Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Veil

I remember my wedding day.  It was July, 30th 1988. I remember that it was part of a summer that was the hottest and driest in a long, long time.  I remember the church we were married in, and the limo that took us away after the ceremony.  I remember a lot of things about my wedding day.  But the thing I remember the most was how absolutely beautiful my bride was.

She took my breath away.

I remember her white dress and how she made it look so stunning.  And I also remember her head piece:  it wasn't a veil that covered her face but it was symbolic none-the-less.  It was her crown of beauty that day!

I was thinking about that 'veil' that my wife wore, and then my thoughts meandered to the 'veil' that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 3:15ff
"Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with every-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 

Jesus describes His church as His 'bride'.  And He knows how sin has put a 'veil' on our hearts, preventing us from seeing things clearly, and preventing us from experiencing the overwhelming love that Jesus has for us, His bride.

This is unacceptable for Jesus.  He loves His bride far too much to allow her not to experience His overwhelming love for her.  And so He comes to her and gently takes off the veil so she can see His love face-to-face.

And in that moment, our breath is taken away. . . .

I think it is entirely fitting for me to remember how I felt when I saw my bride in all her glory, with her unveiled face looking at me and how that look poured deep into my soul--the joy, the beauty, the love and the thought of "I can't believe she picked me!!!"

That's exactly what Jesus desires his church bride to feel.

I'm so glad that the veil of my heart is taken away so I can see the real Jesus, and experience the profound joy of being united with Him.

Enough said.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Keep Your Head Up

I recently read an article that talks about a problem that a certain city in China is experiencing:  it seems that many people there are so embedded in their cell phones that they are having problems with people getting hurt walking into each other!  Can you believe that!  People have become so distracted, and enamoured with being 'connected' at all times that they have abandoned the practical needs that are right in front of them.  In a very ironic way, they are getting what they wish for:  being 'connected' but with face-to-face encounters with people they are walking into!

It has gotten so bad that city officials have painted special lanes designated for people who want to walk and be on their smart phones at the same time.  These lanes have arrows that point which direction the 'traffic' should flow so that everyone who is in that lane won't have to worry about people walking in the other direction.

I think it would make more sense to just keep your head up--wouldn't you?

I learned that lesson pretty quick when I played hockey as a kid.  If you didn't keep your head up there was bound to be unwanted contact.

I wonder if there is a lesson here that we can learn as children of God.  I wonder if we are so distracted by our lives, our choices, our desires, that we are getting 'unwanted contact' too?  When our life circumstances become so overwhelming that we can't look up to our Father for life and refreshment, then we are living no differently than those people who are bumping into each other because they are so engrossed in their digital world.

By the way, the comparisons go even deeper.  Church generally does a good job in creating 'lanes' for this distracted way of living too.  It happens when the church forgets its real mandate of deepening relationships with each other and with God by over-programming and keeping everyone so busy there is no time left for relationships.  It misses the mark when we fall into the trap of endorsing this distracted over-burdened life by accepting that our primary function as people is to be 'producers'.  When this happens we create an environment for workaholics.  Not pretty.  And I believe there are a lot of Christians and non-Christians alike out there who are longing for something better. . .

Psalm 121 is God's clear call to all of you who are struggling with all the distractions of life that are causing you to have your head down.  He wants you to hear another message--one that brings hope through the voice of David who God had trained to live differently:

"I lift up my eyes to the hills--where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip--he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you--the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD will keep you from all harm--he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore."

Here is the hope that God offers to the weary traveller:  Put your trust in Him for your life.  Realize that if you would just stop trying to live with your head down and doing things in your own strength then maybe you would begin to experience freedom instead of frustration.  God is inviting all people to lift their eyes and accept what He offers--a new life and a new way of living, and to all who listen they will find themselves enjoying the protection of the Most High; they will find themselves on the receiving end of the One who desires to provide all things of great value.

And really, all you have to do is look up.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Iced Tea

Have you ever tasted a glass of iced tea that hasn't been stirred up?  It tastes terrible--bland and weak.  But if you stir it the taste comes alive and it is so delicious, especially when you are dry and your throat is parched.

God is in the business of stirring up his church.  Why, do you ask?  Because He wants it to be 'tasty'.  He wants it to be a place where dry and parched souls find refreshment.

Sometimes church can be a place that seems like a lot of iced tea has been poured in but it doesn't taste so good.  It can be bland and there is a sense that something is missing.  I am encouraged--no, actually my spirit begins to be filled with anticipation, when I read that God is in the business of stirring up what He has already poured out to us through His Holy Spirit!

In Acts 2:17ff God says that He will pour out His Spirit on all people, and there will be prophecy, visions and dreams of Mighty God and His desires for His world.  God says that wonders will be shown in heaven and on earth--wonders! And that in the midst of all this stirring, He will bring people into saving relationship with His Son Jesus Christ, the miracles of all miracles!

God is at work.  He is stirring up His people, the Church, to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Church is getting tastier and tastier to all those thirsty souls out there.  Not because we have it all together and are so attractive, but because Jesus is shining through willing and obedient hearts to the world around them. 

An amazing thing in the midst of all this is the fact that we can choose to 'get on board' or resist what God wants to do.  If you are honest with yourself, are you a little afraid of getting 'stirred up?'  If you have a hesitation to step into what the Holy Spirit may want to do through you; if you are a bit uncomfortable because this may mean stepping out of what is familiar and safe, then think of this:

A stirred glass of iced tea tastes so much better than one where all the goodness is just sitting at the bottom of the glass.

God wants to make you tasty!  Will you go?


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lost Keys

Don't you hate it when you lose something like your keys?  They are so important to your life's daily rhythm, when you don't have them you really notice, and it can be so frustrating.

A buddy of mine lost his keys today, and it immediately put some boundaries on his day:  schedules changed a bit as he needed to reorganize around this loss.  Thankfully we found them again, but it made me think--when we lose something important in life, it makes us stop and consider how our lives are running, or how they aren't. . . .

Jesus is always concerned about lost things. . .in fact His whole life on earth was based on addressing things that were lost.  Lost relationships; lost hopes; lost dreams; lost desires; lost possibilities; lost freedom and on and on.  At the end of the day, Jesus was here to find what was lost.

Just like my friend whose life became briefly readjusted because of something that was lost, Jesus' life also became oriented toward those possessions of His that had become lost--and He wanted them back, at any cost!

How does that make you feel?  What goes through your mind when you realize that Jesus' life became oriented toward you because of the fact that you had lost your way through sin, and your relationship with God was so important to Jesus that He was willing to live and die in order to 'make found' what was lost?

His love, life and passion were all directed toward YOU!

If you don't know Jesus, then think about this fact--that He was willing to have His whole life reoriented because something of His was lost.  Maybe that will change how you think about God, and His Son Jesus.

And if you are one who has been found by Him, but maybe you are living with a feeling of distance from Him, then maybe it's good for you to be reminded of the fact that you have been found because of His great love for you, and that that has never changed!

Losing something can be so frustrating.  But being found is wonderful!

Maybe it's a good day to just say 'thank you' to the One who has found you!


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Searching for God Knows What

This past weekend I had the privilege of watching a few football games.  One of them included my beloved Roughriders, who managed to pull out a hard-fought win.  There were a lot of great plays on both sides of the ball, and I thought that each team represented themselves very well.

There are many people involved in a team game like football.  The numerous coaches, the practice roster players, the starters, the back-ups, all have a role to fill, and all have to perform at the highest and most consistent level to enjoy success.  There is a continuous searching for that 'sweet-spot' when everything is working in unison and moving toward that goal of attaining victory.

We might not all be professional athletes, and we might not even find ourselves working with a team of any kind, but I believe we all have that desire to be successful in life.

As a Christian, I need to be mindful of what real success looks like, and I need to make sure that my priorities match up with my 'coach' who is trying to guide the paths that I follow.

For a Christian, it is imperative to understand that following God's lead must come first.  It is His desire to show us the way.  I have to remind myself again and again that I can't go running ahead on my own, whether in thought or action, as that puts me in the coach's position, and that is not my place, even in my own life!

Psalm 46:10 says 'Be still, and know that I am God."

Usually our understanding in life is "be actively pursuing and performing; be proactive because you are responsible for your own life; be doing, doing, doing. . . . . ;If you have a question that needs answering then get on your horse and find out---make it happen!"

I take this way of living and seamlessly apply to my spiritual life as well---if I have a question about God, then it is up to me to find out the answer;  If I am struggling spiritually, then I had better get on that and do better because it's my own responsibility; If I am feeling dry in my spirit, then it is up to me to get the water I need; if there is a sin that I need to overcome, then I had better apply all my resources to the problem and overcome it!

But this only shows me that my priorities in all of life, both the practical everyday life, and my spiritual life, are messed up. 

God says to us:  "This is your first priority:  Stop!  Stop, and you will discover that I am your God, and in that revelation I will begin to 'coach' you in your life.  You will begin to see life differently.  You will see the directions and choices that make the most sense.  You will begin to discern a spiritual maturity that will help you live more wisely.  Your life will change for the better.  But you need to stop first.

Stop first--that is the first priority in life.  Once that happens consistently--stopping and being in the presence of God to allow Him the space and time to begin to do what He wants in your life--then, and only then will the 'game plan' begin to be revealed.  Once that happens then, we are able to act in concert with our Creator.  It is just like football really--the players need to wait on the coach to lead so that everyone is on the same page.  The players must trust the coach, that he knows what he is doing and that what he asks of you will bring the victory-the success.

We are all searching--and ultimately we are searching not for 'God knows what' but for 'what God knows'.  So I want to encourage you to take being still before Him seriously.  Wait on him and know that He is your God and He will show you the way.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unusual God

I am writing this as I prepare to lead a funeral service.

In this service we will be remembering someone whose life will not go down in human history as having made a significant impact.  He will not be remembered for unique contributions to our society.  For some, he will be remembered---barely.

It is so sad, but true. 

I know that this man was valuable, and was worthy to be treated with dignity.  He walked this earth and he made his mark; there were good days and bad days.  But I am frustrated that our categories are so limited as we 'evaluate' someone's life.  If he had been a successful business man, or an accomplished athlete, or someone who was so evidently generous with his time, his money, or his talents, I think the world would have evaluated him differently.  I would more easily evaluate him differently.  Something about that rubs me the wrong way.

What is it that establishes the value of one's life?  What is it that should provide for us a true foundation upon which to make judgments about someone else?

God seems to walk by the beat of a different drum on this matter. 

Psalm 149:4 says "For the Lord takes delight in his people. . ."

He delights in those whom he has made His own.

The man whose funeral we will soon be having is for a man who was a child of God.  Jesus had called him, and this man had surrendered.

After that, this man had lived a life that would have to be called a struggle.  He struggled from outside influences and he struggled from influences that arose from within himself.  He walked some pretty rough roads, and roughed a lot of feathers as he went.  But, at the end of the day, he was a child of God.

For this, and this alone, the God of Heaven rejoices in this man.

I have a hard time understanding this, because so many of my categories for judging a life successful are external things.  The things people do, the things people say: their accomplishments etc.  And God tells us that these things are important but secondary.  What really matters is what God has done, and what He did in this man's life was miraculous--he was a child of God!

Father, you are unusual, and I thank you for that.  I thank you for that because you show us what should be priorities for us.  We so often have to work to earn our sense of self worth, and through this man's life you show us what is really valuable. 

Father, would you please teach us to see life the way you see it?  And when the world looks at us and calls us unusual (or worse) may our hearts rejoice in what yours is already rejoicing in!


Friday, August 22, 2014


Turn on your TV and listen to the advertisements.  You won't have to listen very long before you hear a salesman pitching a product and enticing you to purchase what they are offering because you deserve it

You deserve to own a bigger TV (because you work so hard. . .); you deserve a great vacation (because you need a break from the grind); you deserve a new computer (because it will make your life so much easier); you deserve, you deserve, you deserve.

We are inundated with this message of 'you deserve'.  We are being told that the world owes us.  That is what it means to deserve something--it is to be owed.  There is something about who we are or what we have accomplished that means that others owe us, or me. 

This kind of philosophy puts me at the center of my universe.  In fact, we can think it is a virtue to deserve as this is a kind of validation for things like hard work, or diligent service.

But I am struck, once again, with how Jesus teaches us something about real life that stands in opposition to this kind of mentality. 

In a Jesus-philosophy-of-life to have an attitude of 'I deserve' just doesn't fly.  For just a moment, if you think about Jesus' life, do you ever get even a sniff of an attitude from Him that He felt He had an attitude of 'I deserve'?

To live with the 'I deserve' mentality is to live with a 'Me first' mentality, and Jesus never did that. 

Here is a great example of someone who lived a Jesus-philosophy-of-life:  In Luke 1:26-38 we hear God speaking through an angel to Mary about His plans for her life.  She is being told that she will be impregnated by the Holy Spirit (crazy stuff I know!) and that as she will never have had physical intercourse with a man, she will be giving birth to a baby as a virgin.  What this meant for Mary was significant.  Why?  First of all, everyone would think that she has had sex with a man--which is normal of course.  But, they would also know that her husband would not be responsible for the pregnancy.  It would have looked to many people that she is making up this outlandish story of a Holy-Spirit-impregnation, but people would be thinking that she simply had an affair.  In Mary's culture, a woman who cheated on her husband was in a lot of trouble.  In fact, her life could be in jeopardy.  But this is what God wanted to do through her in order to bring salvation to the world.

You know what Mary's response to this was?  It certainly wasn't "Lord, this is unfair!  Don't you know what people are going to say about me?  Don't you know that my standard of living could be in real jeopardy here?  Don't you know that I deserve better?

No.  This is what Mary said:  "I am the Lord's servant. . .May it be to me as you have said."

All I can say is 'wow'.  What a selfless and humble attitude.  Mary was not ensnared in what her culture was trying to convince her of--that she deserved so much for herself.  She was free from all that.  She was free to be a servant of God.

When we live with an 'I deserve' attitude what we really are living is de serving life.  That means we are devaluing having a servant attitude; humility and self-sacrifice become less important to us.  Just like deconstruction is the breaking apart of a building, de-serving is the breaking apart of a servant attitude.

Jesus did not live with a deserving attitude--He lived as a servant.  Mary, though her life would have been very difficult because of what God wanted to do through her, did not say that she deserved better--she modelled such a beautiful servant heart.

It should be obvious to us that we should not live as de-servants but as servants.  May God help us to do so.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Selfless Living

A few days ago I was talking with someone who is in the hospital.  He is facing some pretty serious health challenges and it caused him to re-evaluate a few things in his life. 

At one point he was very moved as he tried to express what was on his heart--and as tears welled up in his eyes he said that he so badly wants to live selflessly--to live in a way that is more concerned about others and less concerned about himself.

It made me think. .. .what if we all had this deep-seated desire to live for other's well-being more than for our own?  How would we spend our time?  How would we arrange our calendars?  How would our attitudes change?  And most of all. . .

Would this be a better reflection of Jesus?

Selfishness can be such an ugly thing--it makes a person look small and petty.  And one of the most damaging things about selfishness is that it is blinding--we eventually lose the ability to sense that we are being selfish the more we live in it.  In fact, we become deceived and begin to think we are totally justified in our complaint or desire to fulfill personal agendas.

Jesus lived a different way.

In Matthew 20:24-28 He says:  "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Jesus came to serve.  To be selfless.  His greatest desire was to live with absolute obedience in doing exactly what His Heavenly Father wanted Him to do.  This desire was so strong in Him that He found great joy in serving.  His first concern was not what people thought, but what His Father thought; His actions were not dictated by peer pressure or even from His own leadings, but were totally in dependence on His Father for everything.  He was concerned for the well-being of others and that is how He lived.

I believe that Jesus wants this to be true for His Church too.  He wants us to live with our eyes focused on the agenda of our Heavenly Father.  He wants us to follow His own example of how He lived and encourage others to do the same.  True, this gets messy when this hits up against our actual desires, because we still wrestle with that old nemesis sin that tempts us to live for ourselves and not selflessly.

I want to be free to live and love the way Jesus did.  I want to be able to handle the ugliness of self-centeredness when I run into it and respond in the strength and love of heaven.  I want to facilitate the overcoming of this struggle in the power of the Holy Spirit and see beauty emerge---but sometimes about all one can see is the struggle. . . .

I saw my friend struggling with this in his hospital bed.  The struggle was real, to be sure, but the beauty that I saw was not that the struggle was over, but that there was a humble heart genuinely desiring to be selfless.

Maybe that's all I can offer to Jesus some days--a desire for selflessness, but mixed in with all the struggle and ugliness that goes along with it.  Maybe that's the case for you too.  All I know is that Jesus is always ready and willing to receive a willing heart and to bring encouragement and strength that really does make a difference.

To God be the Glory. . . .

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Importance of Attitude

So here is a question for you:  when you choose to do something or go somewhere, are you choosing or is God leading?  Is there a mixture of both happening or just one or the other?

I have thought about this question for a long time (years!) and I have always been one to lean toward the idea that where we find ourselves is more a working of the Lord than it is our independent choice.  But this has mostly been my opinion.  I wonder if God would have something to say about this. . .

God recognizes that humans make plans.
Proverbs 16:9 says "In his heart a man plans his course but the LORD determines his steps."
This would indicate that there are two dynamics working here--that we make plans and that the Lord is actively involved in where we are actually going in the real world we live in.  This is the outward reality.

Proverbs 19:21 says "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails."
This shows us that even though we make plans ultimately God's plan is the one that will be guiding.  This has to do with the inward reality of a person's heart/mind/soul.

So here is the question again:  when we decide to do something is it God who is making it happen or am I acting independently?

It really comes down to how we understand choice.  Choice is a powerful thing.  It gives us the ability to engage in the important moral and practical decisions that make up everyday life.  It opens up the possibility for noble/righteous/positive life and there is the simultaneous possibility of choosing an ignoble/unrighteous/negative path as well. 

In our sin we view choice in very hypocritical ways:  when we choose something that is successful, like when we make a financial investment and it pays off well, we take the good feelings that come with that and allow ourselves to puff up with pride because it was, after all, my choice to do that.  On the flip side however, our sinfulness causes us to pass the buck or to blame others, or outside circumstances when our choice causes harm or is unsuccessful. 

So is there another way to understand choice?

First we have to understand what choices God has given us.  As a Christian it is actually laid out fairly clear. 

Matt. 6:24 says that we cannot serve two masters--we will be devoted to one or the other, not both.  That tells me that if I belong to Jesus, then He is my master.  Is it right for me to imagine that I should be making choices independently of Him?  Do I have the capacity to make choices apart from Him--absolutely!  But we think that our range of choices are as vast as the options that are placed before us, and as children of God we are actually only given two that cover over every single possibility that we face daily and practically. 

We choose to either follow Him or we choose to follow ourselves.  We choose to give Him credit for the good, or we take the credit for ourselves.

I think the central element that ties together the internal (our hearts plans) and the external (the practical outworking of those plans) is our attitude.

Talking about that financial investment again:  If I made that decision without ever consulting God about whether this is something that I should do or not is wrong.  Why?  Because the resources I have and the life I have been given are not my own (1 Cor. 6:19).  If I do whatever I want with them then I am making those decisions out of an attitude of selfishness and I am serving me and not serving God.  If God tells me that I do not belong to myself, then the least I owe Him is to be very intentional to pursue Him in what should be done--what choice I should make.

But does that work in practical daily life?  Don't I have to make a million choices every day?  How can I put that under the Lordship of Jesus the way I am describing?

Again, it all comes down to attitude.  One can have an attitude of humility before God, and still make the myriad decisions that are necessary in real life.  But will we submit to Him that is the question?

That will mean that we intentionally give up control of our lives willingly to Jesus.  It might mean that when we want something we don't get it because it doesn't fit God's plan for my life.  It might mean that we get something wonderful that we don't deserve as well--because in submission to this great and good God we receive gifts that are beautiful! 

It is important that we learn from God what our choosing should look like because our culture tells us, all the time, that we have the right and the responsibility to make selfish choices (choose for ourselves), when God is saying that we should make selfless choices (ones in complete submission to Him).

We will always have to make choices, and there will be things that we need to say yes to and no to.  But the real issue as I have laid out here is not whether or not we make choices, but how
we make them.

What will your attitude be?


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Real Benefits

Today I was thinking about the culture we live in and how we are so affected by it.  One thing that we are taught at a very early age is to consider how we can achieve 'maximize benefits'.  When we buy a car, we try to get the very most from our investment--the best warranty, the best options for convenience etc.  When we are negotiating for a new job we try to attain the most coverage from an employee insurance policy, or the best possible holiday package.  The examples are endless and every one makes sense to us.  In fact, for us to do any less would be considered irresponsible.

I am bothered by this however.  Why?  Because it seems that this pursuit of maximum benefit for ourselves gets to be so commonplace, that it becomes a part of how we interact with our whole world.  Every part of our daily lives gets subsumed into this mentality of 'maximum benefit'. 

It really does translate into us living as consumers.  We consume in order to increase benefit in our personal lives.  Which is maybe not so horrible when it comes to pure economics (though even here I think we need some serious moderation!), but if this way of living seeps into other non-economic areas then we are in trouble.  Not sure what I mean?  Here are a few examples:

Imagine a married couple who have been together for 25 years.  The kids move out of the home and the couple are left on their own now.  They begin to imagine a new life for themselves and each one dreams of new beginnings.  The problem arises when the individual dreams don't mesh and neither is willing to compromise.  Eventually, living together as a married couple takes second place to the desire of each person to achieve 'maximum benefit' for themselves.  It makes more sense to pursue their own desires separately because to stay with each other would require sacrifice that would diminish the individual's dreams.

Or how about in church?  If someone attends church with the attitude of attaining this maximum benefit then there is little to hold them there if they base their attendance primarily on how they feel.  If they are not feeling good, then the church is not satisfying their desire for maximum benefit and the consumer mentality kicks in again and it is so easy to simply leave and look somewhere else where this selfish desire is satisfied.

But God's message is radically different than what our sin-soaked culture teaches us.  In Psalm 103:1-2 David writes: "Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits."

Forget not all his benefits.  On the surface this could be made to sound like God is extending to us benefits that will satisfy our longings.  And in part this true.  He is concerned about our longings but He also knows far better than us that often our longings themselves are not what need to be addressed, but the issues that give rise to our longings!

If we feel that we are not getting what we want, our response is to seek out the thing we think we need.  For example:  church is unsatisfying--go to a different church.  Or: marriage is unsatisfying--seek out a different relationship that will fill my desire.  Our sin causes us to seek out our own maximum benefit and blinds us to what causes the desire in the first place.  We think:  Change our external surroundings/situation to address my desires.  God thinks:  you are running after things and ignoring the real issue.  I want to help you overcome your selfishness first!

God says to us "yes you have needs and longings, but I am here to teach you what are right longings and what are wrong longings, because I love you."  God wants to direct you in your search to find the satisfaction you so desire, but on His terms not yours.

We can see this is true but we resist it and we resist God.  At the risk of over-generalizing here is an example: if a couple who were considering separating or divorce were to seek God's direction as to what to do, likely they would hear from Him 'stay'.  Why?  Because His desire is to genuinely bless what He puts in place and He put them together.  But the searching heart that wants selfish maximum benefit resists God in this because His answer doesn't seem to satisfy the immediate desire, which is to get out and run.  God's benefits are not what we want so we seek our own.

God wants to provide real benefits not our selfish ones.  Here is what He says He offers to those who will trust Him with their lives (not just for salvation, but for all their daily lives and decisions):  (Verse 3ff) "[God] forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, [He] redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, [He] satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."

So if you find yourself in a situation where you may be choosing a change in life stop and consider two things: 1.  Am I responding to a selfish, personally driven desire to achieve maximum benefit for myself?  2. Am I actually willing to stop and invite God to show me if I should stay or go--and then really wait on Him for an answer before I do anything? 

If you choose the second option, you will be setting yourself up to receive God's real benefits for your life, and you will begin to live in a freedom from the prison of selfishness that will never stop tearing you up from the inside out.  Trust God and He promises to heal the real issues in your soul;  He promises to lift you out of your pit of seeking personal maximum benefit and will replace it with a desire to live for others that brings so much more personal benefit.  He promises to place love on you that will transform the way you think about yourself and others, and He will pour compassion on you that will satisfy your desires with good things.

I'm excited for you--because you are right on the doorstep of a whole new life!  What will you choose?


Saturday, August 9, 2014

God's Presence

If I asked you if you were 'certain' about something how would you respond?  Likely, you would begin to gather facts or arguments that would support your claim.  In the end you would either prove your point and would have presented enough evidence that leaves no doubt (certainty), or there would be a sense of uncertainty remaining (doubt).

This creates a real problem for us Christians who believe that the claims of things like who God is, what He is about, His involvement in human history, and where the world is headed in relation to Him, are absolutely true!  But we have a hard time probing them with certainty and if that is the criteria that we all accept as the means by which we label the things that have the most weighty truth about them, then we feel like we fall short.  If we can't say with certainty these things are true then we are left to wrestle with the opposite and that is elements of doubt

So with these categories in mind we think of faith as a lesser form of certainty--we can't really prove it like we can a mathematical formula that leaves no doubt--but we are still absolutely sure that claims of the Bible are just as true. 

I want to suggest that the categories we deal with currently are not necessary.

I will not go into historical detail of how things got the way there are, and will simply present an alternative.  Much like Monty Python, I will say and now for something completely different. . . .

You might not realize it, but Enlightenment Rationality has created our current situation--and Reason is what has set the current rules in place through which we describe things we think are true.  But to say that something is absolutely true does not have to be true with rational certainty.  It is only one way (a highly successful way!) to approach truth, and I want to present you with another way. . .

To the ancient Hebrews, truth (emeth) was understood as faithfulness.  It was a very relational term and encompassed things that included reason but was not determined exclusively by it.  To be 'true' had elements that are encapsulated in troth--as in when two people agree to be 'true' to each other over their lifetimes.  Truth and troth both come from the same etymological roots and share with each other meaning that is very helpful to us today. 

For a Hebrew writer of scripture to hear Jesus saying that He is the way, the truth and the life, meant that He was making a claim of faithfulness.  That He would be true to what He says; that He would live according to the principles He speaks.  Truth, to Jesus, was so much more than a rational and provable claim--it was something that was proven again and again and again.

Now if you are like me, this all sounds fine, but at the end of the day to say something is not certain just doesn't carry the same weight as something that is faithful.  This just proves to me that we are so deeply imbedded in our current worldview that to imagine a different way of understanding truth just seems wrong.  But it isn't, it is just a different way of understanding.  A way that has a much longer history in the West than our current one, by the way!

So we hear this verse in Hebrews 11:1:  "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (NIV).  Whenever we hear 'certain' and 'faith' used in the same context our default is to try and explain faith through the lenses of what we understand certainty to be.  We will begin to formulate arguments and examples to 'prove' faith.  We will try our best to create a water-tight case that will leave no intellectual doubt as to the veracity of what faith really is.  We will do everything that our reason will allow in order to make faith as strong as possible--because after all, certainty is the strongest position to be in.  Anything else leaves doubt.

But what if we inverted this and began to evaluate certainty through the lens of faithfulness that is the foundation of truth?  What if certainty and reason, used in isolation of all other faculties, proved to come up short of what truth really is?  What if certainty and reason don't measure up to the strength of truth as faithfulness?

The word used in Hebrews 11:1 for 'certainty' is elenchus, which means 'spiritual evidence', or in this specific context, it is God's presence and activity that is the evidence that gives the certainty and the hope.  We can not see but we are sure and are filled with hope because we have been given the kind of certainty that is based on the spiritual evidence of God's presence and activity (elenchos).

There is an interesting thing at work here:  when we try to prove things certain with reason alone, we find ourselves in a position of authority and power.  If we discover something is certain, we come to end of the journey of that question.  We stand over and above it based on certainty.  Our sinful state loves this (hence why the world, including Christians have bought hook, line and sinker into the power of rationality as the final arbiter of all truth---it makes us feel like we are in control!). 

But if we understand truth from a Hebrew perspective, then we accept that something is true when I am in relation to it; I find myself being presented something that says it is true, but it remains open-ended (not doubtful or less certain but an ongoing discovery) because the essence of this kind of truth requires faithfulness and also time.  It requires that I live in active involvement with this truth in order for me to discover its faithfulness again and again.  As soon as I begin to see it with the lens of reason only (our current way of engaging truth), then it gives me permission to find out what is true, realize that the journey is now over, and I can turn my attention to other things because I already have the truth I am looking for.  Purely rational truth tends to isolate me from everything around me--I become a truth consumer, attaining one truth and because I do not need to stay connected in the journey of truth-knowing with that thing, I am free to pursue the next truth acquisition.  Truth that is pursued and known through reason only is a truth that requires of me no trust, relationship or humility.

And so the kind of truth that we sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father have been living with for our whole lives is one that always puts pressure on us to depend on ourselves for it's discovery.  Rational truth that pursues certainty entices us to live separately from each other and from God, but truth as faithfulness (emeth) is one that will always draw us closer in relationship to each other and to God because to know truth at all is to be in relationship period!

Some may think this all sounds very relativistic as there doesn't seem to be anything that is absolute to guide this kind of truth-as-faithfulness.  Well, I believe that the absolute we are presented with is Jesus himself.  He is the Truth.  He is the only guide into it.  He is the source and means of entering into it in every form and in every facet of human life.  He is the truth to be found in the hard sciences where the accurate discoveries and descriptions of the universe's elements are made in the light of the One who made them in the first place.  He is the truth that created the possibility of government, and the policies that guide us today. And on and on. 

We might think that what I am suggesting is ridiculous based on the fact that human reason, apart from any faith in God or Jesus at all, has led to all the kinds of discoveries that we enjoy in science today.  But what if it is by God's grace alone, that He has been patient to humanity as we continued on our idolatrous search for truth using our reason alone--apart from His way of understanding truth through faithfulness--that trusting and engaging journey of truth discovery done humbly holding His hand?

If truth is known only rationally, then we will always have to fight hard to try and understand how He makes sense in the areas of our lives that we see are not having to do with how we feel, our faith and our relationships (everything we ascribe to the subjective side of life).  Jesus is the truth of the subjective and the objective in all things because real truth is known in faithful relationship with the One who is Truth.

You may think this a tiring intellectual exercise, and you are entitled to your opinion.  But for me, this changes everything about who I am and how I live!  It makes me feel liberated from my culture that says human rationality is the only means by which I will know truth and that if I make the unreasonable decision to try and live by faith then I must live with perpetual doubt because nothing in faith is provable.

Jesus tells me He is the Truth--and I believe Him.  I see truth functioning as a form of faithfulness and that this is God's design and His desire for me.  He wants me to understand that I can discover truths that incorporate logic and rationality, but that also make room for beauty and wisdom and relationships to form what truth really looks and feels like. 

God's presence is spiritual evidence that ensures that we are filled with hope and certainty about what is true and good and I am so very blessed by that.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Actions and Actuality

I remember a time long, long ago, when I was young and immature.  I wasn't always the most diligent in keeping schedules and would, from time to time, show up late for class.  I remember hearing these words "You are late!".

True words of course--I was late after all.  But I was thinking about this a bit this morning and realized that we sometimes struggle in knowing who we are in Jesus because of what is subtly embedded in phrases like this.  On the surface you might think I am talking about the negative effects on my personal self-esteem on hearing these type of comments again and again.  You might think I am intimating that maybe I needed someone to try and understand the underlying reasons why I was late and that all I needed was some real encouragement.

Well, if you thought that you would be wrong!

Someone saying to me 'You are late' is really nothing more than a description of my actions, and isn't a description of who I am!

We get these two things mixed up all the time and it is devastating to our understanding of who we are in Jesus.  It's true that showing up late for class matters--it is important.  And it is true that it might be an indicator of some other things in me that give rise to this problem--but being late is not me! 

There is a difference between actions and actuality--one being what I do, and the other being who I actually am.

As Christians we are always, and I mean always getting these two things mixed up.  We are convinced that our actions are synonymous with our identity.  In fact, we think that our actions are our identity in how we view ourselves, and how we think God views us as well.

This creates such a prison of self-defeat, and it neuters the power of the Gospel in us because it brings all the focus of our identity onto us.  What we need to do is to see our identity from the perspective of God himself.

So what does God see as our identity as His sons and daughters?

Ephesians 5:8 says this:  "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of Light."

God says that when we are saved through Jesus, we have been given a brand new identity.  God says that before Jesus our identity was darkness.  Now, in Jesus, our identity is light because Jesus is the light. 

God is concerned about the statement you are-----

Notice that He does not say to us 'because you still sin you are what you do--so shape up or else'.  This would be the worst possible relationship one could imagine.  It would be entirely performance driven, and every time we make a mistake, unintentionally or even intentionally, my identity in Jesus would be in jeopardy.  At this moment think about what unconditional love really means.  It means that when you find yourself saved in and through Jesus Christ, you are now unconditionally loved and that your identity is no longer found in you primarily, or your actions--you are a child of light.  You don't deserve this kind of love from God.  You don't deserve this kind of identity of freedom and hope.  You don't deserve this kind of relationship----because you know what you do. . . .

But that is just the kind of God we serve--the kind that changes the core of who we are by stating to us that His view of us is exactly what He sees in Jesus--but then He doesn't stop there!

You see in the second part of that passage God goes on to say 'now live as children of light'.  Do the things that are appropriate for this kind of person.  Live like Jesus because you are that person whose identity is now fresh and new in Him.  Stop thinking the opposite:  that because I sin that is somehow proof that my identity is not what God says of me.  He is patient to teach us how to live out this new identity in Him.  This is just another gift that comes from the Father to us, His children, because when you live according to who you really are in Jesus--the Holy Spirit affirms that in us and blesses us.  He pours out peace and love and encouragement. 

So instead of listening to the voice of the enemy who condemns you when you sin, listen instead to what God says about you--you are not what you do--you are who I have made you!

There is a huge difference between actions and actuality. Why don't you take a chance and ask the Lord Himself to help you really believe that your identity is who He says you are in Him?  I know it feels like you are somehow ignoring your tendency to sin and that feels like you are not taking responsibility for that.  But taking responsibility for it is not meant to create a prison of self-abuse!

Let Jesus set you free again today.  Ask Him to reveal to you who you actually are, and then ask Him to help your actions follow out of the identity He has so graciously given to you!


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Deferred Payments

Growing up on the farm I was used to my Dad hauling grain into the town elevator.  There, he would dump his load and then go and see the elevator agent who would weigh the amount of grain and then ask if Dad would like to have payment now or 'defer' it to a later date.  Often Dad would choose to defer it so that there would be money for future use.

It didn't seem like a big deal to me then, but as I think about it, to choose to defer a cheque is actually pretty significant.  Why?  Because we live in a culture that desires everything 'now'.  We want to enjoy the benefits as soon as possible--even if it means sacrificing our future. 

Dad probably didn't know it at the time, but he was teaching me a very important lesson by telling that elevator agent to defer his grain payment.  And this came clear to me as I read this passage from Colossians 3:23-24:
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

What this tells us is that as we live our lives, we should do so with passion, excellence and dedication to Jesus.  We should invest ourselves in the life He has given us, and we should recognize exactly what He his telling us here:  that we might not see all the benefits of living as a servant of God right now.  In fact, a big chunk of the reward, or 'payment' has been deferred for a future time.

That doesn't sit well with people most of the time--including me!  In my worldly way of thinking, I want to be able to enjoy all the benefits of my life investment now.  And it seems doubly hard sometimes in serving the Lord because we don't easily see Him in our daily lives--it is a life of faith--of things not seen.

And yet, as I think about my Dad standing in the grain elevator, I am struck with the truth of this statement from God in Colossians:  I will "receive an inheritance from the Lord."  My future is secure in Him, and the investments that He has made in me will come due one day.  On that day I am convinced that I will look back and realize more clearly than ever, that it was all worth it.

So for today, I want to encourage you to allow God's word to dwell richly in your heart.  Remember that any sacrifice that is asked of you today, in service to Jesus, will be repaid more than you can imagine at a future date when you receive the inheritance that has been set aside just for you.

It's good to know that we are in good hands.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Double Edged Sword

Hey Everyone,
Today I was thinking about relationships and how they can be a double-edged sword.  What I mean by that is they can be some of the most challenging things we ever engage in but they are also the most rewarding and beautiful--all at the same time!

Have you ever noticed that the best things in life are often the hardest to achieve?  Yeah, me too.

I believe that it's God's wonderful plan that we, as human beings, are given this deep-seated desire to live in meaningful relationships, whether it's family or friends.  And I also believe that He understands better than any of us that these precious relationships will challenge the core of our being.  Why, do you ask?  Because at the end of the day, there is a 'bent' toward selfishness--we can try as hard as we want, but sin in us causes us, in subtle and overt ways, to try and live for ourselves.  God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that selfishness is ultimately destructive, and so He creates this things called 'relationships' that serve as a framework to provide us opportunity to live selflessly.

Again, the best things in life are often the most challenging.

I think it's true for most of us to look at challenging relationships with an attitude of wanting to avoid or at least distance ourselves from them.  And there is some wisdom in accurately discerning which relationships are healthy and which ones can be toxic.  But, at their foundation, relationships with others is something God gave to us as a gift--and we should treat them as such.

There is a word from Romans 15:5-6 that may brighten your day.
"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

You see, God knows the challenges we face.  He knows that we need to be given endurance in order to live out this amazing thing called relationship.  He knows it's hard.  He knows we can struggle with selfishness (I know I do!).  And He knows that others will not always treat us as well as they should.  But, He wants us to trust Him to provide what is needed in order to make manifest the beauty of this thing.  He asks us to do 2 things:  1.  Don't give up.  Stay the course and believe that it's worth it.  Why would He want to empower us with endurance if He didn't want us stick around and persevere with those we are in relationship with?  2.  He wants us to trust Him to provide this very needed resource, even when we want to cut and run.

But He doesn't just provide endurance, because if that's all there was, then it would paint a pretty bleak picture of what we could expect.  Just enduring implies that relationship is nothing but work, and it most certainly isn't.

He also gives encouragement.  Do you know what that means?  The encouragement that comes from living in genuine and meaningful relationships comes to us out of those relationships. It is in the gift of relationship itself that we receive that blessing from the Father.  We can experience God's pleasure as we live our lives together with our eyes all pointed toward Him.

"With our eyes all pointed toward Him. . ."  This is the last important aspect of relationships that we need to be aware of.  It says in our Romans passage, "so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

In living out the relationships that God has given to us, trusting in Him for endurance and encouragement, we put ourselves in a position to be weaved together by God as one.  We become united.  We sense that we belong to something bigger than ourselves.  We glean meaning and purpose through this journey of living together, and we glorify God in the process.

Jesus' had a perfect relationship with His heavenly Father, and His life on earth reflected that relationship in a way that brought, and brings hope to all people.  Including you and I.  Jesus lived selflessly, and then invites us to do the same. 

The payoff is huge!

So if you are facing relationships today that are challenging, and everything in you is screaming to run away and ease the pressure, I want to encourage you to read and reread Romans 15:5-6.  Ask for God's endurance and encouragement;  choose to stay the course and you will discover that He will bless you for honoring Him.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Different Thought

I just came home from a conference that taught about the reality of spiritual warfare and that we really are in a battle. 
We don't often see it with our eyes, and truth be told, we don't often recognize it for what it is in our hearts either. What I mean is that we often experience frustrations and anxiety but we write them off as 'normal' or we say things like 'that's life'. But the reality is that we are experiencing the outcome of spiritual battles raging within us. 
As Christians we easily forget that we have a Saviour who recognizes these things in us exactly as they are and his desire is to help us overcome these battles in order to have peace that abides deep in our souls. But it comes at a cost- did you know that?
Peace comes at a cost. 

I want you to hear words from scripture that speak directly to this issue:
Galatians 5:16-17 NIV

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

Can you see what the cost is here?  It has to do with not doing what we 'want'. You see our flesh (which means things that arise from the influence of sin) is embedded in desires that don't line up with God's heart, and those are the things that give us grief. God doesn't want us to hurt anymore so he asks us not to do things we want. The cost of peace is denying ourselves the things we want. 

The scripture above tells us that the Spirit of God and our desires don't mesh, they are in opposition to each other, so when we pursue our desires we find ourselves really struggling, hurting or angry. 

We need to recognize this for what it is and begin to have a spiritually mature view of what's really going on. 

We are in a war. 

But I want you to be encouraged by something today:  you see God tells us that the Holy Spirit is battling against our desires 'so that' we will no longer do the things we want. On the surface that sounds like God is fighting against us!  But really he is fighting against the things in us that we like that cause us hurt!  He is a Good God fighting on our behalf to help us get to a place we can't get to on our own- a place of peace that only comes from living in the freedom that comes from Jesus. 

This is a different way of thinking. When we experience sorrow or frustrations in our hearts and minds, don't see it as God punishing us and him angrily pointing out how weak and broken we are.  No. Instead see this as he tells us in his word: that the presence of the battle within us is actually Him fighting on our behalf in order to prevent us from hurting ourselves any longer. 

That's what a loving father does for his kids. 

So, Spirit of God, thank you that you don't allow us to pursue the things we want, and thank you for fighting to help us overcome in order to find peace. 

We invite You to help us overcome so we can be at peace. 

My prayer for you is that today you would live in peace. 

Pastor Brian Tysdal
Rock of Ages Church
Saskatoon, Sask.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Indulge or Deny?

Good marketing always tries to convince potential customers that purchasing a product or an experience like a vacation, is something that is a net benefit to them.  Although the product costs the customer something, the 'payoff' is the pleasure that comes to the individual for making the purchase.

Underlying this scenario is a philosophy that is pervasive in our culture today, and that is the strong message for individuals to make choices that will enhance "indulging" themselves.  To indulge oneself is be motivated by a desire to yield freely to the inclination of satisfying yourself.

The reason this marketing works so well is because it plays to our innate desire toward a 'me first' mentality.

And we eat it up.

We have just come through one of the most indulgent seasons in Christmas, where literally tons of goods are bought to satisfy an indulgent longing.

Now, I want to be clear here:  I am not suggesting that we shouldn't have some degree of self-care.  But I am questioning our participation in an ever increasingly self-indulgent society.

How does the teaching of indulgence mesh with Godly principles found in the Bible?

In Mark 8:34-35 we hear some words from Jesus that address this very issue:

"Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:  'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."

This is really poor marketing!  If you want people to buy into something, to give up their valuable resources in exchange for something they don't yet have, then don't talk about denying yourself, this is the opposite of what works to motivate people.

Jesus is basically saying to people that if they want what he has to give, they need to 'pay' their most valuable resource (their life) in a way that goes against what is their natural desire--self-indulgence! 

The only way this makes sense is if we allow ourselves to break free from the chains of worldly thinking.  If we do this, then we begin to see that even though Jesus is asking us to deny ourselves, what he is promising to us is a life that goes far beyond what the world can offer.

Can the products we buy, that the world tries to market to our indulgent inclinations, ever bring lasting peace to our hearts?  Never.

Jesus is inviting us, and our friends, co-workers and neighbours to explore the possibility of life that really satisfies to the core of our being--all we have to do is deny ourselves and run to him.

All!  That's all we have to do.  This is so hard for humans that God himself had to take on human flesh and die on our behalf in order to break this ridiculously powerful spell that has taken over all people. 

But that's the wisdom of Jesus--He decided it was worth it to deny himself, in order to give us all a chance to deny ourselves and find real life--a life that is radiant and truly free!

Marketers tell you to indulge yourself.  Jesus tells you to deny yourself.

Who are you listening to?