Drawn To My Home Pasture

In 1John 3 we are told that for the children of God it is an impossibility to sin.  The original recipients of John’s letter would have understood by the grammatical structure that he was saying is that it’s impossible to practice sin, or to be comfortable with sin.  There is an internal battle against it.

Still unclear on what he means? Let me tell you this story and maybe it will help.

Late October every year for a period of about fifteen years my older brother Eric and I had the chance to go ride the fall round-up in a spectacularly beautiful and rugged 27 square mile community pasture in West Central Saskatchewan right on the Alberta border.  This pasture had it all; great rolling sandy hills, aspen forests, deep draws filled with scrub brush, sloughs, willowy marshes and even a small lake.

The first year Eric rode this pasture he got sent towards the Alberta border to sweep through that section of the pasture.  He came across a small bunch of about 15 pair and, after gathering them together, got them headed NE towards the sorting corrals.  But these critters were a handful.  They kept splitting off and trying to circle back.  The others riders he had been sent with had spread out and were nowhere to be seen so Eric just kept fighting and pushing the cattle along.

I came across him when we were about a mile from the corrals and I joined my few pairs with his and we worked together to get them all in.  His horse was foamed up, and Eric’s eye had that look of fiery determination I had come to know from when we were kids that said “there is no way I’m going to be beat.”  By that point he had lost four or five pair but he had managed to get most of them in.  But when we finally pushed them into the corrals the laughter of the guys there told us there was something wrong.  Not knowing the brands, Eric had picked up cattle that belonged on the Alberta side and had been pushing them away from home.

That’s kind of the picture of sinning in the life of a Jesus follower.  We may at times get pushed towards committing a sin, but there is something inside us that battles against it and won’t leave us comfortable in continuing to practice sin.  That something is similar to our conscience but much greater.  It is, in fact, the very nature of Jesus himself.

So whose pasture are you being drawn to?

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That’s The Rule!

A while back I was talking with a friend about sin.  He told me that he attended a Christian high school that had a very strict set of rules.  The need for this strict code of conduct, the school reasoned, was so that through discipline and habit the students would form a Godly character.  From a logical and human perspective this seems to make sense.  The problem is it isn’t Biblical.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe we need rules and discipline, just ask my boys!  But the problem is that rules have never made anyone righteous.  In fact the Bible is very clear that the law (the 10 commandments etc.) only succeeded in proving that we weren’t righteous and weren’t capable of righteousness through our own efforts.  Check out Romans 3:20.  In fact while you’re at it you should read the whole of chapter 3.

The school, and many of us, had it backwards.  Godly character produces righteous acts not the other way around.  This brings us to a crucial question: if by faith in Jesus I have a new nature – his nature, why do I still sin at times?  I used to read Romans 6:11-14 and get very frustrated.  It says that I should not let sin reign in my life and to not offer body as a tool to sin.  So I would get determined that I would follow the rules and inevitably, usually sooner rather than later I failed.

The problem is that I neglected to read the rest of verse 13 and 14.  It says to instead offer yourself to God as a tool of righteousness, and in doing so sin shall not master me.  The point is that if I try to shape my nature by my actions I will fail at both.  But if I focus on allowing God to form in me the nature of Christ, which by grace through faith already dwells within me, that nature will naturally and progressively be expressed through me in righteous acts.

It’s that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  To do that requires that I submit my will to God.  Not just in general, but my dreams, and goals, my passions and interests, my career, my finances, my leisure, my family.  Everything!  But don’t panic.  God takes us a step at a time.  Just start by asking God to make you aware of Jesus’ passions within you.  I think you will find the first passion will be to know him better.


Broken Wholeness

Our youngest son is about to turn 21.  That means all three of our boys are officially adults in every jurisdiction.  I am very proud of the men they have become, but that also means they doesn’t need us as much.  This is, actually, a good thing.  In fact as parents it ought to be our goal.  As they mature our kids should become less and less dependent upon us as they develop into competent, functioning members of society in their own right.

I think, though, that we have mistakenly assumed that our heavenly Father has the same goal for each of us . In reality becoming mature spiritually means recognizing more and more how completely dependent I am upon God.  So to be more accurate about my goal in raising our boys I would say it’s that they would become less dependent on me and learn to be more dependent on God.

We talk in our church circles about how Jesus will take a broken life and make it whole.  What we miss in teaching that truth is that wholeness is not intended to make us self-sufficient.  In fact to maintain our wholeness we must continue to accept our brokenness.  Even in heaven, though we will be made perfect, perfection will be in that we will recognize and embrace our perpetual, complete, and total neediness and exist in perfect dependence on God to meet that neediness and thereby be perpetually, completely, and totally whole.

It’s sort of like a person who has been diagnosed as bipolar.  Bipolar disorder causes a person to have extreme and uncontrollable mood swing, sometimes resulting in dangerous behavior towards themselves and others.  This disorder is controllable through drug treatment, but is incurable.  If a person quits taking the drugs because that person feels like he or she is fine, the symptoms slowly return.  Unfortunately the person often doesn’t believe they still need the drugs and end up fully consumed by the disorder again.

I expect that some of you reading this may resent that God would demand our dependence.  But the way God created us is that in dependant relationship with him all our needs would be satisfied.  The resentment goes back to Satan’s challenge.  He didn’t claim to be stronger than God, just that he didn’t need God; that he could be his own God.  Trying to live out that claim, in him and in us, always leads to chaos and destruction.  As long as you pursue Satan’s lie you will remain broken.  As long as you acknowledge your brokenness Jesus will keep you whole.


Submission Part 2

I can find amusement in some of the oddest places.  One of the fun things about being in front of a congregation is watching them during the service.  I get to see all kinds of things from you all that make me laugh, almost right out loud at times.  Like at weddings when I speak from Ephesians chapter five.  You know the “wives submit to your husbands . . .” thing.  Some of the looks you ladies give, and the elbow jabbing from the men, too funny.  But that’s because we don’t know what submission to God looks like in everyday life.

Paul starts with the wives (personally I think he started with the women because he knew they would listen better than the men) but then tells the husbands to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church.  How was that?  He submitted himself to serve our needs ahead of his own.  One author put it this way; in following Christ’s example, husbands and wives, we are to spend our lives for the wellbeing of our spouse at any cost to ourselves.

This truth actually goes even farther; this passage begins by telling us all to submit to one another as a way of honouring God (vs. 21).  Husbands and wives are the illustration that Paul uses to make his point.  What he is telling us is that submission to God is expressed by submission to others.  We like to think that if we go to church, and give our offering, and don’t lie or cheat or steal etc. we are submitting to God.  Reality is that our level of submission to God is measured by how we submit to the people around us.

Now I can hear all sorts of resistance this; “But you don’t know what this person in my life is like,” and “if I don’t stand up for my rights I will get walked all over.”  If you study the life of Jesus, I don’t think you can ever say that of him.  Even about his death he said that no one can take his life from him, but that he chose to lay it down, again, in submission to the Father, expressed as service to us.  As a result the Son brought honour to the Father and the Father honoured the Son.  We have the same opportunity, if we will choose to serve others in submission to God.


Submission

Submission.  We don’t like that word.  It brings to mind ideas of oppression, domineering, and weakness.  Pictures of tyrannical kings from the Middle Ages, repressive regimes in third world countries, arrogant bosses, abusive spouses, or even school yard bullies are all connected with the word submission.  So too, often, is Christianity.

It’s true that the Bible talks a lot about submission, especially to God, but we miss the true nature of submission because we understand it from a human perspective, not from how God looks at it.  Submission in relationship with God is about a mutual giving to one another.  Jesus himself said he didn’t come to be served but to serve (Matt. 20:28).  Paul tells us that Jesus is to be our example of submission (Philippians 2).

Submitting to God is really in our best interest.  Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that if we trust God completely, and look to him (in other words submit to his control) in all our ways, that he will make our path straight.

Let me put it in an analogy that, though limited, may still help you see at least in a small way how this works.

I had a horse named Nina.  Nina loved to work cattle.  We would go out to work the cows and if she was fully submitted to me the slightest touch was all it would take for her to go where I directed and we would accomplish wonderful and satisfying things together, fully enjoying each other in the process.  On the rare day when she decided she did not want to submit to me, well let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant for either one of us.

 I submitted myself to Nina’s needs by making sure she had good feed and water, keeping her feet trimmed and healthy, making sure she had her annual shots, etc.  She submitted to me by doing what I directed her to.  When she did what I asked her to we were able to accomplish what I wanted, but at the same time she was fulfilled, and we both enjoyed the relationship.

A further application of this analogy is that successfully working cattle together did not come without first spending hours of time together, practicing, getting to know each other, and learning to trust  in the mundane setting of the round pen and riding arena.

Our relationship with God is intended to be one of mutual giving of ourselves, which brings enjoyment to both.  God has already completely given himself to us in Jesus, so we know that we can trust him in submission to him in our day-to-day lives.  Now will you submit to Him?


Losing My Self-Sufficiency

Have you ever done something, or conversely, forgotten to do something that you then feel bad about? Or more specifically something that makes you feel bad about yourself. I’m not talking about evil things, necessarily, just honest mistakes or blunders. You get that aching, hole-in-your-gut feeling. You over analyze every word and look from those around you, wondering if they still think you are good enough, all the while beating yourself up on the inside because you yourself aren’t certain anymore that you are good enough.

We all have.  And we all have our own ways of dealing with that feeling. Some use it as motivation to do better and try harder, while some find a scapegoat to blame. Some overcompensate and come across as super confident, while others pull back just hoping to not be noticed. Some simply quit. We all try to find some means of handling it so we never have to feel that way again. And while some approaches are more successful and healthier than others, none of them are an absolute fix.

Christians, quite frankly, too often haven’t been very helpful. “Jesus loves you. Just come to Jesus and he will make you feel better.” No doubt, Jesus does love you, and in coming to him you may feel better about yourself, but if you really look at it, this approach implies that the God of the universe exists primarily to make me happy. I’m going to say something here that, for some of you, may rock your world: God never promised that in this life you would be happy. He promised peace. He promised joy. He promised strength for the day, but he never promised happiness.

So what do I do when I feel like I’m not good enough? Jesus gave the answer in Matthew 6:33. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Now be careful here, this isn’t a formula that will fix your life and make you happy, but when you remove your happiness or even self-satisfaction as the central motivation of your life and replace it with knowing Jesus these other things kind of fade. What actually happens is that you begin to find your confidence and your sufficiency in your identification with Jesus rather than in your own strengths and abilities.  This is, in part, what Paul, who was very confident and able, was talking about in 2 Corinthians 3:5.  “We are not competent in ourselves . . . our competency comes from God.”

Your problems may or may not be solved, you may or may not be happy, but you will know that you are good enough, because Jesus has made you to be. You will still make mistakes, but when you are pursuing something greater than yourself, namely Christ, your mistakes, and for that matter your successes, are overshadowed simply by the fact that he is more important.


A Relationship Parable

I have a parable for you today.  There was a farmer who loved his land.  A farmer loving the land is nothing exceptional, but this farmer was especially passionate about his land and took great care to make sure it was in pristine condition.  He didn’t have much land, just one field, but he loved to stand at the end of that field and see the perfectly straight furrows stretch into the distance.

But if a weed should appear, that feeling of pride and satisfaction in his land was turned on its head and in frustration he would jump into his tractor and drag his cultivator through the land, back and forth until the soil was clear and even again, and his anger subsided.  But if the next day another weed popped up back to the cultivator he would go.

He was so obsessed with keeping his field in perfect condition that he didn’t notice that each time he ran the cultivator over it the field dried out a little bit more.  Every pass broke down the natural fibres and proteins in the soil that held it together as the shovels on the cultivator raked across it.  The soil was becoming sandy, and though it was clean and even, it was dying.

Then the heat of summer came and the temperatures soared for two weeks straight, and with it came the scorching winds.  Still a couple of hardy weeds managed to struggle up in the field and the farmers frustration flared again.  But as he ripped into the soil once more the wind began to blow it away.

There simply wasn’t enough left in the soil to hold it together, and as the first grains began to fly it almost seemed like the field finally just gave up.  More and more soil was lifted into the air as the hot wind blew across field.  The small cloud picked up speed and momentum gathering more and more particles with it until the whole field was turned into a dust storm that blew across the prairies.  And when the storm was over the farmer was left with a barren empty wasteland.

Sadly, this is a picture of the way some people relate to those who are closest to them.  And what happened to that farmer’s land is what happens to husbands or wives or children when perceived imperfections are jumped on and they get raked by the one who ought to be, and maybe even intends to be nurturing.

To one degree or another we have all done this.  It seems to happen most easily when other stresses come into our lives.  Whether it be pressures of work, or responsibilities, or bad news, or just lack of sleep, that seems to be when we most quickly jump on our cultivators.

So how do we stop?  The first step is to be honest enough to recognize yourself in this story.   Then be honest and courageous enough to talk with the one or ones you have been slowly breaking down.  Humble yourself and be open and vulnerable with them and tell them you are anxious, or hurting, or scared.

In my experience, that kind of courage only comes when you have received it from Jesus.  When you realize that he loved you when you were at your worst and you allow him to express that love to you, he gives you the strength and will to risk being open and honest with those you love.