Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Is Our Faith In Trouble In 2014?

The New Year is knocking on our door as we do a quick review of the departing 2013. At this time of year most of us go beyond a review of the news events and do a spiritual review as well. One of the questions we should be asking ourselves is : Is there anything in my life taking away from my relationship with Jesus? I am not really sure that we are equipped to answer this honestly.

One thing that ensures the development of faith is a reliance on God; when we know we need him. If we don't need God we will dismiss him from our lives. This is the reason why faith is on such a dramatic decline in the Western World. We don't need God. We have everything we need: wealth, health, education, jobs, purpose. We are perfectly self-reliant so why continue with the premise of worshiping a God who no longer has a place in our lives? This is why so many hearts have grown cold to the gospel.

And if you do not think this is true, ask yourself if you are more reliant on seeking God for provision or your credit card? Do you seek him for your daily bread or do you figure it out on your own? Is he just something to worship or is he the God who provides all that you need?

Couple this with our insatiable appetite for diversion. We are a people whose great motivation in life is entertainment. The enemy of our soul does not need to put in any effort to try to distract us at all from the Lover of our soul because we do it to ourselves. Even the Church has changed to accommodate this appetite by making everything more entertaining, feeding into this great weakness that is a threat to our faith.

If we examine Jesus' words more clearly we will discover that his instructions were to make the Father our focus. He reminded us that our love for God must be all consuming, greater than any love of anything else in this world, even greater than of our parents, spouses and children. Yet we submit ourselves to entertainment that constantly disparages this relationship, defames our God and ridicules those who chose to be dependent on him. Can faith really be as bright as it is meant to be when we allow life to be sucked from it by such things?

The only goals worth having for this new year is to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength; and to show our love to be genuine by loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. We should seek to re-capture the servant heart of our Lord, desiring to be possessed and overwhelmed by his love. Perhaps we should start by returning to fasting and prayer. Perhaps we should start by removing the distractions from our faith. Perhaps we should start by returning to our first love with all our heart.

Jesus taught us to be radical in our love for our Father. He told us that if there is anything that is separating us from him we should remove it. He said it was so important that it is better for us to enter heaven maimed than to enter into hell whole. Is it not easier to turn off that television show or movie than to cut off a hand or to walk away from the internet than to pluck out an eye?

In 2013, has anything distracted you from your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ? Has anything enslaved you again from what you were freed? Are you going to carry these things into the new year or leave them behind? Is it time to make some hard decisions so you can grow into the spiritual maturity to which our Father has called us? We cannot serve two masters. What is your priority for 2014?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2014 : Faithful In Love

Predictions for 2014? What kind of year is it going to be? As people look back at this time of year to evaluate what they have experienced they also begin to look forward to what might be. Christians begin looking around for prophecies, especially personal prophecies. Everyone is looking for some good news, something that will give them hope, something for which to look forward. But here is our real hope:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. (John 14:1-3, CEV)

Jesus is our living hope and in him we put all our faith and trust, not only for this coming new year but for this new day. Our walk is not a yearly walk but a daily one and one that should be governed by two simple things:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Ours days should not be filled with seeking personal fulfillment, riches or fame. We should not be trying to find short cuts or a way to avoid stuff we want to avoid. Our days should be filled with growing closer to Jesus and loving others with his love. This love includes telling people God's plan of salvation, even if they will hate us for it. In the gospel of Mark it is recorded that a teacher of the Law responded to Jesus:

It is also true that we must love God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and that we must love others as much as we love ourselves. These commandments are more important than all the sacrifices and offerings that we could possibly make. (Mark 12:33) 

These two things are of greater value than anything else you try to offer God; of greater value than anything else you try to do for God. And how is this love defined? Hear the words of Jesus:

If you love only someone who loves you, will God praise you for that? Even sinners love people who love them. If you are kind only to someone who is kind to you, will God be pleased with you for that? Even sinners are kind to people who are kind to them. If you lend money only to someone you think will pay you back, will God be pleased with you for that? Even sinners lend to sinners because they think they will get it all back. But love your enemies and be good to them. Lend without expecting to be paid back. Then you will get a great reward, and you will be the true children of God in heaven. He is good even to people who are unthankful and cruel. Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you. (Luke 6:32-36)

But let us not put the cart before the horse and become humanistic in our mission. There is a reason why the greatest commandment is to love God with your entire being; an all consuming love and devotion. The only way we could ever love in this manner described by Jesus is if we are possessed by the love of God and the only way we can be possessed by this love is to be consumed by it. Our love for our neighbour is only possible when we are consumed by God. Loving God must always come before loving our neighbour. We can only love because he loved us first. But there is so much that wants to interrupt this love and devotion.

The time is now upon us that, for the sake of the survival of our faith, we must make some decisions to simplify our lives. We can't serve both God and money. We can't sit on the fence. We can't be entertained by sin. We can't have a divided heart. The world is getting uglier and more hateful toward the Christian but the only worthy response to this is extravagant love for the world. Yet the only way this is possible is by a heart fully possessed by Jesus, with no distractions and interruptions

What is 2014 going to hold for us? Only God knows but I do know what he told us in scripture and things are not going to get better. In fact, things are going to get far worse and that's okay because it means it is almost time to go home. However, in the meanwhile we have duties and responsibilities and they all hinge on loving God with our entire being and loving our neighbour as we have been loved. May 2014 find us faithful in love.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Something Is Not Right In The Church And I Think It's My Fault

Something isn't right, and I think it is my fault.

Something is not right in the Church. We are missing something; something in the teaching; something in the learning; something in the living; something in our understanding and relationship with Jesus. It isn't hard to miss. Just stand back and listen to the reaction to A&E's treatment of Phil. Listen to the rhetoric. Read the Christian comments to news articles and other people's comments on these articles. There are two things that I have noted from this.

First, we don't have much love for the world, at least how Jesus sees it. Somewhere along the line we have missed what he meant when he said that he didn't come into the world to condemn people but to save them. The world is lost. We should not be surprised or shocked by their behaviour. They can't help themselves. It is why they need Jesus in the first place. Their behaviour is just a symptom of the real problem. When that problem is dealt with then things will begin to change. The thing we need to remember is that they can't see or understand the problem without Jesus. By us concentrating on trying to change their behaviour we are only going to distance them from Jesus.

This leads to the second thing that is becoming obvious from this situation: There are two major camps developing in the Church that is causing a wide open split. I am not going to label these camps but just point out their general differences. In one camp we have people who believe we must confront people with their sin and not to do so is to water down the Bible. In the other camp we have people who believe we shouldn't concentrate on the sin but instead on the person in the hopes to be able to introduce Jesus. Both camps see the other as being wrong and willingly argue publicly about their stand.

I wish the solution was any easy one but the way people are digging in there will be no compromise because each sees that they are doing what Jesus would do. As far as I can see it, the truth is found in both. It is possible for us to talk about sin without a condemning attitude. We can discuss why certain behaviours are a result of our rebellion against God and just what a powerful hold those behaviours have on us. We are not as free as what we think. But in order for that to work we must be willing to be honest and open and explain how God has transformed us and is continuing to transform us. We can't place ourselves above those who have yet to receive Jesus. Consider others more important than yourself. You are already saved.

At the same time there has to be a shift in our message. What comes across now is that we have to change before we can come to Jesus. We are setting aside Paul's teaching, "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us". The Church is not into behaviour modification but into heart transformation. You and I cannot change anyone. It is only the blood of Jesus that saves and it is only the power of God that transforms. We are not the judge, jury and executioner. We are nothing more than the messengers, the living testimonies of God's grace and it is with grace that we must love as Jesus loves.

We know that it is the Father's desire that everyone would be saved. We know it because we read it in the Bible. We also know it by his character and actions. However, Jesus also demonstrated that our Creator has left the decision up to us. He has explained the consequences of our decision but it is up to us. All we can do, with love and grace, is pass this message on to the world. That's our entire purpose. The rest is between them and the Holy Spirit. But doing it with condemnation is going to close far more doors than it will ever open. That's just as bad as showing someone grace without talking to them about the author of that grace.

There isn't a lot of time left and hearts are getting a lot harder these days. We need to make the most of what little time remains. May the Spirit bring healing and unity to the Church so we can get on with our mission. In my opening sentence I said there was something not right in the Church and it was my fault. Yes, mine and every other Pastor because we are not training our people to do this correctly. We are teaching moral living, and how to live for Jesus with eyes constantly inward. We are teaching humanism, to meet the physical needs of a very needy world. But we are not training them to fight for souls as we ought. This must change.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

At One Time Christmas Wasn't A Big Deal In The Church

People are getting upset about Christmas. It is a two month long celebration of consumerism. Yet Easter, the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a sedate one weekend event. Up until 150 years ago Christmas was not prominent in the Church calendar. When consumerism kicked in it was shaped and blown up, way out proportion, and had little to do with the Christian celebration.

Don't get me wrong, the introduction of our Creator into our history is no small thing. But consider for a moment which Christmas we celebrate.

Where do we find a Christmas tree in the Bible?

Where do we have an example of a gift exchange?

Where do the lights fit in?

What does Saint Nick have to do with it? I don't remember him at the manger.

This is not the celebration of Jesus but the traditions of man. And for this we are going to go to war with the world?

Christmas has become a crazy thing that people go into debt over. The gifts are no longer a token of affection but a societal obligation. People skip out of worship services and with-hold their tithe because of Christmas, the financial burden and the pressure of time. Is it worth it?

Do we think we are honouring God with this?

I think we have greater battles than Christmas to stand our ground on. Many of us need to do an evaluation to decide whether we are fighting for traditions or for souls.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Is It Sacrifice Or Privilege?

Too often we Christians can be accused of allowing our society to influence our perspective. It's hard not too considering how much of our mind and heart we lend to the world. With the music, the tv shows, the movies, books and other things that are produced by unspiritual minds, our spiritual senses are dulled and destroyed. Our sensitivity to the Spirit is lost and we become spiritual zombies; still walking but dead inside. We are getting to the point where there is little difference between those who go to church and those who don't, except for the church going thing.

Perhaps this is why attitudes toward sacrifice are either poor or religious in nature. The fact that we would even consider anything God asks of us as a sacrifice speaks to our spiritual condition. It should not be a sacrifice to be generous, kind, gentle, loving, but often it is for us. It becomes an extraordinary thing we do instead of a natural part of our day. So if we have trouble with the small sacrifices in our daily walk, what happens to us when we are called upon during extraordinary times? Do we rise to the occasion or disappear within our self-centered perspective?

Where are the heroes of the literature of old? Where is a Frodo Baggins, who rose above his lot in life, leaving behind his self-centered society to lay down his life for the benefit of everyone? Forget about literature, what about people like apostle Peter, Paul, John? Where are the Stephens; those who set aside their own interest for the benefit of the whole? What about Mary? Yes, what about the woman who was asked by God to give up everything she considered ordinary and important so that Jesus, the Son of God, could enter into our history and complete his mission.

Was this a sacrifice that God asked of Mary? Of course it was. Most of us know what was at risk for her. What if her fiancee rejected her? What about when society found out and people wanted to apply the law? What about the reputation of her family? It was a huge sacrifice to ask of someone so young, but to those who love and trust our God, we know this to be a privilege not a sacrifice. This is what we find in Mary who obviously loved the LORD God with all her being. Her's was not a song of complaint or regret but one of joy and thanksgiving:

Mary said,
        “With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
              In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 
           He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. 
             Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
                   because the mighty one has done great things for me.
         Holy is his name." (Luke 1:46-49)

We say that the Spirit Of Christmas is about giving instead of receiving, but the only sacrifice that is worth anything is what we "give unto the Lord". God has not told us to become humanistic in our attitude. He has told us to love as we have been loved; to forgive as we have been forgiven. Generosity in everything is a sure sign of someone who has given themselves fully to the Lord.

Jesus told us to not just love those who love us but to love those who hate us. The only way this is possible is when we understand that we love our God with our entire being and because of such we are loving him when we love everyone; we are giving to him when we give to others; we are serving and sacrificing to him when we serve and sacrifice for others. When we are doing these things because of God's love for us and ours for him, it is done with a genuine joy and attitude that shows we consider it a privilege.

Use this Christmas season as an opportunity to evaluate where to stand in your relationship with Jesus. What is your attitude? How self-absorbed are you? Who is shaping your perspective? Are you a Christian zombie? Or are you totally sold out to Jesus? Is it sacrifice or privilege?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Who Is Killing The Christmas Spirit?

To call people skeptical today is putting it rather mildly. We live in a tangible world where people claim to only believe what they can see and what they can put their hands on. We all think we are intelligent and trust that science will show us the way. But hold on. I am actually only describing a small portion of our society. Most people actually believe there is more than what they see.

Just consider some of the more popular shows on television that deal with ghosts, mediums and other spiritual matters. Why are these shows so popular? Because people want to believe in more than the physical world. There is part of us that we know is missing, that is not being fed, that we are not dealing with, and so we search.

There is always going to be part of us that struggles with believing what we cannot see or making assumptions about what we do see. There is so much about Jesus that people can not get past because of the skepticism that is so prevalent in us. We would rather believe in evil demons, vampires and werewolves then in a God of grace who wants to transform us into what he always intended us to be. People dismiss the Christmas story because of something as simple as this:

Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Only, this isn't found in the gospels but in the old prophecies. But people scoff at the idea of the virgin birth. They scoff at the baby in the manger. They scoff at the cross, the empty grave and the giving of the Holy Spirit. But behind their scoffing I think there is a bit of fear that they could be wrong. So they fight harder against it, attacking it and putting down the people who do believe, just to encourage themselves. Why is it so hard to believe in a Father, Creator, who loved us enough to go through all this trouble to rescue us from ourselves?

I actually don't think it is hard for them to believe as much as it is a desire to keep their independence. That is what the whole rebellion is about; us wanting to be our own gods. We want to be the master of our own destinies. We want to write our own stories. We want to call the shots. But that's because we don't know that we are already slaves. We think we are calling the shots but we are actually trapped by our sinful nature which never allows us to live up to our full potential. We can't live up to that potential except through the one who came to set us free.

So yes, it is getting harder to convince people to consider the goodness of God when they don't consider God to have any relevancy any more in our society. We will accept all other forms of spirituality but not that of a Creator who tells us we have to do it his way in order to have life in its fullest. People will accept the "magic" of Christmas but they will not bring themselves to actually believe in the one who we celebrate. Me thinks the end is approaching as hearts are hardened, eyes grow blind and ears are plugged. These are the things we were told to watch for, that would be obvious to those who choose to believe but hidden from this who choose themselves.

Skepticism is killing more than Christmas spirit.

Monday, December 9, 2013

To Be A Producer Of The Kingdom Of God

Lord, I believe you want to bless me with riches so I am trusting that you are going to help me win the lottery. Lord, I believe you want to bless me with an easy life so I am trusting you are going to make all my problems disappear. Lord, I believe you want to bless me with fame so I am trusting that you are going to overlook the things I have to do to get there.

Sounds ridiculous to me. How about you? Yet so often it is our attitude as we make God into our own personal genie. We seem to have missed the point that the Christian life is about producing, not consuming. Where did we go wrong with what Jesus taught us? How did we get is so twisted? Jesus stated:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. (John 15:5)

I find this whole passage to be one of the most profound in John's purpose of revealing the incredible relationship Jesus made possible between us, Jesus, the Spirit and the Father. Yes, I could simply say God but I want to make this a little more personal than the title "God" allows.

We have the purpose of remaining in Jesus, allowing him to remain in us and to be producers. The emphasis has to be on all three here because our purpose is to produce but we can't do it unless we remain in Jesus and he in us. But let me also point this out to show just how important it is to produce:

My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. (John 15:8)

How wrong we are to believe that God's desire is to make us comfortable here. Jesus did not take on the torturous cross so we could be comfortable but instead so that we could spend eternity with our Father. We are here so that our faith would be developed, to mature spiritually, to become producers as mature citizens of the Kingdom. It is the selfishness of our sin nature that pushes us to be consumers, to take from God and consume the seed he has given us instead of sowing it as we are intended to do. But that is only part of the issue.

We would understand our place so much more if we would but remain in Jesus and allow him to remain in us. We can't do anything without him. Sure, we can produce great things according to this world but with no value in the world to come. Jesus told us to "lay up" our treasures in heaven where nothing can touch them. The principle is so simple but we often complicate the application.

We complicate it by never really dying to ourselves. The things of the sinful nature we died to still lick at us, producing selfishness, envy, conceit, unforgiveness, hate, depression. These things and so much more are produced in a life that is not found in Jesus and in which Jesus has no part. So before we can become producers who glorify the Father, we have to possess Jesus and be possessed by him.

This is not a self-will endeavor. It is not accomplished by intellectual pursuit. It cannot be grasped by an unspiritual mind. It cannot be helped by psychology or science. It is born of the conviction of the Holy Spirit who plants a seed in us that we must desire. "Seek my face" God told a disobedient nation, "and you will find me." God gives us the desire for him but we have to act on it. He convicts us but we have to act on it. Jesus has shown us the way "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me" but we have to desire it. In desiring it the Spirit will do all that is necessary for us to die to ourselves with great joy as we are possessed by the only one who truly loves us.

We have to be possessed by Jesus and not our selfish desires in order to fulfill our purpose of being producers. Examine your day; it should be quite easy to tell what you are and if you find you are something you don't want to be, you know what to do to see it changed.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Cross Is For Our Benefit, Not God's

There are very few relationships where the giving is only one sided. Every person who is in your life gets something out of being part of you. None of them exist only to give to you; not your best friend, not your teachers, not even your parents. That is why Jesus is like no other person in your life.

No matter how you look at it, Jesus received nothing from giving himself for you. He came entirely for your benefit. Jesus came so that you can have full life through him:

I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. (John 10:9-10)

God doesn't need us. He is self contained within the God-head. He does not need the angels. He does not need creation. He does not need mankind. But he created us and made a covenant with us, and even though we broke relationship with him, he never gave up on us. He gave himself entirely so that we could have life to the fullest, as he always intended for us to have, simply because of his word to us.

We certainly didn't merit Jesus' death. We do not merit his love. No matter what we do we could never earn it; never. But he freely gave it at no cost to us and to no benefit for himself. He paid the full cost only for our benefit. No one else could ever show that kind of love for us.

And all we have to do is accept it.

Everything that needs to change in us will be changed by the power of the love we accept into our selves. We don't receive it after we have changed. We change after we accept it because that love transforms us, making us a new creation, and continues to transform us until we are just like Jesus. Again, all for our benefit.

Don't ever think that God did this because he needs something from us. Don't think that he needs our worship, our talents, our offerings. He needs nothing. He did this because of the purest form of love; a love that is God himself. For this we gladly give him our lives, because such love provokes absolute trust, service of gratitude and whole-hearted worship. So take time to come to as deep an understanding of this love as God is willing to reveal to you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Do Angels Still Speak?

If you ask me how God does something my response will be, however he wants to do it. If the Bible teaches us anything it is that our God responds in a diverse manner that suits the person and situation. So, would God use angels to convey something to us? It wouldn't be beyond him so I wouldn't rule it out, by why would he put a mediator between us and him?

In ancient times God had to communicate to us through prophets and angels. There are a few examples of God speaking directly to people but they were exceptions. However all of that changed with Jesus Christ:

In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

God revealed his heart, his plan, his great mysteries through the Son, and then something really amazing happened. Jesus returned to the Father so that he could send us the great Comforter, the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit of God who now dwells in us, making us one with Jesus; Jesus in us and us in him. Here is the truly amazing thing:

Spiritual people comprehend everything, but they themselves aren’t understood by anyone. Who has known the mind of the Lord, who will advise him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:15-16)

We do not have the Holy Spirit on us like the prophets did in ancient times. The Spirit would come on them as they needed to act or speak God's will. Instead we have the Spirit of God in us, living in us, giving us the mind of Christ, that we would know and do the will of God.

There was a time when God could only speak to his people through angels and prophets but we are now one with God so that he speaks to us directly. The question is, are we listening?

We have to be careful because there is one who wants to drive us into confusion and cause blindness to God's people. He has done it to the world and of late he has been effective in the Body of Christ:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Christ is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Don't allow the lies of the enemy to cut you off from communication with our Father. Don't listen to those who have lifted humanism, morality above the truth of our relationship with the Christ. The Father is still speaking and he is speaking with you. Set aside thoughts of angels and open your ears to the Spirit's voice. Allow him to direct your days according to the will of the Father.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

So This Is Christmas

Christmas? Bah-humbug!

I am getting to that point as we strip away any significance of the Christian celebration. Forget trying to convince the world to keep Christ in Christmas. Why should it? They don't believe. For them Christmas is about family traditions, having fun with the kids with the figure of Santa Claus, and having a great party at the beginning of winter. No, the real fight is to get the Christian to keep Christ in Christmas.

Society is a powerful machine shaped and molded by the media. Most people accept as truth whatever they watch on television, especially the news. Christians submit themselves to this same mind-shaping machine every day. Ask the average Christian how much they will spend on gifts this year and it will be no different than the person who does not believe. Ask them what Christmas is about and the two will give similar answers: the family.

As nice as it is to have the family together for Christmas, it is not about the family. Christmas is not about the food. Christmas is not about family traditions. Christmas is not about the magical time for the children. Christmas is about one thing:

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2)

The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

That's it. That is our celebration that we have allowed to become something it was never intended to be. Now it is more a celebration of the family, which Christians who worship the family are happy for, but it is not the true celebration. Now we don't even open our churches on Christmas day to worship God for this incredible start to his great act of mercy and grace. No, we would not want to disturb family time.

"Keep Christ in Christmas" we say as we stress out over Christmas shopping and running up our credit cards with stuff we can't afford. We are caught up in the machine just like our non-believing neighbour and we don't have the guts to admit it.

The Christmas message is still a message of the Cross. The Christmas message is about the Light that entered this dark world to die for mankind who did not deserve it. The Christmas message is about God's love, mercy, grace and forgiveness. The Christmas message is about God's reconciliation with man. The Christmas message is nothing without Easter. I do not worship a baby in a manger. I worship the risen King; the Alpha and Omega; the first born of us all.

Re-think Christmas this year and don't be a lump of clay for this society to mold.