Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Failure of List- Keeping

Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."

And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
(Matthew 15:1-3 NASB)

There's something comfortable about reducing Christianity to a list of do's and don'ts, whether your list comes from mindless fundamentalism or mindless liberalism: you always know where you stand, and this helps reduce anxiety. Do's-and-don'ts-ism has the advantage that you don't need wisdom. You don't have to think subtly or make hard choices. You don't have to relate personally to a demanding and loving Lord. (Robert C. Roberts in The Reformed Journal [Feb. 1987], quoted in Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 9.)

If your faith is only the practice of a list of do's and don't's, you are cheating yourself out of what really counts — a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Father, himself. Those who are caught up in that never-ending, never-succeeding list keeping, are quite often frustrated, unhappy, and overly critical of themselves and others.

Nobody is suggesting that God has nothing to say about human behavior. If you read your Bible closely, you'll discover that God is very concerned that we do some things and that we don't do some others. Failure to do (or not do, as the case may be) is the simple definition of sin. Years ago, we heard a lot about sins of "omission" and sins of "commission." Essentially, they were sins of failing to do what we were supposed to do, or doing what we ought not to do. So, if you think anybody is saying God doesn't care about what you do (or don't do) you're mistaken.

It's just that people can get so hung up on lists of do's and don't's that they miss the whole thing about faith in Jesus Christ. Get into a conversation about salvation and you may hear what I'm talking about. When the conversation focuses more on what we must do to be saved instead of what God has done to save us, you might be hearing evidence of a list-keeper, not a believer. I know that sounds harsh, but at some point we must deal with this issue.

For too long, some have put such emphasis on our obedience to what God wants us to do that they have simply misplaced responsibility for salvation. To hear some talk, salvation is mostly accomplished by their obedience. Oh, yeah, sure, there was Jesus, but it's almost as if Jesus is an afterthought, that he needed our help because he couldn't quite get it done himself.

Does God want us to obey his will? Yes, he does. That said, faith isn't about list-keeping: it's about believing in, and trusting, the person of Jesus Christ. It's about seeing his death on the cross as the singular forgiveness event of all time. It's about seeing his resurrection from the dead as the declaration that death has lost its grip on humankind and life reigns. It's about loving God and responding to His free-gift of grace and unabashed mercy. It's recognizing no merit in ourselves, while basking in the merit of our Savior. [See 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 6 for the Biblical declaration of these points!]

List-keepers will never appreciate these things.

-By Bill Denton

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The healer with out Latex gloves

Some religious people can be so quick to judge. Maybe because they so badly need to affirm their fragile righteousness, I don't know. What I do know is that Jesus wasn't like that. When I watch hurting, sinful people come to Jesus, I am amazed to see the gentleness with which he treats them.
There was a leper, a social outcast, doomed to die of a progressive, disfiguring illness, who came to Jesus and said, "If you want to, you can heal me." Jesus, the Bible records, touched the flesh of this diseased man and said, "I want to. Be whole." And he was.(Matthew 8:1-3. )
Mary Magdalene, from what we can discover, was a wealthy heiress who was tormented. The demons of her past and present completely controlled her. Jesus set her free, and gradually, as she spent time listening to his teaching and following him, she was healed from the inside out. Did you know that this Mary was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection?(Luke 8:1-3; 24:1-12.)
Blind people came to him and went away seeing. Friends and relatives carried cripples to him. He was their friend. He never turned them away or rejected them. Instead, in his presence they were healed. Rich-robed leaders seeking to fill an inner emptiness came to talk with Jesus. So did ragged beggars.
One lady was dragged to Jesus. You know the story. Earlier that morning she had been surprised in the arms of her lover, and hauled in front of Jesus while he was teaching in the temple. "Should we stone her for adultery?" the Pharisees sneered, hoping to expose Jesus' legendary mercy. "Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone," Jesus replied. And when they had all slunk away, one by one, Jesus knelt down to where the woman was crouching. "Where are your accusers?" he asked.
"Gone," she said.
"Then I don't pronounce sentence upon you either," he told her.
As she got up to leave, I can see him touching her sleeve, as if to give her a final healing word. "Go," he said, "and sin no more."(John 8:2-11)
What gentleness! What love! Without compromising right standards of living, Jesus had communicated an incredible amount about how much God loves us, aches for us, longs for us, and gently calls us to paths of wholeness and wholesomeness. No self-righteousness here, not even from the only One who has any right to the term "self-righteous." Just compassion.
I can see us taking a step or two back from this radical Healer. You're too messed up. I don't want to associate with you, we might think about this woman. Our Jesus wore an everyday robe that he washed out in the creeks, and a pair of plain leather sandals. He didn't feel the need to preserve his "space" or reputation or social standing. All these he sacrificed so he could reach out to the people who really needed him. So that he might touch them.
Do you need him? Do you feel messed up or ashamed or confused or lonely or just plain tired of it all? You are his kind of person. Jesus knows your pain, and reaches out a strong and friendly hand, and says to you, "Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
No matter what, friends, we need to be like Jesus. Let someone else play the religious game. For us it is getting to know this Jesus, and then being his hands to reach out in our communities to the hurting and struggling. Some of those who are hurting and struggling live in nice homes and drive BMWs. Others live in apartments and have barely enough for the coming month's rent.
If we serve a Healer, then we are called to be a healing people, unafraid of pain, even our own. We know that through his love and working in our midst, that ancient healing touch of the Living Jesus will touch again. With power.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Creating a Movement- Making Disciples of all Nations!

There you are — first day on the job. It's the job you have dreamed about, trained and interviewed for. And now it's yours. And you think, "What do I do now?"
There you are — leaving the hospital with your new baby. It's the baby you planned and prepared for. And now as you leave you realize, "There are no nurses to help out. What am I going to do?"
Peter and Andrew and James and John must have gone through similar emotions. They were gathered with the other disciples on a mountain in Galilee. Galilee was where Jesus first called them. They were at work trying to make a living and Jesus offered them a deal: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." They left their nets and followed him.
So when he told them to meet him in Galilee they went. That's when Jesus gave them a command: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ..." (Matthew 28:19).
My guess is everything felt different to them at that moment. They had been his disciples and now they were to make disciples. It was their job. It was their baby. They probably didn't think they could do what they did. And you probably don't think you can do what they did. But you can. If we could sit at dinner with the disciples they would give us a three-point sermon in how to make disciples.
Peter would start off by saying "be with Jesus." If they had learned anything from Jesus it was that the first thing he wanted them to do was to be with him. Mark, who we believe wrote down Peter's words, put it this way in his account: "And he appointed twelve so that they might be with him ..." (Mark 3:14).
If Jesus had called them to go to seminary, they may have declined the appointment. They weren't that interested in splitting hairs over obscure scriptures. They didn't want to haggle over Haggai or debate over Daniel. They had seen what that kind of religion had done and they didn't want to be a part of it.
But be with Jesus? That was something they could do. They liked him. He made sense. He ate with them, walked with them, and told stories that ignited their imaginations. Jesus took the kingdom of God off the drawing boards and right into their lives. They watched him live it out, lived it with him.
You can too. As we experience his story we can see him healing the leper, hear him teaching in the synagogue, smell the salty Sea of Galilee and touch the hem of his garment. We can find ourselves in his story and know him like a friend.
We can do that. But what often keeps us from making disciples is the fear of not knowing enough. "I don't know if I know enough Bible. I don't know how to answer all those questions people might ask."
Guess what? Neither do I. And guess what? Neither did they. But they knew Jesus. In fact, In Acts 4 there is a story where Peter and John get in trouble because they have healed a lame beggar. The religious leaders don't take too kindly to them preaching Jesus and stealing their spotlight so they come and arrest them.
And here's what is said about them:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13 ESV) [Emphasis added.].
Not that they had three degrees on their walls. Not that they were rabbinical school grads. What astonished them was that they had been with Jesus.
We can do the same. We have to.
Be with Jesus. That's where we begin and that's how God will use you to create a movement. It's the foundation. But there's a little more connected to that.
Matthew knew Jesus loved to be with people. He made note of it in his gospel account:
Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples (Matthew 9:10-11 NASB).
Jesus was reclining with tax collectors and sinners. These weren't your usual church people. But they were Matthew's friends. And now that Matthew is with Jesus, Jesus is also with Matthew's friends.
The disciples didn't start putting together revivals and campaigns to make disciples. They just starting working with the people they already knew. They would bring their friends together around the idea of getting to know Jesus.
That's what happens when we are with Jesus. When we are with him, we will want to be with people because he loved people. It might be people in your family or your neighborhood or your workplace. Those people are your people. Jesus wants us to make disciples of them.
In fact, Jesus begins his command we call the Great Commission with words that literally could be translated, "As you are going ..." (Matthew 28:19). He intends for us to engage the people we intersect daily.
But how does that lead to making disciples?
John would answer that question by telling us to "tell a story." Towards the end of his gospel he writes the following:
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:30-31 NASB).
John wrote down signs, or stories, about Jesus so we can believe. Movements are created when people gather around an idea and share the story. And that's what the disciples did. They told story after story about Jesus.
Blake Mycoskie had a story to tell. In some ways it began when he and his sister competed in the second season of "The Amazing Race" on TV. They finished in third place, just four minutes off the first place time.
One leg of their race took them through Argentina. Because they were racing and did not have time to experience the culture, he returned later for a visit. When he did, he saw the hardships children faced growing up barefoot. Cuts on their feet led to serious infections. In addition, children without shoes were not allowed to go to school and did not receive an education. So Blake came up with an idea he called "One for One." He would sell shoes, and for every pair sold one pair would be given to a child without. You may know this as the story of TOMS shoes. By April of 2010 over 600,000 shoes had been given to children around the world.
Not only are shoes sold, but a story is told. One time Blake was in JFK airport and saw a girl wearing a red pair of TOMS shoes. He approached her and asked her about her shoes. He says she literally grabbed him by the shoulders and started telling him his story. He realized then TOMS did not need to follow the normal approach to marketing. They had a story to tell.
The first disciples were with Jesus, and when they were with people, they told a story. They started a movement that has reached us today.
We can do the same. We have to. There's no plan B. There's you. There's me. And in God's estimation, that's enough. So here's that plan to start a movement and change the world. It's really pretty simple:
  1. Be with Jesus.
  2. Be with friends.
  3. Be telling the story of Jesus.
Not very complex. Not very dramatic. Not very "churchy." But, VERY effective! And guess what? It's very much God's will, Jesus' plan, and our opportunity!
- by Rick Brown 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Everything in its time and place

Gordon Dahl wrote this insightful paragraph several years ago:
Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.
Worshiping work?
Lots of us are guilty here. Too many hours beyond what is necessary or reasonable cut us off from the people in our lives. It communicates their lack of importance in relation to company, career, or money. 

Working at play?
Ever see somebody play golf or tennis "to relax" only to fight the course, throw her racquet, or otherwise create a greater need for something to relax him? Know anyone who built his life around sports? The relaxing and regenerative power of play gets lost in that sort of intensity. 

Playing at worship?
From simply being present for a worship assembly to taking time for private Bible reading and prayer, it seems all too easy to drop God in order to save time for other things. That says something about how important — or unimportant — God was from the very start, doesn't it?

If your life is a story "in search of a plot," a good strategy is to get these three elements in proper balance. Yes, you need to work. But you don't have to get so consumed with it that you neglect the significant people God has put in your life. But it will also help to remember that fatigue is not next to godliness.
As long as everything is kept in its place!
That brings us to play. It really isn't necessary to be quite so competitive. Enjoy tennis or the lake without having to do something better than someone else. Maybe you should just watch a sunset, take a walk, or put your feet up and listen to a favorite piece of music — without feeling guilty for doing so.
Then, when the time for worship comes, be thankful. Thank God for allowing you to be productive without being obsessive, to take pleasure in his creation without being consumed by it. Acknowledge him as the giver of every good gift that has come your way in life.
The wise man in the ways of God reminded us many years ago:
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 NIV).
There is a time for everything, so long as everything is kept in its place.
- Rubel Shelly 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

My printer only prints in Black and White

I discovered this the day I tried to print a document that had all the titles in a gray border. I tried three times, and every time I got all the black and white but none of the gray. I know that by now some of you have figured out that my color cartridge was out. Correct, though I still cannot figure out why you need a color cartridge for gray. This experience also reminded me that this is how some people think Christianity is.
They believe that we live our lives by some ironclad list of do’s and don’ts. There are people who think that is what the Bible is – a list of rules, everything being black and white. This leads to some wrong assumptions about Christianity. There are those who think they could never follow such a list so why try. Others think the Bible is not relevant because it does not have a black and white list for every situation in today’s world. Then there are those who try living Christianity by a set of rules and just get frustrated because they cannot find the rules or cannot follow the ones they do think they have found.
This is not Christianity. The Bible is not a list of rules. We are not expected to memorize hundreds of rules so we will know what to do in every situation. That would not require any emotion, just a photographic mind and strong willpower. Christianity is a matter of the heart. Yes, Jesus does ask us to live a lifestyle different than the world around us, and he gives us guidelines to know how to do that. Let me share the three most important.
1. Love God with everything you have. Jesus said this was the greatest command.
Give Jesus your heart, then follow it.
2. Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said this was the second greatest command.
3. Follow the steps of Jesus. The Bible says Jesus left us an example so we could follow in his steps.
These principles will help you decide what to do in any situation you encounter as a Christian. And these principles are about love. 
Christianity is love itself. 
- Steve Ridgell.

Monday, 30 April 2012

A Temporary Dwelling

You splurged when you made your mini-vacation accommodations in a very nice hotel. From the minute you enter the lobby you realize this is a first class place. Smiling faces greet you and welcome you. Well-groomed and well-trained employees assure you that meeting your every need and making sure your stay is as pleasant as possible is their first priority. Your room is immaculate. Every accessory has obviously been selected with a purpose and it serves that purpose. The towels are thick and absorbent. There are plenty of hangers in the closet next to the monogrammed robe. You have a beautiful view of the city from your window. You have selected a magnificent place to spend a few days and nights. When they slid the bill under the door you are reminded that this is a temporary dwelling.
You looked forward to this trip for many years. The whole family is gathering. It has been years since everyone has been able to be in the same place at the same time. There is laughter. There are stories from the past. Pictures are taken to preserve the moment. As you begin to talk about making plans for the next gathering you realize that this same group will likely never be together again. You are reminded that this is a temporary dwelling.
Your cabin is rustic and weathered. You intentionally selected a secluded place for this retreat. It is quiet. The mountain-view is spectacular. With a mug of hot coffee in one hand and the book you have been looking forward to reading in the other you seat yourself in the chair on the balcony listening to the birds sing and the river flow. You take a deep breath as you feel all the cares and anxieties of your life gently shifting to a place far, far away. You take a deep breath and relax. The days pass too quickly and you realize that this is a temporary dwelling.
You are a long way from home. You know you are there for a purpose and while you are there you are determined to fulfill that purpose. You see it as your mission. The language is different. The food is different. The methods of transportation are different. The culture is different. Everything is different from what you are familiar. You feel more homesick that you have ever felt. You get an email from your family. The email reminds you that this is a temporary dwelling.
Your annual check-up seemed to come early this year. It seems like it has been only a few weeks since your last one. Has it really been a year? The conversation with your doctor includes phrases like: "You are not as young as you once were" and "you have no business climbing up on that ladder," and "I think the stress of your job has taken a toll. It may be time to think about slowing down a bit." As you walk toward the lab with a cup in your hand you are reminded this is a temporary dwelling.
You watch as your son and your daughter-in-law work together to get their brand new daughter (your granddaughter) dressed in her little outfit that seems to have an unbelievable amount of snaps. It does not seem so long ago that you and your wife were working together as you learned to care for your son. As you allow your imagination to run wild, you get way ahead of yourself as you daydream about what life will be like when this granddaughter has her own family. As you snap back into reality you are reminded that this is a temporary dwelling.

Chris Rice shares the same message:
Teach us to count our days. Teach us to make our days count ("Life Means So Much").
James said it this way:
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that"(James 4:13-15 NIV).
On a daily basis we are faced with the reality that we exist on this earth in a temporary dwelling. In the blink of an eye the world changes, days turn into years, and the blessings from God continue to flow. Life means so much. Treasure each moment. Live everyday to the fullest. What you do with this day is extremely important. Focus on the important things. Your relationship with God. Your family. Your legacy. Sharing your faith stories. You do not know how much time you have. Remember this is a temporary dwelling.

By Tom Norvell.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Be a Neighbour this week !

"That's what's wrong with the world today. If we'd learn to love each other there'd be no war ... no killing ... no raping ... no fighting. People would be loving one another and that's what we human beings got to learn: how to love one another."

So says Johnny Barnes. Johnny rises at 2:00 a.m. every morning, eats his breakfast, and takes his place from 4:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. at the Crow Lane roundabout in Hamilton, Bermuda. One day in 1984, he stopped at the roundabout and started waving at the passing commuters. Due to the unique layout of the island and its roads, nearly all drivers at rush hour coming from the western and southern areas of the island pass Barnes at the roundabout.
He doesn't merely wave, though. As people drive and walk by he keeps up a constant chatter:
  • "Have a lovely day."
  • "Good morning!"
  • "God bless you."
  • "I love you!"
  • "God loves you!"
He's talked to people who have told him no one had ever told them they were loved. He tries to make sure they at least hear it from him. "People need to know that love is important," he says.
What would move an 88 year-old man to get up before dawn every day and stand for six hours with his message for the crowds? Perhaps the same thing that caused Jesus to mount a colt and ride into Jerusalem. The multitude of his disciples would rejoice, praise God, and say:
"Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!"

"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
(Luke 19:38).
He did not do it, however, for the acclaim. Jesus knew that in a short time he would be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, be condemned to death and hung on a cross. He had predicted it explicitly three times to his disciples. He knew where he was headed.
What would cause him to endure this extreme punishment voluntarily?

When asked what the greatest commandment was Jesus summed it up in one word. "Love!" Love God with all that you are and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). "Neighbor" means "one who is near." However, when Jesus tells us to "love our neighbor as ourselves," he redefines neighbor for us. Your neighbor can be near:
  • Next door.
  • Across the street.
  • In the next cubicle.

Your neighbor can be far:
  • Across town.
  • In another subdivision.
  • On the other side of the world.
Neighbor is not merely the one who is near. Neighbor is the one who needs God's blessing (Luke 10:29-37).
So love your neighbor this week. Johnny Barnes will. He will sacrifice some sleep, journey to his roundabout post, and stand on his 88-year old legs for six hours. He does not have a degree in philosophy or physics, but he is convinced that he knows the secret of life. "The world is made for love," he tells Bermuda visitors curious or brave enough to stop in traffic and shake his hand.
Love your neighbor this week. Jesus did. He rode into Jerusalem and sacrificed his life by hanging on a cross for six hours. And because he loved his neighbors, multitudes still follow him 2,000 years later.
Love your neighbor as yourself. It can change someone else's life. And it will definitely change yours.

- By Rick Brown