Monday, December 31, 2012

2013: A Year Of The Encourager

As I read through various blogs and facebook pages I see many people are hoping to have a good new year. It is natural for us to desire to have a better year than what we just experienced, desiring peace and prosperity. But I want to challenge you on something as we stare into the dark abyss of this mysterious brand new year. I challenge you to be determined not to look to what you desire in the new year but instead to desire to make it a good year for other people. I challenge you to be an encourager this year.

It's easy to get caught up in the dramas of our own life. It's easy to focus on our desires and our needs. It's easy to lose sight of what is important to Jesus and thus important to us. So I am challenging you to take the more difficult path this year. Take the path that shows your trust in our Father to look after your needs, set aside yourself, and concentrate on what is important to Jesus, which is people. One of the most powerful and lacking ministries in the Kingdom is that of the encourager, yet it doesn't take much; just a few words will do it:

For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. (Colossians 2:5)

We spend a lot of time complaining about people but what if we were to put that energy into lifting people up. Paul pointed out two strong aspects of the Colossian church; they were a people who were orderly and they were firm in their faith. Imagine how those words must have impacted that church. Imagine the next time they faced opposition how those words would have encouraged them to remain strong. Imagine how those words prevented some of the weaker Christians from giving up. Now imagine what your words could do.

To be an encourager is to be a person who understands God's grace. If all you can see in a person is what they do wrong then you do not understand grace. If all you can do is pull a person down and see no value in lifting them up then you do not understand grace. If you can't find two things about a person that are worthy of your praise then you are in need of a refresher course of God's grace. An encourager understands what our Father has done for us through Jesus Christ. An encourager is able to apply that same grace to everyone around them. An encourager sees past the failings to the things God is doing.

We need a lot more encouragers in the Body of Christ. We need people who lift others up, who remind others what God is doing, who remind others who they are in Jesus. We need people who can speak the right words into people's lives, words that inspire, encourage, and cause people to keep on keeping on. Encouragers are selfless, setting aside their own needs to speak into the lives of others. They give of themselves in the same way that Jesus has given to us.

Stop chasing after the things that the world chases after and instead seek the things of the Kingdom in 2013. Make others the priority. Put their needs above your own. Trust the Father to look after you, set aside your complaining spirit, let the words of your mouth only be things worthy of the name of Jesus, things that bring life and not death. Focus on this in 2013 and it will be the most incredible year of your life. Our greatest desire is to be used by God so set your heart on being an encourager and watch what God does. May your 2013 be a wonderfully blessed year as you grow strong in your service to the King.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Changing Priorities For The New Year

Two days away from a new year. How are your resolutions shaping up? We all know that nothing magical happens between the 31st and the 1st but there is a sense of change, or at least the potential for change. There is not a filtering system where everything gets left behind in the old year so we can start over in the new but there are some decisions we can make to be a different person in the new year.

You aren't going to be shocked that I would suggest that it has to start with Jesus. Well, not so much Jesus as it is our attitude in our relationship with Jesus. Everything hinges on that relationship. It is Jesus who changes us so any real change we want to see happen is only going to take place when we welcome those changes.

Personally I know that I have to make other people my greater focus, but that can only happen if I am walking even closer with Jesus. I can clear my agenda to make more time for people. I can change my daily routine to give others greater priority. I can change my financial target so I am investing in people. I can do all this but it won't last if Jesus' love is not my motivation and the only way this becomes my motivation is if it is the foundation of my life. I know for a fact that the greatest thing in my life, in the world, in the universe is the Father's love. But knowing it and allowing that to shape me are two different things.

I will share with you my prayers and desires for myself for this new year:

1. Greater intimacy with Jesus and acting upon that intimacy, allowing it to shape my life so the following can happen
2. Greater intimacy with my wife and acting upon that intimacy
3. Greater intimacy with my family and acting upon that intimacy
4. Greater intimacy with friends and acting upon that intimacy
5. Greater intimacy with strangers and acting upon that intimacy

What I mean by "acting upon that intimacy" is to go beyond words, allowing it to shape the direction of my days, my agenda, purpose and actions. The love of Jesus must be seen in me through my relationship with other people. If all love does is cause me to sing and write I do not know as I aught to know because the love of Jesus compels us to take action. If it doesn't, we do not have the intimate relationship we need to have with Jesus.

My plan of action is simple but will take discipline :

1. Change my agenda to have more time with Jesus, the Word, prayer and worship.
2. Change my attitude so I am back to praying without ceasing, acting upon the presence of God, talking to and remaining open to Jesus throughout my day.
3. Change my agenda to have more time with people. If I want to love like Jesus then I have to have the same priority for people as Jesus did. People are not an interruption to my agenda, they are the purpose for it.

Sounds simple but if you knew what my days look like and the kind of rut I have fallen into you will know exactly what kind of challenge this is for me. But I have no choice. Our days here are growing shorter and we need to get our priorities in order. It is not about what we get from Jesus because we have already received everything. Our focus must be others, loving in Jesus' name. There are so many who are perishing and they have no idea what destruction they are heading toward. I want to be the tool Jesus uses to save them from that destruction. I must make myself more available for him to use.

So, it begins with Jesus. I hope that is where your plans for change begin as well. It's not bad if you have decided you want to exercise more, eat better, read more or whatever improvements you want to see in yourself but I encourage you to consider the eternal matters first. We have been left here for a purpose and that purpose should shape everything in this new year. May the Lord guide you and bless you in your thoughts for 2013.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Don't Get Lost Along The Way

A lie is not effective unless it sounds like the truth. None of us are stupid. If someone was to tell you that you could win a million dollars by writing a letter to Santa you are not going to believe it. But if someone were to tell you that you could win a million dollars by entering a contest you would believe them. You don't know anything about the contest but you know that there have been similar things that have happened in the past so you believe. It may be a complete scam where people are just gathering personal information from people who enter but you believe the lie in the hopes of winning a million dollars. The lie has the appearance of truth.

We live in an age of lies in the guise of truth. Some lies have been with us for so long that people don't even blink any more, it is simply accepted. The whole earth is being won over by fine sounding arguments, especially in the West. We seem to have "sucker" written all over us. If a famous actor states it as truth we gobble it up. When scientists state it as fact we treat it as a given. We are like sponges, sucking up whatever is offered to us, and passing it on to our children. Our society is falling apart put we hold on to the lies as a captain holds on to his sinking ship.

Followers of Jesus have no excuse. We have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit so truth is always in front of us. When something is stated as truth in the world we are able to test it against God's truth and all lies are revealed. It should be simple accept that the Word of God is under attack and has been for years. Many people are "interpreting" it to meet their own agenda. They want it to be more popular to the world, to be more attractive, to be accepted in certain circles. It is nothing new. Even in the age of when the Word was being given there were attempts to manipulate it. This is the reason Apostle Paul wrote:

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:4)

Paul worked tirelessly to get the truth into the hands of Jesus' followers. He warned time and again that there were people who wanted to twist the Word and use it to manipulate people. Paul worked to keep people on course but he warned:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. (1 Timothy 4:1)

This is happening just as much in the Church as it is happening in the world. It is the reason we should take head to Paul's warning to Timothy:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Most of us know better than to pass on those silly stories that we receive in our email but do we know enough not to pass on lies about God? Are we sponges or do we hold up to the Word of God what we are being taught? Do we know the Word well enough for ourselves to recognize a lie? Are we paying attention to the Spirit so we are not led astray? Too many of us seek the council of men over the council of the Word. Too many are being led back into rebellion by lies dressed up as truth. But we are without excuse.

Make it your purpose this new year to spend more time in the Word of God and less filling your mind with lies. Make it your purpose to check your doctrine, making sure it is truth so that others will hear the truth from you and not something watered down. We are not here to fit into society. We are here to carry the light of Jesus Christ into the darkness. Don't get lost along the way.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Changing Focus For The New Year

If you have ever done any gardening you understand the concept of seeding. Gardeners start as early as they can to prepare the soil to receive the seed. Then they plant the seed and wait for something to happen. They know that something is going to happen, that the seed will change and become something more. Jesus does the same thing but includes us in the process. Let's get the focus off of what Jesus does for us for a moment and consider our role in this process of seeding.

Jesus is using us all the time to plant seeds so that he is able to produce something from them. If we are walking with Jesus daily he is using us even when we are not aware of it because it is only natural for us to plant seeds. Consider Apostle Paul for a moment (Colossians 2:2):

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love ...

Paul knew his purpose. He had purpose in every action he took, every sermon he preached, every letter he wrote. Paul was keenly aware of his purpose. That is where most of us stop. We are aware of our purpose but we have little expectation of the seeds we are planting producing anything. Paul's purpose for his letter to the Colossians and Laodiceans was that they may be encouraged and united but he knew that this was only a seed for what would follow:

... so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding ...

An encouraged heart and unity in love is not the goal but a seed because from these things comes the full riches of complete understanding. It is amazing what an understanding of God's love produces in us, a rich life beyond anything money can buy. But these riches of complete understanding are in themselves only a step in the process because from this something else is produced:

... in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ ...

Yes, the full riches of complete understanding produces a deeper relationship with Jesus. It brings us closer, into a greater intimacy with our Lord. As we come closer greater things are revealed to us, our understanding increases, our mind and heart are more spiritually inclined as we are guided and taught by the Spirit, a fuller revelation of all things Jesus is given to us so we know him more. From this relationship we have access to even greater riches:

 ... in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

We gain wisdom and knowledge, not from the great institutions of man, but from our deepening relationship with Jesus, who is the sources of true wisdom and knowledge.

All this Paul knew would come from the seeds of encouragement and unity in love he was planting with his letter. He expected things to happen when seeds were planted through him. He expected Jesus would cause things to be produced from these seeds, as should we.

We may never get to see the finished product or even what is produced from the seeds we plant but we can have faith that something will come from it. Speak that word of encouragement, demonstrate those acts of kindness, make sacrifices in love, tell someone about Jesus, write that status, give your testimony, smile at the stranger, buy your co-worker lunch, and expect it will produce something. You are not responsible for the producing, only the planting, so don't worry about what follows, but expect something will follow. Whatever we do in Jesus' authority will have a powerful effect as the Spirit grabs hold of it and gets to work.

We are not an island. It isn't about us any more. We have work to do and seeds to plant. We don't have much time left so we need to start getting serious. Stop focusing on what you need and trust our Father to take care of that, but you need to be busy with the Kingdom work. Get focused on what Jesus is doing for others through you. Scatter those seeds and let the Spirit do the rest.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Passion For The Name

Why are we so passive in our service to Jesus? In fact, could we even say that we are serving him? We have this ongoing identity crisis in the Church. Perhaps not identity, we know who we are, we just don't know what that means. We seem to think that we are here to worship. We think as long as we are worshipping everything is going to be okay. Although worship is part of who we are and is our great desire, it is not why we were left here. If God just wanted us for worship he would have brought us home where we could do it better. No, we worship but we worship while we serve because we have been left here to serve. But we are pretty lousy servants.

Is there a fire burning in your belly? Are you willing to give everything up to complete the task that has been given to you? Does it occupy your thoughts and direct your actions? For most I would say not. Jesus is something we do on the side, an addendum to our life, more like a good luck charm or an insurance policy. We have our own agenda and purpose and just want to thank God whenever he blesses us in it. But that is not how it is suppose to be. That is a religious notion and one that offends our God who told us that he must be central to our being.

Some do not want to consider our service to be a struggle. They do not want to think it would take much effort. They do not want to think that we have to make any kind of investment in God's mission. But it is a struggle, it does cost everything, it takes a great deal of investment of time, energy and effort. Apostle Paul called it a struggle:

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 2:1)

No one can deny his passion in his service, or the sacrifices and cost he paid to complete his race. He faced death all day long, spent countless days in jail, was a hated and wanted man, survived several ship wrecks, sacrificed food and sleep. Paul did whatever he had to do to fulfil his service to Jesus. He was not earning anything from God because he knew it was already his, done by Jesus. But Paul served out of a great sense of debt to Jesus for the extravagant love that had been poured out on him.

I think many of us are appreciative but few of us feel any great debt to Jesus. It almost comes across like God owes us something instead of the other way around. Jesus said that a sign of our love for him is our obedience to him. We serve out of love and obedience that comes from that love. When we serve out of love and not obligation we serve with our entire being, holding nothing back. We make the most of ever opportunity.

Is there a fire in your belly for Jesus? Does he have all your passion? Do you have in mind to serve in the same attitude that Paul served, nothing held back, no matter the cost? Are you willing to become hated for doing the right thing. Are you willing to worship in the actions of your hands instead of just the words of your mouth? We know what God was willing to do to save this world, now what are we willing to do to bring that message to those who are lost in the dark?

We need to find our passion again. We need a deep renewal of our relationship with Jesus. We need a refreshing, a reminder of his great love and his call to action. We need to wake up to his call to service.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Gift Of Christmas Is An Inclusive Gift

Merry Christmas everyone; the day God surprised the world. The gift was not unexpected but the extent of it, the largeness of it, the generosity of the giver was certainly a surprise.

Israel was expecting their Messiah but they had no idea of God's full plan because they were a self-centered people. They always thought that their relationship with God was exclusive and for their own blessing. They never seemed to grasp God's purpose of raising them up as a nation of priests so that he could reveal his glory to all nations through them. They thought God was only for them, their personal protector and 'genie in the bottle' to meet their every need.

When Jesus explained his purpose to a leader of Israel late one night he did not tell him that "God so loved Israel". No, he told him that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life". The "so loved the world" and "whoever believes" is what we are really celebrating this morning. It is an inclusive statement and we love our Father for it. Regardless of what gifts you have received today I will guarantee you no one has given you a gift like our Father has.

I repeat myself on this day after Christmas morning, the message of Christmas is not "peace on earth" but "For God so loved the world that he gave" and what he has given is himself. Jesus told us that if we choose to accept this gift we have the responsibility to tell everyone about it. Jesus gave himself to save us from our destruction and he came for the entire world. Maybe it is only the followers of Jesus who celebrate the true meaning of this celebration but the gift was intended for everyone.

As we celebrate and we practice that God spirit of generosity with those we love, let's keep in mind that the gift of Christmas is not exclusive but inclusive. Share it with your family and friends as you gather with them during this season. May your Christmas truly be a merry experience as you allow the joy of the Lord to overflow your heart.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas: Trying To Thwart The Plans Of God (revisited)

It's strange how different people react to Jesus differently. Some are mildly amused, others couldn't care less, some are violently opposed and others totally devoted. We have people today who claim that education should be enough to stamp out silly old superstitions but when we look back in Scriptures we discover that the supposedly educated and powerful people often set themselves up as opponents of God. People cry out today that anyone of any intelligence would never use religion as a crutch. It is a shame that they cannot recognize the pattern of our rebellious sin nature that causes us to want to set up gods after our own image and remain enemies of our Creator. Sometimes, people of intelligence and power are their own god.

For the last few days we have considered how God surprised people with the birth of Jesus. There were none more surprised than king Herod. He was enjoying a good life, walking a tight rope to make sure all the different political factions were appeased but that was his job and he was good at it. Now he has these men of learning from foreign countries knocking on his door asking him where the new king was, the one that the stars had announced. SURPRISE! If you ever want to bring insecurity to a man of power, start praising someone else in his presence. A new king? Really?

Immediately Herod had his people search the Scriptures; at least he still recognized the authority of the Scriptures. They discovered that the prophets foretold of the great King being born in king David's city, Bethlehem. You can almost hear king Herod thinking, "Not on my watch he isn't". Armed with this information he tried to turn these visitors, who were seeking this great king. into spies for his own purpose. He told them to get back to him with the location because he wanted to pay homage as well. Men using the guise of religion for their own design is nothing new. People today look back in history and see the atrocities committed by such men and then criticize the religion. They are unable to see the difference between the men of greed and power who manipulated religion and the people of sincere devotion and belief.

This is where we should be able to see the genuineness of what was happening around Jesus. These learned men found the child (not the baby) with his mother and offered their gifts. It was likely Jesus was 2 years old at this time. No, sorry to disappoint, it was not a crowded stable on the night of Jesus' birth. After their visit they were warned by God not to return to Herod. In one simple dream God thwarted the plans of his enemy. But, as is so often the case, when the enemy can't have his way through trickery, he will make his plans more obvious through violence.

When Herod discovered that the visitors had left without divulging the information he sought, he sent in his soldiers to do a sickening thing. This shows us just how evil the man's heart was and just how desperate he was to try to spoil God's plans. He had no idea that God's plans were bigger than some small kingdom in the middle east that wasn't even in charge of it's own affairs but in a submissive relationship with Rome. God was out to bring man back to him in a manner no one could have fathomed. If God was capable of such a thing then surely he was capable of protecting a tiny baby.

Before the solders could arrive God warned Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt. Herod showed the darkness of his heart as he ordered the murder of every male child two years old and under. What a terrible lose of life with no results for Herod. Perhaps Herod died thinking he had defeated God; a number of people do. What a stupid  thought to have on your death bed, "Hahaha, I have showed God who is boss. I never once obeyed him. I remained free and independent". And may I add, dead. You still end up dead and now you will discover what God was trying to save you from.

This is the saddest thing about people like Herod who think they can do what they want for their own gain, even fight against God. It also holds true for those people who have made it their mission to try to convince others to turn away from God as well. They all end up dead and they all end up facing what they wasted their life trying to deny. They chose to not accept the gift of life, peace, joy, hope, faith and love that God held out to them. They chose not to accept the hand of rescue. They chose wrong.

Nothing frustrates the plans of God. If we try to prevent it one way he is already aware of it and has made his plans to cover that. God's will can never be denied and life is filled with blessings when we work within that will instead of all the natural curses that come with fighting against it. Look at the beauty of Christmas and realize that the sending of this gift reveals the incredibly beautiful heart of our Father. We can choose the ugly way of Herod or we can see the beauty of God's desire for us. I hope the beauty of Christmas this year will remind you where the real joy and blessings are found because they are never found in us but always in Jesus.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas: A Close Encounter Of The Jesus Kind (revisited)

Have you ever been out in the countryside at night, away from the city lights? I used to live out in the country where, when you step outside at night, you disappear into the dark. The only light was from the stars and when you looked up at them it was like you could see a billion of them all at once. The longer you looked the more you could see. It was quiet, dark and lonely. That's pretty well how I imagined it was for the shepherds on the day of Jesus' birth, when God surprised them.

When I read how the glory of the Lord shone around them at the angel's sudden appearance I can understand why Scriptures say they were terrified. To have the pitch black of night go to the brilliance of the day in a second would be enough to frighten me but then we add to that the appearance of the angel. It was believed that if you saw God you would die because no sin-filled man could ever survive the brilliance of the purity of  God. This is why the messengers of God always started with "Do not be afraid". But the message of the angel was more than that:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8)

Note the part where he says that he was bringing good news of great joy that is for all people. The good news goes beyond the manger scene and takes us to a life lived in the Spirit as an example for us, to a cross and then to an empty grave. We have to tell people the whole story which we are not very good at any more.

We are more into one line zingers; catch phrases that people will remember. "Jesus is the reason for the season" was popular for a while, but why is Jesus the reason for the season? That's the problem with these marketing ideas, there is no substance. We are trying to reach the whole world whereas we should be taking the time to reach a few people with the substance of the good news. We need to take the time with people, one on one, and explain why we celebrate Christmas. When they come to know Jesus they will be so excited about the "good news of great joy" that they in turn will tell people they know. We can't win the world with slogans but we can by making disciples.

Notice that the angels only went to a handful of shepherds. They could have gone to the whole world at once or to the governments at that time, but perhaps God knew that only the shepherds could appreciate what was happening here and respond correctly. They went to verify what the angel told them; he basically told them to when he told them where to find the baby and how to recognize him. After they saw it with their own eyes they had to tell everyone they met:

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:17-18)

Now if the shepherds hadn't verified it with their own eyes they would have only been able to tell people what the angel said. That's what it is like for those who have never encountered Jesus for themselves but instead live off the testimony of those who have. That's what slogans produce. But those who have sought God and seen his face, have encountered Jesus for themselves, know exactly how those shepherds felt. You just can't keep that good news to yourself and you want to share it with everyone you encounter.

Let's throw away the slogans, the signs and the bumper stickers this year and actually share what that good news means to people. Let's share more than the manger scene, more than the fact that Jesus was born. Let's actually explain to people why Jesus was born, what it means for them today and how it impacts our eternity. Let's surprise a few people this season with how much God loves us and what he did for us because of that love. Then indeed it will be "good news of great joy".

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas: Obedience No Matter The Cost (revisited)

Christmas has always seemed to be a magical time for children and for some adults who are still able to see with the eyes of a child. They whole world seems to be transformed. Here in Canada we usually have the natural transformation of a blanket of snow, then add to that all the Christmas lights on the houses. The inside of the house goes through some transformations as well, as things get moved around to make room for the tree, lights get added and various decorations go up. In some fortunate homes, the ones where mom's still bake, the house gets filled with the smell of Christmas treats. Add to that the anticipation of the gifts on Christmas morning. For some there will be a few great surprises.

Christmas has always been about surprises. Yesterday we considered how God surprised Mary and Zechariah with the appearance of angel Gabriel and the announcement of pending children. We have all heard of the possible risks to Mary, being found to be pregnant before the consummation of her marriage. The penalty was to be stoned to death but that is almost non-relevant. I don't even think Mary thought that God would do this and then not protect her from such a thing. Sometimes we are not always intelligent in our faith. Whatever God calls us to do he will equip us to complete. But have you thought about Joseph?

We know that when Mary told him she was pregnant he had in mind to divorce her quietly. That speaks much of his love for her, that he would not publicly denounce her but it also speaks of his pain to be betrayed in such a way. We can't condemn him for that. How many of us would have believed Mary if we had been in his shoes? Many people today still don't. But God was about to surprise Joseph too.

Just like with Mary, Gabriel paid a visit to Joseph and confirmed to him everything Mary had told him:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

Talk about a surprise. Hey buddy, you've been chosen to raise the Son of God. Some have considered the risk Mary took in saying yes to God but have you considered the hit Joseph's reputation took? He was the local carpenter, a righteous man according to the Bible. He was most likely well thought of, even respected. But here he rushed the betrothal and had sexual relations with Mary so that he had to bring her into his home before the year of engagement was over. At least that was how everyone would have seen it.

It's not that this manner of marriage had anything to do with Scripture but it is what developed in the Jewish tradition. The engagement was as binding as a marriage but the marriage was not consummated until one year had passed. After the year was over the bride would then move into her husband's home and the marriage would be finalized. This was the tradition of man but God is no respecter of man's traditions. Because of man's traditions there would have been a lot of gossiping going around, Joseph would not have been seen as so righteous any more and his business may have even taken a hit, but Joseph was the right kind of righteous. He was righteous enough to set aside concern for himself and his reputation to be obedient to the Lord.

Joseph's righteousness was like Mary's, but more importantly it was like Abraham's. These people received a promise from God and they believed him. They just didn't believe by the words they spoke but in actions as well. They acted upon their trust in God. Yesterday we looked at Mary's response to God:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

Now consider Joseph's act of obedience that came from his heart of righteousness:

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

Who cares what the gossips are going to say; God said it and I believe it. The question remains whether we would have done the same. So many of us are shackled by the traditions of man that have nothing to do with Scripture. We worry more for our reputation than for our obedience. We say that we love God with our words but our actions are lacking. Few of us are prepared to be surprised by God; we lack the faith of an Abraham, Mary and Joseph. Yet it is that faith that has the power to see this world transformed. Jesus said it takes a child-like faith to see and believe. What better time of the year to have that faith renewed than at Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas: Surprised By God (revisited)

Every year I like to look at the reaction of Mary and Zechariah to compare how they responded to the surprise announcement of the angel. Zechariah was an old priest; Mary was likely a 14 year old girl. Zechariah was carrying out his priestly duties, making offering to the Lord; Mary was in her bedroom. Zechariah had been praying for a child; Mary was not, she had only recently become engaged. Which of these two  should have been expecting something extraordinary from God?

Now consider how they responded to the angel's announcement of the news. Each had a question. They sound similar but were very much different. Zechariah's question:

“How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Luke 1:18)

Mary's question:

“How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

Zechariah's question was one of disbelief followed by a demand of proof. Mary's was one of amazement since she was a virgin. The angel responded to Zechariah with correction but to Mary he responded with explanation. Zechariah left humiliated because of his disbelief whereas Mary has always been honoured because of her humble response:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

Mary was only a 14 year old girl but she knew better than Zechariah, the old priest, how to respond to God. But don't be too hard on Zechariah because that is how most of us react to God even when he answers our prayers.

Seriously, how many people would be inspired by our reaction to God when he surprises us? And should it be a surprise when God responds to our prayers? Zechariah should not have been surprised that God would do this thing even in his old age. Did he even know the God he served, the God of Abraham; Abraham, who had a child in his old age? Not just any child but the child that was the seed to the promise God had given to him. We have a God who is amazing, who often goes beyond what we ask for. Zechariah asked for a child and God gave to him the prophet who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

We have to stop being surprised when God responds to our prayers. What is the sense of praying if we aren't going to believe in the first place? I do not want to be considered like Zechariah, a man who should have known better than to doubt God. I would hope that my testimony and witness is as strong as Mary's and people would consider me a man who trusts God. There was nothing special about Mary, except for that one important fact that when God spoke she chose to believe and submit herself to his will. May that be said of us all.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How Are We Any Different?

If we are so different why are we the same? I keep calling out to Christians that we are different than those without Jesus. We have been made new; a new creation. The Word tells us that we are not to live by the patterns of this world because we no longer belong to it. So if this is true, and I believe with all my being it is, why are we so similar to everyone else? We say the words but we are still living on the surface of the fullness of God instead of plunging into the depth of this new creation.

How much of scripture do we have to read before it starts sinking in? In truth, we can read it all of our days and still never allow it to affect us because we have to allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to do something with it in us. Scripture after scripture tell how we are transformed and now have a different mind and heart, a different perspective, a different way of responding to our environment. We have a greater purpose than survival in this place.

Our purpose is to proclaim Jesus and live by his character. Our purpose is to allow him to glorify himself in us that he would be revealed to the world through us. He is the Light in the darkness and we carry that light but we do not carry him in our strength but by the power of God in us. We are totally different from what we were and have been called to a greater purpose and are being shaped and moulded into that purpose.

It is vital that we understand that we, in our old character, are not able to live the life we are called to. We do not have the resources or strength to get it done. Left up to us, we would rather stay in bed. Left up to us, we would rather leave everyone alone and make our own way in the world. Left up to us, we would live and let live. Left to our own, we would fit into this world. But we are not left to our own. This is what we have to understand:

To this end I labor,struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:29)

These are the words of Apostle Paul, the great champion of the Church. This is the man who brought the gospel of grace to the Gentile world, who spent his life with a people who were not his people, understanding that in the new order God had brought through Jesus, he had a new people. Paul did not have the strength or ability to do this. What he did was impossible for one man to do, to endure. But he tells us here that he did not do it in himself, but he struggled with all of Jesus' energy in him.

This is my concern, that we are building too much in our own ability and wisdom, that we are building a shallow church that is void of any of God's power and glory. We are not unintelligent. We are very resourceful. We can do a lot that looks great according to the pattern of this world, but what does it look like from God's perspective? God does not glorify himself by what we do for him but by what he does through us. If we do not understand the difference we have yet to plunge into the depth of his fullness.

Do not be satisfied by what you can do for Jesus. Do not be satisfied with your sand castles, as wonderful and clever as they may seem. Don't build your life on the principles of this world, whitewashed by the vocabulary of the Bible. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are glorifying God while fulfilling your own desires. Abandon it all. Give it all up. Surrender the whole thing and tell Jesus you want what he wants. Then, let the Holy Spirit lead, trusting he will do the impossible through you while you press on with all his energy. Let's show this world just how different we are in Jesus.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

God's Grace Is Awesome

God's grace is awesome and yet so terribly misunderstood. In fact, I would say that the vast majority of Christians just don't get it. Of course a three minute read is not going to delve into the great depth of God's marvellous grace but there is something about it I want you to understand: It presents you as perfect before God. I didn't say you are perfect but his grace makes it so you are perfect to him. That's the part we just don't get.

The apostle Paul was far more than an evangelist. Yes, he brought Jesus to the gentiles and reached out to a world that did not know God. But Paul did more than that. To him was given the gospel of grace and Paul saw it as his purpose to drive that gospel home to the hearts of sinners because it is what God's love is all about. The cross is all about grace. Paul wrote about his purpose in bringing the gospel of grace to believers:

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

Perfect in Christ. Not perfect to the world but perfect in Christ. Not perfect in yourself but perfect in Christ. It is fantastic that you hate the imperfections in you. That is a good sign of the power of the Spirit working in you, breaking, melting, transforming you into the image of Jesus, but do not allow those imperfections to keep you from a full relationship with God. He saved you to restore you to the position of friend. He has proclaimed you as perfect, covering you by his grace so that he can enjoy fellowship with you again.

This teaching is so vital that Paul spent a great deal of his time "admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom" what God's grace meant. He warned us not to be a grace abuser. It is a matter of the heart. If you are using God's grace as an excuse to sin then you are in danger. We are no longer "married" to sin, it no longer controls us. If we are controlled by sin we are lost. However, if in our imperfection we sin, we are devastated; repent and seek God's forgiveness; it does not impact our relationship with God. There is no need to try to make it up to God. There is no need to beat yourself up. There is no need to "hide" from God as Adam did. Bring it out in the open, talk it over with God, allow the Spirit to heal, to cover it in the blood of Jesus and get on with the enjoyment of your friendship with God.

Being controlled by sin is not the same thing as being imperfect. Paul summed it up:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18)

It would be good for you to read Romans 6 to grasp the whole matter but the general rule is that you belong to whatever has mastery over your heart.

God's grace is incredible and it presents you as perfect to him. So stop hiding from him because of your imperfections. Stop hiding your sin. Stop no trusting his love. He is all that he says he is and you are exactly what he proclaims you to be. You are his child who he loves with a mountain of love. All he asks you to do is love him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. He wants all of you. All of your intellect, passion, energy. He wants to enjoy every part of you and he wants you to get lost in his ocean of love and with so much love obedience becomes a simple thing. If you truly love him you will obey him.

Stop hiding and live abundantly in his grace.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Mystery Revealed No Longer Feels Like A Mystery

You never know you are in a special moment until the moment has past. When you are in the middle of living something you don't always have an historical perspective, but later, when you are reflecting on your life, you realize just how important that moment was. We are in an important moment in human history and most of us just see it as another ordinary day.

Do you realize that you are living in an age when the mystery of God has been revealed? They did not have what we had in the days before Jesus. Many prophets looked into it with longing but they did not get to experience it. God spoke about it, foreshadowing what was to come, but it is us, the Church, who get to experience it. Paul wrote to the Colossians:

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Colossians 1:25-26)

And what is this fullness of God's Word, the great mystery that had been kept hidden for generations? This incredible thing:

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Doesn't sound like any great mystery to us, does it? We speak about it all the time, teach it to our children, live it every day; it's rather normal to us. But it is not normal, or at least, it is not natural to what we once were.

We celebrate the baby in the manger but Jesus, the Son of God, came as a prophet. He was filled by the Holy Spirit to live out a perfect life, to teach us, to set the example, to take our place on the cross and to rise to eternal life so that we may follow him. This was a lot but he did more than this. Jesus also sent the Holy Spirit, that we would not be left orphaned but instead that we would have Jesus dwell in us, to empower us to live as he had lived. This is not normal to the world.

We, my friend, are possessed by God. Where once his presence was represented by a temple, he now lives in his children, transforming us into a new creation; one that houses the Creator himself. He doesn't want us to serve him with the limits of our resources and abilities. He lives in us so that we can live the fullness of who he is, supplied by his power, changed by his character.

Maybe this is old news to you but it is incredible enough that the prophets had longed for it and the angels are looking in. We were made a little lower than the angels but God has now changed us, lifted us up so that we are greater than the angels and the angels serve us. This is who we are, what Jesus has done and continues to do for us. This is the great mystery that has been revealed, the fullness of God's Word. You are no ordinary person and this is no ordinary day. Live it to its full potential in the power of Jesus Christ in you. You are not alone. Live in the moment.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Losing The Loser Attitude

I am trying hard to write and preach about Christmas but I can't. It is a great celebration, an event we must recognize and teach to others. It is the moment that the Creator became part of his creation. There are so many parts of the story that tell us a great deal about God and I enjoy examining them each year. Yet, there is an urgency pressing upon me; there is so much more that is important right now. There is so much that people do not understand and time is running out.

Time is short and the world is getting darker. The enemy is doing his best to destroy as much as he can, to inflict as much hurt on God and to shroud the whole earth in darkness before his time is up. Those who carry the light of Jesus have to shine brighter than ever before. We have to laugh more, sing louder, worker better, play harder, share more. We have to be more of Jesus in a world that needs to see Jesus.

That sounds like we can save the world by our works and that is not what I am saying. Jesus has given us life and he has given it to us in abundance. He has done this so we can live for his glory. He wants us to live large for his glory. He wants us to succeed for his glory. He wants us filled with joy for his glory. He wants us to flow with life for his glory. He wants the world to take note of us. He wants us to walk in this world as giants, overflowing with grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, joy. It flows from us like a river.

Our circumstances do not matter. We could be in desert places or green pastures. We could be the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich. We could live in a shanty town or in a 10 million dollar mansion. We could be part of a broken family or a member of the Brady Bunch. It doesn't matter where we are, we are to shine wherever we have been planted.

Too many of us work hard for all the wrong reasons. We work hard to save for our retirement. Maybe it is for the future education of our children. For others the hard work is for a house and car. These are all good reasons to work hard but it cannot be the motivation of those possessed by Jesus Christ. Our motivation is to glorify Jesus. We want to shine so others will take note, so we will stand like a giant, that success will cause heads to turn and questions to be asked. And we do not succeed by our skill but by the will of God.

God told us he will bless the work of our hands because we are his children:

The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. (Deut 28:12)

But we have the attitude that we can just sit back and it will come to us. Perhaps that would be true if God only intended to bless us for us but he hasn't. Israel made the mistake of thinking that it was all about them but it is not about us. God wants to bless the work of our hands so that Jesus will be glorified, that the Church would be blessed and that Jesus would be lifted up, so the world would see and know him.

God desires to bless the work of our hands but it means we have to work. We have to honour our teachers with obedience, or bosses with our best effort. We have to give 100% so no glory is robbed from Jesus:

Whatever you do, work at it will all your heart, as working for The Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from The Lord as a reward. It is The Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

If you clean toilets for a living, be the very best toilet cleaner. Clean better and more than anyone else. Stand out for Jesus. Students, don't take short cuts. You are robbing Jesus of his glory. Study hard. Be determined to be top of your class. What you lack God will make up for. He will bless the work of your hands. Stop doing it for your own gain. Change your attitude and do it so Jesus receives the glory.

We have to lose the loser attitude. It's not about our skill or what we need to gain. It is all about God wanting us to be stand outs. We are the nation he has set aside for his purpose, a people set apart to reveal Jesus Christ to the nations, who God has placed on a hill to shine for the world to see. We need to live in the character of Jesus, working hard at what we do, being organized, expecting Jesus to bless the work of our hands so he will be lifted up and glorified in our living. Time is running out. The world needs the Church to shine and you are the Church, so shine.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Went Wrong On December 14?

How can anyone make any sense out of what happen in that elementary school? It doesn't make sense. It never makes sense when someone decides to take the life of another person. It just becomes that much more horrifying when they take the life of a child. If you feel sick to your stomach over this; if you are disturbed to the core of your being; if you are both scared and angry; if you are frustrated over the hopelessness of preventing another one from happening, good. We need to be.

However, we are stupid. In fact, we are idiots.

We actually believe that we can enjoy the kind of entertainment that we do and there will be no effect on us. Sure, this is an extreme manifestation of the changes that we are seeing in our pattern of thinking. It is one of many extreme manifestations but there is an ongoing change in the way we are shaping our pattern of thinking, our perception of right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and not acceptable, and we are feeding it to our children all the time.

We are horrified when a girl gets raped but have you heard the music we are producing? Have you listened to the lyrics of the most popular songs that are playing twenty times a day on the radio? Sexually charged ideas and suggestions, fanciful notions that ignite the imagination and desires of you men and women, of our children? We can't subject our minds and hearts to such things and expect to stay the same.

Our children make-believe war every day. They play at killing people. They pick up weapons of every variety and they make war against each other. This is the entertainment we place in their hands and then we fail to understand why they change so much, why they aren't our little Bobby any more. We are stupid idiots. We are too ignorant to be parents. We are afraid to make tough decisions and stick by it.

However, all of this pales in the face of the underlying problem. The restraints that we had in place in our society are giving way to our human nature. Our nature is not a good thing. It was corrupted a long time ago. We were created to be friends with God but we turned our back on him to choose our own path, a path of independence. Our nature is a rebellious one and it is naturally drawn to the dark. Well, that darkness is increasing and no amount of humanity is going to help because humanity is the problem.

Without our friendship with God the darkness will only increase. Jesus made it possible for us to return to that friendship. He made it possible for us to be rescued from the darkness. He made it possible for us to be set free from our bondage to our human nature, the sin nature with which we are born. He is the answer to every single social problem we are having in the world. He is the answer to rape and gun violence. He is the answer to the demons that torment us. He is the answer to our longing for peace and joy. He makes sense of even the messes we have made.

The fact is, when we are possessed by the love of Jesus it is impossible for us to hate anyone; even those who hate us. The love of Jesus would never allow us to willingly bring harm to anyone. If the love of Jesus had possessed the heart of that sick heart in that elementary school we would not be mourning the lose of so many lives today. My heart is broken for the parents, brothers and sisters who now have to carry the burden of such a lose. I know even there Jesus will bring healing but I hate the fact that he has to bring such healing. Yet, my heart breaks even more for a society that is bent on this kind of self-destruction. We really are stupid. The only answer to such stupidity is Jesus.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Knowing You Are Called By God

There are no careers in the Church. You don't become a worship team member because you can sing. You don't become a youth pastor because you have energy. You don't become a pastor because you are a good  manager. You don't become a missionary because you like to travel. You don't become an evangelist because you like being the center of attention. Whatever you do in the Church is because God called you to that thing. If you chose your position you are in a lot of trouble.

As a member of the Body of Christ you must always be aware that God chose you for that place. Apostle Paul was always aware and kept reminding himself that he did not choose but was chosen:

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness. (Colossians 1:25)

Paul is referring to being a servant to the Church. He was keenly aware that it was Jesus who gave him that responsibility and as such he dare not walk away from it. How did Paul find the strength to go through what he did to present the gospel to the world? It's amazing what you can go through when you know that Jesus chose you and is backing you up.

Paul often wrote on this subject, reminding people again and again that we do not get to decide what we are in the Body. It is not by our aptitude, talents or psychological profile; it is according to the will of God. Read in 1 Corinthians 12 the reminder that the Spirit chooses the spiritual gifts for us and it is God who appoints people to positions. Remember in general that Jesus told us that we did not choose him but he chose us. We have to remember that and take our proper place.

It is funny how I knew I was going to be a pastor even when I was lost in my rebellion as a teenager. Even though I had walked away from God, the church and anything to do with Jesus, I knew what my calling was. It wasn't that I had any talent for it. I was not a people person. I was not good at public speaking. I had nothing at all to offer, yet I knew what God had knit into me and what he had prepared for me to do. So here I am.

It is with this keen awareness that you never quit. No matter how difficult it gets, or how tired you become, or even how much discouragement you face, it is impossible to quit when you know you have been commissioned by God. A pastor can never walk away, no matter the cost, because it was God's choice not his. Paul could never quit. It was impossible for him. Even after jail time, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks and abandonment by those he trusted, Paul pushed through, because Jesus had chosen him.

If you can understand of what I am writing here then you understand the depth of God's calling. But if this means nothing to you and you have walked away from many things in your life, you should take a serious look at what you think you have been called to do.

There is one other thing about God's calling: It is irrevocable. Even if you failed to walk in it in the past; even if you failed in it; even if others consider you unworthy, the calling is never removed. If you were called to that thing 50 years ago and never responded to God, you are still called to it today:

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28-29)

So, time to take a good evaluation of what you are doing and why. Don't waste your life doing something that was not God's intention for you. Move back into his will and watch the strength and blessings flow in your calling.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Are You In Need Of More Energy?

I am interrupting my regularly scheduled blog to bring you what is on my heart today. I was at prayer meeting last night and as I prayed the Spirit put words in my mouth that I began to listen to. That's the funny thing about prayer, if we really listen to the Spirit we end up being a mouth piece for what God wants released in prayer instead of our own thoughts.

I had a young man write me once to ask me what he should do. He was finding he had no energy or drive to do anything. My response was simple: Get off the couch. Sounds dumb but it isn't. Physically the best way to gain energy is to spend energy. The more you are inactive the less energy you will have. If you want to increase your energy start a walking routine. The more you put out the more you gain. The same holds true spiritually.

We have an obesity problem in the Church and it is causing a lack of energy. We have a lot of people sitting around on the couch, being entertained. We fill ourselves up on the Word but we never do anything. We gain a lot of knowledge but we don't do anything with it. We are much into the theory of Jesus, we couch others from our armchairs, we are great at calling the game, but we do not get up and participate. We go to the stadium every week to sit in the stands and act as a roaring and excited crowd but we never get out on the field. We lack spiritual energy and intimacy with Jesus because we have no exercise routine. We have to spend energy to gain energy.

There is nothing more energizing than leading someone to Jesus. When we are actually living our faith, trusting God to give us the words to talk to people about Jesus, we grow in our intimacy with the Lord. When we are living with the purpose of being sensitive to the Spirit we come alive in our own spirit. Suddenly we are a lot more aware of what God is doing around us and we want to be even more involved. Suddenly we are constantly aware of his presence, his will and desire for us, his call for us to take action. We are moving from cheering fan to full flung player with a desire to pour all of our energy into the game.

Of course it isn't a game. This is about life and death for people lost in a dying world. We seem to lose sight of the fact that this is not about us and everything about them. We are not here to gain all the "toys" or build our own little kingdoms. We aren't even here to have a comfortable life. We are here to tell others about Jesus. We are here to work out our salvation daily and this is done as we do the Word of God. We are participants in this war, not spectators.

It is great that people have a hunger for the Word and that they want to gain knowledge, but there is more to it than that. The Word of God must be put into action in our life and to do that we have to get off the couch. This world has a lot of distractions, some of which are interesting and attractive, but it is not for us to step aside from our calling and rest for a while. James says it best:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)

So, it's time to get up off of that couch and gain some spiritually energy. It's time to get into the game. It's time to come alive in Jesus. Put into action all that knowledge you have gained. Just do it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is Their A Place For Suffering?

The Western Church has a hard time with the concept of suffering, yet it is a natural character of a Christian. I am not referring to the miserable suffering that produces nothing but agony and complaints. That is what some of us have turned God's great intention into, an excuse to complain. We turn something beautiful into something ugly. Yet, God has used suffering for a long time to produce great things.

I am sure that Jonah considered his time in the belly of the fish to be suffering. Forty years wondering around in the desert would also fall in the column of suffering. There are lots of examples in the Hebrew Scriptures but we have plenty of examples in the New Testament as well. Obviously Jesus' beating and crucifixion would be placed in the category of suffering. So would the beating of the disciples, the stoning of Stephen, the great persecution of the Church, and Paul's many trials. But consider what God developed out of all of this, especially the cross.

I like the example of the 40 years in the desert simply because many of us can relate to it. For forty years God cut his people off from anything that would make them independent. He used this time to get rid of the bad seeds in this people he had called out as a nation. He made them completely dependent on him for food and water. He taught them obedience by moving them around; when he moved they moved. When they finally emerged from the desert they had become a strong nation in every sense; strong enough to move into the promised land. There was never another generation of Israelites that could compare to this valiant generation. There is always purpose in the "valley of the shadow of death" that God leads us through. Sometimes it is for our benefit and other times for the benefit of others.

Paul realized that much of what he went through was for the benefit of others:

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24)

Paul recognized that the great suffering he and his comrades went through was for the purpose of the Church. Not many will suffer for the Body today. Not many will risk jail for preaching on the streets. Not many will turn their "castles" into hospitality centres  to invite people in and be generous with their supply. Not many will go the extra mile or give the shirt off their back to demonstrate the love of Jesus. But some do. Some give up their comforts of home, the joy of watching television or playing mindless games on FaceBook, to bring the Word to the streets and coffee shops of the city. They face rejection, beatings, and scorn.

There is also the suffering Church in many parts of the world, where being a Christian has a death sentence. There are many places where pastors risk jail or beatings or death for preaching the good news. There are many who would run from these great injustices but the ministers of the gospel must stand where God has placed them. They must face those beatings as others have done before them and they must even face death as others have done, to serve the Body and to present Jesus. We must do it with the same joy we see expressed in Paul because we know that something is being produced from these sacrifices that God has directed.

There are different kinds of suffering, most caused by the foolishness of our own actions. But I refer to a different type of suffering, one directed by God for his greater purpose and one we will understand and accept if we have the intimacy of friendship that we are suppose to have with God. God has never asked us to suffer blindly or needlessly but when we are intimate with him we know the mind of Christ, the will of God and we are able to walk in those shoes. Ours is always a relationship of trust with God, a place of dependence and even more so in times of suffering.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

People Are Waiting To Hear

Since the beginning of time man has always known that there is something greater than himself. We have not always understood what but we knew we were created to worship this greater thing. This is the reason there are so many different religions in so many different cultures. We have not always understood and in many ways most people still don't understand, but we are trying. Unfortunately the enemy is all too willing to step into the Creator's place and receive worship from those who are ignorant.

The Bible tells us that we are without excuse for ignoring God:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

For those who are willing to look, we can see God's eternal power and divine nature in everything that has ever been created. Even through the effects of the Fall we can still see Jesus' finger prints. Most of us are all chasing after the same thing, friendship with God, it's just some are confused and sidetracked in the looking.

Now, through the Holy Spirit, the Good News of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed to every creature, according to the Word of God:

This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:23)

This means when we share this gospel it is not to unfamiliar hearts that we speak. There is something true and attractive that appeals to people as we present Jesus. The Spirit has already planted seeds and prepared hearts, ready to receive the good news. The only thing that stops people from responding is pride, self-determination, rebellion.

Throughout the ages man has sought God's face but our sin nature has distorted that image. We have placed our own character on the gods we created to fill the void of our need to worship. Today, much of the western society is making a god of man. Humanity has become our god, with our intelligence and wisdom guiding the way.However, we can try all we want, we will never be able to fill the void of our need to worship that which is greater than us. Even creation itself cannot fill this void. There is only one who fills that place.

We should be encouraged by this. When we are presenting Jesus it is not to a person who is unprepared and who knows nothing. Everyone is without excuse and every creature has received the proclamation of the gospel. We are only bringing light so that divine revelations is given and they can finally see the face of God. Be encouraged. You are not presenting some religion that fails to answer even the most basic questions. You are presenting the key that unlocks all understanding to the question of our existence and purpose and which brings completeness to our life. You are holding out to that person the fullness of life. If they turn it down it is their choice but be true to what Jesus has told us to do: Share the Good News to all the earth. People are waiting to hear.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Paying Attention To The "If's"

There are some who think that because they said a magical prayer they are free to go on living however they want. To them Jesus is some kind of insurance package. They accepted him as Saviour but never as Lord. They take the deal of eternity but do whatever they want here. But it doesn't work that way. Jesus is far from an insurance policy. He must be Saviour and Lord, which means our desire is to live as he lived, to be controlled by the Spirit, to live a life that brings him glory.

A couple of days ago I was writing about how we are holy in God's sight, without blemish and free from accusation. Regardless of how you feel, you are covered by God's grace. That is a hard thing for us to accept because we want to beat ourselves up for our failures but God has this attitude where he picks us up, dusts us off and tells us to get on with it. But there is an "if" to this thing that Jesus does for us:

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:22-23)

You see that, right? IF you continue in your faith. Can you imagine running a 12 hour marathon and giving up with a mile to go? All that training; all that time; all that effort, wasted. I think anyone who has trained that long and hard is going to make every effort to complete the race. Many Christians don't.

They don't because they were not established and firm. They called themselves Christian, went through all the motions but they set aside the Word because they didn't have time; they worshiped only at church; they never involved Jesus in anything of any importance in their life. So when the winds of trial and destruction hit, they had no root and were blown away.

Or, because they did not maintain a great relationship with Jesus, neglecting him and leaving him aside, over time their faith was worn away.I little here, a little there. They started changing their mind on things. Sin began to take control and cloud their mind until they were lost again in the depravity of sin. We think it can't happen, but when we do not stay connected to the vine, failing to remain established and firm, it is amazing how quickly we change.

This is very important in this age we are living. Things are changing quickly. Values are evaporating before our eyes. What was once considered sin is not acceptable and what once was acceptable is sin. What once was wrong in this world is right and what was right is wrong. In four short years the public opinion of Americans has flip flopped on homosexuality. Where the majority of people saw this as wrong, today the majority now sees it as right. Just one small example of hundreds of values that are changing.

If you are not established and firm in your faith, standing on the Word of God, possessed and controlled by the Spirit, madly in love with Jesus with a desire to obey, then you will be swept away in the changing tide. You will be sidelined from your faith and will soon be lost, failing to finish the race. We cannot afford to neglect our relationship with Jesus in these darkening days. We need to get as close as we can, increasing our faith, not decreasing. We have to be sure of where we stand and refuse to move as long as we are standing on the Rock, Jesus Christ.

Many will claim to follow him while doing what they want. Many will try to use the Word to win the case for their selfishness. Many will try to convince others that sin is no longer sin to excuse their own attitude. They will approve of other people's sin so they can be free to sin as well. They want both eternal salvation and to live a selfish existence here, but it doesn't work that way. We need to pay attention to the "if's" in the Word of God.