Sunday, July 31, 2011

Plastic Faith

The term "plastic" is sometimes used to describe people who try to portray an image that is not really true to reality.  For example, if someone tries to put on an attitude that "everything is just fine" when it really isn't, this is plastic.  They are putting on a fake face and molding it like plastic to cover up what's really going on.

Christians can sometimes be plastic.  It's harsh to say but it's true nonetheless.  I know that I am tempted to do this often as a pastor.  I want people to see me as doing fine, that everything's ok even when things might not be ok.  I've thought about this a bit and I realized one reason why I do this--it's because I am trying to defend God.  There is something in me that wants the world to see Christianity as squeeky clean, and pleasant, a place where you will be affirmed and nurtured and by that I mean a place that looks like there is little struggle.  I think I have been infected by a culture of marketing and I am trying to subtley "sell" Christianity to others.

I don't need to protect God.

This came crashing home for me when I read a short passage just this morning in Acts 9:15.  God speaks to Ananias telling him to tell Paul about his new life as a follower of God.  This is what God said was the message for this "new believer": "Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

I will show him how much he must suffer for my name??!!  What's up with that?  Doesn't God realize that this is just about the worst marketing he could do?  Doesn't he know that people won't be attracted to something that is presented as blatant suffering?  People are looking for what will benefit them not take from them!

But as I said before, it hit me--God does not need me to defend Him, He has a pretty good idea of what it is that he wants to accomplish and how to go about doing it.

Maybe we need to stop being "plastic", hiding our suffering when we are actually suffering.  Maybe we need to realize that following God will sometimes (maybe more than we like to admit) hurt.  Given what God said to Paul, it's possible that he has in mind something like this for us too.

And maybe we need to stop trying to fit God into our idea of what is best, and allow him to teach us what his ideas are all about.

Lord your word tells us that faith is a gift from your hand.  The magnitude of this gift scrambles our minds, and becuase it's too big to understand or comprehend we work hard to "pretty it up" by painting images on the outside of it so that it looks more attractive to us and the world.  Please forgive us and help us to humbly accept what faith really is.

Take us to the places where faith makes a difference. . . . .


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Does It Hurt So Much?

I am a person who tries to see the goodness in life.  It seems to me that God's Church has spent a good number of years bemoaning life while not being able to live in the joy of the Lord.  I am reminded that when God created all things He called it "good"!  I really want to see what the Lord sees in that life is full of the things that come from a heart that beats, in its essence, goodness.  Do we remember that?

Over the last few days I have been reminded that though the lives we have been given by God are good, there is still struggle.  It's really not life that is the problem, it's sin that has twisted everything good and made it hard sometimes.  When we find ourselves in a place where life seems to be a bit on the darker side, or our hearts are breaking and longing for hope but seemingly finding none--it is there that we question the goodness of life.

There is a passage in 1 Peter that we need to read because it is an incredible reminder of not only the pain of life, but also the joy!  (1 Peter 1:3-9) "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

Here we get God's perspective on things:  there is suffering and trials for a short time, but with perspective we understand that as God's saved children we are filled with joy because we are in Jesus and are now experiencing the salvation of our souls.  Wow--kind of tough to understand, especially when we are in the midst of struggle.

For those of you who are in a dark time please remember what God says to you--He understands your pain.  If it's caused by sin you have committed, ask forgiveness and God will forgive you and bring refreshing for your soul.  If you are experiencing the pressures of living in a sin-filled world and the Enemy is putting pressure on you, remember this with all your might--God is with you and the risen Saviour Jesus Christ is your joy and strength.  If you can't really understand this, then ask the Lord to reveal to your heart what this means and He will give you the good gifts that come from the Good God.

Why does it hurt so much?  God tells us clearly that sin has broken everything--everything, that is, except what God is at work doing through His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Hurt is real, but so is the salvation of our God!

Father, for all who are struggling today, fill them with the truth of your Word, that joy is possible even in the midst of darkness.  We put our lives in your hands again. .. . .and again. .. . .and again.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

"You're Welcome"

We have all grown up with people telling us it's polite to respond to someone who says 'thank you' with 'you're welcome'. It's a statement that doesn't carry deep meaning as we use it all the time as little more than social convention.

But the statement means far more if you stop to really think about it.

Have you ever been in a place where you DIDN'T feel welcome? You feel like you are an offense to others by simply being there---you feel an aloneness that is almost palpable. You become self-conscious about so many things about yourself and you are just plain uncomfortable.

If you have experienced that kind of feeling then it becomes easier to understand just how beautiful it is when you are in a place where you are accepted--where you are welcomed.

There is a warmth there, you know what peace in your soul is like, you feel open to others and not like you want to hide. It is a place where you are invited to come out of your shell and thrive and be the person you were made to be.

It is a place where fear melts away....

This gives us just a little glimpse of what it is like to be with Jesus. When He welcomes you He is offering all of these good things and more, in ways that only He can. He is the master-host for your soul and He will never do anything to alienate you.

In John 15:15 Jesus says "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I call you friends, for everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you."

Do you hear that? Jesus calls His followers "friends". If you are a follower of Jesus that means that you are welcomed into that place of safety and trust where you are known, and it's OK for you to be you.

So the next time you say to someone 'you're welcome' remember just how welcome you are with Jesus.


Friday, July 15, 2011

To Be Continued. . . .

How do you feel when you are watching a show and it is one that has gripped your imagination.  You can tell it is moving toward a conclusion and you're so excited to see "how it ends."  But just as you are getting to the "answer" you are looking for, those dreaded words come up onto the screen:  "To Be Continued. . . ."

Again, how do you feel?

Is there a sense of frustration?  Maybe anticipation and expectation?

Sometimes we run into things that really grab our attention in life.  Sometimes they are hard and hurtful things, and we can become desperate to know the answers so we can move on.  But the reality of life is that we often don't have access to the answers we want now, and we are left with this sense of "To Be Continued. . ." running through our heads.  We know that tomorrow is coming, and because I don't have the answers I am looking for now, tomorrow begins to fill me with dread.

We want to have life make sense don't we.  John 14:6 has Jesus telling us that he is "the life".  Life is found in Him.  Freedom is found in Him.  Where we struggle is with a desire for the answers to questions that are burning inside us, Jesus stands before us and calmly says to us "if you want freedom and life trust me."  But even that feels like a "To Be Continued. . ." kind of answer. 

And sometimes this answer doesn't seem to help.

That is until something changes inside of us.  There is a quote that I saw the other day that went something like this:  "There is a God we want and there is a God who is and they are not the same God.  The turning point in our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is."

We can't write the chapters we always want in our lives where there are nice, neat beginnings, middles and endings to the story.  Where answers are easy and struggles are overcome simply by turning a page.  No, we live in the reality of life that has rough edges, broken hearts and dreams.  BUT there is a God who calls us to trust Him with our lives, even if we don't always understand Him or what He is up to.  And He tells us we can trust Him with anything. . .we just need to be willing to accept His version of "To Be Continued. . ."

Today is the day the Lord has made-----for you.  Put your trust in Jesus, even if it's just for today, and let Him show you love God-style.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Lighter Side

God really has a sense of humor!
Last night as my wife and I drove home from a day at Camp we found ourselves caught in a torrential thunderstorm.  Our little car was slipping all over the place as the rain came pounding down on the highway.  About 10kms from Saskatoon, it had had enough and decided it was going to "take a break" and so Val and I found ourselves sitting on the side of the road.

I was not impressed. . . .

Right away I had a bad attitude.  I couldn't stop thinking about the inconvenience, and the cost that will assuredly come with towing and fixing our car.  I thought to myself, "we really didn't need this."  So we phoned our son who came and picked us up and drove us home.

But this is the funny part:  as soon as I walked in the door of our house--bad attitude and all--I saw what my son and his friend had been up to. . . .they had bought 100 feet of drinking straws, had connected them end to end, inserted one of the ends in a jug of iced tea in the sink in the kitchen and ran the straws all the way down to the basement where they sat sucking on the straws to see if they could drink it from there!

It actually worked!

Now why on earth would God have this crazy stunt sitting right there in front of me when I walked in the door?  Because He wanted me to lighten up.  I didn't see it till the next day, but I slowly realized that the issues surrounding our car problems are pretty minor, and maybe it would be good to just take a breath and see things from a different perspective--a lighter perspective.

There was a time when the Israelites had been convicted of their sins of disobedience and they felt terrible about it.  Their hearts were heavy and things looked kind of dark.  But then Nehemiah told them (Neh 8:10) to "go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.  This day is sacred to our Lord.  Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."

It wasn't that God wanted the Israelites to overlook their sorrow, because a broken and contrite heart is special to God.  But He knew that for their healing and health they needed to experience the fruits of joy in the Lord and when they did, the sun began to shine a bit brighter.

The joy of the Lord is our strength, is my strength, and yours too.  When we begin to grasp what it means to live in a vibrant relationship with Jesus, in every part of our lives---when cars break down, and when sons do wonderful, goofy things, THEN, then we are beginning to understand what it means to live in the joy of the Lord.  He is the Light of the world, and it's so much better to live in the light than the dark.

Jesus, today I ask that all who read this would be filled with your light.  May joy spring up in them, especially those who are struggling in darkness.  Let them see what you can do. . . .


Monday, July 11, 2011

Diamonds in the Rough

Last night I went to an NA meeting.  A good friend of mine was celebrating his 4th ``birthday`` which meant he had been clean and sober for 4 years.  It was quite an amazing experience to be there.

I`m not sure what I expected when I went there but what I found was inspiring and encouraging.

At one point in the meeting there was opportunity given to people to share their experiences and challenges and people did, openly and candidly.  There was recognition of personal shortcomings and also triumphs over the things that have contributed to their brokenness.  I think that is what struck me most--these were broken people who were trying to be open about their brokenness.  They seemed to understand that when they were together it was a time to try and be as open as possible.  It was a matter of life and death.

All through the evening people would say affirming things about my friend.  They noted that he was the most caring, loving and compassionate person they knew.  They thanked him for setting such a good example and for giving them hope through the life that he lived among them.  I could tell they really meant it.

As I sat there, I couldn`t help but realize that Jesus would want to be in places like this. . . .in fact, he was there.  At one point my friend had an opportunity to share his heart with the others and he said that it was because of Jesus that these changes had occurred in his life. 

Jesus was there.

I think it would be safe to say that the people that attended this meeting might not be the most `polished` that you might find.  The hurt, wounds and scarring was pretty evident.  But I also couldn`t help but realize that these people, though maybe a little rough around the edges, were nevertheless special and of great value.  In many ways they were diamonds in the rough.

Jesus loves in a way that shows us what true love is.  When he finds himself with a woman who had lived a promiscuous life he reaches out to her and offers her hope for a new future.  In John 8 we see a group of religious leaders wanting to use this woman as a tool to defend their religiosity.  But Jesus came to her defense against those who were supposedly living as God`s representatives.

The true God was defending an adulteress who was broken.  And He was doing that last night at the NA meeting as well.  Jesus was there inviting people into his arms--broken people, hurt people, sinning people.  But His love is bigger and stronger than their pain and brokenness. 

His love was at work making diamonds.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Slow and Easy

There is a line in the movie Nacho Libre where Jack Black finds himself in a situation where things just needed to slow down and so he speaks with his fake (and hilarious) spanish accent "Take it easy!" 

Sometimes we need to be reminded to "take it easy" too.  There is a lot of pressure on people to go fast.  We need to get our groceries fast becuase we need to get kids to soccer soon, and afterward we need to rush home to get supper ready, but eat fast because there is a parent-teacher meeting at school, or a gathering at church.  Yes, sometimes we need to be reminded to "take it easy".

When I think about our life with Jesus, we can be tempted to rush things too.  We know that Jesus sacrificed so much for us and He calls us to obey him in all things.  We look at ourselves and recognize that our sin prevents us from living as we should and so we try really hard to speed up the sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) process.  And so we start to try and rush our growing into holiness.  If we are trying to rush this process, we are likely doing so in our own strength and effort--and this can only lead to frustration.  Have you ever felt frustrated in your walk as a follower of Jesus?  Then maybe you need to "take it easy".

Philippians 2:12 tells us that living out our Christian faith (active trust) will bring times of fear and trembling.  We won't always know which direction to go.  We will be faced with giants in our lives that need to be slain.  We will confront many things that need to be removed but each one can be painful to lose.  And we can really struggle with all of this--especially when we are trying to rush it on our own!  BUT (Christians should have big buts!) the next verse (13) reminds us of something incredibly important.  It says "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

What?!  Are you trying to tell me that God is taking the responsibility for growing me into the man or woman he wants me to become?  And says to you "yes".  He doesn't want you to rush your growth, becuase he doesn't want you to do it on your own.  The fear and trembling you experience when growing through self-effort, He wants to change into fear and trembling in awe and humility when you see Him doing His thing in you and through you!

As a child of God you are not alone.  You are not required to "fix" yourself.  You are only asked to trust Him and He will do the rest.

But you might need to "take it easy."


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

God's Word: Loud and Clear

Have you ever experienced something that is so crystal clear that you just had to stop and be fully in the moment?
A few nights ago I had that experience when I was laying on my deck looking up at the sky.  It was about 9:30 at night and the sun was shining onto the dark clouds giving a surreal pink tinge to everything.  It had been a hot, humid day so there were a lot of dark clouds swirling overhead. 

And it was like a dance. . . .Clouds, sky, light, it was all dancing before my eyes and it was breathtaking.

I started to think about the "gospel" that we so often talk about.  What is it like to you?  Is it a set of rules and regulations that are to be obeyed?  Is it something that depicts an amazing event in history but has little power for life today?  Does it seem to be a good and right thing but it just doesn't seem to have a lot of "traction" in your life?

Does it dance?

1 John 1:1 has John describing the gospel:  "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life."

The gospel.  To John, the gospel, this "good news" was something that had weight, substance, depth and history.  It was something that breathed and flexed, it had muscles that moved and pursued.  What he had experienced was something that had captured his imagination and wouldn't let go.  John had met the gospel!  Can you imagine that for one second---he met the gospel.

The gospel that John experienced was something that he 1. heard, 2. saw and 3. touched.  We are all too familiar with the gospel as presented as something we hear.  But when was the last time you saw the gospel?  And when did you last touch the gospel?  These are important parts of the dance of the gospel because these things combine to paint a picture so compelling that you simply can't help but to stop and be changed by it.

When I lay on my deck I saw the beauty of nature dancing all around me.  Our Heavenly Father wants us to be just as captured in our imaginations by the dance of the gospel that can be seen, heard and touched.  When this begins to happen, we are beginning to see Jesus.

Always remember that you are loved. . . .