Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent - Waiting

When you came today, did you think, “God has brought me here by divine appointment?” God has something here for you not just today, but each time you come. There are two things you can take away. You may take them both, or just one or the other, and next week it may be the other one The first thing is what you take for yourself. God is in the business of making you like Himself. As we look at the Word and consider the claims of Jesus God speaks to you about you. Maybe it is something you need to do or to change or to consider. But you may be here and you’ve got it all together. You may not need what God brings today for yourself. In that case let me suggest that God wants you to take this stuff for someone else. Maybe you never really knew how to talk about sanctification or faith or hope, or how to express it to someone else. You can take what we talk about here and share it with others. It helps sharpen your understanding and confidence, so you can build into someone else’s life. I’m glad you’re here, and I pray there is something here for you to take on your journey to Christ-likeness.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Stay Strong - John 17

John 17:14-26 "But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

Stay strong in the Faith

The harvest has not been too far gone, and for what they got off the ground it was decent enough. Bonnie and I were watching a show on the Food Network that showed how they grew certain seedless watermelons. As they are ready to harvest you have these workers walking through the fields and selecting the ripe ones and cutting them off the vine by hand. The tractor then comes along with a big trailer and the watermelons are hoisted up and packed in skids right away and off they go to the market. Modern farming has changed remarkably over the last hundred years, so much so that you can grow almost 10 times as much on the same parcel of land as before, by fewer people. Back in Jesus day He talked about the Sower (Matthew 13) who would throw the seed out by hand. It landed in 4 places: the road, the rocks, the thorns, and the good soil. When it landed on the road, it was quickly eaten by the birds. Jesus said this happens when we share the Gospel in a way the person can’t understand it. That is why we need a variety of ways and places to share the Good News. It is also why the most effective way to share Jesus is when you and I do it personally with our friends and neighbours. It becomes an ongoing dialogue so people can understand the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reveal the Real Deal

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.
I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.
While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.
John 17:1-12

Verses 1-5 When is the last time you looked in a mirror. As I look out I think for some of you it may be a day or two ago. Actually, I have a bad habit of going out the door without thinking about the mirror and checking my hair. A mirror is made by putting a thin layer of highly reflective silver or aluminum on the surface of a piece of glass. When the glass is flat, the light bounces back so you see a perfect representation. Apparently magicians use mirrors to great effect, though I can never see them. The ministry of Jesus was to reveal the Father. He was to mirror His heavenly Father. Listen to Hebrews 1:1-3: “Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God's nature. He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words!” (The Message) As we look at the Son, we see the Father.
So, when we see the grace of God extended to the prostitute caught in sin, we see the grace of God extending to fallen humanity. When we see the love of Jesus for the little ones He gathers on His lap saying, “Let them come to me”, we see the love of the Father who says that ministry to widows and orphans is true religion. When we see Jesus walking on water and raising Lazarus from the dead, we see the resurrecting power of God at work. Everything you see and are called to do and be in Jesus is really the call to be like your heavenly Father. In some ways, Jesus did what He did because He was divine and could not do otherwise. When you read Philippians 2:5-11 you see that Jesus emptied Himself in the incarnation, and humiliated Himself by becoming a servant to the point of death. Michael Gorman, a British theologian says that He did this because this is the divine pattern. When you think about it, God Himself almost condescended just be the act of creation, creating something much smaller and more finite than who He is to relate to. It is in the very nature of the trinity that there is this sense of love leading to sacrifice. Jesus showed us that, reflecting God’s agape love character in His life.

Verses 6-8 We talked about how a mirror reflects an exact image. A mirror works by putting that highly reflective surface behind the glass, but when you put small gaps in that covering, you end up with a two-way mirror. From one side you see the reflection, but from the other you can see through it like a window. The second part of this passage we are looking at today speaks not of just reflecting Jesus and God in our lives, but of actively revealing God to those around us. In verse 8 Jesus says that the disciples have received all the words from Jesus that His Father gave to Him. Jesus intentionally spoke God’s message to the people and made sure they knew them, and that resulted in faith. It is not enough to just live the good life, you have to speak it. People all around town today are excited about the game. If you live in Saskatchewan and have to ask what game that is, you are not one of us. I didn’t get here until 4 years ago, but I got here as fast as I could. The people are talking about what they are excited about. They talk about the chances BC have, but most people are pretty confident we can take them. Last weekend I was talking to a lady at Safeway because it was “kinda” slow. She said it will go nuts in a couple hours as people rush out and buy food for the Riders game before it starts. There’s the buzz in the air.

Now imagine if we were just as excited about what Jesus is doing in our lives today. Sometimes I wish at the prayer and share time that I would have to cut people off because so many people want to talk about Jesus. This is our chance to celebrate as a community, as a family. This is your chance to share a word of testimony of what God is doing in your life. I know He is doing something because you are here. Just let me encourage you to verbalize it. Bonnie has been doing our call to worship segment for a few months now, and I really enjoy it. Each week she tries to bring something that God has spoken to her that week about. Sometimes it relates to the kids. Sometimes it is about her or I, but it is about her current faith experience. Jesus had that advantage over us, in that He walked with the disciples for about 3 years. He lived with them, ate with them, slept where they slept, and talked with them after His sermons and miracles, making sure they understood. You and I don’t spend nearly that time together, and most of the people in your life don’t get that exposure. Let me encourage you again to use your voice as well as your actions to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. If you don’t tell them you are a follower of Jesus, they might just as well conclude you are a vegetarian or a Mormon.

 Verses 9-12 Our lives are to reflect the father, as well as our words. The last part of this passage, though, indicates that Jesus had a very specific ministry with His disciples. In this prayer Jesus says that He asks not on behalf of the world, but on behalf of the disciples, whom God had given to Him. Jesus is sharing a very important truth here. He had some very specific people to whom He was accountable for. He had multitudes following Him. He had 70 on His leadership team that He sent out by 2’s to share the Good News. Then He had the 12. It was the 12 to whom He spent the extra time. It was the 12 that He would explain His parables too. It was the 12 to whom He asked probing questions like, “Who do people say that I am?” followed by “Who do you say that I am?” It was with the 12 He ate His last meal. It was the 12 that He entrusted His ministry to when He left. He took them from fisher men and tax collectors, to men about the business of God. He taught them what they needed to be able to teach others. The truth for you and I is this: We all have disciples to whom we are to reveal God - find them! We just observed Remembrance Day. It was a day to remember the sacrifice of those who have allowed us and others around the world to experience freedom. The Act of Remembrance is a touching poem and declaration used in many of the services:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

These vets are remembered for something very specific by their comrades. As I reflect on Jesus and His disciples, Jesus was remembered for some very specific things by those around Him. My question is this: What will you be remembered for? What is your family reminded of now when your name comes up? What about co-workers, or your friends you have had over the years? What is the legacy you are leaving with your disciples. Are they pointed to the grace and love of God through your actions and words? It is never too late to leave a lasting impression. Decide today to pray for those around you that will allow you to speak into their lives the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Decide today to let your light shine before men. Don’t hit people over the head with your faith, but do let it come out naturally. Be true to yourself; be true to your Heavenly Father.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen (21st September, 1914)

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is a music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncountered:
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end they remain.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Get your game on

John 15:18-27 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master ' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.
But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, 'THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.' When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

There is a philosophical understanding of life that says all that we see and experience is not real. The task of life is to get beyond the senses to the reality that is found in the mind, in understanding. A hit movie was based on that premise called the matrix, where it showed that the world as we understand it is a complex computer program to which we are plugged into. The hero gets unplugged, and finds reality, and begins to set people free from the illusion. Sometimes we need to draw the curtain aside in our own lives, to be reminded of what it is all about. In Jesus’ conversation with His disciples before He was crucified, He did just that. Let’s have a look at three truths jesus reminds us of in this passage of John 15.

John 15:18 There is a world force with its own agenda. Don’t expect things to just work out. One of the funniest videos on AFV we have seen involves this little kid and a cat. In the first part you see the child being somewhat rough with the cat. Then you see the kid coming towards you down a path. Suddenly this cat jumps out of a bush onto the kids head and they both go flying off the screen. The cat had an agenda, and while it may have been based on poetic justice, the fact is the kid was bowled over. Have you ever been bowled over by life? The world system is in cahoots with the devil. The world system is not for you. It has an agenda of its own that focuses on destruction and hurt and pain and confusion. Some of us have been through a lot more than others. I have been working with a grandmother the last few weeks trying to help her teenage grandson who was living on the streets in Saskatoon. At the same time, she had a son missing in a large city in the US. She was stressed out and doing whatever it took to help find a resolution to the issues. I am glad to say that both the grandson and son are in Ontario and are getting some of the help they need. Do you wonder why finances are always tight, or why your job doesn’t seem to be worth it, or why some relationships are sour? You have to work at and fight for the things that are worth something in your life, because the world is opposed to you having it. Satan would have no greater joy than seeing you wallow in the problems and pains and distractions of life. His agenda is counter to what God wants for you. When you sign up to follow Jesus, you put yourself in the world’s way, and it will try to harm you. Jesus came that we might have abundant spiritual life. You can have that regardless of what is happening around you, because it is rooted in who you are in Jesus, not by how much stuff you have, or how people treat you. As you run this race called life, then, focus on that upward call of God found in Jesus, of becoming like Him in thought, word and deed.

John 15:21 The world’s agenda is intentionally anti-Christ and anti life. In other words, it is personal. Satan is actively trying to keep you down, to knock you off the course you are on with Jesus. Think of it as a game of football. Right now you may be in the second quarter, or fourth quarter. The game isn’t over until you see Jesus face to face, and it is not until then that you will be able to really stop this struggle. If you take the analogy of the game you understand that there are time outs and half times, where you can catch your spiritual breath per se. There are times when you get in the huddle and talk about the next play, but remember that the opposing team isn’t interested in playing fair. They are going to try to cheat you and hurt you and do anything within their power to set you up to lose. The times you have to gather together and worship are times to get encouraged and energized for the fight. These are times for you to better understand who you are and what God is doing in and through your life. The other team is going to be pushing all your buttons so you get distracted from the game and get your focus off of the goal. Have you ever seen a hockey player bug and chip away at another player, trying to goad him into taking a bad penalty or start a fight? He is simply trying to neutralize that player, and he is successful if the gloves drop and that player is looking at a major penalty. Life is doing that to you. It is trying to draw your eyes from the task of becoming more like Christ so as to neutralize any ministry you may have. Don’t give in to that - stand strong in the grace of God and focus on the task at hand.

John 15:24 The fight is about Truth, about the character of God. One of the reasons we don’t fit in the world is because we have morals, a sense of ethics that is beyond ourselves. That moral code is the character of God. Holiness is who God is, and what the work of the Spirit is doing in our lives. The easy way out of this battle is to avoid the battle. Ben has started wrestling with the Saskatoon Wrestling Club. It is bringing back a lot of memories from my high school days. In wrestling you are in the middle of a ring about 20 feet in diameter - just you and your opponent. You can win by pinning your opponents back to the mat, or by accumulating more points than the other guy by the end of the match. I remember watching a match where one guy was obviously outclassed. He spent the whole match backing away from his opponent and was called several times for leaving the circle, with points awarded to the other guy. In this thing called life we may find ourselves choosing that same route. We bob and duck and weave and just try to avoid being involved. We think we can survive better because we have no confidence in what we can do. Often that hesitancy gets us into more trouble than it solves. I have the dubious distinction of being in one of the shortest matches that I ever saw. I was up against a guy by the name of Allan Muir. He had a really strong upper body and I knew I should stay away from his arms. I didn’t have confidence in doing anything else, so right from the start I went to lock up his head and arms up high. All he did was grab me coming to him and flipped me over his hip and I was down for the count with no way out of his grasp. My hesitancy and fear of what might be overruled any sense of what I should and shouldn’t do. The fact is I had some skills, I was taught the moves, and at the very least I should have made him sweat before he won.

We have the truth in the Gospel, in the Holy Spirit as our Counsellor and Coach. We have strengths and gifts given to us by the Creator of all that is around us, and yet so often we think we can’t do it. We are afraid to even speak about our faith. What is at stake, though, are the lives of those around us. When we get into that avoidance and delaying pattern in our spiritual life, the people around us don’t see or hear the Gospel through us. They don’t see the divine as something tangible, something that can touch their lives. The world doesn’t want people to recognize the Truth of God. Satan doesn’t want people to recognize there is a morality, a code of ethics that is rooted in our creation. Because we were created in the image of God, that moral code is imprinted on our souls. People will deny it and do whatever they can to silence that still quiet voice from within, but part of the task you and I have is to uphold and promote that character of holiness. That is why I get upset with people who live with sin and don’t struggle against it. It is why I get so upset with myself when I blow it and get drawn off of what I should be and should be doing. Hold up the standard of holiness, the character of God, and rally to that. Don’t be swayed from that, whether the road seems easy or hard - never back down, never surrender.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

James 1: 1-10 “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.

Have you ever been in “cruise” mode? It happens when people ask you how you are, and they don’t really want to know, and you say, “Fine” because you don’t really want them to know how you are. We often have valid reasons for brushing off these attempts at connecting – but sometimes we just start living without really looking around us. My favourite story of this happening is when those seagulls play “chicken” on logs going down the Niagara River. The gulls land on the logs above the falls and bob along as the rough river waters carry them both to the brink. The gulls then fly off just as the log goes over the falls and think it is great fun. Again and again they do it, but then winter comes, and this one bird isn’t paying attention. As he stands on the log bobbing about in the waves, going forwards, then backwards, he doesn’t realize the water is lapping over his feet and then freezing. When the falls come he gets a totally different experience because he wasn’t paying attention. He allowed himself to drift, and got royally baptised as a result of his feet freezing to the log.

 We can do this in many places of life. We can ignore that light on the dash of our car until one day we get stuck on the freeway because the vehicle just up and quit.  We can spend and spend and spend without paying attention to mounting debt and bills until we become overwhelmed. We can allow relationships to develop without a second thought until one day we are faced with very drastic actions and decisions, and finding ourselves in a place we thought we would never be – all because we weren’t paying that much attention. It happens spiritually – we skip doing devotions or praying here and there because of busyness, or a vacation, or sickness; and then one day we discover God seems very far away.

Isn’t that tragic? We let the simple little things go and down the road we run into major upsets as a result. How do we combat that without making a list of do’s and don’ts, without pulling the burden of the Law back over our shoulders? The answer is very simple, actually, and found in several places in the Bible. Turn to that passage we read earlier in James 1 and look again at verse 2: “Consider it all joy…”. What the brother of Jesus was stating here comes from a Jesus “focussed perspective”.Consider a Bike wheel. You have the hub, and all these spokes radiating out, and then the rim which holds the tire upon which you travel. What if half these spokes said, “I don’t want to be connected to the hub, I just want to hang around and do my own thing”? The wheel would collapse, because when all the attention is not focused on the hub, everything about the wheel becomes unstable. That focus and connection to the hub creates tension from one side to the opposite, allowing the tire to function and support a great weight.

But back to this “count it all joy” thing, what does that mean? As I mentioned earlier it is about a perspective that knows God is in control. It is based on a faith that allows for questions about God, but stands firm in the existence of God. Job went through all the garbage of losing family, money, houses, herds and possessions with a testimony of not sinning, of not blowing it. While he questioned God why and where and such, you never find in that book the query, “Are your there?” or “Do you even exist?” We get so used to putting God in a box. In our materialistic Western society we think close to God means close to riches. We think a successful bottom line is the same as God being in our life. This means we tend to look at the “down and out” as less spiritual than ourselves. It means the working poor are not as sanctified as us, and we couldn’t be further from the truth. God is not in stuff, He is in us, in relationships. When money and finances go south, as they have especially in the last couple years, we are left to wonder why God isn’t answering our prayers for help. We somehow connected our stuff with God’s presence. They are not the same. Any stuff you or I have is given as a steward by God for His use in our lives. Don’t close your fist on it and try to hold it because it is fleeting. There are greedy people out there thinking up new ways to get it from your hand to theirs, and sometimes they succeed. So don’t let stuff take your eyes off Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith. Make the focus of your life Jesus and let everything else in life flow out of that.

Count it all joy not only means to look at life from God’s perspective, it also means you need to be thankful in all things. Did you know that is a direct command? In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 it says, “In everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” How many other things can you think of that the Bible specifically says, “This is God’s will”?

There is Romans 12:1-2 where we find “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” as a key to understanding the will of God. 2 Corinthians 7:10 seems to connect this renewing process with salvation, that it is the will of God as a follower of Jesus that you become like Jesus in thoughts, words, and deeds. Ephesians 6:6 refers to the voluntary surrender of our will to Him is part of His will for us. Colossians 1:1 infers that there is a will of God for each of us as individuals. For Paul that meant Apostle. For me it means pastor. For you it could be school teacher or retired or almost anything God has been leading you to. Then in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 we are told sanctification or holiness is part of God’s will. That is included in that whole package of becoming more like Jesus. All these verses are bundled together in a package much more valuable than any of Sasktel’s bundled stuff. It is the will of God that you become more like His Son Jesus Christ, conformed to His image.

So when you look at the phrase “will of God” in the New Testament it is not so much about which school or job you will attend, but about surrendering the whole of your life - your hopes and dreams, your stuff, your gifts and strengths, all of it, to God. As Nazarenes we firmly believe that God can change your life. You are not destined to be angry or to struggle with a habit or addiction, or prone to gossip and sin for the rest of your life, because the power of God is at work in you through the Holy Spirit and he will change you. CAN YOU CHANGE? YES YOU CAN< BY THE POWER OF GOD! You are destined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. So when Paul says, “It is God’s will to be thankful”, it connects us to the life-changing presence of God.

When you are thankful for something you are recognizing the giver. The thankful heart goes beyond the troubles of life to the hope of eternity. While death and frustration and all that negative stuff thrives around us, we focus our attention on Jesus and see the eternal values available. We are thankful not for being sick, but for the truth that God can and is using that sickness to make us more like His son Jesus. We are thankful not for the lack of money or job, but for what God teaches us and how He sustains us in those times of difficulty. So we consider it all joy when we encounter various trials because we know that is all part of the process of becoming more like Jesus in our thoughts, words and actions.

So here we are - Thanksgiving Sunday. I remind you to give thanks, to be thankful; but I also remind you that to be truly thankful, it needs to flow from your rock solid commitment to following Jesus with everything you got. Take this truth home this week with this quote from CS Lewis in Mere Christianity:

"The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussing and fretting; coming in out of the wind."

This week, each morning before you start your day and in the quietness of your sleepy head, say “Good Morning” to your God, and listen for a spell to his reply.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Community - We’re all in this together

John 15:12-17

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.”

When you watch the Saskatchewan roughriders play you see more than just a football game. You see a province that is excited about their team. You see what people call “Rider Nation”, and you see exciting football. They had a couple overtime games last year. They were so close to winning the Grey Cup. And now they have their own loonie! On game day you see green shirts and sweaters all over the place. The Riders are known across Canada for many of these things.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Abide in Christ - Foundations

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

You have been friends for a long time. But something has come up and you need to leave for a long time. The time draws near and you have one last opportunity to say something. What will you say? Michael W Smith wrote a contemporary chorus some 20 plus years ago sung widely at separations - Friends are friends forever if the Lord is the Lord of them. We host funerals here at the church from Mourning Glory Funeral homes, and people share and speak from their hearts about the people they will miss in the days and years to come. Shortly before His death, Jesus had the same opportunity. It is significant what He deems important to share with His last quiet time together with His friends. We read some of that earlier, so let’s return to it

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Year of Jubilee: Community - Communitas

 “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Galatians 6:1-10

The Cirque du Soleil is like a circus and Broadway rolled into one. It has the contortionists and strength shows, the trampoline and trapeze acts of the circus, plus the costumes and live music of a theatre show. And you get to eat popcorn. Watching the 8 man trapeze act was amazing. Two guys were sitting on this swing thing, their legs locked in through bars, going back and forth using one another’s weight to get to great heights. Above them on a framework of bars another guy would start the dipsy doodling circling and rolling around the bars and then fling himself into space, timing it just right so he could grab the wrists of one of the two men on the swing. It really was fantastic. It is also a wonderful metaphor for church. Yes, there were clowns and such, but that is not what I refer to. What I saw was amazing teamwork. These men were strong each and every one as individuals, but they all came to points in the performance where they totally relied on someone else to be there for them. There was the sense that they were a team, a community.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Psummer Psalm Pseries - Psalm 113

Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forever.
From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens.
Who is like the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high,
Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
To make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people.
He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children.
Praise the LORD!

What is a good example of something high and mighty being humble and brought low? As we read this Psalm, we are given several aspects of why and how we should praise the Lord. We often focus so much on music as the best form of worship, but there is so much more. Here are somethings we find in this Psalm:

Lifestyle - Can you remember when you were in love? Maybe it never worked out, maybe is more one sided and a bit obsessive. Maybe it led to marriage and all the rest, but can you remember what it was like? I met Bonnie on January 7, 1999. She was far away, but there was something right at the very beginning that clicked for me. It seemed that every waking hour was taken up with Bonnie, what she was doing, what she was thinking, and so on. There was an all-encompassing focus that came to my life. All the other stuff in my life went dull compared to what was going on with Bonnie. From the rising of the sun, to the setting of the same, my thoughts, my words, my life was focussed on Bonnie. I was in love and it consumed me.

That is why the Psalmist talks about that here in this Psalm. He was in love with God, and was consumed by His focus on the Creator. His life revolved around not just conversing with God, but living out the character of God in His life. You read of people like that throughout the Scriptures. You read the stories of people down through the ages who had surrendered their lives because nothing else made sense but to follow Jesus with all they had. Are you in love with Jesus? Has it changed your life, or have you slipped back into that place where He is just a common piece of a busy life. After 30 years of marriage the love can turn into the “same old, same old”. The emotion can get squashed under the cares and responsibilities and concerns of the broader relationship and the family. God is calling us back to that first love, that exciting sunrise to sunset love.

Humility - We talk about our need to surrender and to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. Sometimes we don’t get it, though, because we don’t really “get” the Gospel. There are many people, even people who have been Christians for a long time, who don’t get grace. They “feel” or “insist” that they have to “do” something to help them be worthy of such love. They have somehow negated grace by their life, their experiences, when it really isn’t about them at all. What is it about? It is about humility. Not my or your humility, but God’s. The very heart of the Gospel is that God humbled Himself. He is high above all nations, enthroned above; but draws near to you and I.

There is a new trend in wedding photography that happens after the wedding and honeymoon. The bride puts on her multi-thousand dollar dress and jumps in a pool, plays in the mud, allows the once white and pristine dress to be muddied and ripped and trashed. There’s that sense of moving from the uptight and prim and proper wedding day to the relaxation and freedom of real life. The dress is humbled as much as a symbol of the unreality of the wedding day being humbled to the reality of day to day life. It’s not a bad thing, though a woman may not want to spend so much on her wedding dress to begin with. God humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant, temporarily giving up some of His divine rights voluntarily. This was done just so He could draw near to you and I.

Relationships - Politics is on every persons mind when every day is a struggle. You look at what is happening around the world and you see the truth of the power struggle. In Pakistan where some 20 million people (1/9 of the population) have been displaced by the recent flooding you see insurgents threatening aid agencies so they can control the population. The civilian government has been weakened greatly while the military has been looked at much more favourably. In war torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq it is the innocent bystanders, the civilian population that gets stuck in between the warring factions and bear the brunt of the conflicts’ results. Children especially are vulnerable, and life seems to become so cheap. Out of power struggles and class struggles in the early 1000’s arose the communist ideal, of a classless society where the playing field was level for all. 100 years later we see how utterly a failure it turned out, in large part to the corruption of the heart. Man cannot be altruistic on his own. He can’t do it. This guy takes a photograph of him and his family on vacation, and in the background of the picture you can see a thief picking up the man’s camera bag and running off. Go almost anywhere and you can see people being taken advantaged of. Yes, there are many, many instances of people being the proverbial “good Samaritan” but there are struggles everywhere.

But when you take all that mess and lay it up against the grace of God, the love of God, you see the priorities that God has much more clearly. Jesus is about relationships. You have this great big indescribable God who in humility steps out of that awesomeness to come near to you and I. His presence isn’t about just watching, or gloating, or judgement. He comes close for relationship. “He raises the poor from the dust, the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes…” At the very beginning of creation you see that emphasis of relationship between God and man. Man, made in the image of God Himself; man who walked in the cool of the evening talking to God. And God long before this had the path of redemption laid out for man’s inevitable Fall - so that the relationship could be fully restored even though it was fully broken.

While God does care about your life and your very basic needs, He is firstly and vitally concerned about your relationship with Him, your spiritual health. If you follow Ken Rutherford’s journal you know that even though God can and does heal He is much more about what we are doing with Him today. It is appointed man once to die, and after that the judgement. The judgement is not just about sin - it is about what we did with Jesus Christ today, about our relationship with Him.

Barrenness was a huge deal in ancient times as it was the children that look after the old, not the government. Community was important then, because it became your social net. If you were kicked out of the synagogue, it could be devastating. While my closest family is in Ontario, and my older brother Paul recently took a trip out to Banff and stopped by our place last Monday on his way back. It struck me that it had been some 5 years ago that we had the last recent visit from my family, when my dad flew in to Alberta to pick up a car in Lethbridge. While I have had the privilege of visiting my family several times out east, I was reminded of the family that is so important. When we moved here we left Bonnie’s parents in the town we moved from, and so our kids are growing up with very little experience of their grandparents. But when you read this Psalm you see God’s priority is about family, about community. The Psalmist writes that God “makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children.” You and I are in the same family. That is what our church is meant to be. Regardless of my physical family, you are the grandparents and aunts and uncles and even brothers and sisters of Ben and Heather. I suppose if one of you really wanted to you could be the “mother-in-law”, but the point is we are a family united by the Spirit of God. Does that change how you relate to one another? Does that change what you feel is your responsibility to those sitting in the chairs beside you?

If God is so big on relationships, how about you? Are you doing whatever it takes to not just know God, but to build relationships with those around you? If relationships that build people up are such a high priority with God, shouldn’t they be for us? If we are called to walk like Jesus walked, if we say we are His follower, we have to make relationships our priority. This may mean you need to let go of the small stuff. It may mean you need to let go of the big stuff. I was talking with another pastor this week about the challenges of following Jesus, of discipleship. He made the observation that many people follow Jesus as long as they don’t have to change how they live. He reminded me that we are not living for ourselves, for the typical Canadian materialistic lifestyle. We are called to be sold out to Jesus, and don’t you think that will be life changing?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Psummer Psalm Pseries - Psalm 103

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
The LORD performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

What are some of the best things people have given you?

Many of us have been through the whole job searching process. Rick has just finished that, and it starts by looking for that opening. You look through the paper, you scan online sites, you can even go through a third party that does the looking for you. You craft the most up to date resume with all the relevant information. Then you find it - the job that would be a great fit. It has great hours and even better fringe benefits. You feel a bit under qualified, but you never know. You go through the application and do the waiting, then you get the call for the interview. You enter the office somewhat nervous, because it really is a “killer” job. You shake hands and sit and the interviewer starts up and easy conversation with you. “The process is really rather simple,” she says. “We have this check list, so I will simply go through and see if you match up.” You have applied for job 3x9-777, that’s the one for Supreme Sovereign.” She does that thing where she glances at you over her glasses and gives you a dubious look. She turns to Psalm 103 and begins to go through the list:

  1. Ability to pardon sins
  2. Ability to heal diseases
  3. Redeems life, giving an individual true worth
  4. Loves all: in all, through all, in spite of all
  5. Ability to refresh and revitalize a person’s life experience
  6. Delivers the oppressed
  7. Comes close to people: imminence with eminence

She looks at you again, then picks up your resume. You suddenly realize that not only does your bakery supervisor position not have much relevance, but the strained relationship with your neighbour and the looseness of your tongue is a big issue. You are not surprised when she  gives a brief sigh and says, “You know, Mr Smith. While you have some good stuff here, I don’t really think you have what it takes for this position. It wouldn’t be out of line for me to say, ”I don’t think you are cut out for deity!” I’d set your sights a little lower.

So you go home and check out the Psalm itself. Indeed, as you look through the first 7 verses you see all of those job requirements. Your heart begins to echo the Psalmist when he says, “Bless the Lord, O My soul, and all that is within me. Bless His holy name.” It really is a good thing you or I are not deity. He really is above all and beyond all. When you look at what He does you can’t help but echo the song that says, “For He has done great things.” So, you continue reading the Psalm and discover that aside from the checklist of the things God does, you see a few other major themes.

In verses 8-10 you see God’s grace. What was the price of grace, that unmerited favour that God shows towards us? While the Psalmist did not know it then, he was pointing ahead a thousand years to the point where the incarnate God died for you and I on the cross. We had this huge, massive debt. The root of that debt was sin. We were born with it - it is that thing that resides within us that causes us to be selfish, to be angry and nasty. Picture that debt as if it was the South Saskatchewan. You are given a child’s pail and told to empty it. When you empty it the debt is done. So you go down to the end of Taylor Street into Buena Vista and down to that park on the river and start dipping. Your task is impossible. Even if you were able to scoop fast enough to keep ahead of the flow of the water, where are you putting it? You throw it on the beach and then the “emptied” water just flows back into the River. Grace is that thing given to you that you could never get on your own. The cross of Jesus stopped that River of Debt far better than the Diefenbaker ever could, for our earthly dams aren’t meant to stop rivers, just harness their power. So even though you and I were drowning in the debt of sin, God did not pass the judgement due those sins. That grace is ever present today. As you go through your day to day stuff and you realize it with a careless word or a thoughtless deed you have blown it again, you have fallen short of the ideal, God reaches down and offers His love and instruction and correction and righteousness. It is all yours, because of the grace of a great and awesome God.

As you read verses 11-12 in this Psalm you continue to be amazed at not just the grace of God, but His forgiveness. So you have this impossible river debt, and in grace God has stepped in and stopped the flow. There has been too much water under the bridge so to speak. You are unworthy, God could never love you for what you have done, for what you are. The Psalmist say, “You don’t get it. Let me give you a picture.” And so he takes this globe. No, understand that even though David’s view of the world wasn’t this big, this complete, he was inspired to write a significant truth about just how big God is and how much He loves you and I. David said our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west. Notice he didn’t say as far as the north is from the south. If you stand on the North Pole and go South, you can only go 20,004 km before you hit the South Pole and start going north. You can’t ever go any further than 20,004 km south. There’s a cap, a limit. But if you start going east, how far can you go before you have reached the end of “eastnest” and start going west? You don’t. You can keep going east until the cows come home. You can go east around the world 1,000 times and still be no closer to going west. There is no end to going east because we live on a sphere. So how much forgiveness does God have? It is limitless.

In verses 13-17 you read of God’s compassion. The picture is of a loving father to his children, and we can all relate to that even if it wasn’t our personal experience. We know how a father should act and behave. We know the ideal of a father giving up all to protect his wife and children. The Psalmist goes beyond this and asks how long do you think compassion would last? How long is a long time? How long do you think the Supreme Sovereign would consider a long time? The Hebrews made it easy to understand for us. If they wanted something emphasized or intensified, they would just repeat the word. Something could be red, or if it was really really red they would say it was the red of reds, the red of all reds. Take all the reds you could find, then the reddest of those would be what I am talking about. It is like the Chuck Norris jokes, which refer to him as the ultimate guy. When He does push-ups, it is the earth that moves, not him. Some people wear Superman pajamas. Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas. Chuck Norris doesn't breathe, he holds air hostage. When the boogeyman goes to sleep, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris. So when the Psalm speaks of everlasting to everlasting, you know it is beyond forever and a day.

Do you understand why the Psalmist opens and ends the Psalm with six “Bless the Lords.” Do you get disappointed and think God isn’t watching out for you? Be patient and rest assured that God is working on your behalf, and has been since long before you acknowledged Him as your Lord and Savior. Trust Him, rest in Him, listen to Him, seek Him. Just stop and wait on Him - you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Psummer Psalm Pseries - Psalm 101

I will sing of lovingkindness and justice,
To You, O LORD, I will sing praises.
I will give heed to the blameless way
When will You come to me?
I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.
I will set no worthless thing before my eyes;
I hate the work of those who fall away;
It shall not fasten its grip on me.
A perverse heart shall depart from me;
I will know no evil.
Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy;
No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.
My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me;
He who walks in a blameless way is the one who will minister to me.
He who practices deceit shall not dwell within my house;
He who speaks falsehood shall not maintain his position before me.
Every morning I will destroy all the wicked of the land,
So as to cut off from the city of the LORD all those who do iniquity.

Have you ever seen a manifesto? Down through the years individuals or groups have drawn up papers that make their statement about where they are at, what they believe. Luther’s 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in 1517 is widely regarded as the primarily catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. The United States’ Declaration of Independence is a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain were now independent states, and thus no longer a part of the British Empire. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration is a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has a Statement of Faith, which summarizes the basic beliefs needed to be ascribed to by member churches and denominations. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a bill of rights entrenched in the Constitution of Canada. It forms the first part of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Charter guarantees certain political rights to Canadian citizens and civil rights of everyone in Canada from the policies and actions of all levels of government. It is designed to unify Canadians around a set of principles that embody those rights. The Charter was signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II of Canada on April 17, 1982.

In order to become a member of the Church of the Nazarene you need to sit down with me for a couple classes where we talk about the church and its statement of faith and statement of membership.   This helps us all get on the same page, and contains in part our manifesto as a church.

As you look at this Psalm, you also see a manifesto of sorts. Some scholars will suggest that this is also a royal Psalm, used at the coronation of Solomon. As you look closely at the text we see David writing ethical and spiritual standards for both the personal life as well as the throne. It really is a remarkable document. Listen to the kinds of things the Psalmist has made the commitment to:

Verse 1: Praise God
Verse 2: Following God - choice
Verse 2: Personal integrity - even in the privacy of his home
Verse 3: Be choosey about what he watches
Verse 3: Learn from others’ mistakes
Verse 4: Avoid bad friends (especially those who gossip behind people’s backs)
Verse 5: Stand up for others, and for humility
Verse 6: Look for good friends - in the faith
Verse 7: Not put up with liars
Verse8: Believe they can change the world

We have talked a lot about commitment and surrender to God. This kind of commitment to God is exactly what I understand the New Testament concept of salvation to be. The modern church has made the Gospel too simplistic with an emphasis on heaven so that our message becomes “Pray the prayer and you will be saved.” The problem is that is not what Jesus said. He said blessed are the meek, the pure in heart and the persecuted. He said to seek first the kingdom of God and all the “stuff of life” will be provided. Jesus said one must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus if He was to see God. What Jesus was talking about was making the kind of commitment that this Psalmist had, that they would be a champion of the Kingdom of God, that they would pursue holiness. So some 1,000 years before Jesus lived and died, and some 2,000 years since then, we still have the message that God is calling for us to surrender ourselves to Him, and this is what it looks like. This manifesto tells me a couple things.

The first thing it tells me is that we can partner with God in holiness. There are those who say we cannot participate in this. They are afraid that when we say we have a choice, what I know as free will, that we are saying we are adding to the work Jesus has already finished at the cross and the grave. They are wrong, and sell short their understanding of what it meant to be created in the image of God. God created us with choice, because that is part of His nature. As children of God, followers of Jesus Christ, we were predestined to be conformed to Jesus’ image. That is the work of holiness, of the Holy Spirit working in our life, which only happens as we surrender our lives to God. That is the partnership - the obedience, the surrender. It is not a “work” that adds anything to what Jesus has done, but a reception of the grace of God in our life. I keep getting inappropriate gifts for Ben. He’s nine, but I think he is capable of stuff that I experienced in my adolescence. A couple years ago I gave him a little model tank. He is only nine now, so you can imagine how successful that gift was. His hand/eye coordination isn’t there to deal with something about the size of a fly’s wing, let alone try to glue that to some other tiny piece without getting that plastic model cement all over everything else. And of course he gets into it when I am not around - just to look - and just enough to lose a few small but important pieces. In our partnership, I don’t always do a good job of getting what he needs. In your partnership with God, though, He will never let you down. He knows what you need and don’t need, and as long as you follow His lead, your life will be a living testimony to God’s redeeming grace. God invites your participation in this thing called life.

This manifest also tells me we can choose how much power we give to others regarding our life. You don’t have to listen to someone gossiping or beaking. You can tell them that that is not who you are in Jesus; that Jesus speaks of love and building people up, not tearing them down. You give power in your life to whomever you listen to, and you choose whom you will hear. Do their words match up with what Jesus said? This isn’t an issue of loving or not loving them;  but rather it is about having people in your life that speak words pleasing to God. Seek those people out - pursue those who encourage your faith, not just an institution.

This manifest also speaks to me about moving with the movers. Jesus sent His disciples out with instructions that if a town didn’t accept their teaching, to kick off the dust and move on.  Jesus was telling his disciples to work with those who were interested with the Gospel rather than sit there and argue with stubborn people set in their ways. Do you have movers in your life or “immovables”? Do you have people actively growing in their faith in your life, or just people who are stalled and back-slidden, and only talk about what is wrong?

Today is the day to choose. Today is the day you can renew your commitment as a follower of Jesus to make a statement about just how important following Jesus is to you. Have you ever made a memorial of your commitment to God? The Old Testament people were always piling stones and naming things so they would remember those kind of events. Here is a piece of paper with this Psalm written out. As you leave today, I want you to sign your name to this manifesto if that is truly your desire and place of dedication. This is not an “I should do it because others are doing it”, or “I think the church or pastor wants me to do it” thing. I only want you to sign this if it is your desire to be all you can be in Jesus. You are covenanting with others who have signed this that together we are making our stand and saying, “Today Jesus is my all in all, He is all I need, and I am pursuing Him with all my heart, soul and might.” This church, this community stands for something, and we are all in it together.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Psummer Psalm Pseries - Psalm 84

How lovely are Your dwelling places, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
The bird also has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.
How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You. Selah.
How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion!
Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; the early rain also covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Zion.
O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah.
Behold our shield, O God, and look upon the face of Your anointed.
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. 
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts, how blessed is the man who trusts in You!

This is a Psalm of the Pilgrim. You are a pilgrim. How are you doing on the road you are on in life?

The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come is a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan and published in February, 1678. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print. Bunyan began his work while in the Bedfordshire county jail for violations of the Conventicle Act, which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England.

The book is written in two parts. Christian, an everyman character, is the protagonist of the allegory, which centers itself in his journey from his hometown, the "City of Destruction" ("this world"), to the "Celestial City" ("that which is to come": Heaven) atop Mt. Zion. Christian is weighed down by a great burden, the knowledge of his sin, which he believed came from his reading "the book in his hand," (the Bible). This burden, which would cause him to sink into Tophet (hell), is so unbearable that Christian must seek deliverance. The story continues with Christian meeting several  people along the way including Help, Faithful, and Hopeful, finally achieving entrance to the Celestial City.

The Second Part of The Pilgrim's Progress presents the pilgrimage of Christian's wife, Christiana; their sons; and the maiden, Mercy. They visit the same stopping places that Christian visited, with some additions; but they take a longer time in order to accommodate marriage and childbirth for the four sons and their wives. The hero of the story is Greatheart, the servant of the Interpreter, who is a pilgrim's guide to the Celestial City. He kills four giants and participates in the slaying of a monster that terrorizes the city of Vanity. It has been quite awhile since I have read it, and I challenge you to look it up and read it too.

The truth is that we are all pilgrims in this life. We are all on the same spiritual journey, trying to figure out truth from myth and fiction, reality from blind hope. We have found the truth, and so we continue steadfast in that direction, seeking to be all that we can be in Jesus. As we read this Psalm of the pilgrim we see four things that need to be part of our life.

Be where God is. Verses 1-4 speak of God’s presence, and the desire to be there where God is. Jesus said where 2 or 3 are gathered, the Spirit is there as well. It is not about being with the most people, but being with the right people. You need to be with others who are also seeking God in their life. There are many people in churches all over this city that are not really interested in meeting God - they are just doing the religion thing. I want the name Christian, but I don’t want it to change my life or lifestyle is their motto. What use is that? One of the things I love about where this church is, is that the people who come are coming to meet Jesus. I know you aren’t coming just for the music. You’re not coming just to get your “feel good” talk - you are coming because you want to be closer to Jesus. God knows, and He will continue to make Himself known to you.

Focused on God. Verses 5-7 speak of people whose life, whose heart, and whose strength is focussed on God. They have eternity in them, as we all do who are followers of Jesus. This Psalm says that everywhere the pilgrim goes he leaves blessing because Christ is in him. There used to be a commercial on TV set in the old west. A dusty old cowboy enters the saloon and walks to the bar. The sun is bright he is dusty and looks so dry. He goes to the bar, but instead of ordering a drink he says, “Give me a bag of potato chips.” If you thought he was dry before, you know he is as he eats the salty spuds. The commercial ends up being for Mountain Dew or some kind of pop - they want you to know it will solve the deepest thirst. In verse 6 the valley of Baca is a dry arid place. As the one passes through whose life is in Jesus, springs rise up and water that once barren place. The joy of your salvation can’t help but bring life to others around you.

Satisfied in God. Verses 8 - 10 speaks of the pilgrim who has found full satisfaction in Jesus. Of all the things you could have in life, from stuff to family and friends, to a relationship with Jesus, it is that relationship with Jesus that is the most fulfilling and satisfying. How do people live without Jesus? How does one go day in and day out with pressures and stress, without any hope in the future in this life or the next? When you get down to the barest minimum of life, don’t you want to know you were put here on earth for a purpose? Jesus is the answer for the world today; above Him there’s no other, jesus is the way.

Dependent upon God. Verses 11-12 speak to the pilgrim’s dependence upon God. Jesus said if we seek first His kingdom, all the stuff we need in life will be ours, because God is faithful and loved you enough to die for you. Who else has ever died for you? Maybe someone has made that ultimate sacrifice, but what are they doing for you now? God died for you and is alive today still working on your behalf. Throw yourself upon Him. Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Go to Him when you are heavy laden and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). He has promised rest for your weary soul. Take those promises and claim them in prayer. God will not fail you.

So what kind of pilgrim are you? Are you in danger of falling by the way side? Seek God’s presence. Be focused on and satisfied in Him. Surrender yourself to Him, make Jesus your Lord and Savior, and your feet will be steady on the path.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Psummer Psalm Pseries - Psalm 72

Psalm 72:1-14 Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king's son.
May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice.
Let the mountains bring peace to the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.
Let them fear You while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace till the moon is no more.
May he also rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Let the nomads of the desert bow before him, and his enemies lick the dust.
Let the kings of Tarshish and of the islands bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.
And let all kings bow down before him, all nations serve him.
For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper.
He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save.
He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight…

Here is one of 2 Psalms ascribed to Solomon. Solomon the Wise, one could say, for the Bible tells the story of his God-given brain power and how there was no one else like him. People from around the known world came to hear him speak wisdom. When I first read this Psalm I was reminded of that brain power Solomon had. It sounds like it was written by an academic, from the brain, not so much from the heart like David’s Psalms. Some scholars suggest this Psalm may have been used at his coronation ceremony, and as you read you can sense that proclamation, that sense of “officialness” if you will, in the words. Within this context you see a picture of the Gospel. The king was God’s representative to the people and his reign would reflect the character of God. As we consider that, we also consider that there is a Messianic component to this Psalm, as it ultimately reflects not the earthly king’s reign, but the heavenly King’s reign. So the student of hermeneutics would parse it like this:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Psummer Psalm Pseries – Psalm 3

O LORD, how my adversaries have increased!
Many are rising up against me.
Many are saying of my soul,
"There is no deliverance for him in God." Selah.
But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the LORD with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!
For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek;
You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah.

Who came in third in the Stanley Cup last year? Who was picked third in the NHL draft that just happened? Who was the third Prime Minister of Canada? You may know the answer to some of those questions, but we tend to forget third place finishes. It is good enough for Bronze in the Olympics, but usually we focus on the winner, and the loser of the championship. Next Saturday you will know who takes third place at the World Cup. When was the last time you read Psalm 3 (before today)? Here we have tucked away a nifty little Psalm of David, just 8 verses long. Let’s spend a few minutes with it today.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Year of Jubilee - Freedom

Romans 5:15-23 So, since we're out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we're free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it's your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you've let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you've started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!
 I'm using this freedom language because it's easy to picture. You can readily recall, can't you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God's freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?
As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn't have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you're proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.
But now that you've found you don't have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God's gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers’ Day 2010

2 Timothy 2:1-13 “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

Prisca and Aquilla (Romans 16:3-5). One of my claims to fame is that I am Bonnie Grove’s husband. Her debut novel won the Best Contemporary novel at the Word Guild awards this past week. When you read the back cover copy you see the words “…blah blah blah Grove, and her pastor husband, Steve blah blah blah…” That’s what I am talking about. I got mentioned on the cover of a real book – how much better can it get? I know it is not all about me, that it is really all about Bonnie – but in her ministry there are people who pray and support her. In every celebrity’s life there are all the unfamous who do all the background stuff. Sometimes they get mentioned, sometimes not. We like to focus on the celebrities, the famous ones. I can talk of Joseph and David and even Gideon who was famous partially because he wasn’t famous. He was the last of the last, yet God used him. There are whole stories behind those other names, the behind the scenes regular people.  For example, who are Prisca and Aquilla? We find them mentioned in the closing of Paul’s letter to the Romans. There are two things we note in Paul’s comments. The first is that they risked their necks for Paul. What? Isn’t that a story you’d want to know? Here we know all about Paul. Paul goes to the Gentiles. Paul almost dies a zillion times. Paul is almost shipwrecked. Paul is beaten. Paul this and Paul that, yet here is an unknown couple that sounds like they saved Paul’s life. If they didn’t do what they did, we may not have heard about Paul past Acts 16! How many of his letters would not have been written if these two unknowns hadn’t put their life in harm’s way on Paul’s behalf? God likes to use the unknowns. He likes to use you and I.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Year of Jubilee - Foundation of Prayer

1 Timothy 2:1-8 “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.”

The Year of Jubilee is about freedom: freedom from the past; freedom for both land and people to be restored. When you think about it, things were always leased or borrowed, not bought and sold. When you understand the truth of that, you come to realize the truth that you and I are stewards. The stuff we have is not really ours. Anything we have when we are born is a heritage, and anything we gain in life is a blessing; both gifts from God our Creator. As stewards we look after the things we have on behalf of God. The question is how we can better utilize our gifts and strengths, our possessions and time for the Kingdom of God. We start by having the best foundation possible.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Year of Jubilee: The blind shall see

John 9:24-34 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner."
He then answered, "Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."
So they said to him, "What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?"
He answered them, "I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?"
They reviled him and said, "You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from."
The man answered and said to them, "Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing."
They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?" So they put him out.

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.
Helen Keller, atheist

Albert Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." What he meant was this: knowledge is finite. Imagination can take a person into the infinite. Knowledge includes only what has been already developed. Imagination is about our dreams, our visions, which have no limits.

So we have this story of some guy born blind. He was minding his own business, when along comes Jesus and “poof” he can see. Up to that point he could hear the noises, but not understand what much of it was. Everything he understood came by feeling and listening. He would turn his face to the sun and feel the warmth. He would plunge his hand into the water and fell the coolness of it. Someone would try to describe how the liquid was clear and he would struggle with that reality. The colors of cloth and the world around him were confusing, for red and green and brown all felt the same. I can’t imagine the shock to his brain when his eyes were opened. The colors I think would have been the first thing. Then the shapes, the three dimensions of site. His world that used to be as big as his reach was now boundless to the horizons and beyond. The stars at night that would have been just imagination were now the reality of sparkling lights. Can you imagine being blind from birth and then suddenly seeing? God did that. As you read the story, you see the man not only had his sight, but he had understanding. The whole situation pointed to Jesus being God. When he stated the simple fact, he got in big trouble.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Year of Jubilee

The US space shuttle Atlantis touched down this past week on its last planned mission. It has been in service 25 years and travelled some 120 million miles over 32 missions. NASA is ending the Space Shuttle program with 2 more flights by the other two shuttles. After all is said and done, you can buy one of the used shuttles for $28.8 million.

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4’ 8 ½”. That is an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that is the way they built them in England, and by and large, English expatriates built the US railroads. Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that is the gauge they used. Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools they used for building wagons, which used the same wheel spacing. Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that is the spacing of the wheel ruts.
So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the US standard railroad gauge of 4’ 8 ½” is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. Bureaucracies live forever.
Now the twist to the story: When you see the space shuttle sitting on the launch pad, there are 2 big booster rockets attached to the side of the main fuel tank. These are the solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds. So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by some guy measuring the width of a horses’ rear end.

Do you see how the past can create baggage, often when we are not even aware of it? Baggage is not necessarily good or bad; a lot depends on how we carry it. If something happens in life, we can hang on to the emotions that will resolve into bitterness. We can harbour bad feelings left over from disagreements. We can carry wounds from emotional and other battles. On the other side we can use the challenge to lead us to growth. In dealing with issues of truth we can use it to sharpen and clarify our faith. We can also carry forward cautions and knowledge that inform and direct our actions today. But know this: holding on to the bad stuff makes us a captive, and in so doing gives away the power and control of your life to the past. While the event or other person has moved on, we cannot. We get stunted in our growth as people and as followers of Jesus. We get stuck in that spiritual nursery that Hebrews 5 talks about, where we lose our ability to discern the difference between good and evil: Hebrews 5:8-14 “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” We lose our ability to discern between right and wrong. We lose the joy and peace that comes from a clear and uncluttered relationship with our Creator. We lose the sense of that still, quiet voice of the Spirit as He leads and guides us. In short - we lose. But then Jesus announces the Year of jubilee.

What is the Year of jubilee? The Jubilee was to be sounded every 49 or 50 years. Every 7th year was a Sabbath year. The Year of Jubilee was the 7th Sabbath of the 7 year sabbatical cycle - hence 7 times 7 is 49. The biblical requirement is that the Jubilee year was to be treated like a Sabbatical year, with the land lying fallow, but also required the compulsory return of all property to its original owners or their heirs, in addition to the freeing of all Israelite indentured servants. Two freedoms were in place - the land was “freed”, or returned to the original owner. This had the effect of ensuring the 12 tribal boundaries in the Promised Land would not change. In essence, you couldn’t sell and buy land in Israel - you only leased it for a maximum of 49 years. The second freedom was of servants. No Israelite could be a servant for more than 7 years. So the Year of Jubilee was about freedom. It was about freeing the land and the people. This is what the Lord proclaims for us today. In fact, we have three Jubilees before us.

The first is the Jubilee of Salvation. At some point in our lives we have all been captives of sin. When you read the book of Romans, you quickly understand what bondage means. You can imagine a scenario where you have no choice in life. In our own history in Canada we have situations where children were taken from parents with no recourse, and taught values and traditions totally foreign to their history. No choice was given - it was a done deal. You could try and fight it, but that got you nowhere. You could do nothing, absolutely nothing. Each of us existed in that realm spiritually. Sin was in your life and you were under judgement for that. It didn’t even originate in you, but went back to a Garden long ago. You came of age and made your own choices, and they fell short. Nothing you could do could help you save yourself. But in the midst of that lost-ness Jesus reached down, drew you to Himself and gave you love. He took your sin with Him to the cross, and redeemed you. He bought you back from sin. When you were lost in the Egypt of your sins, He sent the Deliverer to bring you out of captivity and so you are free. He has given you the Holy Spirit as a guarantor of that salvation. You are sealed to the day when you shall see Him face to face, and in that work of God He brought healing into your life. He brought healing from the ravages of sin. He is still at work in your life, bringing healing from the past. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ He declared the Year of Jubilee from sin. You are free to follow, free to choose, and free to be all you can be in Jesus.

The second Jubilee is the Jubilee of Sanctification. It is such a big word, but you know what? Even after salvation and being freed from sin, you were still a slave to Self. You were forgiven the sin that was in your life, but there is a connection to that past that tries to drag you back. As the nation Israel walked further and further from Israel, again and again the tug to go back to the slavery and the bondage there pulled at them. Even at the border of the Promised Land they did not want to go forward, and so they wandered around in disobedience and confusion, missing out on all the Lord had for them. And so we, even after Salvation, wander around in our spiritual lives without much direction. We circle around and don’t seem to be getting anywhere. And then Jesus breaks in and declares the Year of jubilee. The work of His Spirit brings renewal to your life. As you surrender to Him you are freed from the tyranny of self. You are no longer in the struggle of doing the things you don’t want to do, and not getting done what you meant to. It is a work of God, in response to your surrender. Give up your rights just like Jesus gave up His rights in the incarnation. Pursue humility not just before man, but before God, and He will come and bring freedom and a peace that is beyond understanding.

The third Jubilee is the Jubilee of Revival. Have you ever had someone walk past you, and in their passing you enter their scent. Usually and hopefully it is their perfume or aftershave. On occasion it is due to their hygiene. The fact is they left a lingering residue of their presence. The things in our past can hold us captive. We talked about baggage, but sometimes it is not so easy to describe what lingers. We understand there is a realm beyond our senses. As we walk through life and engage with one another and experience tensions and issues, we know there is a spiritual battle going on. We know that there are very often things around us even today as a result of those interactions in that spiritual realm. But we also know this, that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. Yahweh is greater than the god of this world. There really is no comparison, but Satan tries to disrupt the work of God any way he can. His minions follow and disrupt, trying to get us to focus on ourselves. He keeps pushing on us, wearing us down. Like the boa constrictor, the snake wraps around our souls and spirits and community and squeezes. He constricts so it is hard to breathe, hard to see clearly. Our thoughts turn inward to survival, to our needs. And we feel hurt, and disappointed, and angry, and vengeful, and the list goes on. But Jesus comes and declares the Year of Jubilee for you and I. He calls us to lay our baggage and sacrifices down at the foot of the cross and look to Him. As we call out to Him for freedom from the captivity of where we were and what has happened, He sends His Spirit to work in us revival. The head of the snake is cut off and we are free without constriction. And this Jubilee is not just for our church, it is for our city. God is moving. He is breaking down the rulers and powers and the world forces of this darkness. There have been strongholds set up and Jesus is breaking them down into nothing, because the presence of God will not tolerate those things. For you and I, as followers of Jesus, they have no power or influence. We are free in Jesus, and as we meet from week to week we can rest in the victory of the freedom God gives.

Have you experienced the Jubilee of Salvation? Give up your striving and accept Jesus. Have you experienced the Jubilee of Sanctification? Surrender. Have you experienced the Jubilee of Revival? Call out for Him in a new way.