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Who Teaches Canaries

Posted on by Ken Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

As believers, has God given such a burden to perform in living the Christian Life that we simply cannot accomplish it, or have we simply taken on a burden of our own design so that we cannot successfully experience the Christian Life? It’s a question that we should consider occasionally, so that we can rightly divide the Word of Truth. Evaluating the purpose of our performance will help us not to burnout, crash, give up or get discouraged. After all, Jesus taught us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Did that sink in? Paul further states that if we took up Christ’s yoke, we would find rest! We would not find more work than we could possibly handle. Is that our experience? If not, we need to take another look at what we are ‘picking up.’

Jesus certainly indicated that we would have much to ‘deal with’ in this life. Some parts of this life would be ‘heavy’ and cumbersome. But, just as importantly, He indicated that one of His purposes in coming was to help us through the tough times that would occur to us, or the tough times that we create ourselves. Scripture reveals that Jesus is the true vine and without him nothing could produce the Christian life. (John 15) To be successful living the Christian Life, we will need to make Him the source of that life. Not as just our leader into Truth, but also permitting Christ’s life to live through us. Our role is to bear much fruit. But, it should be His fruit, not our own. That’s one of the places we run into trouble living the Christian life. It gets ‘heavy’ trying to do the Christian thing in our own ability, but we should never have picked up that heavy burden. His ability propels us through the Christian life. Christ is the author and finisher of our Faith. He has started that process in each of us, and He alone will be able to complete it. The Gospel life is about Him, not so much about us. Taking up the Christian life is to take up His life, not our own.

We are encouraged to mount up on eagles’ wings. Eagles move effortlessly through the air. They appear to be resting rather than flying. How many trees do you know that think to themselves, “I’m a tree and trees have to bear fruit.” No, trees bear fruit because they are trees! Nothing on their part is required other than being created a tree. When we are ‘created’ anew, the life we bring forth can come from the very source of having become what God intended us to be. Who teaches a canary to sing? It simply sings because it’s a canary! It does what canaries do best. It does that because of what it is; it does not do anything to become a canary. Christians should not perform and bear much fruit to be Christians; they bear much fruit because they are Christians.

Resting in Christ gives us the opportunity to relax, trust and believe that God will live through us. We can serve God best by yielding our lives to His ‘living’ rather than serving Him with our living. Now I know that sounds ‘goofy’ compared to how we usually talk of serving God, but we have to get in the order of God to experience God. After all, laying down our life doesn’t mean going out in the street and getting in front of cars. It means putting our life at rest so that God can use it for His purpose. I remember a teaching by Bill Gillham years ago. Bill taught us that ground is just dirt unless God is present. With the presence of God it becomes holy ground. God’s presence in our lives is what makes anything we do holy. We are not that by ourselves, even when we are the best ‘ourselves’ we can be!

During our most recent Celebration, Mike Middleton and I were talking about how to live the Christian life. Mike made a statement that I have been thinking about ever since. We were discussing the necessity of reading scripture and keeping our minds on Christ. We both agreed study is a very important part of staying on course with God. However, in that same conversation, Mike noted that study alone would not permit us to experience the Christian life in full. He suggested that the Christian life is like many of the artists that we bring in concert. Once they have learned the lyrics to their songs they no longer need to read the words to sing the song. They sing them effortlessly, without having to even think about the lyrics. They have placed those lyrics in their hearts and draw on them without having to have a sheet of paper with those words on it. That’s not to say that we should not read the Word of God-obviously we should. There is no substitute for reading the Word of God. The Word of God is exactly what turned so many of our lives around. But reading and doing are not exclusive of one another. Reading the Word and doing the Word is the best mix. Jesus taught that believers who hear the Word and do the Word is like a man who built on a strong foundation. When the storms came he could not be shaken. But, he that hears and does not do them, the ruin of his house was great. (Luke 6:46-49) He did not say that they were condemned. Rather that only reading them without doing them was not enough to stabilize our walk. Doing the Word became possible when the Spirit of God came and re-birthed us, empowering us to live the Christian life- just like that canary can sing without ever being taught to sing.

Most of us have read stacks of books, listened to cabinets full of cassettes and still asked what might be called ‘silly little questions’ about the Will of God, seemingly stumped about what we think God wants us to do next. By this time, some of the teaching in the Gospel should have become natural for us to do, things that we do so instinctively we hardly think of them at all. Things that let us do the Gospel as easy as that canary singing. We don’t work hard to do them; they have become part of our natural expression. Jesus taught of a group that was always learning but never coming to the Truth. Always memorizing but never living scripture. I believe the knowledge of God is in the reading– preservation of God is in the doing.

Jesus wanted us to take up his ‘burdens’ and discover they are natural for us. They are not too much to carry. Those things He asks us to do are possible because He is the one who accomplishes the task, carrying them for us. Not something that we have to struggle with or go out and figure out the mystery to. The Christian life was not given to us as a puzzle, but something that even a little child could experience. In fact, it is as a little child that we will have to come in order to experience the Christian life. It’s a song sung from the heart rather than the head. It’s a song whose lyrics have been placed in our heart just as that canary’s song. Canaries can’t go to canary school– they just draw on the song God gave them to sing.

Sojourning

Posted on by Ken Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

“Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you…but rejoice inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that when His Glory shall be revealed, you may be revealed, that you may be glad also with exceeding Joy”. 1 Peter 4:12

That’s a great promise. I don’t know about you, but I need some of that exceeding Joy from time to time. I liked using Peter’s quote this month. We have just had a terrific experience learning more about Peter and his friendship with the Christ during the three-day run of The Rock & The Rabbi at the Marion Civic Center. We saw Peter a bit over confident, a little aggressive. We witnessed his weaknesses, his cowardliness, his humiliation and his restoration. It was just a special time for each that attended the musical. Many attended two times, and some were there to see it all three times. It was a strong presentation of a very special teaching about the life of Christ. After seeing this production, I’m impressed that The Rock &The Rabbi might be the best communicator of the Gospel I’ve seen in a long time. Thank you for attending the event. We look forward to creating that type of time together again in the future. And the answer is ‘yes’; we have invited the Rock and the Rabbi back someday.

Now, back to Peter’s statement. We all have to ‘fess up’ to being a little uncomfortable in the world that we are presently living in. I’ve never seen so much pressure from so many sides, occurring all at one time to so many friends, neighbors and family. In this scripture, Peter was expressing what was true for him then, and for future generations- that there would be a ‘hardness’ to this life, a hardness that would be common to everyone. Peter would not have found it surprising that we might find it ‘strange’ that our new life in Christ would be put to the test. He had a few tests himself- failed most of them but continued on. The Greek word used in the text for strange is one that means ‘not of our family’ or ‘one coming from another country’. Because Christians are aliens in this life, we will always feel this uneasiness here. It is very much like going someplace where you don’t know the language, the customs, or your ‘way ‘round’ the country.
Peter says we are ‘sojourning’ or dwelling as strangers here. (1Peter 1:17) ‘Just passin’ through, thank you!’ He warns us that our citizenship will be challenged. That’s because we are citizens of a place not made with human hands. (Heb. 11) We are temporarily traveling through, having no intention of this being our destination. I remember the lyric from a Geoff Moore song from years ago:
“There is a place where truth will always be spoken and promises can be believed
A place where your heart cannot be broken and loved ones never leave…
That’s when I’ll know I’m home.”

Not being home yet can give you the ‘creepy-crawlies’ some days. I know we are not comfortable with what the world has to offer, and it seems that we can’t get our hands on all that God promises just yet, either. But, even in this environment, we can be comforted! But that comfort can only be experienced by the presence of the Holy Spirit of God. That ‘Comforter’ can settle our hearts and minds. Psalm 91 describes a people that dwelled in ‘a secret place’- a people that dwelled in the shadow of the Most High. When the going gets tough, when the heat in this life gets very hot, we can find a shadowed place to rest. It is His refuge and His fortress. I’m sure that’s the only resting place we will find on this journey. Jesus taught of an abiding peace, something that would dwell within us. Something that we could carry from place to place along the journey that would cause us to find that ever-elusive ‘fullness of Joy.’ John 15 identifies the mystery of walking around in this ‘strange’ place and being peaceful at the same time. If we keep His Commandments (simply, love one another with His Love), we will abide in His Love and find His Joy in this very strange place. That’s the secret place. It’s a place that eludes so many. However, that’s exactly how we will find the Peace of God. It is a Peace that exceeds our understanding. We may still face the pressures of this world and be tested to the point of weakness, but we can find a refuge in His Love. His Love empowers us to overcome that pressure. It’s not our strength that does that, it’s His Love discovered in our weakness that does that.

Home for us will come at some other time, in some other place. Here, we will need to “rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him, fear not thyself because someone prospers in his way or because a man brings wicked devices…but those that wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” (Psalms 37) We are encouraged to be of good cheer, literally be of good courage in a place that is not our home. Don’t lose your confidence just because we face trials; rather find your confidence in the middle of them. While we will not enjoy the test, we will come to know where ‘we are at’ concerning some things we are to trust in. We will discover what we really believe about this Gospel and whether it will be the ‘all in all’ as promised in the Scriptures.

Peter was tested, seemed to have failed the test, and yet on the other side of that experience was Peter’s revelation of the Christ. If we hold on, that will happen to us on the other side of our test as well. I’m not cheering for trials, I’m just suggesting that Jesus looked into the world system, evaluated it, and reported to us that there would be tribulations. He then cheered for us not to get discouraged, not to be over-whelmed by them.

There is a famous story of Smith Wigglesworth, who one night as he slept woke up to discover Satan himself standing at the foot of the bed. Wigglesworth reportedly said, “Oh, it’s only you,” rolled over and went back to sleep.

That’s the kind of confidence that I think God wants us to have in the middle of our trial. It’s that peace we can find even in intimidating times. Wigglesworth was confident that he knew someone more powerful than his immediate trouble and could rest in the knowledge of knowing Christ. Can we be that confident? I think so. Come on! Surely we can do better than Peter!

Abraham

Posted on by Ken Posted in Newsletters | Leave a comment

There’s more that dances on the prairies
Than the wind
More that pulses in the ocean
Than the tide
There’s a love that is fiercer
Than the love between friends
More gentle than a mother’s
When her baby’s at her side…

Rich Mullins ‘If I Stand’

From the foundation of the world God had a desire and a plan that people would be so motivated by His Love toward them that they would respond to that Love with Love to Him and to one another. They would be a people that could live out of their hearts having had the Love of God imparted there by the Holy Spirit of God. That desire would mean the those people would not just be ‘good’ people, ethical people, but that they would be new creatures in their ability to respond with a Love that was not an emotional feeling but a resource drawn from the very heart of God. It would be a people so changed that they would have a Love buried deep in their hearts that did not depend on feelings but on God’s ability to Love. A creature that could draw on an unction in order to live the Christian life. We know God’s Love is possible, after all God so loved that He gave to a very unworthy and unlovable creatures like you and me.

Recently, I’ve been reading Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard. In it, he speculates (probably 25 times) on the scriptures that tell of Abraham’s love of God. Abraham loved God so much that when God told him to offer up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice, Abraham obeyed. God called

Abraham and Abraham answered: Here I am. We ought to note in particular the trusting and God-devoted disposition, the bold confidence in confronting the test, in freely and undauntedly answering: Here I am. Is it like that with us, or are we eager to evade the severe trials when we see them coming, wish for a remote corner of the world in which to hide, wish that the mountains would conceal us, or impatiently try to roll the burden off our shoulders and onto others…(p.239)

Abraham sought no consolation. He simply rose early in the morning. He was at Moriah by daybreak. He cut the wood. He bound Isaac. He lit the fire. He drew the knife. He was prepared to do as God ask even to the point of loosing everything that was dear to him, every hope for the future, lose the child of promise.

Can you get inside Abraham’s mind for a moment? Can you image the terror of such an act? Can you see the hesitation in Abraham’s raised hand? Can you see Abraham’s face? Image the fear of Isaac as his father prepared the offering. What would have been the outcome had Abraham actually sacrificed the boy? What would have been said and done back home? We do not have to contemplate whether Abraham really was prepared to follow through, his eye was straight ahead, not looking right or left: he was very definitely going to do as God had requested.

God went to an unimaginable depth to reveal that Love to the world. It is a love not based on the emotion of being in love. It comes from being Love, an involuntary Love. One that doesn’t come because of effort to Love, but a Love that comes from having to Love. Needing to Love when the object of that Love of God is unlovely. Try that if you can. Trying will be all we can do. But image being able to Love the unlovely without trying. Having the ability to do so but none of the feeling to do so. We will need help doing that, need ability we do not have ourselves. We will have to draw on the ability of God to do that kind of Love. How do you think Abraham felt going up to Moriah? Because of his love and devotion to God, he hurried early in the morning. I assure you he did not feel like hurrying.
Jesus is The Father’s expression of God’s Love for us. Some of that picture is almost humorous. Imagine being the Son of God and being scolded by his mother and father for making them worry. Or you’re the Son of God working in a carpenter’s shop and Joseph is teaching and telling him how to build a stool. What do you think Jesus knew about creating things!

The picture continues until we come to the flogging. Here the flesh was literally torn from his back, a crown of thorns place on his head, nails in his wrist. It was a death that was determined to be so horrible it discouraged any one that was watching from resisting Roman rule. Here, we get the image of Abraham and Isaac repeated with full discloser of how Isaac must have felt and the severity of Abraham’s deed on Mt. Moriah.

God so loved the world that he gave! To Love you so much is the only way that The Father could have watched His Son suffer on that cross. To have Loved us first, before we Loved Him, was such a strong motivator for God. I wonder if we recognize the totality of the price that was paid for us? Has the story been repeated to the point that we just take it for granted? Has it so familiar that we are not amazed by it anymore? Do we fail to get the full impression of that moment?

To be able to operate in a constant and continuous Love, we will need to draw on His Love. It is an ability that can only come from God. Now, our human love will let us hit the mark every now an then, when we feel like it. We spend a lot of time trying to make our love perfect. Truth is, our (feelings based) love will never give us that ability. God’s Love gives us the ability to do what we do not want to do.

If we are to comprehend the fullness of God, we must be grounded and rooted in His Love (not ours) (Ephesians 3). John 15 teaches of a Love that will bring a fullness of Joy in our lives. It will not be a reasoned or comfortable Love walk, but it will be a possible walk. It is the resource for the believers to take on the very image of God in spite of how we feel. His Love is a raging and fierce Love generated and pre-destined before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1).

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
I cannot find in my own
And He keeps His fire burning
To melt this heart of stone
Keeps me aching with a yearning
Keeps me glad to have been caught
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God…

Rich Mullins ‘The Love of God’

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