… AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST US
I listen to a lot of sermons in my job. I read a lot of blogs. And almost without exception, the main message I hear coming from the pulpit today – whether spoken or written – is PROSPERITY. Many Christian teachers and preachers are working overtime to get us to see God as the eternal ATM of blessings and our professed belief in Jesus as the security PIN to access those blessings.
But it doesn’t work that way. You don’t just stumble through life, treating people like crap, and then show up in church on Sunday with your hands out, expecting God to fill them with goodies. (more…)
GONE FISHIN’: CATCHING PEOPLE FOR GOD’S KINGDOM
When Jesus compared “catching” people to catching fish, he was referring to using a net rather than a hook.
Net fishing is completely different than hook-and-line fishing. With net fishing, you can catch many fish at the same time, whereas with hook-and-line fishing, you catch only one at a time. Net fishing is also normally done in deep waters, and from a boat.
But both styles of fishing require the fisher to be astute: You don’t just rush down to the water and wildly cast your net or hook at random; you need to fish at the right time and in the right place and with the right equipment, and you need to be PATIENT. (more…)
Since being born-again 20 years ago, I have hesitated at times to call myself a “Christian” – not because I don’t love God and follow Jesus and don’t want to say so openly, but because I don’t identify with most people who call themselves Christian. The name has been so abused and misused and misapplied and watered down that it has lost its original meaning, morphing into the dreaded parody known as “churchianity”. (more…)
PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
When I was first born-again 20 years ago, I remember reading the phrase “pray without ceasing” in one of Paul’s letters and wondering how someone could possibly do that. At the time, prayer for me (because I was a Catholic) meant getting down on my knees and repeating vain repetitions that I either memorized, like the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”, or read straight from a prayer book or prayer card, like a script. I could not understand how people would be able to be down on their knees reciting the Our Father or Hail Mary 24/7 and still carry out their daily duties, but I gave it my best shot. I bought rosary beads, chaplets, and any other prayer beads I could find at the Catholic store and started the daily recitations on my knees. Morning, noon and night, at pre-set times, you could find me in my room, mumbling vain repetitions and counting out beads as eagerly as Matthew had counted coins at his tax collector job before being sprung by Jesus. (more…)
TOP TEN (PLUS ONE) TRAITS OF NEWLY BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIANS
I don’t follow celebrity news, but sometimes celebrity news follows me when I log onto my various email accounts. Because of my Internet searches for “abornagainbeliever” (my website with WordPress), I am bombarded with “recommended for you” suggestions that include “born again”. Recently, as some of you might know, some high-profile celebrities have claimed to have become born-again Christians or to have had a “spiritual experience” that they attribute to God. Whether or not these experiences are genuine spiritual rebirths is for God to know. However, for your edification, and with a nod to celebrity cultural norms, I’ve compiled a “Top 10″ (plus 1) list of the main characteristics of a newly born-again follower of Jesus. You can compare these characteristics against the celebrity reports and draw your own conclusions. (more…)
TEACHING AND PREACHING THE WORD
What did Jesus teach the people in the synagogues during his ministry years? (more…)
LOVE and HELL
People want to love and be loved.
People also want to love and be loved by God.
We are hardwired to love and be loved, whether we believe in God or not, just as we are hardwired to love and be loved by God, whether we believe in him or not.
We are hardwired to love and be loved, and we are hardwired to love God and be loved by him.
Show me someone who claims he or she doesn’t want to love or be loved, and I’ll show you a liar.
Fathers report an instantaneous surge of love for their children when they hold them in their arms for the first time. They say they “fell in love” with the child. That indescribable joy, packaged as the love of a parent for a child, is engendered by God so that children will know unconditional love, however imperfect. Mothers typically develop that love early in their pregnancy so it is already full-blown by the time the child arrives. A parents’ love is a stand-in for God’s love until the children are old enough to decide whether or not they want to receive God’s love and love him in return.
When we come to God as a follower of Jesus, our love for God starts to grow. That part of us that is hard-wired to love God is sparked into life. Sometimes it explodes as a full-blown love, depending on the circumstances, but mostly it grows over time the more we get to know and depend on God: our love for God and our faith in God grow together. (more…)
THE KINDNESS OF A STRANGER
Even as we do our best to follow Jesus, our walk with God is not always without problems.
Sometimes we make mistakes.
Sometimes we make HUGE mistakes and suffer for them.
I made one of those mistakes about 15 years ago. I didn’t turn my back on God, but I did drift from him. I was tempted, I fell, and I suffered accordingly. Part of that suffering was a stint of homelessness. It happened in summer and early fall, so for a time I fooled myself into believing that I was “camping”, but I was definitely homeless. I was also unemployed, so I was penniless on top of being homeless on top of being slightly estranged from God. This was not a good place for a born-again believer to be, but there I was. (more…)
When I was seven years old, I wanted to take ukulele lessons.
A man had come to my Grade 2 class one day and played the ukulele for us. I was in love! I wanted to play the ukulele just like him, so I asked my father after supper to buy me a ukulele so I could take ukulele lessons.
My parents were not wealthy, but we were certainly comfortable. Along with a loving mother and an indulgent father, I had two doting grandmothers, one doting grandfather (the other had died a few years earlier), and an older sister who fought my battles behind the scenes (as I found out years later). I had been reasonably blessed in the brains and looks department as well, so with these natural gifts plus a bit of spoiling on the home front, I expected that my request to my father to buy me a ukulele would go as all my other requests had gone thus far in my life – just a simple “ask, and ye shall receive”.
But not this time.
Immediately after I’d put in what I’d assumed was a routine request to get what I wanted, my father fixed me with a stern look and said: “I’ll buy you a ukulele if you learn three songs on your harmonica by Friday”. A few weeks earlier, the Easter Bunny had brought me a harmonica, but other than for taking it out of its packaging and reading through the song sheet it had come wrapped in, I hadn’t bothered with it at all.
I was stunned by my father’s demand and also a little confused. What did learning three songs on the harmonica have to do with learning how to play the ukulele? This was the first time in my life I hadn’t gotten what I wanted just by asking for it. For seven years, all I had to do was make my wishes known, and I almost always got what I wanted, whether a toy or a treat or to stay up late to watch a movie. I’d never been told that I had to do something else first. This was entirely foreign territory to me.
I remember going to my room and fuming a bit, but I really did want to take ukulele lessons, so I dug out the harmonica from the bottom of my toy box and dutifully learned three songs over the next few days. I don’t remember what those songs were but I do remember playing them rather badly (music, sadly, not being one of my gifts). My father, however, was sufficiently convinced that I did in fact want what I said I wanted, and by Monday, as per his promise, I had my ukulele.
It’s been years since I’ve thought about the harmonica test. It came to mind today when I heard a pastor preaching about peace. He was telling people all they had to do is ask God for peace, and he’d give it to them. That’s when I heard my father telling me I’d have to learn three songs on the harmonica before I could get my ukulele.
Jesus is very clear that God wants to give us good things. He wants to do that for no other reason than that he loves us. He is always wanting to help us and bless us and show us the way home, and if we won’t let him do it (because we’re mad at him or don’t believe in him), he’ll find a way to get someone else to help us, bless us, and show us the way home. But when it comes to getting inner peace from God, there is a very definite formula that must be followed, and it’s not simply putting our hands together and saying “gimme”. That might have worked wonders when we were one year old and could only point and grunt, but it doesn’t work anymore. If we want that spiritual ukulele from God, we’re going to have to learn three songs on our spiritual harmonica.
Jesus tells us that God forgives us when we first forgive others and that God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others. He also reminds us that when we go to lay our gifts and requests at the altar, we first need to make our peace with whomever we have a disagreement, and then we can go to God, lay our offerings before him, and make our requests (in this case, for peace).
I’m not sure why the pastor I heard today skipped over the part about having to learn three songs first before getting our ukulele. He should know better. It’s a spiritual principle that we are to forgive others and make our peace before approaching God with our gifts and requests. We can talk to God anytime we want, but if we want his gift of peace, we had better be prepared to learn three songs on the harmonica first. Otherwise, we’re going to be left with no ukulele and a feeling that is far from peaceful as we wonder why God isn’t answering our prayers.
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in Heaven forgive your trespasses.
THAT FOUR-LETTER F-WORD
You know the one I mean – the one that most Christians don’t want to hear and would rather you not mention. In fact, that four-letter f-word is all but censored in most churches these days so as not to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities. Jesus, on the other hand, was a huge fan of the f-word, doing it whenever he found time and reminding his followers that they’d be doing it someday, too. (more…)