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.