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Turn from wickedness!

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2 Timothy 2:19 “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’ “

     Being a Christian places a requirement upon you.  Being a Christian means that you have to live according to His standards.  Being saved is great, living it out is a struggle.  Jesus said that our life must line up with our confession; “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:21)

     What is wickedness?  Wikipedia defines the term as; “Wickedness, is generally considered a synonym for evil or sinfulness. Among philosophers, it has the more specific meaning of evil committed consciously and of free will.”  The Bible gives a ‘good’ list of wicked behaviour;  “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  (Galatians 5:19-21)

     As a confessed Christian I don’t engage in sexual immorality, debauchery, witchcraft, drunkenness, fits of rage and orgies!  But there is more stuff on that list; impurity, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, dissensions, factions and envy.  This subset of less obvious wickedness is harder to deal with and just as damning.  I’ve been jealous recently.  I’ve had impure motives lately.  Haven’t you ever been envious of others to the point that you are resentful? 

     If you’re honest, dealing with wickedness in your life is a daily battle.  Yet, if you’re like me you try real hard to look good on the outside and hide the dirt below the skin.  You can’t hide from Jesus; “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  (Matthew 23:27,28)

     How do you deal with the ingrown grime and grit of life that we are born into?  How do you deal with inclinations that seem to merge right into your being so that all you can do is despair when you think about it?  How do you deal with doing the same thing over and over again right up to and including the vow – I’ll never do that again? 

     The Gospel truth is – you can’t! Jesus said; “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)  If you think you can give up hypocrisy on you’re own – you’re better than I am!  You’re better than Paul was who struggled with a thorn in his side;” . . ., in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” (2 Cor 12:7-8)

     How can we deal with our wickedness if we can’t overcome on our own?  What did Paul say his answer from Jesus was; “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’   Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9)  Honesty is the best antidote to hypocrisy.  If Paul could boast on his weakness –  shouldn’t we at least acknowledge ours.   And in so doing appreciate our complete need for His righteousness in our lives.

     Honesty and the humility it brings opens up our hearts for Christ’s power to flow through us.

     Praise the Lord!

True Godliness

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1 Timothy 3:16 “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in a body,was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world,  was taken up in glory”

     What is true godliness?  How is it acquired?  Why should we bother with it?  Godliness sounds like something that if a person has it he will be able to walk on air.  In the world, the term godliness can have a negative or pretentious flavour that people avoid and disdain.  To say you pursue godliness in your life makes people think you are a self-righteous religious nut.

     Stephen Davey in trying to define ‘true godliness’ approached the concept from its incarnate opposite – the Pharisaical reliance on law abiding; “Although it is important to obey the law, it isn’t the real test of godliness. Actually, it’s possible for you to keep the speed limit and still be an ungodly person. It’s possible to stop at all the stop signs, hold the door for women, chew with your mouth closed, clock-in to work five minutes early every morning, and perform good deeds galore—and still be completely unholy in your heart.”  Davey makes the point that the motives in the heart which only God can see tells the true story; “Although everyone may sing your praises, the question is: what does God see when He looks at your heart?”
 
     The Forerunner Commentary defines godliness as holiness;  “holiness is being cleaned, purified, and set apart, distinguished from others, for God’s uses. Holiness is notable by a life as free from the defiling acts of sin as the convert can achieve as he overcomes and grows. Holiness is godliness.”   However, even in Christian circles ‘holy’ can be a four letter word associated with  self-righteousness and superiority.  The narrow road to holiness is not often talked about and more rarely taken.
 
     Centuries ago, Gerhard Tersteegen cautioned against outwards shows of ‘holiness’ through gifts; “[W]e must not particularly desire any such like high things, and by no means be envious, when we see or hear of them in others. Self-love often thinks, ‘Ah, if thou hadst such gifts, such light and zeal, as this or that individual, thou wouldst then be truly godly and able to edify others.’ Self-love may induce us to imitate something or other, to which we are not called, and without the grace of God. All this arises from a principle of self-conceit and self-love, and is a very dangerous temptation of Satan, against which we must arm ourselves by prayer and humility, . . .” Whatever the case may be, self-love, self-righteousness and any kind of focus other than on Jesus takes you away from holiness or godliness
 
     Yet the abuses of the concept should not deter us from an exploration of its true meaning and our pursuit of it.  For some, charismatic gifts are a sign of holiness and others don’t emphasize them.  Gifts and ‘spiritual fireworks’   can often be considered to be hallmarks of holy or Godly people.   Yet Paul doesn’t make that connection in 1 Timothy 3:16.  Jesus definitely didn’t; “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you . . . ” (Matthew 7:22,23)  If you’re looking for evidence of godliness the fruit of the Spirit is a better indicator; “But the fruit<sup class="crossreference" value="(AI)”> of the Spirit is love,<sup class="crossreference" value="(AJ)”> joy, peace,<sup class="crossreference" value="(AK)”> forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.<sup class="crossreference" value="(AL)”> Against such things there is no law.”  (Gal 5:22,23)
 
     C. Spurgeon wrote that; Godliness makes a man like God. Godliness leads a man to love God, and to serve God; it brings the fear of God before his eyes, and the love of God into his heart.”  Godliness springs from faith on His Holy Word; “He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”  I  often thought of godliness as a quiet, resolute, joyful tendency towards God  having very little to do with me and a lot to do with the power of His Word in my life and over me.  “That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.”  (1 Timothy 4:10)

     Why pursue godliness or holiness?  Paul instructs Timothy; “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:6-9)  If we pursue holiness and avoid greed we stay out of trouble!  

     Godliness brings peace; peace with God, peace on earth, peace with family, peace with neighbours, and peace with your self.  Scripture tells us; “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  (Hebrews 12:14)  Jesus said; “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)   Holiness or godliness comes from trusting His Word for your life and living it out.  If you do, you will be able to live with joy and peace on earth as well as prepare yourself for life in heaven.  You will see God!

     Praise the Lord!

Letting Go

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Let us take a look at what Jesus in his sermon on the mount (Matt. 5: 3- 12), teaches about life and letting go.   After each verse I will give what my NIV study bible offers by way of explanation.  The NIV Study Bible expresses each condition  in the first person and talks about where you have come to, to receive this each blessing [1].  In each case you will see that a spiritual blessing entails the letting go of a worldly concern and accepting a reality that may not be pleasant or flattering.

 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I have come to the place where I feel accepted by God, when I feel most unacceptable to myself.  I recognize my need for God and know that I do not have to earn His Love with wealth, status or spiritual sophistication.

 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

I have come to the place where I can really feel the empty places in my life.  I can let others know when I am hurting and share the grief of others without embarrassment.  I can weep, like Jesus did.

 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

I have come to the place where I don’t have to be the strong one all the time.  I can be tender and gentle with people.  I’ve given the control of my life to God and I don’t have to “win” all the time.

 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

I have come to the place where I want to know God and His will for my life more than anything.  I am more excited about God’s will for the world than my own financial gain, success in my career, or acceptance by my peers.  I long for God’s perspective in my decision – making.

 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

I have come to the place where I can enter into the feelings of someone who is hurting lonely, or distressed and feel alongside them in their pain.  God has given me a sensitivity for the suffering of others.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

I have come to the place where I can be completely open and honest with God and others – transparent because I have nothing to hide.  I don’t have to put on “airs”, or pretend to be what I’m not.

 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

 I have come to the place where I really work at keeping the channels of communication open between me and those around me.  I deal with anger and disagreements immediately and don’t allow them to fester.  I encourage those around me to work out their differences without hurting one another.

 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

I have come to the place where I now what I am living for, and for this cause I am not afraid to suffer and, if need be , die.  I am willing to “take the heat” and stand alone for what is right.  I can take criticism without feeling self-pity or self righteousness.

 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven …[2]

The Beatitudes are blessings within reach but only through the Grace of Christ.  They frame what can be through a life of faith and letting go of the material world.  Imagine what a beautiful place our world will be when this becomes a reality for all.

Jesus explains very clearly- we have a choice that cannot be avoided.   He states:

No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the otehr.  You cannot serve both God and Money.[3]

The choice is crystal clear: The Beatitudes by Faith or the world by love of money an all that money stands for.  The NIV study bible shows a vision of the kind of people that we can become when we accept the blessings of Christ and strive to follow Him.

I will conclude with George Eliot’s sad and poignant vision of a life given to money.  Her description of Silas Marner in her beautiful book Silas Marner is a warning and lesson to us all:

The light of his faith quite put out, and his affections made desolate, he had clung with all the force of his nature to his work and his money; and like all objects to which a man devotes himself, they had fashioned him into correspondence with themselves. …  His gold, as he hung over it and saw it grow, gathered his power of loving together into a hard isolation like its own.[4]

Let us close with a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake in 1577:

 Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

 

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

 

Disturb us, lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

 

We ask You to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future

In strength, courage, hope and love.

Thank you

the conclusion of a sermon given in Sept 2005


[1]           NIV Study Bible; p. 1245

[2]           Matt. 5: 1 – 12

[3]           Matt. 6: 24

[4]           George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) , Silas Marner 1861,  p. 46

Living by Faith

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How do we live a good life in today’s world.  Who do we listen to for advice and help?  Where can we go for affirmation?  How can we find our way?

Today, the lineups  for hospital  beds and medical procedures, school closures, bad water and tainted meat scandals show all to clearly the “morality and ethics” of the champions of the new global reality.  How many leaders claiming to show the way have ended up impaled upon their own character flaws and arrogance.   Fiscal and moral bankruptcies abound.  People have become frantic because the more they guzzle the tonic of easy solutions,  the deeper and sharper their thirst becomes.  Bloated materially and languishing spiritually, many stagger and their suffering is great.  The frantic yearly Christmas shopping rush is a sad testimony to our impoverished state.

This impoverishment is not a new condition of mankind.  Thoreau in the 1800’s observed:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.  From the desperate city you [go] into the desperate country,…   A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.[1]

Have you ever felt a quiet desperation -perhaps, in traffic, at work, in the Christmas rush, or in the silence of your own worries and pain late at night?  Are our souls so beset with the watery bloat of material wants and concerns that our will cannot move us to a more courageous way of life? I can’t speak for your soul but I will admit that this is a condition that causes me suffering and anguish.  I’m left, to envy and aspire to the bravery of the mink and muskrat.

Thoreau, went on to poise a universal question: “When we consider what, … , is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other.  Yet they honestly think there is no choice left.”[2]

For Thoreau, there are many choices and alternatives to quiet desperation.   People just need the courage to explore and seek them out.   On this point I disagree with him.  As a Christian, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  With Jesus, we can escape the life of quiet desperation.   With Christ we can live free and become what God intended us to be.

Jesus, in His Grace and Mercy teaches us not to worry about the necessaries of life.

He urges us in Matthew 6: 25 – 34:

… I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  And why do you worry about clothes; See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labour or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, what shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear?  For the pagons run after all these things , and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  BUT SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU AS WELL.  There fore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

However, we all know that  living free from the worry about tomorrow is easier said than done.  Seeking God’s Kingdom first before we worry about bills, kids and work just doesn’t seem realistic.  Jesus’s response was; – “O you of little faith”.

Thoreau, put it this way:

How vigilant we are! Determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties.  So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. [3]

When we move forward in Christ, seeking first the Kingdom of God as our faith grows we gradually abandon the worries about tomorrow.

Is this an easy process?  Not for me, and probably  not for you.  Quite often – Its scarey.  Paradoxically,  we make the most head way when life  knocks the wind out of us.  Usually, IT HURTS.

Faith is about growing and there are always growing pains and plenty of problems letting go of the baggage that keeps us overly focussed on tomorrow.   As we travel our spiritual path, letting go of our burdens, we also face a world that at best  has absolutely no comprehension of the faith journey.  At worst, we face powers and principalities that are openly and eternally hostile to our journey.  Without a doubt our journey will include run ins with both the uncomprehending world and Satan.  This is why I believe to the bottom of my soul that the spiritual journey can only be successfully completed through the Grace of Christ.

Without a doubt, our journey to the Kingdom of God, involves our becoming less and Christ becoming more in our soul’s centre. The concerns and worries about tomorrow often have to be knocked out of us.  What will we become after a life of letting go and seeking the Kingdom of God first?  Where will we “end up”?

How many of us, when life is good – cling to Jesus?  God in His mercy, has built into us, a tendency to cling to Him, when life is hard and painful?  In weakness we flock to Jesus.  And He takes our weakness and makes it a great strength.  Only the proud and arrogant refuse the lifeline to drown in a sea of stupidity.  The world, has a great deal of trouble understanding that a life of letting go of tomorrow’s concerns can lead to great blessings.   However the emptiness of the rat race is becomming evident to more and more people.  A while ago, I saw a poster in an office that pictured a whole group of rats in Nikes and stylish running  outfits racing around a track. It read the trouble with winning the rat race is that your still a rat.

Our lives can become so full with agendas, meetings, activities, commitments, parties, and appointments that our hands full and our arms are heaped up with concerns that we literally can’t see where we are going, in a spiritual way.  Common sense tells us that you can’t accept anything if your hands are full unless you put something down.

At our best, we can realize that our hands are too full to accept what God has for us.  But if you are like me, sadly and all to often, our hold on the worry about our daily bread causes us too cling tightly to let go of anything. The time of letting go comes with accidents, sickness, broken relationships, and strife.  When life’s events shock loose your tight hold on the little things.  Thankfully, Jesus is right there to take hold of your emptied hand.  Thankfully, Jesus is right there, ready for your embrace and tears.  Thankfully Jesus is right there to cry with you and love you.

from a sermon given on Sept 13, 2005


[1]           Henry David Thoreau (1854): Walden, p. 50

[2]           Ibid

[3]           Thoreau; Walden, p. 53

Are you ready to change?

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2 Thess 2: 9-12 “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie,  and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

   
    Don’t let signs and wonders be the deciding factor in what you believe in!  Although ‘signs and wonders’ accompany the mark of a true apostle (2 Cor 12:12) and are a part of God’s testimony of the Salvation He sent to the world (Heb 2:4), we must remember that authentic signs and wonders from God point to the Truth of the Gospel message.  Jesus said; “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)  How do we know this?  It is through His Word that we know the Truth;  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:33)

     Scripture warns us clearly about those who put too much stock in signs;  “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:39)  Jesus is clear about the reception in store for those who rely on their signs and wonders to gain entrance to heaven; “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”  (Matthew 7:22,23)

     Why is it that some will be drawn away by counterfeit signs and wonders?  They refuse to love the truth.  They aren’t interested.  It’s boring.  It’s work.  You have to study the Bible.  You have to attend meetings, read and discuss His Word with boring people.  Hockey night in Canada is better than Bible study in the church hall.  Memorizing scripture is too hard.  Reciting scripture among friends and neighbours lets people know I’m a religous nut.  But nobody can argue with a miracle or terrific sign!  Many are ‘loving life’ in this world but not the Truth that takes you into the eternity of the world to come.   Lovers of life in this world are not inclined to God or His Word; “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (1 John 2:15)

     Last night I was the only man at Bible study.  At this particular bible study this isn’t always the case  but I was impressed with the dedication of the women to meet and study His Word.  This has been my experience in many churches over the decades that I have been involved in the church and Bible study. Oh, some of the older men who cannot come to Bible study because of their health I exclude from what I’m about to say.  Also excluded are those men who couldn’t make it because of their work or commitments.   Sadly, most men don’t bother with the Bible.   Many men make a habit of ignoring the Bible’s application to their lives.   Although my current fellowship: drug addicts, car thieves, bank robbers and thugs who are struggling to change their lives hang on to the Bible because they know their lives depend on it – not only in the next world to come but in this one! 

     The desperate to change are interested in God’s Word and His Truth for their lives.   The life of the drug addict or convicted criminal can bring a man to his knees; “My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.” (Psalm 31:10) The affluent and comfortable lovers of this life are not interested in change so the Bible isn’t of that much interest or urgency.  They are on the road to hell – even though they make pit stops in church every Christmas and Easter and every convenient Sunday.

     Many in the church are heading for a terrible fall!  This indifference to and ignorance of the Bible will kill the souls of many because not knowing your Bible predisposes you to all sorts of lies.   Charles R. Swindoll writes;   “Our nation’s technical knowledge and scientific expertise overshadow our grasp of Bible basics to an appalling degree. We are, therefore, moving toward an era similar to the Dark Ages when copies of Scripture were chained to the pulpit in Latin—the private language of the clergy . . . when the public was kept stone ignorant of the life-changing teachings of the truth. But I see one great difference; in those days, biblical ignorance was forced . . . in our day it is voluntary. Therein lies the saddest fact of all.”  Swindoll concludes that we all must take personal responsibility; “But in the final analysis, biblical ignorance is a personal choice—your choice. If something is going to be done to plug the dike, it will take your finger to stop the leak . . . and I mean fast.”

     If you want to change, if you want to live life abundantly now and in His Kingdom to come, if you want to overcome the lies and deceptions you cling to then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  Find a copy of the Bible, start reading.  Go to Bible study.  If your church has lost interest in the Bible – BEG YOUR PASTOR to start up a Bible study.  Fellowship with others, who are desperately turning to the Bible for help and guidance in order to CHANGE THEIR LIVES.  Start applying His Word to your life.  Start loving. Stop judging. Start confessing.  Stop hiding.  Start speaking His Truth into your life.  Stop believing that because you go to church one day a week for one hour and that you have never been charged for a crime or have never been caught out in any dirty little secret that you will automatically go to heaven. 

     The Psalmist said it right;  “In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous; your laws are rejected by him;  he sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, ‘Nothing will ever shake me.’  He swears, ‘No one will ever do me harm.’ His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.” (Psalm 10:4-7)  God will hear the cry of the afflicted – the cry of those who really want to change; “The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.  You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, . . . ” (Psalm 10:16,17)

 
     Praise the Lord!

When summer ends!

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Jeremiah 8:20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

     What a bitter thing to discover;  To discover that somehow you missed the ‘boat’!  Somehow you didn’t make the cut and you thought it was a sure thing!  How does it happen and who does it happen to?  Could it happen to you or to me?

    Yes, we work in the harvest!  For Christians, the harvest has special meaning.  “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)  We labour in the great work of the Gospel.  We are called to share the light of the Gospel with those around us.   We, through our words and actions towards others and with each other are to be the salt and light of the world.  (Matthew 5:13-16)

     And yet, the heart of the labourer must precede the rest of his or her harvest.  Has it?  Do you really believe in the harvest?  Or are you engaged in some kind of ‘make work’ enterprise just going through the motions in order to be a member of some social club or service club?  Jesus nailed the Pharisees for this; “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  But in vain they do worship me, . . . ” (Matthew 15:8,9)  How can you bring the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others if you have never been transformed by it yourself?

     While the weather is warm and the day is sunny and the summer is here it is easy to be a nominal Christian saying the right things, going through the motions and playing church.   Summertime is the season for ‘almost Christians’.  George Whitefield describes an almost Christian as: “. . . , if we consider him in respect to his duty to God, [he] is one that halts between two opinions; that wavers between Christ and the world; that would reconcile God and Mammon, light and darkness, Christ and Belial. It is true, he has an inclination to religion, but then he is very cautious how he goes too far in it: his false heart is always crying out, Spare thyself, do thyself no harm.”  Almost Christians are easy to spot – they come out when the weather is fine and don’t stand up for anything that isn’t politically correct.

    When the summer season ends the weather gets rough then it gets harder to be a Christian.  We are entering this season.  Evangelical Christians are often held in public contempt.  The Holy Bible is all but banned in our public schools.  Being a Bible believing Christian is not fashionable.  Many have gone into hiding behind the walls of their churches.  Fear of man drives churches and their accommodating leaders into friendship with the world.  Yet scripture tells us that we in the church must choose between God and the world; “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

     Jesus told us clearly; “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)  Who do you belong to?  How would you know?  How would your neighbours know?  Any farmer will tell you that the harvest begins in earnest when the summer ends.  Summer’s end is a time of clarity.  Even though the day gets shorter the work gets harder and more urgent.  How urgent and authentic is your personal witness for Jesus?  Are people amazed at the changes He brought about in your life?

     Scripture is plain, those who think they are saved by their own works and confident in their fake spirituality will be rejected.   “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”  (Matthew 7:21-23)

     It all boils down to doing what Jesus says.  Read His Word, Speak His Word, Live His Word;  “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”  (John 14:21)

     Praise the Lord!

The wind of our sin

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Isaiah 64:6,7 “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins.”

     If ever there was a description of what being destitute was all about these two verses in Isaiah would be it!  Can you be destitute and not know it?  Scripture tells us that this can happen;God inspires Isaiah to warn Israel that all their ‘righteousnesses are like filthy rags,’ since their sinful attitudes pollute their deeds. The impurity of their motives taint all their prayers, sacrifices, offerings, and praises, thus God deeply detests and abhors them. Like the Laodiceans, they cannot see their true condition (Revelation 3:17).” (Forerunner Commentary)

     Attitudes and motives determine whether a persons ‘good’ deeds are righteous acts or self-serving.  We can fool ourselves into thinking that because people can’t see into our heart and mind, God can’t.  Further we can fool ourselves into believing in ourselves; that our good deeds are motivated by the purest intentions.  Paradoxically, this self-delusion is predicated upon ‘not thinking’.  If we get into a habit of not being introspective about ourselves then we loose sight of our inner landscape – the swamp in particular.  This path leads downhill as the saying goes, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’.

   For people like me who struggle with performance orientation, so much of the good we do is to please people not God.  Pleasing God rarely enters into our motivations.  Resentments arise when people don’t respond with the appropriate amount of thankfulness or esteem towards me.  This is a hallmark of a good deed done for me rather than a good deed done for God.  How often have I thought; “I did this nice thing and no one cares (about me)”.  Or;  “Why aren’t you thanking me enough because I went out of my way for you!”  Those are the filthy rags we beggars live in!  We crave love but can never do enough to buy it in the quantity we want.

     We have come to believe another lie.  We believe that we have to earn love.  If we can’t earn the love we will be rejected.  We loose ourselves in trying to earn what can’t be bought in the first place fearing rejection.  “The truth is that we were created to be loved, accepted, and appreciated. Rejection is an anti-Christ spirit because it opposes the very nature that God created in us. Rejection starves a person from love and acceptance that they were designed to receive. The problem is that when we turn to others or even ourselves for that love and acceptance, we are setting ourselves up for failure and the damage of rejection. Only God can be trusted as the source of our identity.” (GreatBibleStudy.com)

     We wither up like a leaf, all of the joy of life taken by the desiccating poison of resentment and bitterness.  We live a false life of looking good and judging others for not looking like us.  We gather up the tattered rags of our empty vestments and preen in front of the mirror of self delusion and flattery.  True community becomes impossible in a world where love is a commodity bought and sold with good deeds.  Dissension, judgement and strife abound; “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.  For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17,18)  The horror is that in serving ourselves we can never ever be satisfied and find peace because our selfish appetite for approval is too great!

     The frantic pace of a self serving performance oriented life creates such a strong contrary wind that we must always push against it.  Rarely does anything go perfectly no matter how hard we try or work at it.  Resentments abound and bitterness grows, the wind becomes a hurricane sweeping away any chance at relationships or real love.  We hold on to anger and rage rather than letting go.  God’s face is hidden from us.  We are at the mercy of our own inclinations and they torment us.  We are given over to our sins because we have given over to our selves. We call for more – more stuff, more activity, more work, more good deeds – and our gods mock us.  We don’t call on the one true God!  Exhaustion becomes our ally.  The very thing we abhor – the inability to work for love – forces us to be still.

     Is there no way out?  We can call out for deliverance!  “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.” (Psalms 18:6)  Many long for revival in our land.  But how many long for deliverance from their own sins?  We see our neighbours in desperate need of repentance without giving a second thought to our own filthy rags that we parade around as righteousness.   Revival cannot come because it must start within and it cannot start within the self-satisfied.

     Like King David we must cry out;  “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:1,2,3)

     Praise the Lord!

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