Friday, December 21, 2012

Evil and Superheros

Does God love you?

I think most followers of Jesus would say yes.  I know I would.  But if God loves me then wouldn't that mean that He would want the best for me too?  Again, I would have to say 'yes'.

But here is the question that must follow:  If God loves me, and He wants the best for me, does that automatically mean that I know what's best for me and that He should do everything that I think should be done?

Hmmm. . . . .

No, simply because God wants the best for me doesn't mean that He should do what I want-even when I am absolutely certain that I know what should be done.

With that in mind then, think about the question for today:

"If God has the power to change everything bad in the world. . .why doesn’t he?  Its like being superman and not using your powers."
When we think about the evil in the world, and the pain and suffering that arises from that evil, we often wonder why it is that God doesn't simply fix it.  Because that would be the best thing to do right? 
How short is our memory?  Didn't we just say that it seems reasonable to admit that God loves us, and wants the best for us, but that doesn't necessarily mean that what I think is best is what God should do?
How seriously do we take trusting God?
I think this question is an uncomfortable one for followers of Jesus because it really does seem right to question God's lack of action.  The world's accusations against God in this matter are tough for us to stand against because part of our own thinking agrees with them.  Not pretty, but probably true.
But is God not doing anything?  Maybe He is actively providing answers to the problem of evil but we disagree with His methods?  Here is what I mean. . . .
John 14:12-14 says this: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
Jesus did some pretty amazing things when He walked this earth.  He healed people of disease, He drove demons out of people and set them free.  He said again, and again, that the Kingdom of God was near.  Basically, we would look at the life of Jesus and say that He really was making a difference, standing against the pervasive problem of evil.  God was at work right?
But what about now?  We get caught up in the evil and sin all around us and have a difficult time seeing God at work in anymore.  Why is 'superman' not using his powers to change things for the better?
Here is a suggestion:  Look in a mirror and ask that same question. . . .Didn't Jesus say in John 14 that His followers would do even greater things than He did if they would only ask according to His will?  It seems to me that He has provided all that is needed to see the evil of this world addressed by the power of the Kingdom of God that rests in the heart and soul of each believer in Jesus! 
He is just waiting for someone to have the courage, faith and trust in Him to step into this role of bringing the Kingdom to bear.
Let me be clear:  God wants to overcome evil in this world far more than we do.  It is the antithesis to His very DNA.  He hates sin and what it does to what He created.  He desires for every person who breathes to find freedom and rest. . . . .
But He is wanting to do this through us----through you.
Are you willing?
So the next time you hear or ask the question of why God doesn't just fix our world--rethink.  And then look at yourself and say 'thank you' that He really is providing a way to overcome evil, and finally ask that God would help you to step out, and into His will. 
Then just watch what He will do!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A New View of 'Fair'

Have you ever heard of a 'paradigm shift'?  A paradigm shift is what happens when you are confronted with an idea that challenges a previously held view of something.  But not just that: the new idea that is being presented challenges a very important way of thinking--a way of thinking that is deeply rooted in you.  Genuine paradigm shifts usually make you squirm because they undermine the foundations you have stood on for a long time.

Please take that seriously as we wrestle with the question for today.  It has to do with the idea of 'fairness', and what we think is being fairly treated by God. 

Here is the question:
"I know that God’s blessing isn’t about wealth.  I also know that He gives and takes away, but it seems so not fair for good solid Christians to have financial difficulties for a long time and suffering or getting debts that are not the result of their actions but others.  There are reasons for God doing things like that but I have trouble understanding why He does things—seems so not fair."
First of all, I want to make sure that everyone understands just how much it can hurt when we feel abused or mistreated.  I think this feeling is multiplied when we feel this way about God and how He is treating us.  He is supposed to be the one who helps us right?
One thing God does for us is to help us when our understanding is out of balance.  There is a story in Matthew 20:1-16 that is a vivid reminder of how our perceptions of what is 'fair' do not line up with God's.  And even though there is a strong spiritual lesson here it is still relevant for us to understand fairness in a material world. 
Jesus says that the way God thinks is just like a landowner who hires workers at three different times during the day.  He offers each one a 'contract' that they all agree to, but the workers don't know what the others were getting paid, until the end of the day.  Then it was discovered that those who worked three times longer than the others were getting paid the same wage!  Well, they were pretty upset and told the landowner in no uncertain terms.  What was the landowners response?  "Friend, I am not being unfair to you.  Didn't you agree to work for a denarius?  Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?"
Jesus is saying two things here:  First: the workers got what they agreed to--totally fair.  Second: the owner is the owner and as such has the authority to disperse funds as he pleases.  If the workers would never have found out what the others were paid they would never have felt treated unfairly.  So what is the difference here?
Their attitudes!  Their attitudes changed when they compared themselves to the other workers.  Do we do the same?  When we compare ourselves to other people do we wrestle with the same attitudes the workers had?
So here is the paradigm shift that needs to happen:  the workers evaluated their treatment based on camparing themselves with each other--and in doing so discovered they were being treated unfairly.  But the landowner's persective is this:  I asked you what you would like and gave it to you.  At the very least, all were compensated.  But then the landowner decided to be generous by giving more to some.  The workers, by being self-focused became envious and could not see the generosity being extended by the landowner to the other workers.
So what do we need to take from this?  The question today wrestles with comparing oneself with other Christians who have more material goods.  There is hurt involved and it seems very unfair.  But one should be very careful not to blame God (the landowner in this case) because is there not provision being made? 
Everything in me wants to side with the attitudes of the workers who felt shortchanged.  But God is pushing us to have a different mindset:  He is wanting us to get our eyes off ourselves and focus on Him--and He is generous!  He provides and He is generous.
God wants to work on our attitudes in order to make us holy as He is holy.  If we are too focussed on ourselves we will be unable to see God the way He really is.  What if we were able to say 'thank you' for what God provides, be content in knowing that He is a loving Father who will provide for our needs if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and His kingdom.  I believe that He wants to give generously to all--but He wants to shape our hearts first.
To the one who wrote this question:  I know you are hurting and questioning God right now.  Your circumstances are not easy.  But God is wanting you to have your heart turned toward Him so you can be set free!  Free from comparing, free from anxiety and to trust Him and see Him in a way that reflects who He really is.
He loves you enough to help you through this process.
Yes, paradigm shifts are most uncomfortable, they even feel 'unfair' but God knows what is best for us and thankfully gently teaches us what we need for freedom.
I hope we can all hear God saying to us what is good and leave fair in His hands.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Overcoming Loneliness

"Get Real"--This is the phrase that motivated me to ask my church Family to express their most burning questions in their lives--I wanted us to 'get real' and have Jesus address our real-life questions and hurts.

So here is today's:
"How come having faith does not take away loneliness?"
I am convinced that life with Jesus means not only eternal life but also abundant life.  Life with Him means that we are given gifts of fulfillment that cannot be attained anywhere but through Him.  Unfortunately, sometimes we can think that abundant life means that we are not going to experience pain.  Oh, I know when we talk about this sort of thing we immediately agree that simply because we have Jesus in our lives that everything won't be perfect.  But it's not until we begin to actually experience the reality of the pain and hurt, that we also begin to question what life with Jesus is all about.  It just feels like something is wrong.
And it is. . . .
It's called living in a sinful and broken world.  And God knows full-well that things are not as they should be here on earth.  In John 16:33 Jesus says "In this world your will have trouble."  Funny, isn't it, that it is so easy to dismiss what Jesus says?  This simple statment is profound in His awareness of the reality we live in, but our real-life struggles, when they confront us full-on, seem far more real than a few words from Jesus.
Maybe we should pay more attention to what He says?  Did you know that the phrase just before and just after verse 33 give us incredible hope for something better?  Jesus says before "I have told you these things so that you may have peace."  And just after: "But take heart!  I have overcome the world."
Amazing!  In one short verse Jesus indicates to us that He is fully aware of our struggles, and that He is offering to us a way to live that is so much better.
So what about the question:  how come having faith (in Jesus) doesn't take away loneliness?  Well the first thing we need to accept is that having a relationship with Jesus doesn't mean that we won't experience pain--and lonliness can really hurt.  It's important that we understand that, and ask the right question.  Which is not "why am I hurting?"  We already know that--we live in a hurting world and we are a part of that world.  But a better question is:  "Lord Jesus, I know you love me, so what is it that you want to do to help me?"
To the person who is lonely He offers friendship and peace.  Hebrews 13:5-6 says "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. . .The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?"
God's promise to His lonely children is to remind them of His great love.  In fact, His love is so great as to overcome the reality of the circumstances you are currently experiencing.  Has someone left you?  His love can bring you peace.  Has your family abandoned you?  Listen to what God says about that: Psalm 68:6 "God sets the lonely in families." 
Your Heavenly Father really does care about where you are at right now--and He is making promises to provide for you things you may have thought impossible.
Do you need a 'family'?  He knows exactly where to bring you in order for you to be blessed with the abundance that comes from Him alone.  It may not look the way you imagine it--you may find yourself being led by Him to meet new people that will one day become your new family where you will not be lonely any more.  But however He goes about it, all He is asking of you today is to trust Him and to offer Him your hurt--your loneliness.
He won't let you down.
My prayer today is that God will lead people to read this blog who really need help.  And I ask you Father, to make real all the promises you speak to those who are lonely today.
Thank you that we can trust you to hear us and to act on our behalf.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Heart of Darkness and New Hope

So we are continuing to answer the real questions of life.  Here is today's:

"This week I have been praying about this question:  ‘Is there some point that its ok to totally turn someone over to God’s care and make the choice to not walk alongside them anymore because they are abusive, threatening, cruel due to active addiction?"

We can all experience the struggle that comes through relationships.  That's one of the reasons why people shy away from being open and honest with each other--once you get hurt, you automatically protect yourself.  This is even more prevalent in chronic situations, as the pain can go very, very deep.

There are far too many variables to address in this simple question, but I will offer two things that come from God's word. . . .

The first is this: Yes, there are times when it becomes necessary to part ways with someone.  If you are dealing with another Follower of Jesus, then there can be times when it becomes necessary to have some distance from them (Matthew 18:15-18). 
But there is something very important to remember here--as Jesus Followers, we know there will be times when we will be hurt because we belong to Him.  Luke 6: 22 says "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man."  If you are dealing with someone who is in addiction, then there will times when that person attacks you, and maybe even attacks you because of your actions based on your relationship with Jesus. 
So don't respond to this person out of a sense of being hurt, but instead, address the situation out of a desire to do what Jesus thinks is best.  That might mean 'cutting them loose' but again, and I can't stress this enough, this needs to be done out of a sense of direction from the Holy Spirit and searching out His Word.

The second thing I would want to say is this:  Even though a time may come when it is appropriate to walk away from someone, Jesus Followers are never given permission to stop loving that person.  This comes through again and again in scripture.  Luke 6:27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

In the heat of the battle it may seem the most useless thing to do--to show love.  But not only do I believe this is the right thing to do, I have seen firsthand how love can transform the hardest heart.  Try and remember this:  a heart that is hardened is a heart that has been confused by the Enemy.  What is most needed is to be shown the heart of God and rely on Him to lead the way.

As I write this I am hoping that God is shining a new hope in you where there was darkness before.  I certainly don't have all the answers, but God knows the best way for you.  If your situation is desperate then there is no better place to go than to the Heavenly Father and ask for His help.

Many blessings on you today.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Being Known

Everyone has heard the famous phrase: "I think therefore I am".  If you are familiar with the philosopher Rene Descartes, you will know this phrase came through a lot of hard work and thought on his part.  This short sentence has impacted western civilization more than most people know, however, there is another, much lesser known phrase, that I believe is significantly more important for us.  I can't remember off the top of my head which Jewish thinker said this but it resonates as true.  It goes like this:  "I am because I am loved."

This incredible statement tells us clearly that the reason I exist is because of God's great love for me.

I was praying this morning and the words that came out of my mouth were: "Father, thank you that you know me."  What was so amazing about this prayer was what God spoke to me: "Brian, I know you, but not in the way that you usually think.  I don't just know you as the one who falls short, who sins and struggles with that.  I know that you have a hard time seeing past all that stuff.  Today, I want you to know that I know who you are meant to be!  I see past your sin; I see past your shortcomings; I see your smile and thoughts and desires and actions that are born out of the man I intended you to be!  And I love you!!"

I'm not quite sure why this hit me so hard, except to say that it was an incredible feeling to know that God loves me, and that He is able to love me through the sin and shortcomings and that He confidently holds onto His ideas of who I am meant to be!  He is not a 'pie-in-the-sky' thinker, holding to some ridiculous notion of who I should be but can never get there.  He is not what most skeptics would call a 'realist', which really means someone who refuses to imagine a better existence in something that is not yet seen and is perceived as impossible to attain.  No!  My God really sees me--He really knows me--the real me!

Isn't that an incredible thing?  I felt such a deep sense of thankfulness and hope knowing that my Father sees me this way: I had a sense of gratitude that I am not stuck in 'what is'--but that with Him nothing is impossible.

I am because I am known.  Incredible.

Ephesians 5:1-2 says "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

As children of God were are not only known, but we are loved.  We may not always feel that, we may not always even believe that, but it's true nonetheless.  We are known.  You are known--and loved, with a love that goes beyond your comprehension.

Maybe you needed to hear that today--that God doesn't just know you as the one who always falls short, or doesn't live up to the standards you think are good.  God doesn't see you as the one who is mired in self-pity, or as the one who can't seem to imagine yourself as anything but second-rate.

Not a chance!  God knows you as the very-best-you!  The noble You, the selfless You, the loving You, the courageous You, and on and on and on.  Why?  Because He made you and knows exactly how excellently well put together you are.

Does this mean that He doesn't see your struggle?  Absolutely not.  And thankfully so, as that would mean that He really isn't able to address reality.  Does this mean that He isn't aware of your sinfulness and your need for help to overcome that?  Most certainly no.  And that's good news, because He is offering a very powerful and practical means to come out from underneath those chains and be truly free.

No, God knows you- the real you, the one who He is inviting you to become.  What incredible hope there is in knowing that God loves His children in such a way that He never gets bogged down in our struggles, but is always drawing us to a place where we can accept His help to bring us into the ongoing reality of being known by Him.

Today, remember that you are known by a God who loves you more than imagineable and that by being known, you may rest.


Friday, December 14, 2012

First Impressions

First impressions are inevitable.  When you meet someone, or when you see someone you know doing something for the first time you automatically get an impression.  Sometimes it is vague, like you can't quite put your finger on it, but it is there nonetheless.  Usually we reduce our definitons of first impressions to 'good' or 'bad' (even though we pretty up the language so we seem to be smarter than we really are!)
Here is the question that I have been asked to wrestle with today:
"Why does our first impression of people keep us from loving our neighbour as ourselves.  How can we get past first Impressions?"
I think there are many answers that would help to address this, but for some reason I have had my mind drawn to one that maybe doesn't seem too direct.  I want to start by sharing a thought by Canadian author Mark Buchanan:  "I've been in a hurry most of my life.  Always rushing to get from where I am to where I'm going.  Always cocking my arm to check my watch, doing that habitually, mechanically, mindlessly.  Always leaning heavy on the gas, in the passing lane, angry that the driver in front of me doesn't share my sense of urgency, that she's in no particular hurry and can't seem to imagine a world where anybody would be.  Always fuming over having to wait in bank lines and grocery checkouts and road construction zones. . . .But all that hurry has gotten me no farther ahead.  It's actually set me back.  It's diminished me."  (The Rest of God)
Now here is my question:  What kind of first impression could anyone possibly give to another person whose heart is so filled with unrest because of how crazy busy they are?  Just think about it:  there is no possible way to discern much about the person who is presenting themselves to you becuase you have given them such a tiny window of opportunity to impress you.  And maybe that's part of the problem:  we have become so overwhelmed with pace and data that the only things that really impact us are those things that can impress us!
Maybe our struggle with first impressions about other people has more to say about us than them?
What would it be like if we were to "be still and know that God is God"?  If we were to make the choice to slow down enough that the next time we meet someone, the first thought going through our heads is "this is a person that God took great care in creating, shaping, forming.  This person bears His image and is wonderful and beautiful!"  Now if we had that thought in our minds do you think that would influence our 'first impressions'?  I think that even if that person were harsh, or abrasive or arrogant, I would be in a better place to understand and to offer myself to him in a way that reflected my relationship with God.
Our first impressions that hinder our ability to love others as ourselves has a lot do with me. After all it is my impression. . . .
Here is something you can wrestle with today. . . .Consider, maybe for the first time ever, that your pace of life is not something that is impossible to overcome, that it isn't an inevitable aspect of a culture that is too overwhelming for you to ever change.  And think, again for the first time, that your attitudes are not at the mercy of this culture of speed and the forces they exert on you. 
Say to yourself "No".  And then consider this:  take responsibility for your own thoughts, your own actions and your own first impressions.  Then say to God--"help me change".  Say to Him "I want to be still and have you be my influence, my teacher so I can love others the way you love me."
Then see what happens.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Walkin' The Line

Hey Everyone,

I'm sure you have all heard the phrase "walking a fine line".  We all have to do it, and it's not always an easy thing to navigate because we make missteps along the way.

Here is a question that makes me think about this 'line':  "How can we help the world to be more accepting and less judgmental of each other?"

A good question to be sure!  As a Christian, I have thought this one myself, and have wrestled with this idea that followers of Jesus should not be 'judgmental' but should be 'accepting'.  So how do we understand what we should be about in this?

Let's look at two passages from the Bible: Psalm 119:66 and Romans 15:7

Psalm 119:66 says "Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands."
and Romans 15:7 "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God."

So what?  Well, in a nutshell the Psalm passage tells me that I should expect to make judgments and that I can make both good and bad ones.  And Romans tells me I should have an accepting attitude of others.

So how can I do both?  How can I exercise judgment and still be accepting?  Let's remember that making good judgments includes judgements about other people.  Our culture works hard to make us think that this is simply not good--it says: "hands off" when it comes to making judgments about other people.  Can't you just hear the comments:  "Who are you to judge me!"  Expressing your opinion about ideas or philosophies is fine, but for me to express a judgment about another person?  No way!

So instead of making God-inspired judgments we veer off this path and go hard after accepting others.  When accepting others looks like the 'tolerance mantra' of our current culture, then we have allowed something other than God to teach us what accepting means.  Pay attention to what God says in Romans about accepting others--it says we should do so 'as Christ accepted you."  What does this mean?  Well, one thing it means is that Christ has not accepted everyone.  This doesn't mean that He doesn't love everyone--He does, but He has only accepted those who have received Him as Lord and Saviour.  Jesus set limits around this idea of 'accepting' people.

There is also a big difference between accepting and welcoming.  Jesus welcomes everyone and those who reject Him, He stills love unconditionally.  When we are told to accept others then we need to also accept that God is giving us some parameters as to what that should look like, and what our hearts should look like too.

Does this make you feel a bit queasy, like it doesn't quite add up? Here is another thought: I have heard some people say that I can 'accept' you but not what you do. I would like to say that this kind of acceptance is much more like Jesus' heart of welcoming than it is acceptance. We need to work hard to make this distinction.

So how would I summarize this for us?  I would say this:  if I want to make the world a more accepting and less judgmental place then I need to do so the way Jesus did.  Those who accepted His terms for relationship He accepted as sons and daughters--close intimacy.  But those who did not, He kept an open and willing heart filled with love for them.

Can we do this too?  This would mean that we don't accept the world's view of extreme tolerance which basically means that there are almost no parameters that explain what acceptance is really about.  And it also means that we avoid judgmentalism by having hearts filled with genuine love for everyone.

Sounds like a pretty fine line though doesn't it?--one that I don't think we can walk on our own.  So what do we do?

Well there is one other statement embedded in the Psalm passage I mentioned above and it is this:  'for I believe in your commands.'  The psalmist is saying here that he is trusting in God to teach him how to navigate this fine line of living like God.

And that is how we must live too--with a belief that we must be trained by God to help us walk the fine line of acceptance and judgment.

Our world will change in wonderful ways if we will take His direction seriously!

Bless you as you walk. . . .


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Way or the Highway

Hey Everyone,
It's been a looooong time since I last created an entry on my blog and it's time to re-engage!  The reason I needed to start again was to help address real questions about God, faith and where people are at in their spiritual walks.  Some of the thoughts from people I will be speaking about in sermons, but I wanted to make sure that everyone was 'heard' so I will be writing about them for a while--at least until they are all given a response (there's a lot!).

So here is the first one:

"If you hear me, why do you let so many bad things happen in our world?"
There are quite a few ways to approach this deep and ubiquitous question.  One could say that bad things happening in our world is an expression of humanity's free will, and rebellion against God--and this would be true, but it isn't always very comforting.
But I want to suggest a different approach:  what if the essence of the question itself is wrong?  It implies three basic things:  1.  There are bad things in the world.  2.  I know these things are bad/wrong.  3.  If I am addressing God about these bad things, then because God is good, it is his responsibility to address them as  I understand them.
In essence, this question is putting me in charge and God in a position of obedient response to me.
Now, what about humility?  What if I am somehow unable to understand the manner in which God will address this issue of bad things in our world?  What if He has a different agenda?  If He has a different agenda that doesn't always fix what I see, does that mean that He is failing in overcoming it?
Now here's a kicker---what if I am ignorant to the depth of how God wants to change this world?  Ignorant in that He wants it to be so profoundly different that He wants to begin the revolution one heart at a time?  And what if He is saying to the person who is asking the question:  are you willing to humble yourself and submit to Me and My ways even if you are unable to grasp them?  Will you allow My revolution to take place in your own heart?
God always makes it personal!
Here is a quote: 
"The world's way of decision making is to weigh all the evidence, compare pros and cons, and then take the course of action that seems most sensible.  If spiritual leaders make their choices this way, they could easily lead their organizations in the opposite direction of God's will (Prov. 14:12).  God doesn't want people to do what they think is best: he wants them to do what he knows is best, and no amount of reasoning and intellectualizing will discover that.  God himself must reveal it. God's Holy Spirit reveals his will to those who are seeking his mind and his heart."  (Henry & Richard Blackaby Spiritual Leadership).
God most certainly does ask us to pray about things in our world that aren't as they should be.  But I believe that the way in which He wants to make the difference is to begin by residing in humble hearts.
So maybe this is something that you needed to hear today:  maybe you are filled with anxiety about the world you are living in.  Maybe you are filled with anxiety about God?  I would encourage you to give up.  Not in despair, but in trust--give yourself, your thoughts, questions and anxieties to God and ask that He would teach you His ways.
He will do it (but in His own way. . . . . .!)