Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Uncommon and Too Often Unknown

We live in a world that is broken.  We see it all the time, and unfortunately, we can begin to think this is just the way it has to be.

But it doesn't.

You see there is a golden strand of hope that is woven right into the DNA of all things:  and this strand is the very real presence of God who still speaks real hope and real life for all.  It's just that it's hard sometimes to see this strand through the fog in our hearts.

I read just this morning of a time when a young Catholic monk heard the call of God to start a new type of Christian community.  It was based on the simple desire to bring Jesus to the people.  He banded together with two others brothers in a coastal town in Alabama. 

Their meetings were pretty austere:  a short time of music, a brief sermon and then wine and cheese following for fellowship time.

In 2 years, 200 people were attending what was informally called "folk Mass"--which simply meant church that fits with real people.

At one point the monks who were in charge of this folk Mass expressed their joy in this succinct phrase describing their experience saying: This is right.

This is right.  Maybe something that is too uncommon and too often unknown for people who are searching for meaning.  But, as I said before, there is a golden strand of hope being offered by our God who cares so deeply for all people.

As I was thinking about how beautiful this story is, I was reminded of John 3:16, an exceedingly common verse.  But I only repeat the beginning of it for us here:  "For God so loved the world that He gave."

That's it.  He gave.

He gave everything for the purpose of freedom, for life.  He provided abundance to overcome the chains and brokenness of this world.  For our churches, He provided everything necessary for His Kingdom to be manifest in this world.

Maybe we try too hard.  Maybe we miss the point.  Maybe it's as simple as wanting to bring Jesus to people, and when it happens we are blessed with a sense of this is right.

My prayer today is that our hearts would be captured by a sense of God's real presence, and that He would bring us through our convoluted schemes, lists and strategic plans, and get us to a place where we would experience something uncommon:  the simplicity of God's blessing.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Challenge of Following Jesus

Jesus is the Son of God and is God.  This has been, and will continue to be debated until He returns.  It is the central question for all humanity even though it has been squelched in our secularized society today.

But as a follower of Jesus, I believe it's true.  And following this God who loves me is no easy task.  Challenges abound and one that tops my thoughts today is this:  "how tricky it is to live out the mandate of God who tells me 'be holy as I am holy'."  Sometimes it seems impossible to know how to live this way.  The subtle line dividing living in my own strength and living in His is easy to miss and because of my sinful tendencies I can move into selfishness and ignore God's voice.

I am describing a reality for all Christians here.  But all is not lost--not by a long shot.  What we see here is simply the reality of wrestling with our faith and slowly overcoming the effects of lingering sin.  Jesus' blood has set us free, the war is over, but there are still skirmishes happening all around.  When you are in them it can seem as though the battle really isn't won, but that's just a matter of perspective, not reality.

We need a clear call, a clear understanding.  We need to know what God knows so that we can put our faith in that.

Philippians 2:12-13 is where we need to go for this.  "Therefore dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

Not sure how to live according to His strength?  Do you question where that "line" is that separates your strength from His?  God understands.  I'll say it again---God understands.  Working your faith out with fear and trembling includes the fact that God fully understands our shortcomings and our inabilities to fully comprehend things that go beyond us.  This doesn't mean that He makes excuses for our sin, but it does mean that He knows we sometimes go astray.  What He is asking of us is to simply live humbly.  To come before Him with respect and reverent fear, asking for forgiveness and guidance. 

And He reassures us of what reality is:  He is at work in our lives.  "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."  Certainly, we need to align ourselves obediently to His purposes, and allow His strength to flow in and through us.  But, nevertheless, the fact remains that it is His power that is at work in us, changing us, strengthening us, leading us.  Yes, sometimes it will feel like a war zone in our spirits as God leads us to overcome something in our lives and we resist.  He gets that.  But He also is unwilling to give us over to our sins and continues to work in us His strength so that we can be like Him--holy.

And please don't forget this:  there is nothing that can separate us from His love.  No matter what.  His love is what motivates Him to work in us His mighty power.

So don't let appearances deceive you.  If you are in a tight spot spiritually, and you are feeling like the only strength you are living on is your own, humble yourself and acknowledge what is true:  God is there and He is your source of power and strength to overcome.  Humbly thank Him and ask Him to help you come into alignment with His will and He will give you peace.

Yes, following Jesus is certainly a challenge, but it is worth it.  It really is.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Nothing Like Home

I was reading an article the other day based on the thoughts of one Dr. Dean Jovicebic who was talking about what life is like in Montenegro, a country surrounded by Boznia, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania, with a small portion beside the Meditteranean Sea.

Jovicebic, a doctor who seems to have the ability to see the important beyond the superficial explains his idea of 'home':  "One's home is never small,"  meaning that the size of your house has nothing to do with the size of your life, or better yet, the quality of your life.  I think he is on to something here.

As you listen to Jovicebic you begin to get a sense of his rootedness, that he is experiencing life with a depth that eludes so many of us in our busy world.  He goes on to say "A lot of modern poeple live a virtual life. . .there's no connection to nature.  To reality.  They're unhappy and don't know why.  There's something about simpler cultures--about what they know that we need to relearn. . .connectivity's what's important. You belong to a place and your home is never small."

I would tend to agree with Jovicebic in a way:  it can be dangerous to live with such dependance on productivity and machines--to live in a world made in our image, one that we can control.  But where Jovicebic would attribute to nature the key to finding deep meaning in life, I would say that relationships is where it is really found.

I love how John combines place and relationship in chapter 8 verse 35: "Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever."

When Jesus saves, He makes a place for that person, a place of belonging, where real life and freedom abound.    When He makes us His sons and daughters, he is rooting us not in a virtual life but a life that is rich and deep--authentic and genuine. 

In Jesus, we find ourselves at home--and like Jovicebic says, "one's home is never small".

So if you are walking with Jesus, then let Him show you how great your home is, and if you are looking for a home where you belong, then let Him show you what He can offer.

There's nothing like home.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spiritual Balance

I remember working on the farm many years ago.  Out in the field with the tractor hooked to an implement and tilling the fields.  When I was quite young, I would relish the days that I could stay home from school and drive the tractor!  I felt so grown up and important.

I also remember how dad would tell me the appropriate speeds and depths in which to work the field--good advice when heeded.  Of course, I was too impatient and would often drive a little too fast, which would put the equipment at risk of damage.

What I was unable to accept, in my immaturity, was that there was a delicate balance between the power being applied to the machinery and the proper use of that power so as not to damage anything.

As I thought about that, the same is true for us a followers of Jesus.  As the Church, we have been given incredible power as we read in Ephesians 1:3 that says "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ."  The presence of the Holy Spirit in us, is the presence of power incarnate--the same power that brought all things into existence resides in us!  Hard to believe but true.

And this power is meant to accomplish things:  Ephesians 1:11  "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will."  God has a plan and He is exercising His strength and will in order to accomplish that plan.

Finally, we are being invited to participate in that plan:  Ephesians 3:7 "I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power."  And Ephesians 4:1 "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received."

So how does this fit all together?  God has a plan.  He has given His children power.  And He has asked us to loose that power through which can change the world.  It's all good. . . .except. . . .

When I was in the field I would abuse the power of the tractor to accomplish my will, which was to get done the work more quickly!  I do the same with God:  it's great that He has saved me, and has equipped me with spiritual gifts and power, but do I appropriately balance that power with His will?  Or do I use it, or worse yet, not use it all, because of my own agendas or sin?

All the children of God must wrestle with the question of living with spiritual balance.  We must not be only grateful for the beautiful gifts God has showered on us, but we must also begin to recognize that God has expectations of us to use that power, and to use it appropriately--which is according to His will.

So let's start plowing the fields of this world with the incredible power of Jesus Christ providing all the strength needed.  And let's begin to live with a spiritual balance that listens to His direction, and we will begin to see His amazing Kingdom manifest in our midst.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In Our Back Yard

Have you ever wrestled with the thought that God is doing amazing things everywhere except right here?  You know how you hear stories of incredible revivals in Asia, India, China, Africa but here in North America it seems to be such a spiritual wasteland?

Well, I had the privilege of attending a Child Evangelism banquet last night and was pleasantly woken up.  This is an organization that is committed to reaching young children with the gospel of Jesus Christ and it was evident that good things were happening right in our own back yard.

The speaker was passionate and so very obviously in love with Jesus--he had been given a call and was obeying it with everything he had.  The people who were gathered there, both young and old, believed in what God was doing through this ministry to children.  Last year around 7000 children were exposed to the Good News here in Saskatchewan, through VBS-style summer events.  This in itself is impressive but what really struck me was how Saskatchewan is leading the way compared to other provinces.  Alberta, for example, contacted the Sask. branch of Child Evangelism and asked if they could come under the leadership of those here in this province!  They asked this because of what they were seeing God accomplish through the ministry here!

Now, my point is not to compare us to anyone else.  Instead, I want to make note that God really does do His powerful work right here!  Right where we are, not just in foreign and exotic locales.  If you spend a lot of time in one place things can begin to seem very ordinary, commonplace and bland.  Unfortunately, we can begin to lose sight of dreams, of seeing radical change and worst of all, of believing for God to move in mighty power to change lives.

Well, it's happening, and I witnessed it last night.

In Exodus 3:1-3 we read something that fits very well with what I'm talking about.  Here we see Moses who was doing a very ordinary thing: tending sheep.  Nothing radical or dream-inspiring about that!  But in the midst of a common, work-filled day, God shows up and captures a shepherd's attention and initiates something that will change the course of an entire nation, even the world!

As you go about your day today remember this:  God is at work in Saskatchewan.  He is alive and well, and reaching out to people and making a difference.  We can see it if we are open to it.  You can take my word for it, but it would be even better if you would ask the Lord Himself to show you what He is up to. 

If you read Exodus 3:3 closely you will see that once God revealed Himself, Moses decided to go and see for himself what was going on with that bush.  Moses had to choose to go.  And we are faced with the same choice:

Will you go and see what God is doing in your own backyard?


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How Sweet It Is

Sometimes life is really good.

Last week I had the privilege of curling in a nationwide curling tournament called the Friar's Briar.  There were 22 teams from B.C. to Ontario and even one from Wisconsin attending.  I hadn't experienced that competative adrenaline for so long I was surprised when I felt it--those pre-game butterflies were a little unfamiliar to me. 

Our team played very well.  Well enough that we were able to win the bronze medal and it was a great feeling.  One of the things that I like to do after a good game (or tournament) is to think back on the games themselves:  I replay the ebbs and flows of the games, the good shots and the bad ones, and remember how it all felt.  Of course, when you win, the memories are positive and I can find enjoyment in thinking about all of it.

A couple days after the tournament was over, and after I had re-enjoyed the whole thing again and again in mind, I found something else happening:  there was a small emptiness that started to replace the enjoyment I was feeling.  As I thought about it I realized that I was being too pre-occupied with something as fleeting as doing well at a tournament, allowing my ego to be stroked to the point of distraction.  I was distracted from Jesus.

Now, Jesus has no issues with me, or anyone else, enjoying things like curling tournaments, He just doesn't want us to have our hearts be distracted from Him.  My heart was feeling distanced from Him and I could feel it as much as I could feel the thrill of winning bronze.

So, today, I was drawn back to scripture and the words that bring real life.

In Revelation 22:17 we read the words of God reminding us that Jesus is coming back to earth, and that those who follow Him are to be enthusiastically and expectantly calling out to Him to come.  "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'  And let him who hears say, 'Come!'  Whoever is thristy, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life."

This is where my heart must remain.  Life makes sense to me when I have my eyes fixed on Jesus, and when I don't, it wanders and begins to feel empty.  I am reminded that one day I will see Jesus face to face, and so today I come into agreement with God's own heart and say to Jesus "Come!"  Come back so that we can experience the fullness that you promise us; come back and fulfill your eternal plan of salvation for humanity; come and allow your children to see the fullness of your glory!

Success in a tournement is so much fun, and it did my heart good.  But it just doesn't compare with life with Jesus. . . .

How sweet it is.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Nice Little Surprise

A good friend of mine has the habit of saying "Lord just surprise me!"  Simple yet profound.
Basically what he is saying is that no matter what circrumstances he is facing, whether a potentially good thing or very challenging, what he desires is to trust in the Lord to make a way through.  But not just make a way, as though God is only wanting to provide barely enough resources or creativity to the situation.  No.  What is being said here is soaked through with a strong belief and trust in a good God to provide abundantly for whatever the situation requires.
To say to God "just surprise me" is to recognize one's own limitations of not knowing what the best outcome may even look like.  We might not have a clue what needs to take place in order for God's best plans to come forth.  This is very important to remember because when we are right in the middle of circumstances, often we think we know best, especially if we are hurting.
Our God is a God of surprises, good ones, if we would just allow Him full access to our hearts and minds. 
There is a brief account in Luke 7 about a widow in an insignificant town called Nain.  It centers on a widow whose only son had just died and the funeral procession carried the son's dead body in a coffin.  Jesus saw this and realized that this woman was in dire straits because not having a husband or any male children in the family was disatrous in this era.  No protection, little if any income, not good at all. 
And the God of Surpises comes onto the scene.  It says in verse 13 that 'the Lord's heart went out to her'  and then he gently said to her 'don't cry'.  Well why not cry!!  She had just lost her last hope of any kind of quality life.  Couldn't this man see how terrible her circumstance was?  To say 'don't cry' is almost cruel. . . .
Unless. . .
Unless this man could see through the circumstance to something much better!
Jesus touched the coffin, told the young man to get up and life came back into him!  Then he gave the son back the mother.  Can you imagine what this would have been like to experience?
It says that everyone there was filled with awe and began to praise God.  No doubt!
Do you know that this same God who changed this woman`s circumstances is the same God who looks at you and says with gentleness 'don't cry'.  Jesus looks right through the things that you can't, and he never loses focus on what is most important.  He is never distracted to the point where he loses sight of you.

Is it time for a nice little surprise in your life?  Are you looking for your God to step in and help you through circumstances that are very trying?  If you are, then the first step you can take is to begin by trusting him.  Allow yourself to believe that God really does know what is best even if things seem totally bleak.  Remember the mom who was walking with her dead son in the funeral?  Do you think she thought things were pretty well hopeless?  There is always a way that God can make through.

The second thing you can do is believe that God's design for you is good.  Now this is a tough one--really tough, because the way that He makes for you might not look at all like you imagine, and there may be some pain involved.  Paul followed his God and he experienced major suffering for it.  But in the end it was good.

Yes, Jesus loves to surprise us with his blessing.  Sometimes it will look just like we imagine, other times it won't, but being in a place where we rest in him is a place where life will blossom.

Take some time today think about where you are at in life, and ask youself if it's time to begin to believe for some surprises.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Borg

I think just about everyone has either watched or at least heard of the television series Star Trek.  If you missed seeing any of a number of different reincarnations of the original series with Captain Kirk, then you probably have seen one of the dozen or so movies over the years.

Star Trek has been known, for quite some time now, as a show that has some intellectual depth.  The writers would often explore deep questions that are important to human beings--topics that would challenge the status quo of popular culture.  Sometimes you would have to search beneath the kitsch, but usually there were some questions being asked that were important.

One that stands out in my mind has to do with the Borg.  This was an intelligent race of quasi-human beings integrated into a kind of robotic commune where everyone was intellectually connected with a central 'brain' that had complete control over the entire group.  They were depicted as totally rational, exceptionally efficient, and deadly in their singular desire to conquer.  One of the common phrases they expressed when challenging an enemy was to say "resistance is futile" as they would eventually co-opt them into their communal matrix.

I was thinking about the Borg and relating their mission and effectiveness with our culture and how that affects us.  As I said before, the Borg was operated from a central 'brain' that controlled and manipulated all the thoughts that everyone in the 'hive' shared.  With the connectivity of our culture through electronic means, it makes me begin to wonder just how similar we are to the Borg.  Electronic connectivity doesn't seem too much different from the robotic assimilation of the Borg.  And though the idea that we are independent thinkers is still true, just how influenced is our thinking by pop culture and electronic media that most certainly tries to convey a fairly narrow range of values?

Just how thoughtful are we about all this?  And as someone who desires to be influenced and identified as a follower of Jesus Christ, how do I respond?

Paul understood the power of this world to influence our thinking and our actions.  He wanted people to know that there was a different way, a way that brought hope.  In Romans 12:2 he writes: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

To break free and become able once again to think clearly and truthfully about reality requires that we find our source of thought in Jesus Christ.  The 'world' is just like the Borg in that it is full-on trying to assimilate us into patterns that will reflect its values and goals.  We are so much a part of this world that it seems normal and natural- in a very real way, our native tongue.  We intuitively understand it because we have been immersed in it ever since our first breath.

Breaking free from something that feels nature and normal goes against all our intuitions.  When questions arise that begin to challenge the status quo we begin to feel a disquieting deep inside and we begin to wonder if it is really worth the hassle.  Fear can begin to rise up in us and we genuienly wonder if asking all the hard questions is really the road to travel.

It is.

The world, our 'Borg', is not the sovereign voice it portrays itself to be.  Its principles and value system that comes to us from every corner is not our true source of life or hope or direction.  It is a counterfeit of ideas that is bound by its own limitations, one being a lack of self-evaluation.  It has no outside source to verify or check itself--therefore it is bound to fail.

Our hope is found in none other than Jesus himself.  Romans 8:37 "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."  Consider this: why would the word 'conqueror' be used if there wasn't an enemy to be conquered?  And if true, then what is that enemy?

The most dangerous foe is the one that remains unidentified.  Are you willing to allow yourself to be genuinely challenged?  Are you at a place where you will allow Jesus to undo what the world has trained you to believe is true?  Are you willing to be made uncomfortable in order to be set free?

I pray that you are. . .


Friday, March 2, 2012

The Hard Questions

A long time ago a German monk began to question some things the Christian church had adopted.  He was a man who looked around him, looked inside himself, and looked at Scripture and came to the conclusion that we have a tendency to make God look the way we want Him to look.  The more this monk explored, the more convinced he was this was true.

He came up with a statement that reflected this truth:  he said that we like to have a 'theology of glory' where we apply our ideas of what is good and glorious to this God--in effect, creating God in our image.  But then he went on to say that what God really teaches us is a 'theology of the cross' where we see God, firsthand and in the flesh, doing the things that represent Him perfectly, but then having to make sense of this fact right alongside the other fact of this God dying on a cross, seemingly defeated and broken.  In this, then, God creates an image of Himself in us and forces us to come to grips with the fact that we need to change.

I think sometimes we do a poor job of taking seriously being Christ-followers.  We need to begin to understand and accept that following Jesus is hard.  Yes, I know that He tells us that following Him is a light 'yoke' but I think that has to do more with not having to bear the weight of being slaves to sin, and less about the suffering that takes place when we follow and obey.

Consider these verses:
Acts 9:16  "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."  (The Lord speaking of Paul following Him)
Phil. 1:29  "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him."
1 Peter 1:6  "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials."
1 Peter 4:16  "If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."

And this doesn't include passages about suffering based on the words "suffered", "suffering", "suffers", or "sufferings"!

Not a very attractive picture, and certainly not one that is good for marketing!

And yet, we accept a view of God that doesn't make demands of us; a view that pushes the idea of sacrifice and suffering aside for something that is much more comfortable and convenient.  I do this far, far too often.

It needs to stop.

I conclude with two comments made by Chris Tomlinson from his book Crave: Wanting So Much More of God:  "I'm learning that just because something is hard, that doesn't mean it's not true.  Comfortable Christians do easy things while Christ-followers do hard things.  Picking up our crosses daily is hard, loving our enemies is hard, turning the other cheek is hard, and embracing the holiness of God that envelopes the hardtack of His wrath and the sweet wine of His mercy is hard.  The hard things require serious answers to our questions about this God we crave."

Truer words could not be spoken--and these are words that all who call themselves Christ-followers need to take seriously.  But I will end with this final comment from Tomlinson:
"These are tough questions with no easy answers, but my cravings for more of God tell me to keep digging.  I'm finding that a soul saturated in Scripture will ultimately find the pure water of God's supreme difference deep beneath the surface, and this different kind of water, a living kind of water, satisfies."

Lord, have mercy on us, and help us to wake up to what is true. . . .


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Just a Little Help From a Friend

I wonder just where Jesus ranks in our lives in terms of our dependancy on Him?  If my suspicion is correct, and also based on my own way of living, then there are a lot of Christians out there who like the idea of being in a relationship with a God who saves them, but when it comes to allowing Him control of every part of our lives--well. . . .maybe we like to be a bit more independant than that.

Allowing Jesus to control every part of who we are. . .is that even something that we should want?  After all, He provided us with intellect, with the ability to think for ourselves and to move and work and be contributors to our families and society at large.  The Bible even talks about people who don't work shouldn't eat! 

But there is still something about this idea of total submission to our Lord, something that our independant saturated culture seems to reject.  And I wonder if Christians are standing right alongside this way of living.

Jeremiah 10:23 says this: "I know, O Lord, that a man's life is not his own: it is not for man to direct his steps."

How can this be possible if we take the stand that we should be offering our best to the Lord and included in that is the idea of being self-sufficient, not being a burden on anyone?  Do we take this so far that we even want to be self-sufficient so as not to be a burden on Jesus?

There are other scriptures verses that talk about Jesus 'owning' us.  If we take that in light of Jeremiah 10:23 then we need to take a hard look at that independant streak in us and begin to recognize that this is part of what infected humanity at the Fall.  Independence is not all it's cracked up to be.

Jesus died on the cross so that we could be dependent once again on the One who is the sustainer of all life.  Our lives are not our own, whether we follow Jesus or not, as we were made to serve someone.  It's true that God has given us the capacity for self-awareness and thought, but even this is continuously dependant upon Jesus to sustain all things in order for us to be able to do anything at all.

Let us consider another option:  let us consider what it means to be totally submitted to Jesus and begin to allow our lives to be fully led by the One who already claims us as His own.  We can begin by asking forgiveness for trying to live on own, even if we had good intentions in mind--it is not how we were designed to live, and Jesus wants us to begin to understand that our freedom will increase the more we live submitted to Him.

Then we wait on God as He begins to retrain us as to how to live submitted to Him.  It will be a process, and will take time.  But I believe that we will be blessed as we allow our lives to reflect the truth that comes to us from Jeremiah 10:23.

We need more than just a little help from our Heavenly Friend, we need Him to take every part of us.

Jesus, we are yours.  Teach us what that is to look like.