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Faith That Works

Happy New Year everyone. It’s a pleasure to be starting 2012 here with you all. I thank God every time I have the opportunity to share with our church, and I hope he blesses you here today. You know 2012 is a good year to be a believer! A lot of people out there already have it in their mind that this year could be the end of the world – and we’ve been saying that for years!

Of course while they are worried about catastrophe, we know that the real end is going to be a great and glorious event – as the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

And friends – what a day that will be! Jesus finally coming back, what we’ve been waiting for. When we can finally join our Lord and Saviour, and all the others who put their faith in Jesus, and live together for all eternity. Won’t that be great? And it is by faith friends. Faith in Jesus, nothing more, nothing less. The gospel really is that simple. If you have faith in Jesus, then you will be saved. It really is incredibly simple, the only question is – what is faith?

It is suggested that faith and belief are the same thing. It’s a strong suggestion, made stronger in some languages where they don’t even have different words. And really, in English we can use them interchangeably – the question really is what do you mean by the word? Is it simply a matter of accepting a set of statements as fact and truth?

If it were so, then wouldn’t the demons have faith? After all, they know of God, but they don’t have faith. No friends, it’s more than just saying that there is a God. It’s even more than stating that Jesus was the son of God. You see it’s not enough to know that the gospel is true – because heaven and destruction aren’t determined by a question of knowledge.

Belief becomes faith when it begins to change us!

There’s a story about a tightrope walker who was famous in Europe. He made a name for himself by walking tightropes between buildings all around the old continent. From cathedral to castle, across the Seine and over the Thames, at heights over Munich and Rome – this tightrope walker had done it all. Then one day a promoter in Canada heard of this man’s great feats and decided to bring him to the New World.

He wrote him a letter, stating that he wasn’t sure he could believe the stories, but there would be a handsome prize if the tightrope walker would come and cross Niagara Falls. The tightrope walker considered the offer and came. Upon arrival the promoter had already set up the rope, hundreds of feet above the crashing waters. The tightrope walker prepared himself on the Canadian side while the promoter waited with hundreds of gathered spectators on the American side.

Then slowly the tightrope walker started his walk. Step, after step, slowly at first until he built a comfortable rhythm. Upon arrival the promoter had already set up the rope, hundreds of feet above the crashing waters. The tightrope walker prepared himself on the Canadian side while the promoter waited with hundreds of gathered spectators on the American side.

Then slowly the tightrope walker started his walk. Step, after step, slowly at first until he built a comfortable rhythm. The promoter said, Of course I believe you – I just saw you. Again the tightrope walker asked – do you believe me, truly? And again the promoter said, yes I believe now! So the tightrope walker said to him, sir if you truly believe me – you may keep your money. The promoter got excited! He said, yes this is the third time I’ve told you – I believe you.

Then, said the tightrope walker, climb in this wheel-barrow and come back to Canada with me!

Friends – that’s the difference between belief and faith! We’ve all seen more than enough to convince us that there is a God. We’ve all seen more than enough to convince us that Jesus is our saviour. We’ve all seen more than enough to convince us that the Holy Spirit will lead us.

But how many of us are willing to cross the falls?

James wrote that faith, if it does not have works is dead. In the same way, the old saying goes “Actions speak louder than words.” Or in the Dave Burnie Version – If your faith doesn’t change your life, it’s not really faith! This famous statement from James is actually a summary of the preceding verses. He asks – if you find someone naked, poor and hungry and you wish them well, but don’t do anything to make them well – what good have you done them? In the same way, what good does it do to say that you believe in Jesus but live a life that has nothing to do with him?

Besides – how could we?

How could we believe the magnitude of God’s love, as outlined in the life, death, resurrection and heavenly ministry of Jesus; and not have it change us? I’m sorry – but there is no person who can look at all that, believe that it is true and not have it change him! But that my friends is why the enemy seeks to sow seeds of doubt.

So be strong in your devotion to Jesus!

Now perhaps one of you is sitting there thinking, Preacher – I’m confused am I saved by believing in Jesus or doing the things he says to do? You are saved by your belief. The works you do, according to the commandments of God, the instructions of Jesus and the unction of the Holy Spirit are the evidence of that faith. Another might now think, so then according to the preacher I know if my neighbour has faith by his actions!

Heaven forbid!

Judge not lest ye be judged – thus sayeth the Lord! The evidence from the works if for you. You see – God knows the heart, the actions don’t exist to prove to him the depth of your faith. We are not the judge, we are never to look at another’s actions and judge him as having faith or not.

The evidence is personal.

You see God can read the heart, but we are no more capable of reading our own hearts than our neighbour’s. Scripture tells us that the heart is deceitful. Our hearts may tell us that we believe, but unless our actions back it up – we need to pray the prayer of the father in Mark chapter 9: Help my unbelief!

But brothers and sisters – let us have faith. Let us have a faith that works. Let us have a faith that transforms our character. Let us have a faith that gives us the ability to obey. Let us have a faith that allows us to be lead. Let us have a faith that lets us put everything we have into a loving relationship with Jesus, and then inspires us to go out and show that love to the world. And the let us have a faith that gives us the courage to act upon that inspiration.

Because friends if we don’t act, then we don’t truly believe. And if we don’t believe – then we have nothing.

A faith that works is the substance of things hoped for. It’s what allowed Abel to offer the good sacrifice, it’s what allowed Enoch to escape death, it’s what allowed Noah to build an ark. It’s what will allow us to be like the wise young women who put oil in their lamps. It’s what will allow us to be good and faithful servants, putting our talents to use for the Lord. It’s what will allow us to serve our King by serving the brothers and sisters in the world around us.

The faith that works is what will allow us to walk beyond these sanctuary doors and take the life of Jesus to a dying world.

It’s what will save us, and cause us to do good works so that others may see that faith working in our lives and then they in turn can give glory to God in heaven and begin their own walk of faith. Friends, today I pray that you will follow Jesus throughout the coming year. Have a faith that changes your life and makes a positive, Christ-centred difference on the world around you. And remember, you aren’t in this alone:

Jesus has promised to be there every step of the way!

Mission Impossible?

Something I’ve often lamented since coming home from the former Soviet Union is that it seems like churches are content with just going along with business as usual. Maintaining the building, doing clean-up work bees every few months, putting on a nice Christmas program in season, doing a few things here and there, but generally speaking not rocking the boat. Now it’s not that I think the people of our churches are particularly lazy or don’t want to do more, but things have become a routine.

We’re in a groove and we’ve become comfortable with it.

For the first little while I got by telling myself “you just need to remember that you’re not in the mission-field anymore”. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I was never going to be satisfied with not having a mission. Then my immediate reaction was “let’s find a new place to go” but at that point God made it clear to me, through the circumstances of my life, that I was not going anywhere. But at the same time as God was telling me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going anywhere – he showed me that I didn’t have to travel to the far-reaches of the globe to have a mission.

God showed me the children in our church. You know we often assume that just because a kid is born into a Christian family, raised in the church and even educated in a Christian school that they are going to be Christians. We cannot take their lifelong relationship with Jesus for granted! Yes they have a good start, they learn the basics the way Jesus said they should, and they are on the right course – but they also have to accept Jesus for themselves, they need to decide to associate with a church for themselves and they have to grow up from just going to church with Mom and/or Dad to their own walk with the Lord.

There are some startling statistics. 50% of church-kids will leave the church in their high-school years, and 50% of those who remain will leave in the college/university years. To put it in terms so simple that even a Hard-Headed Preacher can understand, according to the statistics if I have 2 kids one of them will leave the church by the time he or she graduates and then there is still a 50/50 chance of the other one going in the following 5-10 years. I don’t like those odds.

Now I should take the time to point out that I do not equate church membership/attendance with salvation – but I do think that a healthy church is a good place to meet Jesus and he is the way!

My church has upwards of 20 kids up front for the kids story any given week. Is there a mission here? You bet there is! And when you consider that we are a relatively small congregation (200 on the books, 100+ every week in the seats) that makes the mission of showing them the love of Jesus even more prominent. Our kids may be in the building already, which makes them an easier mission to get to than any other – but we cannot assume that they aren’t a mission.

And then there is the mission outside our walls. Granted, North America has one of the highest standards of living in the world. We have the most and the best of everything, and we are blessed with the opportunities to do virtually anything we want. But does that mean there are no hungry to feed, no naked to clothe, no sick to heal? Does that mean there are no communities of people, right here in our own backyards who do not know Jesus? Of course not. There are still millions of people right here in Canada and the United States who we can serve as missionaries.

So what are we waiting for? Do we need anymore signs in the heavens, is the world not a bad enough place yet? Let’s get down to the mission that Jesus gave us. Let’s stop spending our time in talking circles and let’s start getting out into the streets teaching people about a God who loves them. And let’s only use our words as a last resort! Friends there is a mission right here at home. We don’t need to go to exotic locales in order to serve Jesus and spread his gospel – it’s just as powerful to save and to change here as it is anywhere else.

By all means we should keep sending missionaries overseas, but we need to send some across the street too!

#LoveIsLouder

I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, and when I do it is usually pre-recorded so I zip through commercials, but the other night I was watching some live TV and I saw a commercial that had a bunch of famous people telling the viewer that Love is Louder than hate. The commercial was intended to spread the message that there is love in the world and that even when everything seems hopeless there is a reason to carry on. I thought it was great, and goes along well with similar campaigns like It Gets Better and TWLOHA (To Write Love On Her Arms). I will always support anything that spreads hope, especially to young people, and helps to prevent suicide.

I also believe that our churches should be spreading the same message!

Because what greater love is there than the love of Jesus? And where can any person in despair find more hope than in the promise of Jesus? But sadly many of those who find themselves in that dark place feel that they cannot turn to him. They feel that way because they’ve been told so. It’s a sad reality that the reasons many people are so far down that they would contemplate self-harm or even suicide are things we condemn. Whether it’s alternative sexuality, unwanted pregnancy, substance abuse or any other reason you can think of – these people, going through the hardest times life can throw at any person, need our love.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not encouraging people to get into these things, but if someone finds him/herself there the last thing they need is condemnation. Whether it’s poor choices, lack of education, or simply being born into an imperfect world – condemnation of their circumstance is the wrong reaction to take. God values every single life – and it breaks his heart to see people reach the point where they want to take it away from themselves. We need to be the place that stands out from the crowd and says “I don’t care who you are, what your circumstances are or even what your sins are – I love you with the love of Jesus.”

After all – didn’t Jesus himself say, “I did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it”?

It breaks my heart when I hear stories of people taking their lives. It breaks it even more when it’s a young person. I work with young people and I love each one of them. I don’t know what I would do if one of them hurt him/herself. That’s why I make it a priority to make sure they know, every time we talk, either as a group or one-on-one that they are loved by God, saved by Jesus, cared for by their church and interested in by me.

That’s it – there are no qualifications to it.

There is nothing any one of “my” kids could do to make me stop loving them, much less to make Jesus stop loving them. It does drive me a little crazy when I see people doing things that I perceive as hurtful toward them, as driving them away and I continue to take my share of lectures for being overly zealous in their defence. But if I have to err on one side or the other – it’s always going to be on the side of keeping our young people actively engaged and involved, accepted and openly loved. Love needs to be louder than anything, nay EVERYTHING else. And if anyone isn’t sure – know this:

God loves you, Jesus accepts you and there are people out there who love you too, let’s make love louder!

It Doesn’t Rain Inside

Have you ever heard people say how they wish that the Holy Spirit would move in our churches? Have you ever heard folks pine for the days of the original disciples? Maybe you’ve heard the saints speak enviously of how the mission field keeps getting blessed, while the dear old homefront is lagging so far behind. I hear talk like this all the time, and on occasion I’ve even been guilty of saying it myself. Well tonight while participating in a group study on the Great Commission, and specifically about how Jesus promised power to the disciples right as someone was talking about the urgent need to pray for the out pouring of the Holy Spirit I was struck with a thought.

It only rains outside!

It helps that tonight it is raining literally and we were sitting around a nice cozy fireplace, talking amongst one another and having a nice study – but doing nothing to advance the cause of Christ. It made for a really good example – because I asked “is it raining tonight?” Everyone answered yes, it was not only raining, but pouring. Then I asked – but how many of the brothers and sisters were getting wet? None were – and I said “precisely!” As long as we sit around inside the church, we’re never going to experience that latter rain so long desired.

Put another way – did you ever stop to wonder why all the miracle stories came from the mission-field? It’s because God blesses those who carry out his mission with the gifts they need for it.

And therein lies the explanation. You see, the gifts of the spirit are practical gifts, not collectors items nor toys. Now that’s again not to say that God will only bless you if you do his work. Afterall Jesus himself said “He makes the sun rise on both the good and bad people.” But if you want the special blessings God has set aside for his work – then you’ve got to do his work. Those gifts; wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophesy, tongues – they exist to spread the good news of Jesus.

That’s why when Jesus sent those early apostles out he SENT them OUT. His command was not “wait ye therefore until the nations of the earth come unto ye.” He said:

“Go to the people of all nations”.

Church – if we want the blessings of the Holy Spirit we need not wait for the time to come when God will finally pour his spirit out. We need not spend more weeks behind closed doors praying, pleading with God to give us his spirit so that we might go out. We just need to open our eyes, pray with our feet and get beyond the walls which make up the comfort zone we call church. We need to step out into the rain that’s been falling for a long time now.

Then, when we do the work God has given us to do, as we are doing it – he will start blessing. So let’s get off our comfy chairs, leave the warmth of the fireplace and go out into our communities and start making a difference in people’s lives. Let’s be in the world, let’s serve our fellow man and woman, let’s show them that we do believe what we preach and let’s introduce them to a God that is out of this world.

Friends if we want the rain we need to go outside. It doesn’t rain inside!

We Shall Be Free

 

“When the last child cries for a crust of bread,
When the last man dies for just words that he said,
When there’s shelter over the poorest head,
We shall be free”

Great opening verse to a great song performed by one of country music’s most well known artists – Garth Brooks. I love this song, and others like it because I love finding the gospel in everyday life. You know a few days ago I wrote about people who don’t have a problem with God, but aren’t so fond of his fan club – well fellow fanboys and fangirls, this is somewhere we can begin to make a difference.

There is a lot of injustice in this world of ours and it is my firm conviction that we who profess faith in Jesus need to take action to put a stop to it. Whether it is hunger, oppression, homelessness, racism, environmental irresponsibility, intolerance or persecution; we can and should stand against it. Why – because that’s what Jesus did, that’s what God said in the Old Testament times and that is how we can show the world that there is love out there.

“I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the LORD. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless. Give clothes to those in need; don’t turn away your relatives. Then your light will shine like the dawning sun, and you will quickly be healed.” Isaiah 58:6-8

Or Jesus himself (although technically he was reading, also from Isaiah)

“The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, and to say, This is the year the Lord has chosen.” Luke 4:18-19

You see it’s true, we live in a dark world with lots of bad stuff going on all around us. But aren’t we called to do our part to let the light of Jesus shine? Yes, the world sucks and it’s not going to get any better if we don’t do our part. And believe me – we can make a difference. Jesus sent us out to do exactly that. But it means we have to take his commission seriously!

It’s also not enough to just wish people well, or tell them that God loves them, we actually have to take action to make their lives better and show them God’s love. What did James say?

“If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food, you shouldn’t just say, “I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.” What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help?” James 2:15-16

In much the same way John wrote:

“Children, you show love for others by truly helping them, and not merely by talking about it.” 1 John 3:18

So let’s take up the cause of the poor, the oppressed and the persecuted. Let’s stand up against hatred in all its forms. Let’s fight for justice, after-all that is the good fight. And even if this means serving some people we may be uncomfortable with we need to remember that God loves all his children, every single one.

Besides – doesn’t the Bible say that it is impossible to love God who we cannot see if we don’t love our brothers and sisters who we can see?

The old cowboy

A great post by a like-minded follower of Jesus. Follow the link!

 

The old cowboy.

Breaking News – Fashion Police Violate Human Rights

 

CHURCHES EVERYWHERE – In a late breaking development it has come to light that the Fashion Police have been spotted overstepping their jurisdiction and preventing people from serving in various capacities. In the latest reported incident a young man was prevented from taking up the offering in his local church due to the fact that he was wearing jeans. The CCLU (Church Civil Liberties Union) has responded making a statement of protest through their Hard-Headed spokesman, and while the damage was done at that moment the CCLU hopes to put a stop to similar incidents in the future. Now I hope that you can excuse a little sarcasm here, but this is one of those cases where I have to either make a joke, or curl up in the fetal position and cry.

Come on, in the 21st century we still need to get hung up on what people are wearing to church?

Ok, yes there are some basic standards that common sense implores us to follow. For example church should never be considered pants-optional, and as far as it is possible it would be great if people wore something clean and not smelly (although I recognize for some this is actually not always possible and in those cases I’d still rather them inside than out) and you know that see-through number you put on for your spouse should probably be kept for more private occasions.

But within those broad and generally reasonable boundaries can we please stop playing Fashion Police?

You know – I get it, there is an attitude out there that thinks “a person should put on their best for God”. I get it, I was brought up that you wear a suit to church and I still do it. In fact I have some great suits, hand-tailored, with tailored shirts to match and a collection of cuff-links and ties that has been described by some as epic. That’s my best and I wear it. And we’ll come back to my wardrobe at another time – but the point here is that I wear what I feel to be my best but it’s between me and God, and I think that my young friend and his best should be between him and God.

I would probably be less upset about it, if it weren’t for the fact that this was the second case of dress-code conflict we’d dealt with in the same day, and by no means was this the first occasion in my experience. Earlier in the morning another young man was getting a little bit frantic because he had forgotten his tie, well that was easy enough to solve as I always have a spare or 3 in my car. Disaster Averted! And in reality neither of these incidents was all that terrible. Neither of these lads is in any danger of walking out over being offended by something like this.

Not so in the case of another young man I knew a few years back. This lad came from a poor family so he didn’t have much at the best of times, and he had recently run away from an abusive situation – he escaped with the clothes on his back and one extra change in his backpack. Well he came to church for a Friday-Night meeting once and on the way a “dear old saint” felt the need to make a comment about the way he was dressed. She said something to the effect of “young man you should be ashamed of profaning God’s house with such filthy clothes.” Well this is where my Irish temper kicked in and I answered in a less than diplomatic fashion. It was a few years back, but I believe the words I used were “old woman, you should be ashamed of profaning God’s house with such a filthy heart.” Needless to say I got called into the Senior Pastor’s office on Monday. He said “you’re right – but you probably could have been more polite about it”.

And if it’s this difficult for us men – how much more for women, for whom I understand fashion is a much bigger deal?

Quite honestly – this all smacks of removing the speck from a brothers eye, when we should be removing the beams from our own. Just let people be, love them like Jesus did and if you see someone who does seem to be “under-dressed” or who is always dirty, after you’re done praising Jesus that they are coming, kindly (and mean that part) ask them if you can help buy them something, or clean up what they do have. But for Heaven’s sake – let’s stop policing what people wear. Afterall, Jesus wore a robe and sandals, didn’t shower and had long hair. As I said to one young man, who was about to be released from prison and was worried about not having anything to wear to church after he got out:

“I don’t care what your butt is in, as long as your butt is in church.”

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