Shattered Dreams

The Bible says a lot of stuff that we pastors preach great sermons on but how well does it play out when life hits you in the gut? One of those things is that we should store up treasure in heaven because where our treasure is our hearts will be also. (Matthew 6:20, 21)  A valid and important understanding of what Jesus’ purpose was in giving that instruction was so that we wouldn’t become hoarders of “stuff” but instead spend what God has given and enabled us to obtain in service and ministry to others.

But I’m learning a less obvious but equally import reason for this instruction: so that when your dreams are shattered your faith need not be.

Wendy and I have just had a dream we’d been pursuing for the last six months crushed.  It’s a dream for an exciting and fulfilling ministry/career opportunity we could do together that we actually had years ago when we began in pastoral work but had relinquished to God.  About six months ago God gave a refined version of that dream back to us.  As we pursued it God affirmed and opened the doors every step along the way, sometimes in profound and emphatic ways.  We were literally one step away from seeing this dream fulfilled but due to an unexpected change in circumstances completely outside of our control and influence the opportunity has closed indefinitely.

It was like having the wind knocked out of us.  And because of where the process took us our whole future has suddenly become uncertain. I have to admit that for a while after getting the news it didn’t take much to knock me into headlong into the ditch of “Why God? It all was fitting together so well, everything was falling into place. We were following your lead! If it wasn’t to be why’d you let us go so far?”

Somewhere in all that God asked me where my treasure was. I realised again that even though it may be difficult or painful, what happens in this life isn’t the end of the story.  My treasure is Jesus and nothing can separate me from his love for me.  Even if I don’t understand, even when cherished dreams are torn from my grasp, as significant as those things are they are not primarily what my life is about.  My life and all that happens in it have Jesus as its purpose and end.

If your greatest treasure, the things that you hold most dear and depend upon for purpose and stability in life are found in things or even people here and now, when those things are taken away you will be swept away by the floods of despair. Instead store up your treasure in heaven – in Jesus.


Stock Dog Theology

An old rancher who had used stock dogs his whole life once told me that he’s trained a lot of dogs but there are some that just seem to understand English.  I was reminded of that when a friend told me about taking their two border collies to a stock dog trainer.  Neither dog had ever worked sheep before.  Fresca had very strong herding instincts but she didn’t fare too well because she was too aggressive. Grace, on the other hand, had the sheep moving easily through the corals literally within minutes.

The difference was that Fresca depended on her instincts and paid little heed to the handler, whereas Grace was intent on the slightest sign from the handler who guided Grace’s natural instincts. You probably see where I’m going with this, but you may be surprised by where I see that in the Bible.

Romans 12:1&2 tells us that we will be able to recognize the will of God if we will stop conforming to the way culture works and instead be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  Let me unpack that a little.

Culture in general is self-focused.  Be true to yourself, be that master of your own destiny, find what works for you. That’s not to say the pattern of culture is necessarily selfish, but it’s certainly self-directed.

When Romans says to be transformed, that is changed through and through, by renewing our minds it’s directing us to be God focused. Vine’s Bible dictionary says of the word “renewing” that it indicates our minds are to be “under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who directs our minds bent and energies Godward.”

How do we go about renewing our minds?  It starts with a greater hunger and passion for scripture.  How can you develop that? First ask God for it.  It sounds simple but it’s true.  Second begin reading it daily.  You’ll find that getting into it will whet your appetite for more.

The text is not saying that in being able to recognize the will of God because you’ve been transformed by the renewing of your mind that all your problems will be solved and your life will go smoothly.  What it is saying is that you will be able to be confident of being in God’s will in the middle of all the stresses, adversities, uncertainties and upheavals that life brings.


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.”


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 352 other followers