Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Does Faithfulness Equal Blessing?

I’ve been under the heavy hand of the Lord lately. I'm feeling like a cup of packed brown sugar, pressed down – not from rebuke or correction, but from blessing and overflow. I’m not complaining at all. Given a choice between rebuke or reward, anyone would choose reward. As I’ve shared my experiences with friends close to me, they’ve celebrated what’s happening for me and offer comments, such as, “The Lord is blessing your faithfulness,” or “You’ve been faithful all these years, and the Lord is rewarding you.” I appreciate their sentiments, but is it really because I’ve been faithful, or is it because He is faithful?

For every outward witness of faithfulness on my part, there are at least as many (and much more) times when I’ve been faithless. I know my heart, and my thoughts –scandalous at best and heinous at its worst. Paul said, “There is nothing good in me, except Christ,” (paraphrasing Romans 7 & 8). Sadly, how much more true it is of me. So, no. To my friends I say, “Thank you for observing Christ in me, but His blessing has nothing to do with my faithfulness, and everything to do with His faithfulness.”

2 Timothy 2:11-13, The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

He remains faithful. He is faithful to the ones who are more mature in their faith than me, and He is also faithful to the believers who put themselves under opposition because they believe lies rather than walk in truth. He sends rain on the just and the unjust. It’s who He is, and He can’t BE anything different.

It’s dangerous thinking to say, our being faithful equals God’s manifest blessing. It leads to performance, which is something I struggle with already; I don’t need further justification to move in that direction. But then, what can be said of the recent blessings and forward movement? If there is a correlation between something I’ve done, and the subsequent blessings it is this:

Luke 1:45, Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.

I’m not the only beneficiary of this promise. What has He whispered to your heart? What plans is He making with you? Dear one, believe His words. Hold them onto them as your hope. They are true and trustworthy.

The Lord spoke some specific words about my life, my future and my legacy – the works He had planned for me; and for those works to come to fulfillment, it required His blessings (open doors, opportunities and favour). I believed His word to me. He did everything.

All Christians everywhere are included in the promises we’ve been given, which are in the Bible. God is working out history to be His story. God is all about the big picture and yet He is in the details too. He’s incredibly intimate and personal with each one of us, and He has a purpose and plan just for you. It’s unique, and tailored to your expression of His character on the earth. For some it may coincide with earthly riches and fame with influence which is deep and wide. For most of us, let it be enough that your name is celebrated in heaven and feared in hell. No matter what though, enjoy His blessings in the process – it’s not what you do, but what He does.

God alone is faithful, He cannot deny Himself, and His promises to you - to us - are faithful to fulfillment.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Loving Well

On a recent trip to New York, I found myself swept up with a crowd of tourists just off Wall Street. Amidst the sea of tourists and foreigners (myself, being one of them – both a tourist and a foreigner), I looked for a local to help me locate the correct subway train to take me to midtown. I was distracted by a soapbox preacher. He wasn’t literally on a soapbox, it was a little step ladder and he was loudly condemning passersby for their sin which God was compelled, by His nature, to judge us for. Mildly amused and cringing internally, I stood listening for a few minutes and watching the effect on the crowd. No one was paying much attention to him – he was just one of the many “spectacles” on display.

Looking around, focussed again on my task to find a local to assist me, I noticed a fellow wearing a
suit and tie and thinking he might be a professional who worked on Wall Street, I asked him if he could direct me to the correct subway station. I found out he wasn’t local and although he couldn’t help me with directions, he wanted to give me something. I looked down at what he offered and saw it was a Christian tract. Great. (insert eye roll) I’d found the “partner” to the soapbox preacher.

I decided I was going to have some fun so I looked down at it and asked, “Is this going to tell me Jesus loves me?”

He replied, “It’s not that simple.”

Say WHA-?

Hold up. Now I was curious. How could it be more complicated, than Jesus loves me? I needed to find out, so I asked him. He said sin is in our DNA, holiness is in God’s DNA and holiness must deal with sin (meaning, judge) because holiness has nothing to do with sin. Hmmm. That’s not exactly what he said, but something similar.

Jesus began and ended with love. He loves, we love, end of story. It’s simple, it’s not complicated and in the process of the story, we are changed because we’ve encountered love.

I’m in pursuit of love – not working for it because there’s no way I could earn it, but to understand the depth and the breadth of Christ’s love for me, for all humanity, and for His creation.

I encountered love in New York – not from the preacher man, but from my friend, Kate whom I was visiting there. She and I are almost complete opposites, and yet our friendship works really well. I’m extremely blessed to have a lot of love in my life, but Kate loves me particularly well. It made me stop and ask myself, “How well do I love others?”

What Kate does so well is adjust her expression of love to suit the one she loves. For example, we travelled around NYC on bicycle. I’m not an avid cyclist but when I do, I cycle  through parks, moving at a snail’s pace because the goal is the journey, not the destination. I never cycle in the streets of Vancouver because in my mind, it’s extremely dangerous (even though it is a very bicycle-friendly city). But here we are in NYC, and she cycles everywhere – that is when she isn’t running to train because she’s a super-marathon runner. I rarely cycle, but I never, (not ever) run. – So anyway, when in Rome...

For the first day, Kate leads and I follow because I have zero sense of direction and I have no idea where we are going. It’s nerve-racking – not only am I cycling in NYC (without a helmet – because apparently they are trying to use natural selection for population control so there isn’t a helmet law), but I feel wildly out of control because I don’t know when the next turn into oncoming traffic is going to happen. Kate acknowledges my heart is out of control and for the remainder of the weekend, she explains where we are going and how we will get there. It was a seemingly small and insignificant gesture, but it was the single-biggest action which demonstrated her love for me. She noticed, and she adjusted herself to meet my needs, and loved me in the place where it was needed. In the process of her loving me, I was changed. I became more confident and less fearful. I was changed because I was loved.

In many ways, Kate is like Jesus personified. While I had several goals to accomplish on my weekend trip to NYC (sightseeing, eating, connecting with Kate), she had just one goal: connection. Jesus has one goal too, and it’s to share connection and intimacy with you, with me, with us. Love comes first, then we change. It’s never the other way around. “For God so loved the world, that He gave...”

How well do I love others? Is it like Jesus? Like my friend, Kate? Or do people first know what I don’t love about them, like the preacher man? I desire to love well, like Jesus, to love others into being their best self; to love them into their identity.

How well do you love others?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

What is God Consuming in Your Life?

I have one child. Not many people are bold enough to ask why. It’s a touchy subject. There may be pain involved and you may not be prepared to respond to the emotional need. Others feel judged by their choice and feel like they need to justify their choice to have one child in a culture where the “perfect” family consists of mom, dad, and two children. You definitely don’t want to ask someone like that for fear of having your head bit off and handed back to you after only after a tirade of a women’s right to choose.

Me? I wanted four children. It didn’t work, and yes, it was painful. Month after month, my body betrayed me and my desperate desire continued to grow. I went to see a fertility doctor and after several months and rounds of test, we were told we were incapable of having a baby – despite our having had a successful pregnancy (anomaly, they said). I was devastated. And I was mad. Mad at my body. Mad at my Man. Mad at my having to give up a desire. And I was mad at God. Why would He surprise me twice (I also miscarried), make me change my plans, make me hope for a family and then deny me.

I started to believe God intended to give me a bigger family, and this was a test. I played mindgames with God. Believe me, it doesn’t work. I was determined to achieve my plan; my desire for another child consumed me. It was all I thought about.

One day during worship on a Sunday morning, the words of the song read something like, “I surrender my desires to your Consuming Fire.” I stopped. I couldn’t sing those words. I realized I was being consumed by my desire for a baby more than anything else – more than I wanted God. It had become an idol. It was a moment of horrible realization; followed by months, and months of repentance as God began to become my Consuming Fire.

The Lord is introduced as a Consuming Fire in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is Moses’ last hurrah, if you will, before the people enter the Promised Land. He’s reminding them who they are, and who they belong to. He’s teaching them (again) how to live in view of those two things when they enter the Promised Land.

Moses called him a Consuming Fire (Deut 4:24) because He is a jealous God. There is no hidden meaning in the term. Consuming Fire isn’t ambiguous – it really means a fire that consumes. It eats, it slays, it destroys, and it burns up. God will not share His Glory; He’ll burn up anything that is set up as an idol. He is a Consuming Fire.

The Consuming Fire also goes before them and devours their enemies; the ones who stand in the way of their receiving their inheritance.

Joshua and Caleb were the only leaders who took possession in the Promised Land. Why? Because they had confidence God would give it to them. Numbers 14:8, “...He will bring us into this land...[do not] fear the people...for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us.” It didn’t matter they were warned there were enemies bigger and stronger than they in the land.  God is a Consuming Fire and He would destroy their enemy.

Time and again, the Bible shares story after story of God fighting the enemy – like a fire wipes out the forest, God wipes out our enemy. Who can forget Jericho? What did the people do? Did they fight? No, they walked in a circle. What about Gideon? How big was his army? 300?

The beautiful gospel is that God, the Consuming Fire is still fighting our battles, so that we too, may take possession of our inheritance, which is the Kingdom of heaven.

Jesus was consumed by something too...zeal for His Father’s house. John witnessed Jesus in the temple, throwing out the crooked sellers. Jesus, who was so full of love, seemed to suddenly become violent – throwing around tables and money. Jesus might have looked like we look when we are consumed with something – eyes wild, passionate, and ready to attack anything that threatened it. The disciples remembered Psalmist’s words, “Zeal for Your house consumes me.” (Psalm 69:9) His Father’s house is meant for holiness, and nothing less would satisfy.

There is a benefit to forest fires; despite the devastation, some types of seeds need a fire to release the seed inside themselves. What happened after the Consuming Fire destroyed their enemies? They took possession of the Promised Land. What happens once the Consuming Fire burns up our idols? It leaves available the only spot God is willing to occupy in our lives.

The Consuming Fire is on the move in this season, among believers around the world. I see evidence of this by the increased sales of a flag pair called Consuming Fire. Most of the 70+ flag choice amount to less than 3% of my overall yearly sales, but not Consuming Fire flags. Not last year, and definitely not this year. God is at work, consuming what threatens to replace Him as Lord, and consuming our enemies. He wants us to have possession of the Kingdom of heaven, our inheritance. And He’s ramping up – all over the world.

In 2015, Consuming Fire worship flags represented 5.9% of overall yearly sales. This year, as of July 31, Consuming Fire flags represent 10.5% of sales to date; the number is low because I’ve been out of stock. The fabric for these flags, which was supposed to last more than three years, is gone in just two years.

God is a Consuming Fire because He is holy. He burns up anything unholy. He will not share your worship or passion, nor will he allow anything to stand in the way of your inheritance.

What is God consuming in your life? If someone or something is in your top spot, repent. If you need an enemy removed so you can take possession of the Kingdom, which is your inheritance, stand aside and let the Consuming Fire devour it. Finally, let what consumes Him, also consume you; be zealous for His church.
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