A Confession

I was appalled and horrified at what I was hearing as I listened to a brief clip of a message from a well-known pastor that has lately gone viral on social media.  Whoever had posted the particular clip I was watching had mashed it together with a clip of Bill Cosby saying “That’s the DUMBEST thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”  I have to admit it made me laugh.

But I was brought up short by a good friend of mine when I shared it with him.  His gentle response to me caused me to realize that my response to this pastor was just as wrong as the message I’d heard.  My intent in sharing with my friend had been to mock and ridicule this pastor and was not done from a heart of compassion or with the love of Jesus.

Please understand I am not saying that I agree with what was said, nor am I endorsing that particular ministry.  I strongly disagree with what the preaching in that church emphasises, and I could not recommend any of the teaching, books, or other resources that come from that ministry. But my reaction was wrong.

To personalize John 13:34 and 35, Jesus said that everyone will know that I am his because I love others the way he loved me.  If you think about it it’s easy to love those who agree with you, but the proof of Jesus in me is how I respond to those who disagree with me.

Rather than ridicule and tearing down, I need to be praying that the light, and love and truth that is personified in Jesus would be seen clearly in and through the life and ministry of that pastor and church.  And I need others to pray that for me.


Success!

My first attempt at preaching was, well let’s just say I don’t think anyone listening to it would have imagined me becoming a preacher. Honestly I’m not sure anyone even knew what I was talking about let alone what I was trying to say on the topic. I have always considered that effort an epic fail.  But I’ve re-evaluated that moment as I’ve considered what God views as success.

I was in grade 12 and our youth group was leading the Sunday evening service.  I’m not sure what he was thinking but our Youth Pastor tagged me to preach. Maybe it was because I was a pastor’s kid and he thought it would be in my genes or something.  That fact contributed to a fatal mistake I made. Since dad preached from point form notes that must be the way to do it.

I got up in front of the church and looked at my notes and none of it made any sense to me.  Apparently it didn’t make much sense to anyone else either because there were a lot of confused frowns from people desperately trying to follow what I was trying to say. Those poor dear people, I could see them straining for me to succeed.  I think they worked as hard at making some sense of my tangled mess as I was at trying to untangle it. I didn’t even really end the sermon; it was more like I just quit talking and sat down.

Stu Krogman, from CrossRoads Church has a beautiful understanding of success from God’s perspective.  After a particular ministry that had felt somewhat less than stellar he asked God whether it had been successful and God responded with two questions: Were you willing?  Were you submissive?

As I reflect on my mangled message in light of those questions I come to a different assessment of the result.  Was I willing to serve God in the capacity he directed me to? Certainly.  Was I submitted to his Spirit leading and guiding? To the best of my understanding at the time, yes.  Therefore despite the apparent results, I am at peace with what God accomplished through that experience. Of course preparation and hard work are important, but I see those encompassed within these two questions.

So has your day been successful? Have you been willing to serve God in all you do? Have you been submissive to him in the doing? Then hear your Father say “Well done my child. I’m proud of you.”


Living Above The Rules

I hate exercising.  I love getting exercise and being active. But exercising for the sake of exercising? Yuck.

I know I should, and goodness knows I need it but I cannot bring myself to keep at it for even a couple of weeks.  I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, “I really need to start doing some sit-ups.”  But I don’t.  I run up a flight of stairs and wheeze to myself, “I have got to start jogging!” But I haven’t.  Even though I know it’s what I should do I don’t have the ability make myself do it . . . except once.

When we first moved to Benalto I heard about a plan to begin a Senior Men’s Football team in Sylvan Lake.  Immediately my ears perked up. I was in my early 40’s and knew this would be my last shot (and a very long one at that) to ever play football again. All of a sudden I found myself eager to exercise.  For four months I worked up a sweat in the basement doing crunches, and push-ups, and squats and a few things I don’t even know the name for.  And get this: I enjoyed it!

Now as it turned out they just couldn’t pull all the necessary pieces together to get the team off the ground and had to abandon the idea.  In reality for me it was likely a blessing or I may well be writing this from a wheel chair. But it wasn’t too long after that announcement was made that I began finding excuses to not go down to the basement.

In a very limited way this is a picture of the two ways Romans 7 describes of approaching life. The first way it calls the law or written code.  It’s trying to live by a list of rules, like the 10 commandments.  You may find this surprising by Romans says this approach results in spiritual death.  As long as it’s an external motivation telling us we shouldn’t do something, we want it all the more and become a slave to sin.

The alternative is called the new way of the Spirit.  That’s referring to God’s Spirit within us causing us to actually desire that which is holy and righteous.  Living this way produces results that will echo literally forever. Sound good? It only comes when you by faith accept Jesus’ death as your own and submit to his resurrected life to live through you.

Slave to sin or slave to God.  Those are your only choices. Trust me, the latter is infinitely better.

Want to know more? Email me at pastor@benaltobaptist.com


Slaving Away

Apparently in ancient Rome up to half the population were slaves.  At the risk of sounding like I’m advocating slavery, we need to understand that slavery in ancient Rome was somewhat different than the slavery we in North America are familiar with. Though often slaves were taken from conquered nations slavery itself was not racially or ethnically based.  In fact it was not unusual for it to be economically based.  What I mean by that is if a person was on the verge of bankruptcy he could offer himself to his biggest creditor and become that person’s slave.  In doing so he gave up all rights of self-determination and put himself totally and completely under the authority of his master.

I tell you this because that’s the image Paul is summoning in Romans 6 when he says whatever you give yourself to you become a slave of.  But he only gives us two options: sin or God.  Now some of you may object that there must be other alternatives somewhere in between the two extremes and you’re welcome to argue the point.  But you’ll have to argue it with God not me because I’m just telling you what God has said in the Bible.

So, he continues, quit sinning.  Don’t offer yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, instead offer yourself to God as an instrument of righteousness.  There’s far more to be said on this than there is room for in this little article, but here’s what I want to get at.  Let’s assume that you don’t want to be a slave of sin, how do you stop?  If you’re like me you’ve determined, and promised, and tried harder but still you sin.

The first and maybe obvious thing is to offer yourself as a slave to God giving up all your rights to self-determination.  But many of you have done that and still struggle.  Want help?  Stop trying to not sin.  Uh, what? Here’s an illustration that may help.

Picture in your mind a moose.  Visualize his great antlers, the hump on his shoulders, the long legs and big nose.  Got it? Ok, now stop thinking about moose.  Come on, stop it.  Can’t do it can you?

Now imagine a kitten; a cute little ball of fluff, playing with a ball of yarn.  Jumping and rolling. . . I bet you stopped thinking about the moose, at least ‘till I mentioned it again.

When you focus your attentions and affections on Jesus your “moose” begins to fade away.


Building Character

Did anybody ever say to you after some minor calamity befell you, “Aw, that’s ok, it builds character?”  When as a child you fell and scraped your knee, or as an adolescent you ran into a tree with your bike, or as a teen being turned down at the school dance, or any number of normal, part-of-life incidents you’ve had to suffer through.  “It builds character.”  Not very comforting was it?  But did you know it’s actually biblical?  Romans 5:3-4 says that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.

Don’t worry, there’s a lot more to it than the shallow platitude we heard growing up, but it helps to understand a couple of words a little better, the first of which is “suffering.”  We’d like to think it’s talking about big important stuff like unjust imprisonment or some such thing.  But nope, this encompasses even the little every day, ordinary aches and pains of life.  Aching joints, disappointments, even the annoying dog that won’t quit barking.  All the big and little things in life we suffer through.

And these produce endurance, or patience.  It’s a word that doesn’t have an adequate English equivalent, but it’s something like “determined, passionate patience.”  It says, “I can take this because I know what’s coming.”  And what is coming? Character!

But that means more than you think.  This word carries a military sense with it; that you have faced the enemy and been found faithful and trustworthy.  What character is really referring to is that when it matters most Jesus has been seen in you; that you have depended on him and his faithful and trustworthy character has shone through.

And that produces hope.  Hope, or confidence, that one day you will live fully in the same intimate, dependent relationship with Jesus that Jesus does with the Father.  But for all this to happen we need to go back to verse 1 and 2.  Do you have “peace with God?”  Are you “standing in that grace?”  It all begins there by faith through Jesus.

Once begun this process of building character is intended to take over every moment of your life.  Think of how much more significant each day would be if you approached all types of discomfort and disappointment as an opportunity to know and experience the glory of God?  This goes way beyond just the power of positive thinking.  It is literally encountering the power and glory of God himself.  Maybe Paul wasn’t irrational to say “we rejoice in sufferings.”


When Faith Isn’t Faith

“Without faith it’s impossible to please God.”  So says the oft’ quoted Hebrews 11:6.  What do you understand that to mean?  I am convinced that some of us understand faith, at least to a degree, to be something I need to achieve or accomplish.  “I’ve got to have more faith”; “if only I had enough faith.”  And we take the same understanding to Ephesians 2:8 “it is by grace you have been saved through faith.”  We tend to look at faith as if it were something we manufacture, and by which we make God approve of us.  Let me give two illustrations to help grasp what faith really is.

The Bible compares the covenant relationship of marriage to our relationship with Jesus for good reason.  When a couple gives their vows they act on the basis of what they have been convinced of, a belief.  What belief?  Simply this: “I believe you.  I believe that you will love me and be faithful to me for the rest of my life.  I believe that you will care for me, provide for my needs, cherish and honor me.  I believe you.  And on the basis of that belief I give you the rest of my life.”

Salvation is simply declaring what I have become convinced of: “Jesus I believe you.  I believe you are the Son of God.  I believe that you loved me and gave yourself for me.  I believe that in doing so you forgave my sin.  I believe that you will care for me and be faithful to me for all eternity.  And on the basis of that belief I give you my life.”

The belief, or faith, isn’t what earns me God’s grace, it’s simply, well, believing God has provided it.  But even after we believe, something inside of many of us keeps telling us that we still need to achieve or keep doing something to continue to hold God’s approval.  That’s a lie.

Look at it like this.  When a baby is learning to walk and takes her first faltering steps, we cheer.  But then when inevitably she falls we don’t disapprove of her, we help her up and celebrate the next steps.  Her value doesn’t increase or diminish because of her achievements or lack thereof.  She is valued for who she is; our child.  The parallel is obvious.

One more thing, celebrating achievements is important, but if that’s the primary means we express the value of others to us we’re subtly sending the wrong message.  Today make sure others, especially your children, hear from you that they are treasured for who they are, not their achievements.


Not My Legacy But Thine Be Done

What do you want to be remembered for?  We are all leaving a legacy, but few of us consider what that legacy will be while we are busy building it.  Here are a couple of tombstones with epitaphs for folks who maybe should have given this some thought.

Arrabelle Young lived from 1794-1863:

Beneath this silent stone is laid

A noisy, antiquated maid,

Who from her cradle talked to death,

And never before was out of breath.

Here lies, returned to clay Miss Arabella Young,

Who on the eleventh day of May

Began to hold her tongue.

Or here’s what was said of Beza Wood:

In Memory of Beza Wood, Departed this life Nov. 2, 1837 – Age 45 yrs.

Here lies one Wood enclosed in wood

One Wood within another.

The outer wood is very good:

We cannot praise the other.

So what do you want to be remembered for?  Hebrews 11 is a sort of memorial to many great “heroes” of faith and a casual reading of it may lead one to believe that it is their accomplishments that are being lauded.  But the beginning of chapter 12 “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” affirms something different.

The writer is not saying those listed are now witnesses of us, he is saying that they are witnesses to the faithfulness of God; witnesses of what God has done and continues to do; witnesses to the truth of who Jesus is and what he accomplished on our behalf.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and completer of our faith”

I admire the desire of George Whitfield, whose popularity during the Great Awakening of the 18th century was of Rock Star proportions.  He spoke to crowds in the tens of thousands, and it was said his voice could be heard for a mile.  But this was his desire: Let the name of Whitefield perish, but Christ be glorified” . . . Let my name die everywhere, let even my friends forget me, if by that means the cause of the blessed Jesus may be promoted . . . after I am dead I desire no other epitaph than this, ‘Here lies G.W. What sort of man he was the great day will discover”


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