Monday, February 29, 2016

Be Careful Little Tongue What You Say

Last week I wrote that we need to be careful about the words that we allow to be spoken into our lives. When destructive words are allowed to take root they can undermine Yahweh's glorious purpose for us. In the same sense, we need to be careful of the words we speak. The easiest thing for us to do is complain. It is the most natural thing for our flesh to do and it does it often.

Our Father hates complaining.

That statement alone should cause us to sit up and take notice. Few of us would want to be engaged in any activity that our Father hates and yet every day we find ourselves complaining about people, situations, our perceived lack or the many great injustices in the world. Consider this one simple example from God's Word:

"When the people complained intensely in the Lord's hearing, the Lord heard and became angry. Then the Lord's fire burned them and consumed the edges of the camp." (Numbers 11:1)

Obviously we live in the age of grace, an age in which we are covered by the grace of our Lord as we grow into maturity. But just because the Lord does not punish us for the things we do does not mean they do not hurt him. Our God takes our complaints personally. That should mean something to us.

What really hurts is when we complain against his goodness. Our flesh has selective memory. It remembers the slavery of sin so much differently than the reality of it. It remembers the pleasure of it and forgets the consequences. It even exaggerates the pleasure so that we will complain about where  we are in freedom in Jesus and long to go back to slavery. Remember this:

"The riffraff among them had a strong craving. Even the Israelites cried again and said, 'Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our lives are wasting away. There is nothing but manna in front of us." (Numbers 11:4-6)

Funny how these complainers forgot about their lack of freedom, forgot the chains, forgot the whips, forgot the hard labour, forgot the thousands of dead. We need to take warning from this moment in Israel's relationship with the Lord. Complaining goes beyond our Lord hating it; these words also have an effect on our trust relationship with the Lord. Every word of complaint is a testimony against the goodness of our God. We hold on to enough of these words and it will erode our trust in Jesus and his promises. We will begin to believe that there is something better for us elsewhere. When we get into a crisis we will try to find help from another source. And when it comes to the good gifts of our Lord, we will reject them.

This complaining generation of Israel is the generation that failed to enter into the land of "milk and honey" that Yahweh had promised them. Because of their complaining attitude they could only see the giants, the fortified cities and the great armies that they faced. Their complaints turned their eyes away from the LORD God Almighty to the things of this world that, in themselves, they had no hope of overcoming. No wander our God hates a complaining tongue; he knows the effect it has on the heart.

If we are to remain his children we need to follow the example we find in the Word and fill our mouths with praise and thanksgiving. We need to put effort into this relationship and cultivate a heart of gratitude in all things. Whether in the desert or the land of plenty, our Lord remains the same, his love remains the same, his promises remain the same, his provision remains the same and all praise is due him. We can trust him. Today, let us sing with the psalmist:

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with celebration!
    Come before him with shouts of joy!
Know that the Lord is God—
    he made us; we belong to him.
    We are his people,
    the sheep of his own pasture.
Enter his gates with thanks;
    enter his courtyards with praise!
    Thank him! Bless his name!

Because the Lord is good,
    his loyal love lasts forever;
    his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.  (Psalm 100)

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Church Aught To be The Safest Place In This World

Our tongue is a terrible weapon when it is not voluntarily bridled by the Spirit of God. From this same mouth comes praises for my Lord and curses for my fellow believers. Are you kidding me? What a terrible disconnect there can be when we are not constantly conscience of being directed by the Spirit.

The Church aught to be the safest place in this world. It is filled with connected followers of Jesus Christ who are each walking in the Spirit and desiring to grow into the fullness of Jesus. But faith is a process of growth which means each of us are at different levels of understanding and relationship. We have those who are strong and those who are weak; those who are mature and others who are immature. This is the reason that love is the foundation of the Kingdom because we cannot exist as the Church without it.

Love is something that should be a constant thought, something we measure all our actions and words against, desiring to increase in it's application. Our measuring rod is Jesus. He empowered us and set the example. He gave us the standard when he told us, his followers:

"This is my commandment : love each other just as I have loved you." (John 15:12)

Not one of us is perfect in this but we must at least begin with the understanding that this is not a suggestion from Jesus; love is a must. When we fail in it we must own up to it, repent and open ourselves up to correction and increase. Paul the apostle made it clear that this is a foundational matter that everything else rests on:

"If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don't have love, I'm a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don't have love, I'm nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I've done but I don't have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Paul is saying that no matter what he has and what he does, if love is not the foundation he has nothing and he is nothing. That should be a sobering thought for us. How often do we coast through our day with no thought about the impact of our actions and our words on the people in our day?

Jesus made it clear that we can't just say that we love him, that love must be conveyed in our obedience. Love is a thing of action: "If you love me you will obey my commandments" Jesus says to us his followers.

The two commandments he gave us are simply put: love God with your entire being, with all that you have, with all your passion and love others. John the apostle told us that if we do not love our brothers and sisters we do not love Jesus. So we can't obey one commandment and ignore the other; they go hand in hand.

Now we turn back to my opening statement that the Church aught to be the safest place in this world. No matter our maturity level, we all start with the same foundation, love. Because love is the root of everything we do, we support and encourage each other. When one of us fails, we are all there to help them back to their feet. Paul put it to the Church this way:

"We who are powerful need to be patient with the weakness of those who don't have power, and not please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbours for their good in order to build them up." (Romans 15:1-2)

You should read all of Romans 15. In fact, if we go back a bit we find this in Romans 14:

"Who are you to judge someone else's servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand)." (v. 4)

This is the reality we aught to be living in the Church. Now a days it seems everyone is on a witch hunt to discover some fault in every leader in the Body of Christ. The Word of God does not give us that authority, and in fact comes against it. It is eating away at the foundation of love. Jesus does not need our help in correcting leadership; he is quite capable of dealing with them himself. Instead, we should be concentrating on growing in love and power so that Jesus may be glorified in us.

The Church aught to be the safest place in this world.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Be Careful What Words You Allow To Take Root In You

We must take care of what we allow to be spoken into our lives. Words are powerful things that shape us even if we think we are not allowing them to effect us. Even those without Jesus have woken up to this fact as they move to try to change the language of our youth in schools. So many suicides have happened because of the words of mean spirited people or of people who did not understand the effect of their words.

I have known many people who faced illness in the strength of the Lord. They were doing well, standing on the promises of Jesus, overcoming what wanted to destroy them, staring it down with growing faith. But then the doctor spoke his reality into their life and suddenly that reality became larger than the reality of the Kingdom and they let go of hope, giving in to the hopeless despair of this world.

One of my daughters found herself in a situation that perfectly illustrates this spiritual fact. She is a dancer and has been preparing herself for a couple of important exams. She never stands still but is always in motion, practicing and enjoying the movement of her body. She works hard at her dance and I am very proud of her grit and determination to be the best she can be.

This year is particularly difficult because she has taken on a couple of additional classes putting a greater strain on her body. She has practiced through leg and ankle pain and understands what it is to push through. But lately she started getting pain in one of her knees leading up to her exams. Then one night she was sitting down, reading, and she turned to adjust her position. She heard a loud pop and pain shot through her knee. She could not put weight on that leg without a great deal of pain.

She started wearing a knee brace and sought guidance from her dance instructors to know best how to deal with this injury. But it did not stop her from going forward. The day of her tap exam I prayed over her knee and spoke strength into her. I knew Jesus would give her what she needed. But when she got to the exam an adult who was there told my daughter, "If you were my child I would not let you do this". She spoke those discouraging words into her minutes before the exam.

My daughter took the exam and her friend told her that she could see the pain in her eyes, but my daughter did it. She did not do it because I forced her to or because I said she should. She did it because she wanted to, because she did not want all her work to go to waste. She knew who she is in the Lord; she knew her source of strength and she gave all she had to give and trusted Jesus with the rest. She rejected those discouraging words and pressed forward.

The next day my wife was at the studio with another of my daughters and that same adult was there. She spoke to my wife and lifted up my older daughter to her, telling her that she did great with the exam. Out of that difficulty my daughter's determination provoked praise from the discourager and we pray Jesus will receive all the glory for it.

This is who we are in Jesus. No words of this world have formed us. It is important that we do not allow those words to take root in us but instead we wash them away with the truth of Jesus' words and promises. If we listen to the words of this world we will be utter failures and will never complete the race. If we choose to allow God's Word to overcome everything else, we will be more than conquerors with every challenge that faces us; we will be overcomers through Jesus Christ.

Be careful what words you allow to take root in you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Does Jesus Make A Difference

Are we any better as a person with Jesus than we are without him? Christianity is not about knowledge; it is about relationship. Knowledge about Jesus is important but it amounts to nothing without relationship. It is the relationship that defines everything.

This is not a relationship like you have with a friend. Jesus said that he wants to be one with us. As he is one with the Father he longs to be one with us. He wants to be so intimate with us that he has chosen to dwell in us by the Holy Spirit. That is the most intimate relationship in our life. It makes intimacy possible but not if we don't understand, don't desire or decide to do our own thing.

This intimacy that Jesus desires does not leave us the same. It changes us so that we become like him; in obedience, in power, in compassion. We cannot be in Jesus and Jesus in us and remain the same. And therein lies the problem.

Too many of us are trying to conform ourselves on the outside with no real change on the inside. Before there can be any conformity of behaviour there has to be an internal transformation provoked by the intimate relationship we have with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. It is not something we can fake.

I always consider the outward expression of Jesus' love to be sign posts in our lives that we are on the right track. If they aren't there it means something is wrong with the relationship. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Christian we discover the uniqueness of Yahweh's heart: Look at this from Leviticus of all places:

"If one of your fellow Israelites faces financial difficulty and is in a shaky situation with you, you must assist them as you would an immigrant or foreign guest so that they can survive among you. Do not take interest from them, or any kind of profit from interest, but fear your God so that your fellow Israelite can survive among you. Do not lend a poor Israelite money with interest or lend food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt to give you Canaan's land and to be your God." (Leviticus 25:35-38)

Compassion, generosity, kindness, concern, love are all great parts of our Yahweh's character. Jesus taught and demonstrated this to an even greater depth. Just consider this simple command to those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus:

"I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other." (John 13:34-35)

That sets the bar pretty high because we all know how Jesus loved us. Don't downplay this. Study and understand what Jesus commanded us and the example he set by loving us to the depth he went. This makes it a legitimate question to ask ourselves: Are we any better as a person with Jesus than we are without him? Do we know what it is to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord with that same love? Do we know how to reach out and heal the broken people of this world with the same compassion and power?

If you can live the same way with Jesus as you did without him there is a problem with the relationship. You should look into that today.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The High Standards Of Grace

It seems my ongoing theme this year is "Salvation is free but relationship costs. It costs to be a follower of Jesus". We have it stuck in our thought process that everything is free with our God but he has always demanded the highest from those who decide to belong to him. A wrong understanding of grace has gotten us to the point where people think they can do whatever they want and still claim to be Christian; still claim to love Jesus. Do you want to know the truth?

Let's start back in the Old Testament:

"You must be holy and keep yourselves holy because I am the Lord your God. You will keep my rules and do them; I am the Lord, who makes you holy." (Leviticus 20:7-8)

Now before we get defensive here, we need to keep in mind that Yahweh gave Israel the choice to be his people or to reject him. He told them - these are my laws; if you choose to be my nation you must keep them. They choose to be his nation and became accountable to the Law. Of themselves, they were incapable of being a holy people, but Yahweh pronounced they were holy and he made them holy through his Law. It was a very high standard.

Of course, we are not Israel, but we are the Body of Christ. We are not under this holy and perfect law, instead we are under God's grace. But that does not mean it does not come with very high standards. To be under grace we had to make a decision to accept the Salvation Jesus offered and to become a disciple of Jesus; to belong to him. We follow him so we are obedient to him. This not out of obligation to a law other than the law of love. We love him because he first loved us. We obey him because we love him.

This relationship demands a lot:

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

I am not sure many of us can grasp the standard to which we are held. It is a standard of love that demands the full attention of our heart, mind, soul, body and strength. It is a standard that expects us to overcome the attraction of sin by the power that love has placed in us. It is a standard that demands us to set aside all interest in ourselves for the sake of Jesus and for all those whom he loves; saved and unsaved. It is a love that says "It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me". Wow, read that again. If we grasped even a small understanding of this it would transform our daily living.

We have been called to a higher standard than we are currently living and it is grace that empowers us to get there. Maybe that would be a great place to start, the understanding of the empowerment of God's grace. Then perhaps a grasp of our death and life in Christ. Then we could move on to our obligation to love. Do be satisfied with gaining knowledge; go deeper in relationship.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Of Revenge And Grudges

It is amazing how unloving we can be, even as disciples of the one who embodied the perfect example of our Father's love. Jesus set many examples and taught exactly what real love looks like. Yet, we struggle with the "deny yourself" aspect of love. We struggle not just with strangers and enemies but with family. In fact, I suspect we are hardest on family.

God is love, says John the apostle, and we can see that from the first moments of creation. Yahweh even wrote it into the Hebrew law, again and again:

"You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbour as yourself; I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18)

Imagine that, revenge and holding grudges are not acts of love. In this law Yahweh was dealing specifically with the Israel family, but we know that Jesus told us, his followers, we need to apply this to those who consider us their enemy:

"You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:43-45)

Just as Yahweh had called Israel to be a holy nation, set aside to bring him glory, giving them a law so much greater than any thing that existed in the other nations, so Jesus has called us apart to bring glory to Father. He put it to us this way:

"If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same?" (v. 46)

Now back to the revenge and grudge thing. It happens to the best of us. We are still growing, making mistakes, learning and pressing on to maturity. The problem comes when we start keeping a list instead of confessing our error and releasing it. Paul the apostle told us that love does not keep a list of wrongs. So when we find ourselves with a list we tell Jesus what we have done and then let it go by forgiving everything wrong on that list, and never bringing them up again, no matter how much they would re-enforcing a future argument. When it is released it no longer exists, forgotten, just as Jesus has done for us.

Remember, Jesus told us to love each other as he has loved us. John told us that we cannot love Yahweh and hate a brother. It just doesn't work. When we love our God we love all that he loves, and it is only evil (as in the spiritual dark enemies of Yahweh) that we hate. Our fight is not against flesh and blood but dark principalities. No, the flesh and blood is what our Father loves, the reason Jesus came to die, resurrect, ascend to the Father and send the Holy Spirit. He loves them, and so must we. Everyone of them.

Glorify Father today. Get rid of the list.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Are You Still Worshiping Goat Demons?

We all want more from our relationship with Jesus. We want more clarity, peace, joy, love, contentment, direction, vision, hope. The list can go on but the essence is we want to be closer to Jesus. We understand that this is exactly what Jesus wants. In fact, in the gospel of John Jesus prayed about our oneness with him. But we expect it to be handed to us on a silver platter.

Our attitude stinks when it comes to our expectations in this relationship. We expect to put in minimum effort for maximum gain. We look at salvation, which is free for those who believe, because of God's grace, and we think this also translates into a no-effort relationship. But that is not what the Word of God reveals. Relationships take work; "Seek my face", says our God and seeking is a thing of effort.

This relationship requires total honesty. The Spirit wants us to examine and understand our motivations so we can confess and repent of the selfish ones and seek our God in purity of heart and mind. Most of us will not do that. We won't even consider how important it is. We get good feelings now and then. The Spirit is manifested from time to time. We experience God's provision and we don't consider how much all of this is by his wonderful grace but not the fullness that he desires to give in proper relationship.

The Israelites also had the manifestation of Yahweh in a major way. He was always visible to them in the desert. How could they forget what happened in a very tangible way in Egypt. They heard his voice and were afraid. Yet, they never entered into the purity of relationship that Yahweh desired. Here is a little snippet:

"The Israelites must no longer sacrifice their communal sacrifices to the goat demons that they follow so faithlessly. This will be a permanent rule for them throughout their future generations." (Leviticus 17:7)

Goat demons? Really? The strange thing is that we are a crazy creature that would rather hold on to an ugly familiar thing instead of a new and wonderful thing. We will do stuff simply because it is what our parents did. We would rather hold on to demon worship than step into the most incredibly beneficial relationship with the Son of God, just because the former is familiar and the latter is not.

I guarantee that there are attitudes, thoughts and actions that are part of us that dishonour our God, just like worshiping the goat demons. Such things prevent us from growing up into the full measure of Jesus Christ. They are things that are so much part of us that we don't even realize what they are or the source of them. This is especially true of the way we think. If only we could grasp how positive our Father is toward us. If only we could see is desire and longing for us. If only our mental barriers would be taken down, the demons evicted, so that the joy and the peace that comes from the Lord's presence would be a permanent feature of our being.

These things could be discovered by every worshiper of Jesus Christ, if only we would pursue a growing relationship with him. If only we would lose our attraction to the things of this world, to goat demons, and rely fully on the Holy Spirit. If only we would learn to love the LORD our God with all our heart, mind, body and passion. If only we would be willing to lose our pride, dignity and allow those barriers to come down, even if it looks shameful in the eyes of the world. Jesus makes all things new, beautiful and full of himself, and if that is all that matters to us, we will have more of him

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Harder Than It Looks

We have fallen into a trap in our modern age; we actually believe that it is easy to enter into eternity with Jesus. This seems strange considering the number of warnings Jesus gave about making every effort to enter in. Me saying this might seem strange, being a guy who preaches salvation by grace not works, but it does not mean that works is not important.

Jesus stated that those who believe will be saved. That has never changed. But he also stated that we must love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength. This is what it means to believe. Father never wants to take second place in your heart but instead your heart must be consumed with him. Jesus also stated that his followers must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and live like he has lived. This is a must, not an "if you feel like it". So belief is more than a mental exercise, it is an all consuming thing.

We need to be careful to not allow the popular preaching and the easy teaching of this age to move us from the narrow way to the broad way. The easy going attitude in the Church is accommodating those who are Christian in name only, who are quite comfortable in living by the philosophies of this world. You cannot serve two masters, Jesus warned. You will love one and hate the other. For many Christians, if push came to shove, they would gladly drop Jesus and take up the world, since that is the thing with which they are most comfortable.

In the Bible we find an incident where the various leadership were trying to trap Jesus. When the Sadducees took a turn they tried to trap him concerning the Resurrection. They did not believe in the Resurrection. They had no idea they were talking to the Resurrection. In Jesus' correcting their outlook he said something most of us glaze over:

"People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won't marry nor will they be given in marriage." (Luke 20:34-35)

Did you catch it? "Those who are considered worthy to participate in that age." Considered worthy. What makes us worthy? We aren't worthy of anything from Yahweh, considering we have all fallen short of his glory. Yet, to those who believe according to Yahweh's grace, we are deemed to be worthy. But that belief is qualified by the rest of Jesus' teaching, that this belief must cost us everything that we were. Paul, the apostle, stated that he considered everything he was and achieved before he encountered Jesus to be lost, because it is only what he has done through Jesus that is of any eternal good.

Is that where we are in our belief? Has our belief in Jesus, our trust in him, replaced everything that we considered to have had any worth? Is our life, our thinking and our actions shaped by our relationship with Jesus Christ. Is our love for him far superior to our love for anyone or anything else? Are we completely sold out as a follower of Jesus, because that is what Jesus was referring to when he said "whoever believes will be saved". You may find it harder than it looks but take courage, Jesus said it would be hard.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Controlled or Controller?

So much of our life is spent trying to control our life; the circumstances, consequences, behaviours and people. But control is an illusion in this world. People think they are in control but so many things control people. Just our habits alone exert a great deal of control over us. Food is a big controller. Entertainment also wields control over our thinking and behaviour. If you ever want to see what has control over you, do a 21 day fast, living on only water. It certainly reveals a lot.

It was coming out of just such a Fast that I was reading the passage about Zacchaeus. He was a wealthy tax collecter; a ruler of tax collectors. But he was also a man who had developed an interest in Jesus. Most people would remember him as the man who climbed a tree to see Jesus, because he was too short to see over the crowd. Jesus saw him, the effort he had made to climb that tree, and invited himself to Zacchaeus' home for a meal.

Something happened in that quick exchange, something wonderful in Zacchaeus' spirit. Salvation came to his heart and we can see it in his response to the criticism that followed. The religiously minded always criticize what they themselves have never experienced:

"Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, 'He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.'" Luke 19:7

Praise the Lord that Jesus sees the heart. In this case Zacchaeus' response demonstrated that there was real change. The thing that had possessed him, controlling him, had lost it's control as he welcomed Jesus as Master of his life. That's what Jesus does, he strips away the things that had control over us and then hands to us the control over these things:

"Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.'" Luke 19:8

This is quite a change for a man who was a ruler of tax collectors; tax collectors being a group of men who were considered traitors of Israel and who liked to line their pockets by charging extra tax. So here this man repents of what he was and offers to give it all away. Jesus' reaction tells the full story:

"Today salvation has come to this household." 18:9

Contrast this to the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and who Jesus told to sell all he possessed and follow him. That man could not give up what possessed him and he walked away still under its control.

I appreciate this imagery that we have of one who was controlled becoming the controller because of Jesus. This is what Jesus has done for us, if only we would understand and embrace it. Nothing in this world has power or authority over you. "Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free." (John 8:36)

The enemy does not give up easily. He tries to convince us that nothing has control over us, that we are already free. Do circumstances get you down? Do people offend you? Does illness cripple you? Are you limited by finances? Does tiredness stop you? How much time on the Internet / television / music? Are you able to say no to your cravings? I think you may be surprised by how many things have power over you. But they don't really have control, they are only a shadow of what they were before Jesus took over your life. Jesus intends for you to be well with joy and peace constantly.

My friends, it is time to rise up and take control with the authority Jesus has given you through him. Be a Zacchaeus and give it all away; Jesus has something better for you.

Monday, February 15, 2016

How Many Times Should We Forgive Our Offender?

Jesus' teachings are not easy to follow. They aren't meant to be. Some people in the world consider Jesus to have been a great teacher along the same level as Gandhi. They are not willing to see him as the Saviour of the world or the Son of God but they think we should follow his teachings. The problem is that his teaching are impossible to apply unless one is possessed by the Holy Spirit.

Let's pick one simple teaching:

"Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, 'I am changing my ways,' you must forgive that person." (Luke 17:4)

This sounds great until you are in the position of having to apply it. In our human nature we do not want someone to take advantage of us. We do not want to be seen as gullible. "Once bitten, twice shy." "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me." The world offers a small amount of forgiveness but for one time only. After that our sense of justice demands action and consequences. We mark the person as a liar, untrustworthy, a villain, hater. It doesn't work that way with Jesus, and praise the Lord it doesn't.

Could you imagine if Jesus demanded perfection after one offence? Could you imagine if after one forgiveness we would have to face the wrath of God for every subsequent wrong doing? I am very thankful that Jesus only taught what is already his character. But he demands the same quality of love from any who would follow him.

He gave us several teachings and even warnings about the depth of forgiveness. He told us that we better be careful how we judge people because we will be judged by the same measure that we use to judge. Sounds like a threat but it should be seen more as a warning sign that our love is not the quality that should be provoked by his love for us. At the end of Luke 7 we find Jesus teaching that the person who understands how much they have been forgiven will respond with great love, but the person who doesn't understand just how filthy they look to God will not be provoked to love in the same depth. When we realize all the things for which we were forgiven, we will find it easy to apply the teaching of forgiveness to those who offend us.

It is only by the Spirit that we are able to see with the eyes of Jesus. It is only by the Spirit that we are given such great understanding of the principles of the Kingdom. Only by the Spirit are we able to pray and live "on earth as it is in heaven". It is only by the Spirit that we have the power to forgive from such richness of well being. Oh Lord let your Kingdom reign in me! Only the Spirit produces in us the spiritual fruit, such as love and forgiveness. To anyone else it just sounds like foolishness.

We can't afford to keep Jesus at a distance as we would teachers like Gandhi. The only way it works is when we dive in, taking on this relationship in Jesus, to be one with him, dying to ourselves so that we can grow to be just like the One who loved us enough to die on the Cross, then rise from the dead, to ascend to the Father and send to us the Spirit.

He told us to love each other as he loved us, so forgiveness should be a given


Friday, February 12, 2016

What Has Religious Thinking Done To Us?

When it comes right down to it, we are lazy. We are always looking for short cuts, ways to get the best results with minimum effort. It is the reason so many of us are overweight. Why put the effort into a good home made meal when a simple phone call will take care of it. Then we look for the easiest solution to getting rid of our fat, which never works. But we like thinking we are trying when we are actually avoiding the real work of change. We really don't want to change.

This is how we also develop a religious thinking mind.

A relationship with Jesus takes effort, as any honest relationship does. It takes time, study, thinking, conversation, a willingness to be honest, a willingness to confess our wrongs, to change and be changed. It requires passionate worship and a constant bending our knees to the Master's will. It requires a daily understanding that we no longer belong to ourselves but belong fully to the one we want to emulate. That is the hard way but the right way.

Religious thinking tries to take a short cut. Why put in all that effort for relationship when we can make a bunch of rules and follow those. It is easier to conform to set rules of do's and don'ts when everything is neatly presented and we can lean on, never really having to deal with any of the messy stuff that gets swept under the carpet of religion. It's also easier to apply these laws to other people, telling them exactly what they are doing wrong.

But compassion is lost in religious thinking, even though everything that Jesus did for us is rooted in his compassion for us. Rules are rules, regardless. We can see that mindset so often in the gospels as Jesus faced opposition from the most righteous people of his day.

In one example, Jesus was a guest in the home of a Pharisee. It was the Sabbath but a man who needed healing was present. Amazing how that was arranged. Jesus never backed down from doing what was right according to the compassion of Father:

"Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, 'Does the Law allow healing on the Sabbath or not?' But they said nothing. Jesus took hold of the sick man, cured him, and then let him go. He said to them, 'Suppose your child or ox fell into a ditch in the Sabbath day. Wouldn't you immediately pull it out?' But they had no response." (Luke 14:3-6)

Of course not, because what response can the religious give in the face of Jesus' great compassion for those who are victims of the enemy's work. The real question for us is, are we willing to see where we have allowed the dispassionate religious thinking to cover over the great compassion of our God.

Too many of us have robbed Christianity of the power that was given us through the Holy Spirit; power to destroy the works of the enemy, to put the enemy to flight, to see real change happen under the power and authority of God; the power to see real change in the mind, heart and bodies of people.

The lazy answer is to say that God no longer works like that, even though there is no evidence in the Scriptures to support such a lie. But why get messy by all this business of God's manifestation in this world when we can be satisfied with a tidy religious life. It is easier to be lazy and religious than to be active and alive in the Spirit. Let the world heal itself.

Happy are the servants whom the master finds fulfilling their responsibilities when he comes. (Luke 12:43)