Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Thanking God for nuts and bolts

Recently, our children's ministry pastor Mark demonstrated appreciation to all of our church volunteers with a can of "nuts and bolts" mix and thanked them for their dedicated service to the Lord and our church.  It got me thinking of how blessed I am to have so many "nuts and bolts" in my life.  I just wanted to give thanks to them and to the Lord for bringing them into my life.

1. My wife Suzanne.  The most precious earthly gift God has blessed me with.  She works so tirelessly and selflessly as a hard working mother and loving/supportive wife.  I cannot believe how much God has favoured me in this regard.  Without her in my life, I'd truly be lost.

2. My parents and family.  You all are such a rock for me.  Someone to talk to.  To listen to me.  People who truly know the REAL me and love me anyways!  Children who love me equally no matter how tough the day was.  Coming home to my Josh, Sabrina and Ben is such a joy!  Being able to talk to my mom and dad is a tremendous blessing.  Your godly wisdom and supportive ear are vital to my emotional and spiritual health.  My brothers and sister and their spouses are always there for me as well.  Their support and care keep me going in more ways than I can express.  I love you all. (Looking forward to Christmas together!)

In no particular order . . . [I'm not naming names because I don't want to miss anyone, but I hope you all know who you are. ;)]

- Friends of all stripes.  Long time friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin.  I thrive off knowing people with such amazing faith and Christian examples.  Ministry colleagues who understand the pressures and joys of the ministry.  You are always willing to listen to me and pray with me.  And my Board (both present and past members) who have been incredibly supportive through some challenging times of change.  I appreciate you all so much.
- Dedicated staff/volunteers.  I can honestly say that the team I have around me at our church is second to none.  No group does more with greater enthusiasm for Christ than these folks.  They are indeed the "nuts and bolts" of the ministry.  Without them, I would be a shell of a pastor.  From seniors ministry to the children's program; from the cleaning servants during the week to the Sunday am ushering and worship teams to everything in-between, our church is blessed to have so much activity for Christ.  I fully expect a tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit and blessing of many new folks coming to our church in the months ahead because of the positive trajectory that has been  enthusiastically embraced by these folks.

God is more than good, He is GREAT!  Thanks Lord for all these "nuts and bolts" in my life.  I experience your love for me in large measure through the love of these folks.  I am truly blessed.

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you . . ." (Philippians 1:3)

Monday, 4 November 2013

And then God showed up . . .

This past Sunday was one of the most moving and transformative days for me spiritually in a long time.  On Saturday night I went to bed exhausted.  Not because of late nights/early mornings with the kids, and not because of physical exhaustion as a result of the demands of a busy life, but a deeper exhaustion: a spiritual one.  I have personally been through one of the most difficult seasons of my life and this past week I hit the proverbial wall.  Basically it was a lot of "behind the scenes" stuff that has been building for months and finally I had suffered one betrayal too many.  I was done.  As a senior pastor, I've tried to be the "spiritual one"--to rise above to fray as it were.  But secretly I was deeply hurt by people I expected better from.  And I was more than hurt too - I was angry.  While that anger might be justified, it had morphed into something else: self righteousness.  And I needed to repent.  As with most bad attitudes what began in the secret places of my life began to spill into other areas.  It even began to affect my interactions other with some people who loved and cared for me. Through the hurts I had suffered I had tried to be humble, to be forgiving, to be "above it all", but in the end, all my efforts weren't enough.  I was failing at trying to be godly - I needed a divine intervention.

On Sunday am I woke up from 8 hours of sleep well-rested and ready to face the day.  The first thing I did was check my email and found a message from someone inviting me to listen to a sermon from James MacDonald titled, "Drop the Rock".  I sat down with my coffee (everyone but Ben was asleep) and watched the message with my Bible open to John 8.  It was the story of the woman caught in adultery.  And It was about the self-righteous men who had all picked up rocks to stone the immoral woman caught in the very act of this sin.  I realized that in my hurt and anger, I had picked up a couple of rocks.  The Rocks of Rightness and Resentment.  I needed to "drop the rocks" in order to get right with God.  And as I did God did a work in me.

I arrived at church realizing that my prepared message (on the topic of "grace" can you believe that?) needed to be changed from a more technical examination of this truth to a more personal one.  I had been in no way ready to preach on this central truth before I was willing to drop my rocks.  But God knew and as a result of His grace I showed up broken and humbled by God that Sunday.  I had no idea how the morning would unfold, but God did.  And He showed up.  God showed up in a most powerful way: a way that we have not experienced for a long time in our church.  There were tears of repentance and brokenness.  There was a spirit of communion and freedom.  And there was an air of abiding love.  As we celebrated communion together, I was struck with how God is more than willing to show up if we would just repent and get out of His way.

I write this as one chastened.  I realize my constant need for God and His grace every day.  I cannot survive without Him showing up in my life.  Thank you God for loving me enough to correct me.  Thank you for sending brothers and sisters in the Lord to hold me accountable.  Thank you for forgiving and cleaning me and making me whole.  Thank you for showing up.  I need You.  My family needs you.  Our church needs you.  We all need You.   

Friday, 18 October 2013

Are you a victim or a victor?

It never ceases to amaze me how much the quality of my life depends upon the attitude that I approach it with.  I remember many circumstances in my life where things changed dramatically, not because circumstances changed, but because I decided to change my outlook on things.  What was not possible suddenly becomes possible. 

Allow me an example from my youth.  I have never been fond of endurance events.  Ask me to lift weights and I'm a happy camper, but running a long distance race is about as appealing as sticking my hand into a fish tank full of hungry piranhas.  When I was 17, I was being teased by a classmate who claimed to be more athletic than me the day of a long distance race that we had at our high school.  He was a big lanky guy at about 6' 5".  I was by contrast 5' 10' (and that's stretching it just a wee bit!).  And he was a very good long distance runner whereas I was far less talented.  But I was NOT going to let him beat me that day.  Even if it killed me.  So I pushed through the pain and ran the best (and really only good) long distance run of my life.  I just about passed out at the finish, but I did it!  I beat Brad! 

Prior to that event, my attitude about my abilities to do long distance running was poor.  But something changed that day which motivated to be victorious.  And in that moment I realised that my lack of success at endurance events was more of a choice than I had first believed.  I had chosen the attitude of a "victim" and adopted whatever excuses I could find not to be competitive than the attitude of a "victor". 

Romans 8:37 says, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."  The context?  Trials and tribulations of life.  In this life we are limited by our physical bodies (and I am and never will be a great long distance runner!) and/or circumstances in life.  Not everyone will be healthy or wealthy either.  But spiritually speaking, we are given the hope of being "victors" in this life.  We aren't defined by our past experiences or our present limitations, we are supposed to be defined "through Jesus" who loved us and died for us.  Knowing who I am in Christ is the well spring of positivity and abounding joy.  

Too many people go through life as "victims" of past hurts or trauma.  They never find the victory over their pain and sin through a healing saving relationship with the Son of God.  Jesus wants to take your burden, your past, and your hurts and fears.  He wants to give you real lasting hope and joy.  He wants to change your outlook from being victimized to being victorious.  The question is: "will you let Him change you?  Will you let Him into your centre being and control you?"  If you will, all the hope of heaven and peace of God will overflow into your attitudes and actions.  Just let Him in.  Live as a victor, not a victim.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

True acceptance

A few years ago I was reading a book a man I greatly admired: a pastor whom God had used tremendously to build His kingdom.  He was very famous and wrote a very successful book that pointed people to grow in their walk with God.  I was thoroughly enjoying his book when I came to the part where writes about his own personal experience with a child who was diagnosed with cancer.  Through this event he says, "Never once did I question God's love for me.  That was settled at the cross."  I remember reading that and at first being so discouraged.  I felt so inadequate, like I was never going to be able to measure up to people like this spiritual giant.  But I was also irritated as well.  It felt so . . . phoney.  I mean really, you NEVER questioned God's love?  And it brought up a longstanding pet peeve that I had about other authors as well.  These same kinds of themes seemed to permeate the  good 'ol Christian classics that I had read.  These men would talk about their walk with God (or what a walk with God should look like) in such terms that it almost seemed as if they were from another planet. Instead of being challenged in my faith into a deeper walk with God, I was often overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy and condemnation.  I knew that if I was honest I was nowhere near where these men were modelling themselves to be. 

But one day as I was reading Scripture I saw things with a new eye.  I was reading about Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was betrayed.  I had always wondered why Peter wasn't immediately arrested for cutting off the high priest's servant's ear.  I had read the passage many times before but had missed one important detail.  In John 18 we read that Jesus saw the arresting party and went out to meet them first.  As He approached them, the Scripture says that He opened up just a tiny window of His power and flattened the whole group to the ground with His divine glory.  For just a brief moment, those around Him experienced Jesus in all His divinity.  It clearly frightened the soldiers and it obviously emboldened Peter who was watching.  That's why Peter was so brave.  And it's also why He fell so hard.  Peter was relying upon what he could see with his own eyes.  He reasoned that now Jesus was going to let these men have it, so let's get at 'em!  He relied upon his flesh and when Jesus rebuked him, healed the servant's ear and allowed Himself to be arrested.  After that Peter realized the horrible truth: Jesus was going to be arrested; and he was wasn't nearly as brave or godly as he thought he was.

We all know the story of what happened next: Peter fell--HARD.  He denied Jesus three times, cursing and swearing to boot.  But rather than this leading to a life of substandard spirituality, Peter went on to become one of the great leaders of the early church, greater even than all the authors of the spiritual classics of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  How could this happen?  How could God use such a bumbling idiot after he had failed so completely?  The answer is: grace.  Jesus extended grace to Peter.  He forgave Peter unconditionally, just as he forgave Moses for his lack of faith (and murdering an Egyptian), just as He forgave the sexually immoral, the swindlers, the brutal oppressors of the church, and just as He forgives me.  I realized that I have often tried to stand before God in my own righteousness and fail miserably.  When I think like this I live in fear: fear of being found out, fear of my righteous veneer being stripped away--fear of being exposed.

Far too many people rely upon an outward veneer to mask their true spiritual condition.  We succumb to the pressure to appear to be something we aren't: to look like we've gotten past our struggles with sin.  We start our walk with Him understanding this implicitly, but it doesn't take long before we seek to create an identity that covers up the fact that we are sinners.  We spend a whole lot of time either excusing our sin by comparing ourselves to those around us who are worse, or we create a false identity of superficial holiness and become concerned about only our outward appearance instead of the condition of our heart.  

There is victory over sin, but it isn't found in our own efforts alone.  Victory over sin is found in losing ourselves in Christ.  We become less--He becomes more.  This means that we don't try and hide our sin: we allow it to be exposed so that we can see things as they really are.  This leads to true repentance.  And when this happens, something beautiful happens to us: we feel truly accepted and loved.  Allow God to expose you--and for His grace to change you.  This is where you will be truly accepted.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Who's the boss?

I well remember leading my youngest son Ben to the Lord.  For months he had been talking to me about "asking Jesus into my heart".  I didn't want to simply lead him through the sinner's prayer without him really understanding what this decision really meant for him.  I prayed about what to say and the Lord revealed to me to ask Ben this question: "Do you want Jesus to be the boss?"  When I talked to him the next day, Ben did ask about Jesus being in his heart.  I said, "That's great Ben, but that means that Jesus is the boss now.  Are you ready to do that?"  Ben's response was so typically---Ben.  "Um, no" he said with some conviction.  And every time he would broach the subject over the next several months, I'd respond with the same question: "Are you ready for Jesus to be the boss?"  In his own child-like understanding, Ben knew that while becoming a Christian was a free gift--it required a submission of his will.  This truth is something that each child of God has to come to terms with--God want to give the free gift of salvation to all who would believe, but it is an act of surrender of the will that defines the beginning of becoming an authentic follower of Jesus Christ. 

On glorious evening before bed, Ben firmly announced, "I want Jesus to be the boss now".  I knew that he was ready.  And so we prayed together and Ben became a child of the King.  Immediately after the prayer, I went downstairs and told my wife that Ben had something to announce to her.  Ben bolted downstairs and said in a loud voice, "Mommy, Jesus is the boss now!"  And we smiled right down to the bottom of our souls.  Since then I've seen such growth in my youngest son--He truly loves Jesus.  Even though he often struggles to make Jesus the boss on some days, he is incredibly spiritually sensitive. 

What is the essence of the Christian life?  To love God above anyone or anything else (Matthew 22:37-40).  And we express this love by obedience--particularly in obedience by loving one another.  I John 3:18-23 says, " My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.  And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another."  It is so sad to watch professing Christians who are living in disobedience to Christ's Lordship--often because they lack a spirit of love toward others.  They are living under a spirit of condemnation--and they are missing out on the love of Christ.   Joy and peace are gifts that cannot be opened when our heart is in this condition.

Who's the boss in your life?  Let Jesus in.  He alone will give you the eternal peace and joy your soul longs for.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Seeing the real Jesus

Why do I love Easter so much?  Because Easter makes everything right.  And Easter gives us real hope.  We live in a world where so much of what we see doesn't make sense--where inhumanity seems to rule much of the day on the news, where corruption and self-serving seems to be the order of the day.  But Easter changes all that.  Easter is the key to a life of peace and joy.

Easter brings this peace and joy into our lives when we see the real Jesus for who He is.  He is the Divine One who came from heaven to save a lost and sinful world from death and eternal punishment.  Jesus' sinless life and perfect death made it possible for our sins to be forgiven.  His resurrection gives everyone a chance at a "new life" both right now and for all eternity.  I love this hope--the hope that, "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." (II Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)  No matter what we've done or how much of a mess we've made things, God can make all things new again!  The world has so many caricatures and notions of Jesus that aren't accurate.  He's either seen as just a good man or a distant religious figure from the past--someone who doesn't really make a difference in our lives today.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The reality is, for all our wealth and technological advances, people aren't any more satisfied in life than they were one hundred years ago.  It seems that so many people are like a computer left in "search mode", constantly winding with activity (and perhaps even unaware that they are in fact, "searching") but never finding what they are looking for.  Satan is so good at distracting us too.  "Look here!"  "No, look over there; or there!"  The reason?  He desperately doesn't want us to discover the true meaning of life which is knowing God.  Not until we look to the One who is the answer to all of life's most pressing needs and questions: Jesus Christ, will we ever find the answer we need.

When we take our eyes off Jesus, disappointment is the natural result.  Sadly, many people, even Christians are crippled by this.  They are so bitterly disappointed in what has happened to them or what someone else has done to them (or not done for them) that they are emotionally and spiritually disabled--unable to really experience joy and peace in life.  The failure is usually in trying to set our own course rather than follow Christ's path.  Trying to set our own course can never really satisfy because we are missing the one element that matters: God's presence and approval.  And so many people settle for a distracted, busy life.  But after all the distractions of life play themselves out (entertainment, career/schooling, pursuing wealth, raising a family) the core issue remains: our relationship with God is broken because of sin.  We need a Saviour.

Seeing the real Jesus helps us to see this truth.  Seeing Him helps us to see beyond temporal things to the eternal issues that are of first importance.  Am I going to spend eternity in heaven with Him, or will I suffer eternity in hell separated from Him because of my sin?  And if I am going to spend eternity with Him, am I living for Him now, or am I living for myself?  Easter is the best time of year to consider these questions.  Our society is so short-sighted in this regard.  Life can keep us so busy with other things that we are constantly running just to catch up with our feet--so much so that we don't have time to consider the biggest questions of life.  The the reality of the Easter message is that there is real hope for purpose in life.  This is found only in Christ.

I want to leave you with this question: are you alive in Him?  Is Jesus is working in your life right now; is He making His presence known?  If not, I encourage you to stop all the busyness and just fix your eyes upon Him.  Believe in His work on the cross to forgive you of your sin and trust His resurrection power for newness of life.   Make this the Easter that you see Him with spiritual eyes for the first time!  And Christian: are you living as if He is alive in you?  As the Word says, "In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28 NKJV)  Focus on Jesus this Easter.  See Him for who He really is.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Thank goodness life isn't fair

I meet many people who struggle with the concept of fairness.  In fact, I would say that this is a primary reason that people reject the message of the gospel: it just seems so patently unfair.  And sadly it is a reason that many Christians have fallen away from Christ and His church: because they feel that they have been treated unfairly.  The resulting hurt, disappointment and bitterness causes lasting spiritual, emotional, and even physical damage.

With the hope of a New Year before us, I thought that this is an issue that needs addressing.  You see, I agree with the assessment that life isn't fair, and I even agree with the assessment that God isn't fair.  Now that statement might shock you, especially coming from a pastor, but please allow me to explain.  There is a verse in Scripture that I struggled to come to grips with for many years.  Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned (italics and bold mine)." (NKJV)  I have read this verse in many other versions just to make certain that what was being translated into the English was indeed accurate, and I found to my dismay that it was always the same.  When Adam sinned, I sinned.  The Bible doesn't say, "because all we born with a predisposition to sin".  This alone would have been difficult enough to accept, but that's NOT what the Bible says.  It says, "[in Adam] all sinned".

So my sin was already upon me before my birth.  And it isn't just this one verse that tells us this.  "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psalm 51:5)  "All have (past tense) sinned, and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)  I might not think that this is fair, but it's true.  And God's sense of morality and what is right has to be higher than my own.  After all, He is the Creator. 

The principle of inherited sin is not one people can naturally accept because they are born sinners.  I cannot stress this truth enough: our sense of what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair is skewed from conception.  The original sin of Adam in the Garden corrupted all of his offspring.  This is why it was absolutely necessary that Jesus was born of a virgin, because sin is passed down through the male.  This is the way God designed the human race.  And we are a race.  Not many races, but one.  There are different ethnic groups, but only one human race.  And we all have sinned.  We all deserve the penalty of sin: death.  Physical death and eternal death of the soul.  The evidence of this spiritual truth is that everyone dies.  No matter how hard we may try to deny it, God's spiritual law still applies to us and it affects our entire being, body, mind, and spirit.

So back to the original statement: life isn't fair.  But why?  Because there is a remedy for sin.  Fair would have meant that we all are destined for hell.  For eternal death.  This is what our nature demands.  Fair means that we all stand under God's judgment.  Now I know that my sinful self screams against this truth.  It says, "What are you talking about!!!????  How is it fair that I suffer because of someone else's sin?"  But it's funny how I am so willing to accept the benefits of what someone else has done for me.  Think about it, we human beings are designed to live in community.  If everyone of us had to start life from "scratch" as it were, were would we be?  All living in caves.  But God has given us the privilege of raising children and giving them a better life than the one we had.  He gives society the chance to progress, to discover new things and pass that knowledge on to the next generation.  Is that really "fair"?  What about those in another country who have less opportunity?  Is it fair that I was born into the most affluent society in history with medical care, air conditioning and heating and food in abundance?  Not really.  If life was really "fair", I'd start from scratch just like Adam and Eve had to.  And if God took any of these modern amenities away from me I'd probably struggle a great deal.  "It's not fair!", I'd be tempted to say.

We readily accept God's blessings, but are so quick to complain when we don't receive the things we think we should have.  The truth of the matter is, it doesn't matter what I think "fair" should look like; it only matters what God thinks.  He isn't going to change His governance based on yours or my approval.  I mean seriously, how arrogant is that!?  The truth is, we live in one of the most prideful societies in history.  We think that God somehow has to bow to our ideas or notions of fairness and we withhold worship and obedience when we feel that He has wronged us.  We need to repent of this kind of thinking.  And the church needs to repent of it especially.  Christians: your devotion to God should never hinge on notions of His "fairness" to you.  He has been more than fair--that was settled at Calvary.

Thank goodness God isn't fair!  The question should never be, "why did this happen to me (or my loved one)"?  It should never be "why do some people go to hell?".  Rather, it should be, "why do I have this blessing?" and "why do some people go to heaven?"  Let me ask you a question: Was it fair that the second person of the Godhead would take on human form and die on a cross for the sin of the world?  Absolutely not!  This is the question I have regarding Genesis 3.  Not why did God allow Adam and Eve to sin, knowing what pain it would cause them but why did God allow them to sin knowing what pain it would cause Him? 

I'm not saying that we won't struggle with these questions (goodness knows I have struggled), but in the long haul we must submit to God's truth in this matter.  Blessing and suffering come from His hand.  What sin and evil God allows is often a great mystery, but we must believe that He is in control and that He knows best.  Once we settle the question of God's sovereignty, we settle the question of fairness once for all.  And we are free to experience the fullness of His grace without reservation.  We are free to rejoice in the hope we have in Christ--that we can be a part of His family and have an eternal hope in heaven.

As you head into the New Year I encourage you not to think simply about how the year will be good for your plans and dreams, but how the New Year will be for God's sake.  May you put Him on the throne of your heart. For "In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)