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A lasting influence

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1 Peter 1:24,25 “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever”

     How often do we hang on the words of people that we admire (or feel that we should admire)?  It’s a common tendency for us to accept the views of people in positions of prestige, power or celebrity.  We accept their views not because they are based on sound reasoning or solid life experience but simply because we give their opinions weight due to the the esteem and position held by the speaker in our minds.

     Deborah King, a shaman and life coach (and celebrity no doubt) writes; “We often relate to celebrities more easily than to our own friends and neighbors. They have become the glue of our social fabric. We no longer stop in the village square or at the communal well to connect to each other. Instead, we use celebrities to feel connected.”  She concludes; “We are a fame-obsessed culture, but then, we have always been so; technology has simply made it easier. If you spend more time finding out which of your favorite stars went to dinner last night and who they went to dinner with, you may want to reexamine your own life. Is there anything missing from your life that you could better use that time to fill? Friends? Exercise?”

     Friends and exercise are necessary parts of a balanced life but not sufficient in themselves to provide the meaning that people long for in their lives.  Even if you can withstand the manipulation of the ‘big’ celebrities in the world we are often beset by the push and pull of the ‘little’ celebrities in our lives.  Anyone who is in a position of influence in your life can become a ‘little’ celebrity.    Little celebrities push into the driver’s seat of you life by subtle (or not so subtle) ways that work on your emotions.  Drama, demands made based on your fears, obligations or guilt as well as reward or punishment depending on compliance are all the tools of the trade for a ‘little celebrity’.  When these tools are used in any relationship the line between influence and manipulation is crossed.

     The difference between the infuence and manipulation is largely the motivation behind it.  We all influence our family and friends by our behaviours, attitudes and words.  Influence has no selfish agenda.  If there is an agenda behind the influence it is benign and allows for free choice.   Manipulation on the other hand always has an agenda behind it that seeks to serve the interests of the person doing the manipulation.  Manipulation always involves some sort of coercion.  Manipulators take away free choice.

     The Bible tells us that people will try to manipulate us; “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you . . .” (2 Peter 2:3).  Yet, Jesus calls us openly and with no agenda other than to help us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  Jesus exposes the agenda of manipulators;  “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

     With a little common sense and healthy self esteem people go through life spotting the manipulation of both big and little celebrities in their lives.  What is hard to spot in this ever changing world is the constancy of our true friend.  The only solid rock in our lives that provides sure support is God’s Word.  Jesus will always be your truest friend and His words are always available to guide us through the toughest spots.  His Words never fail; “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

     In this season coming up to Christmas – let us remember He came for us – for you, for me and any desperate person. His only agenda is to help.  He gives rather than takes  He gives your mind  peace rather than fear;  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

     Let His Word be your lasting influence!

     Praise the Lord!

Faith is in the doing

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James 2:18,19 “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.”

     It’s not what you say it’s what you do!  That being said we can’t decouple faith and action.  Actions are like railway cars that are pulled along by the engine of faith.  Without the engine the railway cars can only coast downhill.  To climb a mountain –  an engine is required.  To move against a strong wind – an engine is required.  To move forward with a heavy load – an engine is required.  In order to do a good thing – to do something that pleases God – faith is required.  Doing good works for their own sake (or your own sake) are actions of convenience or contrivance or both.  Such good works are only manifest in the short haul never the long haul as they are too tiring!

     Matthew Henry‘s commentary points out; “All professions of faith are vain, if not producing love and justice to others. The necessity of good works to prove the sincerity of faith, which otherwise will be of no more advantage than the faith of devils.”  Faith makes the world a better place.  Faith makes a person a better person.  Faith makes me a better person.

     Faith provides the substance for a person to anchor himself deep into God’s Word.  “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him;  Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith.” (Col 2:6,7)  While travelling this temporary road called life we are rooted deeply in the unchanging reality of eternal truth.  In a world where circumstances can transform with confusing speed and a person’s life can ‘turn on a dime’, stability and strength are available through it all.

     What is faith?  It is simply this; “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)  This simple definition describes the powerful engine that moves every Christian onward against all contrary forces and over any obstacles.  Our good works are powered entirely upon this engine and without it any good work will simply slow to a stop at its lowest point like any object that coasts on its own.

     When my son was at his lowest point living on the streets of Vancouver – eating out of dumpsters and searching for his next fix  –  I was given the strength to hope that Jesus would lift him out of his addiction.  This was contrary to all the evidence before my eyes.  This was contrary to all the evidence that many of my friends and acquaintances saw.  Yet God is always true to His Word.  He delivered my son!  “Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.” (Psalm 40:2)

     God gave me the strength through faith in Him to love my son and walk in that belief when all the evidence pointed to his death on the streets.  Sometimes the hardest good work is to believe in what appears to be impossible and to carry on in that hope. God’s guarantee is in His promise: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  (Hebrews 13:5)  How many saints have walked down terrible dark roads on the strength of that promise!

     All this from Jesus.  There can be no doubt about His mission;  “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)

     Praise the Lord!

The faith of those who obey

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Hebrews 4:2 “For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.”

     Good food doesn’t do you any good unless you digest it.  It has to become part of you.  The idea that ‘you are what you eat’ makes a lot of sense.  It’s the same with spiritual food.  You are what you do.  You are what you trust.  You are what you have faith in.  And faith is following what you hear; not just saying ‘I hear you’ without following through. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22)

     The word ‘obey’ is another four letter word our self indulgent society doesn’t like.The current attitude towards obedience to anything is negative.  We obey no one because we are free; free to eat until our hearts fill with fat, free to drink ourselves senseless, and free to buy on credit until we are so far into debt that one credit card is used to pay off another.  We are free to become wage slaves to finance ‘lifestyles’ that kill.  But by all that is ‘unholy’ we will obey no one.  And we teach our children to ‘live free’ like us!

     Jesus said; “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)  Notice, this isn’t just a promise of heaven to come.  Rather Jesus is promising to come to us, now and to be with us here on earth as well.  What does that mean?  That means that no matter how much trouble and difficulty life throws at you you will have peace through it.  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome  the world.”  (John 16:33)

     We can make faith mysterious.  We can make faith something complicated.  We can over intellectualise faith until we chase it around never taking hold of it.  Or we can see faith for what is is – trust in action.  At night we set our alarm clocks because we believe that tomorrow will come.  We have faith that the sun will rise and we will live through the night.  We act on that faith.  Our practice becomes our belief  so that which we trust in – will be so.  So it is with faith.

     Today I heard a broken young man who returned to us from the street say; “Last night I picked up my Bible and started reading it again.  I haven’t touched it for three years.  I didn’t really believe what it said.   I thought I could do what I wanted. Why should I worry about what’s right – I trusted myself and nobody else.  Look where that got me.  I got another chance to do it right.  This time I’m not trusting my own screwed up head – I’m going to trust what the Bible tells me!” This young man is restarting his journey of faith.  It is our prayer that this time, through obedience to the Word, the Gospel will nourish him and give him life!

     Jesus tells us plainly; “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life,<sup class="crossreference" value="(A)”> and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

     Praise the Lord!

When you fail

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Proverbs 24:16 “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.”

     Have you ever been in a ‘conversation’ where you felt you were on trial?  You become defensive and anything you say seems to be taken as proof of your shortcomings.  You end up feeling like nothing you could say will help because you were found guilty and talking it over just makes it worse.  This is the kind of discussion I had with a relative the other day.   His call was as unpleasant as it was unexpected.  The entire substance of the conversation was about placing unreasonable demands upon me that I should comply with because if I didn’t I wasn’t a good Christian.

     I took a pounding until I finally lost patience and said something very uncharitable using some very nasty words.  I lived up to his expectations.  Afterwards I felt very terrible about the whole conversation.  I just didn’t expect that kind of an attack from some one that close to me.  That being said I make no excuse with loosing my temper and becoming exasperated.  I’m supposed to be an ambassador for Jesus (Eph 6:20) and I failed!  For that I am truly sorry.

     What happened?   I had been stuffed into a ‘strawman’ and set on fire.  Marc Dohle describes the way strawmen come into being; “There are no straw men in this world, though they are often created when talking about ‘others’, or when those ‘others’ talk about me or just Christians in general. Straw men are often constructed from the failures of any said group.”  Sadly, this is a common practice I’ve experienced before in my profession as a teacher.  All the shortcomings that a person remembers or heard about are bundled up into one fictitious ‘bad teacher’  and used to prove the guilt of and condemn the entire profession!

     What is particularly galling is that I’ve done the very same thing myself.  Now I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it.  In the article – When Christians Fail, the Marc Dohle points out; “I have been made into a straw man more times than I can count and have also been guilty of the same thing when dealing with those who think and believe differently from me. So yes, I am often judged by the worst of those who call themselves Christians, and yes I can be at times a member of that club, showing bad example. I can be a Pharisee along with the best of them. I am a sinner, I fail, but I can get up and start anew.”

     Few statements are as hard to take as being called a hypocrite.  They’re harder to take when the accusation comes from someone you wouldn’t expect it from.   It’s true – I can fail.  I can be badgered into hypocrisy – I can loose my temper and say nasty things.  It still hurts.  However as the article, “When Christians Fail” points out; ” Failure is not hypocrisy, hiding it and then demanding that others be perfect, is. If we truly understood ourselves better, I doubt any of us would ever be shocked by what others do….’there but for the grace of God go I’ ”.

     Last night in Bible study a person pointed out that we need to listen  to our Advocate and not to our accuser(s).  What is it about defeat and his messengers that makes us listen to lies and bend to straw men?  Could it be the hot buttons of  guilt, fear and shame pushing us to listen?  Scripture tells us our King and advocate has beaten the accuser; “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.”  (Rev. 12:10)

     So, although I fell,  I’m getting up again.  I failed.  I know why.  I have confessed and repented.  It’s not who I am;  “Anyone who believes in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone! The new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17)   I will conclude with my favourite prayer from scripture (Psalm 51:10,11,12). . .

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
     Praise the Lord!

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