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.

 

Stand aside, let God shine.

God employs strange means to reveal His glory and righteousness among mankind.

Certainly the strangest, is that God’s perfect righteousness is reflected through the testimony of unrighteous sinners.

In this world when you want want to espouse the Glory of something,  you use the best models don’t you?       I’ve never seen a toothpaste commercial  declare their Glory by using people with rotten teeth.

Yet In God’s wisdom, He does just the opposite of the toothpaste commercials.  He reveals His Glory through the Gospel and saves sinners who have not just rotten teeth but rotten hearts and He undertakes to make them point to His perfect Glory and righteousness.

No true Christian could ever say  ,“ I am the poster boy or girl of righteousness” God accepts me because  “I am Good”.

in fact the Gospels very clearly illustrate that it is the broken hearted the “sinners” and the “Poor in spirit” who come into proper relationship to God through the redemption that is in Christ.

A Christian can and should say, “ I am a great sinner and God is a great savior”.

We should make it a practice to never stand in the way of God’s light by pretending to be better than we are.    Instead we should be intentionally Stepping aside from taking glory onto ourselves and point to God and behold God who is truly Glorious.

Beware of trying to make people “believe in you” it is a fools venture.

By saying this I mean that God will be seen in our life as we know and trust in Him and as we look to Him and are changing, admitting our weakness and need of Him. There will be fruit of growth toward Christ likeness but only as we trust in Him.

Others as a by-product will see that God is real and will see through us the Glory of God Himself, even though we may appear smaller to those same people because we have stepped out of Hypocrisy into reality.   And the reality is we are not righteous according to God’s standard.

Jesus accuses the Pharisees ( A very proud and good works oriented people) of keeping  people out of the Kingdom and of refusing to enter into the Kingdom themselves!!!”

The Pharisees did everything to be seen by others as being righteous. They actually did do many “good Deeds” but they blocked the way.  Indeed many looked at them and said,  “wow I could never be like those people they are very devout and I could never be accepted”

The Pharisee loved to see this kind of reaction because it made them feel artificially secure in their own Righteousness. The more “self- righteous” they became ,the further they went from God and God’s true Glory was darkened as they stood in the way.

Thus the Charge from Jesus in Matthew 23:13

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”

As soon as we recognize the true Holy Righteousness of God we will not even dare to think of a    “self –righteousness”.

Instead we  see what God has provided in Jesus Christ  for the forgiveness of sins and as we trust only in His righteousness that is given to us by God as a gift through Jesus Christ, God will rightly receive all the Glory due His name as the only righteous one and as a merciful Savior.

It is this relationship based on salvation ,that we both get out of the way and also point to the Way.

If fact we perfectly testify to  the truth that Jesus Christ  declared when He said.  “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but through me”

And none of us who come this way block the righteousness or glory of God from others sight when we confess that we are sinners saved by grace.

The first outward note of our faith is that we no longer wear a mask before God and it then follows (sometimes slowly) that we no longer wear a mask before men.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Glorious precisely because God Himself is Glorious.

*  “In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

Praise be to Jesus Christ the author and finisher of our faith.

(*In Christ alone- written by Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty)

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.

 

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.

Sin is never general but specific.

I often wonder what it would have been like to be one of Jesus first disciples. I mean what was it like to have no place to stay, to be simply following Jesus along the dusty roads. To see a person who “did not sin”,To hear the sound of his voice, to see people physically healed, delivered from demonic oppression and see marginalized people treated with genuine Godly love and concern.
But of all the things that I wonder about, I wonder most of all what it would have been like after the crowds left, and Jesus and his disciples sat huddled around a fire sharing food and just talking together.
More specifically these men were in the presence of a person who knew them better than they knew themselves.
They had often witnessed Jesus “knowing what people thought” He often confronted people at the level of what they thought not what they said. the disciples would surely have been aware that he could read their thoughts too.
We all have very specific struggles with sin, envy, lust, pride, gossip unbelief etc.
I wonder what it would be like to open up in one of those conversations around the firelight with Jesus about those struggles. You could never do it without being specific. He knows everything and it would be pretty useless to hold back.

But it would be pretty difficult at the same time. Jesus himself was without sin. He could however be trusted to deal with the heart of sinners.
When I think of this I remember that I actually can open up to Him. I can do it anytime because He yet lives and I do.
Whether it is the sin of Lust (like Pornography which I have had to deal with and still watch out for in my own life) or it is gossip, (which may be your treasured sin). If you are a Christian Jesus will confront, challenge and forgive you as long as you keep close and learn to trust Him as the savior that He is.

I am a sinner and I know it. He died for sinners to take away our guilt and rose again to restore us continually to God. Get real….we all need to get real.

The warriors cry and the victory of Christ.

The Christian life is clearly described in the bible as a life of ongoing battle, as a spiritual warfare, a wrestling between the Spirit and the flesh as clash between light and darkness.

If you are a Christian you know it well. If you aren’t I could never convince you of intensity of that battle or of the joy of victories in that life of faith and the sorrow of defeats or of the time and energy spent in regrouping to fight those battles again, [hopefully] having learned from the past. Christians are engaged in battle often against their own inner desires and temptations.

If you are not a Christian then you will not know any of this reality. Never the less you may find what follows interesting and perhaps have your eyes opened too.

Today I will add my voice to a battle cry not as a spectator but a warrior. (One actively engaged in battle) My victories and strength come from the Lord alone. My failures are mine alone.

Perhaps what follows has been your battle too.

There is no way to ease in to speaking about the topic of Pornography so let’s get direct.

These are some statistics gathered and published by the “Safe Eyes” accountability software website.

About 64-68% of young adult men and about 18% of women use porn at least once every week.

Another 17% of men and another 30% of women use porn 1-2 times per month.

But what about us Christians?

Timothy .C Morgan of the Publication “Christianity today” states,
“Don’t assume that porn isn’t a problem in the church. One evangelical leader was skeptical of survey findings that said 50 percent of Christian men have looked at porn recently. So he surveyed his own congregation. He found that 60 percent had done so within the past year, and 25 percent within the past 30 days. Other surveys reveal that one in three visitors to adult websites are women.”

It has also been noted that 51% of Pastors said that pornography was a possible temptation. (To themselves)

“Pornography is prevalent everywhere today. In fact, one in eight online searches is for pornography. Because Porn use thrives in secrecy, many Church members are trapped in a cycle of sin and shame, thinking that they’re the only ones facing this temptation.” (safe eyes)

Those are the realities. The light destroys darkness and before I move on as a Christian and as a warrior I must acknowledge that this has been battle ground for me.

My close Christian friends know this and as I have made disclosure and sought accountability I have found that many have sheepishly acknowledged that this is an area of battle for them too.
You are not alone. Don’t ever believe that.

Stay tuned this is only the beginning and because of Christ I have no fear in allowing light to overtake my darkness. For “He alone is my rock and shield”

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.

How God uses our enemies for our good

One of the most interesting and unexpected realities that appear in the Biblical narrative is that God’s will is performed through the rebellion of His enemies.

This unexpected reality becomes even more interesting when we clearly see that God uses the enemies of his children to shape His children and that though we may have enemies who mean us harm they are actually doing us good and can’t help but serve God’s purpose in our lives.

Oh, it is meant as evil from them and it will come as a very painful experience to us (in the short term) but since it is God who is above them, it comes out for our good in the final end.

In the story of Joseph (Gen 37) we find that his brothers were jealous of him because he was favoured and were angry with him because of His dreams which showed his older brothers one day serving him and bowing before him. Out of this jealousy and anger they decide to sell Joseph into slavery and tell his father Jacob, that Joseph had been killed in the field by a wild beast.

Over a period of many years (sold into slavery) and much suffering, Joseph eventually comes to the place where He is placed in a position second only to Pharaoh and basically rules all of Egypt. Joseph, through the providence and leading of God prepares for a coming famine by storing food beforehand. The famine then causes all surrounding regions to come to Egypt for rations of food. Eventually his own brothers come to Egypt (having long forgotten their younger brother), find in the end that their brother is the means of their deliverance.

Though they do not recognise Joseph (as they bow before him) Joseph recognises them. Joseph at one point is so overcome with emotion, and he quickly walks into another room and weeps, (though not in front of his brothers), nor does he let on that he is their brother.

He could take revenge but he longs for them to find blessing and eventually chooses to reveal himself. He forgives them and embraces them. He then provides for them and shows favour to them. When he reveals his identity to them they are stricken with heart pounding fear (Joseph was in the place of judgement and he certainly had not forgotten what his brothers intentions and actions had done to him)

Joseph forgives them and makes this amazing statement not denying their  earlier treachery and the intentions behind it.

Gen 50:20

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

In this case there was mercy and redemption for even the enemies and many others as well.

In my next post I will show how God uses our enemies to deal with our own sin. The same reality applies.

The Gospel believed and applied.

Dr Martin Lloyd Jones, is a master at exposing the very roots of spiritual depression, as we soon find out in Chapter IV of Spiritual Depression.

He is minister/physician who is straightforward in his approach to spiritual matters and like one who with great concern grabs his parishioner/patient  by the collar and speaks steadily and truthfully to him about the seriousness of his  spiritual condition and the application of  a sure remedy.

The Root of spiritual depression in the life of the believer, to summarize Lloyd-Jones,  is essentially a belief in some lie or deception of the enemy of our soul. Lloyd-Jones reminding believers that,

”  We are brought into this marvelous life, this spiritual condition by the grace of God . But we must never forget that over against us is  another power. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God,but the Bible tells us that we are opposed by another kingdom, which is also a spiritual kingdom, and that all along we are being attacked and besieged.”

He also picks up the theme of  the “Subtlety” of our adversary who seeks to destroy the work of God and especially the enjoyment of the knowledge of the goodness of God. Therefore we face opposition in the form of  manifold temptation and discouragement. It is to be somewhat expected and I so heartily agree.

Jones  in speaking of the Remedy  for spiritual depression asserts, that  the reality of  what God has done in Jesus Christ by providing forgiveness for sinners who will believe  in Him ( The Gospel), must be taken into all aspects of our human personality. That the glorious  message of the gospel must permeate —- Our Mind—-Our Heart—Our Will.

That humankind ( Made in His image) has been designed in such a way that our personality, (intellect, emotions, desires) might be  captivated by him in the gospel message.  the message of the gospel must be first believed then applied.

Romans 6:17

” But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”

From this short verse, Lloyd -Jones unpacks that  “…that form of doctrine…” referred to by Paul, is the very Gospel message  which delivers from the power of sin to condemn and to which we were all helpless to escape in our own efforts.

Lloyd-Jones goes on to say that this  Gospel reality ( the complete forgiveness of sins through the completed work of Jesus) must first be accepted and understood with the mind. It is a (doctrine of truth), then it must be applied to the heart (where so many of our troubles arise and the reality of emotional instability, fears and desires compete) finally we are to take the Gospel to our will so that from our heart where our affections are turned from self to the joy of Christ  we willingly obey .

Knowing with our mind the truth of the gospel, believing in our heart his love for us and  willingly choosing those things that glorify Christ and keep us from those thoughts and desires that  bring us down and make us unfruitful, conflicted and discouraged.

Chapter IV has been very good for the soul!!!