Passionate People

Passionate people live each day to the fullest. They recognize that every day is a gift from the Giver of Life, Jesus. They know that there are a great number of problems in the world today but they see problems as opportunities for God to move and do what He is good at – performing miracles. In spite of what they face they embrace and live each day fully and passionately. 

Passionate people are not afraid of making mistakes. They learn from their failures and see them as one of life’s greatest teachers. And failure can be a great teacher is we choose to learn from it rather than let it crush us. And, passionate people make that choice willingly and quickly.

An employee in a large corporation made a mistake that cost the company a million dollars. The man was called on to see the boss, and he fully expected to be fired. But his boss had a different approach.

“Do you know the secret of making a million dollars?” Asked the boss. “It’s making good decisions. And do you know the secret of making good decisions? It’s making bad decisions and learning from them. I’ve just invested a million dollars in you, so learn from your mistake. It may turn out to be a reasonably priced lesson after all.”

What are some of the lessons passionate people learn from their failures? Here are just a few that come to mind:

      • Failure teaches us to depend on God
      • Failure teaches us humility
      • Failure teaches us that we can’t always get what we want
      • Failure teaches us to make a correction in our course of action
      • Failure teaches us character
      • Failure teaches us perseverance
      • Failure teaches us that we can endure and survive

In terms of personal failure and defeat, I like to divide people into two categories: learners and non-learners. When learners make a mistake or fail at a task, they are less likely to repeat it. Non-learners are destined to fail again and again. When learners do something that works, they will probably do it even better the next time. Non-learners are hard-pressed even to repeat the victory.

George Eliot once said: “It’s never to late to become the person you could have been.” I would go on to say that you are destined to remain the person you have always been, lacking the passion and joy in life you desire, unless you learn from your failures and defeats.

Passionate people hang in there when the going gets tough. They persist, they persevere, they never lose heart,, and they never quit. Proverbs 24:16 says, “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again.” Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Combine these two scriptural principles, and you have the idea that a person who keeps praying and keeps persisting until success is certain — an unbeatable formula. And they pray and persist because they are passionate about life and everything each day contains for them.

The apostle Paul urged that we be “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). And he said to the Corinthian Christians, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us … Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16)

The “inward man,” of course is the key to all of this. When the torrential storm comes and the outward world is in turmoil we need to realize that we can live in the the calm of the eye of the storm. This means walking in the powerful understanding and faith that even if every worldly possession was washed away, God is unmovable and steadfast. And the best part is that this “inward man” – that spiritual passion – is renewed every single day. Here is the powerful inner strength that endure regardless of what the day brings our way. The powerful inner strength that enables us to be passionate people.

Psalm 46:1-3 “God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge! You’re a proven help in time of trouble — more than enough and always available whenever I need you. So we will never fear even if every structure of support were to crumble away. We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes, moving mountains and casting them into the sea. For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves cannot erode our faith in you.” (The Passion Translation)

If you have that truth locked in your heart, you will keep coming back for more. You will be persistent and passionate regardless. You will have the passion of Peter, the Rock. During his three years on earth with Jesus, Peter humiliated himself more than once. But the important thing in the end was not his failures but his resilience. His passion for life. His passion for Jesus. His passion for the Kingdom. His passion for the Church. His passion for the lost. Peter was the disciple who walked on water toward Jesus until his faith gave out and he started to sink (see Matthew 14:22-32). Was it more important that he failed or that he was passionate enough, engaged fully, that he stepped out of the boat in faith? 

Do others consider you a passionate person? Fully engaged and excited about living life with Jesus? Someone who is fully embracing every aspect of life, every day? And, if the answer is no, what would you need to change to be seen and considered to be a passionate person?

Think about it!

What Would Jesus Eat?

Jesus made a statement that should make us pause before we order our next burger. “My food,” He said, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34).

Wow. My food is to serve God. My food is to please Him. My food is to complete the assignment that God sent Me to do. My food is to do the will of My Father and to finish His work. That’s a different kind of nourishment. And one that caused Jesus’ disciples to stop and think, just as it does us. At first they were a little confused. Their leader had just finished ministering to a thirsty woman who needed more than water from a well when the disciples realized it has been a while since Jesus had eaten. So his buddies urged Him to stop and have a bite so He could keep up His energy.

But Jesus, never one to miss a teaching opportunity, responded, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32). Now, if your mind is a bit odd like mine, you might imagine the disciples thinking, You’ve got food we know nothing about? Have you been hiding some of those new figs and olive Power Bars under your robe? Do you have pockets in there? Sneaking lamb kabobs from the temple concessions? Here we’ve been starving for hours and you’ve got some daily bread stuffed in your fanny pack? Why have you been holding out on us, Lord?

Maybe we’re not so weird after all, because the disciples also took the Lord’s response literally. “Could someone have bought Him food?” They asked (John 4:33). Maybe when we weren’t paying attention, one of the kids in the crowd slipped Him another Filet-O-Fish and some fries. 

When the people around us are all saying, “Get all you can! It’s all about you,” God wants us to contribute rather than to consume. When all of culture says, “Fill yourself,” God tells us to fill others. God didn’t create us to be takers. He created us to be givers. Rather than focusing on our desires, we are called to focus on the needs of others. Instead of cutting to the front of the line, we are called to wait at the end. God created us to serve.

And while at first it might seem like we aren’t getting as much (have you noticed how entitled the phrase “my fair share” sounds?), when we give our lives away, we discover a new and counterintuitive truth: When we give our lives, that’s when we find them. When we serve others, we’re serving God. We are more blessed when we give than when we receive. When we stop obsessing over what we want, only then can we find what we need.

And that kind of spiritual food, that spiritual nourishment, is far better than any burger.

“Yes, But…?”

I connect with believers every day. Even when I am not on the road ministering my “office time” is usually absorbed by connecting with people. I love it. After all, ministry is about people. So, as I sit in my sunny office in the morning I connect with people through emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Instagram, Twitter, iMessage, and FaceTime. Topics vary. People are looking for help. A prophetic word. Some information. Planning of a future trip when flights go back to normal (hopefully). Just to touch base with a person who cares because they are on lockdown like most of the world. Some people are connecting because we are friends and so keep in touch on a regular basis regardless of where life is taking us. You get the idea. 

I also hear from leaders and believers who want to share what is happening in their lives and ministries. That’s good. I want to know. I care. And, I read a limited number of “Christian” newsfeeds. I don’t read or watch or listen to anything anyone “forwards” to me. If I didn’t ask for it, I don’t have the time or the interest to work with it. 

In the midst of these connections with leaders and believers I hear about the “Christian” conspiracy theories. I hear that people are focusing just on prayer and no longer teaching on the Church, the fivefold ministry, or other topics. Just prayer. I relate to people who are convinced that ‘the government’ is behind the Coronavirus pandemic. All night soaking meetings of worship and prayer. “Burn” meetings. That we need to fight the demonic powers that are preventing Christians being free to minister and preach – especially in the prisons during the COVIT-19 outbreak. Christian television and radio and the deception and false teachings propagated through this segment of the media. Prophetic words being declared. Prophecy being examined and interpreted in light of the pandemic. The anti-christ that is now loose on the planet.  And, on the list could go. 

This goes on even when we are not in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Believers, churches, denominations, movements … the focuses are constantly changing. There is an old or new bandwagon for us all to jump on (Toronto Blessing, Bethel…). There are church planting movements where we franchise out a form of planting and running a church (MacChurch franchises). 

I sit back as all of this swirls around me. I have been in ministry for over 50 years. I have seen a lot of this many times over … it is like the waves on a beach. New programs. New methods. New presentations. New television shows. New ways to communicate. They just keep coming. New outreach methods. New worship styles. New dress code for with-it senior leaders. And, each wave continues to keep us focused on something other than what Jesus told us to do. Jesus gave a mandate to the Church. Marching orders to His arm. He said, “Go into all the world and make disciples…”

So, as I hear about all this “stuff” going on and everything that people are focusing on I have to ask myself, “Yes, But…” 

Yes, but how is this helping people to know the love of God?

Yes, but  how is this increasing the influence of the Church in the world?

Yes, but is this really training and equipping the saints for the work of ministry?

Yes, but how is this helping people to be born again?

Yes, but how is this working to move people forward in their walk with Jesus?

Yes, but, what about discipling?

Yes, but what about being salt and light, impacting your community?

Yes, but how is this communicating the life-changing gospel of the Kingdom?

Yes, but how is this in any way impacting the culture?

Much of what we do today in and with the church is seriously just maintenance and not ministry. We are maintaining the sheep – caring for them, loving them, making sure they are comfortable. Real ministry is reaching out to the lost as Jesus did on a daily basis. And, while doing so, discipling those closest to us. Again, as Jesus did. If what we are spending our time on does not encourage and strengthen our evangelistic outreach, it is not the right focus. If what we are doing simply occupies the believer’s time and energy taking them away from building relationships in their community … then we are simply spinning our wheels and playing church. 

So, I am constantly asking myself, “Yes, but…” 

In fact, I have become bold and have begun to ask those I am communicating with, “Yes, but…” and the responses are interesting. Very interesting. And, there is a lot of silence and fewer long conversations. But, that’s okay.

In your walk with the Lord it might be good to occasionally ask yourself, “Yes, but …” what difference is ‘this’ (you fill in the blank _______________)  making in my life, the life of the church I attend,  and the life of others who don’t know Jesus?

The answer – if you are being honest – might cause you to pause and reexamine your Christian experience. I hope it does!

The Quest For Excellence

I love book buying on-line. You get surprised when the mail comes and there is a parcel for you. Wow! Like Christmas every other day. Did I mention I’m addicted to books and buy (and read) a lot of them? So three or more times a week, it’s Christmas all over again regardless of the season.

When I read and there is a typo in the text I actually cross out the mistake and write in what should have been there. If there is a word missing I add it. And, believe it or not that is happening more and more often. Which is interesting in itself because I read a lot of older editions of classics like Moby Dick, The Phantom of the Opera, and Robinson Caruso and very seldom if even do you find a mistake or a typo. It seems like in days gone by publishers took pride in their work and saw it as more than a skill or a business; maybe more an art. Today we seem to be in a hurry to publish another book and so skip over part of the editing process allowing mistakes to be found.

Today I received in the mail “The Kingdom New Testament by N.T. Write. I am a fan of his. He has written an amazing number of fantastic books including “Simply Christian” and “The Day the Revolution Began.” He is not light reading but if you like substance then he’s your man. Nine years ago he first published his translation of the New Testament. I just heard about it and ordered a copy. He is a New Testament scholar and studies God’s Word its original language. It is a really decent read and the way he has expressed some familiar verses bring them alive as never before. He seeks after excellence.

On the back cover of the paperback it states “…gives us in The Kingdom New Testament a readable and dynamic tranlation marked by precision, personality, and power.” Did you catch the typo? “tranlation instead of translation. It seems that we are no longer working towards excellence. Good enough is good enough. Or so it would seem.

Think I am being a little too picky? In the write-up at the bottom of the back cover telling us who N.T. Wright is it reads in part, “Wright is the award-winning author of Simply Jesus, How God becam King, After You believe… Did you catch it? Becam instead of Became. Really now. Where is the quest for excellenc?. After all, we do represent the King of kings and Lord of lords. And, on a less spiritual note – where is the spell check? 

I am hoping that as I take time during this pandemic to read the whole New Testament in this “new to me” version that there are fewer typos on the inside than on the cover. Especially considering this is God’s Word. Excellence should be part of the publishing process so that His Word is properly presented. And God appreciates excellence in His followers and what they do for Him. 

If and when a non-believer might pick up this paperback they could wonder if we really care about how we represent this God that we believe in. And, you might say, “Well, it’s just a secular publishing company and they don’t care.” Well, a head’s up here – it is a Bible publishing company that printed this edition – Zondervan. A large and well known company that publishes a large number of the different versions of God’s Word worldwide.

I am sure for most this is not a big deal. You know – “No one’s bleeding and no one has died. Step back and take a deep breath, Ralph” But as someone who publishes daily on line and posts weekly teachings I work diligently to edit and correct so that my God is represented well and I do everything I can in the quest for excellence in what I do for Him. 

So, For me, it is a big deal. Sloppy work is not something a committed believer should tolerate and we do all things as onto the Lord. Thus we should settle for nothing short of excellence in our work for Him. 

 

All Good Things

The Bible states that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17)

One of the great deceptions of our time is the idea that ‘goodness’ and ‘good things’ exist on their own, without origin, aside and apart from God. Or worse, that goodness somehow originates in human beings. Practical goodness … common goodness … all goodness comes to be taken for granted.

All of this is a lie according to God’s Word. The truth is that God is the source of all goodness and good things. 

NLT: “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.”

TPT: “Every gift God freely gives us is good and perfect, streaming down from the Father of lights, who shines from the heavens with no hidden shadow or darkness and is never subject to change.”

However, when the lie is believed, then people dissociate good from God and often fail to see Him as good. Not only that, those same people associate with God all that goes wrong in the world, which further obscures the truth that God is good and all good things come from Him.

When you separate good from God, you take away the awareness of God’s goodness and humankind’s need to thank, honour, revere, and worship Him. The opposite happens when we connect good with God: we want to thank, honour, and worship Him!

So, in the midst of everyday life, we need to see what God is doing. Jesus says to Nicodemus in John, chapter 3, that when we are born again we can ‘;see’ the Kingdom. Thus we can see what God is doing as it is His Kingdom. But we need to open our spiritual eyes and ears (heart eyes and ears) so that we can determine the ‘good things’ that God is doing while still facing the reality of day-to-day life and all the situations and circumstances we face. 

I have been thinking about this as I rearrange almost my entire life because of the Coronavirus or Covid-19 as it has come to be known. As one who travels to minister and who earns a living travelling I am now working from home and thus the flow of income has dwindled substantially. So, I am learning to see the ‘good’ and the ‘goodness’ that God is pouring out in the midst of this world-wide shutdown and the slowing down of my ministry currently.

There’s a story in the Old Testament where a servant of the prophet Elisha was seeing – with his physical eyes – all the opposition forces that were gathered against Israel in battle. But this man was completely unaware of what he could not see – all of God’s protective forces surrounding them.

Elisha prayed that his servant’s eyes would be opened so that he could see God’s favour in the legions of angels that were protecting them in the middle of this high-pressure situation (see 2 Kings 6:17).

There’s something that happens in our hearts and minds when we go from HEARING that God is good to actually SEEING God’s goodness!

In life when I’m missing the good, it affects my outlook and even my spiritual equilibrium. Some days the good in life is obvious; on other days it hides itself in the routine, complexity, tragedy, and hardship of living. Back-to-back days of hidden goodness certainly can distort my view. They lower the level of my faith and can open the door to discouragement. All because of what I’m not seeing.

So I have taken up daily praying that God would allow me to see and hear and know His goodness. And, I am taking the time to slow down and allow God time and space to show me His goodness…remind me, once again, just how good He really is. 

Religious People Suck!

I feel for religious people. They have all the rules to follow with no benefit gained from their obedience and faithfulness. The height of being religious is seen in the Pharisees. I mean, whenever they get brought up I immediately think, “Great. What arrogant nonsense are they sprouting now?” No Joke: most of these guys were the epitome of self-righteous religious imposters sucking life out of people who were truly hungry for God.

The Pharisees were known as the religious elite, the top dogs, and the high-and-mighty of faith. And although these nicknames sound incredibly awesome, the men who were behind them weren’t all too savvy when it came to actually knowing their heavenly Father, Pharisees were known to be righteous and zealous for keeping the law. But their observance and protection of the law was filled with arrogance and hypocrisy. They were prideful and stingy with grace. Judgment was easy for these guys, but refusing to show grace or give second chances was their demise.

In Matthew 23, you will find Jesus teaching to the crowds and to His disciples about the problems of hypocrisy. He claimed that although the words of the Pharisees may have been wise, their actions did not match what they preached. He continued by describing what most religious people, including religious Christians, face in today’s generation: ‘Everything they do is for show’ (Matthew 23:5).

Jesus was publicly calling out the Pharisees for being religious show-offs who were looking to gain nothing but personal acknowledgment for their actions. They were using their faith and knowledge of the Scriptures as a catalyst for personal popularity. They loved the idea of being extremely religious, but failed to convert that into passion for God Himself.

Not only did the actions of the Pharisees hurt their own opportunity for salvation, but their ways of living gave a false reflection of what it actually meant to be a follow of God. The constant judgment and religious entanglement they repeatedly subjected people to was theologically unjustifiable. 

Listen to what Jesus said about these religious people…

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you won’t let others enter either (Matthew 23:13).

The Pharisees spent so much time focusing on their outer appearance that they failed to allow the inner transformation to take place. You know, the one thing that actually mattered. It would be similar to someone who buys an old car from the junkyard, completely restores both the interior and exterior, and then doesn’t put any money into fixing the car’s engine. It may look spectacular, but it’s not going anywhere. Likewise, we seem to have convinced ourselves that if the outer image looks grand enough, then no one will bother asking about what’s actually under the hood.

When we find ourselves being complimented on the outer appearance long enough, it’s easy to forget about fixing what’s inside. As you can imagine, this is a hindrance to many people who are trying to find true transformation in Christ Himself.

Since the Pharisees found themselves in the spotlight of religious appreciation, it’s no surprise that their elegant speech and impressive knowledge of the law kept them comfortable and unwilling to push further in their spiritual journey.

Do you want to know how to live a great gospel-centered life? Just do the exact opposite of everything the Pharisees did. The Pharisees were more focused on impressing each other with spiritual knowledge than actually following the commandments of God, showing grace, or lending a selfless hand. We have to make an effort to walk that talk.

The Pharisees – Prayed in public for recognition

True followers of Christ – Pray in public because they are unashamed

The Pharisees – Read God’s Word for head knowledge 

True followers of Christ – Read God’s Word to deepen their relationship with God

The Pharisees – Judged people for the sake of judgment

True followers of Christ – Lovingly correct people because they care

So, as you can see – religious people suck! And, it is regretful how many people who called themselves believers – even Christians – are really nothing more than religious people who look good but are inwardly lifeless. Such a pointless existence … believing that things are good only to one day, discover that although they knew the Word of God they did not know God. And thus missed spending eternity with Him in heaven.

And you … what about you? Whee do you fit in to this picture?

There Are No Part-Time Disciples 

If you claim to be a Christian, then the questions of “the meaning of life” is already solved and answered for you! The purpose of your life is to share the Gospel of the Kingdom and the redemptive qualities of Christ (Matthew 28:19). You ARE in the ministry. 

Galatians 2:20 reads, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” There is a vital truth to what this verse states. It is no longer YOU who lives, but Christ who lives IN you. Meaning, it’s no longer about your agenda, your desires, and your needs. If you call yourself a Christian your agenda is now filled with an all-consuming calling from Christ Himself.

So, your current situation and workplace are your personal mission field. Why? Because you can reach people a church can’t. You’re on the front lines! You might even have a better opportunity to reach people than a missionary or church professional does. Don’t let anyone tell you that full-time ministry can only be found within the confines of a church building. God is bigger than four walls and a steeple. 

God has put the people around you in your life for a reason. Find out what that reason is, and make it your mission to empower their lives with Christ. Jesus will always supply you with the necessary tools and weapons needed to conquer anything that comes in your path. 

Work at a grocery store? Perfect. You have the opportunity to share and reflect the love and servanthood of Christ to dozen of customers a day. Work for a restaurant? Awesome! Use your time at work to share your testimony with your coworkers, or even share a reflection of Jesus’ kindness to each person who walks through your doors. If you really look, there are endless possibilities for anyone who is looking to be a full-time disciple of Jesus Christ.

Your job title doesn’t matter, but the way you use your time does. Stop letting people tell you that working for the government or for your company isn’t God’s plan for you. Stop allowing the opinions of man to keep you from being a light to your current workplace (Matthew 5:14). Just because you may not have a seminary degree and a position serving in a local congregation doesn’t mean you’re not in full-time ministry.

Jesus Himself wasn’t paid by a church. He was a carpenter who used His everyday knowledge of work and carpentry to relate to the people He was surrounded by. Yes, men like Paul and Peter dropped everything to follow the plans of Jesus, but don’t forget about the thousands of other people who stayed where they were in order to be a light where it was needed.

The New Testament couple Priscilla and Aquila are perfect examples of this. Acts 18:2-3 tells us:

“And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.”

We see that both Priscilla and Aquila were tent makers who helped Paul on his apostolic journey by allowing him to live and work with them in order to provide for himself. Their regular work flowed seamlessly into their ministry – a ministry that happened to help during one of the most critical points in Christian history. Tent makers, Yes! But, history makers as well!

So, step out and start vocalizing what God has put on your heart. If you’re not willing to do it where you are, what makes you think you would do it somewhere else?

This ideology of every Christian embracing a lifestyle of full-time ministry has the potential to transform the world from the inside out. It’s a possibility that could truly reach the far ends of the world for the sake of the Gospel. Imagine if everyday people, working everyday jobs, meeting everyday customers, all shared the extraordinary salvation given through Jesus Christ. The potential is limitless.

In order to embrace the fullness of what Jesus is calling us to, embrace the mission of using every moment available to share your faith in Christ. There are no limitations on where God can work.

So, know this: Jesus is not hiring part-time disciples. While this may discourage you in the beginning, I would encourage you to allow it to fuel your purpose in life. Stop, take a deep breath, and make today the day you start using every avenue available in every place, no matter how mundane, as a way to share the hope, grace, and salvation of Jesus Christ. Trust me, it’s worth every moment. 

Dare to Be Real – Don’t Settle for Fake! – Part Two

Do you know that you can fail and still be seen as righteous in the sight of God? Do you know that, as a believer, you can mess up big-time and still be welcome in the Church? Do you know that being a Christian is not about being morally perfect and constantly having al the right answers as you live a life that is properly put together without any cracks?

I have come to learn that understanding God’s grace depends on whether we have been conditioned to run and hide when we sin, like Adam and Eve did, or to run straight to the Father when we sin, like David did. We can either cover ourselves in shame or run to the Lord and say, “Search me, God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). 

When David messed up bad, he wrote these words to God.

“Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight…”

(Psalm 51:1-4a NIV)

David understood, on the deepest level, that he could always come to God, no matter how deep or awful his sin. It’s crucial we get this, because we need God in order to please God. We’re like a child needing to borrow money from his dad so they can buy him a present. Our hearts can’t change for God unless they’re changed by God. It’s quite a paradox. The Man you are sinning against is the Man you’re asking for help so you won’t continue to sin against Him. 

And He’s patient with us. He’s so patient with us.

But Jesus goes even further to make this point clear in the Gospels. He says that if someone sins against us, we should forgive them not just seven times but seventy times seven. God does even better than. 

You know what the difference is between a righteous person and a sinner? One banks on forgiveness found in the cross, and the other doesn’t. Christians are not better than anyone else. We’re just forgiven. We didn’t achieve salvation. We received grace.

So, may I ask, why are we constantly putting on a mask and acting like we’re perfect. Or, at least, acting like we got things together; life is working for us. We’re good? It doesn’t help us, and it definitely won’t help the church reach those who do not know Jesus. People today need real, not fake.

Being something you’re not is exhausting. No one wins. You know the truth. God knows the truth. Your family probably also knows the truth. So, why not just bank on His grace? Rely on Him to be your strength in a time of weakness.

Here is what I have learned over the decades of ministering ….

Be confident in who you are, and comfortable with who you’re not. 

As believers, we’ve been freed from trying to keep up with the Joneses. It’s hard enough to keep up with Jesus. Why exhaust ourselves trying to serve two masters?

Dare to be Real – Don’t Settle for Fake – Part One

The unspoken rule in the church seems to be that the longer you have been a Christian, the less you can hurt and suffer through problems. This is especially true if you are in leadership. I say this because I am currently reading a good book by a pastor who committed suicide in the fall of last year. And most people – other than his family – seemed to be unaware that he was struggling with issues. After all, he was a church leader. He was a believer.

We seem to have this wrong view of what it means to be a Christian. We need to remember that having issues and facing problems is not a lack of faith but simply the way life is unfolding at that moment. In reality, the more you give your life to God, the more you become a threat to the Enemy! So, for Christians, we can expect – as Jesus said – that we will have troubles, trials, and tribulation. Life will not always be gentle to us. 

I mean, let’s look at Paul. I would consider him closer to God than I am or than you are. I’d be happy just to get a glimpse of the second heaven, and this brother was invited to the third heaven!

Yet still, knowing that God’s power is perfected in weakness, Paul declares, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He would boast all the more gladly. Not because he’s proud of his weaknesses but because he’s confident in God’s response to them. And, the church culture today seems to require, often demand, that we hide our weaknesses. 

It is unfortunate that we have churches today where we cannot admit that we are not perfect. That we have issues. That we are struggling. That everything is not alright. The reality is there’s no such thing as a perfect Christian. The reality is there is no such thing as a strong Christian. Just weak Christians relying on a strong God. And, because weakness and trouble seem to indicate to others that we are not living right or, heaven forbid, we have sin in our lives, we wear a mask and talk and relate in such a way that the message others receive from us is that things are great even when they are not.

Proverbs 24:16 states that “the righteous fall seven times.”

Not once.

Not twice.

Not three times.

Note four times.

Not five times.

Not six times.

The righteous fall seven times.

Remember, we are not talking about the wicked. We are talking about the people who are getting it right. They still fall over and over again. But by God’s grace, we don’t stay in our failure. The verse in context says, “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.” We all fall. The Spirit just doesn’t want us to stay there. When we hide our moments of failure, we are also hiding our moments of grace. We are not calling upon the Spirit to lift us up, dust us off, and encourage us to try again. 

Being a Christian is not about being morally perfect and constantly having all the right answers. It is about daring to be real and no longer pretending that everything is great. Being a believer means not settling for our “Sunday best face” but being real, transparent, and vulnerable. It means not being a fake – because that is hypocritical. And, Jesus was not a fan of the hypocrites of His day. They were called the Pharisees, the religious leaders and teachers.

Remember, even if you can fool the people, you can’t fool God. He knows your heart. He knows what you are thinking. And He knows what you are going through. So, to receive His grace we need to dare to be real and never settle for fake. 

What Happened to Peace and Joy

I arrived back in the city where I live to discover that while I was away in the eastern part of Canada a young boy tried to burn down the north-end Walmart in my city. You know, the one nearest where I live. So, I drove over to do some basic household shopping the other day. I don’t ever do any Christmas shopping. It was closed. There was enough fire and smoke damage to close the store for the rest of the holiday season. 

So, several days ago I drove to the southend Walmart along with, I am sure, many other northenders. After all, Walmart has what we need and at a decent price. The traffic into the parking lot was bumper-to-bumper. It took a half hour to just get into the parking lot from the nearest stop light. Then, no shopping carts. I mean none. None in the store and none in the outside “place your carts here” locations. So, I followed someone around the parking lot while they tried to locate their car so I could grab their cart once they had loaded things into their car.

The store was packed. You waited at every isle and every turn. But, I finally had everything I came for (nothing with respect to Christmas) and was looking forward to getting out and getting home.  So, cat litter, cat food, dog pads, and dog food in shopping cart I head to the cash out. Well, forty minutes later I was finally out the door heading for my car. Being chased by a little old lady looking to steal my cart as soon as I was finished with it. 

Getting out of the parking lot and back to that nearest stop light – 40 minutes. And, figure this, no coffee. 

So, I arrived home, unpacked everything and poured a strong coffee. And, as I sat in my favourite chair I was thinking about my experience. I wondered what happened to the “great joy” that the angel spoke of when announcing the birth of the Christ child? Luke 2:10 states, “I bring you good news of a great joy…” I didn’t see any joy in my outing. Regretfully, not even in my heart. In fact, I am sure even my countenance did not exhibit any joy. 

Then I got to thinking about the fact that we are celebrating the birth and arrival of the “Prince of peace.” And, believe me, I did not see any semblance of peace on anyone’s face during the whole outing. Anger, yes. Frustration, yes. Impatience, yes. Anxiety, yes. Tiredness, yes. Peace of heart or mind, no!

Is it just me or is there something wrong with this Christmas thing? It seems to me that the worse time of the year to find or see peace and joy is in the mad rush of the Christmas season. 

Could it be that we have taken the Christ out of Christmas? Could it be that there is simply no time to find that peace that so easily escapes us. We are just too busy with the celebration of a Christ-less Christmas. Yes, even the Christians. And, in the busy season when so many extra activities are added to an already busy and full schedule what little peace of heart and mind we regularly experience seems to disappear completely. 

It’s time to take back Christmas for the Christ child. Maybe it is even time for those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ and have not confessed Him as Lord and Saviour to get off our holiday. Go to work. Don’t take a holiday.  You don’t believe so what is it that you are really celebrating. And, why are you celebrating with a Christmas tree and Christmas presents when you don’t love or worship the Christ. Get off our holiday. Or, celebrate your days off differently and stop living like a hypocrite apparently celebrating the birth of a child you don’t believe in.

Just a recurring thought I have about this time each and every year. Just a thought.