Churches are not microbreweries.

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West coast culture is very laid back, from California U.S.A to Vancouver B.C there is a “Cascadia vibe” a desire to move out of the mainstream.  Coffee bars and micro-breweries have been the brew house of Hipster-ism.

Hipster-ism has developed and moved across the entire face of North America on both sides of the 49th Parallel.   Springing up came micro-breweries.  Old Brick buildings were revamped with rustic wood, sheet metal décor and low lighting.

Hipsters –ism began as a movement to be un-mainstream to seek to be an un-branded sort of cool, sipping on lattes and sleeves of hoppy beer in a relaxed atmosphere hipster-ism has now become mainstream, and become a brand.

But what does this “new brand” have to do with the church?

Let me say first…

I t is true that Christian liberty may allow you to visit a micro-brewery with its sheet metal and rustic wood  and brick walls and imbibe in one of Martin Luther’s favorite beverages .

(He once praised his wife for making the best beer).

Of course that liberty, if you have it, is not to be used to hurt those with a weaker conscience by flaunting that liberty.    That is sin.

Now let me say this…

We ought to take great issue with the Micro-brewery branding of the local church.

Have you seen it?

Churches now beginning as, or moving toward an atmosphere of micro- brewery like funky stylings of décor, low lighting, and it’s all too casual approach to God and His word.

The world has enough Micro- Breweries and gentrified coffee shops.

Our culture has enough of these Hip things we have enough of the Branding and posturing that goes along with self-identification with all things trendy.

What we need in ourselves as those who are Christians and what those need who are not yet Christians is an atmosphere where the intangible reality of the Holy Spirit of God dwells.

In such an environment you may feel both comforted and uncomfortable at the same time.  God is merciful, God is Holy.

God is not Hip. He does not brand himself in the culture of this world.

God is Holy and where the Holy Spirit is who exalts Jesus the Son we find a Kingdom not a Culture.

We find a Kingdom that is not of this world, a Kingdom that Has a King who bestows eternal life to those who turn to Him in genuine faith.   We don’t walk in and order what we want, find a comfortable seat and relax.   If that’s what you want, go to the micro-brewery or the gentrified coffee shop.  But don’t confuse the Kingdom of Heaven with the Culture of the world.

Our Christian liberty is extremely important but our christian liberty can never… ever… lead the way, in either our worship of God  or union with Christ.

If I were an unbeliever  seeking God and decided I would like to really discover this true and living God who created me,  I would be very disappointed to see Him simply another Brand in a culture of over- branded-ness.

Let us never make God out to be a Brand He’s too Good for that, let us not confuse the Culture of the world for the Kingdom of God.

Do not brand your church, instead be a living body of believers repenting of sin and conforming to Christ. Carry the aroma eternity and simply speak the message of salvation through Christ that is of another Kingdom.

 

Acknowledge sin, acknowledge Christ

Every gardener  knows that in order for something to grow upward it must first grow downward.  A healthy plant or tree must have a  deep  root system in order to be healthy enough to grow strong and produce fruit.

What is true of physical living things is  also true of spiritually living people. It is no accident that God created our environment to instruct us about how life works.

To plant properly you must dig deep, and  break up the ground so that the seed which is planted can grow deep roots. If you dig too shallow, the roots, when they grow will stop growing where they meet the hard layer and the root system will be hindered.

But the planting area must also be free of competing vegetation because competing vegetation or weeds will choke out the tender plant by sapping its nutrients and will also block its access to sunshine.

This applies to our Spiritual lives as well and we have a strong  directive from God in the O.T as to its spiritual application.

Jeremiah 4:3 NLT

“This is what the LORD says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns.

And from the New Testament we have a directive as well in the parable of the sower. In Matthew 13 Jesus begins by saying that some seed is stolen away and never germinates at all. (The Unbeliever) .

But even of the soil that received, Jesus  says to us  that the soil with no depth prevents the seedling from taking proper root and the plant dies. Thorns (uncleared ground) also choke out the seed.

So Spiritually speaking we are to be weed free and to go deep.

I think J.I Packer captures the essence of the situation in His statement,

“He that has learned to feel his sin, and to trust Christ as Savior, has learned the two hardest and greatest lessons in Christianity.”  J.I. Packer.

To  “feel our sin,”  is to throw the spade in the ground of our hearts “Hard Places”, and turn it over. It is a kind of violence really, just like breaking up tough ground, but oh so necessary.

This is the preparation for root growth. The spade must penetrate. As Dr. Packer says, its a “hard lesson”.

This activity of “feeling our sin”  is a means to an end… that we might grow upward and our upward growth happens when we see, that as bad as we are , Christ is a more than adequate Savior for us.

  But we must trust Him.

In trowing in the spade and  “feeling our sin” ,we will discover our inner motives that lead us into sin and be shocked, appalled, dismayed and depressed.  (I hope you read the puritans Like John Owen, Richard Baxter and John Bunyan)

But as we look to and trust in  our Savior, Jesus Christ, despite our knowledge of our own sinfulness, we find that in Him we are made alive, forgiven, loved and cleansed, we are given gifts and made to produce fruit.

Fresh righteousness  will appear on our branches and others will want to know our forgiving empowering Savior too!

Now let us keep growing and go and make disciples who will do the same.

 

Don’t be a Coward

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word  coward in its noun form as…

“A person who is contemptibly lacking in the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.”

Coward in it’s adjectival form is defined as someone being …

“Excessively afraid of danger or pain”

Cowardice is not approved of by God.  In fact it’s downright dangerous, much more dangerous than the momentary loss, danger or pain that a coward chooses to avoid.

Revelation 21:8 speaking of final judgment is very strong in its description of the kinds of thing that we must repent of in this life through Christ and it starts with calling out the Cowards.

Revelation 21:8 is strong stuff.

Revelation 21:8

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

 

So with those strong words in mind, where cowardice appears as the first indictment against the damned  it is good to examine cowardice.

what does it  looks like when it shows up in our world and how can we  ourselves avoid being cowards?

To clarify, cowardice is not just fear  Cowardice is much more than fear, it is excessive fear.  Every one deals with fear and  it can show up in any heart yet that does not mean we are a coward.   Cowardice  is excessive  fear leading one to act, or fail to act,  solely based on one’s own  self-interest.

At the heart of cowardice is the primary motivation of self-preservation and a complete concern for one’s own well-being and comfort in the face of a situation that requires self sacrifice or would cause, personal loss or pain. The coward calculates everything through a grid that centers on the self and selfish desires.

But what does cowardice look like?

Here is a short-list of examples of the “Common Coward”.

Cowards can look like the person who takes another persons life in order to gain worldly possessions, position or seeks to destroy another  persons life in retaliation for injured pride.  Some even do under a religious guise.           A  “Murderer”  is a Coward.

Cowards can look like the guy that fathers a child and refuses to take his responsibility to raise that child.  He gives no concern for the well being of the child or the mother.    Mothers are certainly capable of this too.       An  “Irresponsible” person is a Coward.

Cowards can look like the person who  focuses on career and builds a comfortable nest egg and never gives to the causes of others around them who may be in desperate need. (remember the rich man and Lazarus). Some may give but mainly for being recognized by others.            A “Greedy” person is a Coward.

Cowards can look like the person who refuses to work (though they have able bodies and minds along with opportunities to do so) because they can lean on others to keep them comfortable.    A “Slothful” person is a Coward.

Cowards can look like the person who insulates themselves against unpleasant thoughts concerning their own mortality, Gods existence, and whether there exists an ultimate purpose for their life.  They are their own God and make an Idol out of themselves.          An “Idolator” is a Coward.

This is by no means a complete list but I think the point has been made.

God requires of us to trust and obey even if it will cause discomfort, loss, pain and rejection.

In the process you will enjoy the fruit of the Holy Spirit and partake of the divine nature. No one partaking of the divine nature can be a Coward.

The opposite of cowardice is not Heroism but it is Faith in God, (which may certainly lead to actions of heroic proportion).

I say to myself ….and to all.

Don’t be a coward.

Follow Christ wherever he may lead.

God is able to make us stand in Christ in any and every situation.

Unleavened bread, a picture of authenticity.

When we think of a relationship with God we intuitively know that we must always be real with him.

After all, God knows the heart. ‘Nothing is hidden from His sight”.  A person in true prayer before God comes quickly to recognize that there is no choice but to  be open and sincere, to be “unleavened”

We also have a wonderful promise of assurance that as we do come to Him, even to confess our many faults,—as David well knew ,— God will not reject us.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;   A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:17

This of course is a principle of an Eternal Kingdom, where God ,…

“…who was and is and is to come”,      reigns now both in heaven and the hearts of His own children.

Yet, how difficult it is to be real in “This present  earthly world or kingdom”!!!

It is not a part of the value system of this” present earthly  kingdom” where God is ignored, denied, and where men  hide from, and even  hate God.

As a principle, “authenticity” may be given lip service and may even be applauded to a certain degree in this world. ( Of course all within respectable bounds). Never to acknowledge ones full spiritual poverty.  “Lets Just all agree that were OK and just need to “self improve”.

Personal reputation or the keeping up of false appearances will be the undoing of us if we try to hold on to it.  Holding on to this just shows that the “fear of man” (what people think of us) is more important than “The fear of God”.

Being completely unleavened is a work that only the Holy Spirit can perform in the heart.

As John the Baptist stood crying out on the shores of the Jordan, “Repent and be baptized” , it was those who knew themselves to be “Poor in spirit” and who desired above all else to be right with God who were drawn toward God ,  it was those ones who could  …step out from the crowd …and  identify themselves before their peers as needing God more than a reputation before man.  There stepping out  was not out of an abundance of personal virtue but out of a lack of it.   They chose to identify with God even though they would forever be self identified sinners in need of rescue.

And the really amazing thing is, that Jesus himself  at the very beginning of His ministry, stepped into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John!!

Why?!!!        I mean even John Knew that Jesus had no need to repent of sin. John almost refused to do it,  stating  to Jesus. “It is I who NEED be baptized by you and yet you come to me?”

Jesus stepped into those waters because He came to identify with “Sinners”.

Why?        Because Jesus would take upon Himself the very sins of those whom He came to save.

This is basic Christianity; Basic Gospel.  Lose this and there is no Gospel to tell.

Jesus is “The bread of Life”. The true and perfect unleavened —“bread of Life ,“who came down from heaven.

The way to God is through the “unleavened way”.  Coming as sinner to God through Christ, who identifies with sinners who are willing to let their knowledge of spiritual poverty drive them to Him.

The Law of God against sinners stands.  Yet as the Apostle Paul proclaims, “Christ is the end of the law for all who believe”, because Christ fulfills the law for us.

In the end, when this present  life is slipping away— and it will— our reputation before men will be a hollow comfort, even a torture to us, if we have not allowed the ultimate reality of the kingdom of God to supersede this temporary reality so that we act according to “Ultimate Reality” .

We see this if we follow the logic of Jesus, speaking of the “leavened” pharisees who stood upon their own righteousness and reputation before men, ” I tell you the truth they have already have their reward in full”.  Jesus said such are excluded from the Kingdom of God because they refuse to enter into it.

But to have God Himself, and the knowledge of His forgiveness and Love , because we have settled the issue through relationship to Christ while we could, will be more than a comfort at death.

It will be the entrance of eternal Joy, to a degree that as we slip away into Gods eternal presence, we will know the full, undiluted, unleavened joy of perfect fellowship through the eternal ages!!!   It is those who are”in Christ” that will enter.

That day will  most certainly come to all and the eternal realities will roll back every covering anyway so why not come and stand in the light of Christ as a trophy of God’s grace while we live?  Now is the time to be unleavened the cost will seem like nothing compared to what we gain in Christ!!

As John Newton , the author of Amazing Grace so famously said ,

“Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

Oh Lord, forgive, love, cleanse, guide and transform us as we look to you in unleavened honesty may we have no less than all you offer in Christ. Amen.

J.I Packer and his challenge to the church

  J.I Packer: A Christian worth listening to…

J.I packer, is a British-born Canadian Christian theologian in the  Low- Church- Anglican and Calvinist  traditions. He currently serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at  Regent College in Vancouver British Columbia. He is considered one of the most influential Evangelicals in North America.

He has been the theologian emeritus of the Anglican Church in North America since its inception in 2009.    (courtesy of Wiki)

J.I Packer has written many  good theological books and articles including one of his best know entitled , “Knowing God”.

Make him a part of your theological library, ( I can count 5 of His books on my shelf currently)

What a privileged we have to speak to one another– and to listen– across denominational lines concerning struggles and the realities of our faith. we may even issue challenges to one another in the spirit of love as J.I Packer does in this short video

J.I Packer is a very wise elder brother in Christ and my prayer is  “Lord gives us more men like this!!”

 

Oh the Value of a bible in your hand!!!

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Technology is moving at the speed of light.  The common thumb-drive that fits in your pocket can potentially hold more information than the original NASA computers that were involved in the moon landing. Yes a thumb-drive!!

Your cell phone is way, way beyond that!!!

Technology is a great tool, it can be used in so many ways and the applications are virtually endless. Technology is very useful.

But I am going to raise an issue here that will sound very “Old School” and in fact it is, “Old School”.

The issue stems from a strong conviction that was ingrained into me during my Theological Schooling and in particular my Preaching (elocution) classes.

It was taught to us, that when  you are going to preach, you must enter the pulpit “Carrying your Bible”  and then you are to place that bible deliberately on the pulpit in an attitude and gesture of reverence.  Then you were to pray over it then read from its pages.

To that picture, let me add the words of a Pastor whose ministry I sat under for some time.  This pastor told me, “When you preach, STAND BEHIND THE WORD”.

“When you read the passage …”, I was told, “ …pick it up off the pulpit, hold it in your hands and show where it comes from”    ( Thus teaching them how to read it)

In other words, this is not about you, it is about God, His word and what He has to say to “US” today.

So what does this have to do with tech?

When that Bible is placed on the pulpit everyone knows its function, its power, its purpose and if we are “standing behind it” as a teacher or preacher we will know its application too and will be able to convey it.

If I carry my laptop, tablet or whatever into the pulpit, it is a common thing in my hand, often used for common purposes.  It just cannot convey the same singularity of focus and expectation required for a very uncommon and eternal message.

Oh sure you can preach a fine sermon, a very biblical sermon in fact from a tech screen.

But…

The value of a bible in your hand is beyond measure, not only for preaching but for your personal time with the Lord.

The only “call” that you will receive or “text” you will be presented with will come from God Himself, with a Bible in your hand.

Don’t get me wrong I have a bible app on my phone and top notch Bible study software on my lap-top.     But oh… there is nothing like a bible in your hand!!!

Oh, the feel of it when opening it up; the deliberate turning off of distractions to focus on it. The turning of the pages , back and forth. It catches your tears when they fall on the page, the pages crease when you grip it in frustration over passages you struggle over or in times of coming to grips with conviction.

There is nothing like the value of a Bible in your hand.

 

Is Jesus a friend of yours?

Jesus Christ, in the Gospels is shown to be a divine/ human person that unsettled others.

On the one hand He himself was a person who could never be accused of sin. By sin I am referring to a breach of any of God’s laws either in action, motive or thought. He was not like other men, ( not like us). Yet He purposely disassociated with the religious elite, the upper crust of Judaism the honoured, the self righteous. Those who looked good.

     On the other hand Jesus spent His time, energy and compassion on those who were obviously sinners; people whose sins were easily seen. People who in all actuality are like you and I. He was continually with drunks, prostitutes, swindlers, the dishonoured, the unrighteous. He befriended them and even ate in their homes eating what they prepared for Him.

  All mankind are sinners to be sure but it is the sinner who knows himself to be a sinner that is closest to the heart of God. It is he who is able to enter through the narrow gate and find the embrace of Christ.

   A dynamic that I have come across in my Christian experience is that often in the church (Which belongs to Christ) or just among other Christians we acknowledge sin as a general reality and that Christ forgives us our sins, and there it is, a sort of confession without actually confessing to anything in particular.

  But let us ask ourselves the question, “Was our last sinful action, whether a breach of Gods law in action, motive or thought some kind of hazy general thing or a specific thing?” Of course it was a specific breach a nameable offence an actual sin. Lying, coveting, lust etc. are not general but specific.

   So I pray, “ Lord help us to be real, to be honest to be broken but to have you as our Lord, savior and friend, save us Oh Lord from ourselves help us to love and uphold each other as redeemed sinners”

So what happens if a person opens the door to his or her offence?

What should happen?

There religious elite of Jesus day had within them a steadfast refusal to actually be broken. It was undignified, it was beneath the status that they loved so much. Are we like them?

Think about it….. are we like them?

   Are we so afraid if being real, of being broken? We must be ware that we don’t become like them because we will not prosper in our relationship with God if we do. We will become isolated, we will become critical and hardened.

   It was the unbroken Pharisee who would accuse Jesus of being a “ friend of sinners”. A title that fits Him perfectly!!!!

  He is my friend I hope and pray He is yours too. I am on a quest in my Christian life to seek out those like me, “actual sinners who need actual salvation” and to be open with them. He has of late been answering that prayer.