Sunday, July 26, 2015

New Name, New Game

A loud mouth fishermen from the middle of nowhere got asked to go on a walk one day.  Little did he know that after a few years of walking around, he'd have a profound revelation that the guy he was following was in fact the guy his father and his fathers before him had been waiting on for a long time.  It turns out the Messiah came in a different package, with a different plan and a different message than Simon, and most everyone else, expected but revelation is what it is.  And when The Creator of All Things shows you the truth, it tends to have an impact on who you are.  So much so, for some people they have to be given a new name because the change is so big the old one doesn't fit anymore.  Simon -"he has heard"- became Peter - "the little rock".  Simon had heard about the messiah, but now he had seen the messiah and wanted to be just like him.  His old self, his old life held little value compared to this new life he was offered.  Fisher of men, that sounds like it has purpose, like it has value.  Simon had heard about some kind of rescue, but now his Father in Heaven had revealed what no ordinary man could have taught.

Fast forward a few years and another tough guy out for a walk has a similar revelation.  Not a fishermen this time, but a professional religious man turned tyrannical terrorist trying to teach "The Way" followers a lesson in God's Law.  Ka-blam.  Stopped in his tracks.  Saul, "the prayed for", who'd waged his life on upholding the Law and holding others to it, blinded by the light.  Struck by fear greater than the fear he'd struck in the followers, Paul brought low.  Brought so far from his religious pedestal it changed who he was, right down to a new name - Paul, "the small", "the humble".  Such religious pedigree, such self-righteous fervour taken away when the scales fell and opened his eyes to show the one he persecuted was in fact the one he'd been told was coming.  Revealed by the saviour himself, not taught by some mere man.  A life devout to the Law that brings death now overwhelmed by the law of Grace.  A life consumed by the letters in stone now lavished  in a great love song written on his heart.

Two men from different places and backgrounds with different expectations and dreams of what the saviour would be
had revelation that sent them out, constrained by the love revealed in death on a cross. The death revealing the greatest love for the ones created to be loved.

This revelation will change you.  Maybe it won't change your name, but it'll change your identity.  He's just waiting.  "Come follow me."  "Why are you persecuting me."  I'm not sure what he'll say to you, but when he speaks, when he reveals himself, hold on tight, things are about to get new.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Kingdom of Heave is like...

10His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”
11He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not.12To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge.

Jesus often found himself in crowds of all kinds of different people; farmers, fishers, sellers, buyers, builders, teachers.  He knew his audience, partly because He and his Father made them, but more so because he left heaven to live with them and like them, apart from the sinning bit.  In his hometown Jesus was know as the carpenters son, which implies he knew the same trade as his dad.  Before going on Kingdom at Hand tour with the boys, Jesus might have been a regular at the first century Home Depot.  He would have listened to his neighbour's struggle while they decided which wooden mallet to buy.  Maybe on his way home he would have stopped by Foot Locker to pick up some new sandals and heard the shoe maker wondering how he would get out of this latest mess.  Maybe down to dock to pick up some fish for dinner where he would have heard Simon's dad wondering if there'd be a good catch this year.  Then back home to finish building a table and chair to deliver to Mr Shwartz next week.  Maybe He took the shortcut through Mr. Ploughman's back field and over heard him teaching his workers where to plant wheat and and where to plant rye.  
Jesus knew who would be listening when he started to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven and he wanted to make sure the people he was talking to knew what he was talking about.  Farmers know about farming.  Fishers know about fishing.  Good sellers know about good deals.  Simple pictures explain profound ideas to people who know their stuff.  That's why when Jesus says some the like 'the KoH is like a mustard seed that grows into a huge tree where birds nest and find shelter' gardeners and farmers would have immediately understood a secret truth about the KoH that perhaps a fisher or a Pharisee may have missed.  Without google, I would have no idea what a mustard seed looks like, or a mustard tree, or what life looks like in that mustard tree.  But a lot of people in that crowd would have instantly had a revelation of the KoH.  The provision of home, safety, sustenance, rest, shade, something so great from something so small, something impossible out of almost nothing, would have spoken so loud and clear to anyone with a mustard tree in their back yard.  The fishers, they didn't get the farming references.  But they did get the KoH is like a net.  The sellers understood the pearl.  The bakers got the leaven and the farmers got the wheat.  Simple secret truths about the immense nature of the KoH revealed in simple every day ideas and analogies.  Parables are beautiful to those with ears to hear.
Pharisees and religious folk often missed it altogether because they had so detached religion from reality that these secrets of the kingdom went right over their head.  As a word of caution, it's very easy for us to do that.  Jesus' teaching is rich with layers of meaning.  We can be tempted to peel back layer after layer, tying words and ideas and images together and creating a web of theology that is so complex we miss the simple truths Jesus was trying to get across.  Often those webs are true and right, but for many of us, the place where faith and life intersect has to be in the simple everyday truths.  If we are farmers we need to know that the KoH is as real and present and alive as the plants growing in our field.  If we're fishers we need to know that God is present in the everyday tasks of mending nets and pulling ropes.  If we're sellers we need to know that there is something more valuable than all the things we can buy and trade.  If we're bakers, we need to know that the life of the kingdom is going to affect every part of our lumps of life.
Toward the end of Matthew 13, Jesus says, " “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.” (52)  Becoming a disciple of the KoH is simply believing what Jesus said and did and living as if that's true.  Parables then have to be understood and applied through the lenses of the Gospel.  They also have to be told and retold through the lenses of the Gospel.  When we share our faith, as disciples of the living Jesus, it's important to know what the word says, it's important to know what and why you believe.  But I think it's also important to know who you're talking to.  If you're trying to tell your friend some of the secrets of the KoH, they might not get the farming references, I wouldn't.  When Jesus' disciples came and said, dude, we don't get it, why are you telling riddles, Jesus said, "you are permitted to understand the secrets and I am going to give you an abundance of KoH knowledge so you can share it with others.  That is true of you, disciple of the KoH.  You have been given the mind of Christ, the one and only Holy Spirit is in you and will let you speak truth to others.  Bring out new gems, tell stories and analogies from your own life.  If you are a disciple, Jesus is active in your life and the KoH is real.  Other people need to see and hear and know that.  You don't need a degree in bible hermeneutics to explain the reality of Jesus in your life.  You don't need a pulpit to share KoH truth to your neighbour.  The Gospel tells us that all the barriers and hierarchy are removed in the KoH, we have one go to, and he's given us his own spirit to share the truth with others.  
You've got a pocket full of mustard seeds, start planting them and see what grows.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Off the Hook.

"Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things.  If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you." (Philippians 3:15)

I love this statement Paul makes when he's writing to his friends in Philippi.  But a strange things has happened over the years, spiritual maturity has come to be mean something very different from what Paul was talking about.  It seems like spiritual maturity now means something like, lot's of knowledge, good theology, having your life together, working in the ministry, position in the church, position in the world, etc, etc.  It's funny because just before this statement Paul says when it comes to those things no one could possibly compete with him.  He was the real deal.  However, he considers all those things, the things that we often hold in such high esteem, 'rubbish', (which is the sanitized version of dog shit that bible translators have used because Christians shouldn't use words like that.)  He put no confidence in anything the world holds dear.  So what does he mean then by 'spiritually mature' if its not something we can measure with the typical metrics we use to measure maturity.  The word Paul used there is the same word used in other places, sometimes translated perfect.  Ouch, now you're really worried, because you know you're never going to get there.  And that's the point.  
Over and over Paul tells us not to look at ourselves because he knows where his perfection comes from.  Now if Paul's metric for maturity or perfection is not those outward things, what is he talking about?  Well Jesus put it like this when he was on the cross, "it is finished".  And I guess when Jesus says "it is finished" what he means is, "it is finished." That is the perfection Paul is pointing us to believe in.  It is finished.  Absolute and total belief that Jesus has done everything and given you everything required to be 'mature', 'complete', 'perfect' in your Fathers eyes.  Everything else, the gifts, the fruit, the life, is part of the big gift.  
Paul worked very hard to get where he was on the Pharisaical totem pole.  He worked very hard to be blameless under the law.  He worked very hard to stomp out this Jesus nonsense.  Paul took great pride in his family heritage, his nationality.  Until God revealed to him, it was finished, then he just walked away, free and clear, from the never ending pursuit of perfection by his own performance.   Here's the beautiful part to me, Paul doesn't just change his beliefs, he doesn't just go on with his old determination as a Pharisee, but in a new direction under a new banner.  Paul, who once wouldn't have be able stop unless you either agreed with his point of view or he put you jail, now says, "I'm sure God is going to reveal this to you".  He doesn't even have confidence in his words, only in the Holy Spirit.  It's brilliant.  Do you see how you're off the hook.  If 'super-Paul-the-apostle' puts zero confidence in his ability to make this true to you, I feel much better about knowing my words aren't going to sway you to believe it's finished, only the Holy Spirit will do that.  Hey maybe he'll use these words, but whatever, that's his business.
Right now, I feel very mature, perfect even, in my faith.  Not because my life is perfect, not because I know all the answers to all the hard questions, not because I could beat you in a debate, not because I have complete victory and confidence that I'll never sin again, but I know the one who is all those things that I am not and he's given all of himself to me.  And to you if you'll just believe him.
Jesus is the author and perfecter of your faith. You too can be as spiritually mature as Paul and I, just stop chasing those things the world measures and set your eyes on the prize. Whether you believe him or not, it is finished, so whenever he reveals that to you, be like Paul and don't ever look back.  Just set you're eyes on Him and throw the rest of that stuff in the trash.  That news is off the hook and so are you.   

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ask another question...

Over the past few months, I've had several of the typically phrased questions asked of me that folks in churches that are declining in attendance ask (I guess because the church I help lead has new people, young people, people who are living a little different from the rest of the world, etc).  Questions like, "How do we get people to Church?" Or if they have some people, maybe "How do we get young people to church?"  Or if they have a few young people, maybe "how do we keep our young people coming to church?" Maybe they have some people but they aren't seeing much spiritual maturity or freedom, so that question is more like "how do we get people to stop sinning" or "How do we get people to take faith seriously?"
I'm tired of trying to answer these questions; not because I don't think there's an answer, but because the answer is the same for all of them, people just don't seem to want to hear it.  Or maybe the answer just seems too simple for such seemingly complex issues.  

Here it is... ready... you already know what I'm going to say... do I really even need to say it... I'll just say it.  


There, I said it... again.

Those aren't bad questions, they just usually have skip over the preceding question.  The one we need to start with is "How do we get people to Jesus?"  Unfortunately - and I don't know how this is even possible - Jesus got overshadowed.  Being at church on a Sunday or being on a church member list became a proxy for being close to Jesus.  Don't get me wrong, being with a bunch of other people who know Jesus is vital, it's just that church is often about something else.  Looking like you're a good person who doesn't do bad things or has good morals has become a proxy for being close to Jesus.  Don't get me wrong, the closer you get to Jesus, the less you want to be a crappy person, but I know lots of nice, moral people (at least as nice and moral as the people I go to church with) who don't know Jesus.   Knowledge about God, Jesus, theology, doctrine, etc., have become a proxy for actually knowing Jesus, which is a spiritual thing that only happens by the Holy Spirit.  If you don't know Jesus yet by the spirit, it's not going to matter if you can tell me the difference between classic dispensationalism or progressive covenantalism (if you message me with the answer to that question I'll give you 10 bonus points).  Don't get me wrong, it's important to know what you believe, but only if you you first know who you believe.  

People would come up to Jesus all the time and ask things like, how do I get to heaven?  And Jesus would say things, well why don't you leave everything else behind, follow me around and I'll show you.  Some left everything, some went away sad.  Same is true now.  Not only did Jesus make the way to get to heaven through his blood, sweat, tears, death and resurrection, but he set the whole deal up so we could see heaven come to earth now.  And if we're following Jesus around, people will start following us around, which will probably include "going to church."  

Sometimes people would ask Jesus what's the most important commandment.  And he'd say, Love God and love other people, that'll take care of all the rest of them.  Some people got it and some said, "yeah but..."  Same is true now.  Jesus left us with a new command to love people the way he loved his friends, unconditionally, without condemning of all their many faults and struggles, in the midst of their sinfulness.  No "yeah, but..."  If we treat people like that, they'll soon see who Jesus is and maybe some of that stuff will change, either way, Jesus will still love them and love us.

Or people would say, what's the kingdom of heaven like, and Jesus would say, it's simple, go ask that little kid, they see it.  And some people would get it, because they knew how much they loved their own kids, and some people didn't because kids were a burden to them.  Same is true now.  Our broken brains tell us our father couldn't be that loving, we must be making him angry or at least annoyed by our constant failure and weakness.  Not the prob Bob.  Jesus went out of his way to show his love for the weakest people around.  We all start out weak, we all have a pile of brokeness.  When we stop pretending we don't have that, other people who have stopped pretending they don't will start getting together and Jesus will start putting the pieces back together.  His strength will be evident in our weakness.  

People left everything behind because a rabbi showed them love and gave them a chance when they'd failed by worlds standards.  People got the most important commands because they knew they needed God in order to see those be real and they'd only fail in trying to keep the others on their own.  People recognized the kingdom of heaven because they saw joy and gentleness and dependence on someone greater than them when they saw Jesus with kids.  

Nothing has changed.  If your church is about Jesus, all those other questions will get answered.  If you're like me you'll be in awe of what Jesus will do while you're following him around.  People will go to your church, young and old alike if Jesus is there.  People will mature in their faith and start to look more like him if you make your gatherings about him.  Spiritual transformation will happen right in front of your eyeballs which has very little to do with you and everything to do with how Jesus is using you.  People will take their faith very seriously when they see and experience what the Holy Spirit does in us and through us. You won't have to beg them come to a prayer meeting, you won't have to bribe them with... I mean offer incentives like... tax receipts to get them to give when there's a need.  You won't have to force feed them bible lessons and doctrine, they'll come looking for living water and spiritual food.  

You want people to come to church, you want them to keep coming, you want them to be free from sin, you want them to take faith seriously.  

Jesus, man.  
Maybe it's not the answer you thought you were looking for but He is.