New Insights – Part One

Almost weekly now I am gaining new insights into very familiar passages of the Bible. At times they come when simply reading scripture. Other times I gain a fresh understanding through a book that I am reading. Sometimes it simply “pops” into my spirit and I simply have a deep understanding of something I was not aware of before.

One recent one was from the time Jesus was speaking to His disciples about the Church. In Matthew 16 Jesus says, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and quietly said, ‘a gate is not an offensive weapon. It is a defensive posture.’ In other words, we build a gate in the fence to keep people out. So, Hell has a gate and it is meant to keep us out – keep us from rescuing those who are going to Hell when they die because they don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.

This gate is not attacking us. It is not dangerous. We did not send weapon inspectors over to Iraq to see if there had ‘gates of mass destruction.’ Police do not carry ‘loaded gates.’ And, we don’t post signs on our fences saying, ‘Beware of the gate.’ A gate cannot hurt us. And, Jesus said, it cannot “prevail” against us. In other words, it cannot stop us from doing what He has commanded we do … “go into all the world and make disciples.” In other words, storm the gate and rescue the least, the last, and the lost. We have nothing to be afraid of. We don’t need to hide behind the four walls of our church building or in our prayer closets for fear of the devil and his demons. Attack!

So, we do not need to be afraid of the “gates of hell.” We need to understand deep in our gut that the devil is  defeated. He was defeated by Jesus through the Cross of Calvary and the resurrection on that first Easter Sunday. Peter writes that he is “like a roaring lion.” In other words, he makes a lot of noise but he doesn’t have any bite.

John, the apostle of love, states “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” This verse states … we who are born again don’t continue to live in known sin; Jesus, the first born (or begotten) protects us and the evil one, the devil, can’t even lightly touch us even with one finger. There is no need to live in fear of him and hide from the reality of the call on our lives to “seek and save the lost.”

Just a simple, but very profound, insight into a well know scripture verse.

 

Time to Wake Up

This morning the United Nations released the newest world statistics. There are now 7.4 billion people on the planet. That means the number has grown by 0.10 of a billion or 100 million since the last time the world population figure was released. For me, no surprise there. We are doing what God told us to do – “be fruitful and multiply.” But the interesting statistic for me is that over 50% of the world’s population is 24 years old or younger. That speaks to me. Really, it should scream at us.

This means that we need to catch up with what is happening in the world. For example, we need to learn to speak to people whose eyes are fixed on small screens from smartphones to laptops. The younger generation is a ‘screen culture.’ We can ignore that fact, we can argue about it, we can wish it were not so, or we can leverage it. Of course, this will mean we need to change the way we relate and the way we teach. Think about it. It is now possible to reach infinitely more people through media that we could ever hope to reach by standing in front of a room of people sitting in seats facing one direction. That excites me.

The younger generation do not attend weekly. They consider regular attendance to be two – at the most three – times a month. Most often they don’t tithe – instead, they tip if it was a good service and the message spoke to them personally. So, if you preach in series then those who are younger will miss every second or third episode of the series. But, if you place the series on line as a podcast most of the younger generations will tune in and even, at times, binge watch an entire series in a day or two. The “talking head” up-front no longer suffices. The younger generation want to interact with the truth and thus discuss the ideas and information being presented.

Outreach through social media is a must. People live on social media. On my smartphone I work with Skype, Twitter, Viber, Kik, Snapchat, Tweegran, whatsAp, Linkedin, Tumblr, Slack, Facebook, Messenger, Podbean, Podcasts, and the list goes on. We can impact a young person through social media long before they enter the doors of the local church. But, we need to adapt to the new ways of communicating and connecting.

This also means we need to be speaking to the issues that are current in our world and culture today. Topics like sex, marriage, gender, drugs, welfare mentality, parenting, sexuality, finances, terrorism. People are no longer putting up with condescending, ‘think happy thoughts,’ it-will-all-work-out teachings. Time to teach hard, biblical truth because life is hard. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble,” but take heart, don’t give up, Jesus has overcome. Preach it!

So, the way young people “do church” is radically changing and will continue to change, if not accelerate. As people’s attention spans continue to decrease (generally), we will have to change the way in which we expect people to interact with the church and the way we present our message – not just on the weekend but daily.

Moral Truth

As moral truth becomes relative, moral lines become adjustable. And so we are seeing the change in morality as we alter the truth and believe a lie. We are seeing this in almost every aspect of life – education, economy, government, family, and even the Church. The Church is often seen as the guardian of moral truth. But, today many in society are ignoring the Church and forming their own truth and thus their own morality. They are determining what is right or wrong. And, the Church is becoming more and more ignorant of biblical truth in spite of the number of churches and the wide sweep of biblical teachings available today on television, radio, and the internet… not to mention the many local churches that dot the landscape.

It is good to remember in this post-Christian culture we are witnessing today that the Church is always vulnerable to the culture shaping “truth” more than “God’s truth” shaping culture. And, I believe that this is exactly the place we are in today. The culture is influencing the Church and thus we see and hear less and less absolute truth coming from those who lead the churches as well as those who follow the leaders. Those who call themselves disciples of Jesus are often indistinguishable from those who do not follow Him.

I work with young people in many nations and I am excited about what I see. I see in the younger generations a group of young men and women who are hungry for real biblical truth. They want to wrestle with real questions about real life. This is true of young people who are believers as well as those who have yet to make a decision to follow Jesus.

These young people are looking for committed and sold-out older people who can disciple and mentor them. They are not finding them. Oh, they exist. But, they are so busy with other things that they are failing to influence and thus impact the younger generation. We need to take the example of Paul the apostle to heart. He was always discipling and mentoring the younger generation – Timothy, Titus, Silas to name just a few. We need to invest our time wisely instead of wasting it on so many projects, programs, and people who really don’t want to change or get better.

And, for those of use who are discipling and mentoring the younger generation we need to become technologically savvy.  Technology will continue to shape how we tell Jesus’ story and how we help people to follow Jesus. Likely, more people will tell their own story since everyone has a “broadcast studio” in their mobile device. Furthermore, the Church will be less and less defined by its four walls and more by its mobile app and how it connects digitally.

There is a need to face the reality of the world today and adjust our ways so as to continue to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom to individuals who are looking for absolute moral truth. It is only found in the written Word and can only be successfully applied in life by having a dynamic and daily relationship with the Living Word – Jesus.

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.