Friday, December 12, 2014

Someone called...

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

God didn’t rescue you to give you a job description.  You haven’t been saved to be a pastor or missionary.  You’re not redeemed to be a worship leader or a church treasurer.  His plan for you isn’t to be a doctor or a fisherman.  At least not primarily.  So many of us find our identity in our job.  Many conversations start out like this, “nice to meet you, so what do you do?”  Our value, our worth, our position in life is directly tied to our professions.  Church folks like to talk out the more ‘spiritual’ professions as callings.  Don’t get me wrong, I think God did make us a certain way and leads us into certain paths that involve those things above.  He’s made some good at speaking, so sends them out to speak.  He’s made some good with numbers so send them out to earn or take care of money.  But he’s just as likely to use the thing we’re least skilled at to show himself to people.  So we better not get too wrapped up in our ‘calling’.  Maybe it’s time to back that train up a little and remember the one who calls us and what he calls us.  

The greek word used there for call (kaleo) means to be called aloud to, invited into and given the name of the one calling. What an amazing thing God does with us who once were wandering in the darkness of the world.  He calls out in the darkness, invites us into his kingdom and gives us his name as sons and daughters.  That word kaleo is the same word the angel uses when she comes to tell Mary what’s about to happen.  He says, ‘you’re going to have a baby, call him Jesus (which happens to mean Jehovah is Salvation) and he will be called Son of the Most High God’.  Because of what Jesus did at the cross, God now calls us by the same name when he rescues us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved son.  We get the same inheritance.  Romans 8:14-17 gives us this amazing spiritual reality that when Jesus gives us his Spirit we know that we are sons and daughters and cry out to our Abba father in heaven.  We become co-heirs with Christ.  Employees are not heir, children are heirs.

In Romans 8:30 Paul says, he predestined us, (that is he thought us up with intentions of us being his children before time began), then he called us and justified us and glorified us.  I love that everything in there is about what he did and not what I have to do.  I didn’t invent myself, I can’t join his family except he’s grafted me in, I certainly am incapable of justifying myself and glorifying, well everything else pales in comparison to his glory so only he can dish out anything worth while.  That word glorify is a huge one, it means to give worth and dignity, make excellent, adorn with lustre, clothe with splendour, give praise, give honour.  Imagine, the creator of the universe, the one who made us in his image put all the things that he is and deserves on us because of Jesus. 

Mind = Kabooooom!

So maybe you know what you’re ‘calling’ is, but just for a moment, take it off.  Lay it aside and rest.  If you’re like me, you’ve been trying really hard to carry something that seems heavy but Jesus wants you to take his yoke for a minute.  Just for a minute he wants you to take of your Sunday suit and tie, or your uniform or your Carhartts and he’s wants to clothe you in splendour.  He wants you to come back to the call.  In Romans 13:14, Paul says to “clothe yourself in Christ”.  I’ve heard so many people talk about ‘pressing into’ Jesus, like some kind of wrestling match or rugby scrum to get to whatever Jesus has for us, but Paul actually tells us to ‘sink into Jesus’.  Not like a fight to get there but the trust game where you close your eyes and fall backward into his arms knowing he will catch you.  Or like snuggling into a big fluffy house coat to relax.  The next time your kids come to you in their cozy fleece pj’s and you’re there in your lazy boy in your adult onesie (don’t pretend you don’t have one or want one) let that image hit you that that’s how you’re Abba father in heaven sees you because he’s calls you his son or daughter.

He has plans for you, he has a purpose, he has a future.  But you’ll never see it for what it is, you’ll never see him for who he is and you’ll never know who you are unless you hear the call, ‘this is my beloved son or daughter in who i’m well pleased’.  So before you you get out to go about your calling you better make sure you’ve put on a good base layer and clothed yourself in Jesus first.  It’s cold in Cape Breton, you won’t make it through unless you’re dressed right.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hurry, Open it, you'll never guess what's in there!!!

1 Corinthians 12 tells us about these gifts God wants to give us as a manifestation of his life that now dwells in us.  For some reason, lots of church folks seem to be afraid of these gifts.  Probably because no one has told them God’s not angry at them (or worse they have been explicitly told he is angry).  But he’s not, and he has only good and perfect gifts to give us.  Now, I know that some of us want those gifts to be health or wealth or power, which he does sometimes give, but Paul is pretty clear that he wants to give us these gifts; wisdom, knowledge, faith, miracles, healing, distinguishing spirits, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of those tongues.  It says to “each one is given a manifestation”.  That means you, and me, and every other one who believes in Jesus.  These are for the common good and they’re measures out according to his will.  That great! It’s means the pressure isn’t on us.  We don’t have to pretend or make it up or try really hard.  We just have let God give us whatever he wants to give us.  

Paul elsewhere says we should desire the gifts earnestly.  When I was a kid I would always snoop out the Christmas gifts my mom got me, I couldn’t wait.  I know, I know, it was wrong, but I think I was pretty good at pretending I was surprised on Christmas morning even though in some cases I had taken the toy out of the box, played with it, and put it back.  (my mom might disagree on my pretending abilities although she’s never called me out on it).  One year she bought my cousins old Sega Genesis from him to give me.  No kidding I actually took it out and set it up and played it for a whole day while she was at work.  I was so eager to get that gift that I couldn’t wait a week to try it out.

So why is it that no one told me that Jesus had these gifts he wanted to give me right after I met him.  And why do I usually forget to tell others.  Why do we keep them hidden under the bed like we’re waiting for this special day to break them out.  It’s weird.  It seems like somehow we have to earn these gifts, like when we meet Jesus we’re just interns and we don’t have full access to all the benefits until we’ve made it through the probation period.  Well, what if this person doesn’t decided he’s going to stay with the company, we can’t just start him out with access to health plan.  Lets teach him some theology first, maybe get him doing a little hands on service at the soup kitchen.  Maybe after he gets a few of these memory verse down about God’s wrath and he’s scared enough of his maker, we’ll tell him about the gifts.  We don’t want to unleash too much zeal and hope all at once.  

Not only weird, untrue.

We are adopted as sons and daughters and full citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, here and now.  And everyday is Christmas in the Kingdom.  There’s no waiting for special ceremonies.  Jesus sacrifice was the last act that ended all the religious requirements and law, all fulfilled by him for us.  Theres no test to pass.  Jesus was tested and found perfect and has covered us in his righteousness.  There are no magic words. The one who spoke everything into existence now speaks before the throne on your behalf.  The one who breathed life into your empty soul, has breathed his own life into you by the spirit and now breathes the life of the kingdom out of you through the gifts he’s measured out for you.  

I have a lot of friends who can’t wait for Christmas, some of them have been getting ready and decorating since November but I don’t want to wait, not for these gifts.  I want to see the life giving, life changing activity of the Kingdom of heaven daily, not just once a year.

So, I hope I didn’t ruin Christmas for you by telling you what’s in the box, but it’s ok, your father in Heaven said you could open it early. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Second Chance Moses

Imagine you're hanging out on a mountain in the desert with God.  You've had a pretty good record of God rescuing you and chatting with you and encouraging you to just do what He tells you and you'll get to see things go pretty well - of course they might look like they're going badly at first, but there's always a surprise ending - sea's split, rocks spring water, every morning there's fresh food delivered out of nowhere, etc...  Of course you're human, and you're hanging out with a bunch of humans, so repeatedly you forget about what God says, make your own decisions, go the opposite way, and so on...  For some reason it seems like this God you're hanging out with is full of second chances, as if his plans are bigger than your failures, as if his mercy is greater than your weakness, as if his love is greater than your iniquity.  No wonder Moses liked hanging out with God.

Picture this: God writes down on some rocks how you are to live in order to be acceptable to him based on your own merit, and before you even get down the hill to tell your buddies about it, they've already started asking a statue what they should do.  I'd be pretty upset, as Moses was.  I'd probably yell and tip the cow and throw things.  I don't know if I throw the rocks God just hand written for me though.  I bet Moses was like 'oh snap, that was a bad move'.  People get upset when they see bible on the floor that was printed in a factory on a machine.  God carved these words with his own finger.  Anyway, like I said, Moses had been hanging out with God enough at this point to know he was pretty merciful, and there always seems to be a contingency plan, so he gets up the courage to go back up the hill and asked God to forgive him and his stupid friends.  God being God, says, 'listen you guys are stubborn and stupid, but keep going, I have a something pretty sweet in store.'  After all the foolish things they did, God never moved from his bigger plan.  He kept hanging out with Moses, speaking to him "face to face, as a man speaks to his friend." (Exd. 33:11)  In spite of all the screw ups along the way, God continued to allow Moses and his buddies to experience His presence.  People who had broken the Law - literally, he smashed it on the ground - were somehow still permitted to experience God's presence and speak to him as a friend.  Moses is bold enough after all these things, all these people had "sinned a great sin", to ask God to show him His Glory, to keep going with them, to keep revealing his presence.  Man, Moses has guts, but even more God has Grace.  

What a picture of the Gospel.

I've often heard Old Testament characters like Moses taught as pictures of Jesus, and there's probably something to that, but Moses is really a picture of us, just maybe not in the way you've thought or been taught.  Usually Moses is made out to be some kind of hero, some kind of super spiritual leader and if we can somehow attain the faith he had and do the work he did, we can be bible heroes too.  He's just person like you and me, who without the Grace and Mercy of God couldn't do anything.  Check the stories again, Moses didn't do anything except respond to what God told him to do, it was all God.  Anything good that ever happened was because God said it would happen and then made it happen.  Moses was just along for the ride.  The funny part is Moses knew it and made it clear, "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here."  Without his presence they were toast, he was toast.  The broken tablets are the proof.  They had God's presence, God and Moses moved of just a little bit in the distance (still within earshot of the thunder on top of the hill) and they immediately turned away.  They couldn't even wait long enough to get the law, let along manage to keep it if they had it.  God's law was meant to show them their own brokenness, not to rescue them from sin.  That's why God didn't just zap Moses and the rest of them with a lightning bold when they broke the tablets.

Listen to the Gospel in how God treated them.

Even though they were broken hopeless failures on their own, God promised "my presence will go with you, and I will give your rest" (33:14).

Even though they were stiff-necked stubborn people He said "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (33:19)

Even though Moses had broken the Law and failed on many occasions, He said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand"

All these because of who God is.  "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin."  (34:6-7)

The Gospel is that God has a much better revelation of himself than words written on stones, he has written his law of love on our hearts.  He has a much greater revelation of his presence than pillars of cloud and hanging out in tents in the desert, he has breathed his own spirit into us making us his dwelling place.  He has a much better revelation of Himself that hiding in a rock in the desert, He has hidden us in the Rock and covered us and showed the hope of glory, Christ in us and we in him.

After all this fiasco, Moses has the nerve to ask for one more favor, "If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, take us for your inheritance." (Ex 34:9)

God hasn't changed, he's still Exodus 34:6-7, and we haven't changed, we're still like Moses and his gang.  But the good news is, God showed us again that the law written is stone had no power to rescue us.  For that he needed to show a greater revelation of Himself by sending Jesus to lay down his life, nailing our iniquity to the cross and making the Law obsolete.  It's glory has passed away and we've been given a new revelation, Jesus himself.  We still can't live up to that old law etched in stones and we were never really meant to, instead God has showed us that we have found favor in His sight (because of Jesus) and we are in fact, pardoned from our iniquity and taken as his inheritance (because of Jesus).

So go on, in his presence, "strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:11-14)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fear to Freedom

Fear is the beginning of knowledge.  I hope you're not still at the beginning.  If you are, if you've just realized who God is and how amazing he is, I hope you won't stay at the beginning, I hope you'll go deeper and realize that the more you get to know him, the more your fear moves to freedom.  Consider for a moment that you were not designed to 'fear' God.  When Adam was made, the perfect image bearer of his Father in heaven, there was no fear.  He just hung out with his Daddy.  The beginning of knowledge, apart from knowing the perfect love and security of dependence on God, was the knowledge of good and evil.  Remember Adam only knew good until he ate from the wrong tree.  Oh, to go back to the tree of life.  Well here's the Good News, Jesus is the tree of life and in him there is no fear, he's the tree and we're the branches and we get to rest in him.  Perfect love - that is the expression of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is where the tree of life is found and it casts out fear.  People had to be cast out of the perfect presence of the Lord because our broken nature wants there to be something other that a perfect loving God.  But Jesus has redeemed us so we can return to a place where fear is removed and we can come boldly before His throne of Grace.  We now get to share in the perfect expression of the Trinity because he's come to adopt us into that family.

As you get to know God more and more as your Father, something in this statement "the fear of the Lord" changes, the meaning gets redeemed to a greater purpose.  The word used both in the Hebrew and the Greek don't just mean to be afraid, it also means to revere, to be in awe.  Once you start to realized that you no longer have to fear the wrath of God, because he poured out his wrath against all sin on Jesus, your motivation for life changes.  Now you start to live in the redeemed meaning of 'fear of the Lord' which is to be in awe of Him.  Isn't it awe inspiring that when you look around and see everything he created just by the word of his mouth shout about how amazing he is.  Isn't it awe inspiring that he would do something so unimaginable in giving up the life of His Son in order to rescue us.  Of course people under the Law were afraid of the Lord, because they knew their was no way out on their own.  But we've had the perfect revelation of love handed down to us in Jesus, and the old way is finished.  We're not trapped in the cage any more waiting for the lions of wrath to be released.  

All kinds of things keep us bound in the prison of fear; our failures, our shortcomings, lies we've believed about God and ourselves, religion, regret... but it's not what we were made for and it's not what Jesus gave his life for.  You can continue to live a life where you pay lip service to knowing a loving God who has lavished his grace and mercy upon us, all the while living under a cloud of darkness worrying that he's going to remember your failures and give up on you or you can really live and rest and accept the promise that his love is greater than your fear.

Listen to the strong language Paul uses in his desire for the church at Colossae, who were being fear-motivated in following Jesus,  
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who ha qualify you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption , the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:11-14)

Could the kind of hope Paul has for his friends in Colossae possibly come true if motivated by fear?  John didn't think so, he said, 
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in loved abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected in us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as his is so also are we in this world, there is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear.  We love because he first loved us.  (1 John 4:15-19)
God has given us his son to reveal what he's really like, how great his love is.  He's given us his son to transfer us from the fear of living in the domain of darkness.  He's given us his son to qualify us for our inheritance.  He's given us his son for power, joy, endurance, patience, thanksgiving, redemption and forgiveness.  You won't experience any of it if you continue to believe the lie live in fear that any of it is dependent on your performance. But you'll get to live a life experiencing more and more of being in awe of your father in heaven if you abide in his love. So I hope, like John and countless others who have walked out of a life of being afraid to "come to know and believe the love that God has for us", you will moved beyond the beginning of knowledge - fear - into a life of freedom, resting in the promise that God will look at you and see Jesus spirit joined to your and say, this is my beloved son or daughter in whom I am well pleased...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Arise and Let's Go

Moses my servant is dead.  Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you just I promised to Moses. (Joshua 1:2-3)

If God’s promise to Joshua, a man under the Law, leading a people under the Law was that everywhere they stepped he would give them the land, how much more will he give us under Grace.  Consider the promises of God to Israel; a land of milk and honey, victory over their enemies, peace and rest.  These are shadows of the promises he has given us in Jesus, these and more; freedom from all that the Law represents, unmerited favor, unlimited access to the God of Love, life, and eternal life.
Joshua was told to be strong and courageous in doing what God said and following the Law, never departing from it – then he would be successful.  Now if Joshua could go out and be courageous, knowing that his success was very closely linked to two things – how well he stuck to the Law and knowing that God was always with him – how much more courageous can we be as we follow Jesus who fulfilled that Law to set us free from its requirements and consequences, and then, not only promises that he’ll be with us but actually in us, empowering us to ‘go into the land that he’s giving us? 
My land is Cape Breton (yours is wherever you happen to find yourself living).  I’m not from Cape Breton, but God put me here, so I’m going to take my inheritance and help people take theirs. Not by sword and human courage like Joshua (I don’t have a sword and my courage is quite small) but by faith, hope and love. 
Joshua was told to go through the camp and round up the men armed and full of valour to lead the way into hostile ground in order to give their brothers rest.  Will you come with me?  Consider this your round up call. 
If you know Jesus, he has armed you with everything you need to walk into what looks like hostile territory and bring rest to the people who are dying, the walking dead who have no idea that their way out of death is Jesus.  You are a man/woman of valour, because he’s put his spirit in you, which is everything you need.  God has an inheritance to give everyone in Cape Breton who wants to take it, here and now, if we’ll be strong and courageous in Him, knowing he’s done everything we could never do.  Unless we take the Gospel that God loves them, Jesus gave his life and raised from the dead to destroy every enemy, and has abundant life now and eternal life free of charge (much more that the ‘ticket to heaven if you say this prayer and believe’ that people have been handing out), Cape Breton will remain in slavery to a trickster who came to steel, kill and destroy.  Why don’t we end his fun?  He’s been running wild on our kids and neighbors long enough; brokenness abounds, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:20-21).  There’s more than enough Grace to rescue this place and whatever place you’re in.
We have a long, long record of God being faithful to his promises – it’s a perfect record.  We also have a long, long history of him changing things when people decided to trust in his faithfulness and live by faith, through the power of his spirit.  He will give his inheritance and unlike Joshua’s burden to uphold the law, our burden is to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness – which is entirely revealed in the person of Jesus Christ –  and everything else will be added.
God will heal people as we are strong and courageous enough to tell them about his healing and exercise our authority in Him to call out healing.  We can no longer be beggars in the kingdom of Heaven asking for crumbs, we are sons and daughters at the head table, with all the authority that Jesus has.  Healing is their inheritance.
God will set people free as we proclaim liberty to the captives.  They are serving a sentence that was pardoned at the cross and the record was erased when Jesus walked out of the tomb.  We get to be the one who walks down death row and instead of proclaiming ‘dead man walking’,  we’ve been given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven and whoever we open the door for gets to walk out of whatever jail they are in.  Freedom is their inheritance.
God will give faith and repentance as we proclaim the time of the Lords favor.  Neither of these belongs to us, they come from his Grace.  We can’t teach someone to have faith or give them the seven steps of repentance.  They come by grace through the Holy Spirit as revelation of who Jesus is, as we proclaim and live the truth that God is Love; this truth revealed in that he “laid down his life for us and we ought to lay ours for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).  As people encounter faith and repentance shown in how we love one another because of the grace that’s been revealed to us, how could the Lord’s favor not draw them into the same life we know?  God’s love is their inheritance.
So then, will walk into our inheritance and help make the way for others to find the rest that we know is promised.  Will we take our place with the men and woman of valour who cut a path into the life that God has paid a very high price to secure for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, not dependant on our faithfulness to the Law but his grace for upon those who could never uphold it.  Will we trust in the new agreement that not only will God be with us, but he will be in us to accomplish everything he has planned for the people in Cape Breton.  I believe if we’ll go, he’ll go ahead of us and give us not only every piece of land where our foot falls, but every person that encounters his great and unfailing love.

Who’s coming? 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Grace Goggles

Whoever pursue righteousness and kindness, will find life, righteousness and honour.  Proverbs 21:21

We have this tendency to sometimes look at what the bible says without the filter of who Jesus is and what he did to rescue us.  That's especially tricky when we look at book like proverbs, when on the surface it looks like advice on how we should live.  The problem is when we look at things apart from the finished work of Jesus, it puts the work back on us.  Instead of bringing life, it becomes an endless cycle of trying harder and harder until we eventually give up because it's impossible. Take this Proverb for instance.  Without Jesus and the empowerment and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, it becomes try hard to be righteous (that is truthful and justified before God)  and kind (that is loyal, good, faithful).  The thing is, scripture tells us no one is like that, no one is good, no one can be justified by his own works before God, no one can earn anything.  Our brokenness would tell us otherwise. Consequently, our religion has gone off in all kinds of tangents to try and come up with a system (much like the old system of the law) to keep us on track and moving in a right direction so we can attain that second part of the verse where we find life, righteousness and honor.  But in our own attempts it all leads to frustration and failure and guilt and death.

So lets slow this train wreck down and see what it looks like through the lenses of Grace.  It's so good that Jesus has restored our sight so that we can see the word through the reality that Grace has come to set us free from the nonsense of religious trial and failure.  Romans 3:21 says, "but now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the profits bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."  According to Paul, all that the law ever did was point out our sinfulness, in fact not only point it out but stir it up.  But Jesus came, without sin, to show us what righteousness really looked like.  So if we are to listen to the wisdom of this particular proverb in the light of Jesus, it means we pursue Jesus because he is the righteousness of God revealed to us so that we can understand it.  If you want to know what the righteousness looks like look at Jesus, he's the visible image of the invisible God.  So get to know him, talk to him, read his word, let the Holy Spirit whisper his love into your heart.

Now of course Jesus went back home, so the way we now pursue him is through the Holy Spirit who he so generously poured into our hearts to reveal his love to us.  The second pursuit in this proverb is kindness, which has a far deeper meaning in the original than being nice to people.  It's actually a picture of the fruit of the spirit, those things that don't come naturally to us because of our brokenness but exude out of us when we're living by the the power of the spirit.  Love, joy patience, kindness, goodness... all the things in Galatians 5:22 that are promised in a life lead by the spirit.  These don't come from us, we can try hard and pretend, but human love, human kindness, human goodness, doesn't hold a candle to the overwhelming reality of those things empowered by the holy spirit.

So, now that we know what we are actually to pursue out of this little tidbit of wisdom from Solomon, enlightened by the truth of the Gospel and and power of the Holy Spirit, let's look at the promise because if we don't know the realities of the promise through the lenses of Love and Grace, they become self-serving falsities that distract us from the reality of life in Christ.

First promise: life
If we pursue Jesus and life in the spirit, we get life; new life, abundant life, restored life, healed life, whole life - something far beyond the shadow of life that we know before meeting Jesus.  The emptiness of what the world has to offer in trinkets and treasure and momentary pleasure get blown out of the water when he heals our broken sense of reality and opens our eyes to the reality of whole life in him.

Second promise: righteousness
If we pursue Jesus and life in the spirit we get Jesus - the righteousness of God.  He actual gives us himself, he replaces our broken nature with his perfect nature.  He clothes us in his righteousness and destroys our filthy rags.  He makes us his brother.  He gives us our inheritance as full heirs in the kingdom of heaven, "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21)

Third Promise: Honor
If we pursue Jesus and Life in the spirit we get honor.  Not earthly honor, not the esteem of people who raise us up on a pedestal because of our abilities or accomplishments, but honored before God.  We get to share in his glory.  We get to have our dignity restored in front of a perfect loving God who sees us, because of Jesus completed work, as holy, blameless and above reproach (Col 22)  God is not going to look at you and say, look at all your failures, look at all the times you let me down, look at all you sins.  He's going to look at you and say, hello my beloved in whom I am well pleased.  He's going to let you experience the reality of life with Jesus.

So pursue him. Open yourself up to the free gift of reconciliation and healing he has for you through his Spirit and watch him transform your life into what he designed it to be, an abundant whole life, in the presence and power of the the one who loves you and makes you righteous in front of your Father, dignity restored and forever established in the mystery revealed, the hope of Glory, Christ in you, who accomplished everything at the cross you never could and set you free from trying harder to do it on your own,

You are forgiven
You are free
You are loved

So pursue Him and the life in the spirit he offers and you'll find abundant life, the love of God revealed in Jesus and the Hope of Glory, Christ in you.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Compassion Radar

Jesus seems to have a heightened sense of compassion when he finds himself in a crowd.  It was kind of like when Dr. Xavier went into Cerebro and an could detect all the mutants in the world, he could see into their reality, he could feel their pain.  Well maybe it wasn't exactly like X-men, but there's something about seeing a group of people who are broken, oppressed, afflicted and desperate stirs the kingdom of heaven in Jesus, causes him to identify with them.  Imagine, leaving a perfect place with no brokenness, no oppression, no sickness, no evil to step into this mess we find ourselves in.  But he did, he step out of heaven and in to our mess.  He walked around, saw and experienced first hand just how far we've fallen.  No wonder it caused him to be sick to his stomach.  That's what the word we've translated 'compassion' meant, by the way, "moved to the bowels", the part of the body where his contemporaries believed love and pity were situated.  I know that's weird, but that's what it meant when he had compassion on them.  So those butterflies you feel when you first fall in love and that sickness you feel when you see some great injustice seem to be where the Holy Spirit hangs out.  When someone tells you to trust your gut, maybe what they really mean is, live by the Spirit.

My fear is that I've become dull to that thing inside me that was inside Jesus causing him to have compassion on the crowds, and that thing that compelled and empowered him respond to individuals in the crowd.  There is something about getting up close and personal with the crowd that causes that dullness to disappear, it changes the reality of suffering.  The 24hr 'news' networks blasting us with the suffering and brokenness in the world has had the opposite effect that it should in many cases.  The videos of war torn countries, refugee camps and hungry kids have become just another TV show rather than the cruel reality that we've help create in many cases.  We've become immune to that which should move us with compassion.  But something is different when you get in the crowd.

I got to go to Ethiopia for 10 days and meet some of those kids in person.  I got to play soccer and share their food and tell them about the Jesus.  Their faces got tattooed in my brain, their stories got written in my heart.  Something changed when I got to walk in the crowd.  The compassion got stirred up in me, it made me sick to my stomach that these kids were orphans by no fault of their own.  It made me want to do something to heal them, and set them free and show them there's a God who loves them more than anything, thou their circumstances tell them different.  I had no desire for them to believe my doctrine.  I had no hope that they would trust my theology.  I only wanted them to experience my faith, a faith that was given to me by Jesus through the Holy Spirit that has revealed to me that my Father in heaven loves me no matter what my circumstances or my failures may try to dictate to me.  He is love, I feel it in my gut.

But compassion isn't just for poor African orphans.  I had to come home.  I live in Cape Breton not Addis Ababa.  It doesn't seem like Jesus compassion was limited by circumstance and location.  Matthew 9:35-36 says, "Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  Everywhere Jesus was he recognized the brokenness and he responded as the Holy Spirit stirred compassion in him because it's all around us.  If we don't see it we really are blind.  I live in a place where most of the people have never heard the Good News that Jesus came to rescue them and give them real life, healing and freedom.  If they have heard about Jesus, it's some kind of half truth that's lead them into religious gobbledygook that puts them further into a hole they can't dig out of.  Not only have they probably not heard it, they've probably never seen it put into action.  Our churches are good and meeting and teaching and preaching and talking.  Maybe we're not as good at healing and feeding and freeing and caring for people who are 'harassed and helpless'.

If we're really living by the Spirit, as Jesus told us we could, we have to listen to Him when he stirs compassion in us.  We have to listen to our gut.  If you get those butterflies in your stomach when the Holy Spirit is stirring you up to something, do it.  That is the power of the Holy Spirit in you trying to get you to let him out so the Kingdom of Heaven can come to earth through the love he's poured into you.  Maybe that looks like you "proclaiming the good news" to someone.  Don't worry, you don't need a soap box, just tell them God's not angry and he loves them, that's a pretty good starting point.  Or if you see some injustice or brokenness and your gut is telling you, 'this makes me want to vomit', that also is the Spirit stirring something up in you.  Respond by doing something.  If God is stirring you to action, he will be the presence and the power that enables you to be the solution.  Maybe it means praying for someone to be healed (he still does that) or giving someone some food or clearing out your bank account to buy a well in Africa.  He just wants to use you to be his conduit for the Kingdom of Heaven to come to earth.

We've become much too 'careful' and 'discerning' and concerned with appearances in our culture when it comes to being the hands and feet of the Kingdom. What if we offend someone?  What if that's not a wise use of our money?  What if God doesn't come through and we make him look bad?

Really, some of us think like that, as if most of things Jesus said aren't true.  He offended lots of people for the sake of them having an opportunity to hear and see the Kingdom, so offend away. the Gospel is offensive to our sense of self-righteousness.  The Gospel that says you can't earn it and you can't pay for it is opposite to everything culture and religion tries to tell us, but it's true.

He told people to give up everything, go out without a nickel in their pocket, leave their careers as high paying tax collector and fishermen behind.  Stop worrying, he'll take care of you if he tells you to do something that looks foolish by the worlds standards

Make him look bad?  He made the universe and he's perfect, you can't make him look bad, that's just silly. His perfection and righteousness is really big, your mistakes and failures are really itty-bitty.

John 1:14 says Jesus came 'full of grace and truth."  Jesus default mode was grace (goodwill, loving-kindness, favor)  and truth (what is true in things appertaining to God and the duties of man).  He then gave his life to show what that looked like.  When he was moved with compassion, grace and truth looked like him extending the power and presence of the kingdom of heaven through acts of mercy to people who were suffering the brokenness of a broken world, people who didn't earn or deserve it, people who had no where else to turn.  The Grace and Truth of the Kingdom of Heaven was dished out in loaves and fishes, more than they could eat.  The Grace and truth of the Kingdom of Heaven was revealed with broken eyes being opened to the light.  The Grace and truth of the Kingdom of Heaven was spoken with simple world like, you're forgiven, your faith has made you well.

If you find your compassion radar is weak, take a minute to go somewhere there's a crowd.  Leave your religious hat in the drawer and listen to the Spirit.  Wait for him to show you what he showed Jesus when he looked out on the crowd.  You might find your in a place where brokenness it painfully obvious and people have missed the Grace and Truth of the the kingdom and need to know the simplicity of the good news, "God's not angry at you, Jesus came to rescue you.  Leave the mess behind and go in freedom, the truth will make you free."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Serving Up Sight

Jesus wanted his friends to know the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven in their lives, and he wants the same for you and me.  When the rich young man walked away, he left behind what Jesus offers us all at the cross: Eternal Life.  But don't mistake what eternal life is; it does not only mean some future life in a far of place that we call heaven.  Eternal life actually means life without beginning or end, that which has always been.  Whether the rich young man meant 'how do I get to heaven' I'm not sure, but what Jesus offered him was real eternal life, abundant life, kingdom of heaven life here on earth as it is, always was and always will be in heaven.  Jesus was offering his life and the man passed it up for trinkets and treasure, fame and fortune.  From the disciples perspective, they surely thought Jesus would want this guy on the team: he's got money, power, respect, authority and from his own perspective had followed the rules pretty well.  Seems like an upstanding guy, sign him up for team eternal life. Unfortunately, it's harder to follow Jesus than following the rules and being popular because living as citizens of the Kingdom means most everything is backwards to the kingdom of the world.

Here's what the disciples (and 1st century Jewish people in general) had in mind; the Messiah is coming to overthrow the Romans, re-establish Israel as God's chosen representatives on earth, and live under the rule of their new king, milk and honey for everyone.  This is likely the motivation for the disciples walking away from their life in order to follow Jesus.  Somewhere in the back of their mind (or right in the front of there mind in some cases) they thought, if we stick with this guy who is obviously the messiah, we're going to have it good.  In fact, James and John are very upfront about what they think.  Jesus wanted to be sure that his friends didn't miss the point on this one.  He wanted them to know that Eternal life and daily life was going to be one and the same and look different for them from what they had in mind.  He lays the future on them again, and it isn't pretty.  He tells them what's about to go down when they get to Jerusalem;  they're not on their way to kick out the government, they're not on their way to take over the city, they're not on their way to worldly power and influence.  They are on their way to see their fearless leader, the messiah, lay down his life, to be betrayed by cream of the crop of his own people, turned over to the enemy, beaten, mocked and killed.  And then something incredible, raised from the dead.  If they were astonished by Jesus not inviting Mr. Rich on the team unless he gave up being Mr. Rich, this little tidbit that we call the Gospel, surely did not sound like good news to them at the time.  From a worldly perspective it looks like Jesus is saying 'I'm going to Jerusalem to flush this whole movement down the toilet.'

James and John, however, are still thinking... well I'm not sure what they're thinking.  But they're still looking for the place of honor.  Maybe they thought, if this dude comes back from the dead nothing can stop him, the priests, the lawyers, the Romans, he'll be like some kind of super king, everyone will listen to him, so lets make sure we're on his right and left.  Everyone gets in a tizzy because everyone wants to feel important and have influence.  And Jesus sets them straight, cause that's what he does.

'first of all, you have no idea what you're asking for, you're going to get what's coming to me, but it's up to our father in heaven how that plays out.  get ready for it.  Secondly, and most importantly, if you'd been listening these past three years we've been hanging out you'd see that the world for you guys is about to work differently than it does right now. the world uses it's power and influence to hold people down, to control them, but it's not like that for you guys. If you want to have influence and power and life in my kingdom you've got to serve people, even the ones you don't like.  If you want to be important you've got to be a slave.  If you want to live, you'll have to be willing to lay down your life for someone else to have life.'

Then Jesus shows them, because it seems that the disciples at times were not good listeners and had a hard time figuring out what he was talking about.  And because the Kingdom of Heaven is about action not ideas.
So they're walking along and this guy starts shouting, "son of David, have mercy on me".  The crowd is annoyed because this bottom of the barrel, unimportant scourge of society is interrupting rudely with his shouting.  Dude, here's a nickel, be quiet.  And Jesus says, here's what I mean boys, get ready.  He calls Blind Bartimaeus  over, son of Timaeus, the "highly prized one".  I bet this kid was teased his whole life, he didn't even have a real name, he didn't even have a real identity. Not Bob son of Timaeus, just son of Timaeus.  I can hear the bullies now, Hey there 'highly prized one', how many fingers am I holding up'  He was the least important kid on the block, his dignity was stripped away, his position in life was set, beggar, his identity was secure, that blind guy.

But not to Jesus.  To Jesus he was the highly prized one.  Earlier he let the one who was highly prized in the world just walk away; the one with money and prestige and power walked away.  Jesus didn't want to send him away, he offered him eternal life in the kingdom, he offers it to everyone, but the he could here Jesus' call over the call of his riches.  So Jesus called the one who'd never been shown favor to come and talk to him.  The son of David heard Barimaeus's call for mercy and responded; the kingdom of heaven is about action.  This man who'd worn a cloak to signify his status as a nobody and cover the shame of his brokenness threw it off and went to Jesus.  He revealed to the entire crowd that he was broken and maimed and crippled by the afllictions of sin in the world and in that moment was willing to do whatever it takes to get to his rescuer, to experience the mercy of the kingdom.

"What do you want me to do for you Bart" Jesus says.
"I want to regain my sight, to look up to my Father, your Father."  This was more than a request for physical healing, though it was that too.  This was a plea for soul healing.  The word used for sight is the same word Jesus used when he looked up to heaven to bless the food in feeding the five thousand.  Jesus on that hill wanted to see the power and mercy of the kingdom of heaven poured out on those people who were physically hungry and spiritually hungry, hungry enough to sit out in the wilderness and listen to Jesus talk about the Kingdom without any food. Jesus knew that the kingdom was about action not ideas.  If they walked away in the wilderness after hearing about the kingdom but not experiencing it, they would walk away for good.  Blind Bart needed more than to hear that God loved him (although he probably hadn't heard that much except maybe from his mother), he needed to see that the spiritual realities of the kingdom are real; action not ideas.  Jesus stopped in the crowd and took time out of his day to respond to a man that everyone else was telling to be quiet, he showed him mercy, he showed him love.  He served this unimportant nobody who'd never been given the time of day by anyone to show everyone in the crowd that everyone is important, not because of their power or influence or ability, but because they had the same father in Heaven who loves them.  Bart got his request, his sight was restored, physically and spiritually.  He got to lift his head, throw off his shame, leave behind the brokenness that had held him captive his entire life and see the reality of the kingdom of heaven.  The disciples learned a very important lesson that day.  If you want to be important in Jesus kingdom you have to look past what the world holds as valuable and see what God sees as valuable: all people being restored, given their dignity back, experiencing God's love through the mercy of people who've experienced God's love and mercy.

The Kingdom of Heaven is for real and we don't have to be dead to see it, we have been forgiven and given new life to see it.
"But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:22-23).
Throw off your cloak - Jesus already knows what's under there anyway - and come to him, he'll give you new sight to see that your father in Heaven loves you and the Kingdom is in action all around you and you get to be the one who serves people to show that the mercy and love in Kingdom of Heaven is real.  Don't wait to open that free gift he's offering and don't wait to give that gift to someone else.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Chewed Up and Spit Out

Darkness surrounds us, but it does not own us,
Not anymore
It’s been swallowed up by Mercy and Grace.
It’s been chewed up and spit out
When he looked into the eyes
Of one who’d never heard a noise,
He spit in the face of the one who poisoned us. 
He breathed the sigh that opened the gates of heaven and set a man straight, "Ephphatha,"
A sensation of sound serenaded this sinner who suffered in a state of acoustic darkness
Mercy chewed up his affliction and Grace spit it out.

Darkness surrounds us, but it does not condemn us, not anyone
It’s been devoured by Hope and faith
It’s been chewed up and spit out
When he looked into the eyes
Of one who’d never see a sunrise,
He spit in the face of the one who blinded us
He wiped on mud that cleaned out the dirt stuck on the souls of men to set a man free, “Siloam”
A sensation of sight saturated this sinner who stumbled in a stupor of visual darkness.
Hope chewed up his infection and Faith spit it out

Darkness surrounds us, but it does not defeat us, not anymore
It’s been destroyed by Truth and Life
It’s been chewed up and spit out
When he looked into the face
Of the one who came to erase
The sons and daughters with lies and disgrace.
He made a public spectacle of just how weak his enemy’s greatest move was. “teleh'o 
A symphony of spiritual song burst forth when sin seemingly succeeded but a resurrection set it in its place
Truth chewed up death and life spit out. 
Death has been swallowed up in victory
Oh death where is your victory?
Oh death where is your sting?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The After Easter Breakfast Party

A few days after everything went down - arrest, beating, crucifixion, death, resurrection - Jesus starts appearing to His friends.  If you have ever lost a close friend or family member, you know the days and weeks following are kind of surreal.  You do not know which way is up for a while.  You have to figure out what the new normal is.  Imagine the state these boys are in.  Young men, some of them still teenagers, have just watched their best friend die and come back to life.  He has basically turned everything they learned as kids about life, religion, culture, God, on its head.  And now he starts appearing to them and giving that power to them by the Holy Spirit.  That is a crazy week.

We catch up with some of the guys in chapter 21 with John's telling the story.  Peter, who seems to have risen to the top as the leader, despite his obvious shortcomings, says 'I'm going fishing' and the rest of the boys decide to go too.  That is what I would do.  The whole world just got extremely crazy for a while, I need to do something that is familiar.  I am a fisherman, I am going fishing.  I need some sense of normal in my life.  I cannot handle anymore supernatural, high intensity, life changing things.  I cannot handle anymore emotional roller coaster.

Of course, Jesus is always in control and had a plan for the morning. So they fished all night and did not catch anything - that is kind of normal.  Jesus is waiting at the shore at daybreak and shouts out to them, "boys, got any fish?", a frustrating question after you have been out fishing and come back empty handed.  'Put your nets down on the right side of the boat, I think you'll find some there now.'  Of course, some of them had heard that before, a few years back and it worked.  They put down the nets and bam! 153 large fish.  More than the nets would normally hold, but they held.  John clues in, "it's the Lord".  Peter freaks out and jumps in to swim to shore - he tends to be a little overly spontaneous at times.  They get to shore and drag the fish in and guess what is waiting: breakfast.

This is what I love about this situation.  The boys have had the most intense time of there life in the past week - spiritually, mentally, emotionally - and do not know which way is up.  Jesus shows up and says, 'boys, let's have breakfast.  Let's sit here, chill out and do something normal, and I'm here to hang out with you.'

Life is like this; highs, lows, roller coasters, normal, mundane... it's just life.   Here Jesus is showing up in powerful ways with the Holy Spirit, and in everyday normal ways with the Holy Spirit.  It's the same for you and I as it was for the disciples.  We go to conferences and have amazing spiritual experiences then Monday morning we have a spiritual hangover.  We feel drained.  Our head is spinning from the things we heard and experienced.  We need to know Jesus is there in those times too.  We have amazing spiritual experiences where we hear the Holy Spirit telling us he loves us or he has some task for us or some word to share, the next day we're questioning if that was really Him.  We need to know Jesus is there in those times.

After Jesus says, "come have some grub”, I love this line.  "None of the disciples dared to ask Him, 'who are you?'.  They knew it was the Lord."  The same Holy Spirit that let them in on the secret that Jesus was the Messiah was telling them now that this was Jesus.  Sometimes (often for me), after we have these spiritual experiences with Jesus, we get a little voice of doubt brewing up.  You will recognize it - it sounds like you saying, "was that real?", "was that really Jesus?", "would Jesus really use me that way?", "could He really love me that much?"  That is not the Holy Spirit.  That is the other chump that Jesus made a public spectacle of at the cross when he took God's wrath against our sin, gave up his life and then didn't stay dead. 

I am certain the boys were hearing some of those voices the night before when they went fishing.  I would bet they were questioning some of the stuff they saw and experienced in the past 3 years.  Maybe they figured it would be easier to just go back to being fishermen if all that stuff Jesus had told them was coming true.  But Jesus had a plan for these guys and he has plan for you too.  What you need to know is that He is with you the same way in the spiritual battles as he is in the mundane breakfast.  He just loves you so much he wants you to know He is with you whatever you're doing;  preaching the Gospel to the masses or catching fish to pay the bills, healing the blind or coaching soccer, walking on water or walking the dog.  If Jesus is in your life, he is your life.

When John is writing this little account of what happened (and at other times) he refers to himself as "the one Jesus loves".  It always bugged me when I read that.  I thought John was pretty full of himself and the other guys must get annoyed by this.  But now when I read it I realize, John just got it.  He understood, long before the rest of them, that Jesus really loved him.  He loved Him when he made him, he loved him when he left heavens glory, he loved him when he called him to come follow, he loved him when he went to the cross on Friday, he loved him when he got up from the tomb, he loved him when he gave him the Holy Spirit, he loved him when he made breakfast and hung out on the beach (when he could be hanging out in Heaven with his father and the angels).  He loved him when he was a broken young man, he loved him when he was old and tired.  He loved him when he took him home.  He was the one Jesus loved.  And so are you.  Say it out loud.  I know it feel weird, I know it feels undeserved, but it is true.  I am the one Jesus loves.  You are the one Jesus loves.  He loves you enough to show up in your life when it is a great day or a terrible day.  He loves you enough to give you the Holy Spirit and have breakfast with you.  He loves you enough to rescue you from sin and death and every other affliction that comes your way.  He loves you enough to lay down his own life so you can have an abundant one. 

You, me, John, Peter, it does not matter, we are all the one Jesus loves. 

While Jesus is hanging out with the guys he turns to Pete and says, Rocky do you love me?  He says it three times in fact.  I imagine Peter was getting annoyed by the third time.  But I think this was kind of a trick question and Peter didn't get it at first (the way most of us don't get it).  I think Jesus was trying to show him the truth that we only love Jesus because he loved us first.  John would have got it the first time.  I think the hidden question for Peter was, do you know I really love you.  None of us can love God unless we know we are loved.  None of us can understand how any of this following Jesus thing works except if we know Jesus loves us.  None of can see the kingdom of heaven at work until we get some revelation that Jesus loves us.  None of us can serve God unless we know he has served himself up in the greatest display of love the world has ever seen.

You are the one Jesus loves.  Read the rest of His story and see just how much.  Have breakfast with him this week and see what he says. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Faith in 4D

Driving past a pond yesterday, I saw a couple Canada Geese swimming around, doing what Geese do. What marvelously annoying creature they are.  Where I grew up, a huge flock would hang out in the harbour for a while every year before making their expedition south for the winter.  Most mornings they would wake me up at dawn with their incessant honking; remarkably loud when there's 500 of the buggers. Anyway, these two were just minding their business swimming around. When I saw them I remembered this line from a cheesy football movie. Coach McGinty (Gene Hackman) says to Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves), quarterbacks are "Like a duck on the pond. On the surface everything looks calm, but beneath the water those little feet are churning a mile a minute." Imagine God being able to speak to people through cheesy football movies and honking geese; but he does, and he did.  

I really love this verse in Ephesians where Paul writes to his friends and says, I want you to experience how long and wide and high and deep Jesus love is for them.  Sometimes, if I'm honest, I feel like a duck.  My faith has a two dimensional quality.  Things on the surface look fine, all the while, I'm paddling like a mad duck to try to get anywhere.  I know Jesus didn't intend for my faith to be played out that way, he's got way more for me that that.  Lot's of Jesus followers get trapped in this idea, they get trapped part way into really experiencing God.  Somehow, the idea that being a Christian means you've got it all together, or at least have to make it look that way on the surface.  That idea doesn't come from scripture and it certainly doesn't get us anywhere with our Father in heaven.  But there we are, paddling around on the pond, all the while having no clue that the pond is deeper that we can possibly imagine.  

Lot's of folks can get trapped in flat, square surface faith.  Maybe they know scripture well.  The words on the page are important and meaningful but that's where they stay.  Stories in a book.  Rules and regulations to govern life.  Codes and laws to keep us with in the bounds.  Flat and square, defined edges you can't see past, right angles to keep you from getting crooked.  

But Paul says they're more.

Sometimes our faith makes it to three dimensions.  Boxes.  A place where faith can be contained.  Some semblance of structure and usefulness.  Somewhere to hide if the world gets too scary.  Somewhere to store things in case you need them later.  Building blocks in monuments to remind of a past time when things seemed alive.  

But Paul says they're more.

Paul wants his friends to experience another dimension of their faith, another dimension of Jesus.  Depth is something much harder to define, much harder to nail down.  Depth seems something much more vast and mysterious than Length and Width and Height.  Finding depth seems to take an endless life long exploration, especially to Paul's friends in Ephesus.  Ephesus was a coastal city where people knew what it meant to plumb the depths of the Sea.  Paul knew what it was like be shipwrecked in the deep bottomlessness with only God to cling to for life.  He knew the utter depths of joy in the midst of pain and trouble.  He knew there was something well beyond the faith he once had; of rules and laws and ceremonies and knowledge which he then counted as something but now as trash compared to the love and grace and mercy of Jesus.

Paul made no allusions to having it all together.  If you saw Paul, you wouldn't likely think that dudes got this "Christian walk thing" figured out - at least by our North American, reformed, respectable, sanitized version of Christian walking.  Paul was put in jail, beaten up,  run out of town, abandoned by his friends and arguing with other Christians.  He was a drifter who talked too much, didn't have a suit and tie, no Christian fish decal on his donkey, bad at small talk, and said really politically incorrect things about other peoples religion... but he was real - kind of like Jesus.  He talked about his faith, he lived his faith, he experienced his faith. AND he really wanted everyone to do the same with their's.

Paul also knew that this ability to grasp all the dimensions of the love of Christ comes not from us, from our ability or willingness or capacity to figure it out, but by the power of God, through the Holy Spirit.  These dimensions aren't something we ascertain by our goodness, they aren't earned by our obedience, they aren't won by our efforts.  They're part of the free gift of Grace because of what Jesus did in his life, death and resurrection.  They're part of the deal.  They're what God wants us to see, know and experience in our life with him and he's given us his own Spirit so that we can have the power to understand what is incomprehensible on our own.  But it is possible with Him.  And it's His great desire that we take him up on the offer.  

So, like Paul, I "pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with powerthrough his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Be Blessed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Soul Rest

Jesus says, "hey tired people, all you guys and girls who've been running around try to get better, be better, look better, think better, speak better - stop it.  It's not going to work.  The world has put something heavy on you that just won't work.  But I've got a new thing, I've got a new way, it won't be easy, but it will be rest for your soul" (Matthew 11:28-30, sort of...)

Jesus isn't at all concerned, though you may have been told different, in you getting better.  In fact, when he looks at you, you're perfect because he sees what he's already done on your behalf at the Cross.  So let me rephrase that; Jesus is so concerned with you being perfect that he did everything that needs to be done to make you perfect, in his Fathers eyes anyway, so stop trying so hard to do what he's already done.  Don't get me wrong, you're going to get better if you hang around with Jesus, it's just the natural reaction to being in the presence of someone who loves you perfectly, you start to be more like them.  Of course the opposite reaction is also true, if you hang around with someone who thinks they're perfect but really isn't - every human in the the history of humans - you tend to get jaded and cynical and angry. (see Pharisees for more info).  Jesus came to make you free, and you are indeed free from all the worldly nonsense and religious gobbledygook, if you want to take up his way and find rest for your soul from all the world is throwing at you.  So attach yourself to him and see what happens.

If you're attached to Jesus you'll love better, because he loved us first. And all he's really called us to do is love others with that same love.  Fortunately, you don't have to muster up that love, he gives it to you in endless supply through the Holy Spirit that he joins to you're spirit when he makes you a  new creation.  Don't worry, when you need to love someone, he'll give you what you need to love them.  

If you're attached to Jesus you'll think better.  He gives us freedom from the ridiculousness of sin that traps our minds in all kinds of foolishness.  Right now you may be thinking, I have to manage this thing that I struggle with, I have to try harder not to sin, I have to do some things to make up for all the mistake I've made, I have to be careful not to let anyone find out what I'm really like, I don't want to live anymore, I don't deserve to be happy, I want that person to die, I hate... (add any lies you currently believe to this short list).  Now, turn around, walk away from those lies, and think about Jesus, who he is, what he's done, what he's offered you free of charge, what he promises for you now and for eternity.  (perfect son of God who gave up his life on the cross in order to set you free from the wages of sin, making you holy, spotless, blameless, righteous in your Fathers eyes, because he loves you so much and want to hang out with you and the Father and the Holy Spirit permanently).

If you're attached to Jesus you'll see better.  Ok, he might or might not heal your physical vision, that's up to him, but you'll get spiritual vision.  You'll start to see that he's in everything, all the time, even the stuff that is crappy.  Even in the trials.  He'll start to show you how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.  He'll start to reveal the truth about your Father in heaven who loves you and is not angry at you because all his wrath was poured out on Jesus instead of you, he's wrath-less toward you.  You'll see light in darkness, you'll see hope in despair, you'll see faith in action, you'll see joy in  hardship.  

If you're attached to Jesus you'll live better.  No prosperity gospel here, that's no gospel at all.  He's not promising a fat bank account and a nice house in the burbs.  He's also not promising you'll have to go live in poverty with an unreached tribe in the Amazon.  He could be offering either of those and anything in between.  Really what he's offering is an abundant life in Him.  He's offering you the chance to be so enamored with Him that you won't really care what you're bank account looks like or that you might get eaten by a giant anaconda in the jungle.  He'll give you thankfulness and gratitude and satisfaction and assurance.  Faith, Hope and Love.

Just a few things (there's lot's more) that will be better if you're around Jesus.  The more you get to know him, the more it becomes true.  Here's the amazing part.  He does it all.  ALL.  He's given His spirit, his mind, his vision, his life, what more could we ask for.  All the striving and penance in the world won't get you any further in what God has done completely on your behalf at the cross.  The hard part is to accept this reality, that his 'yoke really is easy and his burden really is light.'  His rule book really is easy, the law is fulfilled, the ransom has been payed, now love Him (don't worry he'll give you the ability to do this) and love others (don't worry he'll give you the ability to do this), and you will find rest for your soul.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Romans 12:12

Rejoice in our confident hope, be patient in trouble and keep on praying. Romans 12:12

There’s always a counterfeit offer in the world for what Jesus offers, often it looks shiny and nice for a little while but soon turns to ashes.  Many people have looked here and there and found what they thought were answers only to see them dissolve.  Relationships where they thought they’d found the one who would make them happy, careers with power and prestige that give them public recognition but emptiness in their soul, religions with promises of peace or prosperity that end in pain.  Hope maybe the biggest counterfeit of them all.  We put our hope in all kinds of things that offer no guarantees.  So many are hoping that their 6 numbers will come up, with that kind of cash, surely all their problems would disappear.  So many people are putting their hope in long shot waiting for the big pay off or the easy answer, just for the chance that someone or something is going to pull through and then they’ll be set.  But that’s no real hope at all is it?

Paul tells the Romans about a different kind of hope.  It’s not a fleeting hope.  It’s not a roll of the dice.  It’s not a statistically calculated system with high probabilities of success.  Sometimes I wish we had come up with a new word for it, sometimes our language is so limited and twisted that its meaning goes right over our head and gets lumped into the counterfeit offer.  No, Paul is telling them to celebrate because of the real offer that’s been put on the table.  There’s no fine print legal jargon that goes with it.  There’s no conditional clause to give a back door retraction of this hope.  It’s a real guarantee, the kind our generation doesn’t know much about anymore.  The kind of guarantee where if you were told something wasn’t going to break, it didn’t break.  It lasted for your whole life and you passed it on to your kids.  When you find this hope, I mean really find it, you know you’ve been given something that’s not getting returned.  You don’t need to buy the extended warranty in case it breaks – the manufacturer warranty will do just fine. It’s bulletproof.

For Paul, when they called him Saul, hope was found in rules and laws and systems and ceremonies.  He knew them inside out, front to back, an expert in all things religion. He could argue the points and enforce the consequences of missing them.  What happened to Saul happens to everyone who gets devoured by religion.  He knew everything about what the scriptures said about God, he’d just never met Him himself.  He turned angry; he turned violent toward those who had met Him.  He tried to exterminate them.  His heart was cold because he’d search for hope in something that offered no hope at all.  His heart was bitter because he saw people who had found hope outside of where he thought it was to be found. 

But Jesus is mercy and offers it to everyone.  He met Saul and showed him what real hope looks like.  The change was total, even to the name he was known by.  Paul, the new creation in Christ Jesus, would help spread the hope he once tried to exterminate around the known world.  So great is this hope, we can all rejoice and help spread it, just by telling people about Jesus; His life, death and resurrection to set us free from the power of sin and death.  A hope that last, a hope that is secure, a hope that comes with a promise that, one day, all this mess we’re in will be made right.

But in the mean time, as we look confidently ahead to the day when Jesus turns everything around, our hope gives an ability to be patient in trouble.  Trouble is coming, I promise (actually He promised).  Persecution for following him, ridicule just for mentioning his name, loss, sacrifice, pain; the realities of living out our hope in fallen world.  But with our hope, that assurance that he’ll rescue us, comes a new found gift, a new found source to draw on.  The Holy Spirit that is given gives us the facility to be patient, to get through, to wait it out, to look forward to something better, to survive and even thrive in the face of what looks like sure failure.  Trouble comes but it’s no match for anyone who waits on Jesus to rescue them.  Rescue is coming. 
He is coming.  Hold fast.

But how, how can we withstand the trouble, how can wait out the storms? 

Keep on praying.  Keep Him in the front of everything.  Keep him at the center. Let him bring up the rear guard.   His Spirit has linked you together with the Father and the Son, so that you need never be disconnected again from the one who created and sustains you.  In fact, even when you don’t know you’re praying, he is praying for you.  The light is always on, the door is always open.  As you pray, the mess that looks so monstrous fades in the light of hope that is immovable.  As you pray, the doubt that looks so daunting becomes a mole hill shadow of the hope that is indestructible.  As you pray the fear that is so paralyzing pales in comparison to the assurance in the hope that is perfected in your faith by the one who loves you perfectly.  Keep on praying, keep on getting closer to Jesus, keep on listening to his response.
This offer is for real, this offer is legit.

Rejoice in Hope, Be Patient in Trouble, Don’t stop praying.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rejoice - Pray - Thank

I think we could all agree that bumper sticker Christianity doesn't cut it.  So many people get handed bits and pieces of scripture, taken totally out of context and told they are commands, or measurements or goals of their faith.  Or they get turned into stupid puns that don't make anyone like Jesus, let alone feel loved by him. This scripture, I think is, one of them.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in every circumstance"  When I look at this scripture, apart from its context, and try to apply it to myself (which we often tend to do because sin makes us self-center so we assume every word was written specifically to us as individuals), I instantly think, well that must be for those super holy Christians (even though I've never really met one of those).  Confession; I do not rejoice always, pray all the time or give thanks when things are crappy, especially if it's something I'm trying to face on my own.  This statement will come as no surprise to those who've encountered me before 10:00am and 2 to 3 cups of coffee. I can't handle anything before that and trying to be a rejoicing/praying/thankful Christian doesn't seem to be helping me at all.
In it's context however, this scripture is perfectly fitting as a marker of Christians, the key being Christians (plural).  Paul wrote this statement to the church at Thessolonica, not a guy named Thessalonious the Monk. It is smack in the middle of Paul giving advice on how to deal with one and other.  Paraphrasing Paul, he said things like, tell people who are lazy to get off their butts and help out (lovingly).  Encourage people who are timid to get some guts (gently), Help people who are weaker than you.  Be patient.  Stop seeking revenge. You see we're all a mess of self-centeredness and Jesus takes us through a process of changing that by sticking us together with a bunch of other people who are just the same so they he can show us what love really looks like.  So when you get to this statement to rejoice/pray/give thanks, it turns into a picture, not of your individual journey, but your piece of the pie in your community/family/church.

Something amazing happens when this is lived out in the context of two or three or more; Jesus shows up. He promised he would so we shouldn't be surprised.  Quiet (or loud) alone time with Jesus is important - to worship him, to pray, to be thankful, just to enjoy him - but something quite different happens when we do it together.  Suddenly things start to happen that can only be explained by the Holy Spirit getting to work. Our freedom increases, our sense of belonging increases, we know we're loved by Him and the people we're with because suddenly the focus has shifted off myself and onto him and onto others.  If we're in a place like that, in a community like that, for more than a day or two we don't walk in on edge, on eggshells, on guard each time thinking that I have to measure up, I have to be acceptable, I have to be good, in order to be loved by Jesus and loved by others.  Our instinct changes from defensive to vulnerable.  We can instantly (or almost instantly) bypass all those fears and lies and half-truths we've been lead to believe and get right to the rejoicing with Him and with others.  Rejoice always is a picture of the church when we've decided to let go of most of the nonsense that holds us back and instead just celebrate that Jesus did everything we couldn't do and will keep on doing everything we'll never be able to do in order to give me life.
Jesus compares the kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet in Matthew 22.  I don't know about you but a wedding banquet where I know the bride and groom, and most of the people there are friends and family, is much more fun than going to your wife's 3rd cousin's wedding where you know one other person and you're not sure you like them that much.  Not much rejoicing is going to happen for me there.  Jesus tells us that our church should be celebrating, like a wedding banquet.  In a lot of churches, things have turned more into the the 3rd cousin's wedding. People are there out of obligation, people are there to show off there new dress, people are there because they might get a free party favor. Some people show up and think, this seems more like a funeral than a wedding banquet and never bother to go back (some churches need a reminder that Jesus rose from the dead).  Some have turned into a bad episode of bridezilla where they've gotten so wrapped up in the details they forget the real reason to celebrate altogether.  The place settings and decorations, the song choices and scripture readings overshadow the fact that a new creation is being formed by God when he joins a couple together.  Jesus calls us his bride and we can get so off track that we forget he's standing there waiting to make us into something new.  I'm not interested in being part of any 'celebrations' that look like that.  But a community that rejoices in what Jesus has done, that sounds like a place I want to be.  Romans 5 says, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  And since we have been right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's condemnation.  For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Chris has made us friends of God."  So get with some people who love Jesus and know how to rejoice, you'll thank me for it in the morning.

Then when you're done celebrating, or maybe even right in the middle of celebrating (I don't think the order is that important), prayer happens.  The Holy Spirit reveals things to us like, how much we love the people around us, how much they love us, how big the struggles are that some people are facing, how we can share their burdens.  In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed for us that people would see God's glory because we would be one with him and one with each other (he's still praying that right now and he always will be by the way). That happens in the context of prayer for one and other when we share our burdens with each other and we take them to Jesus together and say Jesus there is nothing we can do about this without you, we need you to help us love each other, we need you to help us carry each other.  The amazing thing is, this is how he shows us who he is, this simple sharing life together and with him.  He just keeps on revealing his love to us through other people.  He does miracles, he shows us answers in real concrete ways, and everyone feels loved all the more because of it.  I know I can't pray without ceasing on my own, but I know that I have a church who will drop everything at a moments notice when I really need them to pray.  I know that if I bring what seems like the most trivial or insignificant thing or the most desperate and hopeless thing, there are people who love me that will put their whole heart into praying until Jesus breaks through.  Jesus said in John 15 that when we love each other and ask God for anything in his name (that is in the Spirit and authority and love that he carries) then God will answer.  That's something worth rejoicing about.
Rejoicing and prayer always leaves us in the 3rd position, giving thanks in every circumstances.  Believe it or not, following Jesus doesn't mean everything all of a sudden turns peachy.  But here's what happens; the more time you spend with people who are rejoicing about what Jesus has done, and praying for the things we need him to do, the more we see him come through, reveal himself and show us that he really loves us a lot. Our posture becomes one of thanksgiving.  I am so thankful that I have a lot of people who love me and pray for me and celebrate with me and encourage me to follow Jesus - and who I get to return that to.  On my own, I can be... whatever the most opposite of thankful is... my own worst enemy I might say.  But I would have to work really hard to not be thankful when I'm in a context where I know there are people who love me just the way I am, somewhere in the middle of this journey with Jesus.  Certainly not having it all figured out, certainly not having all the right answers, certainly not having it all together.  Because I've been surrounded for this long - by people I know rejoice in all that Jesus is and pray for all that Jesus will be in every circumstance - when the failures come, when the difficulties come, when the doubts and fears come, they look less and less like mountains and more and more like speed bumps.  In fact the more we're in this context with others and become more like Jesus, (laying our life down for others) the more we'll take on his attitude of preemptive Thanksgiving.  Jesus often gave thanks before he saw the miracle.  Jesus gave thanks before the suffering of the cross got to him.  He knew even though he was going to go through some brutal stuff, his Father, and the people who loved him, would be waiting on the other side to carry on the celebration.  We'll get to know that too. We'll see the mountains-made-speed bumps coming and we'll give thanks for what Jesus did, before the bump, what he's going to do as we bounce over it and for the smooth road on the other side.
And the big kicker, "this is God's will for you in Jesus".  If you're like me, you've spent a lot of valuable time trying to figure out God's will, worrying about whether I was doing what he expected of me.  Turns out, God's will is simpler than that.  What he really wants is for us to part of a church/family/community that is connected to him and loving one and other.  In the midst of that, he makes us into what he's going to make us into: His church, His bride, His disciples, His flock, His glory. HIS.