Friday, 28 June 2013

Who am I – God’s Grace Revealed (part 2 of 2)

In my last post, I detailed my experience coming to grace. In this post I want to share some of the important distinctions between my traditional Christian understanding and what I now realize the Gospel actually teaches. Given that I try to keep my blog posts short (this is the longest one yet), I can only fit so many passages of scripture as reference. I will give some key verses, however I challenge those who are not fully convinced to seek out the scriptures on these points, and also for further and more in-depth teaching, there are many messages from excellent grace teachers like Joseph Prince, Steve McVey and Andrew Wommack. I always appreciate comments and would be glad to share my understanding on any questions readers have.

Before I begin, I would like to emphasize that we are one body in Christ and the same Holy Spirit is at work in all of us. Many believers already live out the truths detailed below, even without necessarily understanding a doctrine. However, understanding of the doctrine helps bring peace to our hearts, rest from our self-effort, greater revelation of Christ and unbridled joy. 

Gospel of Grace 101

To summarize the grace message in one sentence, the good news that is expounded in Grace teaching is that the finished work of Christ is not only for our salvation, but also for daily lives. Our lives in the present moment are found hidden in Christ (Col 2:2) and as such God sees us as He sees Christ: Holy, Blameless and as righteous Sons and Daughters unconditionally loved. If God sees us as He sees Christ, then there are some wonderful revelations given to us that we will look at.

1) We are already Holy – (Holy means to be sanctified and set apart). 
Growing up, I never thought of myself as Holy. I thought of God as Holy, but me?  I’d try, but would see myself as quite far from it. The understanding I held was that the Holy Spirit would help me as I tried to be Holy. But when we look at scriptures and see how Paul addresses the Churches at the beginning of his letters, he writes to the “Saints”. “To the Saints who are at Ephesus, To the saints ... at Colossae.” The word for “Saints” is from the Greek 'hagiois' which means:  set apart, holy and sacred. Paul is not just practicing positive confession, thinking that if he says ‘holy’ enough times eventually the congregants would get the message and become holy. Paul is actually referring to what Jesus did in sanctifying us and making us Holy: "And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Hebrews 10:10 

2) Not only are we Holy, but we are also the righteousness of God in Christ. 
Rather than try to earn righteousness or be righteous by living properly, we have Jesus’ imputed righteousness. It is a gift. Romans 5:17 “For if by the transgressions of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One Jesus Christ.” An understanding of imputed righteousness was quite liberating. We are righteous by faith and not by our efforts, or our ability to keep any law or measure of good Christian rule (Phil 3:9). In the same way our sins were put on Jesus (which we all believe) we took on His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21).  When we read chapters in Romans 4, 5 and 6, it seems clear that God has declared us righteous. But somehow in our reluctance to accept actually being righteous, many believers will call themselves ‘positionally’ righteous. This thinking is an unusual and unbiblical twist because it implies that we are somehow deceiving God. If God declares us righteous, do we think we know something about ourselves that He doesn't? Are we somehow hiding our true selves from God? Sometimes it is not easy for us to think we are righteous, which bring us to the next point.

3) The Holy Spirit convicts us of Righteousness (not of our sins).
Jesus made several specific mentions to the promise of the coming Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s role is as teacher, helper, comforter and convicter. But the conviction part often brings confusion. I used to believe that the Holy Spirit would convict me and let me know when I was sinning (as if I didn't already know myself). However, when we read the passage of scripture where the idea of the ‘sin-pointing’ Holy Spirit comes from, the context brings clarity. John 16:8-10 says  “And He (the Holy Spirit), when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me;” The passage clearly states: The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin (singular). The sin (singular) is that they (someone other than believers) do not believe in Jesus. That is it! The passage definitely does not say the Holy Spirit is active in the believer’s life convicting of sins. But the second part of the verse is equally important. The Holy Spirit convicts us (believers) of Jesus' righteousness when He goes to the Father and we can’t see Him. In fact, the Holy Spirit is always and continuously convicting us saying “You are the Righteousness of God in Christ”  “You are a new creation” “You are God’s beloved child”  The Holy Spirit in proper light is a wonderful comforter – not a nag!

However, there are some questions often raised:  If we are holy and righteous, what about when we sin?  Do we cease being righteous?  Should we not ask for forgiveness? Interestingly... 

4) Christ has already forgiven us.
At one point in my walk, I believed that if I sinned and died before I asked forgiveness I would go straight to hell (some preacher’s words still echo in my mind from Ezekiel: ‘the soul that sinneth shall surely die!’). Then I started to believe that as long as I had a regular scheduled prayer time in the evenings, I had one day’s grace stored before I had to pray again. Yet still that wasn't good enough because I knew sometimes it didn't seem practical. Then I started to believe that as long as God knew that I would eventually ask for forgiveness, if I died I would be ok. But my thinking was focused on me and my act of asking. What I realize now is that my asking for forgiveness is not what forgives me. Instead, rather than ask, I gladly receive His forgiveness. If I feel something bothering my heart, I thank God that I AM forgiven by the shed blood of Christ. Consider this: Jesus pronounced the forgiveness of sins to people who didn't even ask. (The paralyzed man in Matt 9:2), Jesus prayed "Father forgive them" for soldiers who didn't repent (Luke 23:34 - and we know Jesus' prayers are answered ) and Colossians 2:13 states “... He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” 

When I first heard the teaching of already being forgiven a popular verse came to mind.  1 John 1:9 seems to imply that confession is required prior to being forgiven. But as we look at this passage it becomes apparent that John is writing to non-believers. Some commentators will mention that John is addressing Gnostic teachings, which infiltrated the churches and denied sin. But even without the commentary if we look at the context in verses 6 through 8, John is writing to those who are ‘walking in darkness’ and ‘saying they have no sin’ which is not what a believer would do. The word for confession used is the same as ‘to acknowledge’. John is looking to have the Gnostics acknowledge sin. Of course if you don’t believe in sin, then you see nothing to be forgiven of. But if you accept that you have sinned, then you have Jesus’ sacrifice to forgive you of your sins and cleanse you.

Some will ask, if we are already forgiven what about the law?  What is its purpose if not to point out sin?

5) We are dead to the law of Moses (including the ten commandments) and do not have any relation to it as believers.  
There was nothing more confusing growing up as a Christian than understanding the purpose of the law. When we read all the books in the Old Testament we realized that certainly many things were not applicable today. So what many of us thought was that some parts of the Law of Moses were done away with, ie. ceremonial laws, but other parts remained like the moral laws (10 commandments). However I couldn't understand scriptures like James 2:10 and Galatians 5:3 that present the law as a composite whole and coupled with other passages like Romans 7:4 and Galatians 3:25 clearly portray the whole law as not for us as believers today. Instead, the law was added in times past in order that sin would abound (Rom 5:20), and through the abounding of sin clearly demonstrate our insufficiency, inability and total need for a saviour. Consequently the law, in accomplishing its purpose, brought condemnation and death which directly contrasts the Spirit which brings life (2 Cor 3:6-7) 

So if we are not under the law today, how do we know not to kill anyone?  Will we all start stealing?  But the question we ask:  Is the law really keeping us from killing someone or stealing?  (hopefully not!)  If we had no law, would we be running wild?  The Bible tells us that the law was not made for the righteous, instead for the criminals and the people who would be bad anyways. (1 Tim 1:9)  The New Testament writings make a clear case that we are no longer under the mosaic law but many will ask: Are there not more commands in the New Testament?  What about all those instructions to the churches?   That bring us to point 6.

6) We do good works out of a heart of love because of who we already are, not to become someone. 
Some of us when we read New Testament scripture passages start to see a bunch of commands and think that following the commands is how to become holy, or righteous, or how to live so we can be a good Christian. These become the ‘new testament laws.’ However, this is a twisted perspective. Having a mindset that we have to follow commands to be a Christian is one of those cart-before-the-horse scenarios and the distinction is not just a matter of semantics. Now some may dismiss the difference because the end results are the same. For instance, if you set out to feed the homeless from a sense of obligation and service or, if you set out because your heart is overflowing with love, in both instances the homeless will still get fed by you. In some cases the end result may very well be the same, but we can miss God’s whole purpose in our hearts. More so than the end result, God cares about how we get there. (ie, God loves a cheerful giver, not just the giver but the cheerful part is thrown in!)  But God is not telling us this to be some tyrant, instead He shares because he cares about how we are doing, our state, our struggle. He wants us to walk and live this life from a place of resting in Him.  

Colossians 2:6 says “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him having been firmly rooted, being built up in Him and established in your faith”  Our walking in Him is from our firm rooting in faith.  If we look at the structure of the New Testament writings a common pattern emerges. We see a “Because.... Therefore...” structure.  Because of who we are, therefore this experience expresses in our lives. For example, in the book of Ephesians the author spends the first 3 chapters unveiling our riches in Christ and then in the fourth chapter begins to detail how the new life lives out.  

With good works flowing out of our new nature, what about sharing the gospel?   How does that look?
7) The Good news of the Gospel is that not only has God reconciled us, (believers) but He has also reconciled the world.  
The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Lamb of God who took the sins of the whole world (not just believers - John 1:29, 1 John 2:4). 2 Corinthians 5:19 says  “That God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation”. The Good News we share is that Jesus has paid for everyone’s sin. The world is already reconciled to God and He is not holding anger or sin against anyone. Not only has God forgiven the world (remember point 4 ) but also reconciled the world. Reconciliation is even better than just being forgiven. You can forgive someone but never have to see them again. Reconciliation means God is there and has come to everyone, pursuing, knocking at the door and waiting, ready. When we receive Him, we receive His life. With this understanding, I realize that I don’t have to fault the world for their sins. It would be like telling a blind person to stop being blind. Instead I reveal the Light of Jesus’ Gospel, and the Truth opens blind eyes. 

In coming to an understanding of the Gospel through grace teaching, I have learned and experienced that the life of a believer is not about striving to be someone or obtain something, but it is about being who we already are and realizing what we already have. It is about resting in Jesus and His great love and enjoying the Divine fellowship for which we were created. Out of who we already are, an abundance of love, joy and good works flow. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Who am I – God’s Grace Revealed (part 1 of 2)

In my blogger profile description I exclaim that I am “Enjoying God's radical, amazing transforming Grace through Jesus Christ”. With this statement, I would like to put some context around who I am, what I believe, and why I’m excited and amazed by His Grace. I will use two blog posts to detail the topic, first sharing from my experience and then highlighting some of the important differences between my traditional Christian understanding and what I now clearly realize is the Gospel.

In the church today, there is something wonderful permeating through many hearts. God is revealing afresh and bringing understanding back to the message of the cross. In a teaching that is often referred to as the Gospel of Grace, the heart of Jesus and the true good news of the finished work of Christ are portrayed. But whenever a fresh revelation comes, there is always opposition. This is natural to any message as we have been instructed in scripture to be diligent to test the messages and the spirit behind them (1 Thess 5:21, 1 John 4:1). I encourage everyone not to be closed when listening to something different from what we have been taught. It is important to always carefully review scriptures, listen to the teachings and gauge the heart and truth of the message. God’s Holy Spirit is with us gently guiding and revealing more of Christ. 

My Story – When being a “Good Christian” wasn't good Enough

For the most part of my life, I never thought I had much of a testimony. Even when I heard the word ‘testimony’, what would come to mind would be some of the amazing stories people shared and how God supernaturally brought them to Christ. I recall one fellow actor in a church play who had been set free from hardcore cocaine, sex and drug addiction. I also remember another lady who came powerfully to Christ while being delivered from the bondage of witchcraft. Some others had awesome healing testimonies and miracles that led them to faith. But for me, I just had a typical Christian upbringing, being raised Evangelical / Charismatic (yet attending Catholic school - a bit of a strange mix). To keep the religious boredom at bay, there were always interesting stories from the charismatic movement. :)

Growing up, what Christianity meant to me was to be good. I believed that the Gospel message - Jesus died for our sins - was for people who hadn't heard of Christ. However, once you were saved and had Jesus in your heart you needed to live right and be a good Christian. I was taught in church that living right included everything from studying the Bible, praying long prayers, being a strong witness, trying to get people to say the sinner's prayer, going to church many times a week and trying to make the fruit of the spirit grow. In all of this, I believed that God helped me or gave me strength to be this supposedly good Christian. It was almost a competition; I tried to be the best Christian I could. Even from a young age I would memorize all my Sunday school memory-verses perfectly. But with all my effort also came such hypocrisy. If I was this supposed good-Christian, I still couldn't keep my every thought and temptation in check. I would fight with my siblings. I would look down on people who weren't at my 'level' of spirituality. Every time I did something bad I would feel very guilty that I wasn't able to live up to the standard I needed to keep. I was constantly asking God for forgiveness believing that I would be stuck in my sin and risk hell if I didn't repent. It was all so religious and in all of it I missed God's heart.

I can't exactly pinpoint the time when it changed, but I began to realize with the help of my family (my aunts and mother were very influential)  that everything was about Jesus and not my effort or ability. I remember one time preparing a sermon while in high-school titled “the 10 steps for overcoming sin” and then sharing that message with my family only to be gently corrected and have the focus put back on Jesus instead of 'manageable' steps. My aunt reminded me that we could do nothing apart from Jesus. So with this limited understanding I modified my message to include the qualifier stating that "Jesus will help you and give you the strength to complete the 10 steps."  =)   I still didn't quite get the message of Grace and God’s heart, but He was definitely at work in my life.

With my new desire to focus on Jesus, I started to look for sermons which emphasized our wholeness in Christ and Jesus' finished work. I found that many churches and preachers had an understanding of forgiveness by grace, but still would emphasize obedience and law keeping as a means of right living. Sometime back in 2006 I saw a television program with Peter Youngren, who was giving a message emphasizing our sufficiency in Jesus Christ alone. I looked him up and found that he had a church in Toronto. So we (my family) started attending the Celebration church. The teaching was excellent and clearly emphasized Christ's finished work for salvation as well as for our righteousness and daily living. I was introduced to more Grace preachers/teachers including Joseph Prince and Steve McVey and I began delving full-on into their material. Some of the stuff I heard was a stretch to what I had been raised to believe, but as I continued to look at the scripture passages for myself I realized it was true. Finally everything began to make sense through the lens of Grace. Before I knew it, I was a "Grace Christian", which was something I used to be firmly against because in my ignorance I had thought grace churches taught that you could live anyway you liked and it didn't matter. 

ith an understanding of God's Grace and unconditional love and acceptance through Jesus, I could now freely love and accept myself and others without judgment and condemnation in the back of my mind. In my next post I will articulate some of the wonderful truths expounded in the Grace message. 

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Mighty to Save - Happy to Share

We have been given the great commission to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all people. The Bible tells us that we are the body of Christ here on earth, but does that make God limited without us? 

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to work overseas in China as an engineer setting up a new factory for a North American company. Before I left for China, I met a pastor who had spent a good portion of his life ministering in the Asia region. He was easy to talk to so I threw some questions out and asked him “How powerful is God’s Word when sharing the Gospel?” When I asked this question, I was wondering what it would be like to share Jesus with someone and yet have no means to provide follow-up material or a church where I could invite the individual to attend. The minister replied with the verse “God’s word is living and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12)  The minister went on to tell a story of how he shared the gospel with a man in a remote area and years later when they crossed paths again, that man from the remote region was still going steady in joy and faith. I was encouraged by what the minister said. Even though I knew God’s Word was powerful, the living part was something I tended to forget.  

While working in China, I met a young Chinese man by the name of Tim who assisted the team. Tim was very friendly, and his English ability was decent enough to hold long conversations. On one encounter, I told Tim that I would be leaving the next week and going home and spending Christmas with my family. He asked if I was a Christian, to which I replied yes. He then told me he was Christian too and that we shared a common faith. I was intrigued and wanted to know more about his relationship with Christ. The topic came up again later that week. I asked Tim how he became a Christian and he told me that his grandmother was a Christian, and before she passed on, she told him about Jesus. He didn't know exactly what she was talking about at the time but she, unbeknownst to him, had planted a seed in his life. Years later when Tim was going to university in China, some international students invited him to attend a Christian group. He remembered what his grandmother told him and was open to it. In that Christian group he received Jesus Christ.

With Tim’s story, I’m reminded that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of people, drawing them to Christ. Sometimes we try to give the Gospel life by our own means and move it along by our own efforts. This can become stressful if we think that it is all up to us to help somebody who is in need or ‘get somebody saved’. Of course I agree that having proper follow-up material and a community of faith is important for spiritual growth. I also know that our labour of love helping and serving people changes countless lives. But I've come to realize that God is not limited by what we do and don’t do. 

As much as I like to help people in need and give my time serving, I've learned that my ability to impact lives is limited. I may only have a few moments with some individuals. I have found that if someone shares a need with me, I offer to pray and put the focus on Jesus and His finished work and prayer is rarely refused.

So if we are the body, the hands and feet of the Gospel, then the Holy Spirit must be the wings. (What? Wings? God?  Yeah – Psalm 91:4, possibly used metaphorically but still... :)  )  We can be encouraged and know that Jesus Christ is the Living Word active in this world. We take comfort in His promises and know that He loves and cares for every single person more than we can imagine and He desires everyone to be saved. God doesn't need us to minister, but gives us this wonderful privilege and blessing to be His partners. We are His messengers, but undoubtedly He is the One who touches and changes hearts.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Veritas Vos Liberabit

Veritas vos liberabit, a Latin motto popular with many schools, meaning “the truth will set you free” is taken from John 8:32. Higher institutes of learning pursue truth and knowledge, but what is truth and what is the truth that will set you free? Are we to go about openly declaring truth? Do all truths have the same significance? In the justice system, if you are innocent, then truth is something you want established, but if you are guilty of a crime, then the truth will not set you free but instead land you in prison. 

There are many Christians who believe we must take a stand for truth. So we take the passage of scripture that says “Thy word is truth” and conclude that everything in the Bible is true and therefore must be something we should assert. We extend this to our evangelism, political and social views and our relationships with those around us. Although we are mostly sincere in our desire to be obedient to God's Word, we often don’t realize what we are doing with our position. Some of us have alienated many friends, family members and strangers who would otherwise welcome the good news of the Gospel and the person of Jesus Christ.

While I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, inerrant in its original form, I have learned that not everything is truth that we should proclaim.  For instance:
1) There are lies recorded, certainly a lie can’t be true  (i.e.  In 2 Sam 1:9  an Amalekite claims to have killed King Saul).
2) Satan’s words are written down, ... probably not a good idea to preach one of those passages out of context. 
3) Men speak of their own understanding but not necessarily God’s understanding. ( In John 9:31 the man healed of blindness claims ‘We know God doesn't hear sinners', but God must hear sinners, or else nobody would be able to turn to Him and receive Him).
Also, when sharing the Gospel, certainly not everything in the Bible is appropriate for every situation. For example, if I met somebody who had never heard about Jesus, I would probably not start my conversation with the first 3 chapters of Chronicles (which I'm reading through now :S).

So it would seem there is a difference in something being true and what the Bible refers to as Truth. It is interesting to note that the truth of the law is not the same truth that came through Jesus. John makes the contrast in John 1:16:  “The Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.  What is the distinction? While the law reveals knowledge of sin, it is powerless to help anyone. Giving sinners the truth of the law certainly does not set them free, but instead brings condemnation and kills (2 Cor 3:6).

So then what is the truth that came through Jesus?  When Jesus appeared before Pilate, there was an interrogation that took place. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” yet we don’t see Jesus’ response and it seems to be left open-ended. Whatever was said we know right afterward Pilate found no guilt in Jesus. Thankfully within scriptures we are not left without an answer. Jesus clearly stated in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

With Jesus' words in mind, when I read the Bible I see a distinction between truth and TRUTH. Little t truth says we are sinners. Little t truth says sinners deserve punishment and death. Little t truth says we must continually offer sacrifices when we do wrong. But Big T Truth says Jesus took our punishment as a sacrifice once for all and we are set free in Him. Big T Truth says that Jesus took the world’s sin upon Himself. Big T Truth says that we are made the righteousness of God in Christ.  Or simply, Big T Truth is Jesus Himself, the Living Word. 

In the book of Acts chapter 16, there is an interesting account where Paul is about the Lord’s work and a girl with an evil spirit keeps following and proclaiming “these are messengers of the most high!” Although what she was saying was true, Paul finally put a stop to it and rebuked the Spirit. I always wondered why he stopped her in the first place and why it took so long. For one thing, I’m sure it was getting distracting; she must have been very vocal. Secondly, it seems Paul didn't stop her at first because what she was saying was true. What we do learn from this passage is that even evil spirits can proclaim the ‘little t truth’. 

If grace and truth came through Jesus and we are to follow His example, why don’t we as a church do it more often? When Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree He didn’t take a stand for truth and start yelling at him, “You wicked tax collector, liar and cheating thief! Don’t you know that liars and thieves go to hell?!”   Instead, Jesus embraced Zacchaeus and came to his house.

Taking a passage of scripture out of context (the context being the finished work of Christ) and telling this to someone in hopes that this ‘truth’ would impact them, probably won't.  Calling people sinners and telling them to repent even thought it may be true, rarely yields the desired results, but instead turns people off. So rather than taking a stand for what is true, let’s stand for Truth and share the Truth of the Gospel, the good news that God was in Christ reconciling the World to Himself. That God has forgiven everyone and through Jesus has given us wonderful, new, abundant life. Jesus is the Truth that sets us free.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Half Full, Half Empty, or Overflowing?

File:Glass Half Full bw 1.JPG
While not an American, come every year I always watch the State of the Union Address. During the President's speech, many words are shared, challenges identified and achievements proclaimed. Much of the address reminds me of some Pentecostal church services I've been to, where after each major point everyone claps and sometimes to really show appreciation... stands up and claps. I like to pay attention to the reactions from both sides of the House, seeing who is willing to support the opposition ideas. I like when I see a few Republicans stand and clap among cheering Democrats and vice versa. While at the end of the address we are left with little new information, the concept of routine evaluation is sound. But what about the state of the Gospel in this world?  Is this something we pay much attention to?  Should we as believers be concerned about how things are progressing?  

I've heard many sermons and discussed this subject with many Christians who share a variety of views on the state of the Gospel. Some will say it varies between countries. For instance, countries like China are experiencing a rapid growth of Christianity, while European nations are seeing a decline in Christian population. What can be reasons for these trends and are they reflective of God’s power at work or lack thereof? 

If Christianity in the western world is declining, the question we ask is why?  How come we don’t see such great miracles here in our backyard? Why is God seemingly more powerful overseas? Whenever I've spoken with evangelists and asked this very question, the responses differ. Some say: “God is not taught in schools! We've gotten rid of the Ten Commandments.” Others say “There is no fear of God. Nobody respects God’s Word anymore. Evolution has replaced God and the need for a Creator.” Yet others say “We (western society) are all distracted by our materialism and limit the power of God by our unbelief.” Certainly, I agree that there is an enemy at work who is trying desperately to destroy mankind and some of his methods are as described by those evangelists, but also the enemy seeks to get the church distracted trying to defend or fight a battle that should not be our concern.

So with the view that unbelief is prevalent in society, when we look at the western world we see an obstacle to God’s power. We are reminded of Jesus when He could do only a few miracles in his hometown Nazareth because of the unbelief of the people. If Jesus could do few miracles and He is our example, should we expect a different outcome? I've often thought about this passage but wonder if we should equate these situations... is the western world even Jesus’ hometown, anyway?

But the contrasting view is this:  God is at work everywhere in everything in spite of unbelief. That unbelief isn't necessarily an obstacle, but an opportunity to receive faith from Jesus (Mark 9:24). While the world may be fallen, Jesus Christ is working through the tough situations. After all, Jesus declared:
“Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” John 4:35

his world is full of lost people from all walks of life. Rather than a rejection of Christ, declining numbers indicate a rejection of Christianity as a religion. Some may be disillusioned by the church and the hypocrisy shown. At many times we as a church have come across in the opposite way we should. Instead of selfless and loving, we are self-promoting, interested in our own prosperity, while at the same time judging and condemning the world in the name of truth. In our efforts to stick up for what is ‘right’ we alienate many people. Thankfully, God's grace and goodness are greater than our ability to mess things up.

Our State-of-the-Gospel view is important as it can influence us in several ways: Firstly, how we conduct ourselves and how willing we are to share the gospel with, minister to, and love on people. Secondly, how we feel emotionally. If we are living in a world where we think that even Jesus couldn't do miracles, that is quite a bummer. What hope do we have? But when we realize that God’s Holy Spirit is at work in us and in this world, and that the Holy Spirit power is the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Rom 8:11, Eph 1:19-20), it helps put things in perspective.

So I encourage everyone to be the optimist -  the Holy-Spirit-overflowing optimist. For we have awesome good news to share and are entrusted with great love and life to shine into this broken world. 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

It’s not me, it’s You

I've often heard it said that “it’s not about you, it’s about Him” or “this life we live is not about us, but about God”. But when I’m reading my Bible trying to focus on God, He goes and throws the subject back my way and starts talking about me!  

Why is there hope laid up for me in heaven?   Colossians 1:5
Why does God take delight in me?  Psalms 149:4 
Why does God supply my needs according to His riches in glory?  Philippians 4:19 
Why does God remember my work and the love which I have shown?  Hebrews 9:10 
Why did God choose me in Him before the foundation of the world?  Ephesians 1:4 
Why did Jesus take my sins and heal me?  1 Peter 2:24

Certainly, I understand that we are not to be self-focused but instead Christ focused. I realize our lives have been crucified with Christ, but to claim that this life is not about us would be missing an important part of the Gospel story.

In this world, it is easy to feel insignificant; there just are so many people. Moreover, it is hard to comprehend how God can relate and interact with everyone. I've often wondered how God’s kingdom works with all the angels and people talking at the same time. But if God’s kingdom is not about us, then our lives are significant only as much as they fit in with God’s master salvation plan. We read the passages of scripture that explain how we are all parts of the body working together and so shouldn't complain about our role. But what are we working towards?  Does the greater good outweigh the individual good? Is God even constrained by the amount of ‘good’ available? What is God’s purpose? Somehow I don’t think it is just about numbers...

It is true we are a part of God’s saving work, but our value is not based on our role or what we can do for God. God established our value apart from any act of obedience or kingdom service by redeeming us while we were sinners. To emphasize: our value before anything, even while we were dirty, stinking, rotten and plagued with sin, before we were redeemed, renewed, or made a new creation, was worth the price of His Son Jesus Christ. Knowing this wonderful truth doesn't puff us up, but it does serve to glorify God and leave us in awe. God is glorified in His creative and redemptive work. 

For many of us, it is hard to see the value that God places on us and instead we ask “Why would God save me?” and so we try desperately to perform to somehow make ourselves worthy. But I find, as we begin to grasp God’s unconditional love and grace, it takes the pressure off and we can freely be the person God made us to be. The message of the cross is that God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Even further demonstrating His love, God adopted us as children and made us heirs with Christ.

It is clear the gospel is about God, us, and the relationship between Father and child integrally expressed in Jesus Christ. So yes, we should focus on Him, but all the while knowing He is looking right back at us.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Good Theology

Our tendency as humans is that we like everything to have an explanation, a reason and an understanding. When we don’t understand something, we study it further, we learn, we experiment. However, theology is a little different and doesn’t necessarily explain everything. Instead theology provides insight into the nature of God and the workings of His kingdom. Good theology leaves room for the topics which we do not fully comprehend.

File:Alte Buecher.JPGOne topic in which there are various theologies is the topic of healing. The subject of healing has had a lot of different implications. There are a lot of hard questions associated with healing. When looking at healing it is easy to speak in general broad statements. “God heals on His own time.” Also it is easy to speak of specific examples “Why did it take Suzy 5 years to get healed?  Why not after her first prayer?”   It is even easier to speak from our own experience. “I prayed and it didn’t work. :(”  With the wealth of examples it is common to develop a theology based on experience. However, is this necessarily good theology?  

The trouble with broad statements is they often make God out to be some distant cosmic force, when in reality He is very close, intimate and real. (Immanuel!) The challenge with specifics is that we do not know all the factors behind a situation to form an accurate conclusion. However, what we can agree on and look at are the healings of Christ, for we know He was perfect in His ways.  Christ’s example should be our basis for any theology. 

File:Healing Mother-in-law illustration.jpgFor starters, we find:  
1) Jesus healed all those brought to Him.  (Matt 4:23)
2) Jesus healed people who didn’t directly ask for healing. (Luke 7:11) 
3) Jesus healed people based on someone else’s request. (Luke 7:7) 
4) Jesus never discussed or stated anything about God’s timing in healing. (Matt 17:20)
5) Jesus wept over the impact of sickness on God’s children. (John 11:35)
6) No healing was too great or difficult for Jesus. (John 11:43)
7) Jesus promised greater works we would do once He goes to the Father. (John 14:12)
8) Jesus is the same always.  (Heb 13:8)

But, a fair question many will raise is: What about the New Testament church examples where people didn't get healed? There are 3 passages commonly referenced:
1) Timothy’s Stomach Troubles (1 Tim 5:23).  With this example, I wonder if Paul’s wine remedy worked? Was God using a remedy?  How long did Timothy have the problem afterward?  
2) Paul’s Thorn (2 Cor 12:7). We see an example of Paul’s thorn and ask ourselves: “If Paul couldn’t get healed and he was a mega-star of faith, what hope do I have?” But why do we quickly draw the comparison between Paul’s situation and our own? Paul had a unique role in the kingdom of God. Also, we can’t establish if Paul’s thorn was even sickness related.
3) Trophimus was left behind sick (2 Tim 4:20). Did Trophimus stay sick? There are many details surrounding Trophimus that we do not know.

Sometimes in forming theology we can get bogged down in discussions and defences. My intent in sharing this post is to encourage those who are seeking healing to look at the example of Christ. We should not establish or limit what God can do based on others' experiences. Instead, see who Jesus really is and look at His love, His compassion and His ministry to receive from Him.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

First Principles

Whenever situations arise and I’m stuck, or wondering about why things are happening, or questioning God’s motives, or even if I’m caught in a misunderstanding of a scripture passage, I take a few steps back and start asking questions.  Rather than look directly at my situation, I look at what the reason is for everything!  I revert back to what started it all:  Why did God make us?  What is our purpose? What is His purpose?  Yes, I simply ask myself the most deeply profound question in all philosophy:  ‘Why?'

I like to refer to this approach as first principles, an expression I took from the field of mathematics.  Back when studying calculus, if there was ever a complicated problem that I could not solve easily I could always apply first principles and arrive at a solution.  First principles are the basic definition, the root starting point under which all the other theorems are based. 

So I ask the question ‘Why?’, not out of desperation, but as remembrance, for God has already revealed the answer.  

Some say we were created to worship God. But that leads to the topic of free will.  Why do some people choose not to worship God?  Why make man in the first place?  Why not just let the angels worship as we see in the Book of Revelation?  Others say, we were created to serve God, but the same applies. Are angels not ministering spirits?  While it is true, we are to worship and serve, this is still not the root purpose. Instead, worship and service are mere branches that express what is at the root.  What about fellowship? Were we created to be God's friends? What was wrong with God just hanging out with the angels (apart from the whole Lucifer thing)?  

More so than fellowship, God reveals that our purpose is about a love relationship. True love can exist only when there is freedom of choice. We were created out of an expression of God’s loving nature, as one with whom He can fellowship from the vantage point of love. Our fellowship with God isn’t just casual, but with One who loves us: As a parent loves a child, as a friend loves a friend, as a brother loves a brother, as a husband loves a wife.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) This passage does not say that God started to love the world at a particular point.  Instead, He loved us from the beginning (Jeremiah 31:3). It is clear from the Gospel story that we are the object of God’s love; the subject of God’s heart.

So I encourage you , if you are ever stuck wondering about God’s will or are in a difficult place questioning if it is really God at work, revert back to first principles. God created you in His image for love, and when He couldn't love us freely as He wanted (Hosea 14:4), He gave everything in Jesus Christ to fully restore that which was broken and lost.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Sweet Emotion

I've been rethinking my views on how to treat emotions as believers. I'm the type of person who appreciates reason, study and good theological understanding, while not placing much emphasis on emotional experience; or in other words, I'm a typical guy. That's not to say that I don't have feelings, but they are something I keep in check. 

There is an emphasis I find taught in many circles that emotions are somehow inferior to understanding. This teaching sometimes is in response to over-emotional displays where everything is about 'feeling' and if we don't feel anything, well, God is not moving!  So to correct this, we say and reassure those who do not feel anything "It is not about how you feel, but what God's Word says about you" which is true and reasonable.  
But I often wonder can you have an encounter with Jesus and receive His life without an emotional response ( some point)?  In scriptures we see those who receive Jesus filled with wonderful excitement, joy and encouragement "Walking and leaping and praising God!" (Acts 3:8)

Still, a lot of time we reject emotions or place them on a lower scale of importance because we have been hurt in the past.  We could experience wonderful happiness and excitement over something new only to get our hopes up.  We have felt a strong passion and desire only to have our hearts broken.  So we guard our hearts as the Bible tells us to do.

The dangerous extension of this teaching is when emotions are something we deny if they contradict how a good Christian should be, ie. Always Rejoicing.  Back 13 years ago when my grandfather passed away, my grandmother was deeply saddened.  But believing that good Christians are always to rejoice, my grandmother tried so hard to make herself be happy.  This only worsened things and led her to guilt, condemnation and greater sadness.  She too passed away only a year later.  

So how are we to use emotions?  Emotions are often a more powerful force in our lives than reason.  The unconditional love of a parent willing to put him or herself in harm's way for a child.  The pain of a broken heart even though we know the relationship wasn't meant to be.  The mourning over the loss of a loved one even though they are with Jesus in Glory.

I find that grief and sadness are powerful emotions that draw us near to Jesus in close intimacy.  We know that Jesus can sympathize and relate for He too wept and cried for Lazarus. (John 11) Jesus full-well knew and stated that He would raise Lazarus from the dead, but still let reason and understanding subside to emotion.  Jesus' tears were an emotional response. 

My new outlook:  Don't be afraid of emotions.  When I'm open and honest with God I can allow my emotions to guide my prayer and reveal the concerns of my heart.  We have a great promise that the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and reveals Jesus. God created emotions for us to enjoy, utilize and further strengthen our relationship with Him.