God’s Power

The Church was birthed in power. Jesus spoke to His disciples and said: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be My witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). This power first came on the Day of Pentecost as seen in Acts, Chapter 2. This instantly allowed them to move out of the prayer room they had been in and witness about Jesus using the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This was the first day of the Church – it’s birthday. This power continued to be seen throughout the book of Acts and is also seen in each Church that was birthed during the ministry of the early Church, the ministry of the original apostles, and obviously it was seen in the ministry of Paul (example: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Today we often make excuses for the lack of power in our lives as disciples. However, God is bigger than our excuses, our inadequaced, and lack of ability or resources.

In the story of Gideon in the Old Testament God calls him and asks him to do something really outside his comfort zone as well as beyond his abilities. Gideon, from the start, has one reason after another for not doing what the Lord God was asking him to do. And, he didn’t hide the issues from God. He was bluntly and blatantly honest. “I am weak. In am the least. I am not cut out for this. I have no idea what I am doing.” And God was not bothered in the least.

God replied, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive” (Judges 6:16). Over the next couple of chapters, God seemed determined to prove how little Gideon’s weaknesses mattered. He even reduced the size of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 just to make the odds a little more interesting. Then God used those 300 warriors to rout an innumerable, impossible army.

Never once in the story does God appeared frustrated with Gideon’s lack of ability or manpower. We don’t see God demanding that Gideon work out the details by himself, with his own logic and resources. We actually see the opposite. In stages Gideon took on the courage and character of the God who called him. Gideon’s excuses didn’t change God’s mind. God’s empowerment eliminated Gideon’s excuses.

In this story Gideon’s claim to fame is not his leadership style, his motivational ability, or his military prowess, although each of these was eventually developed in Gideon’s life. It’s his faith, slow starting as it was. He was ultimately willing to believe and obey God. That is what God wants from us as well today. Not incredible strength. God already has that. Not our own natural power. His is greater and supernatural. He just wants us to have simply faith in Him. To be willing to obey Him because we believe Him.

In Mark 16, Jesus has given His last instructions to His disciples (apostles)… summarized – He tells them to go into their world and confront the darkness. He ascends into heaven. Then, amazingly, they actually do what He has asked them to do. They stand up and step out in faith (Mark 16:20) and, because they do, God shows up as promised and shows off .. .working with them to confirm their message.

So, today if we will stand up and step out in faith He will show up and show off demonstrating His power through us who are born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Those upon whom the Holy Spirit has come.

 

The Lost,The Least, The Last

The Church is called to seek and save the lost. This is why Jesus came from Heaven and became one of us. Luke 19:10, Jesus states, “I came to seek and save the lost.” And, as His Body, the Church, here and now we are called to continue His work and even bring it to completion. He said to the early Church, “Go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Same thing. Same mandate. And, it is the duty of every true disciple of Jesus to be going into their world and fishing for the lost (Matthew 4:19). Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” So, if we are not fishing we are simply not following. We are, however, deceiving ourselves. Something to think about as we begin the Christmas season 2016.

The Wise Men came and asked the ruler of Judea, “Where is He that was born king…” Why did they ask Herod this? Because they expected that the king of Israel would have been born in a palace. But, He wasn’t. Jesus, the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, quietly entered the world in a stable on the outskirts of little Bethlehem, beneath notice of the wealthy, the educated, and the elite. His arrival was not completely ignored or unnoticed, however.

Luke2:8-12 “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Shepherds were the social outcasts of their day, a necessary yet ostracized caste without whom the temple could not function. While they tended the animals required for ritual sacrifice, the conscientious Jew – ever concerned with purity – spurned shepherds as too unclean to stand among other worshippers. Imagine the reception a dirty migrant worker would receive at the door of a sophisticated country club, and you will understand where the shepherds ranked in Hebrew society.

While the rich and powerful in Jerusalem formed factions, alternately resisting and sweet-talking the Romans, blissfully unaware of the momentous event taking place in the countryside, angels appeared to the people most likely to understand what was happening. Imagine how the outcast shepherds felt when they heard that the King’s palace was a stable and His cradle was a feeding trough. At last, they had a King who shared their low station, who would care about the things that mattered to them. Perhaps this King would value His subjects more than conquests and the acquisition of more and more wealth.

Right from the start Jesus, the King born in Bethlehem in a lowly stable, made the world aware of the fact that He came for the lost, the least, and the last. And that only the humble would find Him. But, more important for us today; He was making it very clear that our work for Him is to take the Good News of His birth, life and ministry, death, and resurrection to those today who are the lost, the least, and the last.

How you doing this special time of the year with the task that Jesus gave you to accomplish for Him and in His Name and power?

 

Performing, Pretending, and Pleasing

Believers need to know who they are “in Christ.” The Bible states that when we are born again we becomes “new creatures in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But, when we have not taken the time to discover who we are “in Christ” then we live life insecure and lacking confidence in who we really are. We spent time proving ourselves (see yesterday’s blog) and justifying our behaviour. Worse, we live in insecurity and try to be who others want us to be living up to other’s expectations and demands. This results in us wasting our lives posing, pretending, posturing, performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving ourselves. Yet, in doing all of these things, we will never find our real self.

Recently Bob Dylan won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. This is a man who is well known and highly respected by many. But, this is not really who he was. He changed his named many years ago. He was born and raised as Robert Zimmerman and later, when people began to be drawn to his music and poetry , changed is name to Bob Dylan. However, changing his name didn’t change who he was. Inside he is still Robert Zimmerman or maybe not. Maybe inside he has internal titles and names that he calls himself… that define who he really is.

We all see ourselves as different than the person we present to the world regardless of our known name. Maybe we have not changed our name – maybe we have. But regardless of what we call ourselves and who we present ourselves to be to the world nothing changes inside. We have names we call ourselves inside – failure, stupid, idiot, inadequate, fool, jerk, victim, socially unacceptable, unloved, rejected, insecure… and on and on the names go. And, in spite of our inner self-image we rename ourselves on the outside and thus waste our lives posing, pretending, posturing, performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving ourselves to others.

To end this vicious and pointless cycle of pretending and putting on a mask we need to take the time to visit inside ourselves. As born again believers we need to invite the Holy Spirit to show us who we really are as a child of God. We need to discover who we are “in Christ.” We need to discover that Jesus calls us His friend; that in God’s sight we are ‘the beloved;’ that we are a child of God; the ‘apple of His eye;’ and that we are accepted and forgiven.

We need to discover what God thinks about us and then, with that foundation, dig and find out who we are “in Christ.” Once we know that we are loved unconditionally and that His love will never change we can then have the courage to dig into who we are and why we do what we do… with His help, of course. Then we will begin to discover the real “me” and even have the courage to boldly change how you live and how you express the real you to those you relate to. Only then will you not worry about being rejected by others because you will deeply know the acceptance of Jesus who created you.

So, it is time to stop wasting our lives posing, pretending, posturing, performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving ourselves. It is time to discover the real you and learn to express who you really are so that the world can discover the wonderful “you” that God created without all the masks we tend to wear to protect ourselves. It is hard work – but it is seriously worth the effort.

Who Are You Trying To Impress?

We do so many things simply to impress others. There is always, it seems, a temptation to prove yourself to others and impress them. To prove that we are better, stronger, smarter, better equipped, and wealthier. This tendency and need to impress and prove yourself starts early in life and is a result of not knowing who we are in Christ and thus not finding our sense of value and worth in Him. True freedom from having to impress others and prove yourself better or superior than others only comes when you realize that you actually have nothing to prove to anyone, because in Christ, God fully approves of you.

This, of course, assumes that you have more than a born again religion – and actually have a personal relationship with Christ that is the true foundation of any experience of personal salvation. Then we have security within this relation and confidence in who He has created and equipped us to be and become. This arises out of our assurance of His unconditional love … love with no strings attached. A love that never changes regardless of what we are doing or how we are feeling. This deep assurance leads to a confidence in Him and in who He created us to be. This confidence gives us a boldness to live life without having to impress others and having to prove we have whatever it takes.

What are you trying to prove? To whom? Why?

Trying to prove anything to anyone is a waste of time. That’s a bold statement, but it is true. If the people you are out to impress already love you, then it is a waste of time because you are already valued and accepted by them. And if they don’t love you, then it is a waste of time, because even if you win their approval, what have you gained? If their love is something that you have to earn, they don’t really love you. Their “love” lacks any sense of value or worth.

But, there is a pressure to live up to other people’s arbitrary and often unexpressed expectations and standards. Right? How do you get rid of this natural tendency to play to the expectations of others? Simply by knowing that God loves you for who you are right now and that you don’t need to impress anyone … Instead, you need to just be who God created you to be and be the best you that you can be for Him. Play to an audience of One.

Recently a pastor commented: “Recently God gave me a thought that was so liberating. As I was preparing to minister to a group of people, worrying about how I would come across and if I would live up to their ideals, it was as if the Lord said to me: “I didn’t bring you here to meet their expectations. I brought you here to be My expression.” That expressed what I was feeling…

Our only goal, no matter what we are doing, is to be a faithful reflection of His image in us. That is all we can do. And that’s enough.

So, don’t try to prove your superiority or show off your abilities. Stop trying to impress others. Simply be yourself and reflect Jesus who lives in you.

Biblical Salvation

Recently I celebrated the 40th anniversary of the day that I repented of my sins and became a born again Christian. It was a quiet celebration but one that I mark each year because it totally changed my life. As I celebrated I gave some though to this whole concept of salvation and what the Bible has to say about it.

Often we say, “I was saved on such and such a night” – in my case November 9, 1976. But this is not the whole truth and may even be a bit misleading to those who are disciples of Jesus as well as to non-believers.By stating the date of our initial encounter with the Living God we seem to imply that salvation is an event. It is – but it isn’t. In reality it is a process. The Bible talks about salvation in all three primary tenses: past, present, and future.

When we put our faith in Jesus, we were saved. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). That’s past tense. It’s done. It’s accomplished. And it happened in a moment.

But we are also being saved. Present tense. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). That speaks about the process of change, of growth, of depth.

And then there’s a future element to salvation. We will be saved. “This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).

We were saved, we are being saved, we will be saved. There’s no doubt about it. Walking with God is a lifelong experience. And beyond.

Yes, we are already forgiven. We will never be more forgiven than we are right now. We’ll never be more loved than we are right now. We’ve already arrived, and we’re already accepted. But at the same time, it’s going to be a process, because we are being changed and transformed each day. And the process will not be complete until we see Christ face-to-face, when he again changes us and makes us just like He is.

Amazing…

 

An Alternate Lifestyle

Society is shifting. The way we see things is changing. What once was seen as proper is no longer important. What was taboo 20 years ago is now acceptable behaviour. There is a shift in the culture that the Church needs to recognize and respond to. The days of getting up on Sunday morning, putting on your special “Sunday go to church clothes,” and heading to a nearby church service has ended and the shift to a new way of living life and understanding reality is here. We are living in an age of no absolutes and a very fluid flow of norms and what is now acceptable behaviour.

Our culture, through public education, media, the courts, and popular opinion, is embracing personal redefinitions of identity from grade school up, and becoming increasing intolerant of biblical ethics or behaviour defined by the Church. We need to recognize that, in our world, church life is now an alternate lifestyle. And, many ways of living that once were viewed as an “alternative lifestyle” and unacceptable have now become normalized.

Regretfully, as a result of this shift, the true Christian Church is now often seen as an adversary to acceptable behaviour. We have earned this reputation by spending so much time and effort condemning those who lived in a way that was once an alternative lifestyle and no longer is. We were busy yelling at the “darkness” – judging and condemning – where we should have been shining a light instead.

So, now we are the alternate lifestyle – the unacceptable. This is not altogether bad news though. Being different from the prevailing culture is the native ground of the Church, and it’s exciting to think about what God might do.

In the early Church the Christians were most certainly #1 alternative lifestyle. And, the other acceptable lifestyles were very much similar to the options available to us today. And, in the midst of these adverse circumstances the Church thrived and grew on a daily basis. People in the acceptable lifestyles could see that those belonging to “the Way,” as the faith was once called, were different. They had a peace that others did not have. They were overflowing with true love when others were not. They cared, they encouraged, they gave. They had direction and meaning in life. This was missing in the lives of the non-believers. The same is true today.

So, it is good to be THE alternative lifestyle in society today. And, like other once alternative lifestyles, we need to speak up, stand up, and let people know what we believe and why we believe it. We need to let others see our lifestyle – putting it and God on public display (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). We need to be militant as other former alternative styles were … so that they will know we are here and we are not going away.

Society has changed. Let’s not hide from the obvious and the inevitable. Let’s embrace the challenge and become the Church that Jesus is building.

Love Yourself As Jesus Loves You

Jesus loves us. He did not come into the world to condemn us but to save us – often from ourselves, always from sin. Like the woman who was caught in the act of adultery Jesus does not condemn us when we fail. He stands in front of us forgiving and pouring out His love upon us. Embrace Him.

Unlike the woman caught in adultery (see yesterday’s blog) who had no one left to accuse her (John 8) we often do have an accuser – ourselves. We are often our own worst enemy. We fail, we sin, we fall short of our expectations, and we give up on ourselves. We accept the labels and limits and lids that our past and our present failures seem to require…I am sinful, I am unfaithful, I am addicted, I am disgraceful, I am unworthy, I am a failure.

But, in Christ, as a born again believer, your accusers are gone. And the one whose opinion matters most stands before you, a smile on His face and tenderness in His eyes. He tells you, if you are listening with your heart, that there is hope. There is a future. You can live a different kind of life. You can become the person He meant for you to be.

Look at how Jesus treated people in the pages of your Bible. And then apply this Jesus to your circumstances and your current reality. Let God’s love, which is personified in Jesus, fill your inner life – your heart and your soul. Learn to look at yourself through His eyes. Filter your self-definitions and self-evaluations through the lenses of God’s mercy, goodness, and power. Let Him decide what qualifies you. Find out what He thinks of you. And, Jesus never labels or limits who we can become and what we can accomplish with Him. In doing this you will come to love yourself – and thus will then be able to “love your neighbour as you love yourself.” This is, of course, the second and great commandment.

Seeing ourselves as God sees us without our self-imposed labels is the start of a real adventure with God. An adventure of God-discovery that leads to self-discovery. You cannot discover the fullness of who you are and what God has called you to accomplish for Him until you first discover God in His fullness. And, to discover God, your Heavenly Father, you need to come to deeply know Jesus who came to reveal the Father to us. Only by embracing who Jesus really is – His fullness – can we then enter this journey of a lifetime and truly know the Father and then ourselves thus entering into His future plans for our lives.

As Simon, one of Jesus’ disciples, followed Him he discovered the fullness of Jesus. He cried out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He embraced this revelation of who Jesus is. And, as a result Simon entered into the journey of self-discovery that took him from Simon to Peter. Knowing who Jesus really is and embracing Him fully as peter did is the start of changing who you are and how you see and treat yourself.

So, read the Gospels and discover Jesus, the real Jesus. Throw away your ‘good old plastic, religious Jesus’ and embrace the true Son. Enter fully into His life and receive life maybe for the first time. And, your world will change as will you. You will discover who you really are and begin to truly walk in the plans and purposes of God for your unique life as the new you is revealed and embraced.

Labels

Remember the woman caught in adults and brought to the feet of Jesus for judgment? It’s found in John, Chapter 8. Somehow a few religious leaders caught this woman in the act of sin, in the very definition of immorality. They decided that they would make an example of her. They would expose her failures publicly in order to trap Jesus.

So the religious leaders dragged her before Jesus and asked him what should be done. Should they stone her as the Law required? Or let her go and simply ignore God’s Law and proper justice?

Jesus does not condemn her. If anything, he condemned her condemners. He pointed out that, in reality, they were not any holier than the woman. They needed grace and mercy and hope and forgiveness just as much as she did. So, one by one they slunk away in silent shame.

Here’s the important part. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declares. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)

You can’t overestimate the significance of Jesus’s treatment of this woman and her sin. It was the polar opposite of how the Jews expected God to act. To them, God was a God of holiness, of righteousness, and of judgment. He was a perfect God who cared about the finest details of the Law. That was the message the Pharisees hammered into the people.

Again, this understanding is built on elements of truth: God is a holy God, and sin is an affront to His nature. Sin separates mankind from God, and it deserves punishment and death. This is precisely why Jesus came to the planet. He was not here to judge the woman. He was her to save her. He wasn’t her persecutor. He was her defence lawyer. So he let her go.

Was justice mocked? No, because ultimately He knew He would bear the punishment for the sin she was guilt of committing as well as every sin committed by every human throughout history. Including mine. Including yours.

How does Jesus react to our sin? The same way He reacted in this instance. He defends us. He protects. He dispels our accusers. And He gives us hope that we can live differently in the future.

What is fascinating to me about this woman is we don’t even knower name. We always call her “the woman caught in adultery.” Talk about a label. She is forever defined by her biggest blunder. At least to us. But that’s not how Jesus saw her that day. It’s not what God named her.

I think that when we get to Heaven, we will ask to meet this person named The Woman Caught In Adultery. And people will say, “Who? There is no one here by that name. Oh wait … Do you mean the person named The Woman Who Wasn’t Judged for Her Adultery? The one who’s known around here as The Woman Jesus Forgave? The person we like to call The Woman who Went and Sinned No More? She’s right over there. She goes by a different name now.”

Maybe it should be called “The Story of the Men Caught Throwing Stones.”

Maybe we should stop labeling people and thus pigeonholing them so we don’t have to deal with their uniqueness and difference. Instead, maybe we should simply love, accept, and forgive as Jesus did.

 

Process

I face most things in life as a project. That’s okay because we live in a project-oriented culture. We love goals, we make resolutions, and we love to measure results. There is really nothing wrong with this approach. Often it is necessary. However, we tend, as a result, to take that approach with the Christian faith.

We have a set list if “to do” daily events that indicate whether we are doing it right. We have this Christian “to do” list that includes, reading the Bible, praying, praying in tongues, maybe meditating, and on the list could and does go. And, if we accomplish the list then it is a good day and we are good with God. But, if we fail to complete the “to do” list then we feel guilty and begin to condemn ourselves wondering when we will ever master this thing we can the Christian faith. When will we ever be mature and spiritual like we are suppose to be? Like others are?

This is entirely the wrong approach. This approach says we can “arrive” and that there is a “destination” to be reached so we can say we are good with God, that we have arrived, and that we are mature as believers. But, the Christian life is not a destination – it is a journey. So, when we have ‘destination disease’ we miss the whole point of the faith that we have in Jesus and who He is.

The Christian walk is a process and not a destination. The Christian walk is not a finish line. It is not a goal or an achievement. It is an ongoing relationship with Jesus. So, all these activities that we have on our “to do” list are simply tools to help us develop and build this relationship we have with Jesus. But, we have turned the ‘tools’ into ‘rules’ and thus lose the benefit of reading, praying, fasting, and meditating. And so, we leave the faith and enter into realm of religion once again. We have put Jesus into a box and have these things we do so as to please Him. However, the Bible clearly states that if we want to please Him we simply need to have faith in Him (Hebrews 11:6). Faith that allows us to follow Him and obey Him because of who He is – God incarnate (born in the flesh).

So, we are on a journey with Jesus. The Christian life is a process and not a destination. It’s not a goal or something that we achieve. It is simply an ongoing and ever changing personal love relationship with Jesus. So, it means growing and changing, embracing and replacing, listening and living out what He speaks to us. It is a journey that will last the rest of our lives. Following Jesus is an on-going, ever-evolving experience. An adventure to be embraced and enjoyed.

A number of years ago I was beginning my summer schedule of ministry that allows for more time at home and thus more time to read and study my Bible. However, day after day as I sat and read God’s Word it was lifeless. Now, I understood that the problem was in me and not in the Word. Jesus said that His Word was spirit and life (John 6:63). But, at that time in my journey, there was simply no life. So, I asked God what I should do. And He instructed me to put the Bible aside and go for a long walk in the park that is near my home.

So, every day, twice a day, I would take my dog and we would go for a long walk. Often we would sit under a specific tree and watch the beaver at work building his house. Other times we would watch the ducks taking care of their young as they learned to swim, eat, and follow their parent. It was an amazing time each day as my soul relaxed, stepped off the performance treadmill, put away the “to do” list, and got in touch with itself and with God. Three months later summer ended and I picked my Bible once again and the words were once again filled with life. It was the best three months of my life … and God showed me and taught me so, so much.

Be careful that you have not settled for a destination instead of a journey. Be careful that you are not simply holding to a born again religion with all the “to do” lists to please God – the key element of all religions. We are followers of the Christian faith, not a religion, and it is a journey with many turns and changes as we follow Jesus. And, it is never boring or dead … it is a process taking us from life to more life to abundant life.

Settle for nothing less!

 

The Journey With Jesus

Christians need to realize that the faith we confess and live is more than something we believe in our heads. It is a life-changing, heart-altering, perspective-changing journey with Jesus. It is a journey where we are constantly discovering and then accepting who we are right now while becoming who God means for us to become.

There is a word for all that: process

The Christian walk is not a finish line. It’s not a goal or an achievement. It’s an ongoing, ever-changing, relationship with Jesus. it’s a progression of GROWING and CHANGING, of EMBRACING and REPLACING, of LISTENING to God’s voice and LIVING out who He says we are.

It’s a process and a journey, and it will last the rest of our lives.

Following Jesus is an ongoing, ever-evolving experience. And the sooner we realize that it is not a destination, that we never “arrive” or totally “make it” the better. And, when we accept this fact then we can actually enjoy the journey.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us that it is a race. “… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1b). As I have been thinking about the race that I am on personally I have determined that I will do everything possible to finish well and not just dribble over the finish line or miss the finish line totally.

The Holy Spirit goes on to say that to run with endurance and change today so we can become all God wants us to be tomorrow requires:

1> That we “lay aside” (Hebrews 12:1) every weight, worry, anxiety, and sin that clings so closely and occupies so much of our time, attention and energy. We need to recognize that He is God and that He is in control of all aspects of our life and thus we do not need to feel or even actually be weighed down by unnecessarily concern and worry, sin or sickness. We have been set free and we need to walk in that freedom on a daily basis.

2> That we “look to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) as he is the Perfecter and Founder of our faith. He is our example as He ran His race and finished well. He has lived as we live – with temptations and pain – and understands what we are going through. He finished His race well and thus set an example for us; an example that we should “look to.” As we do, we will find strength and encouragement to keep running the race that He has determined we are to run personally.

3> And, thirdly, we are to “consider Jesus” (Hebrews 12:3) so we don’t grow weary or fainthearted as the race continues day after day after day. It is a long race and will take endurance (a fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23). And, as Jesus ran His race successfully by constantly looking to His Father so we will run our race successfully by “considering Jesus” and looking to His example – His life and ministry, His attitude and approach, His strength and grace.

So, we must not stop ‘becoming.’ We must continue to move forward. We must ‘run’ the race that He has set before us. We must endure. We must follow Jesus’ example. And, we must look to Him daily for His encouragement and help. We must never succumb to “destination disease” thinking that we have arrived. We never do.