Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How Much Is Too Much?

It's hard being real.  It's maybe harder being real as a follower of Jesus when He asks us to live so very differently from the world we find ourselves in.
I think that's why this person from my church family wrote this question to me:
"The only way a person can be saved is if they call upon the name of the Lord.  That can only happen when the gospel is preached.  But our good works are a way we work out our faith.  How are people to know we’re different from the world?  The Sihks in Vancouver feed the hungry.  The world and movie stars get involved in causes.  I am troubled by the focus of the western church on the temporal and very little focus on the eternal."
So, my typical style kicks in again, and I answer a question with a question:  How much is too much?  How much focus should we put on 'temporal things'?  How much on 'eternal things'?  How do we determine even what is temporal and what is eternal?
The battle between these two worlds is a telling one.  It seems to me that followers of Jesus are certainly called to be representatives of His kingdom here on earth, to listen to His commands and to obediently live out those commands.  One of the most obvious ones is to 'go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.'  This sounds like 'eternal' work to me!
But then I wrestle with that question again--how much am I involved in the 'eternal' or the 'temporal' worlds?
When I look at Jesus and how he lived, it seems that He was very much at peace with His choices and how He spent His time.  It does not seem to be a very 'eternal' thing to waste time being at a wedding feast, and how is it a heavenly act to put out the effort to turn water into wine?  What is the eternal significance of this act?
I think the single most important thing to remember when trying to figure out what is 'eternal' and what is 'temporal' has to do with our perspective on life.  This is what I mean:  If I am washing dishes and thinking that this menial task has no value and my heart is frustrated because I'm not involved in 'important' things--that I'm just wasting my time and selfishly fretting--I say that is living with a 'temporal' perspective.  BUT if I'm washing dishes and my attitude is one of praise to God for the gift of life, and gift of work, the gift of time and the gift of being able to worship Him, in the midst of the mundane, then that is an 'eternal' perspective. 
That's why Jesus could be involved in wedding feasts and it not be a 'waste of time' doing temporal things because His attitude and perspective was always to be living with His eyes toward His heavenly Father.
In Luke 10:8-9 Jesus tells his followers to go and heal the sick throughout the countryside and then tell them 'the kingdom of God is near you.'  Is the kingdom of God near them because of what act they performed, or because they were filled with God and bringing His presence near to them?
How much is too much?
Jesus encourages us to have our hearts be filled with His presence through the Holy Spirit.  AND, He gives us instructions of important messages to communicate to our world in order to bring hope and life.  But through it all He wants us to be free!
Be free to share the gospel of salvation, and be free to wash dishes.  If we do all things with our eyes fixed on Jesus I think we will be hitting the mark.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Healing and Hurts

I remember times growing up when my dad wouldn't give me things that I really wanted and at the time it seemed so unfair to me.  In fact, it didn't just seem unfair, but I was convinced that if he would only have the 'wisdom' to see things from my perspective, he would then understand that my request should be granted! 

As you can imagine, I didn't get my wish.

Do you know something?  As I look back on those times and consider them in the context of all my life experiences with my dad, do you know what I am left with?  A sense of respect and love.  I respect him for his willingness to be 'the bad guy' for a short period of time because he knew what was best for me.  And I love him because I know that he was motivated by love to care for me the best way he knew.

I wonder if the same is true when it comes to our understanding of God and his approach to healing?  As I write that last line, I am struck by so many different thoughts that are relevant to this subject, and realize that it is probably not always as cut and dried as we would like--but I still think there are some things we can know.

The question for today is this:  "Why does God heal some and not others?  Does that mean that those who are healed have more faith (trust) than those who are not healed?"

I remember a period in my life, many years ago, when I was involved in prayer for two friends of mine who were struggling with cancer.  These incidents were about a year apart.  The first one we prayed for was healed and had many years of life after. . . .the other died within months.

Did one have faith and the other not?  No.  Both were men of God.  Did one have more faith than the other?  I will never know, but I don't think that is the question we should be asking.

Is faith important?  Yes, but was Jesus measuring people's faith?  He certainly did describe the 'mustard seed' faith--explaining that a very small amount is all that is necessary to move mountains.  And He also said to people, "your faith has healed you."  But it doesn't seem to me that He was pushing the idea that you needed "x" amount of units of faith in order to unleash healing.

It is nearly impossible not to be swayed by our circumstances when we are facing genuine hurt because of illness or injury.  Sometimes it just seems to take our breath away.  And if the healing that is needed is for someone very close to us, then our thoughts about healing are immensely influenced by our need which leads us to request.  

God encourages us to pray for, and believe for healing. And if God is telling us to pray for healing, and believe for it too--then doesn't it make sense that we should expect healing?  After all, isn't He a loving God?

Yes!  Yes, to all of that . . . .until we go so far as to imagine that we now have it all figured out, as though we have the 'wisdom' to explain to God what should and shouldn't be done.

Didn't my dad say 'no' to me sometimes because he loved me?  Don't I look back on what he did for me and realize that he was wiser than me?

Am I not just a child when standing before God. . . . . .?

Faith--important and necessary.  But do you know that the best definition of 'faith' I have ever come across is active trust

God is wanting me to learn, grow and mature in such a way that I grow more into His image.  His desire for me is to love Him, and experience His love for me in such deep ways that no logic could ever touch it.  But He also wants me to trust Him with everything, and for everything in life knowing that He is my Heavenly Father who desires to give good gifts to those who ask Him. (Matt 7:11)

Well I asked Him to heal my friend and he died.  So how does that work?

Just like when I was a child my requests to my earthly dad needed to be weighed by him and his response was designed to be for my benefit.  If I was mature enough, my request would have reflected his desires not mine!

Isn't it the same with our Heavenly Father?  He tells us to pray and believe for healing, all the while trusting Him to give the best gifts and to train us to learn what He wants.

There is no easy way through this.  It takes time and there will be hurts.  But there will also be victories and joy. 

If you are desprately seeking healing for someone today, pray and believe for the healing.  But also offer your heart to the Father and say to Him, "I trust you no matter what and ask that your good and perfect will be done."

Hurt and Healing.  Bitter and Sweet.  That is our lives sometimes isn't it?  Just don't forget that there is a wise and loving Father wanting to provide you with all that is necessary to live well in the midst of it.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Silence of the Lamb

Silence is not something that gets much attention any more.  It certainly isn't a virtue that is valued by our culture in general.  We are a society that almost, almost, worships noise:  continuous background noise, whether it's music, TV or the internet, we go to great lengths to make sure that there is always something to hear.

Why would we ever want silence?

Silence is empty space, it is. . . .nothing.  Why value nothing?

But is  there another value to silence?

Listen to the words of Max Picard from his book The World of Silence as he writes:
"Silence is nothing merely negative; it is not the mere absence of speech.  It is a positive, a complete world in itself.  Silence has greatness simply because it is.  It is, and that is its greatness, its pure existence.  There is no beginning to silence and no end: it seems to have its origins in the time when everything was still pure Being.  It is like uncreated, everlasting Being.  When silence is present, it is as though nothing but silence had ever existed.  Where silence is, man is observed by silence.  Silence looks at man more than man looks at silence.  Man does not put silence to the test; silence puts man to the test.  One cannot imagine a world in which there is nothing but language and speech, but one can imagine a world where there is nothing but silence.  Silence contains everything within itself.  It is not waiting for anything; it is always wholly present in itself and it completely fills out the space in which it appears."

Maybe Picard illuminates one reason why silence makes us uncomfortable?  When we sit in silence, it causes me to stop and think, about life, about relationships, about my work, about me.  And I don't really like to think about me, or the serious questions of life because I can then see my weaknesses so much more clearly.

Maybe it's true that silence really does examine me, puts me to the test?  Maybe that's something I, we, need much more of.

The question that gives rise to these thoughts today is this:
"Why does it seem that God is so quiet?"

I get the impression that a person who is able to sit in silence is someone that is comfortable just being, and not having to do, do, do, or have doing being done all around them all the time.  If this is true, then it would seem that the Ultimate Being would be pretty comfortable with silence as well--content in himself, not anxious about anything, able to stop and just silently be.

And then I thought this:  if silence examines us, helps us to think more deeply about ourselves and our world, then maybe when God is silent--it is meant as a gfit!  A gift that is given by God to us in order for us to be able to discern the more important things in this life. 

Acts 8:32 says "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth."

The Silence of the Lamb---Jesus did not say anything, but was silent as he faced his own sacrificial death. . . . and his silence sent a message that has reverberated throughout human history.

If you are in a place where you are trying to hear from God; are feeling a deep need to be close to Him but it seems that He is a million miles away and is silent, maybe it's time for you to receive the silence of the Lamb as a gift.  Sit in His presence and just be there with Him.

He is waiting for you. . . .


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Preferring Illusions

Have you ever found yourself in a position in life where it just seemed easier to live a lie rather than face up to reality?

It happens to us all the time in a multitide of ways.  Don't want to find out where you are financially?  Just pretend everything is ok, keep smiling, and get another credit card.  Don't want to go through the hassles of getting to the heart of the matter with someone else you've been struggling with?  Just paste on another smile and don't talk any deeper than 'how's the weather?'

Don't want to get serious about your relationship with God because you're afraid that He will ask you to search deeply the things in your heart?  Just do your 'duty'--go to church, hang with some Christian friends, maybe read the Bible once a week, pray a little and call it good.

Sometimes it's hard to be real.  To face up to what's really going on.  It takes courage to stand, and it's so tempting to live with the illusion that everything is ok.  But is that enough?

Here is a question I was asked:  "Why, when I bring a problem to God, it just makes me more sad?"

Sometimes the beginning steps of healing take us through dark places.  When we are hit with reality, it can take our breath away.  When we have a problem we can experience the frustration that comes with it, but when we have to share it with someone else it becomes far more real and sometimes far more painful.

The same can happen when we 'get real' with God.  Confessing to Him our pain and our problems can be a hurtful thing because it becomes so much more real to us.  But this is a necessary part of our journey toward healing and health.

The Heavenly Father loves, yes loves when people come to Him with their real-life problems.  The things that are impossible to overcome; the things that you have struggled with, maybe for years, and have just had enough. . . .The things that have broken your heart and you are too afraid to go there again and would simply prefer the illusion of health. . . . .

Just listen to this:  "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Ps. 51:17)

Do you know what this means?  It means that no matter what you are carrying, no matter what your struggle or sin is, God just wants you to be real with Him!  In this circumstance, the most real thing you can possibly do is to offer Him your broken heart--not your strength, not your best 'Sunday Face', not your strategic plan, just your heart.

And He says He will not run from you, He will embrace you as only He can.

When you stop to really think about it--doesn't that sound so much better than living a lie?

Yes, it's true that being real with God can hurt, but that's only because surgery of the heart goes deep.  But the Heavenly Father is more than able to help you through into something so much better.

Here's hoping that illusions no longer satisfy. . . . .


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sushi and the Voice of God

I have never been accused of being 'adventerous' when it comes to trying new foods.  For years I have wanted to--I really have--but always find it easier to eat what is most familiar to me.  But just a couple days ago some friends invited myself and my family out for sushi!  Even though they were gracious in describing the restaurant as offering foods that might fit my palate I was a little skeptical. 

So we show up at "New Island Sushi" and found it to be very good!  Sushi had always been described to me as "raw fish", and that was not very appealing but the variety and taste of what we found was pleasantly surprising.

The reason I'm sharing this little story with you is because if I hadn't been willing to try something new, I would never have been able to receive the blessing that came with the experience.

I wonder if that's true when it comes to our relationship with God too?

Here is today's question in our attempt to 'Get Real':
"In today’s busy world how do we help people find time to listen to God?"

I think we are being taught by our culture that in order to overcome a problem in our lives, we try to find an outside source that will fix it for us.  Need to lose weight?  Try a new program that will fix the problem.  Need to deal with debt?  Hire a financial advisor.  We search for external answers to internal problems.

What we need is a new perspective.  Let's go back to my sushi adventure for a second:  my resistance to new foods prevented me from experiencing sushi.  If I had asked others what their experience had been eating sushi that would have given me more information but it would have done nothing in terms of transformation--that is, changing me!

So let's continue in this path:  If I need to lose weight, then the first questions shouldn't be for me to search out external answers.  The first thing I should do is examine myself.  Do I have a discipline problem where I don't utilize enough self-control in my eating?  Then when I get honest with myself I should say: "Now, how do I need to change?" 

The same is true when it comes to the question above:  if we are too busy to hear God's voice what do I need to do differently?  The first question should be: "What needs to change in me?"

If you are too busy to hear the voice of God, and you really value hearing His voice, then examine yourself and decide that something needs to change in you in order to make that happen.  You can never force God to speak, but you can certainly make choices about what things you put in the way that prevent His voice from being heard.

Be honest with yourself, and courageous enough to take steps to change. 

God said this to Joshua when he faced some pretty daunting tasks:  "Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deut. 31:6)

If you are a son or daughter of the Heavenly Father, then this is a message for you too!  Be strong and courageous because God is with you giving you the strength you need to make hard choices in life.  Being too busy to hear the voice of God is not an inevitability, it is something that can change.  God wants that for you. . . .

How badly do you want that?

Who knew that sushi had so much to do with God. . . . . .


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Russian Roulette

Have you ever heard of the game 'Russian Roulette'?  It's not even fair to call it a 'game' really, as it offers nothing in terms of fun or entertainment.
Russian Roulette involves at least two people, who have between them a handgun that holds six bullets.  Only one bullet is loaded into the gun and the cartridge is spun so that no one knows where the bullet is in relation to the hammer.  Each person takes a turn putting the gun to their head and then pulling the trigger.  If the hammer hits an empty chamber the person is safe.  Then the gun is passed to the other person who does the same thing.  This continues until the unfortunate person pulls the trigger when the bullet is lined up with the firing chamber--then it is 'game over.'
Brutal and harsh.  Final and totally a waste.
These are the thoughts that come to mind when I consider today's question:
"Why should a person not wait until they are close to death to turn to Jesus?  What happens when you don’t wait and why?  Why do it now?"
Why wait to receive the gift of forgiveness and life from Jesus?  Why not just live on your own terms then, when your time is running short, take the plunge and give your life over to Him?
Well, there are a few reasons why this is just not worth it.  First, as with the Russian Roulette example in mind, how do you know when your time is up?  It seems to me that it is possible for any of us to have something happen that could end our lives in a heartbeat.  Just think about a heartbeat as the example:  how do you know that you won't have a heartattack today?  If you're young, then heartattacks don't even register in your thinking:  but what about a bodycheck at your rec hockey game tomorrow night?  Things can happen. . .
If heaven and hell are real, and the choices we make in this life matter for our eternal destiny, then does it make a lot of sense to play 'Russian Roulette' with your life?  Sure you could argue that there isn't a God, and that Jesus was just a good person and nothing more, but if I can't prove that God and Jesus are who they say they are, then it is just as true that you can't prove that they aren't.  So then it seems that denying God/Jesus is like playing a deadly game.
Is it worth it?
But there is something else that is important to know:  there is the assumption that living life without Jesus is somehow much better than with Him.  I really have to disagree on this point.  It's true that when our lives become His, He becomes our 'master'--a term that is not very appealing to us today.  But what we are gaining is a relationship with one who genuinely loves us, who watches over us, cares for us, is willing to sacrifice His life for us, provides for us wisdom and knowledge, and shows us a way of life that invites others into wholeness and healing.
How is this a bad thing?  It's the age old lie that comes from Satan who tells the World that it's better to be the 'captain of your own ship', live just the way you want, not listening to anyone else.  Well, a lie it is, because as God's word and Bob Dylan state--you will always have to serve someone. 
Total independence is a lie.  Period.

Isaiah 30:18 says: "Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!"

So don't wait to give your life to Jesus--that's like playing 'Russian Roulette' with your life.  Instead, in relationship with Jesus, wait for Him and He will show you what abundant life is really all about!