Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween as a time for joy that light has overtaken the dark

Halloween is one of those touchy subjects for Christians. And especially in Australia, since it's never been a particularly wide spread event, people treat it with a kind of fear.

But I think if we give Halloween too much credit as 'evil', then we are saying that evil has some power over us.

Yes, the spiritual darkness is real, and revelling in it is dangerous and destructive. But are we saying that kids dressing up in crazy costumes and eating lollies is a stepping stone to devil worship? I think we need to give ourselves some credit.

After all, at Christmas and Easter many of us embrace or at least accept the traditions of Santa and the Easter Bunny, with equally if not more pagan roots, without fearing our children are a step away from goddess worship or practicing magic.

How about another way to look at it - by dressing up, by poking fun, we are laughing in the face of the evil and death we know Jesus has already over come. We make fun of the darkness that has no hold on us because we know the light has come.

Maybe, just maybe, Halloween could fill us with joy? It's an idea...

I'm not trying to start a celebrate Halloween campaign, but watching this video just made me think - why should we fear it?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Why your current struggles don't disqualify you

Maybe our journey of faith is a bit like riding a bike. 

If you've ever tried to ride really slowly, you'll know that it's actually harder and far more unsteady than if you get up a faster speed. 

Sometimes our faith is like that. We feel like we're failing on the smaller things, we feel unsteady and inconsistent and like we can't quite get the hang of it. (Whatever it may be - prayer, faith, patience, love...) And we begin to wonder - if I can't get it right at this slow pace, how will I ever be able to handle more? 

But maybe it's like riding a bike. With some momentum on a smooth path (how good that God makes our paths straight!) you might actually find that when more is asked of you the flow of faith will keep you steady and moving, and you won't feel like you have to push it quite so hard to achieve things.

Of course, you do still need more fitness & stamina, and more practice and skill if you want to be a good bike rider who can navigate obstacles, climb hills and go the distance. 

An inexperienced rider who races ahead because they like the feeling of speed could get into trouble if something tries to unseat them and they haven't learned to maintain their balance. 

And they will quickly tire if they try to keep that pace for very long without enough endurance and support. 

In our spiritual lives we can take this as encouragement that what seems like a hard slog now won't always seem that way, and the fitness and practice we are getting now will be vital for the future. 

And we should also remember to encourage and build up others to come along on the ride with us. 

Because when you do pick up speed, you want others with you. 

Think of an elite cycle race where the peloton helps each other. You might have some sprinters who lead the way, but even then they are usually still working in a team with a common purpose. Even the best of the best cyclists need others to draw them onwards, to keep the pace, and to have the slip stream to rest in even as they are moving, if they are going to last the distance. 

We need the same. We need to draw each other on in faith and provide a resting place even while in motion. 

Remember this analogy and don't fear your current struggles disqualify you from any more than slow and struggling, or stuck in training wheels. 

You are learning everything you need, and when the time comes and the pace of what God is calling you to increases, it will be easier than you think. You will find that even though the demands may also increase, you will be ready and able to take your place in the body of other 'riders', and the momentum and flow of the Spirit will draw us all onwards, for the ride of our lives with God!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Where's the power of prayer?

I know that God will give you whatever you ask him - John 11:22

That was Martha to Jesus, when Lazarus had died. We all know what came next. God really did give Jesus whatever He asked for. Wouldn't it be amazing to have that same authority and access that Jesus had, to ask for anything of God, and have Him listen to us!

Oh, hang on... isn't that what we do have?

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. - 1 John 5:14-15

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive - Matt 21:22

If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it - John 14:14

Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you - John 15:7

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours - Mark 11:24

...I think we get the picture.

Ok, well, I've asked for lots of things... but where are they? If I can ask, if God hears me & if anything I ask in Jesus name will be done... why does it so often seem like nothing happens.

If God is the one "who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (eph 3:20) - why does it seem even less than I ask or imagine happens?

If healing the sick and more is mean to be a part of life for those who believe (Mark 16:17-18), and I am meant to do even greater works than Jesus did one earth (John 14:12)... where are these great things? 

How can it be true that I have, through Jesus, the same authority in prayer that raised Lazarus from the dead?

Maybe it is because I am not the body of Jesus. We are. We are the church - together we are the body. Together we bring Jesus to the world. Alone, maybe I'm just kind of like part of Jesus' fingernail. I need the rest of the finger, the hand, the arm, which needs to be connected to the shoulder, which is attached to a healthy torso, which is supported on strong legs...

You get the picture.

Now, don't get me wrong. There would have been a whole lot of power even in just Jesus' finger nail. Praying alone doesn't mean God doesn't hear you or your prayers don't work. He does, and they do.

But alone our spiritual life is never going to be as full and alive as when we are connected the fully functioning body. When the church seeks unity and spiritual growth and maturity together, when we see health restored to the life of the church, I believe we will see greater power in the prayers of Christians, both  collectively and individually. 

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them - Matt 18:20

And this is a good thing! We need each other. We were never meant to carry this power or authority alone. God knows how much we benefit in seen and unseen ways from relying on, serving, praying with, praying for and worshiping with each other. 

If we want the same power and authority and results from our prayers as Jesus had, we need to come together as one body and
do what Jesus did.

And what did he do?

- He prayed - a lot. He was always taking time away to spend it with God. Both together with others and when we are alone, we need to take this time and spend it with God. Jesus knew the Father heard Him and knew His voice intimately.

- He was moved by compassion. We ask and do not receive when we ask with the wrong motives. (James 4:3) We want to spend it on ourselves. But Jesus asked because He was moved with compassion for the needs and suffering of others. Jesus wept! When need to open our hearts to love others as He did, from deep down inside. (And we definitely need each other for that - we cannot pour out love when we do not receive His love, and one huge way that happens is through others.)

- And what did Jesus do with his power and authority? He humbled himself as a servant, to not condemn the world but to save it. As a body, we need to do the same. We need to worry less about what the world is doing wrong, and start giving out this transforming love through our actions towards lost, oppressed and hurting people.

As this intimate prayer, compassion and servanthood begins to increase in the body, the Church, I believe we will also see an increasing in the power and effectiveness of our prayers to see miracles, to heal and to set people free!!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Forgiveness Isn't Time Based

Even if I've accepted that God really does forgive me for every single thing - and a lot/all of us haven't quite even worked that out properly - I still notice in myself a tendency to think of forgiveness as reactionary and based on time.

Consider this thought that in some form or another I feel has probably gone through our minds: "Thank you forgiving me God. You're so good. And I'm so grateful that next time I mess up, because I know I will, you'll forgive me then too!"

So that sounds positive. It's hopeful. We're being grateful. We're acknowledging our sinfulness but knowing that God will forgive again, so we aren't letting it get us down.

But, hang on - what's with that word 'again' - forgive again?

While I get our sentiment, I just realised that little word is masking quite a big theological error in me.

Thinking of forgiveness as time based. Like we sin, we admit it and then God forgives.

But wait - when Jesus died on the cross before I was born and said 'it is finished', if God is only forgiving me now, again, what was all that for?

If forgiveness is based on time, when we actually do the wrong thing, then God should have waited til the absolute last day before the world ends, and then Jesus can take it all.

You'd think this would have been more clear to me before this - considering my blog is even named on the fact that Jesus died for us while we're still sinners.

But somewhere lurking in all those subtle wrong thoughts that get twisted with the right ones, I realised I sometimes I was acting like Jesus' death and resurrection was just the pardon written out but without the signature. That I still have to get God to sign it now, every time, again.

But when Jesus said it was finished, that really was it. Totally. Completely.

It was all signed, sealed and final before we were even in existence.

Because God is outside of time. We have been in Him always, not just when He thought one day, "This looks like a good time to create a Jessie. Lets see how she turns out."

And each day, He isn't surprised that I do something wrong. He isn't disappointed. (Because that implies He expected something different and I failed to deliver.) He's not hoping for something different today, then sighing when He has to clean up another mess...

So when I ask forgiveness today, I'm just recognising that I stepped away, and stepping back into what is already mine.

God's already seen my tomorrows. He's already in them. He doesn't have to wipe the slate clean again tomorrow after a bad day today. When I'm in Jesus, the slate is always clean, permanently.

Because Jesus is in me. Because I am in Jesus. God looks at us and sees the same slate that Jesus has. He sees us as perfectly clean and righteous because we are in his perfect and righteous son.

We will step out of that time and time again - over and over we seem to forget and look back to our owned messed up slate and start thinking that defines us - and then have to turn back and remember the truth, time and time again. But God is not in time.

When I read 'His mercies are new every morning' I was thinking He had to restock after I depleted them the day before. But actually His mercies are boundless and infinite. They just seem new to me every morning because I reminded afresh of how amazing it is that I am forgiven.

He forgave us, once and for all, at the cross. That encompasses everything. Always.

God is never surprised. He's never disappointed.

When you find yourself tripped up by sin and rebellion and blindness again, He only reaches for you and longs for you to put your eyes back in Him.

And as constant as His forgiveness is His delight in you!!

Great is His faithfulness!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Both Worship and Service

Imagine a husband and wife.

Which of these would be better?

If one served the other - out of love - doing things for them, and looking out for their needs, providing things for them. But never showed any emotion. Never got lost in passion or adoration for them. While the husband might know the wife loved him, and see it in her actions, wouldn't he long to feel it too?

Or if one showed passion to the other, made their love clear. But then did nothing to serve the other. Bursts of adoration, but then ignored. Wouldn't they wonder why this person who professed so much love was never moved to act on it for them?

Surely we would say that neither is better. That one would make people burned out and used up, and the other would feel good in the moment, but not be lasting. Different people might display these if different proportions, but if one is almost absent, the marriage would be in trouble.

It is the same in the church, as the Bride of Christ.

We need both worship and service. Neither is less than the other. Both are so necessary and so right. Different people may display these expressions of love in different proportions - and the many members come together to create the one harmonious body. But still in each individual person, we cannot have one entirely without the other.

Worship and adoration, being moved and swept up in love for Jesus, longing for His embrace, being overwhelmed by His presence and grace... these are such wonderful, important things.

When Mary poured out her valuable perfume over Jesus just days before his death, her act of sacrificial worship was praised and deeply appreciated by Him. There was no better way she could have used that perfume at that time, than to worship and lavish love on Jesus.

And service - Jesus, in all His power and position as the Son of God, chose to humble himself as a servant. And He tells us to do the same with our inheritance as co-heirs. We should clothe the naked, feed the hungry, free the oppressed. Whatever we do for the least, we are doing for Him.

But are we then to say... I'm a server. I'm practical. I'm not emotional or touchy feely, so I don't really get much out of worship. Even the most stoic man or woman must lose themselves in love for their husband or wife at least sometimes. Why would love for Jesus never overtake us likewise, and so much more so?

Or if we are worshippers, if we feel strongly the emotions and passion of love for and from Jesus... should that not then move us to act? To pour out that same love on others, just as Jesus did? Why would we only hoard it for ourselves, if our worship truly is sacrificial and transformative?

We need both - the fire and the long burning fuel for those flames.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Creation is a gift to delight us

Have you ever watched a show like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? A huge team if building crew and community volunteers comes in, an while a family in need get sent away on holiday, the team demolishes their old crumbling house and builds them a brand new one. In a week!

If the family has special needs they go to great lengths to include everything they require. Quite often, especially when designing the kids bedrooms, they will include fun and whimsical things. These are not for practicality but purely to delight and surprise
the children.

The overwhelming gratitude an screams of delight from the family is a sight to behold!

There's someone else who created something amazing from nothing, also in a week. He also included everything to provide for our needs, and also a whole lot that is just a gift to surprise and delight us.

Creation is God's gift for His beloved children. (That's us).

The beauty an colour when the sun sets, the aesthetic balance and form of a tree, a rainbow that appears when it rains. All these are for our delight and wonder.

The way the weather and atmosphere and element enable us to live, breath, grow and multiply - all perfectly tuned for our needs.

What would we think if the extreme makeover team, and the volunteers who helped, returned to see the family and the house they gave them and found it trashed and plundered. Stripped of its beauty and neglected so that its no longer functioned properly as a home. If some family members had robbed the other rooms for themselves leaving brothers and sisters with nothing.

We would be horrified at their lack of gratitude; their total is regard for the wonderful gift they ha received.

At yet we do this to our home on earth. We plunder its resources rather than steward and care for them. We trash its beauty with selfish disregard. Those of us with the means rob far more than our fair share and leave others with the consequences.

How would our approach to the world we live in be different if we thought of it as a wonderful gift bestowed by one who takes every opportunity to proclaim His love us?

If we believe the earth came about by random chance, then sure, why does it matter why we do with it.

But if we believe it was an act of love by our Creator, then let that move us to rejoice in the gift by delighting in its beauty, stewarding its resources well and giving praise to God through the way we care for this gift.