Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Little Engine That. . . . . . .Couldn't

We have all heard that children's story about the little engine that could.  The diminutive train engine that was carrying a load too big for it to pull up a hill.  He would try again and again telling himself "I think I can, I think I can".  Until eventually, he made it.

In a perfect world, little engines that couldn't still can.  Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the real world.

In our world, we find ourselves burdened with challenges that arise due to our sinful natures, and try as we might to climb up that hill, to get our hearts to the top of the mountain so that we can get out from underneath the burden--well, we just can't.  We don't have what it takes to get our little "engines" to the top.  Sure, some can seem to get farther up by talent, or by sheer will power, but God tells us clearly that the weight we carry is just too much for us.

In a very real sense, we are all the little engines that. . . .couldn't. 

Some of you are really hurting right now in your lives because you have tried so hard to climb that mountain.  Some of you have just realized that you couldn't make it and have just freshly fallen back down into the valley.  Others have just started up that excruciating climb once again for various reasons: some do it out of a sense of responsibility that drives them to perform; others don't want people to think poorly of them so they push themselves to exhaustion; and then some are just confused by the Enemy who convinces them they can so he can then prove to them once and for all they can't.  Oh, and then He likes to tell them that they are failures as they fall back


We are a stubborn lot us humans.  Resiliency is maybe our middle name.  We try and try, and when we fail we try and try to hide our failures. 

Well, I'm here to say that God wants us to know that we can't make it on our own.  We need to depend on a strength bigger than us.  We need a 6000 horespower, supercharged engine to get us to the top, and the only one that can do that is named Jesus.

We don't often think of Jesus in terms of a screaming engine redlining at 10000 rpm, pulling weights like a tractor pull but never even slowing down!  That's the kind of power we need.  And thankfully, that's the kind of power He provides.

Just listen to this description of Jesus in Rev. 19:11-16,
"I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.  With justice he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.  He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.  He will rule them with an iron scepter.  He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS."

There is no greater power in existence than Jesus Christ the Son of God.  And He takes His children by the hand and guides them up the hill that their little engines just couldn't make on their own.

Today, whatever hill you are facing, ask Jesus to be your engine that could--you won't regret the ride!


Monday, August 29, 2011

Oh To Serve An Average God

We are lost without Jesus.

Our sin goes too deep, it's too pervasive, it cannot be avoided--only embraced or dealt with--that is our only two options.

I believe that God desires to purify His children and to do that He brings us to places where we can see with some clarity that we have to be very real with our Saviour.  He is not in the least interested in the games we can sometimes play where we give Him lipservice while trying to fit Him into all the other things we still want to hold on to in life.

The best chefs in the world have a way of combining different foods in such a way that brings out the best in flavours that please our taste buds.  I think we can try to do the same with our lives: we try to hard to please God while combining many other things that we like in our lives, and the result is not something beautiful but something that tastes like it was only half-cooked and comes out luke-warm.

Francis Chan, in his book Crazy Love writes a few summaries of what luke warm Christians do:
1)"Lukewarm people attend church fairly regularly.  It is what is expected of them, what they believe 'good Christians' do."
2)"Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church. . .as long as it doesn't impinge on their standard of living.  If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so.  After all, God loves a cheerful giver right?"
3)"Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict.  They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church, they care more about what people think of their actions, then what God thinks of their hearts."
4)"Lukewarm people don't really want to be saved from their sins; they want only to saved from the penalty of their sin."
5)"Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbours, coworkers, or friends.  They do not want to be rejected, nor do they want to make people uncomfortable by talking about private issues like religion."

And Chan's list goes on for quite some time.  Let me tell you, it is a disheartening list indeed.  Why?  Because I and many of my friends are guiltly of so much of it.

So what are we to do?

Well the first thing I would suggest is to remember that being a Christian is not primarily about feeling good about oneself.  In fact, a big part of the journey of following Jesus has to do with taking a good hard look at yourself and being honest in the light of the Gospel that shows us for who we really are.  2 Corinthians 13:5 says that we should "examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves."

What does it really mean to "take up your cross and follow Jesus?"  The cross was the place where people were sent to pay a price for their crimes.  It is a place of exteme suffering, and even death.  Jesus tells us that we are to die to ourselves in order to follow Him.  If He is asking me to take up my cross, then this must include facing the sin in my life and not trying to sweep it under the rug. 

It certainly isn't easy to do this, because I can feel deep shame when I consider my sin and my lack of desire to overcome it.

I have a great temptation to end this blog with verses that will ease our discomfort--tell you verses from the Bible that remind you of how Jesus understands and loves you.  It's true that He does understand, but He understands both the good and bad about us--about me, and about you.

Maybe that's how real love works: it doesn't shy away from anything.  It is not shocked or swayed from its course.  It will accomplish its work the way it is meant to be accomplished and no other way.  Jesus loves me this I know. . . . .true but a different spin on it right?

No, we do not serve an "average God", one who is content with followers who ask the question "How much do I have to give?"  instead of the question "How much can I give?" 

Jesus, you are no average God happy to set lukewarm standards and encouraging people to just get by.  We know that you call us to a way of life that is incredible and beautiful, but this requires us to conquer our sins.  We simply can't do it alone--we need you desperately.  Cause us to know that your understanding of us does not mean that you are happy to let us sit in our sin, living lukewarm lives.  And help us to accept that you want to bring us to places of victory by your power, by your forgiveness, and resting in your hands.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Irony of Hope

Jesus really meant it when he said that you must lose your life in order to find it.  To those who might not be familiar with Jesus and the way of spiritual truth, these type of statements are hard to understand.  In fact, I believe one can only really begin to understand them when they begin to live them.

How is it possible to navigate life when you are being asked to give it up?  How does one know how to move forward?  So much of our lives are lived out in the daily ebb and flow of the routine that we are so used to, that we often are subtly moved to places where we take our eyes off of Jesus.  If we do this long enough we learn habits and our expectations begin to be shaped by our experiences and circumstances.  Sometimes our thinking and our feeling is so influenced by this way of living that we begin to see God through our circumstances and experiences.  By that I mean that we begin to understand God through our own understanding instead of hearing from him about who he really is and what he wants from and for us.

When we get to that place it becomes difficult for us to understand that Jesus asks of us everything in our lives--he wants us to die to ourselves and become new creations in him.  Not easy, but as our loving God, he knows exactly what is best for us and he never stops asking us for our trust.

When we begin to take seriously that Jesus wants us to give every part of our lives, that he would become the director, manager, and captain of our decisions and our free time and our finance and our work and our relationships and our families etc., etc., etc., we face the weight of the irony of what he wants of us.

To die is to live.

Death always hurts.  Don't forget that, and don't minimize this fact when someone you know is going through a death, whether it's physical or spiritual they both hurt like crazy.  In the midst of the hurt, we can fall victim to thoughts about God that aren't true of him.  For example we can struggle with our understanding of God as one who loves us and who really does want the best for us.  When we are hurting, the thing we most want is to get rid of the hurt, and we can lose sight of the bigger picture that God wants us to see clearly.  That picture shows us that God wants us to die in order for us to live in the light of his truth, his way and his life.

So if you are in the midst of dying, in any way shape or form, then hear this:  (Luke 11:11-13) "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"

The Holy Spirit is the greatest gift that Jesus could give his children.  He is the presence of Jesus within us; He is the Power of God at work in us; He is our Comforter and Guide into all truth.  There is nothing that can't be accomplished when we trust in His power and love.

And this is the good gift from our Heavenly Father through Jesus to us!

Family and friends, there is hope for you as you go through the most honorable and noble tasks of dying for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Though you might feel that there is nothing good that can come from it, that it just hurts so very bad, don't despair because the irony of losing your life for Jesus sake is that new and better life is taking root in you.  You might not be able to see it just yet, but God reminds us that he is a good God who loves you deeply and wants to give you good gifts.

Father, bless those who are in the midst of dying today.  Help them to know that dying to self in order to live for you is worth it and that you are pleased and that you are close to them today.  Holy Spirit, comfort them with your love and power and give them the courage and strength needed to stay the course so that you may complete a good work in them.

And don't ever, ever forget that you are loved.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Just a Note

We just had our church service in a park near to our church.  It was a perfect day and the idea of being Jesus' Family in public felt so good.  Nothing dramatic happened but it felt right and solid.  My prayer is that He would continue to form our thinking and serving so that we can become more and more comfortable being His Family outside the walls of our church building.

I don't know what is in store, but I believe that our God is good.

I won't be posting for a week as I will be camping with my lovely wife.

Many blessings friends,


Friday, August 12, 2011

Law and our Shortsighted World

London is a mess.  Rioters have had their way in this ancient town and many that surround it for a number of days now--and it is not a place I would want to be.  Interviews done with many of the rioters and looters have told us that these lawbreakers seemingly have a very self-centered attitude:  they feel that the government has let them down, there are no jobs, there is no safety, there is no hope.  Ironic, isn't it that their supposed great concerns were so easily forgotten when they decided to loot and pillage honest business owners who now also have no jobs, who no longer feel safe, and are wrestling with a sense of hopelessness.
I heard the British Prime Minister publicly state something like this: "Be forewarned all you lawbreakers, we are coming after you, we will find you, and we will punish you."  Something in me went "YES!"  That is what we need to do, we need more of this kind of fortitude that refuses to allow innocent people to get hurt at the hands of those who have lost their way.
But then I thought that law is wonderful when it is others who are breaking it because it makes me feel safe.  It is at that point that I want to see justice done!  But what is it that I most want when I am the one who breaks the law? If I am caught then I am a little less inclined to be desiring justice and what I really want is mercy.
The law must be obeyed--it is there for our protection and safety.  But our shortsighted world sees law as a means and an end.  It is as though the world thinks that law is all we have--and I want to tell you that law is not enough and Children of the Heavenly Father should be wise and mature to know and live out this truth.
But what do I mean?  First of all we must recognize that the rule of law in our governements is an extension of God's law.  It is not perfect but the idea, basic premises, and practises of law originate from our Holy God.  There is no room for Christians to believe that earthly law has nothing to do with spiritual law.

With that in mind we need to understand what God says to us about law so that we do not fall into the same patterns of thinking the way the world does.  1 Timothy 1:8 starts us off by saying "We know that the law is good if one uses it properly."  He goes on to explain that its primary purpose is to address those who are "lawbreakers", which makes sense if you think about it.  They wouldn't even be lawbreakers if there was no law, so this seems pretty obvious.  But Paul's comment about using it properly is what I'm trying to get at. 
Romans 7:7 tells us that law serves as a mechanism that helps us to know what is right and wrong.  Without it, we would have no way of knowing--it is our standard or benchmark.  Originally, the law was intended to bring life (Rom 7:10) and it did so before sin entered the world.  But now, the law stands as an accuser to all lawlessness (sin) and it can do nothing but bring death. (Rom. 7:11).  This does not mean that it is wrong, sinful or evil (Rom. 7:12), but it can do nothing else because it is immovable and immutable, and sin is ever present.
So here is a question for you:  if the law can only bring death, then why do we want so badly for people to be punished for their sins, their lawlessness?  Shouldn't we rather be longing for their redemption--for them to be brought to life?  Instead of us desiring to live with the idea that law is not only enough for this life, but it is everything, shouldn't we have an attitude of great pity and remorse for those who have fallen under the rule of law because of their actions?  I think we are very similar to the ancient Romans sitting in the Ampitheatre lusting after the death of those who have come under judgment, all the while justifying our attitudes and actions because it looks as though we are really standing for what is right!
Who do we think we are?
Paul says the law is good--it helps to show us right from wrong.  We need it, make no mistake.  But for Christians, the law should never be viewed as an end, that is, it should never be seen as the final destination because it can only bring death--and Christians are NOT to be defined by death but life!  So the proper use of law should be as a means only, that is, it should be understood as only one necessary element of a journey toward life.  And that life is Jesus.
In Romans 10:4 Paul again writes that "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes."  Law once brought life, but now only brings death.  God wants His creation to live in life not death so He did something about it--enter Jesus our Saviour!  The principles of law (law =sinlessness and sin=lawlessness) are fully found in Jesus and in Jesus alone (that's why Jesus is called the fullfilment of the law).  Law will be satisfied through Him and Him only.  This is true for what's going on in London too.  If people live in the light of Jesus there would be no looting, no stealing, no killing, the law would, in a very real sense be nullified--not needed. 

This should be our heart's desire--that those who fall under the judgment of law should be guided to freedom in Jesus.

Here is a great quote from a dear friend who whom I love and trust: "Grace.  It's what we crave most when our guilt is exposed.  It's the very thing we are hesistant to extend when we are confronted with the guilt of others--especially when their guilt has robbed us of something we consider valuable."

Next time, when you experience the guilt of someone who has been exposed, remember that God's children are called not to live with an attitude of law that brings death, but of love in Jesus who brings life. 

Mercy triumphs over justice!


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Gospel For Losers

Jesus came for losers.  Those who had lost their way; lost their hope; lost their lives.  Those who have won are called "winners".  Those who have lost are called. . . .well, you know.

We don't like to associate ourselves with anything that smacks of loss or weakness.  We prefer to let people know that we cheer for teams that are winning, to be part of churches that are big, influential and growing, to have jobs that show we are successful, to have families that look like nothing in the world can touch them.  But to be identified with something that looks like a failure--well, we just can't stomach that.

I had a friend recently tell me that "there is a big gap in my understanding of how good a golfer I am and what kind of golfer I actually am."  There is a lot of truth in that statement, especially when I think about myself as a Christian.  If I'm honest with myself then I could say "there is a big gap between how I view myself as a Christian and how I actually am as one."

I don't like to think of myself as a loser--someone who has lost his way.  But once I begin to grasp just how lost I am, and just how much I really need help, then I can begin to accept what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about---it is a gospel for losers. 

Jesus himself said in Mark 2:17 "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."  Jesus came to help those who really need help--and just like Paul I say right along with him "I am the chief of sinners."

But my Savior did for me exactly what this name describes:  He saved me, but my salvation is not something that I now own as though it is something that Jesus gives as a gift separate from Him.  No!  The gift is Him!  And so my salvation depends on Him always, for eternal life and for the life He wants me to live right now.  I am still the chief of sinners, but now I have His righteousness in me giving me life and hope.  I still experience loss, in a sense still wrestling as a loser, but I have the voice of Jesus speaking to me this, "You are a king!" (1 Cor. 4:8) 

In the beginning of Brennan Manning's book The Ragamuffin Gospel he so well describes the kind of gospel that Jesus presents to us: it is not one for those who have it all together, but those who are lost.

Here is how Manning puts it:
"The Ragamuffin Gospel. . .is not for the superspiritual.  It is not for muscular Christians who have made John Wayne, and not Jesus, their hero.  It is not for academics who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis.  It is not for noisy, feel-good folks who manipulate Christianity into a naked appeal to emotion.  It is not for hooded mystics who want magic in their religion.  It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the mountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation.  It is not for the fearless and tearless.  It is not for the red-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the Gospels, 'All these commandments I have kept from my youth.'  It is not for the complacent who hoist over their shoulders a tote bag of honors, diplomas, and good works, actually believing they have it made.  It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus.  If anyone is still reading along, The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.  It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other.  It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don't have it all together and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.  It is for the inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.  It is for the poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.  It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.  It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God.  It is for the smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags."

This gospel is for me.     

Do you think it is for you too. . . . .?


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Gold Standard

Recently we have been hearing a lot lately about the shaky state the global economy is in.  This seems to be a recurring theme over the last few years.  With all the doubt surrounding the American dollar, it seems that many investors are seeing gold as a safe haven for their investments.  The "standard" is set by gold, with its stability and safety in the midst of economic turmoil.

There is another "gold standard" that has far more importance, but is much less palatable for most of us Christians and that is the description of what real relationships should look like between followers of Christ.  For most of us church goers, when we walk through the door of our place of worship, do our thoughts cause us to wonder how it is that we are going to take responsibility for our brother's and sister's well-being?  Or do we take a view that since each person is responsible for their own relationship with Jesus then it is better that we don't get too involved with each other and just be glad to associate with the crowd?

When I think of being a family I am mindful that every member of the family has responsibilities toward each other.  As a father, I need to make sacrifices on behalf of my children and my wife.  This is not a shocking thought, but is instead simply understood as necessary.  In fact, it would be true to say that if I didn't do these things then it would be obviously wrong that I was being selfish in my actions because taking responsibility for my family is the right thing to do.

Now let me ask you a question:  if my family deserves my commitment to being responsible for them, then shouldn't it make obvious sense that the same should be true of our commitment to being a part of God's family? 

In Galatians 6:2 Paul said that we should "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."  How can we carry each others burdens if we don't take responsibility for each other?  How can I help carry my brother's and sister's burdens if I am not prepared to make a serious commitment to them? 

But for me the "gold standard" for real relationship is in Acts 2:42-47.  Here we are told that believers in Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit and they sacrificed their belongings on behalf of those who didn't have much.  They shared their food together, they shared their lives together--I really do believe this is God's heart for His people--that we would be responsible for each other.

I'm not entirely sure why we don't do this more.  Certainly it is because of sin, but is there something more specific?  Could it be that we don't exactly know how to be responsible for each other?  Is it possible that we really don't think we have the time to do something more than what we see now? 

Do we even want to. .. ..?

I believe that the Bible makes it clear that we are to take very seriously being "other-centered" in all we do.  In 1 Cor. 9:19 Paul tells us again that "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone."  Seems to me that Paul understood something about what it meant to live with others in mind before himself.

One can talk about investing in stocks all they want, but unless they actually put their money where their mouth is they will never see the benefit.  By the same token, we can read or talk about what the "gold standard" of real relationships is, but unless we are willing to actually take a step of faith into it--by putting our lives on the line and commiting ourselves as slaves to each other, we will never reap the benefits of what God has in mind.

Jesus, help us all to humbly accept that we do not really live as we should and that we have succumbed to the world's standards and not your gold standard for relationships.  Forgive us and heal us that we would be willing to follow your example so clearly described in your Word.

Let us see what it means to really shine as your Family in this world!


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Superheros Save The Day!

I went and saw "Captain Amercia" the other day. As far as comic book hero movies I would say it was average, not great but not horrible either. After the movie I asked myself the question of why I thought it was just OK and I came to the conclusion that when I go to see a superhero I want him (or her) to be able to be obviously more powerful than the average person, and Captain wasn't. There's something compelling about superheros that brings a sense of excitement and safety. You see, if they run into a challenge, usually all they have to do is consider the situation, apply their powers, and viola, problem solved! Everyone is saved, the enemy is vanquished, and all is well with the world.

Nice and neat--all wrapped up in a slick 90 minute movie. Unfortunately, as far as real life goes, there are not many superheros and the problems don't get fixed in under 2 hours.

I wonder if we picture Jesus like a superhero sometimes? If we compared him to the superheros we are used to like Spider-Man, Batman or even Superman, we might be sorely disappointed. Why you may ask? Because Jesus just doesn't seem to fit the model of what a "real" superhero is like. In John 1 we are told that all things that exist have been created through Jesus. That must mean that He is incredibly powerful, more powerful than any superhero I can imagine. Jesus has the power to create worlds and destroy them. He has the power to bring universes and galaxies into being. Planets spring into existence at nothing more than His thought--I mean, come on! How much more power do we need? And yet, He still doesn't seem to fit the "superhero" model. . . . .why?

It seems that even though Jesus is more powerful than any superhero, he chose to live a life on earth that was meek and humble. When death, the ultimate enemy, confronted him, he didn't duck into a phone booth and emerge with testosterone pumping in order to overthrow it. No, instead he did something that seems to be the most weak and vulnerable thing he could have----he allowed himself to be taken by the enemy and he died.

He just died.

Superheros bring hope because they never die, and that is the greatest deception possible because we are trained to think the victory comes by avoiding death, while Jesus, the most powerful being in existence, portrayed victory by going through death. Certainly, what he accomplished brings crazy, beautiful life to those who sincerely follow Him, but still, it's a tough act to follow.

So I come back to me, to us. . .I want a superhero to save me because they always do everything they can to help me avoid pain and death. But Jesus tells me that I must die to myself in order to follow Him. If I want to follow Him, I am expected to live like Him--and that means that I must die, again and again to myself in order to recieve the life promised from Him. And this can hurt so much sometimes, that it really is the last thing I want--even though it is the best thing for me.

Father, you know that our hearts are bent toward wanting you to be a superhero type God so that we won't have to hurt or die. Please, you know that we can't always accept what you show us and teach us, even though it's the best thing for us. All we can do is trust you, that you really do know what you are doing. Thank you that you are at work in us to help us trust and rely on you--you really are our only hope.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Memory Lane

I once saw a movie where the main character was wondering who he was and he asked the question: "Am I nothing more than the sum of my memories?"  He was trying to understand his present circumstances and the complexity of his life, of how he got to the place where he was and was wrestling toward something that had meaning and stability--something that he could grab hold of that would be a beacon of sorts that would help to guide his searching thoughts.

We do this all the time, only we probably don't have a room of Hollywood script writers at our disposal to help us to put our muddled thoughts into a such a succinct and profound soundbite. 

The point I'm trying to bring out here has to do with this character's question that touches on our memories:  if I am unable to access my memories, then how do I have a sense of who I am?  Or, even more importantly, if my memories fail me then how on earth do I have access to something bigger than me to help me know what is true and right?

James chapter 1 talks about a man who looks into a mirror and then as soon as he turns away he loses all ability to remember what he looks like.  He has no dependable memory to help frame his understanding of his face.  A strange description on the surface of things.  However, when we begin to see just how important it is that human beings are able to have dependable memories, something that can help us stand on something that is solid and sure, then we need to take this seriously.

God himself made us.  If we don't accept this fact on faith then we are in trouble right off the bat.  But if God made us, and He made us with the ability to think, then He must think it important that we would have memories right?

Well, He says to us that a man who recieves input from the Bible (hearing, reading) and does not "do" it (that is put what the Word says into action), then it does nothing to shape our memories, our thinking.  A person who hears the Word and doesn't do what it says walks away and has no idea of what it was all about--no dependable thought, no solid memory to draw from.

I need to pay attention to that. . . you?

Jesus, as you teach us how to obey and act on your word, please also teach us what it means to do so in your power and in your will, not our own.