Not a Label

Psalm 139
You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

When I have an opportunity to share any of God’s truth, I always like to take people back to the Garden. Back to the place where God created us and revealed that we had been created in His image (“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” Genesis 1:26). We were not created as puppets or mindless robots but individuals with the ability to make decisions. 
 
Created in the image of God does not only mean we may physically resemble Him but that we have His attributes. We were created holy with unselfish love for God and our neighbour. We were able to make the right and correct choices. At our creation, we began living in harmony with God, others, nature and even ourselves.  
 
In the Garden, we did not question our appearance or character. However, when we listened to the serpent, we were tempted to believe there was more to us than God suggested. We then challenged God’s authority, and our image was corrupted, as was our relationship with the world. The first thing that occurred was Adam and Eve labelling each other – they defined themselves as NAKED and associated that with shame. Before eating the fruit, they had no issue with their appearance – they were in harmony with each other and did not judge appearance. They had no self-doubt about their appearances, but once they broke the image, they forgot who they were and started to see themselves as different from what God intended.
 
Labelling assigns terms to people that limit others from seeing them as God created them.  When we attached a label to a culture or an individual, we miss out on knowing them. Satan is the master of labels, both those that others apply to us and those we give to ourselves. He’d love for us to only see each other as labels such as tall, short, chubby, bad drivers and so on. He revels in our superficial labels because it distracts us from who we are, images of our Father in heaven. 

When we erred in the Garden, God did not clap His hands and wipe us off the face of the earth.  He set in place His plan to reconcile us to Him and to fix that broken image. Jesus is that path to reconciliation in that we can go to Him, acknowledge our failures and sins, repent, and seek forgiveness and be on that path to eternity with Him again

Only accept the image God gave you – His image. 

ATTITUDE OF PRAYER

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  Matthew 6:5-8

Prayer is something that we are all familiar with, but are we familiar enough with prayer or is it possible that we have become too familiar with prayer. I believe there are instances in our lives where both are true. Many times, prayer has become so friendly that we aren’t earnest enough in it, and then there are times when we feel so inadequate. Whatever the circumstance, I am confident that we all could improve regarding our prayer life. 

As you study the life of Christ, it is quickly evident that He was committed to prayer. He enjoyed an unhindered fellowship with the Father and was in continual communication with Him through prayer. In our text, Jesus addresses various attitudes of prayer, two of which are unacceptable, and one will be heard and answered. 

Jesus had witnessed those who loved to offer prayers in public places. They wanted to ensure that others would see them as they prayed and heard the words they offered. They were not interested in getting in touch with the Lord or even having their prayers answered; they desired the recognition of men. There was no depth or substance to their prayers. They were only offered for show and recognition.

This is not a condemnation of public prayer. Jesus is not teaching that we should never pray audibly in the presence of others. Public prayer can be an effective witness for the Lord. When offered from a pure heart, we can display our faith before others as we pray. The difference lies within the motive. If we are offering a public prayer in sincerity, God will hear that prayer. If it is offered to receive the recognition and praise of others, it is nothing more than words uttered from our lips. There is something within the nature of man that desires praise. If we aren’t careful, we will seek to pray in a way that pleases others rather than making our requests known to God. 

We all know that we can pray anywhere and at any time. We are to be in a continual state of prayer. That is the beautiful thing about prayer; it isn’t reserved for special times and occasions. However, there is a great truth that we need to consider. Jesus encouraged that we have a specific place in which to pray, a prayer closet. That speaks of a storage room, but it also can refer to an inner chamber or a secret room. The point is we need a place where we are comfortable and able to pray. It may be in a particular room, the basement, or out in the garage. It doesn’t matter where it is if we have a place to pray and seek the Lord. We all need that quiet place of prayer and meditation.

God’s people need to understand and exercise the privilege of prayer. We need to come boldly before the throne of grace and make our petitions known. This is not done so that others might think we are holy, but to intercede for the needs of our day! We need to maintain a positive witness among the world, but there are far greater needs than what others think of us. We need to get in touch with God and plead for the souls of humanity and the perils that plague our modern society.

If you are facing needs or difficulties in life, bring them unto the Lord. He already knows, and He is waiting to hear from you. If you have never accepted Christ as your Saviour, He stands ready to save you today. Whatever the need is, bring it to the Lord.

Tell Your Story!

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16

We love to talk about the weather or sports or our kids or about politics. But when it comes to talking about our faith, many of us cower like chickens running away from the Colonel. If we know Jesus, we have GOOD NEWS! It’s like a life ring thrown to the person drowning or a fire alarm to rouse the sleeping from a burning building! 

Some people seem to think that a life-witness is good enough; that is, quietly living your life of devotion to Christ before others. It is NOT enough. People need to hear what Jesus means to us, so we need to share our personal testimony. 


Here are a few tips on how to share: 

Practice – Work out what you will say so that you aren’t ever caught off guard. Have a long and short version for different situations.

Pray – Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and to work in the person with whom you are sharing.

Personal – Give enough details to help them understand where and why.

Be yourself – Don’t try to be more “spiritual” than you are. Just tell your story.

Understandable – Don’t use “churchy” words. Say “Bible” instead of “the Word.”

Witness – A witness is someone who tells what they saw, heard, or experienced. You are simply telling your story of how you met Jesus. Relive your experience through words.

Transformed Life – Talk about your life before Christ, how you came to Christ, and the change in your life since being saved.

Evangelize – Take it from telling your story to asking if something like that has ever happened to them. Explain how they can be saved.

God wants us to tell His story through our experiences. If we ask him, he will prepare someone to hear our story. He is not going to set us up to fail but will be with us. The Good news is not meant to be kept secret, and many around us need to be thrown that life-saving truth found in the Good news. 

Youtube has several versions of the song: “I love to tell the story.” Take a few minutes today and play one such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPtzKT-JLw0 and then pray that God helps you tell His story. 


DO IT NOW!

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17, NIV)

Humanly speaking, procrastination is understandable and likely. However, procrastination is not part of God’s best plan for our lives. We don’t often view procrastination as sin, but it is. Sin is not merely doing wrong. It is failing to do what you know you should do when you know you should do it. Knowledge equals responsibility. Procrastination and disobedience are just opposite sides of the same coin.

Procrastination helps us avoid doing the things we don’t want to do, the tasks that require personal discipline and a commitment to godly goals. Wasting time often creates a restless feeling that produces a sense of failure. When the deadline we were supposed to meet has come and gone, or the dreaded task we keep putting off spirals out of control,guilt sets in. We try to rationalize it away when the simple truth is that we have sinned.

Do you realize that it takes as much energy to avoid a task as it does to do it? Procrastination drains energy while action produces power. God empowers us to do what He calls us to do. Truth is for now. God is not impressed with good intentions. Obedience today is the most significant preparation for tomorrow. So do what you know to do today!

Procrastination is about loving self and pleasing self above others. In Romans 12:10, Paul says we should love each other profoundly and honour others more than we love and honour ourselves. The moments God gives us, matter now and eternally. We are responsible for how we spend them. Each moment in time represents an eternal opportunity. Evaluate your life in light of these truths. How well do you invest your time? What one change can you make this week to overcome procrastination? Ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable to make that change.

Finding Common Ground

On a visit to Colorado Springs, I spent time with a group that helped young military families adapt to their new environment. One speaker shared that she found young wives were stressed at the thought of the wife of a more senior military person visiting their home, even if it was just to share news or drop off something. These younger wives were often busy with children and running the household and did not see having their homes perfectly clean as a priority.  The speaker mentioned she taught them a trick to make the home seem more presentable. She advised them to stand at their front door facing inside the house. They were to then make a V with their arms outstretched in front of their bodies. They were to note that a visitor standing at their front door would only be able to see whatever was inside that V line of sight. Her advice was to just tidy up in that line of sight. Any visitor looking into the home would see a clean area not knowing what was behind the closed doors, or under beds and so on. 

God invites us to share the Good News, but decades of inward focus and gimmickry has caused the church to hide their true selves. Unfortunately, too many church goers have adapted their own V line of site, not presenting themselves as they truly are. To an outsider, churches give a picture of perfection with those behind the beautiful front doors frowning upon those who do not belong to the church. Many in our communities have no church experience.

They don’t go to their parents’ church because there is a good chance their parents didn’t go to church. So people who are not used to going to church are fearful of entering our front doors because they are afraid they cannot live up to the image. Life is full of disappointments and failures, and so people don’t want to see the church as another one of those letdowns. People want to know that church folks are real, genuine and that what they claim matches their lives. 

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians suggests how we can become more effective messengers of the Good News. It is not by COMPROMISING our faith or acting in an unprincipled manner. Jesus told us, “You are in the world, but you are not of the world” (John 17:16). Our mindset should focus on finding common ground and interests to at least begin a conversation. We must enter the world with 360-degree exposure, not just showing the “US” we want people to see. 

God has invited believers to join Him on His mission to share the Gospel. We must be aware and mindful that God alone draws people to Him, not our gimmicks or flowery speech. When we take up this call we must do so remembering we are second messengers, as God has already gone before us. So go, be true and be prepared to share your story with others. 

Choose Wisely

Adam and Eve were placed in a special environment where they had all they ever needed. They were also created perfect in that they knew how to make all the right decisions, were not judgmental, and their relationship with each other and God was unselfish. They were the model for the family, relationship, and marriage. 

When God created the world, He clearly defined right from wrong. All moral issues were objective and not subjective. There was one, obvious, absolute morality. One could choose to do the wrong thing, but that choice was clear. In their home, “the garden”, was a tree that God told Adam and Eve not to touch. The tree had a tremendous alluring power, primarily in how it affected the senses: Eve first listens to the snake’s seduction. She is then attracted to the look of the tree. She then takes the fruit in hand and tastes it. As the verses say: “And when the woman saw that the tree was… a delight to the eyes… she took of the fruit, and did eat…” (Genesis 3:6).

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree, it triggered a new modus operandi for the entire human experience: senses became more powerful than the intellect. And because all sensory delights are subjective, many choices become personal rather than universal. Adam and Eve were aware of what they were doing. They knew that the Tree was off limits. They were not lacking anything in the Garden of Eden so, what did they feel was missing that they chose to disobey God?

It is said that there are two ways to attain wisdom: either to learn about it intellectually, or to acquire it through life experience.

From a sensory perspective, the thrill of experience is unmatched. But at the same time, it is fraught with danger. Do we really need to experience every drug and every decadent activity to know that it’s not for us? We’ve all seen how the result of these experiences can carry the danger of permanent physical and/or emotional scarring. So why do we make these bad choices?

God’s discussion with Adam and Eve after their sin is not about punishment, but about consequence. God says: If this is the choice you are making then this is how your life will play out. Adam and Eve’s choices have (unfortunately) affected all their descendants, for all generations.

The story of the Tree of Knowledge is the ongoing story of humanity. We are convinced of the correctness of our actions. And when we err, God presents another chance to realize and admit our mistake. If we do, we draw closer to God than ever before. But if we egotistically defend our position, then we further carve an identity separate from God. 

Even though Adam and Eve did not choose correctly, we still can. And in doing so, we can rectify that original sin, and bring about a return to Eden, the ultimate era of heaven on earth for which we all so desperately yearn.

Believer or Disciple?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and your name drive out demons and, in your name, perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23

Do you realize what Jesus is saying – many people are emotional about their faith, who are active in ministry, and who perform miracles, but the gospel of grace has never transformed their hearts? They are believers in Jesus who are not disciples of Jesus. 

Is there a difference between believers and disciples? Believers and disciples appear to do many of the same activities, but their motives are miles apart. Many believers try to impress God and those around them by being involved in church and service, but disciples do the same things to know God better and reflect His goodness and greatness to everyone. Believers serve God if it is convenient, while disciples serve God based on conviction. 


Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the entrance and broad is the road leading to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14


Jesus compared the way to heaven as a path and suggested that many have intentionally widened that path by pushing aside God’s boundaries before us in scripture.

Believers focus on the passages that promise what God will do for them, but disciples take the whole counsel of God seriously. Disciples follow God whether they agree with God’s word or not, whether they understand or not, whether obeying is comfortable or not.

Believers elevate their opinions, feelings, and thoughts above the Word of God, while disciples elevate the Word of God above their opinions, feelings, and beliefs. Jesus says that because so many have created a wider path, they will miss the gate that leads to eternal life with Him. Many will miss eternity with Him because we think they are playing the game properly. But it is not a game, or a performance God seeks but a relationship with Him. The Creator of the universe wants us to spend eternity with Him and has given us the Holy Spirit, prayer, and scripture to guide us to Him. 
 
Have you ever considered whether you are just a part-time follower of Christ? Do you only trust God when everything is going well? Disciples follow God regardless of the circumstance. Part-time followers stick around if God seems to be blessing them, and life is easy, but disciples keep pursuing God and trusting in Him even when their world is falling apart. God asks us to believe in Him, repent, and turn away from our desire to be a follower under our terms. He asks us to acknowledge His grace and forgiveness, repent and turn from those activities we know are offensive to Him, to those around us and even to ourselves. He wants us to shift from being a weekend follower to a 24/7 disciple. 

Instead of starting your day with a coffee, breakfast, a quick check of the news, or whatever you habitually do, start your day by saying. “You are my God, and I want to be on the path that leads to You. Help me to honour and love You this day and every day”. It is a start on the discipleship path. 

Don’t fear the hate!

Jesus was straightforward with his disciples when He spoke about the type of life they would face once they declared being His followers.

He spoke about heavenly rewards that will be given to God’s children. At the same time, He did not avoid talking about what they would face once they decided to follow Him. The Gospel of John records Jesus as saying the world will HATE His followers. The Greek word used implies being detested to the point of persecution. Knowing this, we must ensure that we do not hate those in the world. 

It difficult to comprehend how spreading the Gospel can lead to hatred. We know Jesus often spoke of God’s love for His children. He also mentioned several times that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. So, where does the hate come from? Jesus’ teachings go against human instincts, against killing, abusing, making a profit, and so on. He spoke against the things that drive this world today. 

God has stated that He is against sin, against anything offensive or causes harm to us, to other humans and God. We must speak the truth, but the fear of offending someone may interfere with our relationship with God. We can worry about “political correctness” to the point that we could stop sharing the truth. We point people to Jesus and scripture because the Holy Spirit prepares them. We can be offended by sin, and as the expression goes, we can hate the sin, but we must not hate the sinner. We are not called to condone or accept behaviour contrary to God’s plan. We must trust the Holy Spirit to help the unsaved see sin as offensive while we love them with our words and lifestyle.  

Pray that you can be an example to others by asking the Holy Spirit to help you love others. Pray for strength to live in the world and ask God to protect you from the pressure to compromise your beliefs. Pray and ask God to use you to share His love. 

ACCEPT

“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10b NASB 

Do you remember the circumstance surrounding your decision to become a follower of Christ? Someone may have shared scripture (probably John 3:16) and talked about eternal damnation versus eternal joy. They may have spoken about your sinful nature and God’s redemptive character. You may have then been guided to say a prayer inviting Jesus to be part of your life. Was there a sense of awe, excitement, or peace? Was there an expectation that life would be different? Did you wonder what the next steps would be?

During your new life as a follower of Christ, have you experienced a sense of completeness where you have felt God’s presence? It may have materialized as a feeling that made you sense contentment and love. It pushed everything around you away except for the assurance God loves you. 

Sadly, this experience does not seem to last long for many, making them wonder if we can only feel God’s glory in bits and bytes. While trying to recreate that “alive” feeling, some people forget what God offers and fall into the trap of trying to evoke God’s presence by acts and words. They replace God’s invite to believe with the idea God wants us to behave. They develop routines and practices trying to become righteous, which will validate their ticket to heaven. However, in trying to make God come to them, they become tired and confused as if they were continually treading water. 

Jesus invites us to stand above the water so we can see the world through His eyes. When we get tired, or our burdens seem too heavy, He offers to take up our load. He didn’t say do this or do that, and life will get better. He said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Not only did Jesus come to save us from eternal separation from God, but He also came so we could have a full life, a life where we could live each day knowing we are loved and blessed by the Creator of the universe.  Sadly, too many followers only stop occasionally to be refreshed and renewed while on their journey. They forget to ask God to fill them with His presence and end up living two unfulfilled lives where one foot is in the kingdom on Sundays and one foot in the world all other times daily. 

The secularization of our thinking causes many to question God’s truths and promises. Instead of accepting and believing, they challenge God’s motivation. I advocate reading and studying scripture, and I also support meditating and praying about what God is saying to us in scripture and life.


Instead of worrying about what you must do to please God, accept that He is pleased, and that is why He choose you to follow Him.


Then focus on how He seeks to please you. He wants to fill you with His presence. He wants you to have the joy and the peace He offers. He wants you to know that your relationship with Him is crucial and that everything else flows from it. 

Will you talk with God about your relationship with Him? There are no exercises, exams or Ten Step programs to help with this relationship, only direct communication. Talk with God in your own words and tell Him what you desire in your relationship. Talk about those moments where all felt right with God and ask Him for more of that connection. Do you think you can take some time each day to reflect on what it means to be in God’s presence? Can you find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed and talk with God about wanting more of Him, about needing help with your faith? When you seek to understand your relationship with Jesus, you will be transformed, your faith will grow, and you will sense more of Him.  

Lost and Found PT 2

Losing Jesus in the Service of the Church.


According to Luke 2:43-46, Jesus was lost, and he was lost by those who loved him. The same continues to happen today; Christ is still lost by his friends. Last week, we shared that you could lose Jesus because of busyness. But another way that Christians lose Christ is when they take their eyes off Christ and rest them on church work. 
 
That is what happened to the Jews. They boasted of their love of the Lord but let the Temple and Temple work come in between them and the Holy One. Devoted to the Temple, they killed the Lord of the Temple. They held their religious ceremonies, made their sacrificial offerings, burnt their incense, and the priests and Levites ensured they performed their duties while the Scribes and Pharisees were fasting twice a week and saying long prayers. Yet in the midst of it, all Jesus saw spiritual death and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. (Matthew 23:27)
 
It is a frightening thought to think that Jesus can be lost in the service of God.

Being loaded down with church work, attending Board and committee meetings, keeping the church books, and passing around the collection basket, can cause some to become so absorbed in these things that they lose Christ.  They took eyes off the Saviour and put them on their work and become spiritually petrified. While running around in the name of Jesus, they lost Him, and they lost Him in the Temple/church.
 
I believe if we knew how many prominent men and women in the church, how many ushers, Sunday school teachers and members of the choir and preachers in the pulpit have lost Christ out of their hearts, the world would be horrified. I do not suggest they live sinful lives, but they have been more loyal to church work than Jesus. It is easier to attend long Board meetings in the name of the Lord than to spend the same time alone on our knees with Christ. 
 
The good news is that Christ is not far away. Christ is not far off from the saddest, hardest, and worst. He walked among publicans and sinners while on earth and is near them today in His great mercy. He is often much closer than we dream. Next week we will look at how we can reconnect with the Christ we lost.