Breaking the chains by example

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Joshua 24:15 “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

     Joshua assembled the Israelites at Shechem and renewed the covenant between God and His people.  Joshua concluded the assembly by giving free choice to the people as to whom they could serve.  As any great leader Joshua lead by example. As any great leader Joshua’s example was clear and consistent in all areas of his life.

     Our lives are guided by the examples we choose to follow.  We may not like to admit it but if we don’t follow good examples we follow bad ones.  Look at the vast industry of advertising and the huge sums of money that goes into this activity.   What makes advertising work?  The power of example!  The choices we make with our money and resources are the examples we give to those around us and our children.  The choices we make show the world the god(s) or God we serve.   Albert Schweitzer said; “Example is not the main thing in life it is the only thing!”

     A few weeks ago I was at a healing workshop at a local evangelical church.  The workshop leaders made the observation that in our society there are many broken hurting people who are desperate for the Gospel message about God’s kingdom but often these people don’t see the church as a group that will help bring them safely into that kingdom.  Sadly we in the church  can be poor examples of Jesus’ love for those who are struggling.

     What an observation!  It brings to mind Jesus’ damning indictment of the Pharisees;  “. . . what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.”  (Luke 11:46)  How can we help break the chains of bondage that people struggle with when we add more chains by way of self-righteous judgements and hypocritical requirements for people to be just like us rather than being the compassionate face of Jesus in their lives?  Compassion doesn’t mean compromise.  Compassion is based on honesty; “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”  (John 8:7)

     The example we set for our children has been passed down to us through our parents.  My wife often says we’re like goldfish in a bowl, our children are always watching us.  The example our parents set for us was passed to them through their parents.  The Bible tells us about good examples and bad examples that were often found in the same person.   Abraham had a problem with lying that his son Isaac followed in (Gen 20:2,  26:7).  However, Isaac also followed his father’s example in being faithful to God and was blessed because of it. 

     The people in the Bible lived lives of mixed blessings because they were not perfect.  We live lives of mixed blessings because we are not perfect.  I have shared occasions when I was a poor example for my children.  And I have shared the times that by His Grace, I got it right!  Yet, through all of our failings God is faithful to bless us and our families in the areas that we strive to follow Him; “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) He doesn’t abandon us when we are less than perfect.  He didn’t abandon me! 

     How do you break generational chains of bondage?   The first step is to take a stand like Joshua did.  For some there is so much wreckage in their lives that their house only goes as far as their skin.  They have a lot of territory to recover.  Broken relationships, burned bridges and lifelong resentments have left them bereft and without hope.  The Gospel message tells us that when we believe there is no hope we believe a lie.  The Gospel message is hope and it is never too late to take a stand and start the process of breaking chains of bondage and walking to freedom!

    Answer His call; “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Isaiah 42:6,7)  A heart cry to the Lord is all it takes to begin the journey out of the prison of our present and past.  His Word will break those chains;  “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

     Someone has to be the first.  Someone has to be the example for  those around them.   Someone has to find enough desperate courage to cry out, ‘as for me, I will serve the Lord’.  Someone must bring the example of freedom to their family, to their community and to their neighbours. 

     Let that person be you!

Who do you listen to?


Luke 16:31 “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

     This was father Abraham’s final comment to the rich man who was suffering terribly in hell.  The rich man had asked father Abraham to send the beggar Lazarus who was being comforted by Abraham in heaven to warn the rich man’s brothers of their fate if they continued to live as he did.  The rich man thought that if someone came back from the dead and warned his brothers they would change.  Elsewhere, Jesus in speaking about those who demand a sign said that; “This is an evil generation. They seek a sign, and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of Man be to this generation.”  (Luke 11:29)  Jonah was three days and nights inside a great whale (Jonah 1:17).  Dead and gone to the world, only to be put back upon dry land by the power of God’s word (Jonah 2:10).

     The way of the world is to speak from experience.  People want to experience signs and wonders in order to believe.  People listen to experience.  God doesn’t work that way.  God spoke the universe into being.  He answered Jonah’s desperate prayers by speaking to the fish;  “And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10).  When Ezekiel stood in the desolation and hopelessness of the valley of dry bones God brought life by commanding Ezekiel to speak His word to the bones;  “Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live . . . ” (Ezekiel 37: 4,5)

    The Word became flesh;  “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  Those who listened and accepted were made clean; “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3)  His Word continues to operate in us; “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  (Hebrews 4:12) 

     If we listen and apply His word our lives are blessed;” . . . blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (Luke 11:28) We will come to recognise who we are and who Jesus is.   “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. ”  (James 1:23,24)  When God’s word precedes us blessings overtake our experience; “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25)

     As a child I often watched my mother study the Bible.  She was a complex person who faced many many struggles in her life. When she overcame she did so because of God’s Word.  She once told me that if I read the Bible, the words in it would change me.    Although she was a woman of many talents she had a deep reverence for God’s Word.  She believed that God’s Word invokes His reality.  She spoke His Word into my life.  To speak God’s Word out of conviction is to speak His Will not only in our lives but into the world.  I think this is one of the major reasons why God’s Word and His Holy Bible is so suppressed by the princes of this world.

     How would our world change if we always operated under the conviction that the Word of God precedes and upholds reality?  If we spoke Jesus’ Word into our lives, into our families and into our communities change would happen!  Scripture tells us that His word upholds all things; “. . . and upholding all things by the word of his power, . . .” (Hebrews 1:3)   All too often we half listen to God’s Word and we believe what the world has to say because that message is based on our experience.  For some God’s Word has entertainment value only ; “You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it!”  (Ezekiel 33:32)

     Listen to His Word.  Speak His Word into your life and into the world!

    “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.”

     Praise the Lord

Carry your cross

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Luke 14:27  “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

     This is a hard saying of Jesus.  What can it mean?   Does it mean that I have to carry my cross for the rest of my life, struggling under its chafing weight?  Did Jesus carry His cross for the entire time of His ministry?  Or was the cross an instrument on which Jesus’ ministry on earth was fulfilled?  To pick up our cross and follow Jesus entails more than walking our entire life bent over and crippled by the weight of our cross.  Paul said; ” I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

     At some point, we have to accept the work of the cross in our life.  That is, we must die on it and be healed and be raised by God.  “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)  And when does this happen?  It happened!  This was the work of Jesus on His cross and the great victory;  “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”  (Romans 6:6)

     And how does a person come to this?  Pick up your cross and follow Jesus!  For me my cross is truly being honest about  about what I  was and what I am without Jesus.  To carry my cross is to walk in the conviction of what I have done, how I have fallen short and failed.  My cross is the terrible knowledge of what I was and what I always will be apart from Jesus.  To be aware that I am caught up in my own head of illusions and lies; trapped in my own body that was born to die.  To know that Jesus died for my sins while I was yet a sinner (Romans 5:8) and like Paul desperately wanting to change but being of my self powerless to change.  “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24)

     Sadly some never pick up the cross.  Perhaps they are indifferent to it; they think it foolish.  Others may believe that they don’t need to die to self; they’re pretty good and Jesus just makes them better.   A. W. Tozer said; “Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying.”  The tough truth is we have to die to live and if we want to live now as disciples of Jesus we have to die before we die.  This isn’t such bad news if you have been lugging around your cross and getting sick of the stench of your own exhausted flesh like Paul was.

     I almost made a big  mistake thinking that the proper Christian life was to lug my cross around all the days of my life.  Carrying your cross but never following Jesus all the way through to the other side – to the resurrection side of the cross lays a heavy burden of flesh upon us.  I knew that Jesus died for me and I thought that all the effort and struggle I made carrying around my cross would please Him.  I would wave to Him up on His cross as I continued to circle around and around Calvary, dragging my cross.   What a fool I was!  He delivered me; “For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:10,11)

     When God revealed the work of His cross to me my spirit rejoiced and rose up.  Now I know that the cross isn’t the destination; it is the means by which we arrive.  Why go to the beach in my car and then sit sweating in the car all day long never leaving to swim in the water and enjoy the sea?  In Jesus Christ, I walk a new man;  “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

     There is no contradiction between ‘whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’ and “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  (Matthew 11:29)    Oh I still have a body of flesh and live in it.  And the world has made its imprint upon my body with wounds and piercings.  But as Jesus’ wounds were healed – so mine are.  Like Jesus I  show my healed  wounds as a testimony to God’s awesome power.  I am no longer crippled by my flesh.

     Praise the Lord!

Bad yeast gets passed on

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Luke 12:1 “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

     It only takes a small amount of yeast to work itself into the entire bread dough.  You can’t really see the yeast.  You can only see the effect of it.  Yeast puffs up and leaves holes in the bread dough.  The yeast of the Pharisees does the same thing to a person.  What is hypocrisy; “It’s saying and teaching one thing, but secretly doing and practicing something very different. The Pharisees were very good at this. According to Strong’s, the Greek word for hypocrisy (hupocrisis) carries the strong flavor of pretense and deceit.” (The Elijah Challenge)

     What does hypocrisy look like in a person?  Fear of man is the little spot of yeast that starts work in us to the point that it permeates all of our motivations.  “When we are afraid of what others may say about us or do to us, then we try to impress them in order to gain their approval.  If necessary, we will even lie to accomplish our purposes, . . .” (The Bible Exposition Commentary

      If you’re more concerned about your reputation than your character, bad yeast is working in you.  If you say one thing and do the opposite, yeast has left holes in your integrity.  If you’re overly critical of others while thinking that you’re pretty good yourself – you’ve got a nasty yeast infection.  “Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, `Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye,’ and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7: 4,5)

     When does this sort of yeast infect a person?  Where does it come from?  Many years ago, I was putting up a TV antenna.  It was a job for two people but I wasn’t willing to wait for a friend to help so I decided to take on the job by myself.  My son who was five at the time was watching – from a safe distance.  I struggled with the heavy antenna and almost got it positioned on the roof but a gust of wind was all that was needed to push it out of my grasp.  It fell to the ground and a part broke.  I climbed down from the ladder and inspected the damage.  I could replace the broken piece at a local shop owned by a friend of mine.  I said to my little son, lets go and get a new part.

     When we arrived at the repair shop I went in and said to the owner; “When I was putting up my antenna I noticed that this part was broken.  Do you have something that will work instead?”  Immediately my son interjected; “Oh no Daddy, you tried to put up the antenna by yourself and it slipped out of your hand and fell and broke!”  My friend and I locked eyes and I could see that he knew which one of us was telling the truth.  With a little smile on his face he quietly said; “I think I have something that will work instead.  Do you need a hand putting the antenna up?”  Sheepishly, I accepted his kind help and we got the antenna up in one piece.

     I don’t know when my son told his first lie or where or what it involved but I do know who helped to teach him to lie – his dad.   Little boys watch their fathers.  Little boys want to be like their fathers and they don’t miss anything.  That day, wanting to look good in front of my friend I lied and my son learned a bad lesson from his hero.  Oh, maybe he didn’t realize just what his dad did on that particular day but I’m sure he put it together later on.  That’s how it works, a little bit of yeast gets passed from father to son, from one generation to the next.  Have you ever been caught in a lie by your kids?  Have you ever told your kids not to do something that you did yourself?

     Ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden we have been driven to hide what we are really like.  We desire to be the best but struggle with the worst in ourselves and fail.  “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).  Time and experience teaches some of the futility of hiding;  “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Psalm 139:7).

     If you want to be a good father to your son, if you want to be a good parent to your child stop hiding.  You can’t hide from God.  And your children will inevitably find you out in hundreds of little ways as you pass the yeast of the Pharisees on to them.  Honesty with God,  and honesty with your children stops the chain of yeast infection from one generation to the next.  King Solomon illustrated the principle when he said to God; “You showed faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued your faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne.” (1 Kings 3:6)

    Praise the Lord!

The Father’s Gift

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Luke 11: 11,12,13  “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

     A few days ago a group that I work with presented the movie called Courageous.  It is a movie about fathers doing the right thing for their families.  The movie highlights a major problem with today’s society;  far too many children are growing up without a father in their lives.  In the United States, statistics report that ninety percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. And seventy one percent of all high school drop outs are from fatherless homes.  The Canadian statistics show the same situation.  Sadly there are far too many children with no fathers to give them any gifts.  Sadly, there are many children who have fathers who don’t  know how to give good gifts.  How has fatherhood and the family deteriorated to such an extent?

     Secularisation has eroded the foundation of social stability – the family unit;  “As the most pervasive philosophy in our nation’s educational system, it strips society of Judeo-Christian values, replacing them with a self-centered and Godless world view. Commitment to the family unit is taught to be secondary to the fulfillment of one’s own desires. Family values are considered passé to comical in the television and movie industry. “Father Knows Best,” and “The Andy Griffith Show” have been replaced by programs that present broken families, illicit affairs, sex, rationalized homosexuality, and violence to such an extent that most people have lost their sensitivity to any of these issues.”  (American Journal of Biblical Theology

     The Bible is one of the few places a young man can go for advice and support on how to be a good father.  Yet, the Bible is a book that is actively and aggressively being suppressed in our ‘society’.  The best gift a man can give his son is the example of having a reverence for God and His Word.   At this I failed.  When my son was a child I took him to church, enrolled him in Sunday school and did everything that looked right in the eyes of the community.  Yet I failed to trust God with his life.  I always told him what he had to do to be successful.  Be good.  Study hard. Get good marks.  Go to University.  Get a professional job.  Build up savings.  Become independent.   My son, sick of always being lectured to and rarely heard, rebelled and turned to drugs.

      In all my advice there was no mention of God!  Even fathers who have worldly success can be utter failures!  I write this not to torment myself because God has had mercy on me  and restored my family.  I write this so that others may see my mistakes and not walk in them.  I write this as a testimony to God’s grace which works through terrible situations and difficult times restoring and healing those who are destitute and call upon His name.  “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  (Romans 10:13)

     A few years later, when my son had just started his recovery, he called me in crisis.    He wanted to abandon his program at Harvest House and go back to Vancouver.  He asked if I could come and talk to him.  As I was driving in to Ottawa, I felt that I had ‘run out of gas’.  I didn’t know what to do, what to say and I was exhausted.   I prayed to God; “Please help me – I’m done!  Tell me what to say.  Show me what to do.”  No great revelation unfolded in my mind and I just had to continue on with my desperate prayer as my only companion.

     When I arrived, my son and I went to the cafeteria for a coffee and a talk.  He quickly made his pitch;  “It’s crazy here.  I can’t take it.  I’ll go and use if I have to continue.  My girlfriend said she would take me back.  All I need is money to get back to British Columbia.  You have got to help me!”  What do you say to that?  Don’t help and he’ll go back to using.  Help and he’ll go back to taking advantage of someone else and start using again.  In a flash a desperate proposition came to my mind. It was a proposition that  put everything out of my control.  It was crazy.

     I said to my son;  “If you can tell me that Jesus agrees with what you have planned and that your plan doesn’t go against His Word,  I’ll help you with it.”  My son was silent for a moment and looked at me.  He said; “No, of course Jesus wouldn’t agree.  This is what I want to do.  Jesus wants me to stay here.”  My reply was; “Well then I won’t help you kill yourself.”

      “How will I get back to B. C. and my girl then?  How will I get the money?”

      “If you’re set on going back to B.C. and the past, Satan will provide you with every opportunity.  You can be sure of that.   I’ll only help you with what we both know God wants.”

     My son was having a lot of difficulty facing up to the hard work of recovery.  Confronting your addiction involves dealing with cravings and excoriating self assessment; “How can I continue, I can’t do it anymore.  It’s too tough.  Where will I get the strength to go on?”  As I quietly listened I noticed he was drinking coffee from an old mug that someone had donated to Harvest House.  On it was the scripture “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.”  (Phil 4:13)  I quietly said to him; “Well, you’re drinking from the right cup.  Take a look at it!”

     He looked at me like I was a little crazy myself and then he looked at the cup.  Hope and encouragement brightened his face.  I said to him; “Of all the days, of all the times, of all the cups that you could pour your coffee into, today you happened to end up with that cup!  I know one thing and that is if you stick with Him and His Word you’ll succeed! ”   My son said; “Ok, I’ll take it one day at a time that’s all I can do.  And I’ll do it with His help!”

     My son stayed at recovery.  The crisis was over because God answered my prayers and gave me what I needed to say at the right time.  Finally because of God’s grace,  I gave my son the best gift I could – the example of leaning on God’s Word.  Today, both of us stand on the solid rock of the Gospel.  We stand there as men, as equals, as father and son and as friends.

    “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”  (John 14:26)

     Praise the Lord!

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