blessing to all nations. No proof offered, simply God's word on the matter. That was good enough for Abraham. But it was a faith that cost obedience. Abraham didn't get to do what he wanted to do. He was in a covenant of obedience to God now, so when God told him to pack up, leave everything that was familiar to him and move to a strange land with strange people, Abraham did exactly that.

Some of you even call God a liar. You say, "I tried faith and it didn't work". You would never come right out and say "God's a liar" but you may as well say it. Most of us have the patience the size of a gnat. When you sign on with God then you sign on to his time table. Do you realize how many years it was between God's promise to Abraham and the birth of Isaac? Twenty-five years. That's a life-time for some people. In fact, some people can't even wait for a day. No stamina to their faith. They have conditional faith. "Do it now God or I'm jumping ship."

Do you realize that it took 20 years between David's anointing as king by Samuel and him finally becoming king over Israel? And in that time he faced giants, became a legion, was turned into a fugitive, became a leader of misfits and an enemy of the king. Even when the opportunity was at hand for David to take the kingdom by force he refused until God's appointed time. We, who claim to have faith, often mess up our lives by our impatience and doing things according to our own timeline. Then we blame God and accuse him of being a liar.

Here are the facts:

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.  (Galatians 3:7-9)

We rob God of his glory when we refuse to live in victory according to his promises, based on the same faith Abraham had. We make God out to be a liar. It doesn't matter if it takes a few years for God to do what he promised; his timing is perfect. Our part in it is to continue in faith, believing that what he promised is coming. "Those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." Would you dare look at Abraham and say that he was not a blessed man? Of course he was blessed, beyond our imagining. However, faith is not for the weak:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  (Hebrews 11:1)

You have to have faith that Jesus Christ loves you and due to that love he pours out his compassion on you. His blessings flow for you every day and he desires to build you up not tear you down. That's the important thing to understand; God is interested in your good so that he will be glorified through your life. You have to be convinced of this or you will not have the perseverance you need for a life-time of serving Jesus Christ:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Faith will do you no good unless you go to the end with it. You can afford to lose everything else in your life but you can't afford to lose your faith. Without faith we cannot please God and I don't think any of us what to come to the end of our life in a condition where everything we have invested in is thrown away. It is not good enough to have faith for a period of time. Salvation is by faith and faith must be ours to the end.

So no matter the storms we face or the condition we find ourselves in; no matter if everything has been robbed from us or if we have been told to take 100 years to build a boat; no matter if God removes us from everything that is familiar or takes a while in fulfilling his promises; we have to have faith that the promises are being fulfilled, that God has our best interest at heart and that he will glorify himself through us. It is not enough to have faith for today, we must have the determination to persevere in our faith no matter what tomorrow holds for us because Jesus has promised better things are on the way. I leave you with the words Paul wrote, inspired by the Spirit of God and born of his own faith and experience:

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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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Is It Empty And Meaningless Offerings Of Praise We Bring To Our God Today?

As we gather to worship this morning I believe we need to allow God's Word to challenge us beyond our normal thinking and routine. As we gather we should seek what pleases God, not what satisfies us in our self-justification. The Word tells us that the only "religion" that our God finds acceptable is the one that places the same value on people that he does:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  (James 1:27)

To respond to the needs of our neighbour, the most vulnerable of our society, is what leaps out at us from Jesus' teaching. Jesus did not reveal anything to us that we did not already know about our Father from the Old Testament scriptures. Speaking to the people of that generation and this, God speaks through the psalmist:

How long will you defend the unjust 
   and show partiality to the wicked? 
Defend the weak and the fatherless; 
   uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. 
Rescue the weak and the needy; 
   deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
  (Psalm 82:2-3)

Is this not the example that Jesus set for us and then he told us to love as he loved, to do as he did? The Father chastised his people for bringing to him empty and meaningless offerings. They did it from habit and obligation, not provoked by love and adoration, or even thankfulness. For our God, it is always a matter of the heart. Just check out the "Sermon On The Mount" that we find recorded in Matthew's gospel.

Our Father does not want the empty and meaningless praises of a people who have no understanding of what it is to follow his Son. He is not interested in our nice buildings and fine sounding music or the great sermons people will quote but never act on. He is only interested in seeing the Word played out in our lives by the actions of the Holy Spirit through us. He wants to see us act upon the love that compels us to respond in compassion to the needs of the suffering world around us. Our suits and dresses look great but the real question is: What is the condition of our hearts? And don't forget about the second part of the verse quoted from James.

The religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is for us to keep ourselves from being polluted by this world. Looking around I would say that we have failed pretty miserably in both of these aspects of acceptable religion. Honestly, what is the difference between us and our Christ-less neighbour? Maybe our language is a bit better and we go to church on Sunday but we watch the same TV, go to the same movies, work toward the same retirement, pretty well have the same values, give just as much to charity, in fact he probably gives more. What is the difference? If we can't see a major difference then we are doing something wrong. We have allowed the values of this world to become our values instead of looking to what our Father has placed as our values. We have allowed our favorite TV shows to form our heart, our opinions, our values. We come into agreement as people fall in love and have sex without marriage. We cheer as the down trodden rises up and exacts revenge on the oppressor. We start giving into the idea of same-sex relationships as we watch it played out as normal on our television screens. We are entertained by vampires, zombies and witchcraft. We call things that are not good, good. All this shaping and forming in the comfort of our home.

Something has to change. It really does. There needs to be a new breaking in the Church, where all of God's children fall on their face and repent for what we have made it into. We need to examine our own hearts and freely invite the Spirit to convict us of what is not acceptable to God. We need to turn and look into the face of our God once again and allow his holiness to strip the values of this world away from us so that his thoughts become our thoughts and his way becomes our way. Seriously though, as we gather today let us desire and expect a spiritual renewal in the Bride of Christ, call it revival if you want. If you listen closely enough you will hear him calling our names, calling us back to him, calling us back to the Word, calling us back to his heart, his calling, his purpose and design.


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Saturday, March 24, 2012

In This Clear And Present Danger, What Are You Doing?

Ahhh, what a beautiful day. I love Saturday's; the day we get to catch up on everything we couldn't fit in during the week. Also a day when we can take the time to "smell the roses", a time to relax and simply enjoy life. What will you do with this day? What would Jesus do with it?

Oops, what would Jesus do? What does he have to do with Saturday's? Well, he has everything to do with everything and if we do not realize it then our "following Jesus" is lacking some understanding. To be a Jesus follower requires total commitment; I mean total. Everything we are is all about him and he directs us, in everything we do, how to bring him honour and glory, and how to fulfill our part in the mission.

You would be amazed how he can use our everyday chores for the Kingdom. I mean the car washing, grocery shopping, lawn mowing, snow shoveling, but we have to be attentive, looking for the opportunities and jumping on them when they are presented. In other words, Jesus must always be on our mind.

I was reading Psalm 79 this morning, which was the reaction of this psalmist to the devastating attack of the enemy of God's people, and I realized how fitting it was in describing the effects of our enemy's attack on the Church:

O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; 
   they have defiled your holy temple, 
   they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble. 
They have left the dead bodies of your servants 
   as food for the birds of the sky, 
   the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild. 
They have poured out blood like water 
   all around Jerusalem, 
   and there is no one to bury the dead. 
We are objects of contempt to our neighbors, 
   of scorn and derision to those around us.
  (Psalm 79:1-4)

The enemy in North America has been very subtle for years, invading the Church inch by inch, slowly eroding away our core beliefs, the foundations of our faith. Like a constant, gentle wave against the shore line, he has taken years to change us from Christ-centered to self-centered. So now we are weak and we are getting to be easy for the picking. Don't be fooled by the number of large churches; those who are strong in their faith, focused on Jesus and have turned their back on the pleasures of this world are much fewer in number. We have been seeing for years now the changes in doctrine being accepted without a fight, pastors changing the Word to fit their own ideologies without much of a challenge at all, and Christians being shaped by the thinking of society instead of the Word of God.

The nations have invaded God's inheritance. They have defiled his holy temple, which is us. They are tearing down God's nation from the inside. The dead bodies of God's servants are being fed on as they pile up, one after another, as these servants put a longing for success ahead of faithfulness to God. There is very little doubt any more of the contempt, scorn and derision that people around us feel toward us. Oh, maybe not toward those who are willing to compromise to be accepted by their neighbour, but those who stand by the Word, who refuse to give an inch to the enemy and whose constant thought is Jesus.

It is not hard to tell which camp you fall into and it is not hard to change it. Is Jesus the center of everything you do? Is he involved in everything you do? Do you do what you do because of Jesus? Is there anything in your life that has a greater influence on you than Jesus? Is your greatest desire to please Jesus in all your thinking, feeling and actions? Do you see him as the reason for your life? Is there anything that you tolerate that comes against the person of Jesus? If Jesus was physically present with you all day today would you change some of your plans and perhaps some of your vocabulary and maybe the way you treat family and neighbours?

The difference is sometimes very subtle. Do you spend time with your friends because you get something from them or because you want to add to them? Do you help your parents with resentment or with joy? Do you play video games with your children because you enjoy video games or because you enjoy your children and being with them gives opportunities to teach about Jesus? In everything we do it is always a question of the heart. Is it because it honours Jesus and a giving to others or is it because we get to feed our own selfish needs?

We have to stop playing the church game. Either we are followers of Jesus or we are not. There is no in between place. Jesus said that anyone who was lukewarm would be spit out. He said to be his followers we would have to give up everything. He said we would have to deny ourselves, take up our calling (purpose)(cross) and follow him. In other words, go all the way until our purpose has been completed.

The enemy is in our midst and some of us are just becoming aware of it. The good news is that he is nothing compared to Jesus. He is weak, pathetic and simply a fallen angel in rebellion against God. Jesus won't be taking him on because the enemy is beneath him. It is the other angels who will fight against Satan and defeat him. We are powerful against him and the Word is clear that we must be attentive to the war that is raging around us. We are those who pray and send the enemy fleeing. We know in this age many will be deceived but we do not have to belong to this group. We are the children of God and we must take our stand, trusting,  believing, refusing to give an inch to the enemy.

So, I ask you again: What will you do with this day? What would Jesus do with it?

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Confessing Our Counterfeit Christianity

Wherever there are genuine products you will find counterfeits. It seems we can't help ourselves, we always need to make a cheaper version of anything that is genuine. The problem comes when we try to pass the copy off as the real thing. Whether it is counterfeit money, products,cultural items, we feel angry when someone successfully dupes us into spending money on something that is fake. Then again, we are not being very wise believing that we can buy a Rembrandt for $100.

There also exists a counterfeit Christianity that appears to be prevalent in the Church in these last days. Just like the inexpensive Rembrandt, this counterfeit Christianity is marked by its inexpensive faith. Like everything else counterfeit, we are attracted to it because it seems like a bargain; all the benefits without the huge expense. But faith that costs us nothing is no faith at all. You say, "But I thought salvation was by the grace of God and grace is free?" Salvation is by God's work not ours. This is true. Salvation is freely offered to us, but the faith to possess it will cost us everything we have ever know because we have to die to the rules of this world and to ourselves in order to be able to exist by faith alone.

The counterfeit Christianity starts off well, knowing that it is by faith we are saved and by faith we remain in Jesus and Jesus remains in us. The entire Christian life is contained in faith, exists by faith, grows by faith. The counterfeit starts to develop when we start believing all this is possible without it costing us faith. Instead, we can just be kind to people, pay our tithes to the church, show up occasionally, maybe sponsor a child, be friendly with a neighbour or two, and in doing all these things we are good to go. It is a pattern we fall into as we get older. We start relying on the structure of religion instead of on the requirement of faith. We begin to rely on ourselves instead of on God. It is why so many older folk end up walking away from God.

Think back to when you first accepted Jesus; what were you like? Yes, immature but totally reliant on God. You prayed about everything, confessed everything, checked the Word of God for everything. You were desperate to follow Jesus' way of doing things, afraid to step outside of the will of God. You were totally under the influence of the Holy Spirit, doing the oddest things because God told you to; talking to strangers about Jesus, trusting him for your next meal, taking on great spiritual works and projects because faith compelled you to. You felt alive and vibrant.

Now where are you in the Spirit? How reliant are you on God? How often do you consult with him before making a decision? How big a part does your faith play in a typical day of your life? What are you reliant on for your salvation?

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3) 

Counterfeit Christianity is very subtle. It creeps in without us even noticing. It slowly takes over without us even realizing what is going on. Counterfeit Christianity is when we replace faith by our works. These works can be anything but the one thing they have in common is that we start relying on them for our salvation instead of Jesus Christ. They take on all kinds of different forms. Attending church can become a work when we start thinking that by going to church we are saved. The same is true for our Bible study, prayers, our kindness, our participation in worship. It is especially dangerous for those who preach and teach, for those who sing and play instruments, for those who are involved in any level of leadership in the church. It is when our service becomes the source of our salvation.

Nothing we ever do will save us. Our salvation only comes by Jesus Christ. This we receive by faith. In other words, we receive it when we believe that what we are told is true. We receive it when we choose to believe God:

So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  (Galatians 3:5-6)

This faith provokes things in us beyond just faith for salvation. It causes to grow in us a faith for everything God has ever promised. We have faith for provision, for good works, for sharing the Good News, for receiving eternity. We do not produce faith by good works; good works are produced by faith. Therein lies the test of authenticity of our faith: Is our faith reliant on any outside help or does it exist simply by trusting God's actions and words toward us?

This faith will cost us dearly as we leave everything that is familiar to us, all our comforts, all our opinions, all that we possess, to follow the Spirit wherever he leads, to do whatever he says, and believe whatever he promises us. There is no genuine form of faith that allows us to have two masters; we must decide who we will serve. Grace is free but faith will cost. Counterfeit Christianity is marked by its cheap faith.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

We Mouth The Words Of A Song We Don't Really Know

I've noticed recently that many of my blogs have taken on a harsher, more urgent tone to them. It is like a desperate plea to a people who have forgotten who they are, who seem to have lost their identity. We are a generation of believers with more physical advantages than any other generation before us and yet we are one of the spiritually poorest generations that has existed. We are weak in our faith and in our understanding of God's Word. We have almost completely set aside the Spirit of God and now only do what we can in our own ability. We mouth the Words of a song that we don't really know or identify with any more.

I want to shock you with a little piece of Scripture that will either encourage you or ruin your day, depending on your priorities. I don't want us to play games any more and fill our days with pictures of cute, fluffy cats and bunnies. I want you to understand the bare bones reality of what our relationship with Jesus is. Key element number one:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  (Galatians 2:20)

You won't believe how many Christians are waking up today with this NOT being their reality. I have been crucified with Christ! Spiritually this is our reality. Christianity is not some mamsie pamsie feel good religion that helps people who are in misery make it through yet another endless day in their sorry excuse of a life. The reality is that when we decide to follow Jesus, we set our life aside. We voluntarily become crucified with him, laying down our life, giving up our future, past and present. We are dead. Paul says it clearly here, "I no longer live".

Do you hear that? Many don't. Many think they can accept Jesus, get all the benefits and then continue doing what they want to do. But we are no longer alive. We no longer live for ourselves. We no longer pursue what we want. We no longer chase after our dreams. There is no 10% for God and 90% for us. There is only 100% Jesus, all the time, everywhere. Our reality becomes, "I no longer love, but Christ lives in me". That means that it is his will we respond to, his desires, his character, his love and compassion. Our reality is totally shifted so that what is important to Jesus is important to us. We acknowledge that we are only alive because of Jesus in us. Jesus is not someone we add to our collection of stuff; Jesus replaces even us. Jesus is not something we do; Jesus is what we are.

It doesn't take a scientific study to know that this is not the reality for the great majority of Christians. In fact, most of us don't even know how it works. We just know that our parents went to church so that we should go to church too. The new generation of Christians, those that have joined the big churches simply like the singing, the programs and they find the pastor entertaining and wise. But where is the radical Christianity? Where is the red hot, on fire for the Lord, let's go out and save the world, brand of Christians? If we have died and Jesus now lives in us, shouldn't we be out doing what he has told us to do?

We have set aside our rights to make our own decisions and to live according to what we want. We have given up the right to second guess God. Our new reality is that we trust everything that Jesus says as if it is life itself, because it is. We place our entire faith in him. Key element number two:

The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)  

It is his love that compels us. It is his great act of love on the cross that compelled us to lay down our life in the first place. His love drew us to the cross where we were crucified with him. It is his love that called us back to life where he became the source of life in us. Imagine if you would that our heart was replaced by Jesus and it is now him who sustains our breath.

If we are not living every day for Jesus, we are wasting our days. Nothing we do outside of Jesus has any value. Nothing we pursue outside of him will add to our joy or will have any eternal impact. Nothing we do outside of him has any life to it at all since Jesus is the one who sustains our life. We do not live by the rules and wisdom of this world but by faith in Jesus. We live by his promises and his instructions. We are not confined by the limits of this world as we allow Jesus to live through us.

We have to decide today that we are going to stop living such weak lives; lives without the power of God. We have to put on the realty that we gave our life up and everything that went with it. Jesus is not interested in renovating our lives, he wants to do a whole new build. We now have the power and authority to do everything because of he who lives in us. I don't speak in my own authority because I have none, but I do speak in the authority of the Son of God, and everything must obey that authority. I no longer have a right to live such a weak life because I laid down my life and I refuse to pick it up again. In fact, I can't pick it up again because it has a new occupant; it is no longer I who live but Jesus who lives through me. Are you beginning to see what we have been missing? There is a difference and his name is Jesus.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Man, A Boy And A Dog - An Illustration Of Authority

Yesterday I was walking with my children to school. My wife was at home, sleeping a few extra minutes to make up for her late night studying. All of the children had left for school on their bicycles except for my 6 year old son, who still had to practice a bit more before he can go on his bike as well. It is a beautiful March here in Montreal, with a very early Spring. I have never seen flowers showing up in March before. We usually have a couple of feet of snow still covering the ground but instead, today we will be enjoying 25 degree weather (Celsius).

As we were getting ready to leave my son asked if he could walk our dog. We have a beautiful Standard Poodle who I bring along each morning so she can get some exercise. She has recently given birth to 8 puppies and hasn't been getting out much. She and I both enjoy the walk. In fact, she is a great dog to walk. She stays by my side the entire time, and although she is on a leash, she seldom pulls on it. She will stop when I stop and walk when I walk. She is calm and mature.

I told my son that he could walk her, because I was going to be right beside him. She's almost as big as he is. But as we were getting ready to go I stopped to adjust something. When I looked up he and the dog were disappearing around the first corner. I picked up my pace to catch up but I wasn't too worried about it. His older brother, who had also elected to walk and who was walking with a friend, was just behind him. I also knew that his other older brother, who was on a bicycle, was just over on the next street, stopping to pick up a friend.

When I rounded the corner I found my six year old at the end of the block, calmly holding the dog's leash, as they waited to cross the street with the older brother. The problem started after they crossed the street and started down the opposite sidewalk.

Suddenly my six year old took off running with our dog running in front of him. I assumed that he had seen his other older brother and was running to show him what a big boy he was walking the dog. I was now on the same side of the street as the others and could see my son running faster than I had ever seen him running before. I was amazed to see his legs moving so quickly and thought to myself that he was going to end up on his face.

That's when his screams reached my ears.

I wasn't sure what it was at first. I thought it sounded like something that was very familiar to me but somehow distorted. Then I could make out the words. It was a very panicked voice of a crying boy who was screaming, Help! over and over and over. I quickly realized that my son was no longer in control but was instead now being led by the dog and they were out of control.

I yelled to my other son who was much closer to a rescue than I was, but he was too engrossed in his conversation to hear my calls or his brother's screams. So I started running with my wife's large computer bag in tow. It was on wheels.

It must have looked like something from a comedy sketch. A dog running down the side walk in break-neck speed with a screaming, flailing, panicked boy behind her, with a man in pursuit who was also rushing down the sidewalk, with a rolling computer flying behind him, yelling at the boy to drop the leash (in between fits of laughter I say to my shame).

It was at this point that my other son, who had heard his brother's frantic cries for help, came running across the street and planted himself in the path of the runaway dog. Of course the dog stopped and my six year old collapsed in a heap of breathless tears. When I finally reached his side and asked him if he was okay, this dear sweet six year old son looked very sincerely at me, with tears streaming down his face while clutching his chest and said, "I thought I was going to have a heart attack".

The problem was, my son did not know the authority he had over the dog. If he had stopped the dog would have stopped. If he had dropped the leash the dog would have stopped. Instead, the faster my son ran to catch up to the dog the faster the dog thought he was being given permission to run. My son was enabling the dog to pull him out of control to the point where he became panicky and could have seriously injured himself. Yet, all he had to do was stop and everything would have returned to normal.

It hit me that this was a perfect illustration for what we have been teaching our church recently on our authority in Jesus Christ. Too often our lives get out of control because of various circumstances, including finances, disease and relationships. We either panic or we throw ourselves into the great pit of despair. Everything seems like it is whirling out of control and we don't think it will every stop. Yet, it is us that is enabling these things to lead us out of control. The truth is, it is we who have the control.

Jesus has given us authority over these things and they must do exactly what we say because of that authority. Let me repeat that: They must be obedient because of the authority of Jesus in us. When we stop they stop. When we let go of their connection to us they no longer have any control over us. It is amazing how quickly everything slows down and comes into line when we use the authority we have been given. It is a lie to think that circumstances, disease and health have any authority over us. The only authority over us is Jesus and he in turn has given us authority over these things.

Unfortunately, too many of us act more like six year old children, without the maturity to understand the authority we have through Jesus Christ. Instead we spend our days arguing with people about this authority. We are refusing to grow up, to take our place as a "son" of God, and would rather excuse away our lack of power and authority. We are condemning ourselves to a life being pulled around by dogs instead of a life of joy, peace, power and love. As I often say, it really is time for us to grow up and discover who we are in Christ Jesus.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why I Am Certain That Christianity Is The Only Way

I hear it all the time, "What makes you think Christianity is the true religion?" Well, first of all, I don't believe that Christianity is a "true" religion, I believe that Yaweh is the one and only true God. I believe that God is, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Father loved man so much that he sent the Son to deal with the impossible chasm between us. I believe that after Jesus died and rose from the grave, the Spirit was sent to live in everyone who declared Jesus as Lord and Saviour. There is a huge difference in this from all other religions.

You see, in all other "systems" man has to do something to earn his redemption. There is always some scheme, some work, some thing that a person has to do, to work at, to merit what is being offered. The Father, the Son, the Spirit came after us. We were too stupid, too lost, too blind to even know that we needed rescue or to know that there was something better than this. Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind, to let us know that we had a choice, to let us know that we had a Father who loved us enough to come after us, to sacrifice himself for our benefit. Jesus came in obedience to the Father but also out of love for man.

We can't buy or earn our redemption even if it was in our power to do so. You can't buy a gift that is freely offered. We can try to put a mask on the offer so that we can put our own system on it so we can feel good about receiving it. We can act like being more kind, more loving, more generous will make us more worthy. We can act like praying more, reading God's Word more, singing more, giving move, serving more will make us more worthy. We can beat ourselves up, light lots of candles, confess a lot, pray in the right manner, dress in the right clothes, say the right words will make us more worthy. But all of it is man's way of trying to earn God's grace.

The crazy thing about grace is, it is never earned; it's given for free. Our Father looked on us with such love that his heart was breaking for us who were lost in the darkness that was causing us to suffer. He looked on us and longed for us to be back in fellowship with him. That love caused him to reach out to us with an incredible offer, something that no man-made religion or systems had to offer and the Word of God is clear about it; absolutely crystal clear:

“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.  (Galatians 2:15-16)

So how do I know that no other religion is true and that Christianity is the only way? Because no other religion or system known to man has Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sacrificial lamb, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the author of our faith, the Alpha and Omega, the first born of many, the only way to the Father. You have to earn your way in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and every religion on the face of this planet. Do I dare mention Catholicism in this too; that system of man that has striped away the grace of God to leave a system of meriting God's favour?

No, there is nothing that any other religion can offer that can compare to what Jesus Christ offers us. It is not what we can do for God but instead what he has done for us. It is not about how we can serve him but how he has served us. His gift of redemption is a free gift and his love is all consuming. Nothing you can offer is good enough so he offered himself instead. There is nothing that you have that God needs but still, by his grace, he has poured out his incredible love on us. You don't deserve it but it is yours nonetheless if you are willing to accept it. And why wouldn't you? It's incredible. It's free. It's everything you ever needed and more. We cannot be redeemed by observing any laws or systems of laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Correction Is Not An Easy Thing

Correction is not an easy thing to give or take. I am terrible at taking correction. I get defensive, I try to justifying myself, and I get offended. That's not a good thing. No matter who we are we must always be open to correction. We are not a perfect people so we are going to be wrong sometimes and need to be open to a person of maturity coming alongside to help us see where we are wrong. Sometimes correction comes directly from the Spirit but other times God will use an earthly vessel.

Just as hard is to be that earthly vessel God wants to use to bring correction. I always consider that to be holy ground. I never rush into correction remembering how I feel about being corrected. I surround the moment in prayer and approach it with humility but I must be obedient in it. There is a lot at stake for the other person as God wants to bring them back in alignment with his heart. There must also be the attitude that I am not responsible for their reaction. If they receive the correction, that's great. If they become angry and refuse the correction, they can deal with the Spirit in the matter; I have been faithful to my part.

When Paul had to confront Peter with his hypocrisy in Antioch it must not have been an easy thing to do. This is Peter we are talking about, one of the great pillars of the Church. Everyone knew of Peter and he would have been approaching the status of legend at this time but what he was doing was wrong and Paul was given to deal with the matter. Many years after the fact Paul wrote to the Galatians:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  (Galatians 2:11)

It was worse than just Peter being wrong, he was also leading others into the same hypocrisy. Unfortunately that is the danger of "pillars" going wrong, they bring others along with them:

Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.  (Galatians 2:12-13)

So according to the Law a Jew could not associate with a gentile unless he had converted to Judaism and even then his contact was to be limited. It was certain they could not eat with them. They were so strict about this that, if you recall, Peter had to explain his actions to the other Apostles in Jerusalem when it was discovered he had entered Cornelius' home, even though it was in obedience to Jesus. So here was Peter, the great pillar, eating with the Gentiles unless people from James, the leader of the council in Jerusalem, the brother of Jesus, were paying a visit. Consider how Paul handled it.

"When Peter came to Antioch ..." Paul waited until the right moment. Sometimes correction is done in a rush so it is done incorrectly. Rushed correction, or reactionary correction often causes worse problems than the thing being corrected in the first place. Correction should never be done in anger, in fact there should be as little emotion involved in it as possible except that which is provoked by compassion. Correction should always be seen in love and never in revenge or hatred. If you feel your emotions provoked in a negative way then it is not the right time to bring in correction.

"... I opposed him ..." Fully understand the perspective you are coming from. You are opposing this person you are correcting. It is important to understand this so you are not shocked by any negative reaction. As I said at the beginning, it is not always easy being opposed. Some of us have a bad reaction to it because of our lack of maturity in it. If a person is mature they understand that correction is a healthy thing, it is for their benefit but we don't always see it that way. so it is best to be prepared.

"... I opposed him to his face ..." This is very important. If you have to correct someone make sure that you do it face to face. As long as it is in your power to do so, do not write them a correction, do not do it over the phone, give them the dignity of seeing your face. So in other words, don't be a coward about it. And don't do it by talking behind the person's back. Don't start a whisper campaign by telling others that the person is wrong. Deal with it face to face. To be corrected is bad enough but for others to hear of the correction before you do is far worse. That speaks to the lack of maturity in the corrector and it is best that correction not come through such a person.

Do not take any pride in being chosen to bring correction. It is a very humbling position because it reminds you of all the times you have needed correction. It reminds you of how immature you have been in the correction you have received. It may even highlight many of the things you need correction for in your life now. Correction never comes from the perspective of superiority or perfection; it comes through humbleness. No, correction is not an easy thing to take or to give and yet it is good for us and our relationship with Jesus. Taking a slogon from an old cough medicine commercial, "It tastes aweful and it works".

Sunday, March 18, 2012

You Need To Eat To Stay Alive

Yesterday was the climax of a stressful week. For the first time in years I find myself in a classroom, being overwhelmed by information I must quickly absorb, understand and act upon. Saturday was our first assessment and I must admit, I was a bit stressed by it. I am an overachiever. A pass is not good enough for me. I want close to perfection in everything I do. My wife told me not to be stressed but to trust God. I knew Jesus would be faithful to me, but it was me I was stressed over: Did I study enough? Did I forget to study anything? Was there anything I didn't understand?

Stress is a natural part of our life and some have said that stress is what keeps us alive and motivated. However, we all know that too much stress will kill you. I am a person who knows that stress can have ill effects on my health. Even normal living stress can build up with time like an electrical charge in us. My way of dealing with this "charge" in my body is to do physical activity. This activity acts to release this charge through the exercise of my body so there are no ill effects from built up stress. But, at the end of the day yesterday I was tired.

It was a beautiful Spring day in a month when it is usually still cold and there is usually still snow. So being a beautiful day, the children wanted their bikes out. Well, it is never a simple matter of opening the garage and taking the bikes out. First, all the tires need to be pumped and then all the chains and moving parts have to be oiled. After that comes the washing and the checking of the safety equipment. There are seven children with bikes plus two adults, and our friends have four bikes as well. That's a total of thirteen bicycles after a stressful assessment. By supper time I was exhausted and I had not gone for the walk I needed to go on to disperse the stress I could feel in my body.

I checked with my wife but she is nearly six months pregnant and she had helped with the bikes plus she had been doing the laundry so she was no longer interested in a walk. I was exhausted and really just wanted to go to bed. I was greatly tempted to just forget about the walk. After all, I am not out of shape so one day was not going to kill me. But, the walk was not just about staying in shape, it was my mechanism to deal with the stress in my body. I overcame my temptation to not go for my walk by remembering the benefit of that walk. Discipline will not be long lasting if we do not understand our motivation.

So often I push people to remember the need for the relationship ingredients that we must participate in to remain refreshed with Jesus. I talk about and write about our need for studying the Bible, prayer, worship, fellowship and witnessing. These are all the ingredients we need for staying strong in Jesus but if it does not go beyond habit and discipline, to a place of understanding the benefits, then the discipline will be quickly lost, or it will become a dull and stale activity, without purpose.

When we open our Bible we must have the understanding that we are about to feed our soul the food it needs to be sustained in Jesus Christ. If we do not see it as the fuel we need to keep going in the Spirit it will just become a thing we have to do in the day. I can feel myself become spiritually weak if I have allowed busyness to keep me away from my "meal". I know the benefit so I know I must reserve the time to "eat". It is not a stale and dull meal as I dive into the richness of its flavours. The same is true for prayer and worship. If I do not make these the pivotal point of my day, I know that I am slowly starving myself to death. They are not a religious activity I have added to my life; they are what enables me to live. When you have this understanding, your motivation becomes a different thing entirely.

I don't care who you think you are, if you are not rich in Bible study, prayer and worship, you are not rich in Jesus Christ. I am glad you accepted him as your Lord and Saviour but now you need to learn how you can be rich in him. You need to learn how he is your everything. You need to understand what real communion is as you allow him to replace everything you were. You need to allow this relationship to move you from being centered on yourself to being centered on Jesus, from being controlled by your flesh to being controlled by the Spirit. This is the relationship you were saved for. You are spiritually poor, facing spiritual salvation if you do not understand where you get your food from. Your motivation for Bible study, prayer and worship is to stay alive in Jesus and not to experience starvation. I doubt you are too tired to eat supper tonight so don't use your tiredness as an excuse to skip your spiritual meals today either. You need to eat to stay alive.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Doesn't God Heal Everyone?

I get a lot of people asking me why God doesn't heal everyone and my answer is not always accepted. It is not a matter of God not wanting to heal everyone, because he does, the problem is we don't think he wants to heal everyone. As crazy as it sounds there is a great lack of faith and understanding in this area. But I do want to clarify my point concerning this matter because such a stand can alienate a number of people who have a great deal of faith in other matters of living.

First of all, our physical condition is not God's primary concern. Ouch. Our Father's first priority is to prepare us for eternity because, face it, eternity is much longer than the few short years we have here. He is more concerned about our heart condition, the shape of our soul, the relationship we have with Jesus. When Jesus stepped into the public light and became anointed with the Spirit, his priority was not healing but the casting out of demons and the preaching of the Good News. When his twelve disciples came back from an outing he sent them on, and they were all excited because they had healed people and cast out demons, Jesus told them to be more excited about their names being written in the Lamb's Book Of Life. When the paralyzed man was lowered down through the roof to get to Jesus, Jesus' first reaction was not to heal him but to forgive his sins. Healing came after.

Yet, Jesus could not walk through the cesspool of humanity without being moved by man's condition, both spiritually and physically. He taught to open our eyes, but he healed out of simple compassion. God loves us. He cares deeply about us. His priority for us is eternity but he is stilled moved by the condition we live in, the diseases that attack us. So Jesus equipped his people to continue to act in compassion, to do what he did, to reach out in love, to bring relief to a suffering humanity. Look at his compassion. It is everywhere you read in the gospels, it became a big part of what Jesus did.

So why doesn't God heal everyone? people ask. In compassion I believe God is willing to heal everyone, but not everyone is willing to accept it. Believe it or not, it is possible to refuse things from God. It is possible to say no to God. We can do it without even realizing we are doing it. We do it with the simplest thought of doubt. If we can refuse the greater blessing of salvation then it is a simple matter of turning away the blessing of healing. Just as it requires faith to accept Jesus and receive salvation, it requires faith to be healed. The thing is, I don't think the probably is needing to be convinced God heals but instead that God loves us.

Most people miss out on the many blessings of God because they are not convinced that these blessings are meant for them. They feel, knowingly or unknowingly, that there is something about them that disqualifies them from God's love. They believe God loves everyone else but not them; that they are not deserving of that love. Ha! The cold hard fact is that none of us are deserving of his love, but that hasn't stopped him from loving every single person on the planet, regardless of their actions. He loves us and Jesus dying in our place is proof of that, but until we are absolutely convinced of this love, and understand the completeness of this love; I mean the absolute completeness of it; we will continue to refuse certain blessings God wants us to have.

His priority is eternity for us but if he has given us his very best, does it not make sense that he will not refuse us any good thing? God is not roaming around to see who he can heal because he is occupied with our eternity. Jesus did not walk around looking for people to heal, but when he was asked to heal he said he was willing and acted upon his compassion. If we ask, knowing that he is willing, then we will see him act in compassion. I am not saying people lack faith necessarily but it is more a lack of understanding of God's compassion and his willingness. He has even empowered us to be vessels of healing. We need to discover more about his heart by descending deeper into his love.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:16-21)

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Only Person Qualified For Your Calling Is You

There are a lot of people who have been called by God to do great things for the Kingdom but they are sitting on their hands. Too many of us live in the shadow of other Christians who seem to have it all together, who are charismatic, who seem so important to God. We have this built-in thing about being star struck with the talented people of this world. We are so busy gawking at the "successful" people that we forget what we are suppose to be doing. Those who are effective workers in the Kingdom do not allow other people to affect what they have been called to do.

We see this in Paul's letter to the Galatians. It may seem rude but Paul was not being rude. He respected people but he didn't overly concern himself with position when it came to his calling:

As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message.  (Galatians 2:6)

If you remember from yesterday, Paul had gone to Jerusalem to share his revelation about the gospel of grace. Paul was not awestruck that he was meeting with the great pillars, Peter, James (brother of Jesus) and John. As important as these apostles were, Paul was not about to let their importance diminish his own. Paul knew that appearances are only appearances and God judges the heart. Paul knew his own heart and relationship with God and he knew his calling was separate from these other men. It didn't really matter what they had to say, Paul would continue on his obedience to the Lord.

In fact, as Paul persisted with his revelation and his calling to the Gentiles, he soon discovered that the others also recognize his calling. Sometimes what we are called to is not recognized by others because we do not persevere in it; we hide in the shadows of those who are more established than we are. Yet, there is something fundamentally important for us to recognize. We have to stop making people's callings about personality and get back to focusing on the most important element: God's anointing.

For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.  (Galatians 2:8)

There is too much work to be done for us to have people neglecting their calling because they think there are others better qualified. No one is better qualified for your calling than you. We have to stop being awestruck by people's talents and abilities. Just as Jesus is working in them and through them, he is working in you and through you. You have to stop thinking that you don't matter and that you will never be center stage. If anyone is center stage they are in the wrong place. The only one who is suppose to be center stage is Jesus. The rest of us are supporting cast, playing secondary roles to highlight his star performance. However, our roles, our calling, are important because they were given to us by Jesus and God is working through us.

It doesn't matter what you think and what you want to do. It is the Spirit of God who calls us and equips us. Our role is one of obedience, not giving a second thought to whether we can do it or not, or how we will look doing it, or what other people will say. We are important to Jesus and he has been given us a work to do and he needs us to be obedient in doing it. If every Christian in this world would do what we are suppose to do, in obedience to Jesus, the world would be a much different place, all glory to God.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Are We Earning Our Way To Heaven?

How brave would say you are? Brave enough to come against everything everyone considers acceptable, to stand as an unknown person and change traditions and ways of thinking? Would you come before leaders with little to offer except a revelation from God? You have to be pretty sure of that revelation and you have to be willing to lose everything for it in order to come against things established for thousands of years. You have to be "dead-on" sure about Jesus. Paul was, and Paul did this.

Call him foolish or call him brave but Paul came against the established Jewish way of seeing the law in order to bring the gospel of grace to the Gentiles (you and me). We aren't exactly sure when Paul received this revelation through the teaching of Jesus and by the Holy Spirit but he had it when he was in Antioch and came to Jerusalem to defend the ministry to the Gentiles. He was sure enough about it to stand before the council in Jerusalem, in front of the various apostles, including Peter, seemingly headed up by James, the brother of Jesus. The Church hadn't been around for a long time yet but these were already well respected leaders of the Church.

What had happened was, after the Holy Spirit spread the Church to Antioch, a mainly Gentile city, Barnabas was dispatched from Jerusalem to make a report. Instead, he got caught up in the move of the Spirit and sent to Tarsus for Paul's help, because it was too much for Barnabas alone to train all these people. Paul joined him along with a few others and the church there grew, with mostly Gentiles. Paul operated in the revelation he had received, that it is by grace we are saved and not by works. This is when the circumcision group showed up.

Some well meaning "Christians" from Jerusalem showed up in Antioch and started to teach that people must first convert to Judaism (circumcision) before they could accept Jesus. This threw everyone into confusion because they were preaching the Law of Moses and Paul and the others were teaching grace. This set things up for a show down in Jerusalem as Paul went to present his revelation to the "leaders". In Paul's words:

Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.  (Galatians 2:1-5)

Paul did not give in to them for a moment. He went before those great apostles and no one refuted the truth of what had been revealed to Paul. They sent him back with a letter of apology to the Gentiles for the confusion and with a short list of instructions:

"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."  (Acts 15:28-29)

Because the Spirit so convinced Paul of the truth of this revelation we enjoy the gospel of grace to this day. Now, believe it or not, my purpose today is not to give you a history lesson but to inspire you to stand up for the Word of God. Paul took great risk to get this gospel out to the world so that we Gentiles would not need to convert to Judaism in order to become a Christian, yet this gospel is now under constant attack. And just like in Paul's day, the attack does not come from the world but from those within the Church.

For a couple thousand years man has attempted to add to this gospel, to get people to live by a law instead of by grace. We are born of the Spirit, must live by the Spirit, must keep in step with the Spirit, knowing that it is only Jesus who saves us. We do not live under law but in the freedom of grace, free in the Spirit of God. Consider some of the things people have turned into a law and have hoped will earn their salvation:

- going to church
- reading their Bible
- giving money
- praying
- living a good life
- doing good deeds, acts of kindness

None of these things are wrong and all of them are very good, but none of them earns our salvation. Only the sacrificial act of Jesus provides our salvation. All these other things are natural actions that result from our relationship with Jesus. I hope you can see the difference. Grace tells us that we cannot earn our way to heaven, yet a great majority of the Church are trying to do that without understanding the difference. They think they have a relationship with Jesus because of the things they do, but we do these things because of the relationship with Jesus. Salvation is not part of this list of things we do. Let me try it again: The list above does not earn our salvation, but they spring out of the salvation we receive by the grace of God.

Now here's the real question and the purpose of this blog this morning: Are you brave enough, sure enough of this revelation of God to stand up to the stronghold of the well established attitude about "earning" our salvation? Are you willing to risk it all, as Paul did, to defend the gospel of grace against the onslaught from the "circumcision group" who teach good works and acts of kindness in place of the gospel of grace? The truth is not found in the soft gospel of the "emerging" church but in the very powerful Word of God. Salvation is not earned, it is given freely by the grace of God.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Killing Off The Sick And Injured

It's funny how we so often take the things of God and manage to make it all backwards. We get caught up in this idea of perception provoked by appearance. For some reason we have created this bubble in the Church where, how people perceive us is more important than who we really are. It's probably because Christians are terrible at living the grace of God toward each other. Often we are more like piranhas when we see someone is injured, broken, or messed up.

What is your first thought when you hear of the sins of some respectable member of your church? Can you believe that people actually stop attending church because of the imperfections of others? We see the Church as some kind of Crystal Cathedral instead of the hospital that it is. Really damaged people come in, expecting to find healing for their wounds. Here they are ministered to by the Holy Spirit and cared for by this incredible family of God. It is a place where sins are washed away and a new creation emerges. It is a place of change and transformation; a place of forgiveness and redemption. So why do we put up with this attitude of judgement and execution?

We forget that we all have testimonies that are to be used to glorify God. They are not things of shame that that we hide away and try to pretend never happened. We don't live in the guilt of those things and we do not celebrate the sin but we do celebrate our rescue from that sin. I look at my life, what it could have been if not for the love, mercy and grace of Jesus. It is a thing that should bring joy to every Christian's heart, instead of condemnation. Condemnation doesn't even make sense. Are we going to condemn someone for what they did when they had no choice; when they were enslaved to sin? How can we condemn the redeemed of God for their past when God has transformed them into his child by his love?

Apostle Paul did not hide his testimony. He never forgot where he came from but he also knew what God did with it:

I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me.  (Galatians 1:22-24)

That's something to say, isn't it? "They praised God because of me." They knew what he had been but they could see what God had done and they praised God because of this trophy of grace. The Church is overflowing with these trophies of grace, a people who were not God's people, who had been lost in rebellion and the ugliness of sin, now a nation, God's righteous children, the redeemed of the blood of the Lamb. We are all trophies of grace and we cannot forget our testimony. We may not all have been murderers and bank robbers but we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have a testimony and the Church would be a much more colourful place if we would stop worrying about perception and just be real and honest with people.

People who are sick are not interested in going to places where they kill the sick. The sick want to go to a place where their sins are understood and identified with, where healing is available and where recovery is believed possible. Jesus is the doctor and we are the nurses and nurses don't kill patients. Let the Church be what she was intended to be; change your attitude.