Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Saddle Up Your Donkeys

Did you ever notice how Jesus shows up in the most unexpected ways - like walking on water, riding on a donkey, suddenly standing in the room where the doors are all locked.  Of course he doesn't always show up in strange and fantastic ways, some times he just show up walking down the road or going to get a drink at the well.  Sometimes he's just doing a normal thing in a normal circumstance.  The thing is he almost always does something ridiculous when he shows up in a normal sort of circumstance or is doing a normal sort of thing.  Jesus pulls our a miracle, or does some totally counter culture thing like talk to a Samaritan woman, or teaches some totally counter religious truth like calling God "Abba" (which means daddy).  Well if you never noticed that go skim through one of the Gospels again as see what Jesus was like...

Ok, you done that...

So here's my rhetorical question, probably directed more at myself than at you, but you can consider it too if you like:  why do I/we keep perpetuating the normalized idea we have of Jesus?  I'm know I'm not the only one who's thinking this, but over time "the Church" has caused most everything about Jesus to become normal.

I go to this place called Harvest House on Wednesday mornings and do a bible study.  They provide low income housing to people, serve meals and hook people up with programs to help them out when they're down and out (among many other things).  Sounds like a place Jesus hung out.  The last two weeks I talked about how Jesus shows up in unexpected ways, (i.e. John 12, triumphal entry on a donkey) and does unexpected things (i.e. John 13, was his friends dirty feet).  The Holy Spirit was most definitely at work; people asking great questions about Jesus, sharing stories about God in their life, sharing doubts and fears.  I left believing God is really changing people's heart there; super encouraged.  But that experience is not the norm.

The normalized version of Jesus that I live with involves a bunch of time spent organizing services and events where people come and sit and leave seemingly unchanged.  Now I don't know if they are really unchanged, in fact I don't know if you can hear truth about Jesus and be unchanged.  But there is often very little evidence, sometimes no response to Jesus.  That must mean we're missing something.  I heard Jason Upton say once, "God doesn't want 3 slick songs and message, He doesn't want 3 not so slick songs and message either."  That is resounding more and more with me.  

Has Church become so normalized that Jesus just gets on his donkey and keeps trucking right by us.  In John 12 it says that a great crowd came out to see Jesus, because they'd heard about what he'd done.  They came shouting Hosanna (Save) and celebrating Him as King.

The disciples didn't get it.  What if we're like the disciples.  We meet on Sundays, and do our normal thing that people have been doing for several hundred years with different style and tempo, but it's pretty much the same and we don't get it.  We scratch our head and wonder why people aren't flocking out to see Jesus.  

Maybe he's down the road on his donkey?

Here's the other thing, if he is down the road on his donkey, I'll bet he's not doing something "normal" like handing out tracts, or putting a fish on his donkey's bumper or organizing a hymn sing.  There's nothing wrong with those things but Jesus seems to be doing things like washing peoples feet (weird), showing prostitutes the kingdom (scandalous) or telling religious people they're wrong about who they think God is (perilous).  Why does Jesus have to go and do these crazy things?  Why couldn't he just gather some 'good' people together on Sunday for 3 slick songs and message?  That sure would make my life easier... and boring.  I can't imagine why people aren't signing up to be part of this (sarcasm in case you missed it).  

If we want people to meet Jesus, we might have to be Christ-like and wash someones feet once in a while or get off our ass and get on our donkey and go into town where the hookers and junkies hang out.  Crazy I know, but that's where Jesus wants us to go.  Maybe if we start to go to the places Jesus went and do the things Jesus did and tells us to do, he'll stop by more often on Sundays to visit.  I'll bet people will be lining up to see Jesus and celebrate him as king then...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cracks are where the life gets in.

Vulnerable, not something most of us like to be, I'm terrible at opening up to people, even to my wife sometimes.  The enemy puts all kinds of junk on us to try and crush us and keep us under his thumb.  Our nature is for self-preservation, self-protection, self-reliance, self-esteem and selfishness so it's easy for him to keep us in that spot, it's easy for him to keep us fighting a battle we're never going to win on our own; keep us focused on us and him so we never think to turn to Jesus for help, or to a friend for prayer or to a church for support.  Being vulnerable means we open up spaces in our self to be hurt; physically, emotionally and spiritually.  No one wants that so we often choose to build the fortress that attempts to protect us from the possibility of being hurt.  'If I just become guarded and independent and strong and unreliant the enemy can't defeat me, the people around me can't cause me harm.  Unfortunately this really only leads to two outcome. a) we attain that lofty mission, we become cold, lonely and self-righteous or 2) we miss a spot in the wall, a little crack, a back ally way, a secret tunnel we'd forgotten to back-fill and our fortress eventually falls.  The enemy is sneaky, he'll find the crack.  The enemy is dark, he'll sneak down the ally and you won't even see him coming. The enemy is dirty and persistent, he'll crawl on his belly in the mud until he gets through that tunnel.  He's tricked the world into thinking that self-anything is the greatest goal, the highest importance is self-whatever.  He hasn't tricked the world into thinking God doesn't exist, he's just tricked it into thinking self is greater than Him.  

But God’s nature is greater than our enemy or our nature; his nature takes the place of our self-nature if we ask him for help.  When that happens - when God shows us that He is Love, we start to understand that by his power and spirit in us - God lets us experience what love really is and we're able to be vulnerable with him.  His spirit and power in us teaches us that he's never going to hurt us, he's never going to let us down, so we can become more and more dependent, reliant and open to him.  We hear his voice more clearly, we know what his plans are for us, we know his love.  He begins take apart those walls we build to keep the enemy out, because they were keeping him out too.  But as Leonard Cohen says "There is a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in."  If you make yourself vulnerable to him, his light will flood your heart.  Jesus is light.  Bill Johnson says light doesn't debate with darkness, when light comes on darkness goes away.  It's that way with Jesus.  The more you become vulnerable to him, the more you say, 'Jesus I trust you are good, I trust you love me', the more he will flood your heart with light.  Darkness will flee from you; the enemy will go back to crawling away in the mud.  He might keep throwing mud at you but Jesus will keep on washing it off.  You'll experience total safety in the midst of danger or fear or trial or pain.  You'll experience freedom in the face of temptation and persecution and failure or loss.  
But you won't only experience it with Jesus, you'll start to feel so safe, you'll know his love is so strong, you'll know his power is so great - beyond anything you can imagine - that that vulnerability will start to spread out to people around you; people you pray with, people you worship with, people you live with, people you work with.  You'll choose to make yourself secondary, you'll choose to make yourself lesser, you'll choose to make yourself available.  You'll choose to share how Jesus changed your heart, how he got you through, how he forgave your mistakes and failures.  Someone else will experience that same floodlight that got through your cracks because someone else knowing Jesus will be so much more important than your reputation or your safety or your self.  Your venerability empowered by Jesus will not be a weakness at all.  He'll fill those cracks in your walls and He will become your greatest strength.  The cracks in your walls will start to bring life. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Check out Romans 8, nothing in all of creation, can separate you from God’s love.  Sin, death, demons, life, angels, mountains, valley, flat tires, crying babies, speeding tickets, winning the lottery.  God just loves you.  The entire universe is wrapped in a big ball of the love of God.  You can’t escape it, you can’t hide from it, and you can’t lose it.  Right?
So why don’t we live like that?  Why don’t we wake up every morning without a single worry, without any other thought except that the Creator of the Universe loves us?  If you do you should give me the secret after you read this.  But I’m sure I’m not the only one who wakes many mornings and my first thought is something like, “I have so much to do today” or “I hope  Gemma’s not still upset about that stupid thing I did, or that thing I was supposed to do that I didn’t do.” Or “man I blew it again, God must be really mad at me.”  We let all kinds of things cloud the fact that God just loves us because that’s who he is.  We believe lies that if we’re not living a perfect life, if we don’t have it all together, if we’re not meeting some imaginary standard that the church has created then God does not love us.  That if life is not in some kind of cruise control with things falling into place, God doesn’t love us.  We let our mind be tricked into thinking that the junk in our life means God loves us less which leads our heart to refuse receiving God's love. 
If  you feel that way, if we’ve made you feel that way, I’m sorry.  God loves you, and if you ask Him today if that’s true, I’m certain the spirit will reveal it to you.  
But those things we think affect God's don’t affect God’s love, his love is constant and unchanging and absolute.  It doesn’t mean there are no consequences for our choices, but God’s love is not changed or measure by our choices. 
If you’re here today and the love of God is a just  “concept” to you, if it’s just an idea you’ve grown up hearing about in Sunday School but you’ve never experienced it or you’ve never received it, I hope you don’t finish this post without stopping to pray that God will reveal himself to you.   Do whatever you need to do to receive his love.  Because you can’t love God until you know He loves you first.  I struggled with this for a long time after becoming a Christian because my earthly relationships distorted what I thought a relationship with God was like.  My issues with my earthly father caused me to have wrong view of what my Heavenly father is like. 
The great thing is God never stops loving us.  He never stops reaching out to us.  The problem is we don’t receive it.  We let all those things Paul mentioned, and a million more get between us so we can’t receive God’s love.  We let our mind and our flesh win out over the unchanging love of God.  Earlier in this passage in verse 6 Paul says this.  “If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace.”  Our mind is easily fooled.  The enemy tricks us all the time.  Most of us know we’re not perfect, unless we’re self-righteous Pharisees- then we have a whole different problem to deal with.  But most of know we’re messed up, and so we go out striving with all our might to be better, and to do more and get more, and to be more obedient.  That way we’ll know God’s love more, we’ll be OK with him.  Don’t let your mind trick you into thinking that God’s love is dependent on anything you can do other than receiving it.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will get closer to God by more striving.  It’s backwards.  It’s False.  We love because he loved us first.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Remain in His Love

Jesus says this in Johns Gospel, 15: 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my loveJesus loves his friends the same way the Father love Him; without discrimination or condition, without performance or production, with their faults and failures, the good the bad and ugly.  Before Jesus ever did a single miracle or preached his sermon on the mount, before he washed his friends dirty feet or washed away their sins with his blood on the cross, His father in heaven loved Him.  Long before any of this the Father said, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."  That’s the way Jesus loved his friends, even the really rotten ones, while they were still sinners, because his Fathers nature was love. 
I think John got it.  Somehow, following Jesus around, he understood that the Father was love.  Maybe Jesus treated him differently, maybe he was modern man in touch with his emotions, maybe the spirit was already at work on his heart.  It seems like he got a head start on that process of God’s spirit at work on us, that’s why he could refer to himself as “the beloved” or “the one Jesus loved”.  I used to read that and think, man this guy is full of himself, I bet the other disciple want to beat him up when Jesus wasn’t around... the one Jesus loved, get over yourself Johnny boy, Jesus loves us all.  But he wasn’t full of himself, He recognized that Jesus loved him for whoever he was.  Maybe he was the biggest screw up of the bunch, maybe he never got anything else Jesus said, maybe he never cast out many demons or healed many sick people when Jesus sent them out, maybe he couldn’t throw a Frisbee or play the lute (well he did write a few important books, so I guess he might of had something going for him).  But most importantly, he knew that Jesus was from God and that he was loved by him.  
Philip didn’t get it; he was there from the start and he didn’t get it.  He said if you just show us the father that’ll be enough.  And Jesus said, look at me, look at what I’ve shown you, look at how I’ve loved you, that’s what the father is, if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen him.  Jesus first words when he started his ministry were repent, the kingdom is near.  I think he was saying “everyone stop looking at the world, stop looking at your sin, stop focusing on imperfection, stop trying to figure out how not to be punished.  Look at me, I’m here, I am the kingdom of heaven, watch me, I’m going to show you how the kingdom works, I’m going to show you who the father is.  The Father is love, the kingdom runs on love, I’m going to go to the cross to show you how perfect and wonderful God is. 
Once he showed them all this stuff, Jesus said to the disciples “now remain in my love”, I love this statement.  I’ve read that statement before and thought wow, Jesus just put a requirement on the disciples, a pretty big one at that, but it wasn’t a requirement of them, it was his stamp of approval that they would remain in his love; just as he had remained in his father.  I think this was a promise from Jesus.  He knew they’d never measure up on their own, I think he was telling them that they were secure in the love he was offering them. 
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  One command, love each other, that’s how we stay in God.  Love each other without any conditions, Jesus just loved them, he knew he would be betrayed, he knew he would be abandoned, he knew they didn’t understand who he was or half of what he was saying, but his Father is love.  So he was the embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven come to earth to show us what the full expression of love is.  If you’ve seen the way Jesus loved, what he was able to do because of love, then you’ve seen the Kingdom of Heaven and the spirit can start that process of filling you with the fullness of God, the fullness that surpasses our human concepts of love, something only God’s loving spirit can do within us. 

John 15:9…
10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love.11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Double down, everything on red... everyone wins.

Hello everyone, if you haven't donated anything yet to the East Africa Famine
relief, tomorrow (Friday Sept. 16th) is the last day that the Canadian
Government will match what you give. We all have something to spare. It might
mean giving up Tim Horton's next week or one less trip to the mall, or you eat
bologna instead of steak this week, or you suffer through another year watching
your old 32" TV and forgoing spending $700 on a new flat screen. It doesn't
matter what your political views are, your views of Aid organizations or even
you're religious convictions, dying kids in Africa need food. So give as much
as you can and then add $20. Donations to any registered charity that is
accepting toward the crisis will be matched so pick one that fits with you're
philosophy, whoever you give it to some kid gets to eat, it may mean they get to
live long enough to hear about Jesus. If you need some more convincing, Luke
1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,2
and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.t3 And he said, "Truly, I
tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.4 For they all
contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she
had to live on."

We are all blessed, bless someone else.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Confession of a messed up youth pastor

This letter is to the congregation of Grace Fellowship church and to those who have allowed me to have some spiritual influence in their lives as I have taken a leadership role in many places of worship, spiritual guidance and ‘Christian’ life over the past couple years in Cape Breton.
I am convinced that God is going to awaken this Island spiritually, and for whatever role I am going to have in that, I am also convinced that I need to be transparent.  We’re about to go into 30 days of waiting and I need to go in with a clean hands and a clear conscience, the rest of you don’t have to follow this approach.  Just come and hear from the Lord.   For whatever reason, the Lord convicted me of this today and has been speaking it to me for some time.  So here it is.

When I was about 8 years old I saw my first porn magazine and have struggled with lust ever since then.  I have had periods of freedom from this but am under a fairly steady attack from lustful thoughts.  About 3 years ago, after being convicted by a message spoken at Lighthouse Church by Rebecca Paavola, I got some light shed on the situation.  At the time of the Catholic Church sex scandal, she spoke on forgiveness and God’s ability to forgive people we have such a hard time forgiving, even those involved in sexual immorality.  I realized that night that God had forgiven me, even for this thing that I struggled so much with and wanted so badly to be kept in secret.  Not only that he had forgiven me, but that it was no secret from him.  He was also clear this lustful seed planted in me wasn’t something I was supposed to or able to overcome on my own.  I told Gemma about the struggle that night and asked forgiveness and received a huge release from the guilt and worry I had about her finding out.  The enemy, however, knows this is my stumbling block, and uses it whatever chance he gets to turn my thoughts from Jesus.  Especially times of stress and times when the spiritual focus is about to get turned up.  Lately it seems the attack has been worse and the lustful thoughts more frequent and more intense.  (stress of a new baby, stress of not knowing where our church is going, stress of not knowing where the young people are going, intense summer camp ministry,  30 days of waiting, all the while knowing that God told me not to worry about anything, which was causing me to worry about the worrying.  Ironic, right?)  Don’t worry, I’m not about to freak out and do something crazy, God’s been gracious to let me see the signs and know what’s going on.  Fortunately I haven’t fallen into watching porn online or looking at magazines, but Jesus said if I look or even think about a woman lustfully I’ve committed adultery, so by that standard I would be a failure.  I also know that it’s not a very big step to fall off the edge.  I have asked him for forgiveness, and I know he’s forgiven me, I asked to him help me and I know he does when I call out to him, so I guess this is just a matter of revealing things before he comes back and everything is revealed anyway.  Please pray for me in this battle.

Not to rate sin because that’s stupid, but that seems to be the one I struggle with, or notice the most, but this is a transparency letter so there are other things I struggle with. 

I’ve been working with the church for about a year and half and it may be no secret to some people that I have had some major resentment toward the church (not Grace but the church in general).  So just so everyone knows, sometime I really struggle and have bitterness and anger about the way we try to do things in the church, which sometimes spills over into bitterness and anger towards individuals.  It’s caused me to be judgmental and write people off because of their beliefs, basically turning me into the thing that I’ve judged others for being.  I know, that’s twisted and sick, but that’s what the sin nature does, it doesn’t just make me have some bad action, it messes up my whole patterns of thought sometimes.  I pray that Jesus will remove all the seeds and roots of bitterness and anger that I’ve caused and that I’ve been holding onto.

My whole life I’ve struggled with an intense fear of rejection.  It’s been almost crippling at some points in my life.  In university I would often miss classes or even drop classes because of the fear of having to talk to people or in front of people.  The Lord has given me amazing freedom from this so often, but I still struggle all the time with fear of talking to people.  There have been so many occasions when the Lord has given me things to say to people and I have straight up chickened-out.  Or he’s given me a task to do and I’ve totally ignored him because the fear of man, the fear of rejection, the fear of failure has won out.  If you’ve missed out on a word from the Lord because of my fear I am so sorry.  I know I’ve been in situations where I’ve made others feel this same rejection, my fear has kept me from talking to people or making them feel loved and important.  If I’ve made you feel this way I’m so sorry.  I don’t know how to receive love from others very well either, so if I’ve avoided or rejected (knowingly or unknowingly) some love the Lord has tried to give through you, I’m sorry for that too. 

I have been part of the huge problem of gossip that exists in Cape Breton.  I’m sure it’s a spiritual strong hold and I’ve fallen into it so many times.  I’ve been in so many conversations where I’ve spoken words of anger, judgment and criticism of other people; the way they live, the way they spend money, the clothes they wear, their work ethic, their attitude, the list goes on.  All of it straight from the devils trick book to keep the body at odds with each other and not focused on Jesus.  I don’t even know where I’d start to ask forgiveness for all these conversations, but I don’t want to be part of them anymore.  I am sorry to those of you who I’ve spoken badly of and to those who I’ve had the conversations with.

In my home growing up, people didn’t give encouragement or express love very well.  It was usually misguidedly done by teasing each other which often turned into jokingly insulting each other.  I know I’ve done this with some of the youth in our church, and although the intention was not to be hurtful I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a bad joke.  I am sorry if I’ve broken anyone down in this way, I will do my best to build you up from now on. 

I’m sure there are other things I need to confess but this is what’s coming to mind now, maybe over the next 30 days the Lord will help reveal some other things to help my old self get out of the way and make more room for him to be in charge of my life.  James 5: 15-16 says “…if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven-healed inside and out.  Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.”  I don’t quite know the reason or consequence of this letter, other than trying to be real with Jesus and real with all of you.  But as this “30 Days of Waiting” starts, I hope that Jesus is going to get busy in the healing and making whole business for all kinds of people and all kinds of struggles. 

Be Blessed

Joey Cook

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Call on Line 1

Do you know what your "call" is in life? I hear people talk about their calling in life and I've even said a few times, 'I feel called to work with youth' or 'into ministry', but I'm wondering if people use that as a cop out, people who say they follow Jesus but don't feel "called" to be ambassadors of his good news. I think we get our profession and God's real call on our life confused sometimes. As I was folding bulletins two Saturdays ago at 11:00pm for Sunday's service I was somewhat angrily saying to myself, "I am a youth pastor, why am I folding these bulletins that the youth are not even going to look at, this is not my job." How's that for self-righteousness. Apparently, I think I'm too important to fold bulletins. But God often speaks to me when I'm being a jackass (the donkey of course). He asked me how many times I'd shared the Gospel recently with people who'd never heard it. Hmm. Not many. Just so we're clear, I don't think God is into punishing us for the sake of punishing us - and even if he is, I guess folding bulletins is pretty light for not listening to him - but I do think he's into teaching us and will use whatever he has to, to teach us to listen. Fortunately this time I just needed a little nudge and not a kick in the donkey. He said "If you're not going to do what I called you to then folding paper is what you can do until you do. Later that week he reminded me again what my calling was while I was talking with another youth pastor, He said "I just want to be in love with Jesus and tell kids about Him." Then the next day, a huge bomb came out while talking with a teen who is struggling with some personal life stuff and wanting so badly to be close to God. Open door! got to share the whole deal, everything I know about Jesus, everything he's done to change my life. Lots of the things I still struggle with that Jesus is working out in me. It was heavy stuff this teen was dealing with, serious choices to make. Hopefully my advice was good, but what's important is another person heard the Gospel. For once I saw the opportunity and answered the call that he put in front of me for that moment.

Our calling is to share the Gospel. If Jesus has called us by name and we've responded then everything from that point on is about him, so our calling has to be to share the Gospel. Now that doesn't mean we all become preachers or teachers, it just means that we use whatever circumstance or position God has put us in to bring attention to Him. We all have the same calling, we're all created for the same purpose; to be in relationship and bring attention to our creator. If our Christian life consists of showing up on Sunday, listening to a professional preacher tell us a story, putting our cash in the plate then going about our business for the next week, we've missed the call. Everything I read in scripture points to something totally different than that. If your profession gives you opportunity to share the Gospel do it. If your proffession doesn't give you opportunity to share the Gospel, do it anyway, people hearing about Jesus is more important than your pension or your paycheck. Your calling is not your profession, it's just a vehicle to put you in a place so you can speak about Jesus. I love Eric Liddell's quote in "Chariots of Fire" where he says "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." He knew he was made to share the Gospel but he didn't just stick with his "missionary" calling to do it. He used what the Lord had given him as a platform to share that his whole life, even when people thought he was crazy. I think he felt the Lord's pleasure when he ran because the Lord saw his heart and knew he was going to use it to talk about Jesus. Liddell's calling wasn't to be a runner or a missionary. It was to point people to Jesus.

It's so easy for the Gospel to be pushed out of the centre of our call. We can get focused on so many things, even good things, even God things, but forget the central message, the central purpose of Jesus is the Gospel. Prayer meetings, services, worship gathering, Seminary, fasting, fundraisers... whatever else; if the Gospel is not central God has nothing to do with it. The only way to the Father is through Jesus, he doesn't even get the message unless it comes through Jesus.

In The Barbarian Way, Erwin McManus says this, "Just do whatever Jesus calls you to do the moment it is clear to you. Do not procrastinate; do not hesitate; do not deviate from whatever course of action He calls you to. But I want to warn you, the closer you walk with Christ, the greater the faith required. The more you trust Him, the more you'll risk on His behalf. The more you love Him, the more you will love others. If you genuinely embrace His Sacrifice, you will joyfully embrace a sacrificial life. Your expectations of Jesus will change as your intimacy with Him deepens" (53-54); Jesus wants all of us all the time. He wants to use every situation he lets us walk into for Him. The process of letting our life be surrendered to Him is sometimes slow and painful, but he's not interested in us hanging on to certain bits and piece. Although He's patient and graceful about it, total surrender is what he's looking for and either Jesus wins or you lose.

I've had to realize that my job as a youth pastor is not my call it just gives me a platform to share the Gospel. I asked myself this week if God takes this platform away, is my heart still to share the Gospel with people, especially young people. If he takes this very convenient place to share the Gospel away and sends me back to mowing lawns or working with at-risk youth instead of at-church youth, will I still tell people about him? 2 Cor 5:17-20 makes it pretty clear that I don't have a chose in the matter if I really want to follow Jesus. It says, "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

Most of the people I know (myself included) are struggling with the idea of how we follow Jesus, how we do church, how we do community, how we do life. Maybe we all need a re-revelation of what our purpose is in following Jesus. The first thing Jesus did was start telling the Good News and the last thing Jesus did was tell his disciples to tell the Good News, the living came out of telling the Good News. For Jesus disciples, the dying to self came from being ambassadors of Jesus and the good news about him. If I'm not using the places Jesus has set up for me to share the Good News, I've missed the Call.
SO, just in case you've stumbled onto this blog and have no idea what the good news is, here you go:

Jesus 1 Corinthians 15: 1-4 is the short version; "... I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve."
Mark Driscoll gives a more complete rundown here:
Be Blessed.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Colt 45's on the Sidewalk

So I'm driving through Florence to pick up someone for youth group and there's a group of kids (12 or 13 at the oldest) standing on the side walk with Colt 45's (the beer, not the guns) and paper bag full of beer. that's crazy. what are we going to do "christian community". 12 year old kids have nothing better to do on Friday night but get drunk. I know, let's meet together on Sunday, sing 3 songs, listen to a message and change nothing, we're good at that...

Seriously, I mean I just drove by and I'm supposed to be a youth pastor... what are we going to do.  Jesus is pissed at my lukewarmness, I'm sure of it, I mean I know he still loves me but I think he's pissed I didn't do anything, I didn't even stop and invite them to youth group.  I think if he was there in the flesh, I would have got the "get behind me Satan" statement that Peter got.
I think he'd be pissed if he'd come back last weekend and to find we (the church) are not doing anything to impact the people around us.  Maybe that's an exaggeration, but not a big one.  In Darren Patrick's book "Church Planter" he asks the reader/leader to ask the question, would your community weep if your church wasn't there?  The answer for us in no.  I am not sure if the community knows we are there. 
I am sure that Jesus is changing our church, I'm sure he's changing the people in our church.  How do we take what he's doing in us out to everyone else?

Sorry, I usually try to share some spiritual insight, or at least a semi-funny metaphor in my blog but I've got nothing for this one, I'm a little at a loss for what to do?  Feedback please!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Here fishy fishy fishy" (a la Ernie of Ernie and Bert)

I wonder if the disciples spent as much time trying to figure out how to make this whole thing work as we do. I am a youth pastor, therefore, I am supposed to be teaching youth… to stay out of trouble?... to be good people?... to know the bible?... to be a Christian?... to follow Jesus?... maybe. I have no idea, I don’t even know if I have anything to teach them sometimes. Except that God loves them, and let’s be realistic, He does that. So why does my “position” in life exist? It’s not really listed in the bible with all those other positions (except maybe that Jesus was the first “youth pastor” when he took a bunch of young punk fishermen and said let’s go turn the world upside down; paraphrased). So is that what I’m supposed to be doing, because that sounds good? That’s what I want to do. I am in this place where I help lead a traditional church and I also am part of a group of young people who are basically opposed to everything the church has become (slight over exaggeration – maybe). There is no glue that is going to hold these two streams of Jesus followers together, save Jesus coming off the throne to tell us how to do it, and I’m not all that sure He’s interested in that anyway. I’ve sat in debate after debate, prayer meeting after prayer meeting, wasted countless hours designing catchy posters, taught people what the bible says, orchestrated worship, prayer and church services, etc, etc, etc,… and yet, no one’s world is upside down because of any of it (at least that I know of). So I ask myself “what am I showing these youth the Lord has entrusted to me?” Well maybe a good list of what not to do if you want to be a “fisher of men.”

But what I am sure of is that God has a purpose and a plan for whatever he’s got us going through right now as a group of wannabe followers, both the churchies and the “not-churchies” (does anyone have a name for them yet because we need to name every group of people? Sarcasm intended). I don’t think he’s out to destroy the church as we know it; it’s part of his body too. For some of you the church is the wise old uncle in your family who has taught you so much and you’d trust with anything. For some of you the church is that annoying cousin who you visit once in a while that always needs money. But family is family, even if you don’t like it. Why don’t we just get over it and realize we’re all in this together, no matter what it looks like. Our purpose isn’t to do church, or not do church, Jesus said I will make you fisher’s of men.

The disciples were no different than us, they argued about how it was going to go down while Jesus was in the same room. Then they argued a bunch more after he went home. I think it’s because he never really taught them how they were supposed to do it. He didn’t give them a study guide, he didn’t give them a fish finder, most of the time he didn’t even give them a reason. He just said things like go out and let your nets down, yeah I know you’ve been fishing all day and caught nothing, just do it. Oh look, fish, imagine that… What He taught them was to depend on what he said to them. He taught them that he’d never let them down. Then he taught them that he’d send his Spirit to continue that after he went back home.

I went fishing today (real fishing for fish, not men) with my friend Rick, one of the people I’m walking very closely through this Jesus-following adventure with. We went to a place where I’ve had great fishing so far this year. We left at 5:00 am to get on the water at dawn, the best time to catch fish. The conditions were perfect; still water, bugs on the water, fish jumping out of the water… 3 hours later, nothing. Guess what, it wasn’t about the fish. I thought it was when I left, last time I caught the biggest brown trout I’ve ever caught there. This time nothing. It wasn’t about the bait, I tried every fly and lure I could think of, even a juicy worm didn’t work, nothing. It wasn’t about the conditions, they were perfect. For some reason there were no fish today. But Rick and I had great conversation about, God, life, family, church, fishing, work, not-church, a beaver, rock climbing, our kids… then we paddled of separately and spent time talking to God, then we went home with no fish. Strangely, we didn’t spend the drive home talking and lamenting about why we didn’t catch any fish, in fact, the thought never crossed my mind. Instead we just talked more about that other life stuff. Neither of us is much closer to figuring out what we’re doing, or what we’re doing wrong and I’m not sure about him but I am much closer to feeling like I don’t care about that. What if we do figure it all out, how do to church or not-church? The disciples hadn’t suddenly figured out how to catch fish when they went back out to let their nets down, they’d just figured out they have to listen to Jesus, he makes the fish come. They just have to pull in the nets. If Jesus said go throw your nets in a mud puddle they still would have caught fish, if he said go put your nets in the bath tub, they would have caught fish.

I think it’s the same for us. If he tells us to have a church service because he wants a church service, we can be fishers of men, if he tells us to do house churches and we do it, we’ll be fishers of men, if he tells us to open a youth center, we’ll be fishers of men, if he tells us to fly in Francis Chan, Billy Graham and Bono, we will be fishers of men – but only if he tells us to do that and only if we listen when he tells us. If we do any of it on our own – no fish. If we do any of it because it worked for someone else – no fish. I keep praying and racking my brain to figure out how God wants me to help “lead” these youth, how he wants me to help “lead” this church, how he wants me to help “lead” this movement he’s doing. To be honest, I’m not sure he’s asking me to lead anything, I think he intends on leading whatever it is he's coming with. Maybe he just wants me to go fishing (figuratively or literally) and when he tells me to let out the nets, to let out the nets. When he tells me to teach, maybe I should teach. When he tells me to pray, I should pray.

If you talk to any fishermen he will tell you he knows the best bait, the best fly, the best technique… it’s hilarious (I do it too, we're all experts) but this is what I’ve learned about fishing: If there are fish and the fish are hungry, they will take the bait if it is real, or even closely resembles the real thing.

This is what I think about fishing for men: if they are there and they are hungry (i.e. the father has drawn them) and you present them with food (i.e. Jesus, the bread of life) even if you’re presentation or technique or experience with him is not perfect (i.e. whatever Jesus has give you to give to them) they cannot resist HIM. It’s like throwing power bait into a stocked pond, keeping in mind that He is the secret ingredient in power bait that makes it power bait. My dad tells me he used to fish with the stick, a piece of yarn and a safety pin and I’ve spent more on fishing equipment than I care to think about – all to catch the same fish. I think I’m going to stop worrying so much about the details and just go wherever Jesus tells us to go and do whatever he tells me to do. Easier said than done, but now that I’ve said it, you can hold me to it…

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Big Garbage

It's big garbage collection this week.  Everyone's favourite time of year, well maybe not everyone but my wife loves it.  Who doesn't want free stuff?  Well I love it now too, partly because we got some great free stuff for Isla, but mostly because the Lord has spoken to me this week through it.  I love when he speaks in really weird ways, that's usually how I know it's him. 

It started like this...

This past weekend, I was helping do a youth encounter weekend with some friends in Glace Bay.  My wife, Gemma, was a little upset that she was left at home for the weekend with no car.  She's been talking about this day coming since last year when she got some sweet treasures from someone else's trash.  I knew she'd be really excited if I found a cool chair or some awesome tricycle for Isla, so any chance I had to drive around Glace Bay I had my eyes peeled for something hiding in a pile of rubble.  No luck, I didn't notice one thing that was even worth stopping to look at. 

What I did notice was how much junk people were throwing away.  I couldn't believe how people could have collected all this stuff, why they had spent their money on such things and how they could just put it out there for the entire world to see.  Some of it was embarrassing.  Who would buy a couch like that? What does the rest of their house look like? Where did they keep all this stuff up until yesterday? It doesn't look like it would even fit in their house...  You know all those judgemental things that cross our mind.  I had lots of them.

Then I came back to my own town.  The weekend ended a little early and I didn't have anything to bring home to my wife yet so I thought, I'll just drive around and see if I can find anything, there must be better junk in Sydney Mines than in Glace Bay.  Guess what, Sydney Mines junk is the same as Sydney junk, is the same as Georges River junk, is the same as Glace Bay junk.  I returned home empty handed. 

Then the Lord spoke to me.  I went to the shed, to get the one box of junk I thought had to put out, very proud of myself that I didn't have nearly as much junk as my neighbours.  Then I started going through my shed. Guess what happened?  Junk everywhere, things I had dragged around for years, broken things I thought I'd fix someday, scraps of wood, curtain rods, empty oil jugs... junk, junk, junk.  So that was all good. I pulled boxes out to the street, organized my shed and looked around and felt great  (now there's room for lots more junk in my shed).

But the Lord wasn't done yet, he always has some spiritual plan when he shows us something in the natural.  It's always to refine us spiritually.  So I finished dragging my junk to the curb and looked up and down the street to compare my pile to my neighbours again.  He said, “You know you've got other junk you need to get rid of too, right?”  I realized I'd just spent a couple days driving around judging just about everyone in CBRM.  I drew all kinds of conclusions about people I'd never met based solely on their junk; how they lived, what they spent their money on, what they value...  The Lord showed me I do that all the time, me, a youth pastor, who writes a blog giving spiritual insights and claims to follow Jesus.  Turns out, I’m not quite perfect yet, I’ve still got some ugly bits in my heart that the Lord hasn’t dragged out onto the curb yet (don’t worry, I didn’t actually think I was perfect, just being a little facetious). 

We do that quite often though, we ‘the churchies’.  That’s why lots of people don’t want to go to our churches or be around people that ‘follow Jesus’.  Everyone has junk and all too often we either make huge over-assumptions about a person because they have junk in their life or we pretend like everyone in the church has already dealt with all their junk.  Clearly we have not, if we think that we have, we’re on the Pharisees team.  Maybe some of us have dealt with more than others, maybe some of us never went down the same paths where we can pick up so much junk, but we’ve all got something left we can get rid of.  Here’s the thing, only the Holy Spirit is flexible enough to get into those places where junk gets stored, like behind the washing machine or under the rug.  I just moved my washing machine, trust me, there are mouldy things under there that you thought you washed long ago.  There’s stuff in the attic you thought would never come back down.  Everyone has somewhere they store their junk.

So how do we start to get rid of it?  It’s hard to do it all at once.  My back was sore yesterday from lugging all that heavy junk to the curb, I’m not sure what I’d feel if I tried to get rid of all my spiritual junk at once, I’ll bet something would be sore.  But I think we can get rid of some of it and start the process of sifting out the trash. 

At the Youth encounter weekend we had 6 different people share and teach different sessions with the youth, some pastors, some not.  People shared some very personal things from their lives, things God had helped them through and was still using to refine their faith.  These were some of the most real and honest talks I’ve ever heard, people sharing huge mistakes they made and real struggles they are having even today.  And the youth responded.  They saw ‘church people’, who maybe they thought would never have dealt with these kinds of things, open their hearts and lives at the risk of ruining their reputations or bringing judgment from others about the junk they had in their lives.  It was the real deal.  Then the Holy Spirit brought some freedom.  He took some of those confessions and struggles, dragged them out to the curb where everyone could see them, could rummage through them, maybe take something out of the pile, something they were looking for, something they needed, then it was hauled away, forgiven and dealt with.  I don’t know where the junk goes when they take it way, but I know it’s gone from my life forever when I ask Jesus to forgive me.  The Bible says when you are forgiven it goes as far as the east is from the west. 

I know I still have more junk to get rid of, things that are hard to let go of, but I want to keep thinning them out.  Some of them are too big to carry on my own.  I need a friend (or even a church) to help me through them.  Then maybe I can help them too, with things they can’t carry. 

Here’s an idea that I’m sure no one will go for but what about this; we pick a day and it could be spiritual large garbage day in the church.  We’ll all get together, spend the day putting our junk out there - maybe even ask for help for the things that are too big do deal with on our own.  People can look at all the junk everyone has, help go through and find the things that will help them and realize they’re not the only one with junk.  Then together, as the body of Christ, we can start helping one another get freedom and forgiveness for the junk in our lives instead of judging or feeling judged.  The Holy Spirit can take that junk where ever he takes it so we don’t have to deal with it anymore. 

Hmmm, that probably wouldn’t work... would it

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Bust a Move"

Do you ever feel like you're an almost Christian? I'm not sure exactly what I mean by that but sometimes I think I'm just not quite all in. It's like I get the salvation part, believe in Jesus ask for forgiveness, zip zap zip, I'm good, I think I'll walk the dog. But am I really all in? I like to think I am. I really want to be. Like if Jesus came along and said, "ok, you've been an ok guy, kept most of the commandments, of course you've messed some of them up a bunch of times, but I'll take care of that... now just go sell everything you own and give it to the poor, and then we'll go get something done." He's been know to do that, what if he says it to me?

Wait, you mean my house? I haven't even finished renovating it yet... Wait, my guitars? How am I going to lead people in worship if I do that, that's what I got them for... my cell phone? You want me to get rid of my cell phone? What would that prove... Well I mean, they are yours, but you're not serious, right?

Yeah that's how I feel sometimes. I haven't actually heard him say that yet (at least I don't think) but what if he does? Is that the measure of a real follower? You tell me. Lots of us are happy to tell people we love Jesus, but what if he calls us to do something crazy, is he worth it? Because if he calls me/you to do it, it's got very little to do with me/you. In fact it's always all about Him; bringing glory to him by showing his grace to someone who's never seen or heard it yet.

If we're called to die to self and follow him doesn't that mean everything? I mean dead is dead right... unless Jesus gives life back. I don't know exactly what Jesus is calling me to right now, but I know if he says to do something, I don't want to be an "almost Christian" and not listen, (he called them lukewarm and plans to vomit us out of his mouth). I don't want to have a long intellectual conversation that eventually talks me out of it, I don't want to rationalize it away, I don't want to choose myself over him. I just want to respond, all in on red. It's not really gambling is it? It's a sure bet. There's a great Andrew Peterson song called "Dancing in the Minefields" (makes me almost cry when I watch the video...maybe I'll let it out someday). The lyrics go like this:

Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
So there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
'Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you

So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for

I do believe his promises are true, that's why it's not a gamble if I do what he says.  I used to love dancing. Confession, I've always loved hip hop and wanted to be a break dancer, I know, who'd have believed it. But I've always been afraid to do it in case I looked stupid. I think I feel that way about doing what Jesus says too. What if it looks stupid? In fact, I'm certain I'll look foolish to the world. When I listen and respond to him, he frequently tells me to do things that make me look a little crazy, but they are always for someone else, about someone else, never about me.  Jesus let me share in the joy when it touched someone or brought some freedom or encouragement to someone, but it was always his joy. I think I want to start dancing with Jesus again. Just so you're not disappointed, this Andrew Peterson song isn't a hip hop song, it's about waltzing with your wife (I want to start doing that more too), but I think I'll be the bride and let Jesus lead from now on when it comes to doing things with him. It sounds a little weird I know, but that's what he compared us to so get over it. Maybe Jesus will decide he wants to break dance instead of waltz, I'm ok with that too.  I'll pull a hamstring, and I'm sure it'll look ridiculous but I think I'm ok with that now...

Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re an almost Christian, (if that even exists), maybe you're like me and just need to limber up again, do some stretches, put on your sweat pants, get some old cardboard boxes out on the ground and start moving. Listen to the beat, maybe try just clapping along at first until you hear his rhythm. But if he calls you to jump in the middle of the circle and start spinning on your head, he’s sure you can do it, in fact, he’ll hold your feet.

Break dancing not your thing? That’s ok, it’s probably not mine either, but what’s your response going to be if he calls you to do something that looks crazy?  Just bust a move.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Off the Couch"

It seems we're always changing, or else we're dead. Physically, our bodies are constantly changing. Some are getting older and breaking down, some are growing new life inside them (that's weird and amazing at the same time), some are getting rounder and some are getting muscular. Our bodies are always changing. In fact, just in case you don't think yours is changing, know that your ears and nose never stop growing throughout your whole life.

So why do we fear change so much as the church. Jesus compared us (the church) to a body so change is inevitable. If we don't change and see new life come to the church it does the same thing our natural body does; breaks down, gets out of shape and eventually will die. Walk into any church more than twenty years old and see if they've embraced or pursued change. It's not hard to figure out.

We don't really have any way to stop this process. Physically, our bodies just get worn out over time. If we spend our life exercising, filling ourselves with good nutrition and never taking any risks, we can extend our life, even slow down the aging process, but eventually are bodies wear out. Some people try to fake their bodies wearing out with plastic surgery and Botox but it's pretty obvious that you can't fake the natural process that's taking over. The church is the same. If we are spiritually active, eating the bread of life and filling up on the fruit of the spirit, we'll retain our vitality as the body of Christ. In fact spiritually, we actually get to see and enjoy the new life that is created from this. We get to see a shadow of the new body that we'll get when the final restoration comes. When we start trying to fill the church with false things, false spirituality, it's painfully obvious that we're just masking the slow march to closing shop.

I know it's scary to take risks, what if we fall and break a hip - that'll be painful - some people never recover from it. What if we're so out of shape, we don't know where to start? Once or twice a year I usually decide I'm going to start working out after being on the couch for 6 months. In fact, I'm thinking about it right now, maybe I'll start tomorrow. On day 3 after I work out though, I'm so sore I don't want to get out of bed. But if I stick to it, by day 10 I can feel a change in my strength. Now, I usually quit by day 30 because I am not very disciplined, but I often think of what it would be like if I made it through a year.

What if we never take any risks spiritually? What if we never step out to go for what the spirit is calling us to? We probably won't hurt anything, but we'll slowly grow stiff and cold and although we may not break a hip, our joints become too sore to use anyway. We get so inflexible that we can't even get up to go after the spirit.

Our muscles are sore after we start a workout because we actually create tiny tears in the muscle fiber but the muscles repair and add new muscle fibers to make you stronger. Spiritually sometimes we need things to be stretched and torn a bit too so we can make room for the spirit to work in those places. He is made strong in our weakness. The problem is we often give up on day 3 when we start on a spiritual workout. We have a hard time getting through the pain that it brings. Let's face it, lots of us have a whole bag full of junk we have to work through spiritually and the church as a whole has warehouse full of baggage, sometimes it's easier just to stay on the couch. You will see a huge change in your life if you work through it.

If you have been on the couch spiritually for any length of time, you don't need to jump up and do a marathon of evangelism and healing - it'll probably give you a spiritual heart attack - but you've got to start somewhere. Try going to a weekend retreat, try listening to a Podcast of some speaker you've never heard or try reading different translation of the bible. It'll be like drinking a protein smoothie.

As the church, we have to start somewhere if we want to see people's lives changed by Jesus. It's obvious that whatever we're doing is not very spiritually active. Churches in general are not growing; new people are not coming to hear the good news. We have to be willing to get up and do what the Spirit is calling us to, even if it seems risky, even if it's a little bit painful, if we want to see new growth. Jesus will be made strong in our weakness if we're willing to take the action he lays before us.
There are probably as many work-out programs as there are church programs and everyone thinks theirs is the best one. Circuit training, muscle group focus, high reps-low weight, low reps-high weight, machines vs. free weights, protein powder, steroids... pick one, they'll all do something, I don't know which is most effective, who cares (don't pick steroids, they are the obvious fake thing I was talking about earlier, people can tell when you're on the juice), maybe you just need to start by going outside for a walk in the fresh air. Churches are the same. Preaching, small groups, outreach, Sunday school, prayer meetings, committees, bake sales, worship nights... pick one, they all do something, maybe you just need to go for a walk through the neighborhood and pray to see where the spirit wants you to start. I think we just have to be willing to push the boundaries of what we know a little bit (maybe a lot). If I work out for the next year and only do arm curls with 20 pound weights, my arms will not get stronger and the rest of my body will not be affected at all, I will not grow. If I go to a prayer meeting for the next year and never try to go further after what the spirit is saying, I will not grow.

We know the results if we don't go after things spiritually, both as a church and individually, we get old and stiff and die. I wonder what it would look like if for a year, we stuck to going after the spirit rather than just sitting back in our traditions and programs, hoping the spirit just does something. How much would we grow? How much stronger and spiritually in shape would we be? If you want to find out, start coming to church ready to respond when the spirit moves, start going to prayer meetings expecting the spirit to answer your prayers on the spot or start teaching Sunday School as if what you're teaching the kids, the spirit is using to change their hearts. Start walking around willing to look foolish before man, if it means Jesus gets glorified. Have you ever seen those huge guys working out at the gym? They wear spandex, make all kinds of grunting noises and push each other to the next level. They look and sound ridiculous to me but it obviously works. They are huge. Have you ever seen people who are actually impacting the world for Jesus, they speak his name at any cost, the gospel is more important than the clothes they wear, sometimes they even make funny noises and say strange things, but God is using them. Is he working in your life, or do you need to get off the couch?

My friend Scott and I have this agreement that we're going to run a marathon "off the couch". No training, no problem. It drives his wife crazy when we talk about it, because she's actually a runner. I'm not sure about him, but I'm sure I will be in the hospital if I attempt it. Spiritually, though, I know I need to get off the couch (as I sit here on my couch writing this) or the purpose God created me for is going to fade away. I'll get old and look back to remember the chance I had to follow the life of the spirit. I'll be bitter and jaded because I see people all around me living life in the spirit but my heart will be too cold to go out with them. I don't want this, I hope you don't either. What do you say we start pushing a little bit, one more curl, and see if we can build a little spiritual muscle.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Plastic Fruit

Sometimes I feel like a plastic apple. The bible says that if we are in Jesus and He is in us, God gives us all kinds of good fruit in our life- nine to be exact: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) That’s a pretty sweet bag of apples. But sometimes I know I’m just faking it. Sometimes my joy is just fake plastic joy, a sad imitation of the real thing. If you bit me, you’d see that I’m not really full of fruit at all. I probably wouldn’t have patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness or self-control. Sometimes I have those things, sometimes I live full of the spirit, but lots of times I’m just a bag of plastic apples.
Why do people buy fake fruit anyway? Literally, people spend money on plastic shaped into the form of apples and pears and grapes… Isn’t that a little strange? But maybe more importantly why do people figuratively buy fake fruit. It’s not that hard to spot it literally or figuratively. Plenty of us are walking around putting up the facade of being loving and joyful, they are actually somewhat easy to fake. We can even get by with peace sometimes, outwardly at least. But if we’re honest with each other (which as Christians we often are not because we have some false idea that we need to have it all together) it’s not hard to tell when we’re not living by the spirit, because the other six are pretty much impossible to fake for any period of time. Patience, kindness and gentleness are usually the easiest to spot because they immediately affect everyone around you.
I’m sure you heard your dad at some point say something like, “do you think money grows on trees?” Well fruit does grow on trees so this bag is free.
I think we get stuck on the idea that we have to have it all together all the time because a lot of people get the bible in little tidbits out of context which turns them into list and rules and expectations that we can’t possibly live up to. If you just take that scripture, you probably are feeling like you don’t measure up as a Christian, you might even doubt if you’re saved. If you’ve met someone who is all these fruits all the time, you’ve either met Jesus, or you’ve met a fruitcake. I’m betting fruitcake. (Did your grandma make that delicious Christmas fruitcake with all the sugary fake fruit in it, fruit that hadn’t been real fruit for about 5 years? Why is that called fruitcake?) By fruitcake I mean someone who’s unmistakably a cake (i.e. a Christian) but the fruit is obviously fake sugary dehydrated fruit long past its best before date.
You see, that verse in Galatians 5 has is surrounded by a couple other very important verses like this one.
Galatians 6: 1-5 says this,
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.
We’re not always good at restoring people gently, or carrying each other’s burdens or not comparing ourselves with others. I think it’s because we’re human. What we are good at is trying to carry someone else’s load instead of our own (which I guess usually it turns out we’re good at the “trying” but we’re not good at actually doing it). What I mean by that is we try to imitate or live up to what someone else is doing, even if we’re not at a point where we’re able to carry that same load. It’s like we see someone who is living full of the spirit, carrying a whole bushel of apples so we run and try to pick up a bushel that looks the same. When our back is only strong enough to carry a 2 lb. bag but we try to carry a 20 lb. bushel we’re not going to get far before we drop our bushel and have a big pile of bruised apples. Carry what the Lord has given you at this point. Let him build up strength in you at his rate. We’re not aiming at trying to be equal to the Christians around us. We’re aiming at letting Jesus make us more like him, one apple at a time. So if the only apple you’ve got right now is love, let God work on growing that more. If he gives you a little kindness let him fill you with some more kindness.
Don’t put fake plastic apples in your bushel to make it look better; fake apples don’t look like real apples. If you’re not living life fully in the spirit – and let’s face it most of are not – don’t try to fake it. God will give you the real thing if you ask him and let him. He promised. He doesn’t break his promises. The fruit doesn’t come from striving, or works, or imitating others. It comes direct from Him. He is the tree and we are the branches. You can’t expect someone to eat a plastic apple and not get sick. You can’t give away what you don’t have.
Part 2, if you are living in the spirit with any of this fruit, give it away. That’s what it’s for. It’s not for making apple jelly to store in your pantry. Someone you know needs to be gently restored by what the Lord has restored you with (if you don’t know anyone who needs to be restored you need to get out more). Be patient and kind to people who are broken, don’t give them a load they can’t carry right now. Love them. Show them the same faithfulness that God shows you by sticking with you even when you were a rotten bruised apple. We all were at some point. An apple a day… whatever the Lord has given you, give it away, He’ll send more fruit; His orchard never runs out.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Question: if we're supposed to die to "self" and have our self replaced by Jesus' "self", then why do many of us teach the opposite and for the most part live the opposite as Christians?

Doesn't the idea of building self-esteem, self-value, self-worth (all those self-things that are promoted by our culture) into our kids slap Jesus in the face. Do you think any of our teens are confused by the mixed message they get. I think I am. I never had good self-esteem growing up. I was kind of chubby, kind of poor, my family was kind of messed up and I thought very little of myself. I had nothing to be confident about except that I could drink a lot and make people laugh by acting like an idiot. I didn't know anything about God, so had very little purpose or direction in life. All the messages I got from the world were that I had to improve myself in order to measure up to someone else.

That's not the message Jesus had though. He actually says we have to let everything of ourselves go and let Him replace that with Him. That is the only place we have esteem, value and worth. I used to try to find worth in my basketball ability, then when I realized I was a 5’8” white kid from the back woods of Nova Scotia and never going to make it to the NBA (or to the D division provincial tournament for that matter). I started to look for worth in my musical ability. No gold records yet. Not looking there anymore. I love playing music, especially worshiping Jesus, but the value is not in the playing, it’s in the person I’m playing for. A while ago, I shared with my friend Peggy that sometimes I get really nervous when I lead worship because I have bad self confindence. She said that's good becasue it's about being confident in Him. That small tidbit of truth changed the way I approached leading worship. I realized it was about him, not me. Such a simple word set me free.

Don't you think it's time to stop giving our kids the false hope that if they finish top of their class, or score the winning goal or get into the right school, whatever other expectation we may put on them, that they'll somehow gain worth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against kids working hard and doing well, I’m just against the idea that that is the most important goal. That’s a worldly goal, right?

The first 5 disciple weren’t top of their class, but Jesus picked them anyway. He saw worth in them, great worth apparently, enough that he gave them the task of taking the gospel out and changing the world. He saw the worth and purpose with which He created them. I think I want to help kids see the worth and purpose Jesus created them with. To know that He’s just as likely to call them if they become fishermen as if they become doctors. Do you think it would be good to teach them that His purpose for them is so much more important than the world’s purpose for them?

I think we actually hinder kids when we teach them to go after a goal that’s not God’s plan for their life but our plan for their life. Then they have to fit God and being like Jesus into a mold that isn’t designed for them. Usually God will get squeezed out the sides. If you believe that God created everyone for a purpose, he designed them for something specific in this world, why not help kids see what that is rather that helping them see how important finishing first is in the world. Jesus actually said the first will be last. He became a servant to his followers and actually washed their feet. Is it good enough for us as parents that our kids become foot washers instead of physicists? Is it good enough for us as church leaders to advise kids to follow God’s plans to reach the world rather than our own ideas of how you reach the world? God’s ways are always higher than our ways. Why not let our kids aim at that rather than aiming at being on top of the world?

If people know they have esteem, value and worth in God’s eyes, they won’t be so concerned with having to rely on their own accomplishments or being derailed by their own failures. His love never fails. The worth he places on us never changes. He nailed it to a cross for the world to see. That’s how much value he places on us. Look at Jesus and know you have great value and worth in the eyes of the one who made you and loves you.

I see lots of teenager who have the weight of the world on their shoulders. I think that’s because we’re putting the yoke of the world on them instead of helping them pick up Jesus’ yoke. His is easy, his is light. We do it in the church too. We put the weight of changing the world on young people. “Our children are the future”, of course they are, but I think it’s going to be children of God who change the world because they’ll know that they aren’t doing it, He’s doing it through them. It’s time we (followers of Jesus) start teaching kids that following Jesus is the most important thing we can do, not paying lip service to following Jesus and then placing so much importance on the things of the world. Let’s help our kids find the purpose God has created them for and run all out after that, even if it looks crazy to the rest of the world. So what if they gain the whole world but lose their soul. Do we want our kids to have a good life or real life in Jesus?

I love these lyrics from the Starfield song "Unashamed"
I have not much
To offer You
Not near what You deserve
But still I come
Because Your cross
Has placed in me my worth

I hope we can start teaching people that the cross is where their real worth is found not in our own accomplishments, not in what we have to offer. None of us measure up without Jesus.

Be Blessed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Oprah are you out there...

What if Oprah read my blog... would the simple effect of here brain taking in the information cause a cosmic shift in the forces of nature so that somehow every person in America was impacted by something I wrote. Probably not.


I had an interesting conversation today with a guy named Wayne MacLeod. He's a writer. He does commentaries on the bible, has them translated into a bunch of different language and sends them all over the world; Korea, India, Africa. He used to go to our church but God has him on a different path right now. But we got talking about some of the people that go to my church, not gossiping, the opposite in fact. He was talking about how important he saw the role some people have in the church that I have never seen as important. Now I barely know Wayne, and he hasn't really been at church since I've been there so he probably has no idea how I feel about or relate to anyone in the church. For example, we have a guy he's one of the founding members of the church. Every Sunday he and his wife are the some of the first people at the church. He passes out the the bulletin and shakes every persons hand who comes in our church. I'm intimidated by him. I don't think he knows that (unless he happens to read this post) but I've often thought "do we really need him at the door every Sunday?" I think it would be safe to say that he and I wouldn't see eye to eye on lots of things in the church. But that's not really important is it? This is my confession, I've never seen the value in what he does at door each week until the Lord opened my eyes today by a throw away comment that Wayne made. You see I have my perspective of what is important in seeing the kingdom come to earth, shaking hands is not a big part of it, but who says my kingdom view is spot on. The Lord has given him a place in our church, who am I to say it is more or less important than the job he's given anyone else. The bible is crystal clear that we need all the parts of the body if we're going to function as the body of Christ, even the hand. Did you ever get smacked in the face by the figurative "hand of God", well today I kind of got that, in a good way. Even though I know God has us going in a different direction as a church, I know he doesn't want any of the sheep left behind, or scared away. He actually has a plan and a purpose for all of his sheep. You know how Jesus says sin is sin, if you break one you break them all. Well, I think that same principal applies to our work in the kingdom. While some work in the kingdom may seem more "important" from a human perspective- like some sins seem worse from a human perspective- I think God sees it all as equal. I don't think he's impressed by what particular job or role we play, just that we are obedient to whatever he's called us to and whatever he's given us. Check out the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. Jesus reminded me today that he's the master and I'm just another labourer. If someones role in the kingdom is to shake everyone's hand who walks through the doors of our church (not that that's the only thing he does), then that is as important as someone preaching or teaching Sunday School or going to South America to fix teeth. On Sunday morning I'm going to shake his hand and tell him I appreciate him. That'll probably be a little awkward and weird for both of us, (or maybe just me), but for some reason we need that hand to be a complete body. That's how God designed it, that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Crows need love too

My daughter loves to stand in the window and watch my neighbours bird feeder. She's fascinated by all the little creatures that peck away there everyday. Finches and chickadees, starlings and blue jays. They all seem to get along, it's strange. The smaller ones go to the feeder, the bigger ones clean up the scraps that get knocked to the ground. They come, get there fill then fly away. I haven't seen anyone peck each others eyes out or steal someone else's feathers because they are brighter. They seem to take turns, as if there's some kind of agreement that even though we're all a little different we have enough in common and we're all hungry so let's just get along and eat what this nice man has left out for us. Imagine that, bird brains...
Every once in a while though, they all fly away, at once, startled by something I guess. Then I see it, the crow lands under the feeder, he's too big to land on it. Sometimes a couple of his crow buddies join him. They're loud and scary and strut around like they own the place. They eat everything in sight (including my garbage). Crows. I will confess that sometimes when the crows are in my garbage I throw rocks at them, I've never hit one and I don't know what will happen if I do. It's probably wrong, but I don't like the mess they leave, because my garbage stinks and I don't want to clean it up.
Well today as I watched the birds and thought about throwing rocks at the crows the Lord spoke to me. He speaks in weird ways sometimes, but that's how I know it's him. He said, "you know this bird feeder is a lot like your church". "Hmm", I thought, which is how I usually respond when God reveals something to me. You see our church is going through some change right now, being stretched and shaped into whatever God has next for us. It's causing all kinds of trouble, as change always does. Our congregation is made up of a very strange flock of birds. It came from a church split, so we've got the old guard who started it. Then another church went through a collapse of sorts so there is a group that joined from there (a different denomination by the way). We have people who've moved from different parts of the South America which adds a little flavor. We have new converts who don't have any history with God. We have rich and poor, young and old, short and tall, pharisee and free spirit. How can we possibly come together and eat at the same table? What commonality keeps us from pecking each others eyes out?
Right now we are surviving as a church only by the Gracious gift of love that the father has left out for us, we're feeding on the bread of life and drinking from the deep well of Jesus blood. That is sustaining us and covering over a multitude of things to keep us alive as a church. We know for sure that if we come back next Sunday God will have something waiting for us at the feeder, maybe it's only some scraps or a crust of bread but he's never left us totally out in the cold. Even that expectation is starting to wane as we are getting caught in our petty differences.
Change is coming, however, and is bringing in the crows. It's a whole different story when we try to change things. Crows always get woken up when something new comes along. I'm not kidding, within 1 minute of me putting out the garbage a crow comes from somewhere. Not a crow in sight, everything is fine, I take the garbage to the end of my driveway, go in the house and look out the window - Crows! The birds disappear from the feeder, my garbage is torn open and I start looking for rocks. It the same in church, things look OK for a spell on the surface then someone attempts something different. Out comes the crow.
Well God told me this morning that he loves the crows too, and that he doesn't want me to throw rocks at the crows anymore.
In case you've missed the metaphor, I'm saying we have some crows in our mishmash congregation. If you go to church, you've got them too. But guess what, Jesus loves them just as much as he loves you. Hard to swallow isn't it, tasted a bit like eating a crow. What we need to do is stop being afraid of the crow and running every time one gets worked up. We have to learn to live with them and love them and get along together if we're going to represent Jesus to people who don't yet know Jesus. If we can't work things out in our own house then what do we have to offer anyone else. That doesn't mean we just give in to the fear and pressure created by the crow. It doesn't me we stop coming to for bread. It means we have to be more loving and bold in what Jesus has put in us, Himself. Leaders in the church need to lead in the authority given them by Jesus as church leaders. People that have vision from God for something specific need to know that the vision is from Him, it is His and he will complete it - crow or no crow.
Jesus used bird metaphor a lot in his teaching. In Matthew 10:29 He says "not a single sparrow falls to the ground without you father knowing it." Sounds to me like God may be in control of this whole deal.
He also says in Matthew 13:31-32 that the mustard seed, though it's the smallest of the seeds grows into a tree where birds come to find shelter and build nests. I know our church is full of love and faith. I know God has a plan in mind for us if we keep coming back to him to find food and shelter and living water. We have to love those among us who cause fear and fleeing. They're not so scary, they just need more of Gods love to get them through whatever stumbling block they happen to be stuck on right now. God will keep on filling up the feeder as long as we keep returning to him, and he'll leave enough for the crows to feast too.