Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Harvest of Hope

John 4:31-38 “Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But He said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples were saying to one another, "No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work."Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor." nasb

Alan Hirsch - A working definition of a missional church is that it is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the Church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true Church. The Church itself is not only a product of that mission, but is obligated and destined to extend it by whatever means possible. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith that adheres to Jesus.
Dan Kimball in "The Emerging Church" (Zondervan, 2003) describes the missional church "as a body of people sent on a mission who gather in community for worship, encouragement, and teaching from the Word that supplements what they are feeding themselves throughout the week."
"Missional is a helpful term used to describe what happens when you and I replace the "come to us" invitations with a "go to them" life. A life where "the way of Jesus" informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others and where we adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture. It speaks of the very nature of the Jesus follower." ---Rick Meigs
Being missional is about the individual and how he or she lives out their faith. The building itself is just a structure and the community is an infrastructure. The programs we have are just tools in the hands of the people. This church is missional, then, only in the limits that we as individuals are missional. The Great Commission is to go and make Disciples. Disciples are not made by programs and buildings, they are made by one person imparting what they have to the next.
In this passage in John 4 we have Jesus sharing a couple thoughts about “this mission we are on” with His disciples.

Perseverance (verse 32-34)
Jesus connects His missional pursuit on the same level as eating. Food is pretty basic. Most of us eat 3 x a day plus snacks. We are well fed. We know there are many people who do struggle to make ends meet, and at the heart of all of us is the need for regular nutrition. One thing Jesus was emphasizing is that living out our faith in our everyday life is as necessary as eating. His meat, His nutrition was to do the will of the Father. His pursuing of all that God had made Him for was so vitally important.
We’ve talked before about the fact that Jesus wants all of us; following Jesus is largely a decision to surrender all of what and who we are to Jesus. What does this mean?
This is not about abandoning people. Following Jesus actually enhances our relationships with people because of our increased ability to love. Before we met Jesus we may have been pretty good people, but I would say that until we came to understand what Jesus did for us at the cross, that led to our salvation, our capability to love selflessly was hindered. It is hindered by sin, by fallibility. John says that we love because God first loved us. Because God showed us the pattern of love, of while we were yet sinners Jesus died for us, we can understand what agape love is. That is what God calls us to – Perfect Love. Another term people use for entire sanctification is perfect love. The ability to be so full of God because we are so empty of ourselves is not about beating ourselves because we are worthless, because we are worth more than anything – that is why God died for us. It is about recognizing that for us to be all God created us to be we have to let the Creator who made us and understands us be in control of our direction. Take the relationship between a mother or father and a little girl or boy. The child can fight all they want about bedtime and eating habits and school attendance – all aspects of life. If that parent allows the child to control things, they will grow up spoiled, thinking life owes them everything, wanting to get everything for nothing. The parent, as hard as it is, directs the child’s life, gives information, disciplines when necessary so that the child will mature and be able to be a part of a community. We surrender to God because He knows all and we are but like little children. Know that your daddy God loves you more than you could ever realize.
And so we persevere. We persevere in following Him even if all else around us fall away. We persevere in living our faith in front of everyone because it is who we are. Just as we eat day in day out, so we strive to stay close to Jesus day in day out.

Listen to the words of Rudyard Kipling, and think about what he says and how it relates to you and I and the integrity of our faith in God:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

Immediacy (verse 35 - Now is the day of salvation)
The field is white (ready for harvest) – look around now. God has called you to be here, so here is where your field is. Look for it, it is right here. Imagine Jesus sitting there talking with His disciples and pointing to the people coming from the city (verse 30). Sometimes we think that tomorrow is the day of ministry, that we have to be better prepared, more studied, more healed from the baggage we carry around with us. There is a place for taking time for healing. There is a time for study and preparing. But even in the midst of those seemingly self-oriented pursuits, there is and should be room for ministry. Our faith is not compartmentalizable. You can’t walk through your week with a back pack and put your faith on and off like a shirt when you choose. Your faith is more like your skin. It is part of the very fabric of your being. And because it is right there, there is an immediacy to faith. One small word you say today, goes much further than a sermon you might say four months down the road. In Proverbs we read “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances (25:11)”. How do we do this. This “live in the present” with our faith. First, we need to keep short accounts with God. Don’t let sin linger – deal with it right away. Second, Do whatever it takes to get to know God as best as you can. This includes prayer and Bible reading and fellowship and worship. Thirdly, focus on loving your neighbour, in thought and word and deed. Love them from the inside out. Live today as if it were the one day that counted in your life, for indeed it is all you have right now. Jesus said to let the problems of tomorrow stay in tomorrow – focus on today.

Abiding in Christ (verses 36-38)
Finally, this whole reaping and sowing metaphor is about God working in and through us. We don’t save people – God does. We can never argue someone into heaven. A person is only saved as they see their need for Jesus to deal with the sin problem in their life. We can and are used of God to be a conduit of His love and grace. It is a privilege, and one we tap into by staying close to Jesus, by abiding in Jesus, in the vine. God calls us into the world to show His love, to reveal Himself to the people around us. My twin brother Dan has been called to do that in Cameroon. He went because God asked him and his wife to go. He went, expecting much trouble both physically and spiritually because of the nature of their work. I wasn’t directed there, but have been called to the pulpit, to the ministry of overseer. Bonnie’s call is different, and her work with words is a fulfillment of that calling she has. Dan translates Scripture. I preach sermons. Bonnie writes books. All three of us talk with neighbours about Jesus. All 3 of us pray for people. All three of us study the Bible even though we have been Christians for decades because we know the need to stay connected to Jesus. All 3 of us rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us everyday. We aren’t perfect, but we strive to be all we can be in all that God has supplied for us.

I was at an Alcoholics Anonymous information luncheon of Friday. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Staying sober is the constant mission for each member. It is a day by day, moment by moment thing. As the speakers explained what the program was about I was struck by the fact how applicable it was for us as Christians. The speakers got up and each started by saying, “My name is such and such. I’m an alcoholic.” They went on and mentioned the day of their sobriety. What if we had a Sinners Anonymous program? Our mission moment to moment is holiness. Here are AA’s 12 steps with the word sin and sinner replacing alcohol and alcoholic and put in the first person, but otherwise verbatim of what their creed is.

My name is Steve, and I am a sinner.
1. I admit that I was powerless over sin – that my life had become unmanageable.
2. I came to believe that a Power greater than me could restore me to sanity.
3. I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.
4. I made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.
5. I admitted to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.
6. I was entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. I humbly asked Him to remove my shortcomings.
8. I made a list of all persons I had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. I made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. I continued to take personal inventory and when I was wrong I promptly admitted it.
11. I sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I tried to carry this message to sinners, and to practice these principles in all my affairs.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Worship in Spirit - Jesus Words

John 4:20-26 "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."

It is hard to pull together the barrage of media and news from around the world. This morning there could be a coup in Nigeria and we would hear about it by tonight. Hindus in Orissa attacked Christians, killing several and causing the rest to flee into the jungles. You can read Time magazine online and find out the top 25 people to blame for the America’s and the world’s financial crisis. You read about thousands laid off in countries all around the world. I spent time this week trying to help two brothers who hitch-hiked into town from Nova Scotia with nothing but the clothes on their back. It begs the question—”What are we doing here? Who am I in the midst of this?”

Place of Worship – in you
As God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, freeing them from bondage, He revealed to them that His dwelling place would be the tabernacle. On Wednesday I was doing an Outcome Inventory as part of my educational requirements for the District and I sat in an unused office in Rock of Ages Church. On a side counter there sat a little model about 2 feet long of the tabernacle. As a kid I had a Sunday school teacher who specialized in explaining how the elements contained in the tabernacle and temple were types or symbols that ultimately led to Jesus. The tabernacle was replaced by Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Wrecked in the Babylonian invasion the Jews appreciated grudgingly the work Herod was doing in the time of Jesus on the new temple. It would be completed in 63 AD, and destroyed 7 years later when Rome overran Jerusalem. Because the Samaritans were considered impure and not true Jews, they could not worship in Jerusalem. So they set up their own rival temple on Mt Gerazim. Jesus, though, talked of a fundamental change. The grace of God through the death of Jesus was offered to all, both Jew and Gentile. The location was no longer physical, but spiritual.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:17; 6:19; and 2 Corinthians 6:16 that we are the temple of God, that God dwells within us. You are the repository of the Creator of the ends of the earth. We don’t need to put gold on our ceilings or marble on our floors. What we do need to do is use these bodies we have for God’s honour and glory. This is why we Nazarenes ask our members to be sober and stay away from entertainment practices that can lead us away from worshipping God with our minds and bodies. These things become idols all too easily. They take our eyes off Jesus, off the holiness of God. They draw us in pursuit of our own pleasure and quickly become a distraction from keeping in step with the Holy Spirit. In the middle of the book of Acts a church council sends a letter to all the churches saying, “Stay away from eating meat offered to idols.” A while later we see Paul in a letter saying it is okay to eat meat offered to idols. The fact is there are many things in life that just aren’t worth the effort it takes to do them. They are distracting to our faith, our families, our integrity. You have to live within the context of Christ in you. It doesn’t start with what you do. It starts with the fact that God is in you and goes from there. What does go from there? Well…

Method of Worship – in your heart
This is something that should be self-evident, but often is not. We come to church, or go to work or school or just sit in the privacy of our homes. We think we are alone, or at least, our thoughts and hearts are well guarded. Don’t fool yourself. It isn’t about clothes or location; it isn’t even about action to begin with, that comes later. Jesus said it is about worshiping in spirit. It is about intention, about agendas. God knows our inner thoughts. He knew in the Old Testament when the Priests would offer up sacrifices, but were robbing the people. He knew when Achan had in private stolen treasure when he was forbidden. He knows, as Jeremiah states, that our hearts are deceitful and wicked. He knows how often we fail and fall short. But you know what? His grace is bigger than our failures and He asks us to come back to Him. He knows when we don’t and just go through the motions. Jonathon Edwards preached a sermon in 1741 called “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”. He talked about the end result of living a life running against or away from God. He said it is only in Jesus that you can find peace and assurance of the future. So don’t get caught up in the sense that you are somehow escaping the notice of God. This is good news and bad news. Good if you are pursuing Jesus, bad if you are running your own life. There is probably 30 different reasons why we came here this morning. Most of us came to meet God. Rest in His love, in His grace. If you are far from Him, listen to Him calling to you.
When we worship in Spirit, we worship in intention. We purposely do things for God, because He leads us. The incarnation is a prime example of that. Jesus intentionally left heaven to accomplish the will of the Father. It was an act of service. One of the last things Jesus did for the disciples was to wash their feet. Remember that story? Peter said, “No- not me. That is a job for the servants.” When Jesus rebuked him Peter said then wash all of me because I want to be all I can be in you. Worshipping God in Spirit is intention played out in action. In Bible College I had a professor say that “service is the highest form of worship”. Almost everything you do can be worship when you do it in the attitude of service to God and one another. You can do the same thing and it could mean nothing because your intention was not for God, but for yourself. The challenge is live your life as an act of worship, moving from one thing to the next with the continuing sense of the presence of God in your life.

Focus of Worship – Christ in us
Jesus said to worship in spirit and in truth. The ultimate truth is reality. One can talk about homes and food and love, but if we lived in many, many places in the world it would not be reality. As we watched gas prices go up and down, as we watch the stock markets bottom out, we begin to ask what lasts? I read another article yesterday on how they need to look at climate change happening sooner than later because it can get into a self serving circle with the melting of the northern tundra and how that could release 3 times the amount of CO2 than we have released since the dawn of the industrial age in a matter of decades. What will the world look like for our children’s children? The only unchanging thing I know is the character of God. It is what He bases His promises in – His unchanging character of love and holiness. That is why the Old Testament has the rules it does. It reflects His holiness and the seriousness of sin. It also reflects His love and striving with us, His patience. Is it any wonder that these two things are what God calls us to? Love and holiness. Christianity isn’t rules for rules sake. It is about reflecting the life of Jesus in us.
One would think it would be easier to live by rules. It’s not. You would always be waiting for judgement, always wondering how far short you missed the mark, no assurance of God’s love; just Damacle’s sword of judgement hanging above us while we struggle and keep falling short. How much better it is to live in grace. Unmerited favour. Letting our behaviour flow out of who we are in Christ. And if we fall short, there is forgiveness and the grace to go on. There is assurance based on love and promises of salvation.

So go from today with a sense of the presence of God in your life, for you are the temple of God. Take the time throughout your week to keep short accounts. God is closer than a text message or a tweet. He is with you always. Just make the choice to live in His power and direction, and He will come and lead you on, in spirit and truth.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Witness in Samaria

John 4:4-15 “And He had to pass through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob's well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink." For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? "You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?"

Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."

The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw."”

The Witness Skit was something I wrote with my buddies Dan, Larry and Paul back in high school. The skit was about the story of the Samaritan woman found in John 4. The disciples are talking and see a woman at the well, so they discuss the best way to go and tell her about Jesus. They have several false starts before they end up watching Jesus as He talks with her, learning from His example. I want to do that today as we continue talking about Jesus Words.

Witness did not happen with the disciples!

The disciples were following and learning from Jesus about what He was calling them to – to become more like Him. The disciples were drawn from ordinary men from across the strata of society. In this story, the disciples had no influence on the woman at the well. Why is that? Let me suggest a couple reasons:

They were too busy. Reading verse 8 and verse 33 of John 4 we see they went in to the city to buy food. They had a task on hand and seemed to focus on that. While they were gone they missed an opportunity. We don’t see any results from the city for them having gone there. I apparently have some issues when it comes to multi-tasking. What I always need to do, though, if have in the back of my mind who I am in Jesus.

They lost their focus. It is like having a program but forgetting why you are doing the program and so you begin to run it for its own sake. There is the story of the community that lived by the sea. There was no magic dragon but there were shipwrecks – many of them in fact. Over the years they helped many people along the dangerous coast survive. They would run training seminars on search and rescue and first aid. After time they decided it would help if they built a lighthouse, and so they organized and did just that. The light worked and saved many a ship. As such, they had some extra time and a reason to celebrate, so along with nightly lighthouse-keeping duties, they built a hall and celebrated and had many wonderful parties. Time went on and they struggled to keep up with the costs of running the lighthouse, especially when ships weren’t crashing any more. They eventually turned off the light and became a social club that met for parties. And so the ships began to once more run aground… Jesus talked about making them fishers of men, and here they were busy buying fish sticks. We do things for reasons beyond just the social here. We are connected through the Holy Spirit to encourage and model and to be involved in the body of Jesus, the church. It is not about the program, whether it be floor hockey or a small group or the Sunday Service – the program is just a tool, and tools can change and be sharpened.

They were too bound by culture. The disciples were surprised Jesus was talking to a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. It went against generally accepted cultural norms. What we need to do, though, is get outside of those norms, and see everyone with the eyes of Jesus. Now, the disciples missed the boat, but Jesus didn’t. We see the story unfold from His perspective, so let’s talk about the example He left us here.

Witness happens in the midst of conversation!

Everywhere Jesus went we see Him in conversation. Society was different then, but that does not mean it was worse or better. The example we have is that Jesus engaged people in conversation. He found ways to chat. Maybe He started with the weather, but we do know He was thinking ahead. Do you know somebody who is really excited about something? What happened when the Riders were in the Grey Cup game? It was on everybody’s lips. Everyone was talking about it because they were excited. It was thrilling. How exiting and thrilling is Jesus and your relationship with Him. Maybe one of the reasons the Church in North America is declining is because many of us just aren’t that excited about Jesus, about salvation and holiness, about spiritual blessings. Jesus was excited about His Father and His kingdom. He talked about it all the time. Find ways to be excited, to have conversations that lead to how wonderful God is in your life. Take some time to consider all He has done for you. Use language that people can understand. Telling your neighbour who has only set his foot in church at a funeral that he is lost and needs to be holy and let Jesus into His heart may not go far for the simple reason he looks at you and says, “Huh???” He doesn’t get the meaning of any of those, because he knows where he is, he is fine without holes in his stuff, and how can someone get into his heart when it is in the middle of his chest? A tribe in South America accepts Jesus into their liver, because that is where the seat of life is for them in their culture.

Witness happens in the midst of vulnerability!

Jesus did not start His conversation with the lady by hitting her with the Torah saying “Repent, you are a sinner!” He said I have a need – “I am thirsty.” Sometimes we are too self-sufficient. I struggle with this. I plan my own way to do things and am more than happy to help someone or give them a ride, but there is a bit of pride in me that says, “I don’t need help myself!”

Witness happens in the midst of Grace!

Notice the focus was not on whom the person was - a Samaritan woman who was living a promiscuous life. It wasn’t about how many wrong things she was doing. It wasn’t about her faith and where she was wrong in that. It was about how much God loved her, and that she needed to hear the Good News that Jesus had to offer. You will never be effectively used by God to bring people to Himself if you don’t believe they are worth it. Did Jesus really die for them like He died for me? Absolutely! The homeless person needs Jesus as much if not more than us who have a warm place to lay our head. Jesus said He didn’t come to heal those who were well, but the sick. His grace transforms people. We have this conference coming up in March about God creating each of us in His image with wonderful gifts and how we can use those things to make significant changes in our lives. Some people don’t need to come because they don’t need or want any changes, but I do know we all need to be reminded about how strong and how wonderful God has created each of us.

Don’t be too busy, too caught up in living life that you miss the opportunities all around you. Pray every morning, “Lord, give me a chance to talk about how happy I am to be your child to someone today. Maybe you need to help me be happier or show my happiness better, but Father, I truly am. Don’t let me miss an opportunity. Lead me on.”

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Spiritual Integrity – Part 3

Romans 6:5-14 “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. “

There was a man who wanted so much to be part of the air force in Australia. He was turned down and did a number of things over the years, including some petty theft. One day he bought a full officers outfit including some medals from an army surplus. He talked his way onto a base, getting a temporary pass. For the next 10 months he would visit the officers club and swap stories with other brass. Finally someone did a routine check and found no history of him previous to the 10 months – busted.

He looked the part, talked the part, but he wasn’t the real deal. There was no integrity to his position. During WW2 a man from Belgium sold 3 famous paintings to the Nazis for a lot of money. After the war this came to light and he was in serious trouble for collaborating with the enemy. He told the judge the paintings were fake and that he had painted them. The judge sent him to his studio with an escort of police and told him to paint another one – which he promptly did. The charges for collaboration were dropped, and then they charged him with forgery – busted. His integrity and those of his paintings were worthless.

The last 2 weeks we have been talking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, about what Paul means when he says in Philippians 3:10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death”. Today we are going to look at that phrase at the end, “conformed to His death.”

The Meaning
This phrase does not mean I want to be literally crucified with Jesus. The verb “conformed” means to have a practical apprehension of the death of the carnal self. What was the Incarnation about? Philippians 2 5ff makes it abundantly clear that for Jesus it wasn’t about His self, it was about His Father’s will, it was for you and I. He died to self long before He was crucified. Being conformed to His death refers to allowing Jesus to control our direction. This does not mean that we turn our back on our family. It does mean we look at them with the eyes of Jesus, that they are part of our stewardship and we need to show them love, help them see Jesus in us. We don’t live in a country with persecution. Our turning to faith does not mean that we are cast out or under a death penalty. If someone denies us because of our faith, it is their ignorance and controlling spirit at work, and if we give up Jesus for that we have made a poor choice.
While I was at the Prayer retreat I was talking with Pastor Manoj from Winnipeg. He told me this story of a Muslim from another country that came to Canada and stayed illegally. He was talking to a lawyer about claiming a refugee status. The lawyer said you need a good reason, not just because you want to. So he said what if I said I was a Christian and would be killed if I returned. The lawyer said that might do it, but you had better study up on what Christianity is in case the judge asks you some questions. So he set aside 2 weeks. The first week he read and learned… and nothing happened. During the second week, however, he started to cry as he understood the grace of God, and he actually became a Christian. As he was going for his hearing, he no longer cared if he was successful in his bid to stay in Canada, because he had found a truth much deeper than anything he had ever known – something he was willing to put aside freedom and even life for.
So, what drives your life? Who sits on that throne, who controls your direction?

The Process
We have asked this question, and I trust you have dealt with it; that you have answered it by saying to God, “I surrender all.” What then? How does this new life work? I want to give you the process by which God works in and through us most of the time. Understand first that the goal of God now that He is in your life is to make you holy like Himself. You were created to be in relationship with God and the fundamental outworking of that is holiness. When we see God talking about purpose and why we were created we see this. Paul in the 3rd chapter of Philippians says that in gaining Christ he is looking for a righteousness that comes from God, not one derived from doing stuff. It is God at work that brings righteousness.
Romans 8:28-30 is used often by people who say God predestines some people to be Christians and others to not be Christians. This is not what these verses are saying. Listen to them closely: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Do you hear it? It says “He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” When man comes to God, when that relationship is restored and sin is no longer a barrier, we are to become conformed to the image of Jesus. Our life is to reflect the life of Jesus. We are to live lives of love and acceptance and proclaim the grace of God. That is what Jesus did!
Now, I have mentioned this before, but the process is this:
Based on the decision of following Christ, our behaviour changes. Notice the change in behaviour happens as a result of the surrender to God, not the other way around. Don’t try to stop your anger or your swearing and think that will get you to God. Turn to God, confess your sin, ask Him for strength, claim the promises of the Scripture and go out and live as a new creation. Look at the following passages at home:
Colossians 3:1-17
Ephesians 4:22ff
2 Corinthians 10:5ff
Romans 6:11-14
Romans 12:1-2
Consider these three things: 1) the decision (I surrender all), 2) what we stop doing (the “sin” stuff), 3) what we start doing instead (the “holy” stuff).

The Reality
The stock market, we are told, is the best place to invest in the long term. When you look at it over decades it has a great record. The reality of life, though, is lived day to day. At the start of the Great Depression in 1929 many people killed themselves because of the crash. Life was hard. This past fall we have been taken back to those times and the economy is pretty rough for a lot of people. The Christian life is great, God is love, the ultimate victory is His, but the reality is we are citizens of 2 worlds – heaven and earth. The tension between these two is very strong at times. Being conformed to His death doesn’t necessarily mean our physical circumstances will change for the better. Israel cried out in bondage and slavery for hundreds of years before they were sent Moses to lead them out. Joseph, the only major character in the Old Testament where we see no sin, was betrayed by his brothers and almost killed, being sold into slavery instead. He was falsely accused by Potpher’s wife and thrown into the dungeon in Egypt. He was forgotten by the Pharaoh’s cup bearer for two more years as he languished in chains.

Understand that God’s blessing is rooted in the spiritual realm. This world is temporary and will pass away. The presence of God is eternal. We are guaranteed eternal life with God in heaven, not prosperity and health in this world. Does this mean God is of no use until we die? Don’t make that mistake, for Jesus is the answer for the world today. Being conformed to His death does mean that we can walk each step of this life, whether it be on a mountain top or in a dark valley, with our Creator. The One who knows us, who weeps when we weep as He watches His wonderful creation writhe in pain and violence as a result of sin. Read Psalm 23 in conclusion:

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Don’t you want a Shepherd like that looking out for you?