Sunday, January 25, 2009

Spiritual Integrity Part 2

2 Peter 1:1-8 “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What’s the most powerful thing you can think of? In relational terms it may be a woman scorned. In earthly terms it may be a hurricane, or a huge volcano blowing up. In bigger terms it would be a super nova, a star that has literally exploded. One of Hubble’s pictures is of two galaxies that are in the midst of colliding. Now, it’s not like a car crash where screech, boom, bang it is over. It is unimaginable amounts of time with billions of stars and gas clouds and black holes slamming into one another – utter chaos. Take one step further and consider the one behind that wastefulness of creation. Consider the power of God…

“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…” Philippians 3:10

The power of His resurrection (God) reaches into a realm that we have very little information of or experience with. Before we consider what happened with Jesus, let’s remind ourselves with Lazarus. He was dead for four days. Word had been sent to Jesus earlier but He delayed a couple days and finally arrived. First Martha met Him, then Mary. He was troubled at their sorrow. He was troubled that people said if He had been here Jesus could have healed Lazarus. John 11 “Jesus said, "Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" So they removed the stone Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. "I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me." When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth." The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." “

What do you do with that? How do you get your head around what happened? There are no descriptions outside of Lazarus being bound. The earth didn’t shake, no lightening – but there was a power there in Jesus that raised the dead. The power goes beyond just the physical part of you and I into the soul, into the part of us that causes the heart to beat and the lungs to breathe.
And then Jesus died. He was raised, though, not just because of a command, but because of an accomplishment – a work that was finished and found satisfactory. Jesus was raised because His death was sufficient payment for sin. The power of God that conquered sin, Satan, and death blew that rock from the entrance of the tomb and raised Jesus Christ from the dead. That same power resides where? In Heaven? Yes! There is a temple here on earth where it resides too, and that is in the heart and life of every believer, every follower of Jesus Christ. Paul said I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection. There is a connection of this power to holiness, to sanctification. It was the sinless life of Jesus that was sufficient. As you and I pursue holiness, as we pursue a life that is pleasing to God, we come to experience that power because it is a connection to God in Christ-likeness.

Then there is the fellowship of His suffering. This is the part where we say, “Hold it – let’s go back to the power and the abundant life!” This verse is talking about the tension between the finite and the infinite; between the present and the eternity; between the citizenship we have here on earth and the one we have in heaven. This suffering is focussed on the stuff of this earth. It is about the priority it places in our life. Muslims suffer in places around the world for their faith, as do Buddhists and Hindus and atheists, and the list goes on. What Paul is talking about here is the community of sharing. What makes Christianity unique is the Holy Spirit working in and through us binding us together. Our community is not just the people in Saskatoon, but includes those in the Philippines, in Cameroon and Britain; all around the world. Paul wants to experience the fellowship of those around the world with whom he is connected to through the Holy Spirit, and he is not afraid of the hard stuff. Read Hebrews 11 again and see how people have suffered over the years for their faith. And that is just a tip of the iceberg of stuff that continues in parts of the world. In the province of Orissa in India we have had reports last fall of very serious persecution. Who prays for them if we don’t? Who prays for those on the Ndop Plain in Cameroon who are afraid of owls if not us?

So, you want that power in your life? Who wouldn’t? Well, there’s a price to pay, and it is amazing how few people are willing to pay it. People say I want it but they won’t pay for it. The price is simple – it is everything. You have to be willing to give everything up – relationships, prestige, power, money… everything, and follow Jesus. We are willing to lose out in the long term so often when we pursue the selfish short term stuff. Some people are afraid that Jesus is just out to spoil our fun. God created fun – He wants you to have joy unspeakable as His creation. He wants you to have an abundant life. But you have a choice. Look at 1 John 2 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. “ Do we really think money will make us happy? Do we really think pursuing pleasure will give us lasting happiness? The stuff of this world is so fleeting. It is like trying to grasp sand. Even as you hold it the sand is sliding between your fingers. Jesus said to seek Him first and all those other things will be added to you. There is a cost, but the payout is guaranteed in eternity and second to none. Don’t leave this place today without giving Jesus everything.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Spiritual Integrity - Part 1 of 3

Philippians 3:8-16 “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”

The Biggest Loser is a popular reality TV show. Over the last several years they have had different themes but the basic premise is “who can lose the largest percentage of weight?” Each week, those who lost the least can be voted off the show which takes place in a secluded location where the people are on strict diets and regimens of exercise.
In season 1 Ryan won the show, losing 122pounds, 36.97% of his weight, from 330 to 208. 5 years later he was back to his old weight.
Season 2: Matt won, losing 157 pounds, 46.31% of his weight, from 339 – 182. He is big again.
Season 3: Erik went from 407 to 193, losing 214 pounds, or 52.58% of his weight. He gained 38 pounds back. Of the first 3 seasons, only 1 person kept all their weight off.
Season 4: Bill went from 334 pounds to 170 pounds, losing 164 pounds, and 49.1% of his weight.
Season 5 (couples): Ali was the first lady on the show to win, losing 112 pounds, 234 – 112, 47.9% of her body weight.
Season 6 (Families): Michelle won this, going from 242 – 132, 110 pounds and 45.45% of her body weight.
Season 7, also with couples started 2 weeks ago. The Biggest Loser also has shows in 12 other countries. The success of the show has been grand, but of the individuals not so much. Big weight losses have almost always been followed by big weight gains. The people on the show are striving for something that is out there, something beyond the weight loss that they can’t see. There is the money and competition but once that motivation is over, then what? They had to be motivated by something deeper, something more that related to lifestyle and energy – and that is hard. These people in the show are in a place for 24/7 until they are eliminated or in the final. They have strict diets and hours of workouts each day. That is not reality. When reality comes in, they didn’t have the tools to cope with it, in spite of their success on the show.
What is our vision of following Jesus? Do we have a good, realistic view of how it fits into our whole life, or does it just fit into a special place like church or Bible studies. It is hard to follow Jesus. It takes effort and work and perseverance. .. but you can do it. Let’s look at what Paul says in Philippians 3:10. He says, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death”.

The Words:
To Know
– To understand completely; emphasizes a practical and experimental knowledge as well as mental; implies relationship
Power – We get dynamite from this word; to have power and ability that resides within
Resurrection – A raising up from the dead
Fellowship – sharing in common
Sufferings – afflictions; intentional abuse
Conformed – growing into conformity; death of carnal self (in relation to Jesus)
Death – separation of man from God; death is always viewed as the penal consequence of sin in the Scriptures

“That I may know Him (as my complete Savior) and the power of His resurrection (raising me from the death of sin into all the life of love) and the fellowship of His sufferings (being crucified with Him) and made conformable to His death (as to be dead to all things here below).”

Keep the main thing the main thing:

“that I may know Him” – This is not just some lofty unattainable goal. It is not some ideal to which we will always be striving but never attain. It is not just a carrot that is always out of reach, driving us forward but ultimately disappointing and discouraging us. God wants to be known by us. He has made Himself accessible. He has given us several things to aid us in this pilgrimage. He has given us the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the fellowship and community of the church, nature and prevenient grace that goes before us, leading us to Him if we but follow. Knowing God has several intangible elements that make it a journey unique to each of us, yet common in destination. Some of these intangibles we need to consider include the following:

Time and disciplines– How much time have you got? How much time are you willing to give to this goal? What is enough? We talk about resources and what we can give to God, and so often we forget about giving of our time. It’s hard as a small church, because there is so much we could do, so much that needs to happen that we can feel overwhelmed by that. Time is irreplaceable, though. Once it is gone, it is gone. Strive to use what you have for Jesus. Jesus wasn’t about Himself. He said it was His Father’s will that He was pursuing. How this looks for each of us will be different. Some of us can spend an hour in the Bible every day, some of us 10 minutes is a struggle. Some can spend 3 or 4 nights a week at church in programs; for others that would be wrong and hard on family relationships.
Don’t do what I do in that sense, do what is right between you and God. You can’t live my faith, and I can’t live yours – the challenge is for you to know God as His unique creation!

Baggage – What are bringing with you? If you accepted Jesus at a young age, you have traditions of how it has “always” been done. Jesus is unchanging, but how He works in us and in the church can change. Just look at how music has changed in the church over the last 2,000 years. What is right? Should we emphasize what they did in the synagogues when Jesus or Paul was preaching? What about the chants and the times of no instruments? Now we have the hymn verses worship chorus debates. Look not to the method, but the principle. There are two principles at work. The first is personal maturity. Where are you at in your Spiritual Maturity. What do you need to have in order to grow? Are hymns necessary for without them you can’t follow Jesus? Or if we never sing another chorus, will you stop worshipping? Sometimes it is an issue of what we like, rather than what we need; an issue of what we like rather than what does the church need. An outworking of maturity is the second principle, the surrendering of self, or concession. Instead of looking at what we need, we begin to look at what the other person needs. These two principles trade off each other. The greater the ability we have to stand firm on our own two feet in Jesus, the greater our ability to help our brother and sister stand firm themselves. It’s not about the form of the message, it’s about the love that the message produces in us. If we want to know Jesus and be like Him, we have to let our baggage go like the Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s story.

Surrender – This is about our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. You want to know Jesus, surrender your life. Surrender your family, surrender your job, and surrender all the stuff and things you have to God. Does this mean God takes them all away? No. It does mean though, that if some or all of them were taken away, you’d still have God and that would be enough. Down through the ages countless people have given up their property and lives for the sake of Jesus. We have little experience of what that means in our society. We are free and wealthy compared to the vast majority of the world. How are we using that for Jesus. He said to take up our cross daily and follow Him. When we bought our house on Brown crescent, we looked at it a few times. The first time it was a general, “Could we see ourselves living here?” kinda look. We looked for any major problems that were immediate vetoes. When we came back for a second look, it was much more careful and intense. We began to look not just for major stuff, but for little things that would be problematic. Have you ever done that but the sellers said no to look in a room? In fact, they liked that one room so much they wanted to keep it, so on the offer to buy they right in all attached things, the fridge and stove are included, but not the room in the south east corner. You go to get a mortgage and the banker asks how the house is and you say great, except for the bedroom you aren’t buying. The banker looks at you and asks how can you buy only 95% of a house? Sometimes we try to do that top God. Yes God, I want forgiveness of sins, and I want you to be Lord of my life, all except for the closet in the back. That is where I keep my stuff, my little things. It doesn’t make sense at all. What am I hanging on to so tight that I won’t let Jesus have the deed to? Is it worth it? What am I afraid of? Do I really think Jesus is about losing all the fun stuff? We have so much to learn about the Father’s love. Let me encourage you to rest in Him and trust Him completely. You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Resolutions for a New Year

Hebrews 11:1-3, 39-40; 12:1-3 “1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. 12: 1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Usain Bolt (born 21 August 1986) is a Jamaican sprinter. Bolt holds the Olympic and world records for the 100 metres at 9.69 seconds, the 200 metres at 19.30 seconds and, along with his teammates, the 4x100 metres relay at 37.10 seconds, all set at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Bolt became the first man to win all three events at a single Olympics since Carl Lewis in 1984, and the first man in history to set world records in all three at a single Olympics. His name and achievements in sprinting have earned him the media nickname "'Lightning' Bolt".

When you watch the Olympic s and you see these guys sprinting, they get settled down on the track, making little divots to push off from. They may be looking down, but as soon as that starter’s pistol fires they have one focus. It’s not the person on either side of them, it’s not their family or friends in the stand, it’s not the cameras that are following them; it is the finish line, the mark. Philippians 3:12-14 puts it this way: “12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The analogy here is that the Christian "walk" is like the runner in a race. I’ve seen runners pull up short because of an injury. I’ve seen runners wipe out by a misstep or an obstruction. I have seen runners fall because other runners fell into their path. If you ever saw the movie Chariots of Fire that portrayed the life of Eric Liddell, you saw him fall at one point, then get up and end up not just finishing the race but winning it. For you and me, what is that mark that we are looking at on the finish line? What is that focus to which we are running? It is expressed in different ways. Matthew 22 talks about Loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and your neighbour as yourself! Matthew 28 talks about making disciples as you go into the world. Paul in Philippians talks about spending our time thinking about things of excellence. John said that we ought to walk and live as Jesus did! As you sit down and think about the year to come, though, I want to leave some practical challenges to help with your focus. Many of us will make New Years resolutions, personal challenges to lead us into a better life or in being a better person. Consider what I have to share.

In Luke 2:52 we read the following, “and Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” As I read this verse, I am reminded that there are at least 4 areas of our life we can grow in: wisdom (mental), stature (physical), favour with God (spiritual), and favour with man (social). Let me leave you with 4 challenges for this year.

1) Wisdom – Find ways to expand your mind. One of the best and cheapest ways to do this is to read. Read a book a week, or 2 a month. Choose a variety of genres so you are exposed to different words. I got 2 anthologies of short stories for Bonnie at Christmas. One was a collection of Alice Munroe stories, and the other was Penguin’s collection of Canadian short stories. Find some good Christian fiction – browse through Parables and see what they have. Get a non-fiction that interests you. I had to pick up a birthday present for a friend of Ben’s and we got her a book. I saw one I was interested in so I got that as well. Mind you, it had a lot of big pictures and not so much writing, but it was interesting. Read a newspaper once a week from start to finish. Do a hard crossword once a week, or take up Sudoku. When I was young my paternal grandfather came to live with us. I was not old enough to know the why’s and all that, but my memory is of him sitting in his favourite chair by the front window watching the world go by while he sang or hummed songs to himself. He let his mind go slack, and he eventually lost the use of it. I realize that there are many medical issues involved in that process, but I always wondered if his outcome would have been different if he had exercised his mind even a bit.

2) Physical – Do something active. Start walking after supper every day. If it is too cold out, try an alternative like a walk at the mall. Just leave your wallet at home. Start something that involves discipline, something regular, and strive hard to make it a habit. If you are out doing shovelling, shovel an extra driveway. If you can’t get out much, try some isometrics – those are exercises where you put one muscle against another. Crunches, where you do a partial sit-up, is a kind of isometric exercise. When body builders are on stage and flexing all their muscles, they are doing isometric exercises to do it. If you have to sit for long periods, get one of those ab-trainers things or a flab busters doo-hickeys or sit on one of those exercise balls so you can take short breaks without leaving your seat, get a small workout, and improve your core. An alternative would be to take up a craft or hobby, where you work with fine motor control. There is a wood guild in the city that meets monthly and could be a source of encouragement. Just get your body moving somehow on a regular basis.

3) Spiritual – Spend quality time with God, getting to know Him better. Use a Bible reading program and read through the New Testament this year. In Acts we read about people who searched the Scriptures daily to see the veracity of what Paul was preaching. The Psalmist says, “Thy Word I have hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” This Book is all about God. Spend some time in it and you will find God, you will grow, and He will do a wonderful work in your life. Read it with an expectation of God showing you something. Spend some time meditating on a verse, allowing questions to come along with answers. Learn to be quiet and hear the voice of God speaking to you. You could even try memorizing a verse a week. Just find some way to get into the Word, and let the Word get into you.

4) Social – Connect with people better this year. Write a thank-you to one person a day. The Bible says “in everything give thanks”. Does this mean we say the white little lie of “Thank-you Aunt Ruth for these pink bunny slippers. I really like them!” Not at all, but you should be thankful that Aunt Ruth thought to get you a gift; and for that you should be thankful. We work hard to teach Ben and Heather to use their manners, but I also want to make sure that the thanks is not for the stuff, but for the thought behind it. The best way to do this challenge is a hand written note. You may also do an Email, but it has to be written. Part of the idea is to give the person something substantial so they can remember your thanks – so a phone call is not enough. Our culture is losing the art of hand written notes, but there is something special when it happens. So, who do you thank? Well, you can thank me for giving you such a great idea. Thank the person who gave you a meal (even if it was at a restaurant – leave a little note for the waiter to pass on to the chef/cook). Take some time and think over your life – who haven’t you thanked that you should or could. One a day is 365, and you are already 2 days behind, so get on it.

So there is my challenge – write down 4 things and pursue them. Let someone else know what you are doing to help hold you accountable. Even better, would be to have someone do those things with you. Instead of just a book, do a book club once a month. Instead of just a walk, grab a neighbour and ask if they would like to join you. Instead of just reading through the New Testament by yourself, commit to phone someone once a week to see how they did and let them know how you did. Instead of just writing thank-you notes, keep a scrap book of them (photocopy them) and add replies from the people as you receive them. This place here is just a big meeting room; you and I live out there in the world, in the big outdoors. Take control of your faith and your life and live it fully!