Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Where Would We Be Without The Cross?

Where would we be without the cross? Perhaps those of us raised in the Church do not fully appreciate the message of the cross and the cost of it. Perhaps we forget because the affect of it cannot be seen in us daily. Perhaps we never fully grew in awe of it because we never fully let go of the affects of a fallen world. It is amazing how a few verses can cause us to catch our breath and cause us to stand still.

Once you were alienated from God and you were enemies with him in your minds, which was shown by your evil actions. (Colossians 1:21)

This is who we were and yet are never far from returning to it. What Adam and Eve opened the door to has wrecked havoc on all of Yahweh's creation, and especially upon our minds. As a result of our fallen state, we tend to make ourselves the center of everything and refuse to give glory to anyone else. Even if we are forced to do it, it is usually because there is some benefit for us to do it. This selfishness sets us up to be a creature directly contrary to the nature of our Creator, setting ourselves up us the enemy instead of the worshiper of the one who gave us life.

Our rebellion is conceived in our minds, plagues our hearts and is revealed in our actions. We set ourselves up as our own gods, and still do. Other people only have worth as long as they have something to add to us and the moment we perceive they have nothing to offer, we cut them off. Lying, cheating, stealing, killing, along with self-determination are all rationalized when we consider our needs to be the most important. What a contrast to our Lord:

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

And we can now because Jesus changed everything for us. No longer are we trapped, under the control of sin which had misshaped every aspect of what we were created to be:

But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death, to present you before God as a people who are holy, faultless, and without blame. (1:22)

Jesus did that. While we were still enemies of Yahweh, Jesus sacrificed himself so that we could be transferred from darkness into the Kingdom, as children of Yahweh. Get it through your head, there was no good in us, we had nothing to offer, no value, and yet he made a decision to love us. In that love he sent his Son to rescue us but we still have to decide to accept it, love him back and obey. Although often times we still see no value in ourselves compared to his holiness, the fact is Father now sees us as holy, faultless and without blame, because of Jesus' death on the cross. Live the biggest good life you can muster, it has no value; only Jesus can save. But there is something we have to do:

But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard. (1:23)

We have to work out our salvation every day. It takes effort to remain faithful to Jesus. It requires a conscience effort to deny the desires of our flesh and to choose Jesus' righteousness daily. If we know who he is and who we are in him, and remind ourselves every day, then our effort enables the Spirit to empower us to overcome the draw of sin. We don't even have to think about that very much, we just have to desire Jesus, and a growing intimacy with him. Love really does take care of the rest, because the action of love is obedience.

We are not perfect but we are being perfected. In Father's eyes we are perfect. When we mess up and sin, we confess it and by his grace it is gone. We can grow in confidence, learning to love him more deeply, knowing he is not looking to destroy us but to increase us.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Don't Play Around With Your Belief In Jesus

"Jesus was a good man."
"Jesus was a prophet."
"Jesus was a great teacher."

Many things are said about Jesus but few people on this earth come to the same conclusion as Peter:

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

If we are disciples of Jesus we have to have a clear vision of who he is. Paul gives us this in Colossians:

1. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation (v. 15)

Jesus told us that if we know him we also know Father. He also stated after his resurrection that all authority in heaven and on earth was given to him. To be his disciple we must accept his supremacy over all things.

2. Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. (v. 16)

If we can accept this as truth concerning Jesus, we can begin to walk in the boldness that is ours, having been transferred from the darkness to the Kingdom. Jesus is over all but it is the citizens of the Kingdom who obey Jesus as King. See him, see yourself, in this simple yet all encompassing statement: "all things were created through him and for him."

3. He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him. (v. 17)

As we read this we must make a decision: do we believe the Bible is truly inspired by the Holy Spirit or not? If not, then go away and get on with your life. But if you do then understand you are not communicating with some genie who grants wishes but the Son of God, who lives in you, and who has told you to obey him in love. He is the one who holds all of creation together. He holds you.

4. He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything. (v. 18)

Your pastor is not the head of the church, Jesus is. He is also the firstborn of us all. Because of Jesus we have been transformed into a new creation, fashioned after him. What he is is what we are becoming. He is above all of Creation, the holder of Creation and the first born of the new creation. As his disciple, he must be first in our life, over all in our life.

5. Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him, and he reconciled all things to himself through him—whether things on earth or in the heavens. He brought peace through the blood of his cross. (v. 19-20)

Jesus is not only the agent of Creation, he is also the agent of reconciliation, reconciling Yahweh with his rebellious Creation. Jesus is the giver of peace to any who will receive it from him. He puts an end to sin's control over us, becoming our strength as we take dominance over our flesh and in turn he gives us peace.

No one who understands the scriptures could ever call Jesus a mere good teacher, a good man, or a simple prophet. This is what Scriptures reveal and it is up to you to believe or not. However, if you do believe you must act on that belief. As our Lord, Saviour, King and friend we obey him because we love him. We trust him. We worship him.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Freedom Is An Illusion

Freedom is an illusion. You are not free to do whatever you want to do, especially if what you want to do is outside of the law. When we are young we all look forward to the freedom of adulthood, but all adults know the many things that destroy any thought of being free. It is no different for those who avoid the "control" of Yahweh.

I have spoken to countless people who believe that religion is intended to control and enslave us. They really believe that they are free without Jesus. Many are so blind that they can't see that they aren't even in control of their emotions or their tongue, let alone their actions and their environment.

Yesterday I couldn't get past this verse from Colossians :

He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins. (1:13-14)

We can't mistake the language here, "control of darkness", "transferred", "set us free". Do we trust and and believe the Word? Do we accept the language here that conveys the truth of what Father has done for us through the Son? Then consider what Jesus taught:

“I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son is. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free." (John 8:34-36)

This is the condition of everyone before the blood of Jesus is applied; we are slaves to sin, with an illusion of control but possessing no control. We can't stop ourselves from doing the things that offend the holiness of Yahweh. Father loves us too much to want us to be under the control of darkness so he set us free through the Son. But that freedom is freedom from the control of sin, not free to do whatever we want. Paul explains it:

Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, that you are slaves of the one whom you obey? That’s true whether you serve as slaves of sin, which leads to death, or as slaves of the kind of obedience that leads to righteousness. But thank God that although you used to be slaves of sin, you gave wholehearted obedience to the teaching that was handed down to you, which provides a pattern. Now that you have been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)

Wow! These verses speak life into us as we realize the extent of what Father has done for us through the Son. Indeed, we are set free from the control of darkness and are made alive in Jesus. Sin no longer controls us! So now we lay down our lives in gratitude and love, and are controlled by his righteousness. Look what Paul concludes:

But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, you have the consequence of a holy life, and the outcome is eternal life. The wages that sin pays are death, but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (v. 22-23)

There is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus, obedience in love. Paul used the metaphor of slavery to paint the picture of what attitude we need to adopt here. Now consider again the verse from Colossians:

He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins.

We have been adopted and have been placed in the Kingdom. We have been taken from the enemy's camp and brought into the camp of Light. We are Kingdom dwellers, citizens, followers, believers. So let's start behaving like citizens, throwing off the old slave master and submitting ourselves to the law of righteousness that comes from love. If we love him, we will obey.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Are We Avoiding Growing Up?

We are meant for maturity, yet day after day we either stay the same or grow worse. We have to actively acknowledge that our Lord intends for us to grow, to become more than we were yesterday. It is not simply for our selfish purpose but for the maturing of the Body and the salvation of the world. We must mature.

Maturity comes at a cost, it requires us to face and walk through situations we would rather avoid. It is hard but Paul's letter to the church of Colossae makes it clear that it is part of our purpose. Paul prays:

Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. (1:9)

Notice what Paul stated was needed for spiritual maturity:
     1. knowledge of God's will
     2. wisdom
     3. spiritual understanding

Paul stated that the purpose of his prayer was:

We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way. (v. 10)

So, worthy of the Lord's sacrifice on the cross (a fruitful life instead of a wasted one) and one that would please him in the living. Paul names three ways that this will be done in our living:

     1. by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God (v. 10)
     2. by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience (v. 11)
     3. and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. (v. 12)

Good works, growing in knowledge of God, endurance, patience, and joyful thanksgiving; these are themes throughout the epistles and are the foundations to our growth. We need to pay attention and ask for these to increase so that we may mature and increase in Jesus.

We have fallen for the enemy's trick of getting us to focus on ourselves, seeking short cuts and comfort in life. Do you recognize any of these? Perhaps something that had been said to Jesus? Take a quick look at our society and then look in the mirror. Instead of running away from the discomfort, the hardships, trials, and storms, we need to trust the Lord for the strength to stand and to learn, growing into the fullness of Jesus.

There is much to learn and put into practice from this letter. I hope to spend some time in it with you over the next while.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Atmosphere Of Obedience

It seems the constant theme for my life these days is obedience. "It's great to say that we are Christian but if we aren't doing what Jesus told us to do then we aren't who we say we are." "Go ahead and say that you love Jesus but prove it in living his commands." These are the sort of things I have been dealing with for the past month, in the Word, in meditation, in relationships, in work. Obey.

If we are willing to examine it, most of our problems come down to disobedience, whether on purpose or through ignorance. We cause ourselves a lot of grief by not knowing and obeying the instructions Jesus gave us. Most people I see quoting Scripture verses and passing on good thoughts to others know almost nothing about what Jesus taught. But obedience didn't start with Jesus. It is something Yahweh has required of his people since the beginning.

He demanded it from Adam and Eve.

He demanded it from Noah.

He demanded it from Abraham.

He demanded it from Moses.

He demanded it from Israel.

In fact, he laid out all of his expectations to the people of Israel; he taught them his Law. He told them that they were free to go on their way, but if they chose to be his people then he would hold them accountable to the Law. Obedience was not optional and disobedience would be punished. Those are the simple facts.

It isn't that Yahweh is being mean about this. If we want a proper, intimate and blessed relationship with him, obedience must be a given. But this is not a reluctant obedience. It doesn't work with reluctance because Yahweh is looking for a people who will chose to obey because they love him. Jesus said it plainly, "If you love me, you will keep my commands." (John 14:15) And a little further on: "Whoever loves me will keep my word." (v. 23) No wiggle room there. Obey out of love.

Disobedience is a battle in us. It disturbs our peace. It causes problems. It makes us stumble. It keeps us dissatisfied, with an unfulfilled longing. But obedience allows for Yahweh's blessings to flow:

Everyone who honors the Lord,
        who walks in God’s ways, is truly happy!

You will definitely enjoy what you’ve worked hard for—
    you’ll be happy; and things will go well for you. (Psalm 128:1-2)

That's just a sample of the many Scriptures that lift up the benefits of a right relationship with Yahweh. The simple truth is that Father wants to flood our lives with his blessings but no parent can bless disobedience. Disobedience interrupts the flow of relationship, of growing together, of oneness. Obedience creates an atmosphere that allows this relationship to flourish.

If we want to walk in the ways of our God, memorizing the Law will not help, because you can't do it. That's why Jesus had to die in our place. He had to fulfill the requirements of the Law. Instead, concentrate on developing a love for the Lord which will allow for intimacy. This love will provoke you to obey because you want to please the one you love not because you are trying to manipulate him with your actions. As the old chorus goes: "Trust and obey, because there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, then to trust and obey."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Moved To Tears

I’m not a weepy guy but last night I found myself sitting in a movie theater sobbing like a baby. It was an important story of a regular family with a dying child and I related to the parents within the first five minutes. It was not written in a way to play on the audiences emotions, it was just a solid true story of what we are like when we face the death of a child.
I could feel my wife sobbing beside me and I knew she could feel me as well, I just hoped that no one else in the theater knew, or perhaps they were busy with their own tears.
At the end of the movie I felt emotionally drained but encouraged by their testimony. As the lights came on I smiled at my wife, loving her red, puffy eyes. I hoped that I didn’t look like she did but she lovingly assured me I did. As we stood to file out I expected to see other red eyes but there were none. The comments I heard were “That was a cute movie”.
Have we become so calloused that we are not provoked to compassion by a suffering child and the family that sacrifices and suffers to see her healed? Are we so calloused that we are not moved to the core of our being by the sight of a mom on her knees, desperately reaching out to God in her renewed faith? Are we no longer moved when we see a mom give up her anger at God and turn to him in faith because she loves her daughter too much to hold on to selfish emotions? Have we grown so cold that we are no longer moved when one dying child shares the strength of her faith and trust in Jesus with another dying child?
There were too many honest moments in this testimony to share with you but I would hope that if you find yourself in a movie theater watching it, your compassion and tenderness would be enough to see you moved to tears. And may this compassion then translate to the people of our lives. The love of Jesus for us should fill us with compassion for others.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Not Loving Yourself But Dying To Yourself

Knowing someone is a Christian does not mean you know where they stand with Yahweh. It simply means that they identify with the Church, or their parent's faith, or some vague ceremonies of which they may be aware. There may be 2.2 billion people on this planet who identify as Christian but it does not mean they are followers of Jesus.

Jesus and the apostles told us what it looks like to be filled by the Spirit of God, because without the Spirit we will not look like Jesus. This only works when we do exactly what Jesus said, "Say no to yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me".

What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus? All kinds of ways but here is one sign post you should see in yourself:

Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Philippians 2:4)

This cannot happen unless you have turned yourself to walk like Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. This can only happen in you when you have decided to love God with all your being and to love your neighbour as yourself. When those are the precepts that you are determined to govern your life, then the Spirit is able to transform your heart to be a vessel of Jesus' love. As a vessel, your entire desire will be to love as Jesus loved.

How did Jesus love? By serving others. By giving all he had to give. By dying for sinners. By making everyone else more important than himself. And he told us to love each other as he loved us.

How do we love? This is an excellent question in this age of "love yourself". Do we believe what Jesus said? Do we trust him? Do we expect Father to look after us while we seek to see his Kingdom here, to have it done here as it is in heaven? That is what Jesus told us, that dad will look after us while we are busy with the Kingdom. It is a Kingdom matter to put everyone ahead of yourself.

It is by these signs that we know we are really disciples of Jesus. Anyone can call themselves anything, but we are known by the fruit that is produced in us, by our words and actions. Are we so convinced of Jesus' love that we can put our own needs aside to look after the people he loves; the lost of this world?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Limiting Our Freedom

I have six daughters, five sons and two grandsons. I have experienced a lot of things in and through this small tribe. Yet, they continue to surprise me.

Yesterday my wife came in to say that she had it with my 11 year old son. He is a great boy but he is a typical boy; he is loud and full of energy. Lately, when we have to correct him, he uses the argument, "I'm not free to be me". Yesterday, he was disturbing his siblings. We homeschool through a great Christian school online and part of the day they all have to concentrate to complete their studies. But this one son was disturbing the others by exercising his freedom to be "me".

I explained to him that I love him just as he is; that I am glad God made him just as he is. I told him he is free to be who God made him to be but there are times, because of love, we limit our freedom for the sake of other people.

He didn't quite understand.

I explained that we are instructed in the Bible that we have been given freedom in Jesus, but because of love, we will need to curb our freedom when our freedom brings harm to a brother or sister:

You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. (Galatians 5:13)

Paul follows this with one of the foundational characters that has been birthed in us:

All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. (v. 14)

I explained to my son that because he loves his brothers and sisters, he will choose to limit his freedom for their sake. This is a tough lesson even for mature adults.

My son took this lesson and went upstairs. A while later he asked my wife what it feels like to be saved. She told him it can be different for different people; some feel great joy at the revelation of Jesus' love for us, others might feel great relief and peace for the forgiveness of their sins. He asked her if it ever feels different in the body because suddenly his heart was tingling. She reminded him that he had already accepted Jesus but he told her that he was now old enough to understand, so he made the decision again, just then.

I seems that, as I spoke to my son, he was given a revelation of love and that revelation provoked him to desire that love in a tangible way. My 11 year old son honestly and openly accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour, on his own, with no mediator and no coach. And we have been witnessing the authenticity of this decision by the actions he has been taking ever since.

May we all respond to Jesus' love in this same manner, that we would live lives of sacrificial love for the sake of others.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

In An Atmosphere Of Rebellion We Are Called To Obey

Obedience is not what our children do in our presence but how they conduct themselves in our absence. This is what was on Moses' heart as he prepared to die. His great concern was that the people of Israel would enter into rebellion and lose all the blessings Yahweh intended for them:

"Set your mind on all these words I’m testifying against you right now, because you must command your children to perform carefully all the words of this Instruction." (Deut 32:46)

This was important because Yahweh had given a lengthy list of blessings that would flow in obedience and a long list of curses that would fall on them in rebellion. Moses warned:

"This is no trivial matter for you—this is your very life! It is by this means alone that you will prolong your life on the fertile land you are crossing the Jordan River to possess." (v. 47)

Those are great words "this is your very life!" Don't twist it though. The end game is not obedience but obedience enables a deeper and greater relationship with the One who loves us. The relationship is the end game.

This is why Jesus said, "If you love me you will do what I have said". Obedience is the manifestation of love and it is in this climate of loving obedience that Yahweh's blessings flow in and through us. We cannot expect to walk in rebellion and receive blessing. This would make Yahweh a liar.

In fact, it must be understood, because we are legitimate children, rebellion will bring correction. Because our Father loves us he will correct us. This should be simple enough to understand because it is also true of good parenting on earth.

Motivation is an important thing with Jesus. He did not obey Father because he expected some great reward or because he was trying to manipulate him. Jesus prayed, "not my will but yours be done" because he loved Father and only wanted to walk in obedience because of that love. This is the example Jesus set for us so that we would understand the root of obedience.

What it comes down to is, do we really love Father? Then obey.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Purpose Of The Things We Go Through

We are a short-sighted people. Each of us tries to understand life and our experience with our God in the context of our single life. It is only natural that we do. But we are called to go beyond the natural order; we have been called into the supernatural, into the Kingdom of God, into a new perspective.

Instead of seeing life in the context of an individual life we are called to see it in the context of family. Each family member affects the other family members and is affected by those members. In this context we can understand that our God will take us through things that have little to do with us and everything to do with what he is trying to bring into the lives of others.

The nation of Israel is a great example of this. Yahweh grew this nation out of Israel for his purpose. Why Abraham? I don't know but his purpose was greater than wanting to bless Abraham. He states that he wanted to use Israel to reveal himself to the world, so that he would be glorified through Israel. Israel's blessings would have a greater purpose than prospering one nation.

At the root of it was Father's plan to reconcile the world to himself. To do this he needed to reveal himself to the world. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew him in a limited fashion but they didn't even know his name. It was through Moses that Yahweh gave his name and revealed his character and power. It was then through Israel that Yahweh revealed himself to the world. Read Joshua's words as he addressed the nation:

"This happened so that all the earth’s peoples might know that the Lord’s power is great and that you may always revere the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:24)

The Church has been charged with the same purpose as the nation of Israel had before they failed Yahweh; we are his instruments to reveal his name and glory to the world. He does this with the same power as he always has, where his instruments allow him to operate through them.

Understand how Paul's words puts this in the context of your life and the things you go through. He was struggling with a tormenting spirit from Satan and he prayed to have it removed. After the third time he prayed he received this answer:

“My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Our life in context of family is to understand that our Lord reveals himself through the many things we face for the encouragement of those around us. It doesn't mean that there is not benefit for us, but the main focus may not be about us.

This does not mean that our Lord wants us weak and frail and lacking anything. That is not what he did with Israel. He is not glorified in our depraved condition. He is glorified in our success when he brings that success through the areas in which we are the weakest. He wants us to succeed so that Father receives the glory. But either we want to avoid these weaknesses or we refuse success in the weaknesses thinking we are glorifying God in our suffering. He is only glorified when we allow him to overcome this suffering.

Stand up under the weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations because Jesus is using those things to profit others. We lay down our lives for the benefit of others. We allow Jesus to be glorified through us. We allow Jesus to make us prosperous and successful in our weakest points, for his glory, for the benefit of others. That is what it is to serve him in our lives in the context of family.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Be Encouraged

I am tired today and finding it hard to get motivated to start on my day, even after two cups of coffee. It has caused me to reflect on Jesus as my source of motivation and strength. As I have done this, a memory verse from Sunday School days has come to mind:

"This is the day that the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it."

I remember studying in my pastoral studies that this was being stated because it was a day of victory for Israel. But as I have I turned to this Psalm this morning, I realized it was so much more than that. Consider what we find in Psalm 118:

I won’t die—no, I will live
    and declare what the Lord has done.
18 Yes, the Lord definitely disciplined me,
    but he didn’t hand me over to death.

Consider what was being faced on this day of victory:

All the nations surrounded me,

Yes, they surrounded me on every single side,

They surrounded me like bees, 

I was pushed so hard I nearly died,

I find it amazing that this encouraging song was birthed in the worse circumstances, in the darkest moment, in the appearance of defeat. But this psalmist was a warrior who knew Yahweh, who trusted Yahweh, and had great expectations of Yahweh. Look at how he encouraged himself:

- Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
    because his faithful love lasts forever.

- The Lord is for me—I won’t be afraid.
    What can anyone do to me?

- The Lord is for me—as my helper.
    I look in victory on those who hate me.

- It’s far better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust any human.

He repeats this and clarifies it:

- It’s far better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust any human leader.

And he declares to himself the result that will come from this trust:

- I won’t die—no, I will live
    and declare what the Lord has done.

No people, we are not weak or defeated because of the One who is in us. He loves us and he wants us to succeed. He gives us victory over our enemies, the dark principalities in this world. We are able to declare with the psalmist:

- I thank you because you answered me,
    because you were my saving help.

I pray that you and I will conclude our day with the same shouts of triumph, victory and thanksgiving as we look to our God to be faithful in all that he has promised, because he is our strength.

You are my God—I will give thanks to you!
    You are my God—I will lift you up high!
29 Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
    because his faithful love lasts forever.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

You Are Not A Victim

It frustrates me when Christians play the part of victim. Victimized Christians do not know who they are in Jesus and it is a shame that they are wasting the precious days they have been given in this world. Paul wrote something to Timothy that is worth your consideration today. He starts with this:

I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. (2 Timothy 1:5)

Paul first reminds Timothy that he has been raised and trained in a life of faith. It was demonstrated to him in his mother and grandmother. Paul encourages Timothy by stating that he is confident that this same faith resides in Timothy. Then:

Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. (v. 6)

I like this. Because of this faith Timothy I am reminding you to operate in it. Live by the Spirit. Do what you have been equipped to do. The Spirit provides the equipping but we are responsible to operate in it. Then Paul writes what we all must grasp:

God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled. (v. 7)

This is not personality. Personality type does not play in your calling and equipping. Look at many of the servant's of the past who tried to get out of their calling with excuses, like Moses and Jonah. It has everything to do with the spirit he has given to us and it is one of boldness. He has equipped us with his power, his love and the power to be self-controlled. This is good stuff that we simply have to act on, in faith that it is so.

It has been this way since the beginning but even more so now that we are possessed by the Spirit of God. When Moses was about to die he addressed the nation and told them to possess the land because Yahweh had told them to possess it. He encouraged them:

Be strong! Be fearless! Don’t be afraid and don’t be scared by your enemies, because the Lord your God is the one who marches with you. He won’t let you down, and he won’t abandon you. (Deuteronomy 31:6) 

Two things right there are the source of our boldness. First, our God is always with us, going before us, always preparing the way. He abides in us. Psalm 139 states we can never escape him, even more now that he lives in us. This is for our encouragement.

The second thing I want to highlight : He won't let you down. That is a big one all on it's own and can only be understood in the context of a loving, intimate relationship. Jesus promised that he would be with us until the end of this age. He said his desire was for us to be one with him in the same way that he is one with Father. The Way, the Truth and the Life is in you. The one who declared that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, is intimate with you. The one who stated that he is the Resurrection walks with you every day.

Paul wrote that we are more than conquerors, we are overcomers. We are not victims. We are not powerless. We are not timid, because our God has given us the authority to forgive. Thank about that for a moment. The power does not rest in the hands of the offender but in the hands of the offended. Without your forgiveness, the offender will have to give account for their actions. With your forgiveness that offence is wiped away. By offering forgiveness you are also set free from the cage of victim. That is power and that is what has been given to you with the responsibility to love your enemies.

We cannot and must not live with a victim mentality. Jesus has made us greater, more powerful than people can grasp. Now walk in the boldness you have been given and dare to love where others have failed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Simplicity Of Intimacy

We are great at complicating simple things. Simplicity is not that hard but it does mean removing a lot of junk. It means cutting out the unnecessary. It means reducing life to the basics. But we like our frosting. We like the frills. We enjoy the clutter. We take solace in the noise. The problem is, simplicity is avoiding the complicated by avoiding the clutter we love.

We say that we want intimacy with Jesus. We say that we want to be strong and sensitive to the Spirit. We say that we want to live for God and God alone, but then we complicate our lives by filling it with clutter. Jesus told us this:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be!" (Matthew 6:22-23)

Sounds all philosophical but it is straight forward. If you want God, seek God. If you want the world, seek the world. If you want God, stop entertaining yourself in this world. If you want the world, don't mess yourself up with God. If you want intimacy with Jesus, stop making love with the world. If you want to be pleasured by the world, stop playing around with God.

It is a really bad place to be, in a relationship with one person when your lusting over another. This best describes most of us in a relationship with Jesus. We want Jesus but not enough to make ourselves unavailable to other lovers. It makes for a bad marriage and it makes for a weak relationship with Jesus. It waters down our worship and makes us liars to ourselves. We convince ourselves that we are okay, that this is normal because we are "only human".

But we aren't only human.

If we had the exclusive relationship we are suppose to have with Jesus we would know that we have been changed by this marriage, that we are no longer what we once were, that we are now a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come. Jesus stated to us:

"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other." (v. 24)

You can't have two lovers. You can't give your heart to two people. You can't be married and prostitute yourself and expect to maintain intimacy with your husband. In the end, simplicity is only complicated if we are double minded.

If it is intimacy with Jesus that we desire understand, it is only possible when we forsake all other lovers and devote ourselves fully to our Lord. Not complicated unless we make it complicated.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pursuing Treasure

I wish I could be perfect. But I am not. But I want to be. That's the reason Jesus hasn't given up on me.

I don't ever want to be a fence sitter. I would rather burn hot with passion for Jesus or cold due to negligence. In both conditions I am open to the Lord for encouragement and correction. However, if I just get by, think I am okay when I am actually messed up, I am a fence sitter, unteachable,  not correctable, and right in my own understanding. Jesus can't do a thing with that and he said he would spit me out.

Knowing this, I always want to be open to the direction of the Spirit, without excuse, when I study the Word. I can't decide that it is impossible to live what Jesus taught. I can't close my mind to it and say "I am only human". I can't decide that these are simply ideals. Jesus taught these things because they are the heart of the Father and so need to become my heart, through the transformation of the Spirit in me.

There are some basic things in our understanding that we are either missing, ignoring or neglecting. Here's a simple one:

“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them." (Matthew 6:19-20)

Simple in instruction but majorly difficult in application in our current age. Don't gloss over this. Think about it for a minute. It is important because Jesus concluded this instruction with this truth:

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (v. 21)

We were designed to be a passionate people for the things of God. When we aren't, we become dull and distracted. There are plenty of things fighting for our attention. But everything here is temporary. They have no eternal value so we should not invest time and emotions into them. We enjoy them while we have them but when they are gone we don't mourn their loss.

It is more important for us to put our energy into people. We need to learn to love, not those who love us, but the difficult people, the ugly people, the self-centered people. We need to find passion to show kindness in the face of hate and patience in the tidal wave of disobedience. We have the challenge of being a living testimony to the goodness and glory of Yahweh. This means we never allow ourselves to be overcome by the things of this earth and instead allow the eternal things to shine through, like joy, peace, patience, kindness, love.

We can't use the excuse that we aren't perfect, just forgiven. This gives us a license to allow our flesh to reign instead of the Spirit. Our every waking moment should be filled with a desire to live for Jesus and not ourselves. Can you imagine what our lives would look like if we cherished the things of the Kingdom more than the useless temporary treasures of this earth? That is what we are suppose to be growing toward.

So seriously, what are your treasures? Don't be vague. Don't sit on the fence. Don't think you are okay. Make a list of everything that is important to you. Be honest. Then decide if you are following the directives of our King. If not, confess it and express your desire. Be open to change and invite the Spirit to change your perspective.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Be Bold!

Are you bold? It takes a lot of confidence to pull off bold. It helps to know who you are and to have embraced your purpose and direction. As we examine the Cross this week we should take note that Jesus did not just give himself over to death on the cross; he embraced it with boldness and determination. He knew this was the will of Father and it was his purpose to carry out his will. So he stepped forward in the confidence of the relationship.

People with experience are bold. People who believe what they are saying are bold. People who trust the authority they represent are bold. We see it in all kinds of people throughout our day from teachers to police officers, from doctors to parents. But their boldness is limited to the limited boldness of this world system. For Jesus to step out in such boldness he had to believe in something beyond this limited world; he had to believe in the plan of Father and that belief came from his relationship of trust.

Let's shift from the Cross for a minute and consider Joshua. Joshua was Moses' assistant and had been trained under him for over forty years. That's longer than the working career of most people. He got to see first hand the incredible relationship between Yahweh and Moses, got to experience the miracles, saw Moses intercede countless time on behalf of the unfaithful Jews, and became the general of the national army under the guidance of Moses.  So when Joshua was appointed by Yahweh to take over from Moses as leader, entering the promised land, he had a great relationship of trust with the Lord.

Joshua was able to step out in boldness because he knew his calling and purpose, and he personally knew the one who called him:

"Be brave and strong, because you are the one who will help this people take possession of the land, which I pledged to give to their ancestors." (Joshua 1:6)

It should be no different for us. We have been called by Jesus to more than just our personal salvation. That salvation allows us to enter into a greater relationship with Yahweh than either Moses or Joshua had with him. They were not one with God by the Holy Spirit and we are. Our boldness should be even greater because our calling is specific and directly from the Lord:

“All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)

"Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)

“It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

Boldness. That is what we have because of our intimate relationship with Jesus, knowing and understanding our purpose. It doesn't matter what anyone else in this world says, we know what we must do. Jesus had to face the cross without the support of his disciples because even they tried to turn him from it. They did not understand, but they understood after the Resurrection. Jesus had to face the cross alone, simply knowing it was Father's will. It is the same reason we can face what we must, alone if need be, with people against us. We know who we are in Jesus. We know who he is in us. And we know our purpose.

"Be brave and strong, because you are the one who will help this people take possession of the land."

"God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled." (2 Timothy 1:7)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Was Jesus Anti-Wealth?

We have a long way to go in changing our mentality to a Kingdom mentality. Too many of us are trying to live for Jesus by the standards of this world. We allow the values of this place to shape our thinking and reactions. It is hard not to when we are inundated with advertising for such things throughout our day. As well, we are now influenced by opinions we read many times a day through social media. We don't even balance this with proper Bible study. As Christians we want maximum benefit with minimum effort.

Most of us are stuck with the mentality of always wanting to better our situation. Few of us find contentment with what we have. The message we hear all the time is one of growth in our position and possessions. We fail to see this as an affront to the principles of the Kingdom that speak of greater riches than these meager earthly things.

We want more; we want bigger; we want better. That is what drives the economies of this world. The movie "Wall-e" had a good message about this; the Bible has an even better one.

Are you a Christian? Then you need to understand that you have been told by your King to put the riches of this world in their place:

Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)

We read it, teach it, preach it but few find the desire to apply it. Let's be clear about this because Jesus was clear about it:

“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

In fact, Jesus told us to see money, not as something to possess but, as something to use; a tool:

I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes. (Luke 16:9)

An important thing to understand is that Jesus stated that the rich have received their reward and there will be none to follow:

But how terrible for you who are rich,
    because you have already received your comfort. (Luke 6:24)

Jesus is not anti-wealth, it's just he knows how it pollutes the hearts of most people:

 “I assure you that it will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

When we are mature in our relationship with Jesus, in our understanding of the Kingdom and in our desire to serve, some will be trusted with wealth. It is something Father wants us to have so that he can use us in these areas for the salvation of souls. But he is not about to place such a burden on those who will be destroyed by it. Wealth has a way of becoming an idol for us, changing our dependence on God to our dependence on our money.

It is better to be content with what you have and seek greater things of the Kingdom, grow and mature, staying dependent on the Lord, than to run after things that will consume and destroy you. Not a new or strange message but one that most of us will politely ignore.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Responding To Hate

Belgium has been attacked today, as France was attacked, as Russia was attacked, as many countries have been attacked in the past. It is a good illustration of how Jesus has transformed us to live by a different code than this world, to have different values and to live by a different perspective. It is vital that, as his followers, we die to the desires of our first nature and live in the Spirit, with our new nature.

Jesus called us to be something different, a new people, a new nation, to live in a new way so that the world would look in and Father would receive the glory for what they see. It is more than a love that we put on; it is a love that permeates everything that makes us unique. Let me remind you how it is suppose to look, as Jesus taught it. Remember, this cannot be achieved by our effort but instead in cooperation with the Holy Spirit:

 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you." (Luke 6:27-31)

Unfortunately too many of us call on the name Jesus without submitting to Jesus. We think it is okay to sing his praises and curse people. We think it is okay to react to the world in our flesh while fellowshipping with God in our spirit. We think this and use the excuse that we are human. But we aren't human. We are a new creation and we have been empowered to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to live differently than the rest of creation so Father will receive glory. Stop making excuses, we are going to be held accountable. Don't hate those who want to see you dead, and don't fear them; pray for them.

“If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate." (Luke 6:32-36)

There is no creature on this planet that should compare to the forgiving and generous character of a follower of Jesus. We are possessed by his Spirit and thus live by his character. When we fail we are corrected but we are never permitted to excuse the failure. When we fail we should understand that we have weakness in our relationship with Jesus. When we are intimate with him we are strong in his character, sensitive to the Holy Spirit's guidance.

“Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.” (Luke 6:37-38)

Why do we fail to know this is how we live, react, respond? When we fail why do we think it is okay? Why do we not understand the need to reject our error, to confess and repent of it, to ask Jesus for greater intimacy to live in the manner that pleases him? If Jesus is our Master we can't just ignore his words, they were given to enable life in us. 

We are different than all the rest because we have the character of Jesus. Hate is never justified. If Jesus could ask forgiveness for those who crucified him certainly we can ask for and give forgiveness to those who do harm to us. Our calling is a higher calling of sacrificial love. So let us love those who see themselves as our enemies, those who persecute us, those who want to do harm to us; just like Jesus.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Cleaning House

In the final week before the crucifixion Jesus was in no mood for fooling around. These were the last few days and every moment mattered. It makes sense then that we would pay close attention to what he said and what he did with his time.

After arriving in the city to much fanfare from those who knew him, Jesus went to the Temple. It only makes sense that this is the first place he would go; it was the center of all religious activity. More personally, it was his Father's house. Imagine the disappointment he felt when we walked in and found a market place. I am sure that every Israelite who made the pilgrimage felt a similar disappointment. It may even be the same disappointment that seekers of God today feel when they walk into some of our churches.

In his authority Jesus stepped in and chased the marketers out and told everyone who was willing to listen:

"He said to them,'It’s written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks.'” (Matthew 21:13)

Imagine how he feels about what we have done with his Church, our mentality of marketing, which has turned the Church into big business. We can justify it many different ways but we need to ask ourselves some honest questions about purpose, perspective, power, expectation. Then we need to look at what Jesus did after he cleansed the Temple:

"People who were blind and lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them." (v 14)

In the days to follow Jesus will heal many more people and will teach great spiritual insights in the Temple. Today, we have turned our Churches into social work centers, running food programs, day cares, AA meetings, exercise groups and many other great programs, to show that the Church is relevant today. Yet, we fail to do what Jesus did.

We pray with people as a way of encouraging them, but we don't have people lining up to be healed. They don't come because we don't believe it happens. It is not that they don't believe; we don't believe. God's House, the Church, is no longer a house of prayer, where God moves and miracles happen. We are a place of business, managing our money, and meeting as many needs as we can within our means.

There is a difference between good stewardship and faithless business. People come seeking and they are disappointed with what they find. They are not looking for a group to help them with their hospital bills; they want healing. They are not looking for someone to call in their loneliness; they want the emptiness to be filled with Jesus. They don't want a long list of suicide prevention numbers; they want the spirit of depression to be cast out. They aren't looking for a floor show; they want to see God.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Nothing Going Right?

There are benefits to living in obedience to Jesus. There are consequences for living in rebellion to Jesus. This is a basic fact that has been true since the beginning of creation. All Yahweh wanted from Adam and Eve was their love, and love means obedience; Jesus taught us that, in case it wasn't clear. Adam had one rule to follow: Don't eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One rule and he could not maintain obedience.

Just outside of the Promised Land, Yahweh gave some final instructions to Israel before he took Moses from them. He made it clear to them that his intention was to bless them beyond imagining so that he would be glorified through them. They would become the greatest nation. All they had to do was be entirely devoted to him, obey his instructions. He also made it clear that if they entered into rebellion against him there would be consequences; the blessings would be reversed, and everything that had been promised against their enemies would happen to them. Nothing would go right for them, even if they worked hard.

Jesus gave us many promises but he wanted to make it perfectly clear for us that only those who loved Yahweh with all they had would be considered as part of him. He was loving us with all that he had and the relationship required the same from us. The manifestation of love in our lives is obedience and anything less is a pale version of love.

Our Father's great passion is an eternal relationship with us. He paid the price for our admission and he continues to pursue those who have rejected him. He also brings correction for those who say they are his children and yet continue to rebel against him. You know who you are. We are all in that number from time to time, but he loves us enough to correct us.

This should be a good warning to us when suddenly nothing is going right, no matter how hard we are working. If everything is failing you need to examine your relationship with Jesus and your actions. If you have become distracted or perhaps enslaved by a particular sin, prosperity and success will be halted to bring your attention to this fact. It isn't a lack of love but the fact that he values eternity with us over blessings on this earth. His intention is for us to have both but he will remove the one to ensure the other.

The Scriptures explain it this way:

Bear hardship for the sake of discipline. God is treating you like sons and daughters! What child isn’t disciplined by his or her father? But if you don’t experience discipline, which happens to all children, then you are illegitimate and not real sons and daughters. (Hebrews 12:7-8)

This same passage also tells us that no one enjoys correction but we should be mature enough to understand the benefits:

No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

If you are in rebellion, have become disobedient or even distant from Jesus, stop it. Repent and get back to walking in his righteousness. His great desire is to bless you so the Father will be glorified through the blessings he will pour through you. He loves you enough to correct you, so understand what is happening in your life today.