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By My Spirit

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Zechariah 4: 6  “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

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     A little over 2000 years ago the world was changed.  Then, much like today, not a lot of people noticed.  Just a few shepherds got the announcement in the middle of the night (Luke 2: 8 – 14).  The event itself occurred in a barn (Luke 2:7).  The people involved were humble and low class, carried along by the events around them that they had no control over (Luke 2: 4-6).  Then, the world was much like it is today.  It was run by a global empire with political, economic and military might that was unmatched (Luke 2:1-3).  Who in Rome would ever notice or care what went on in a little out of the way village called Bethlehem at the other side of the world?   This is one paradox of a global world, people aren’t separated by distance as much as they are separated by indifference and contempt.  If something big happened today, would we care, would we notice?

     In Bethlehem far from Rome, God set the stage for the work His Spirit would do in the world.  This was the plan right from the very beginning;  “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:3,4)  But the world didn’t notice Him;  “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” (John 1:10)   Few would love Him; “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. ” (John 3:19)  Times haven’t changed.

     Today we are encouraged to ‘think big’, look at what the ‘movers and shakers’ are doing and keep informed about what’s going on in world, then you’ll understand what’s really happening.   If you do that, you won’t see God working.  He is not found among those who consider themselves great in the world.  He is not found among the worldly strong.  He is not found among the worldly powerful.  He never was.  It isn’t His style;  ” . . . God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are. ” (1Co 1:27,28)

     Are you looking for God?  Do you need Him to work in your life?  Have troubles taken just about everything you have?  Are you broken, beat down and just about out?  Are you almost too tired, drained, beat up and broken up to hear any good news.  Have you travelled a long painful journey that you never wanted or wouldn’t take again if you had a choice.  If you have, you’re  in a place where God works. 

     Others have been there too; “. . . Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.”  (Matthew 1:18).  And; “. . . Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.”  (Matthew 1:19)  Being down and out they followed God; “. . . Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”  (Matthew 1:20)  They submitted to His Plan (not theirs); “And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)

     And that’s how these two ‘nobodies’ started on their road to Bethlehem so long ago.

Intimacy with God

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Psalm 139: 7- 10 Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence? 
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;  if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.


     God envelops our being.  We drink His rain as it falls on the earth.  We breathe His fresh air in the spring dawn.  He touches us with  the cool breezes of summer.  He feeds us from His bounty. He warms and consoles us in the autumn sun.   His promise is written in the diamonds of the winter snow on a clear still day. When night comes, He caresses our spirit covering us from the encroaching darkness. When all else fails His light shines.  We are in Him as He is in us. Jesus promised;  “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” (John 14:19,20)


     A few years ago, someone very close to me received some very bad news.   Fear became torment as various scenarios unfolded in our thoughts about what might happen.http://seg.sharethis.com/getSegment.php?purl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.blogger.com%2Fpost-create.g%3FblogID%3D4777752153392401254&jsref=&rnd=1324465266471  I felt powerless to provide any substantial protection or comfort.   In the face of the fear and anxiety a sense of impotence burned within me.  Later, as we spent some quiet time together questions welled up in me.  What could I say to console and comfort?  How could I be supportive?  How could I make this bearable?  Yet, I felt like I could do nothing.  Every question was a cruel barb puncturing my sense of efficacy in the face of the horrible news.  In desperation a silent prayer welled up in me.  A cry to God for His help.  I remembered that Jesus promised a comforter (John 14:15 -18);  “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”  My cry was; “Jesus, we need you now.  Come and help us.  I can’t do this. We need you now!”


     As we drew close in our quiet time, I felt a sense of peace and love envelop me – envelop us.  I have never felt anything so quiet, so deep and so powerful.  Through this time, I was very still and silent myself, carried by the overwhelming warmth of this love.  We both were silent.  We both found rest.  I felt as though we were being held in the arms of His Holy Spirit.  His presence affirming the scripture; “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

       The next day as we prepared to go about our daily life we talked about what we felt during our quiet time.  Both of us had the same experience.  Both of us felt His Power, Love and Presence in our desperate time, pushing back the darkness.   Yet, as it was happening, neither of us said a word to each other about our experience.  We were carried on the wings of the same Spirit.  We experienced a level of intimacy with Him the memory of which  will stay with us always.  The Psalmist must have had a similar experience; “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.” (Psalm 18:6)  As we made our journey through the difficult days of this trial we relied on God to get us through.  Our trust in His love and mercy grew as our intimacy with Him grew; not perfectly, often with fear and trembling as we walked forward in our hope. 

     My testimony is that God is true to His Word.  Intimacy comes when we enter into His Word; ” . . . He is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)   Intimacy comes when we stand on His promises.  Intimacy comes when we cry out to the Lord.  Jesus promised when we need Him, when our cry goes out to Him, he will come to us.  He did this for me.  He’ll do this for you.  Whatever  name your bad news calls itself as it crashes into your life remember above all else – His name has final authority over all!  Jesus said to us;  “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but  take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

     Praise the Lord!

Fakes and images

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 Habakkuk 2:18  “Of what value is an idol that someone has carved?  Or an image that teaches lies? For those who make them trust in their own creations;  they make idols that cannot speak.http://seg.sharethis.com/getSegment.php?purl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.blogger.com%2Fpost-create.g%3FblogID%3D4777752153392401254&jsref=&rnd=1324000249331

     In the past idols were carved of stone or wood.  Now idols are carved with pixels.  Today, the idol and the image is one in the same, holding sway over the mind’s eye.  We view the world through plasma screens mediated by the Internet.  What was a vertical world is now horizontal; the sacred has become the global, revelation is replaced with Google.   We have lost touch with what is true.

     How did it all happen?  “In the course of a half century, that transistor at the heart of the handheld radio of my youth has multiplied by the millions of trillions and turned into the Internet. At the heart of the net is “Google.” Google has evolved from a mere noun into a verb. “Google” the word “fact”—especially the phrase “scientific fact”—and you can discover some of the most popular scientific facts of the epoch. Devotedly catalogued by Google, these are the “facts” most avidly upheld by the media, who have largely usurped from priests and scientists the role of certifying the realms of public truth.” (George Gilder)  

     George Gilder argues that an ‘epistemological’ inversion has occurred where; ” . . .  the role of facts and rumors has subtly but entirely changed. I might sum up the inversion by saying that facts have become religious and rumors have become scientific.”  How does this happen?  If something is repeated often enough in a ‘glittery way’, our technology has predisposed us to accept it as fact no matter what it’s truth content may be.  The pixel is tuned directly to our limbic system; entering through the eye, ever appealing and always beguiling.  We have lost touch with what is true.

     The idol of technology says nothing.  Yet with salacious lies, it seduces our sensibilities  leaving only the wreckage of cold disappointment in its wake.  The great and evil lie of technology is that through it and only it we can have abundant life.   Norman Lear exposes the pathology of this lie; “Through our mighty industrial empire, the American culture pursues a vision of human salvation through technology. It finds its embodiment in things that are wondrous, useful, ingenious, and economically profitable . . . but which do nothing to satisfy the needs that relate to the inner life, where the capacities for awe and wonder and mystery abide and seek nourishment.”  This lie is as pernicious as it is idiotic; there simply is no thought to it. It is automatic.

     For Lear, our spirit withers;  “In a culture dedicated to consumerism and obsessed with material well-being, it should not be surprising that the life of the spirit atrophies.”   Our collective gaze moves inward as an unintended consequence of our global computer technology.  Our hungry god becomes an extension of ourselves.  We sing praises to it in our social media.   We lay hands on the altar of our keyboards and touch pads hoping to feel the pulse of this self-loving deity only to find emptiness.  Love cannot be uploaded, downloaded, tweeted or emailed.  The embrace of the Internet is but a cold silent sad illusion.   Wisdom teaches;  “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”  (Proverb 29:18)  We have lost touch with what is true.

     Jesus warns us;  “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  Our technological worship and the consumerism it has spawned serves the thief – the enemy of our soul.  We know it in our spirit but we can not see it in our plasma screens.  Revelation will not be digitised.  We have lost our way.  We have lost touch with what is true.  Still, in an old dusty book a voice calls and has called for over two thousand years; ” . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  (John 14:6)

He knows where you live!

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Revelation 3: 20  “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. “

     This is one of my favourite verses in Scripture.  I like it because it portrays Jesus as a person who desires a relationship with me no matter what my current situation is and what my past has been.  A few years ago as I was giving a message in a small local church I was overtaken with a deep empathy for some people in the congregation that I knew were dealing with very difficult circumstances.  This empathy washed over me and came from the Holy Spirit.  I can’t claim the love that I felt – it didn’t come from my heart, it came through me.  I  heard myself saying – “We all face tough times in our lives, if you’re in a bad place now, if you’re doing poorly and struggling to hang on to your faith, if that’s where you are right now – then you have to know that Jesus knows where you’re living and he’s knocking at your door.  Your house may be messy and dirty – He knows that already.  Jesus wants to come in anyway because He loves you!  He will sit in the middle of the mess with you and be your friend.  He will help you clean up your life piece by piece.  So open the door!”   These words accomplished their goal – tears were quietly shed, doors were opened and Jesus bound up wounds.

     When times get really tough, we want to hide because some say bad things shouldn’t  happen to people that ‘don’t deserve them’.  There is a shame involved with misfortune.  Failure carries guilt.  Illness implies a pathology of brokenness in the body, soul and spirit.  On the mountain tops of life we shout glory to God and salutations to all our friends.  In the dark valleys of life we creep along hoping no one will notice our infirmities.  We become hermits in a cave, tasting the bitterness  of our wounds in every meal, every conversation and every hello.    We dread the knock on the door because our misfortune, our disease, our brokenness walks with us to answer the door.  We see this in the pity mirrored in our visitors eyes.  We see this in the dark circles of sleepless worry under our eyes when we look in the mirror.  Our disease and the pain of it nails us to a cross that we don’t want to be on and so torments us all the more!  We hide when we hurt bad!

     If this is you, I have good news for you!  You’re going to get a visitor.  He knows where you live.  He’s got your number so you can’t hide from Him.  He knows your mess because He’s been on your cross.  As a matter of fact He died on His cross which added up to every shame, pain and hurt we could ever feel.  And God raised Him up.  So He knows the way, He can show you because He’s been where you have been and loves you.  After Jesus came out of His desert experience He said; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, . . .” (Luke 4:18)

     Listen for that knock on your door.  Open the door and live!  Christmas is coming and He is coming for you!

Never enough!

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Hosea 4:10  “They will eat but not have enough; they will engage in prostitution but not increase, because they have deserted the LORD  to give themselves  to prostitution”


   The saying, ‘the more you have the more you want’ speaks to this condition and the upcoming season.   Barnes’ Notes states that this is true: “. . . of those who, through their own insatiate desires, are never satisfied, but crave the more greedily, the more they have”.  Not only will a ravenous desire for more be a continual torment but for all the eating, for all the striving, for all the compromise to get ahead, no headway will be made.  The  saying,  ‘the harder I work the farther behind I get, applies.  This describes the ‘rat race’ perfectly.  Do you find yourself in this situation – always wanting, always striving, never getting there?  Someone once said; “The trouble with the rat race is that when it’s over, even if you win – you’re still a rat!”

     Western society is steeped in the consumerist mentality.  Consumerism is a major driver of our economy as well as a prop for our emotional well being.  Christmas has become the epitome of everything that’s twisted in our culture.  Consumerism is ruining us and killing us – death by stuff.  Over thirty years ago, President Carter of the United States of America said;  “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.” 

    But  have we discovered that owning and consuming does not satisfy?   For Canadians, the statistics expose us to be consumerist to the core; for the month of December 2006 $28.7 billion was spent in retail stores, $1.9 billion was spent on beer, wine and liquor, and $1.5 billion was spent in sporting goods, hobby, music and book stores.  Canadian trends, contrary to what many elitists think, are but a subdued reflection of the trends of our neighbours to the south.  Certainly, President Carter’s assessment  of the way his country has gone is not all that different from our experience here.

     We have deserted the Lord.  If you don’t believe this, simply check out how many cars are parked at your local churches on Sunday and compare that to the number parked at the shopping malls on any December Sunday leading up to Christmas.  Often, I hear Christians calling for Christ to be put back in Christmas.   A wonderful idea – let us start by clearing out of the shopping malls and crowding into our churches in repentance.  Let us start by visiting the sick, feeding the hungry and clothing the poor.   Let us start by buying less for ourselves and giving more to others who need it.  And let us not do this only in December but every month of the year.  Let John 3:16 ring out for our neighbours three hundred and sixty five days of the year – sung not with pious sounding words but with actions and love for our fellow human beings.  You can never give enough of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

    Scripture tells us;  “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  (Hebrews 13:5)  The tenth commandment was given to us so that we could live lives of contentment and harmony.   Consumerism is a lifestyle that goes against God’s commandment and we suffer needlessly.  Jesus said;  “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)   How would the world change if  we could all manage to do this?
    

Love costs

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1 John 3:16  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

     Recognising authentic love isn’t as easy as we might think.  Deborah Anapol, Ph.D. writes: “Love is inherently free. It cannot be bought, sold, or traded. You cannot make someone love you, nor can you prevent it, for any amount of money. Love cannot be imprisoned nor can it be legislated. Love is not a substance, not a commodity, nor even a marketable power source. Love has no territory, no borders, no quantifiable mass or energy output.”  This description sounds good.  Love is a gift and so for those that receive it – it appears to be free.   However, ‘free love’ is a casual concept which rarely examines love’s true foundation.  Love does cost.

    Our society has lost its way when it comes to love.  Love, all to often is characterised by grand gestures; a ‘free gifting’ of diamonds,  vacations, cars, perfumes and clothing.  This adolescent love, supposedly free to the receiver is paid for by credit which defers the cost for the giver to some indeterminate future.  The exchange of love’s tokens in our imperfect world comes with selfish expectations.  If this were not so then the divorce rate would be much lower.  Single mothers and abandoned children would be few and far between if authentic love was as prevalent and free as some argue.  Love costs and people avoid paying the price.  This stands in stark contrast to God’s love which Jesus paid for in full with no guarantee that it would be reciprocated;  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  Self sacrifice is never flashy or grand – it doesn’t sparkle like a diamond and you can’t take happy vacation pictures of it.  Love diminishes the flesh, excoriates the soul and sets the spirit free.  Love costs.

     This kind of selfless love does exist and is expressed in many different kinds of relationships – between husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, friend and friend.  It is patterned after God’s love for us – it is self sacrificing love.  The cost of this love, if you choose to give it, is your self;  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Sacrifice of self for your friend, your brother or spouse is often paid in small parts over time adding up to a lifetime of love;  “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. ” (1 John 3: 17,18 NLT)  This love is authentic and authenticating.

     The Holy Bible gives the definitive description of love:  “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)  This is not the adolescent love that many feel entitled to.  This is not Hollywood love.  This kind of love practised over time makes a man – makes an adult.  It is the kind of love that matures;  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  (1 Corinthians 13:11-13)

     This kind of love has a cost.  It cost God;  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

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