Do we realize what we are asking when we pray for God to purify our hearts? Refine us? Make us like gold and silver?
Full sermon audio here. Blog form will be posted Wednesday.
Do we realize what we are asking when we pray for God to purify our hearts? Refine us? Make us like gold and silver?
Full sermon audio here. Blog form will be posted Wednesday.
A passionate love affair with God. This is what Rob Reimer writes our Christian faith should look like. He says, “That’s what Christianity is all about – it is about a passionate love affair with the God who died for us because he couldn’t stand to be away from us.”
This phrase gave me significant pause. I didn’t really like it. I understood the degree of passion and intimacy that he was trying to convey, but the inclusion of affair really bothered me. The connotations of an affair are overwhelmingly negative in our vernacular. But as I began to reflect on it and read through the picture he was trying to paint throughout the chapter, I realized that affair was really quite an apt term for the degree to which we were to abandon other things in pursuit of God.
We all have relationships with this world an in this world that drive us and are core to our identity. We have ambitions. We have people we care about and are responsible for. We have interests and pursuits of various kinds. Careers, families, hobbies, friends, churches, clubs, ideologies, politics – these are the relationships we have that drive us, that carry us, that define us.
But what this passionate love affair with God is suggesting we do, is abandon these commitments in pursuit of God. That is very strong language. And it paints a picture that many of us would be unwilling to follow. We would be unwilling, not because we don’t love God or because we don’t want to be close to him – but unwilling because we don’t want to abandon those other things – usually with good reason.
I have a family I love so deeply. I have responsibilities to that family.
I have a church that I love deeply. I have responsibilities to it.
I have a prison ministry I care about.
I have ambitions for developing myself and my gifts.
I have friends I care about. Different organizations I am a part of.
I am divided by many things in life. Good things worthy of my time and energy. So I add to that list my faith and longing for God, and I divide myself accordingly as I’m able.
But I find I’m not enough.
I’m not enough to pastor my church, pastor the inmates at the prison, be involved in the community, counsel people in crisis, be an encouragement to my friends and a positive influence on leaders in Grande Cache – all while showing my wife the undying love she deserves and my kids the present and loving father they deserve, then find the energy still to reach out to God in prayer and develop my relationship with him.
But the pursuit of God offers a different path forward. When God truly becomes the center, we will find ourselves more capable of wading through the responsibilities of life. When God becomes the focus of our energy, he becomes the source of new energy, and we have all that we need to do the things in life that he has called us to do.
As I learn about my heavenly Father and grow closer to him, I become a better father to my children. As I learn about his sacrificial love for me, I learn sacrificial love for my wife. As He leads me, I am better equipped to lead. As I see him move throughout communities to reach and save the lost, I develop a spiritual vision for reaching and saving the lost. “Seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you as well.”
In John 15:4-8, Jesus gives a metaphor for the source of fruit in our lives.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
If we find ourselves in passionate pursuit of intimacy with God, we will be grafted on, and the fruit of our lives will grow.
Maybe you once had a passion for God, but its faded over time. As Reimer says, “What began with passion ends with duty.” Perhaps there was a time you loved to read through the Scriptures and just soak up everything you could – now you read them out of obligation because that’s what Christians do. Perhaps you once rejoiced in eager anticipation with each Sunday gathering to worship God with others and be part of his kingdom, and now you come to church because that’s what Christians do.
A great way to tell if the fire is there or not is your perspective on ministries when you engage. Are you looking for God or looking for problems? Are you concerned with what you like, or what God is doing? Do you long to worship God through your favourite songs alone, or are you joyous just to worship regardless of style?
Think of relationships you have in life. When things are going really well, the diversity with which you engage that person grows. How many guys have sat through a romantic comedy that was just the worst simply because it meant time with a woman they love? And then your relationship continues on, and you kind get used to having the other person around, and you hit that phase of – ok, you do your thing, I’ll do mine. The passion and desire dies down. It isn’t that things are bad, or that you’ve stopped caring for each other. But both want to have that fire again. In those situations, it isn’t the big romantic gestures that rekindle those fires. It’s the willingness to be with each other even when things are not ideal for you.
Big romantic gestures are easy, short, and fleeting. Lifestyle changes are hard, long term, and foundational.
So if you want to rekindle your love affair with God, you aren’t going to do so with a weekend retreat. Though a weekend retreat may help. You aren’t going to do so with a massive sacrificial offering donation. Though a massive sacrificial offering donation may help *cough cough*. It’s about lifestyle changes and habits.
So how do we do this? How do we pursue God?
We love one another.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
The first thing we need to do is learn about the love of God that we can better reflect it to the world around us. The Bible doesn’t call us just to be recipients of God’s love in this world, but vessels of it that carry that love to the world around us.
Make sacrifices until they no longer seem like sacrifices. Then give more as God pours into your life.
The pursuit of God requires a lot of little choices. Day to day.
“If you pursue God, you will ultimately be rewarded with more of Him.” – Rob Reimer
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
Full Sermon Audio:
There is a thirst for revival. We long to see the movement of the Spirit in our personal lives and in our churches – we long to see Him come and bring a freshness and abundancy of life that draws people to God and shows them the real impact the gospel can have in this world.
Too often we swing the pendulum too far, one way or another, in seeking revival. Sometimes we work really hard, study, learn everything we can, max out all our resources, and wonder why revival isn’t coming. Other times, we sit back, pray, and wait for God, and wonder why He isn’t coming. We swing the pendulum back and forth between these two extremes of, “Everything I can do” and “Everything God should do.” But throughout history, God has wanted to partner with His people to affect the wonderful change in this world that the Gospel longs to do.
The first pathway is personalizing our identity in Christ. Understanding who we are in Christ helps us know the potential of the Spirit in our lives. It helps us draw closer to God. It helps us garner expectations for the experiences of our lives. Our identity in Christ opens up the other pathways to God as we truly learn what it means to be a child of God.
This is a passage that can be hard to understand. The Apostle Paul is writing here about the transition from the Jewish theology about law and salvation to the new theology in Christ and the Spirit that come as a result of the cross. Romans 8 is also a passage that comes from a long build up – the first seven chapters of Romans are all leading up to this, “Therefore…” that the chapter opens up with. The complex context can make Romans 8 hard to understand, but within its verses is a powerful message about who we are in Christ, and what is available to us in His Spirit.
1. We are saved. The opening line of this passage proclaims the wonderful truth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. We often limit our concept of condemnation to the next life – we proclaim that we are saved from the fires of hell. But we are also saved from condemnation from God in this life. We don’t have to let our sin stand between us and God. Whatever we have done, the cross has taken care of it, and we can be in the presence of God confident and secure.
2. We are adopted. We are welcomed into God’s family. We have the ability to cry out, “Abba! Father!” just as Christ did. God longs to be the perfect representation of a Father in our lives.
3. Sealed in the Spirit. While more explicit in Ephesians 1, this passage in Romans 8 reveals a sense of ownership and promise that God will complete His work in us.
4. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us. Our identity is more than just a status – it is an opportunity to move beyond our own limits into something more. When we seek revival and spiritual strength, it is this Spirit that lives in us that brings it about. As we understand more and more what it means to be in Christ, we will understand more and more exactly what this power of the Spirit makes available to us in our lives.
5. We are called to something greater. This salvation, adoption, seal and power that we are blessed with in Christ, put a wonderful potential in us for something greater in life. Ephesians 1 tells us how we have been gifted to accomplish specific tasks. God as a role for you in this world to share the love of Christ and the strength of the Spirit in the midst of the darkness.
6. We are a new creation. While the cross of Christ was enough to atone for our sins, God loves us too much to keep us in our sinful state. Our identity in Christ is people who are being brought into righteousness by God’s strength. He wants to cleanse us. He wants to restore us. He wants to transform us to be the people He created us to be.
7. We are people who rejoice in suffering. This is a point we don’t often talk about, because it is difficult to talk about. If you look at the first six points, it is easy to think that the Christian life will be filled with harmony and wonderful good times. But the reality is, nobody in this world goes without hardship. Nobody goes without pain. The gospel does not promise us a life free from hurt, but it does promise us a different mindset with which to go through the hurt. “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” James 1 talks about the potential for trials to develop maturity. 1 Peter talks about how we all will suffer, but if we suffer for the right reasons, we have hope for something greater. Those who come through severe suffering often have the most impact on the world around them as the strength and perspective they needed to endure gave them wisdom and vision to make the world a better place. I encourage you to skim through the writings of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch woman who helped many Jews escape during the holocaust and was herself put into a concentration camp. Her writings are deeply simple and profound having come through such evil and terror.
So how do we make these points of our identity in Christ a part of our reality and the way we live? Romans 8:6 gives us a clue. “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life.” A lot of what we believe about ourselves and how we live begins with our mind and what we allow to fill it and have sway over it.
Do we spend time in prayer and the word trying to instill our spirits with God’s truth?
In his book, Pathways the King, Rob Reimer has a declaration of identity that he encourages us to read daily. It is a declaration derived from the Scriptures that lays out what it means to be a child of God. He encourages us to speak it and pray it in our daily lives until we see it starting to become the reality we know, not just in our minds, but in the experiences of our lives.
This identity is the first pathway to the King. Knowing who we are opens the door to seeing what we can be
Declaration of Identity in Christ
I am a child of God. I have been justified through faith in Christ. I have been pardoned and acquitted. I have been forgiven. I am clothed with the righteousness of Jesus. My history has been rewritten. I belong to my Father. I am deeply loved by God. God’s love is unconditional.
God’s love for me is unchanging. My performance cannot change it. The demonic hosts cannot stop it. The future will not alter is. No one can separate me from it. I am deeply loved by my Father in Heaven. I am secure in Christ. I belong to God. I am a possessor of grace.
I am chosen by God. I am wanted. I am adopted into his family. I am an heir with God and coheir with Christ. I am a prince/princess in his kingdom. I am included in Christ. I have been marked with a seal. The Holy Spirit lives in me. I am in Christ. And Christ is in me. I am deeply loved by my father. I belong.
I’m on the road to glory. I am God’s friend. I am at peace with God. God is for me. And if God is for me, who can be against me? I have been bought with a price. I am not my own. I have been set free. I have been redeemed. I have no condemnation. I have eternal life. I am a new creation.
I am more than a conqueror. I am victorious. I have been called to the family of God. I have been called to carry His presence. I am an ambassador for Christ. I am a witness. I am the salt and light of the world. I am God’s co-worker. I carry the keys to the kingdom. I am a kingdom carrier.
I am empowered by the Holy Spirit within me. I partner with God to bring his kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. I am deeply loved by my Father in Heaven. I have eternal significance.
We live in a world that loves to point out the negative.
This isn’t an inherently bad thing. Negative things exist. They should be criticized and fixed wherever possible.
But when we only focus on the negative, the rest of the world gets blurry and we lose context, making way for anger and fear to cloud our decision making and dominate our emotions.
The last couple of Canada Days have not been without controversy in many circles. Criticisms of historical atrocities, negative reaction to modern cultural trends, and protests of political shifts on all sides have made it hard for some people to celebrate living in Canada.
In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul reminds us, “…whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” He tells us this in the midst of a passage which is trying to help its readers find peace and contentedness in everyday life. There is a strong emphasis in the Scriptures to keep the positive things of life – the things worth being thankful for and rejoicing in – always in our thoughts. This has profound spiritual strength, as well as physical and psychological.
Canada is far from perfect. There are issues at all levels. But if we don’t celebrate what is good, we will have a significantly harder time dealing with what is bad. We will lose focus, be given over to anger, and do more harm than good.
One of my personal frustrations as a Canadian is the hostile and divisive political climate. It seems like one liner ideologies rule news and discussion. Complex issues are reduced to Facebook meme’s and internet algorithms feed us news that we like, allowing our confirmation bias to take control and narrow our actual exposure to differing points of view. I get annoyed when I see the way people treat those who disagree with them on government issues. I get even more annoyed when I see our leaders and politicians treat each other even worse. Sometimes I really struggle to view our democratic system in a positive light.
But then I learned that 121 Mexican politicians have been killed since September 2017. That’s ten months. One hundred and twenty one people in ten months were killed for political reasons in Mexico. We make angry Facebook posts. They murder each other. Suddenly, contrasting the political climate of Canada and Mexico helps put some perspective on my complaints.
This doesn’t make my complaints go away. A problem is a problem. Just because something is worse somewhere else, doesn’t mean it is suddenly ok. But it does give me a sense of appreciation and thankfulness. It helps me gain some patience with our own system.
On a more religious note, we often worry about the spiritual climate of our country. As our society becomes increasingly secular, Christianity carries significantly less cultural weight than it used to. Decisions like a recent court ruling against Trinity Western University show us that as religious rights are more and more frequently going up against civil rights, religious rights are going to lose. This worries us. We fear persecution. But once again, when all we focus on is the negative, we are open to fear and anger, emotions that hold us back from seeing God’s vision and path for us.
Matthew 10 contains my favourite passage for helping show people that even with these changes in our culture, Canada is still a very safe place to be a Christian.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
That was Jesus who said that! Jesus! The “prince of peace.” And He said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Why I love this passage so much is how hard it is to explain to people in Canada, and how easy it is to explain to somebody who lives in a nation with significant persecution.
Explaining this to somebody here usually requires a lengthy one on one conversation about the context in which Jesus was talking, and what he meant by this sword and families turning against each other.
But to the Christians I met in Egypt? No explanation needed, because this passage is the story of their lives. Many of them were driven from their communities when they came to believe in Christ as the Messiah. Many of them had to make a choice at some point between their family and their faith. When an ideology is so rigorously opposed to the Gospel, there is inevitable, heartbreaking conflict.
The ‘persecution’ we experience in Canada is nothing compared to Christians throughout the ages.
But when all we focus on is the negative around us, we are turned over to fear and anger, and we miss what God is doing.
In the midst of persecution, Christianity thrives. The edge of civilization is where Christianity has been the strongest. Not the centre. As we get pushed to the outside, we are put into positions where we have to start making more difficult choices, and making real sacrifices to follow Christ.
When we begin to look for what God has done we are able to see more clearly what He is doing now. When we hear the stories of triumph in circumstances so much more dire and challenging than our own, we begin to see the hand of the divine shift and move toward that beautiful ending we see promised to us in Revelation 21.
But we fear the persecution. We fear a faith that costs us.
Remember this: A faith that costs you is a faith that has value. A faith that costs nothing – means nothing.
Let’s come back to Canada Day.
There is a lot of cause for us to be thankful we live in Canada.
We put those first and foremost in our minds, we can more clearly see where God is moving, and we can navigate the problems and criticisms around us with a stronger, more Spirit centred mind.
As the world shifts and moves around us, are you focused on what God is doing, or are you focused on what humanity is doing?
I love my country. I love the people in my country. I know that God loves them too, and he wants to partner with His church to show them the overwhelming hope and love that come through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Happy Canada Day from Pastor Matthew!