Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Shirt off your back

Here is a weird thought I had one day while building cat houses... for people who think life is about reincarnation and that what we do in this life affects what we are in the next life, does deforestation explain population growth? I mean, if you did something to be brought back as a tree in the rain forest, (by the way what do you have to do to be brought back as a tree?) and then someone comes along and prematurely cuts you down before the 200 years you were supposed to be a tree, do you then get to come back as a person as a reward for not being a tree long enough? I'm not good with math but does the rise in human population exactly equal the number of trees we've cut down? Probably not, I was just wondering. Sorry, sometimes your mind wanders when you're building cat houses all day.
Anyway, I do not believe in reincarnation and karma, but I do believe in the resurrection of Jesus. And that he is going to raise us one day to be with God in Heaven. And that what we do and say in this life matters. Our choices, our words and our actions all matter. They affect the outcome of our life and the lives of those around us.
So if you choose to follow Jesus, it means your life is going to change. If it doesn't, well, you're not really following Him. If you choose to accept what he offers, all the other choices you make are guided by His spirit that lives in you and for you. Now maybe that sounds a little airy fairy to you, but this is what it looks like practically:
You have more than you need already but you want a new shirt. Someone you know has less than they need and they don't have a shirt. You realize you have 17 shirts in your closet so you buy that person a shirt instead, and then maybe you give him your coat as well because you also have too many coats.
My friend Dave goes on a mission trip to Dominican to work with Haitian refugees, prostitutes and homeless kids. He leaves in the morning fully clothed and comes back only wearing shorts almost every day he is there. He is literally giving the shirt off his back to someone in need. People use that catchy little phrase a lot. "Oh he's so generous he'd give you the shirt off his back." Dave is the only person I have ever met who actually does that. I have never done that, I have loaned someone the jacket I was wearing. I actually do give clothes away, but off my back? I'm too embarrassed to walk around without a shirt most of the time.
God is working on me though, he making me more humble, he is making me see the need around me, he is making me move outward instead of always looking inward.
That is how he is changing me, how is he changing you?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Everything hinges on the action taken by Jesus to go to the cross. All the miracles would only be magic tricks without the cross. All the people Jesus healed from sickness, all the people he raised from the dead, all the other miracles he did, all eventually past by, the people died. Without going to the cross to take our sin, those people would have been no better off in the end than they were before they met Jesus. I really want to pray for someone and see instant healing, I’d love to pray for some and see them raised from the dead for the Glory of God, but only if it leads people to see what he’s done on the cross.
All the things Jesus taught about loving your neighbor, caring for the poor, turning the other cheek, those would have just been a peaceful philosophy to live by. Lots of people do those things without ever knowing Jesus. Without the cross all our good deeds leave us in the same place we started.
I think all the things Jesus did and taught leading up to the cross were easy for him. Demons, come out of that person. Go into those pigs. Jump off a cliff. Done. Beggar, get up off your mat and walk, Done. Lazarus, you’ve been dead for four days, you probably smell, but come out. Done. Lazarus walks out, alive. Religious guy, stop being so full of yourself and feed the poor. But the Cross, that was not easy. Jesus even tries to get out of it asking the Father if there is any other way may this cup pass me by. He knew what was coming He knew the only way was the cross. So he went, for you and for me and was crucified to be a sacrifice for all our sins. Jesus for the first time ever was separated from his father. Imagine the pain. We have no idea. We start out separated and never get fully returned until Jesus takes us into the throne room to see our Heavenly Father.
My little girl stands at our kitchen door when I leave and waves goodbye, she puts her little nose on the glass and laughs and smiles. It's the cutest thing. She does it if either my wife or I leave, as long as she knows one of us is still there. A little while ago we were going out on a date night and we left her with a sitter. We thought, oh lets wave goodbye, it's so cute. She wailed, she was crushed. I think it was the first time we'd both left her when she was still awake to see us go. I wonder what was going through her little head. Fear? Pain? Forsaken? Well I'm sure she does not know those words but she knows the feelings. We could see it in her face.
The only thing Jesus hadn't yet faced just before going to the cross was separation from his Father. To this point he had nothing to reference what it would be like to not be able to call out to his father and hear a response, to feel his presence. Why would he do that? Why would he risk the unknown to rescue us?
He knows we're hopeless without that risk. I think he imagined what it was like for us to never have that connection with the Father and thought how can I let them go on like this. If this cup can pass me by... but your will not mine be done. At that moment on the Cross when he would experience what we've all been born with, separation from our creator, from our father. That was not easy. Giving up the very thing that all of us were created to experience, fellowship with God, so that he could defeat the thing that separates us.
We were sad when we got in the car, for a second we though about going back to give Isla a hug. But we got over it, I had the pasta. She got over it too. The only way we get over the separation is if we are returned to the presence of the one from whom we've been separated. When Isla got up in the morning and I went in to get her out of bed she was very very happy to see me. Makes you feel pretty good. How much more our Father must be elated when Jesus rescued back into his presence. There's a line in a Mat Kearney song that says, "nothing worth anything ever goes down easy". I'm not sure what he wrote this song about but I heard it as the conversation between Jesus and the Father before in the Garden. check it out

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Not Just a Drop in the Bucket

What if we are reading the bible in the wrong direction? I had this weird thought the other day when I saw a “timeline” of the bible in a classroom. We sort of read the bible from genesis to revelation like we would read any other history book but shouldn't we start with the cross and read our way out from there. Now I know that’s awkward, because our brain is trained to read and understand things in a time line but Jesus is really the central part of all creation. He was plan ‘A’ all along. We have the advantage of knowing the focal point. I have sort of a picture of a drop of water falling into a bucket of water. The ripples reverberate out in every direction from the drop.
What if we told people about Jesus in that direction? What if we actually had that in mind when we live out and share our faith? As someone who is supposed to be teaching youth and children about what it means to be a Christian it sometimes seems like we start with stories about Noah, David, Elijah, a talking donkey, etc. We have this idea that if we teach them all the bible stories and tell them all the rules that we should live by and what it means to be a good and moral person then somewhere along the way they will eventually get a glimpse of Jesus and be saved. Am I the only one who thinks that a little off? I mean we know that does not work, it did not work for anyone in the bible. That is why Jesus had to come.
Now please don’t get me wrong, of course we need to be teaching kids morals, discipline and boundaries, but why not teach them why we should be like that, because Jesus died for us wants us to be like Him. I think the power of the cross, the power of the spirit Jesus sent after he came off the cross, to empower us, to live for us is what we should be starting with. Otherwise we are just setting our kids up to fail, trust me they are going to fail at some point. We do not need to set them up for it. But if we know that God loves us, because the bible tells us so, why don’t we teach people that. I mean we sing the song, and then we say, “to be a Christian you have to live by these rules”, when Jesus said, Love God and Love your neighbor, all the other rules fall under those two categories.(paraphrased) Please don’t follow the rules and morals and ways of living thinking that if you do that God will love you. God already loves you. Let that mold how you live your life.
And I do not think this is just for kids, it’s for all of us. Jesus said if we don’t have faith like little children we’d never see the kingdom. Then we jump in and throw the human two cents in, over complicate things and mess it all up, again. If we don’t start with the single thing that brings us back to God, the single thing that shouts out his love for us, we will never know God loves us. If you’re one of those people that are shouting at people that they are sinners and they have to repent but you are not telling people that God loves them, then you are a whack job making noise –and I mean that in the most loving way possible and Jesus loves you too (the bible would say you are a clanging cymbal). But if you are just out telling everyone that God loves you and not letting anyone know that he sent his son to die for their sin and yours, then you are not loving that person either. The reason he had to come is because of our sin, not for kicks and giggles.
If we can see things from the centre – and Jesus is the centre, everything starts with him and goes out in all directions to the Father who surrounds and encompasses everything with his love – maybe we can start to understand the rest of the things in the bible, all the plagues and wars God allowed, all the pain and suffering, all the messed up lives, all the people who actually did the things he asked of them, all the law and prophets and covenants and sacrifices made for Him and by Him. God gave us the example of how huge his love really is for us when he sent Jesus to pay for our sin. Every word of the bible has to be seen through the perspective of that event, how that event fulfills everything that happened before and after.
So in case no one has ever told you, God absolutely loves you, no matter what, he loves you. So he sent his Son Jesus to tell us to turn from the world and turn to God, then because there was no other way for us to actually get to God, Jesus was killed on the cross to be a sacrifice for everyone who asks and believes that he has forgiven them, turned from their sin and accepted Jesus as the only way to come to God. Now, if you believe that and have asked for it – and this is the crazy weird part – Jesus actually comes and lives in you as the Holy Spirit and helps you to know God’s love and follow the things he told us to do if the first place, the things your Sunday school teacher, bless her heart, told you you had to follow so you’d be acceptable to God. Guess what, that’s the only way you can do it and #2 you’re never going to do it perfectly, so stop beating yourself up. You can stop handing your kids or your friends a bucket full of rocks and mud and dirty water to carry around to try to build their life with. If you’re going to give someone a bucket make sure you start with dropping Jesus in centre of everything you do and say. One drop from him can clear it all up, no matter how dirty it seems. One drop of his living water can make it all make sense. John 4:10 says, ‘You do not know the gift of God. You do not know who asks you for water. If you did, you could ask me. I would give you living water’. We will not find living water in any other place than Jesus himself, if you don’t start from the center, how will you know who you are asking? How will you know that the gift he is offering is eternal? How will you have faith?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I was talking and praying with my friends Dave and Peggy today and we were talking about what we see happening around us in the christian community, some of the struggles we're facing, some of the road blocks we see and how we move forward in that, how we can bring change and life. While they were praying about this I kept getting a picture of brick walls around me, like the brick walls from the old maze screen saver that my first computer had. Hi-tech graphics those were, at first I thought it was in the old Doom game but it wasn't that elaborate. Anyway, I was walking through the maze as Dave prayed about working through frustrations and getting to what God has at the end of that. I was asking God how to get rid of all these walls, why isn't the path easier. And surprisingly (to me at least) he said, I made the walls, I put them there for you, to keep you on my path. It's not easy, sometimes there are dead ends but just turn around and go the other way. The walls are not there to stop you, they are just to keep you on my path. The prize is waiting at the end of this maze.

I am employed by a church. If you've never been in that situation let me tell you (and this isn't to bash the church) sometimes it can be frustrating, some times it can be so slow. Sometimes I don't' know why God has me there at all, but I am sure it's part of his plan. Do you feel like you are stuck in a maze right now? Do you wonder why you are doing the things you are doing? If you are on a path with God, chances are he will ask you to do things that do not make sense to you. It seems like everywhere I turn there is a wall - board meetings, budget issues, family issues, theology issues, people issues - walls that seem to keep things moving forward, keep new life from flowing out of the church. And I can never figure out why.
Today the Lord showed me that even the walls are part of his plan. He is the master designer and if we are looking for him we'll find the clues that help us navigate that maze. I think we give our enemy too much credit. Sometimes we think he puts the walls up, but I am not sure that is the case. You see he doesn't actually have any authority anymore, Jesus took it back on the cross. Maybe he can throw speed bumps in the way, or the occasional alien monster robot - in fact if you're looking for God, you'll probably get lots of those popping out from behind every corner - but the walls are there so you stay on the path, so you keep searching until you find the end of the level. Jesus never said the road was easy, but he doesn't give any credit or authority to the enemy either.
If you feel like you're stuck in the maze, what ever your walls are, whatever your monsters are, God has designed the whole thing. Maybe your path looks different than your neighbors, or your brothers. Maybe your church looks different than your parent's. That's OK. The walls are not meant to contain us or lock us in, they are to keep you on the path.
Here's the coolest part. Remember all those "cheat codes" you could get for games, well we've got access to all of them. a b a b up down right left right left select start, bam, unlimited life. Jesus has gone through the maze ahead of you, gotten the keys to death and brought them back for us. If you believe in the things he said and what he did on the cross, he gives you eternal. Bonus two, unlimited ammo, hold select, a a b b up down start. You get the Holy Spirit. He does all the hard stuff for you. Alien robot monster jumps out, bam, Holy Spirit gives you all the armour of God to help you defeat it and keep on trucking through your maze.
I don't know who designed that old screen saver maze, but mine never ended. And I never got to the end of Doom so I don't what happens there. But I do know who designed the maze you are in, and he has a plan in mind and there is a ending. I know its hard to believe sometimes, I know it seems to be taking forever. But He built the whole thing, and he'll give you what you need to get through the other side if you'll ask him. His cheat code seems to be less complicated, "ask and you will receive, knock and the door will be open" somewhere in your maze, there will be a door that you just have to knock on and he will open it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Knock, Knock...

It’s amazing God is giving out all kinds of free stuff through Jesus dying for our sin and we are not receiving it. Love, grace, forgiveness, life, joy, patience, all the other fruits and gifts of the spirit. And most importantly His Spirit. He’s actually letting his spirit come and live in us. He’s offering us the power of the Spirit, the same power Jesus walked around with, the same power that raised Him from the dead. He wants to give that to each of us who believe the good news, but we have to receive it. I’m not sure I quite understand it yet myself to be honest, how it works, but I know that he’s showed that his word is true and that the things Jesus said and did were true so I could receive forgiveness and salvation. He’s helped me to receive those things and he’s breaking through with his Love and His Spirit. I don’t really have words to explain that either, but in Romans 8:16 it says "the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit."(NIV) And in the NLT it says "the Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts to tell us we are children of God." And even though my mind gets fooled, the spirit always pulls my heart back. He always brings me to a place where I can receive his love. It's not always easy, sometimes it's even painful, but he always get through with His love.
Ask and you will receive, knock and the door will be open. I got this picture of God going around and setting up buckets of above all the doors. We hear him doing something so we knock and say what are you doing out there. And then he’s on the other side calling to us to go through, He dumps out a big ol’ bucket of love and the spirit and living water, it’s like lemonade for your soul. And then we’re refreshed and clean and have the power to do whatever is on the other side of the door.
But we’re afraid to open the door, what if it’s not Him calling us? What if our hair gets messed up by the water? If people see that I’m all wet and covered in Love and the Holy Spirit they’ll know Jesus loves me and I Love him and I’ll have to talk about it.
Don't be afraid. It’ll be easy. You’ll know what to say. You’ll just be like, "well God told me to go through that door and I did, but he’s funny and loves me so he set up this joke bucket and I got all wet and well... why don’t you go through the door too, he’s probably got another bucket set up by now... The spirit will give you the words to say, it’s his job not yours. It's his bucket too by the way, he's got to fill it.
We have to receive what God has for us, the Holy Spirit so we know we are children of God. We have to receive the Holy Spirit to have the power to go out and do the things God is calling us to. We have to receive the Holy Spirit to know his word is true and his love is real. We can’t keep doing it in the reverse order. We can’t keep trying the secret back door, or climbing up the fire escape so we miss the messy stuff. It’s not going to work. We can’t pretend to be the church. We can’t keep showing up on Sunday morning, singing a couple tunes, then riding the pine for the rest of the week while people around us are lost and hopeless. If we’re not calling out for and receiving and living in the love of God, people are going to walk out those doors and be lost in a world that is telling them there is no God that loves them. He does. If you know it and have received it, tell someone else so that they can know it and receive it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Super Glue

If you are not sure what God has shown you ask Him, again and again? He has told us to have faith like little children. He does not mind a million questions about the same thing. Have you ever had a little kid ask you how something works and you tell them but the conversation doesn’t end there? But why?... but why?... well God does not get annoyed by that, I do, but I think he loves it. He has told us to seek Him; he will not turn off His hearing aid. Knock and the door will be open. Maybe you can see through the frosted glass and everything is a little blurry. Perhaps you are not quite sure what is behind the door. Try knocking louder, try shouting to see if God answers. Go get a rock and throw it through the window. Do whatever it takes to see what is behind that door. If you see it, you have the answer, but you have to see it with your own eyes. You have to hear His voice telling you to come in and look and what Jesus did on the cross. He will not be upset that you smashed the window, tell Him Joe told you to do it. He needs things to be broken so he can come in and fix it. The sick need the doctor not the healthy, Jesus’ words not mine. He is the master builder and master renovator. His super glue is very strong and will put the pieces back together. And they will hold for eternity.

Friday, October 22, 2010

According to the United Nations Environment Program “A Wild Fig tree at Echo Caves, near Ohrigstad, Mpumalanga, South Africa has roots reaching 400 feet making it the deepest a tree's roots have penetrated.” Now I don’t know if they measured every tree, but that is deep. Where do your roots go? Ephesians 3:17 says, “...may your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.”

Life comes from God’s love. Everything and everyone was created from his love. We have to let ourselves be connected to the source of life, the living water that comes from Him. Imagine having to stretch 400 feet into the ground to find life, through mud and rock. Imagine what that tree had to go through and grow through in order to remain alive. Maybe you feel like you’ll never be good enough or strong enough or smart enough, or beautiful enough to get to God’s love. You’re right. None of those things will get you closer to his love. It is free. It is who he is. He does not need you to be good, strong, smart or beautiful. He is all those things and so much more. You are not going to figure it out or earn it or win it, you can only receive it. You can only experience it.
Sound to simple, well maybe that’s too simple. Maybe you feel so far from God’s love you think you’ll never be able to experience or accept it. I don’t know what your life has been like. I don’t know the hand you’ve been dealt so I won’t pretend it’s so simple. Sometimes we have to get through the rocks and mud and dirt in our life before we get to the water, before our roots ever taste God’s marvelous love. It’s not always easy. If anyone tells you it’s easy they probably haven’t been through the junk you’ve been through. But it is there, his love is there. God is love, that’s what he’s made of. He’s not flesh and bones and blood and guts like us. He became that when he sent Jesus to hang out with us and die for our sins. He knows what it’s like to be just like you. To face all the things you face. His friends abandoned him, people hated him, people ignored him, they ridiculed him, they judged him and then they punished him on the cross. He did that for you, he experienced that for you because he loves you and he wanted to show you how much. “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Eph. 3:19). I don’t understand why Jesus came and did these things for me, it seems crazy. I know I’m not good enough to deserve it, and I know I’m not smart enough to figure it out. I am sure, however, that he did it for me, but he did it for you too. I know I didn’t get through the mud and rocks and dirt in my life on my own, it was by the power of his love to keep on digging.
God can and will do amazing things in your life if you ask him. “By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope.” (Eph. 3: 20) Maybe he’ll come and wipe away all the junk, he does that sometimes. He doesn’t always do that. Sometimes he just loves you through it, the long way, the difficult way, the 400 foot way, even when you don’t know he’s doing it, even when you don’t know he’s there. I wish there was some kind of process or formula for how to receive his love quick and easy, like Miracle-Gro for the Soul, but I don’t know of one. If anyone tells you they’ve got the 7 or 10 or 30 steps to anything I think they’ve been drinking Miracle-Gro. Maybe those things can help, maybe there are some steps you can take, but God created you. He created you. Someone else path to God may not be your path. Don’t get discouraged if their path doesn’t go through the same growth process as yours. Your roots may need to reach further. But they will be strong once they are firmly planted in the soil of God’s marvelous love. His love is there.
This Fig tree must have taken years to get to whatever source what was hidden deep in the ground. But something sustained that tree while it grew into the depths. Obviously the soil on in the first 399 feet had some nutrients, some moisture, some life giving properties or the tree would not have last long enough to get to 400 feet. If you’re in that place now, where you feel like there is barely enough hope and life left to keep you going, please don’t give up. God is there, he loves you. He will sustain you through the rocks and mud and dirt. He will make a path to the living water Jesus offers us. Don’t give up when you are so close to his marvelous love. “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit.” (Eph. 3:16).

Friday, July 2, 2010

I was at a prayer meeting on February 9, 2010 and the lord reminded me of this time a bunch of us went surfing for the day in Cape Breton. Yes, believe it or not you can surf in Cape Breton. There were probably about 20 of us, maybe more, that all set off for Point Michaud on the eastern Shore of Cape Breton. Some of us had wet suits, some of us borrowed surf boards, and I brought a kite and some Frisbees. It was a pretty good day, lots of friends, nice weather and good waves. Anyway the Lord brought me back to that day while we were praying about things like dreams and being lukewarm Christians, and getting offended about things. I had sort of a movie playing in my head of the day, and a narrator voice in my head kind of like the Wonder Years (if anyone remembers that show).
A few people went there and just spent the day sitting on the beach. That is ok, some people like just sitting on the beach. But it is not really surfing is it. You see we had told people we were all going surfing for the day but sitting on the beach is not surfing… it is more like, well sitting…on the beach. Maybe those people were not ready to surf, maybe they did not know how to swim or maybe they did not like getting water up their nose or stung by 10,000 Jelly fish, who knows. But the voice said “I’m looking for people to Surf.”
So then I saw the people who said they were going to surf. They had rented boards and wet suits. Some of them stood on shore for a while debating whether it was worth paddling out through the surf and jellyfish in the freezing cold water. But, if you are going to surf well you have got to get out there somehow and we did not have a boat to take us out so paddling seemed like the only way. It was hard, the wind catches your board a lot when you do not know what you are doing and smacks you in the face. You look kind of silly, but everyone else is battling through too so you just keep going. Eventually everyone got out past the breakers and could rest for a few minutes. So there we were exhausted, jellyfish on our face, bobbing around on a stick in the ocean. But that is not really surfing is it… it is more like, well… floating… on a stick. That is ok I guess, but now you are just watching the surfing from a different angle.
You are however in a slightly more precarious position because the wind and the waves are starting to push you back to the beach. That would be ok but somewhere in the middle of the bobbing and the sitting is the surfing. The voice said, “well… here you are but I’m looking for surfers not floaters.”
Now, I will not pretend to be a surfer. I have only gone twice. I do, however, know the principles of surfing. When you see a wave come up behind you and the water begins to lift you up, you have to start paddling, again, even though your pretty tired from paddling out there if first place. When you and your board begins going faster and faster which is actually quite exhilarating, you suddenly realize that you are now sitting on a stick on the front edge of all the power that is behind this wave. If you manage to catch the wave and stay in front of it you are faced with an important decision. Do I stand up? If you stand up, that means you are surfing. Not until the moment you stand up. It is very difficult to stand up. I was only able to stand on one foot and one knee, kind of crouching. Then the wave won. But the voice said, “well, I see I have found a surfer.”
I don’t like getting water up my nose, it makes me cough and it burns. But for just that moment, standing (sort of) on top of a wave, being propelled along the ocean by the power of the water and wind behind me, I realized something. The appearance of being a surfer is a far cry from being a surfer. The beach is nice, lots of people like the beach. Floating is ok too, some people like floating. I do not want to float and I do not like sitting on the beach. If you get on the wave, even if you are only half standing , even if you are still lying down and holding on for dear life because you are scared of standing up, something inside you changes. You can actually feel the power of the ocean and the wind working together. You are moved along by a force that is totally out of your control but if you and your board get in the right spot, you can absorb the force and ride the wave.
As I looked around, I saw that while the beach had lots of people watching the surfing, there were lots of people still battling through the waves; some people were still floating on their stick waiting for the next wave. But there were some people actually standing on top of the waves. Sometimes the wave knocked them down. Sometimes they surfed it all the way to the beach and ran in to tell their friends how amazing it was finally getting up on the waves. Then the voice said, “I want you to stay on the waves, I want you to let the power and the force of the waves push you along, don’t be scared of the water up your nose, sometimes things get uncomfortable, sometimes they hurt, sometimes they are scary. But I am in the waves, I made them because I want people to get out there and surf on them. I’m looking for surfers. When the storms come, you cannot sit on the beach, you will be swept away. When the Storms come you cannot keep floating on your stick, you willl crash upon the rocks. But if you are ready to surf, if you know what the power of the wave feels like, if you are ready to stand on the waves, you will not crash. You will not be afraid of force that caused the wave.”
The Lord is moving among us, he is stirring up winds and waters of change in our midst. He is calling us to go the beach daily with him to see his mighty hand at work. But He is looking for surfers, He is looking for those who are willing to battle through the hard parts to get to where he is. He is looking for people to stand up with his power behind them so that others might see his hand at work. The beach will only keep you for so long. Floating on a stick will only keep you for so long, at some point we must choose to follow him and stand up.