Sunday, April 29, 2012

I'll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want!

What do we want out of a relationship with Jesus? Probably some security and assurance in our life; assurance that everything is going to be okay. Love would most definitely be at the top of the list; the unconditional kind. We could throw in acceptance for who we are, forgiveness, and understanding. If we get to the heart of it we are probably looking for the perfect life, all our wants fulfilled, to be able to do our thing with God's approval, to have all our mistakes fixed. The bottom line can probably be summed up in the word "freedom".

What do we think God wants out of a relationship with us? I think love would be at the top of the list. After all we are told that to love God with our entire being is the greatest commandment. Obedience would also be in the top five. Jesus went on a lot about this with his disciples during his last days with them."If you love me you will obey what I have taught." I would think fellowship with us along with adoration and worship from us must be his desire as well. But I think the fellowship is a greater thing than we realize because Jesus spoke a lot about "oneness" with him; him being in us and us being in him.

One of the big questions I get a lot is: How do we know we are where we are suppose to be with God? The answer to this is rather simple and we find it in Galatians 5:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)

There is a life-time of study and teaching surrounding this but let me simply say that when you are where you are suppose to be in your relationship with Jesus, the Spirit is able to produce these things in your life, not just for your benefit but for everyone who is in your sphere of influence. This is the character of Jesus and when you are one with him it is your character as well. Any disturbance in this relationship will affect this character.

There is no mystery behind what kind of relationship Jesus wants with us. In John 15 Jesus tells us that we are to him what a branch is to a vine. We are absolutely dependent on him. We are part of him, one with him, receiving everything we need from him, being nourished by him and having fruit growing on us because of what he supplies to us:

"Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." (John 15:4)

Notice the fruit again. A right relationship with Jesus produces things; it is impossible not to. We don't produce it, the vine does through the branches and the branches only bear the fruit. That's us, the fruit bearers. But we need to understand that our God is not an object we worship at a distance but instead he desires an intimate oneness relationship:

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)

This is made possible through the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-21) which is another life-time of study and teaching.

This oneness with Jesus is God's great desire for us and, I believe, deep within ourselves, is our desire as well. But this oneness with Christ is disturbed when we get out of step with the Spirit. We desire something contrary to the will of God; could be a relationship, job, possessions, goals. We lose our focus and our motivation changes so what we do no longer has its purpose centered on Jesus. We begin to concentrate on ourselves, on our needs, wants and desires, making ourselves the center of our lives instead of others and God.

We know this but we are seldom honest enough with ourselves to accept the correct the Spirit brings. We know we are wrong because we start noticing the lack of fruit; our peace disappears, sleep is disturbed, our quality of love changes, our joy dries up. We see this but come up with all kinds of excuses of why things are like this, such as "I'm tired or "It's someone else's fault". The fact is, we are in the wrong condition to be one with Jesus. We need to examine ourselves, look at what we are doing, and make changes to get back into the proper relationship with Jesus. After all, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Jesus should be our entire focus and everything else will then fall in place. What do we want out of a relationship with Jesus?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Purpose Of Work

Recently I have taken on a job to support our ministry here in Quebec. It is not the easiest place in the world to serve the Lord. It was a place that, for decades, was blanketed in a religion that played on guilt. In recent years people have thrown off these shackles, not in pursuit of Christ but instead in pursuit of self. It is a place that is plagued by false teachings, false ideologies and a terrible spirit of self destiny. This makes it difficult, but no impossible, to develop great ministries. All this to say, most ministers here need to work to support the ministry as we continue to stand strong to reflect the light of Christ in a very dark land.

Having to work in this manner it is important for us to keep our perspective and priorities right in order not to fall into the trap of this world. After all, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul. In this case it is better to be a beggar on the street corner with a heart right with God than to be a rich man in his palace with an empty soul. We do know that when God was emphasizing to Israel the importance of obedience and doing what is right, he told them that he would bless the work of their hands:

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 24:19)

That's just one simple verse as an example, but Deuteronomy is filled with this promise to bless the work of our hands. In Proverbs 16 we find another promise:

Commit to the LORD whatever you do,    and he will establish your plans. (Proverbs 16:3)

This is all fine and good and many Christians lean on these promises for encouragement, as they should, but Jesus brought us to a different place. He didn't change anything, he only brought us to a deeper place where we gain a much different perspective on the matter.

First of all, our priorities have changed from seeing what we can get out of God to seeing what we can contribute to the mission in response to his love. Our perspective has changed from self to God and others:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)

Unfortunately some people take this the wrong way and figure they can just sit back now and God will put the food on the table, which he does, but often through the blessing of the work of our hands. The difference now is that we understand the work of our hands is also meant to bless others. We don't make our work what we rely on but instead it becomes a source of blessings to others, but this means we need to work:

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. (2 Thessalonians 3:11-13) 

Those who are possessed of the Spirit and who are mature in the Word of God understand how God works through us to bless others. In our obedience he increases the blessings of the work of our hands so that the overflow will be a rich blessings to others. If every believer could understand this, throwing off the pattern of this world, we would discover a much different Church:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:42-45)

The place where Jesus has brought us to is that we no longer live for self but instead we live for God. We no longer work for self, we work for God. We no longer work to provide for our needs but we work to allow God to provide for the needs of others, the Church, ministries, and to be a blessing. In this God also provides richly for us. As we have received from God we must give to others as we are compelled by the love of Christ. It is no longer the mentality of what we can get out of God for ourselves but instead how we can contribute to what God is doing in the lives of others. This is the purpose of the work of our hands.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How Television Has Ruined Us

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 5:7)

I blame television. No, seriously I do. They say that television reflects society but I believe that it is television that shapes society. Day after day we sit in front of this thing for hours, being bombarded by non-reality, with images, ideas and philosophies. Are we writing the shows? No, they are a few people who write from their perspective of life and it influences how we begin to see things. They are interfering in your relationship with God. Some of it is intentional and some is accidental. One of the shows that had the biggest influence on our society was called "Will and Grace". It was a clever show, well written, funny, influential and a society changer. With time, it changed people's attitude and homosexuality started to become an acceptable thing in our society.

Parents are very concerned about what their children watch when it comes to sex and violence but most people don't take into consideration the ideas and philosophies that are being presented. These are even more powerful than the violence and they are playing on the minds of not only our children but on us as well. It's not just television; movies and the internet are just as influential. We are being bombarded daily with messages that are contrary to God's Word but we accept it as normal, letting down our defenses and mixing the philosophies of the world with God's truth.

That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:8-9) 

Let that sit on your spiritual palate for a minute. If God is not influencing you who is and what is their motivation? Ideas stick with us. Presented enough times it becomes a truth for us. The Church is suppose to stand for God's truth, for the God News; we are suppose to reflect the light of Jesus Christ in a dark world, but it is getting harder to see the different between the believer and non-believer.

I don't believe for a moment that we can cut ourselves off from the world. We can't stop the noise and bombardment of these ideas and philosophies but we can be more aware of them and more alert to their dangers. We can actually start thinking for ourselves and dispute these philosophies with the Word of God. We can equip our children with a good grounding in the Word. After watching a show or movie sit down with your children and discuss the ideas and philosophies in the show and then present God's teaching on the matter. Start noticing for yourself, write down notes, think about what you are watching and then search God's Word for the truth concerning what you just let into your head and heart.

I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. (Galatians 5:10)

Yes, these people who sin and convince others to participate in that sin will pay the penalty. We are in this world for one reason, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. That is our entire purpose. We have been told to run this race with perseverance, to go the distance with Jesus. We have work to do, but what good are we if the "salt has lost it's saltiness"? We are not here to be entertained. We are here to serve Jesus Christ. Let's start thinking like servants and start doing the things that please our Master. Get your eyes fixed on Jesus and fix your heart and mind on things above, not on the decaying flesh of this world. Do not let these influences to cut in on you and stop you from obeying the truth.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Only Thing That Counts Is Faith Expressing Itself Through Love

I would love to see people living in the freedom that Jesus died to give us. He died to give us freedom and he rose from the dead to give us life; a life that Jesus called abundant. I find it amazing how, when we are born of the Spirit into the freedom of Jesus, we turn around and allow ourselves to be shackled by other people's idea of salvation.

I want to be clear by repeating what I said yesterday: The only source of salvation is faith in what Jesus has done for us. The scriptures are plain about this:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Romans 5:1-2)

Justified through faith, not through anything we do. Anyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. The thief on the cross beside Jesus is a clear example of that. There was no baptism, no communion, no anything else. There was only a dying, naked man on the cross expressing his faith in Jesus. To him Jesus simply said, "Today you will be with me in paradise".

When we read Paul's letters we see that he was dogged at every turn by the "circumcision group". This group was made up of Christian Jews who would go in after Paul and confuse everyone by saying they could not follow Jesus without first being circumcised. This physical circumcision belonged to the old covenant and was replaced by the circumcision of the heart which happens with salvation:

No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:29)

Remember, Jesus came to bring us to a deeper place with God, beyond the surface matters and into the heart matters. These people wanted to stay on the surface of things. They wanted to add a step to salvation. For them it was circumcision that saved, a work of the flesh, which opened the door to follow Jesus. Today we don't have such a focus on circumcision but we do have things like baptism and communion.

Wow, I just heard a lot of monitors closing. Baptism and communion are done in obedience to the Word but in and of themselves they hold no value. They are nothing more than a symbol, a testimony to the world about what has already been done for us in the Spirit. You would not believe how many people do not know this and actually believe they are not saved unless they are baptized and take communion.

I am not against either of this fantastic public testimonies about what Jesus has done for us, but I am against people using them to add a step to salvation. If a person is never baptized and never takes communion he is still well saved if he has called on the name of Jesus Christ. Let's not complicate this and turn it into something it isn't. Justification is by faith alone and if we are relying on other things we are in a lot of trouble.

Now I want you to hear this loud and clear because I want you to experience real freedom. Hear these words from Paul, inspired by the Spirit:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 2:6)

Hear that loud and clear: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You will not take anything into the next stage of our life, eternal life, if it was not born of this faith. It`s great to have such strong symbolism but we must ensure that they do not interfere with the true source of salvation. Remember that snake in the desert, the foreshadowing of Christ, that the generations that followed turned into an object of worship? Some people are doing this with baptism and communion.

Everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

Now that you are free, do not allow anyone to throw you back into captivity. Keep your eyes on Jesus and only Jesus and let nothing cut in on you and rob you of the source of your salvation. Justification is by faith, alone!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Are We As Free As We Are Led To Believe?

Imagine a prisoner was just set free after years of captivity. He comes out into the freedom of life, able to work and earn things, able to enjoy family and friends, able to go for a walk whenever he felt like it. Now imagine that same prisoner deciding to turn his back on that freedom, to walk back into prison because he preferred it in there; he would rather be in captivity then enjoy his freedom. There are a number of people like this because the captivity is what they are familiar with whereas the freedom is too strange and uncomfortable.

This is what it is like for many of us who are in Christ Jesus. Jesus came to set us free from the longest captivity known to man. There was not only the captivity of sin but also the captivity of the law. We may think we are free but we have this terrible mindset toward captivity. We allow ourselves to remain a slave to sin even after Jesus has given us a choice. We also enjoy the captivity of the law, preferring to live by rules that we think are earning us something with God instead of accepting the freedom Jesus has given to us by God's grace.

We accept this freedom at first but it feels so unfamiliar that we slowly go back to what we know. We rely on things that we think are earning us favor with God. It could be good deeds, reading the Bible, going to church, paying tithe, being part of the worship band, preaching on the street or even behind the pulpit. If we think these things are earning us anything then we are developing our own law to live by. These things can only be the fruit that comes from our relationship with Jesus, they cannot be the source of our salvation. Salvation is by faith or it isn't salvation. We have freedom because it was given to us not because we earned it.

Paul stated to the Galatians:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

It is good to to examine ourselves to see if we have been slipping back toward that prison life we are so familiar with. There are no church rituals, whether it is baptism or communion, there is no fruit of the Spirit, whether it is speaking in tongues or giving sight to the blind, that can save us. Only Jesus brings us the freedom of salvation and it is only received by faith. By faith I mean simply trusting that it is true and it is done:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

Justified by faith not by works. Works is the the fruit of our salvation.

So go ahead, check yourself out. Ask God to be honest with you and to convict you of anything that you are treating as a source of salvation. Be willing to see if you have slipped back behind the prison walls of the law. It is for freedom that Jesus has set us free, so stand in that freedom and do not allow anyone or anything to take you back into captivity.

Monday, April 16, 2012

You Are Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams

You are not an ordinary person and you have to stop seeing yourself as ordinary. If you think of yourself as ordinary then you are going to do ordinary things, speak ordinary words and have ordinary expectations. As a follower of Jesus Christ, a child of the promise, born of the Spirit, you have been called out from the ordinary and you are intended for great things in the Kingdom of God.

Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, explaining to them why we are so special. He used Hagar and Sarah to make his point:

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. (Galatians 4:22-23)

We also come from that promise. Earlier in the letter Paul had argued that the promise predated the law and was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We too are born of this promise. Paul continues:

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (vv. 24-26)

This is a wonderful illustration that assumes we know the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. If you don't know it then you should read it. Basically Hagar was Sarah's servant whom she gave to her husband to have a child because she could not have one of her own. This son was then born in slavery. Sarah eventually had a son; the son promised by God. The son born of slavery represents the law, the work of our flesh, our attempt to do things ourselves. The son born of the promise represents salvation by faith, birthed by the Spirit, our reliance on the works and promises of God.

Paul also points out something very interesting because the son born into slavery persecuted the son of the promise:

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (vv. 28-31)

So this is the problem we often face; we have an identity crisis. We are born of the Spirit, children of the promise but we act and think as if we are children of slavery. We are born by the grace of God and according to that grace we are free, no longer in slavery to the law, covered by the blood of Jesus. We are not covered by our human effort but by the loving act of Jesus. What we do in the way of acts of kindness is not a requirement of some law but instead is a fruit of the spirit of love that we have been given.

Stop feeling guilty, you have been freely forgiven. Stop trying to earn your way into God's good graces, he has already brought you there by his grace. You are rich beyond your wildest dreams because you have every blessing ever promised by God. His storehouse is full and it is all for you. So start living like the rich kid that you are. Daddy has given us a job because he wants us to participate in his mission. It is not a job that earns us anything because we already have everything. It is a job that we want to have because the love of Christ compels us to participate in the family business: the salvation of the world.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

From Everyone Who Has Been Given Much, Much Will Be Demanded

Let me be straightforward here; this morning I am trying to work out the word I am bringing to my church. It's not an easy word but one we have to hear. We have two many "types" of Christians walking around saying too many different things, shaping the Word of God according to how they want to be able to live. Too many of us can't handle the conviction of the Word and Spirit we find in a book like Romans and instead hide out in the comfort of the psalms. We want to be in the gentle and warm embrace of Jesus while ignoring the direct assault upon our sin that we find in Jesus' words. We want to sing the song of grace without facing the fact of why God needed to show us grace in the first place. We need to look in that mirror.

The reason I say we need to do this is because we forget where we have come from and we haven't a clue where we are going. We have forgotten just how incredible God's grace is and having forgotten where we have come from and having forgotten the reason for God's grace, we have forgotten why it is important to show that grace to others. We are a bunch of Pharisees, living in privilege and condemning those without it. We judge a world enslaved by sin for living by sin, forgetting that we are the ones with the key to help set them free from their prison.

Do you remember the parable that Jesus told of the servant who had received mercy but refused to show mercy? You can read it for yourself in Matthew 18 starting at verse 23, but I will give you the short version. A king was settling accounts and found a man who owed him millions of dollars. Seeing that the man could not pay, the king was about to put him and his whole family in prison but the man begged for mercy. The king canceled his debt but then the man went out and found a friend who owed him $10 and had him thrown in jail because he couldn't pay him back. The king heard about it and canceled the canceled debt and threw the man in jail as well. This is how we often act; we forget what was done for us as we fail to show mercy and grace to others.

So let's remember what was done for us.

In Romans 1 we discover that God considers that everyone is without excuse. Even if people have not read the Word God has revealed himself and his glory in everything around us. There are things we do that we know are wrong without having to be told (v. 24). Every culture condemns those who steal, murder and lie. It is amazing to see how certain values are the same across various cultures and societies. God is all around us and can be seen by those who bother to look, So we are without excuse.

God does not force himself on anyone. We wanted sin so he left us to ourselves. It is like our children as they get closer to adult hood. We are there to encourage them, counsel them, guide them but if they choose to reject what we have to say and choose their own path, we are going to leave them to it, to learn from their mistakes. We hurt for them, for what we know the outcome will be, but they are responsible for their own decisions and actions. This is what it means as we read:

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:24-25)

"He gave them over"; he let us decide for ourselves. He is talking about us here. This is where we have come from, it is our past:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)

This is our debt that we owed the King. This is what we could not pay for. He gave us the freedom to choose and we chose rebellion. Each of us was not without sin, without debt; we owed God big time, much more than millions of dollars. Listen:

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:29-31)

This is us he is describing. This is our history, our past, our origins. It doesn't matter which sin you identify with or even if you identify with them all, doing one is like doing them all.

This is the beauty of our God: He paid what we could not pay. He cancelled out our debt. He forgave ever offence, every act of rebellion, every depraved thought and action. We deserved death but through his own actions in Jesus Christ, he cancelled that death sentence. Knowing this then, we became great sources of forgiveness, mercy and grace, pouring out into others what we ourselves received. Right? If only.

Unfortunately many of us miss the point and think that God has done this for us because we are special. We are no more special than the druggy in the back ally. The only difference is we have accepted God's grace and mercy and that poor man in that back ally hasn't yet. God's love and attention on us all is equal. So having received this grace we should become sources of grace, not condemnation:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1)

 We are no different than any other human being on the face of this planet; we all come from the same place. The difference comes in what we have accepted from God. We have accepted his mercy and grace where others have not. We can identify with where these people are, the darkness that engulfs them, the sin that imprisons them. Patience and love should be easy things for  us, as should be grace and forgiveness. Jesus told us this:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)

Much grace has been given to us so much grace is demanded from us. Instead of running away from the world we should be running to it. Not to become engaged with sin again and not to throw rocks at those who are still lost in sin, but instead to be the nurses and doctors that this world needs. We have the key to share with them that will set them free, but refusing to give them the key while throwing rocks at them is just wrong. We will have to answer for that. According to Jesus' parable, the king will cancel our cancelled debt and we will stand alongside those we have judged to be judged ourselves.

We need to do more than apply God's grace to ourselves and consider ourselves a cut above society. We need to live God's grace by applying it to others so they too will understand what we have understood and receive what we have received. Our actions and attitudes cannot be a barrier to those who want to know God because if they are we will have to answer for it, and it will not go well for us. There is much more to this life than the comforts we seek. We are here as an example of God's glory and grace so let's start living the part.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How Come People Without Jesus Seem Better Off Than Us?

I wonder if you have ever thought, "Why me"? Do you ever feel like all the bad stuff in this world always happens to you, that if anything is ever going to go wrong it will always happen to you? Ever look at someone who isn't serving Jesus and who doesn't appear to have any problems and think "That isn't fair"? Would you be surprised if I told you that you aren't alone?

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; 
   I had nearly lost my foothold. 
For I envied the arrogant 
   when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalm 73:2-3)

It is amazing how much trouble we can find ourselves in when envy comes knocking on our door. We compare our lives with others and suddenly we have that "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence" feeling. We look at how tough things are for us even though we are doing everything right with God and we imagine that other person's lives are perfect:

They have no struggles; 
   their bodies are healthy and strong. 
They are free from the burdens common to man; 
   they are not plagued by human ills. (vv. 4-5)

We really start to believe this and it begins bothering us:

This is what the wicked are like—    always carefree, they increase in wealth. (v. 12)

And because we are seeing life from this perspective a more dangerous thought starts to invade our relationships with God:

Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; 
   in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. 
All day long I have been plagued; 
   I have been punished every morning. (vv. 13-14)

This is crazy thinking and it happens when we start putting value on the wrong things in life. When we start seeing riches, possessions, fame, all things material of greater worth than our spirit we will end up in this position of envy. What we are envying is a pretty shallow life. It is one dimensional. As you get to know these "successful" and "famous" people you soon realize that all you see is all they have, whereas your riches are far greater even though they cannot be seen. Standing in such a place of envy is indeed a dangerous slippery slope.

We have something of far greater worth than a big house, fancy cars, nice clothes, glory and fame. We have the richness of knowing that we are loved and cherished by our Father:

Yet I am always with you; 
   you hold me by my right hand. 
You guide me with your counsel, 
   and afterward you will take me into glory. (vv. 23-24)

When we fix our eyes on Jesus we realize just how rich we are, how much life is better with him than without him. It is better to be a poor man in a poor house with Jesus than it is to be a rich man in a palace without him. I do not believe Jesus intends for us to be poor but you know what I mean here. We can be stripped of everything and have Jesus and we would still be richer than the richest man in this world:

Whom have I in heaven but you? 
   And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 
My flesh and my heart may fail, 
   but God is the strength of my heart 
   and my portion forever. (vv. 25-26)

And the truth about those people we may have envied is that they are far from being in an envious position. Where our riches can never be taken away from us, theirs can disappear in an instant. How many times will we see these great men of wealth destroyed over night before we realize that we are in the best position a person can be in:

Surely you place them on slippery ground; 
   you cast them down to ruin. 
How suddenly are they destroyed, 
   completely swept away by terrors! 
As a dream when one awakes, 
   so when you arise, O Lord, 
   you will despise them as fantasies. (vv. 18-20)

So let us stop dreaming about other people's lives and live our own to God's glory. Let us throw off the bonds of envy and celebrate what we have in Jesus. He is more than enough for us. His riches are beyond our imagination and he says they are all for us. He has given us a peace that can never be taken from us. He is always with us and he is the song of our heart. The world has nothing to offer compared to Jesus.

Friday, April 13, 2012

How To Handle A Parent

Those of you who may be having a tough time with your parents, I have a bit of advice: Cut them some slack. I know you aren't happy right now; they've gotten after you for something or they always seem to be on your case but I want to explain something to you about them. It may not always seem it but they love you. It's just that being your parent is a heavy responsibility. They feel the entire weight of your future, of your education, of what you will become. They know the mistakes they have made and they are desperately trying to keep you from repeating them. Yes, you are your own person, different from them, but parents are not super beings, just human and you are a major focus in their life.

They want so much for you to get this right. They are honestly afraid that they haven't done a good job in the early years, like they messed up by forgetting to teach you important stuff, and now they are worried you are going to make the wrong decisions because of their mess ups. They have been the major influence in your life and now you are shifting away from them and relying more on your friends, which is a very scary thing for parents.

Maybe you can understand it if we looked at the relationship between a pastor and his congregation. His life is given for those people, in that he is there to serve them, to help with guidance and to train them to become mature Christians. He constantly prayers for them, is involved with them, is part of their lives in such major events as birth, marriage, and death. It is very hard for him when he sees other influences, negative influences pulling them away from the source of all things, Jesus, and leading them to destruction. We can see into the heart of a parent as we consider Paul's words to the Galatians:

 17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Galatians 4:17-20)

Perplexed is a good word. There are a lot of perplexed pastors out there and a ton of perplexed parents. An experienced pastor can see all the danger signs and will do everything he can to allow God to be a stronger influence through him to keep his people from taking the wrong path. Parents often find themselves in this same position, trying to remain a strong influence in their child's life, hoping to prevent them from the wrong paths. Parents have the responsibility of training their children into mature adults.

There is no training school for parents. You can't earn a Masters degree in parenting. It is basically on the job training and good parents rely on God's guidance, allowing love to be the motivator in their actions and words. But this does not mean their hearts are not often times overwhelmed and perplexed, knowing what you have to face every day and knowing the major influences out there. They love you. They want to see you succeed in the same way that God desires our success as his children.

So if you can find the maturity to love them and forgive them despite you disagreeing with them, it would go a long way in a smooth relationship with your parents. They aren't perfect. They will make mistakes but the core of their motivation is their love for you. It may look like a strange love at times but often they just don't know how to put it in words. They are perplexed. Make things a bit better for yourself by trusting their love, listening to their advice and honouring them through obedience. It will remove their perplexity and bring some peace to the relationship. When the waters are calm you can respectively explain your perspective on the matter. You will be amazed how much they will be willing to listen. After all, they love you.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

When Love Hurts

We can't live by emotions but emotions are a good gauge as to where we are with things. If you feel down it would be a good idea to examine yourself to understand why. If you are feeling angry all the time, there is an issue there somewhere. If you are feeling anxious, there is a reason for it. We can't live by these emotions but neither can we afford not to understand them. Emotions should not change our course of living but they can help us better understand how we are reacting to circumstances.

People have this notion that God removes our emotions, that all we feel all the time is love. Yet, when I read the Word of God I see all kinds of emotions in Jesus. I see excitement and pleasure, disappointment and anger, love and compassion. Jesus felt a whole range of emotions, the same ones we have all the time, yet none of it prevented him from moving forward. Not once do we hear him say, "I don't feel like it today guys" or "I'm a bit low today so I think I will stay in bed". Could you ever imagine Jesus saying, "I'm too angry with you to heal you right now"? He had our emotions but he never allowed them to keep him from doing what was right.

Paul is another great example of this. Paul was not the sort of guy who was very good at hiding his emotions. Maybe he was different in the flesh but in his writing we can see his heart all over the place. One of the places that really strikes me is in Galatians 4:

What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? (v.15-16)

I wonder if you can relate to that. Ever have a great friend who, one day, just turned around and became your enemy? If that has ever happened to you I am sure you remember the emotions that were provoked by it. There was a lot of pain, hurt, anger, disappointment, questioning, bewilderment, confusion and a bunch of other stuff. We are a relational creature; relations really matter to us. When someone we love suddenly becomes someone who hates us it is difficult to handle. For some of us the easiest solution is to simply walk away. Can you imagine Jesus or Paul doing that? Why not?

Immaturity is when we allow our emotions to dictate our actions. There are a lot of immature adults walking the streets of our cities and sitting in the pews of our churches. Maturity allows us to understand our emotions but to still make the right decision to do the right thing. The reason Jesus and Paul never walked away is because love was always the dominate motivator of their actions. For Jesus it still is and for Paul it was always Jesus' love that compelled him to take the right actions.

So understand your emotions but don't live by them. Just like the pain in your arm tells you there is something that is wrong and that it needs your attention, our emotions warn us if something is not right in us. But that pain in your arm is not going to stop you from living today and neither should your emotions. Understand your circumstances but get on with your living. Emotions change but our reason for living should remain a constant. The greatest and most important things for us to do in our living for Jesus is to love and forgive. Don't let anything interfere with your living for Jesus.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Be Like Me

The boldest people you will ever meet are those who know themselves well. They aren't perfect and they don't try to pretend they are. They have gotten to know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, their beauty and their ugliness and they live in the boldness of that knowledge. The weakest people you will ever meet are the pretenders; the ones that work so hard not to know themselves. They avoid seeing their ugliness and they never want to admit their weaknesses. They pretend to be strong all the time.

However, life isn't always about being bold in our knowledge of self. This kind of boldness is not going to get you very far and will probably still leave you pretty messed up. You see, we are a busted creation and nothing we do will ever amount to very much. We need another ingredient added. It is not enough to know self. We have to know self but the greater ingredient is knowing Jesus. In fact, it is in knowing Jesus that we realize we are not a lost cause. We realize the greatest part about knowing self is that we know that we can't do it on our own, that we need Jesus. Those who pretend will never realize they need Jesus because they are never willing to deal with their imperfections.

It is in this sense, of knowing self and knowing how much Jesus has done in him, that allows Paul to say quite plainly:

I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. (Galatians 4:12)

This is not like some Hollywood star saying, "Hey, copy me". It is not like some millionaire that everyone studies to see how they too can become so rich. This is a man who was forced to face his own ugliness, embrace the truth of it, and then become broken so Jesus could put him back together.

Paul was not a success according to this world but he was becoming a spiritual success. He wanted everyone to become like him, in his love for Jesus and in his dedicated and faithful service. Paul was a bold and fearless man, but not by any strength or ability he had but because of the relationship he had with Jesus Christ. Paul was no dummy and he had all the tools to become rich and successful according to this world but his only desire was to be obedient to Jesus Christ.

All of us have been called to this same boldness but the boldness begins when we realize how far short we have fallen from God's grace. When we realize how much we need Jesus and then realize everything Jesus has done for us, we gain a great boldness. We are able to realize that if God gave us his very best what good thing would he hold back from us. He has given us everything and nothing is a barrier to us. Our boldness is found in our faith just as it was found in Paul's. We trust every word ever spoken by God, every promise ever given, every teaching and instruction laid out by Jesus. We trust the direction of the Spirit and believe we are equipped and empowered (anointed) to do what Jesus told us to do.

All of us should be found in that place of being able to say "become like me" when we refer to our faith and relationship with Jesus. If we can't then we need to realize the truth of it and take steps to correct our luke-warmness. Live boldly in Jesus my friend.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When Love Fades

Have you ever had someone love you so much that they were more interested in what was good for you than in what would make you think well of them? This would be the person who would tell you quite frankly how that hat looked on you or that you were dating a loser. This would be the person more interested in your future than your past, who thought you could always do the impossible if you would try, and who always wanted you to see yourself in the best light. This would be the person who you knew to be sincere when they expressed concern for you. Perhaps their honesty was a bit much to take at times but you always turned to them when you wanted to see the truth of a situation, and then avoided them when you wanted to lie to yourself.

Apostle Paul was like that with the Galatians; he sincerely loved them and he was sincerely concerned for them. Something had happened to them. Something had interrupted their faith. They had started off well, were sincere in their love of God and in their faith in him. They had tasted of his goodness, power and glory but now something was dragging them back to their former practices and beliefs:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (Galatians 4:8-9)

That is a good question: Once you have met and know Jesus how could you ever turn your back on him? Once you have tasted that love and walked in the richness of his fellowship, how could you ever be tempted by anything ever again? Unfortunately it is not that difficult to do.

It's not that people stop believing Jesus, it's just that they stop having time for him. Like the beginning of any affair in a marriage, it starts by not spending time with the object of your affection.. It's not that the love disappears, it simply starts fading a bit, gets weaker and the bond between the two people loosen. After that it doesn't take much to grab our attention and steal our heart away. We stop spending time with Jesus, get busy with other things, fill our head and heart with other notions, and before we know it we have another lover and we are lost to our first love.

It is unbelievable how weak we are with relationships. Those that don't fade and eventually break, stay together out of fear of not being together, but it has nothing to do with love. The relationship is still cold and broken. There is no life to it, no flame of passion. This too can describe us with Jesus. We are still loyal to him but we really don't feel anything. We serve but it is more out of duty or fear than it is out of a loving and thankful heart. It is in this state that we start up with a secret lover or two. We fall back into what we were familiar with and mask it in religion. It is a sad thing being trapped in a loveless marriage.

Praise be to God that there is no reason to stay in that state. You can rekindle that love by discovering the real Jesus all over again. Throw off everything that has entangled you, give those other lovers the boot, throw open the windows of your heart and be honest with Jesus. Confess the hidden things to him and allow him to start with you all over again. You don't need to hold on to those useless things, ideas, practices, rituals, anything you have come to depend on. The only dependency you should have is on Jesus, the true lover of your soul. He must be your everything or he will become nothing to you.

Examine your relationship with him again. Is he less important to you than he was in the beginning? Is there anything you would rather do than spend time with him? Are there things other than Kingdom things that are your motivation in life? What are the first things you consider when you go to make a decision? How much of your day involves Jesus? Is he your reason for everything or is he something you do when you can fit him in? Is your relationship as strong as it was or is it beginning to fade? Are you primed for an affair with your former life? Are you being attracted to other things? Well do something about it today. Don't put it off. Tomorrow could be too late for you. Ask Jesus for forgiveness and allow him to lead you back to health.

What happened to that one honest friend you had? Is she just a fading memory now; a well appreciate shadow from your past? Don't let Jesus become the same thing. You will never find a better lover, friend, champion, hero, companion and master than Jesus Christ. Hold on to him tightly and never let him go.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Did You Meet Jesus This Easter?

Resurrection Day has come and gone and we are ... the same? I hope not. I hope that we have all received some new revelation and have drawn even closer to Jesus. I hope we were surprised by something. Maybe it wasn't at church but perhaps it was something in our personal preparation. Change is suppose to be a constant for us as we are in the midst of transformation. Every moment with Jesus is suppose to augment this transformation process because it is impossible to spend time with Jesus without being changed. Resurrection Day was not the end of it. The empty tomb was not the end of it. There is more, much more to come.

Last night Jesus met with some of his disciples. Judas was dead and Thomas was missing but all the others were there when Jesus suddenly appeared in the room. The door was locked as they cowered in fear having heard the report from Mary but not daring to believe. They dared not believe and yet he was standing there, in front of them, greeting them in peace.

Understand that these poor men were without a future. Jesus had been their future, their only future and he was stolen away from them. Without him they had no hope, no direction, no purpose; they felt completely lost. The hid away, filled with fear, anxiety and dread which paralysed them. They were really paralysed emotionally, physically, mentally. The shock was wearing off and the depression was sinking in and this is why they could not process Mary's news from that morning. She said that she had seen Jesus and he was returning to the Father. What were they to make from that?

Now here he stood in front of them. He showed them the marks in his hands, his feet and the gash in his side. There was no denying it. The sight of the marks pained them but the joy of having Jesus with them again was starting to penetrate everything else. What a shock it was to have him with them again but they were still too afraid to touch him, to embrace him, to even greet him. Three things happened that night that changed everything; three things that gave them a future, purpose, direction and hope.

Jesus said to them and to us: "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." (John 20:21) Imagine how those words filled the void they had been left with. Consider the power of this statement: Jesus has sent us out with the same sense of rescue mission as he was sent with. He came with the purpose saving mankind:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

We go with that same understanding that the world is saved through Jesus Christ. We are sent to share the good news, to put the enemy to flight and to respond to the needs of people through the compassionate heart of God. Jesus came with power and authority through the Holy Spirit and he is sending us in the same way.

The second thing that happened is Jesus promising the Spirit, who is the power and authority of God in us: "And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (John 20:22) He told them to go and he promised the Spirit to equip them to go. Jesus set for us an example of how it is that we can serve in these weak bodies. Although he came as man and he was equally man and equally God, he set aside his divine nature and served in the flesh. He did this through the Holy Spirit, showing us that it is possible to do exactly what he did through the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Going to the Father was significant. He told his disciples they should be pleased he was going to the Father because in going he was able to send to them the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is key to everything we are suppose to do in the going. Yet, it requires a faith that few of us have yet to tap because we have twisted Jesus' words so that we do not expect to do what he did. We convince ourselves that he meant something else. Meanwhile the world continues to cry out, "Show to us that your God is real".

The third thing that happened that night to change them is also of great significance. Jesus said to his disciples: "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23) Forgiveness is key to everything we do and are involved in. We cannot minister to a suffering world if we do not understand nor experienced the power of forgiveness. Love is the foundation of the Kingdom and forgiveness is its first fruit. Jesus told many parables and gave many teachings on forgiveness, stating that if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven. He told us that we will be forgiven in the same manner in which we forgive. How can we possibly share the Good News of Jesus Christ if we are not able live the first steps of this relationship: repentance and forgiveness?

This command on forgiveness was important because the disciples had to get past what had just traumatized them. They had been betrayed by Judas, one of their own. The leaders of the land just trapped and manipulated the execution of their innocent Master. The Romans and inflicted incredible cruelty upon the innocent. They were hiding in fear. They may have even felt abandoned by God. There was a lot of forgiveness needed to heal the many wounds. Then there was the forgiveness they needed to believe they received. Peter is an example of this. If you are to minister to this fallen world the first thing you must accept is that you are forgiven. The enemy will come at you with accusations of your past, trying to rob you of God's power but you must hold on to the fact you are forgiven. Knowing and accepting your forgiveness you will in turn be able to easily forgive those who will harm you in ministry.

I look to these three things and I realize that my life is brimming with purpose, direction and hope for my future. I have received the command to "go" in the same sense that Jesus was sent by the Father. There is a world that needs to know the good news and who need to "see" Jesus. I have received the Holy Spirit, who is the power and authority of God in me. Demons must flee at my command. Diseases must let go and infirmities will be healed. I have the power and authority to speak life into dead things. I have the power, ability and responsibility to forgive in the same manner I have been forgiven. Forgiveness is what it is all about. I come away from Resurrection Day having been renewed in my understanding that it is not about me; it is about Jesus and the lost who need him.
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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection Day : What's In A Name


Try to imagine what it must have been like for the disciples of Jesus, now a few days after his death. In the last three years their whole life had become the Master; their purpose for living, for waking every morning, for everything they did in a day. He was their hope, their promise, their future. They left everything for him, even when their friends and relatives thought them to be mad, but how could they resist him? How could they say no? And now he was dead.

They were holed up behind a locked door in a small room, anticipating a pounding fist on the door at any minute from the soldiers as they tracked them down. It was only a matter of time. They would track them all down, if it took them a lifetime to do it, just to get rid of the Master's name. The smell of fear was mixed with grief and despondency. Imagine what it must have been like in that room with the Master dead and no hope for tomorrow.

Imagine as well how they must have jumped out of their skin as suddenly fists began to pound on the door. Only it wasn't  soldiers; it was the women. Confusion. Panic. The sound of your heart pounding in your ears.

The door is opened and the women almost tumble in. Something is wrong. The colour is drained from Mary's face. Her voice is barely audible, yet they all heard her words.

"They've taken him."

The sound and meaning of the words are not long in registering but the feet are slow to react. What was that about an angel? Everyone looks to each other. What are they to do?

It only takes two heart beats before John takes action. And quick on his heels is Peter. I wonder what they thought as they ran. Perhaps it was pure emotions as rage took over. It had to be something strong to bring them out of hiding like this. Mary said the tomb is open.

John was the better runner, reaching the tomb before Peter. He was the youngest of the group. But Peter wasn't doing too bad for an old man. Sure enough, the stone was rolled to one side. Something held John back. He stood at the entrance and peered into the dark, straining to see anything in the early morning light. His heart was racing and it probably wasn't from the running.

Peter arrived but he did not slow down at the entrance, brushing past John and only stopping when he hit the back wall of the tomb. The only sound was the panting of the two men as they gasped for air, sucking it into their bodies through clinched teeth.

The body was gone.

Just as the women had said, he was gone. The grave clothes were there, looking odd in their placement. The linens that wrapped the body lay there as if someone had somehow sucked the body out. And over in the corner, the grave clothes, the one that covers the head, were neatly folded. Who would have done this? It didn't look like the work of any soldiers.

Peter and John left the tomb, disturbed at what they have found. They walked slowly back without saying a word. Bewildered. Angry. Despondent. Fearful. But mostly lost. They walked past Mary with no acknowledgement of her presence. These were just shells of men brushing past her, so different from who they were just a few days ago. Their purpose for living was gone. And those filthy Pharisees couldn't even leave his body alone.

Mary stood outside of the tomb and watched them go. What was to become of them? How could they go on? And now even his body was taken from them? A wave of grief overcame Mary and she collapsed in a heap of flesh and tears. She could hold it back no longer as a great cry of wailing tore itself from her throat.

Who knows how long she remained there but eventually everything grew quiet again. Had she fallen asleep?

Mary sat up with a start. Was that the sound of rustling she heard in the tomb? Were the robbers back? How did they get past her without her noticing? Perhaps she had fallen asleep? But now rage filled her body, along with a twinge of fear, but mostly rage at the thought that they had come back. She picked herself up from the ground  and carefully peered into the tomb.

At first she couldn't see anything. The sun was much brighter now and the contrast between the bright sun and the dark tomb was too much. She stuck her head further into the dark of the tomb. Her eyes began to adjust.

She gasped.

There, sitting at the head and the foot of the linens sat two angels. Mary blinked. They were still there. She pinched herself. They were still there. They were smiling at her. She felt faint. She refused to give into her body and held tighter to the wall of the tomb.

“Woman, why are you crying?”

They had spoken. Angels were speaking to her. She answered without much thought to what she was saying. It was automatic.

They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”

The wave of grief that came over her almost dropped her to her knees again. Angels or not she could not handle any more of this. She quickly turned to leave and let out a small shriek of fright. A man was standing behind her. The gardener she supposed. A quiet one. He looked at her, concerned. There was such compassion in his eyes.

“Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

The thought suddenly flashed through her mind. This was the gardener? If anyone knows where the body has gone he would know.

“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Why was he smiling at her like that? Did she know him? Was he playing some kind of game with her? She felt like her whole world was crashing down on her. Any second now she was going to run off crying again.



Could it be?

At the sound of her name spoken from those precious lips her head exploded with a million different colours. The whole world turned sideways and started to spin. She couldn't breathe. She literally could not breathe. Even her heart had stopped knowing how to work.

As she dropped to her knees yet again she heard her own voice cry out, "Rabonni!" It was him. It was the Teacher. The Master. It was Jesus!

She brushed the impossibility aside as she reached out to grasp his legs. But he stepped back. Out of reach. Her great tears of joy stopped and she looked up at him in confusion. Was she mistaken? Was this not Jesus? No, it was him. She could see it clearly now in his eyes and smile. And how could she ever mistake the way he said her name. Her name pronounced on those beautiful lips. She thought she would never hear such a wonderful thing again in all her life. But why was he moving away from her?

“Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

She did not understand much but she did understand this: the Teacher needed her again. She quickly jumped to her feet and ran as fast as her body would carry her. She felt alive again. Excitement flowed from the top of her head to the soles of her pounding feet. Her mind swam with a thousand thoughts but one was greater than all the rest:

"He's alive!"
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