Saturday, March 25, 2006

When He Saw The Crowds

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9.35-36

Jesus had come from heaven, became a man and as a man, never sinned, being perfectly righteous in every way. In a word, Jesus was holy. In his complete holiness, he knew the sinfulness of sin. As sinful humans, we can be offended by sin but not in the way Jesus could be offended. He was and is God and He saw sin for what it was and is in the human heart.

And yet, when he looked out over the crowds, he had compassion. The Holy One had compassion as he healed the sick and preached the gospel. It is a good lesson when we grow cynical and hard towards sinners - do we walk in this world with a compassionate heart, weeping for the lost harassed and helpless sheep.

Jesus knew the heights of holiness and the depths of sin and yet he reached out with compassion. We who stand alongside sinners need to show compassion - mercy in action - to sinners. We need to learn to once again view them as Jesus viewed the crowds and then seek to reach out in practical mercy and gospel proclamation. May God take your heart and give you compassion for the lost and boldness to live as Christ in this world.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Jesus - Pastor and Deacon

We hear a lot about Jesus being the Great Shepherd - and He is and we are so thankful. What a blessing to be in his flock as he protects and keeps us in green pastures. We even have the assurance that if we are to wander, He will leave the 99 and come and rescue us, bringing us back.

But we also read that Jesus is the Great Deacon - a minister of compassion and mercy. One example out of many in the life of Jesus is found in Matthew 20.29-34 when Jesus gives sight to two blind men. In verse 32 we read that Jesus stopped - the first step in showing mercy. Jesus cared for people by first of making time for them. He stopped in his busy schedule and he called them, What do you want me to do for you? The second step is looking for opportunities to show mercy. Stop but then ask and look for what needs to be done.

Well, the blind men asked to receive their sight. When we want to learn how to show mercy, we go to the latest book written or guru on caring out ministry in our modern culture. We ought to first look at the simple acts of Jesus - he stopped, he inquired and then he did three simple acts of kindness: Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes (Verse 34) He had compassion, he reached out and he touched them. That is the example of the Great Deacon.

Stop. Ask. Be compassionate. Reach out. Touch. The Great Deacon has preached a simple sermon on how to be a minister of mercy in our hurting world. We may not be able to heal the blind, but we are able to visit the sick, visit those in prison, give bread tot he hungry and water to the thirsty - and it all begins when we STOP our busy schedules and show mercy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Matter of Time

God is so gracious! He really is even when we look at a passage like 1 Timothy 5.24-25: The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden (5.24).

You see, sin is so deceitful that we can believe we have begun to beat God at His game - we can continue to live in sin and serve God. But God in His grace loves us so much that He essentially says, I know what is going on and just because the sin that you are hiding has not been found out yet, it will if you continue in it. And so God in His grace warns us - stop your hidden sins or they will find you out. Any hidden sins?

But there is more. Covering up sins is tiring. We need to constantly look over our shoulder to see if anyone is looking or worse, we need to remember the lies we have told. Satan is so deceitful in that he is able to convince us that the supposed pleasure, which is wiping us out, is satisfying! And God intervenes in grace and says Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

If you are hiding sins, ask God to give you grace to deal with them. You will find forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to give you power to confess and repent. Come to Jesus and you will find rest. However, if you choose to continue to hide your sins, know God's Word: and even those that are not cannot be hidden. In God's grace, He has warned you!

Friday, March 10, 2006

How Big Is Your Church?

Pastoral success is in numbers and so we hear the question often and are judged accordingly. In fact, we judge ourselves as to how successful we are as numbers increase or decrease. I don't think it is just a "pastor problem" but also a "pew problem" - we are in a good church if it has good programs or a church that is moving forward if numbers are increasing- everyone wants to be part of this church!

I do not disagree that numbers should be noted - after Peter preached his first sermon we are told how many are saved. But when they become the focus and measure of success, the church begins to judge her efforts by worldly standards (must have a good report to our "shareholders"). What really is the "measure of success" for preacher and congregation? Is it not found in the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians2.19: For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not You? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. Paul will then speak of how much he wants to see the believers so they sent Timothy ... to strengthen and encourage you in the faith (verse 3) because Paul was ...afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts would have been useless (verse 5).

But Timothy reported to Paul good news about their faith and love so Paul writes: For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. Trials and persecution had not dimmed the Thessaloniuan believer's faith and love as they stand firm for the Lord.

What was Paul's joy? What was his meaure of success? Was it not found when his people were standing firm in face of temptation? When they were strengthened in holiness and love? When they were abounding in love and good works? When sinners were being saved?

So yes, how big is your church? but more importantly, are your people standing firm and bearing fruit in spite of opposition and temptation? Are you part of church that is not only growing but a church that is looking you square in the heart and challenging and encouraging you to stand firm for Christ in all circumstances?

Unlike the world, there is not safety in numbers in the church; our safety is found in Jesus - alone.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Church Is Full of Hypocrites - Really?

We have all heard it - I don't go to church because they are all hypocrites. Really? First of all, at some level, we are all hypocrites, church-goer or non-church-goer. Who has not said I'm all right, when inside they are not alright. I will still go to work or a hockey game even though the workplace and the arena are filled with hypocrites.

But I think there is a deeper misunderstanding. What is often the response of the Christian when they hear someone make that astute observation about pew-sitting hypocrites? We agree and apologize! Why? Instead we ought to use it as a time of evangelism. If we are going to evangelize, we need to first understand the distinction between justification and progressive sanctification. Justification tells us of our right standing before God, not others in the church; progressive sanctification tells us of our standing before those in the church.

When we go to church, our standing before God is right through the work of Jesus' death and resurrection - we stand as if we are righteous in the presence of God. At the same time, when we sit in our chairs and worship with one another, we are those who are still growing in Christ-likeness. No, we are not all hypocrites - no one that I have met recently has claimed sinlessness in everyday living. While forgiven in Christ, the church is filled with saved sinners seeking to love God and be Christ-like, but fail and sin against God and one another.

Martin Luther writes about the Christian life: The life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on; this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.

Instead of apologizing for those in the church, tell the astute observers the gospel message. Talk about justification in ways they will understand and their need for a Saviour. Explain that to be saved doesn't mean perfection in this life. In others words, proclaim the gospel and the results of a changed heart, gently and honestly: God is at work to transform His people to look more like Him. We are not perfectly righteous but we are growing in righteousness; we do not yet perfectly love but we are learning to love; and we do not yet live like Jesus calls us to live, but we are growing in Christ-likeness.

So, this is good news for those who won't come to church because it is full of hypocrites. If the church is not full of hypocrites but sinners who are saved and are learning to love Jesus more each day, they should feel welcome.

So won't you come to church and know of the love of Jesus for sinners? Come on - you are more than welcome!!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Xerxes Throws a Party - Jesus Outdoes Him

I love the book of Esther as God leads, guides and protects His people in captivity. As I was reading Esther 1, I was struck by the wealth of King Xerxes - ruling 127 provinces from India to the upper Nile region, throwing an open house (palace) for 180 days so people could be amazed at the lavish lifestyle, and then throwing a 7 day party, serving wine to each as they wished at no cost to them.

But then I thought - where is the wealth now? Really! Can anyone find it? What about the vast and great kingdom? Where is Xerxes now? Did he come to Esther's God? Life is fleeting, riches come and go, wine goblets empty, and kingdoms fade.

A good reminder as we can become consumed with riches, the here and now. Jesus says: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.

Look around you at your car, your house, your job, your wrinkle free face and muscle-toned body - they will all disappear. Does the time and energy into physical health and wealth surpass your investment of spiritual health and wealth? If so, your treasure is on earth and you will reap your reward. But how great are the words of Jesus and the warning of Xerxes: there is a better life with greater rewards and blessings all through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Come and enjoy him who is the great giver of life.

One final thought: as I read Esther 1, I was impressed with Xerxes riches. I certainly would have attended the party and looked around. But then we think of the riches of Jesus and the banquet to which he invites us. Jesus, His Kingdom reaching from east to west, the earth His footstool, invites us into His presence and experience His blessings. Jesus again says: In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

So here are the two questions that remain: whose kingdom is greater and whose party would you rather attend? In the words of Joshua, As for me and my household, I will serve the Lord.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Psalm 13: Hope In the Battle With Sin

What to do with guilt? Where to bring it? Where to go when we are persistently bombarded with temptation? How to find hope when we consistently fall into the same sin and feel defeated? You may struggle with these questions as sin seems to gain ground and darkness spreads, causing you to doubt your salvation. Psalm 13 helps us as we watch the Psalmist struggle with an enemy that seems to be gaining ground.

Psalm 13.1-2 tells us of the struggle. The first utterance from the psalmist's mouth is like many a prayer found in our most painful moment - short and honest: How long, O Lord? David then elaborates: How long will you forget me - forever? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, have sorrow in my heart and have the enemy triumph over me? Sin, the enemy is winning and gaining ground.

What is David's concern? Why the struggle? Psalm 13.3-4 tell us that if God does not answer, the enemy will laugh at him and claim victory. Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," and my foes will rejoice when I fall. This is a real fear in the believer's life - does the advance of the enemy mean God's love has left me and the enemy is becoming to powerful.

What does David do? Give up? Renounce God as powerless and join the "dark side"? Does he even doubt his faith (sometimes what may seem to be a very spiritual act in itself)? No, no and no. He states three truths he may not see by sight but holds to by faith.

1. But I trust in your unfailing love: when I do not love you like I should, I trust in your love that does not let me go.
2. My heart rejoices in your salvation: when I struggle and am losing ground, I rejoice in your salvation that you have given me. You have saved me, knowing my sin and who I am - I have not saved me from my sins.
3. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me: I will simply begin to sing of God's goodness and if God is good, then He will protect me, empower me, keep me safe and ultimately give me victory over my sin.

This prayer is valuable as it teaches us how to pray in desperate times when struggling with sin. Cry out to God and be honest - brutally honest; tell him your heartfelt fears; and finally, think "God" thoughts by asking what do you know to be true? Does God love me with an unfailing, everlasting love? Then he will not reject me. Has God saved me? Then he will not condemn me or give me over to my enemy. Has God been good? Then I will sing even while the enemy surrounds me and seems to be winning.