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.