God – not guilt

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 22:9

We are vulnerable people. Our hunger, our tiredness, and even our intellect betray us. While we seek God’s presence the evil one lurks nearby to subtly attack us in seemingly innocent, yet powerful, ways. When we face trouble, he hints that God’s love is not unfailing. He suggests the words of a Christian brother or sister are hurtful causing us to feel slighted. He recognizes when we have put aside the armour of God, even for a short time, and then he moves closer to poke at our vulnerabilities. Initially, the fallout from these attacks appear minimal however, he will initiate a second assault. He will either block our efforts to recognize our behaviour and seek forgiveness, or he will play on our emotions, specifically guilt.

Guilt can be a valuable emotion as it helps us recognize that we may have done harm. However, because it can be painful and we may seek ways to soothe our feelings by making up for our actions. We may pray because we think that is what we must do. Neither God nor our friends want a relationship fed by guilt. Satan driven guilt plays on emotions. It interferes with repentance as it causes prayer and other communication to become a responsibility instead of rehabilitating necessity. Instead of speaking with our hearts, we say words to make the guilt go away. The guilt is like a veil placed before our eyes distorting our perception of God and His truth and His desires for us.

We are vulnerable to the powerful suggestions of the evil one who seeks to trip us up as while we seek a relationship with God. James 4:7. Praying helps build our relationship. Reading and studying scripture helps us understand what it means to submit to God and it should lead us to recognize our need to be obedient to His word. Because we are vulnerable we need all the help we can get.

Pray to build a relationship with God, not to hide from guilt. When we are weak, vulnerable and seemingly ineffective, God remains strong, loving and with us. Seek His strength, recognize His grace and talk with Him. Pray because you want to, not because you think you must.

Witness

“Who is going to harm you if ……..” 1 Peter 3:13-16

The Super Bowl is a staple of the American winter diet and although viewership was down for last week’s game it was still watched by an estimated 103 million people. The result was an upset in some people’s eyes. While being interviewed after the game the winning quarterback was asked: “how do you explain this win seeing that nine years ago you were coaching in high school?” Quarterback Doug Pederson, without hesitation, replied “I can only give the praise to my lord and saviour Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity”.  On live TV, in front of 103 million, he unashamedly acknowledged Jesus as Lord of His life.

In Peter’s second letter he offers advice on Christian living and behaviour not only within the Christian community but in the world.  He almost suggests we must strut our stuff before others letting them know we are a child of God and our hope rests in Him. But as todays passage suggests, we must also be able to talk the walk. When asked, we must be able to share why Jesus means something to us. Peter warns not to be arrogant about the way we witness but to humbly share, without fear or hesitation, that Jesus is the Lord of our life.

Evangelism, the spreading of the Christian gospel, appears difficult to many because they have been undercover Christians for so long. They are afraid to jump out in the open and speak and do as Christ commanded. But, we are ALL called to let others know about Jesus. We should be prepared so that when we are in front of a TV camera, standing amongst friends, or sitting at a coffee shop and are asked “why are you like you are?” we can also boldly, and unashamedly declare ‘“I can only give the praise to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.

As Easter approaches we have the consumer world to thank for preparing our friends and neighbours to hear the real story of Easter. They suspect there is a deeper meaning and we can shed some light on the truth. Be prepared to do so. Reflect on what Jesus means to you and see if you can sum that up in under 5 minutes. Talk with God about your desire to tell people about Jesus and be prepared for divine encounters to occur. Mostly, live your life for Jesus by loving God with your whole being and loving others. When you do this, you will be a witness to something great that the world is seeking but don’t know where to look. You can point them in the direction of hope.

Focus

Recently I was listening to a pastor speak on the topic of prayer and as often happens, he prayed to start. I found myself agreeing with him as he spoke to God and then he did something that threw me. He cracked a joke. In the middle of praying he made a joke. The joke was not offensive and was related to the Super Bowl. However, it stopped my focus and turned me off. Why?

Jesus, became a man for many reason including helping him connect relationally with people. While growing up, He would have spent time in the company of other children laughing and playing. As he grew older He interacted with other adults and certainly those encounters weren’t always serious. While on the road with mostly the same people day-in and day-out someone must have cracked a joke or two or maybe even pulled a prank. Just as Jesus wept at the effect Lazarus’ death had on others, I’m certain He also laughed when the occasion called for it. So why did a joke during a prayer stop me in my tracks? Was I being legalistic thinking that there is a certain posture we must take during prayer? Was I being too reverent thinking God wants us to be serious when talking with him?

I believe it struck me because I realized he was no longer talking with God but talking to us. It is something we all probably have noticed during a prayer gathering. There are those who intentionally or unintentionally change their prayers into preaching or a bible verse recital. Their intention, when they started, may have been to speak with God but somehow, they became distracted by the people present and started to address them. Scripture shares: “The Lord would speak to Moses face-to-face as one speaks to a friend “Exodus 33:11a”. This does suggest a less formal posture is acceptable. However, it does not suggest that when talking, God and Moses were less focused on each other. I’m certain we would feel slighted if, during a conversation with a friend, they suddenly made a remark that was obviously not directed at us but meant for people standing nearby. You might wonder if the conversation was over or if it had even started. Upon reflection, I acknowledge that I have made a joke while praying. However, listening to another doing it made me realize the negative effect it could have on others, including God

If our prayers are not directed at God, why pray? The pastor’s joke distracted me because it was obvious that he was not talking to God but was saying those words for those listening. He became conscious of all those listening except God; he put God on hold for the sake of a laugh. Now, when I am sad or happy, suffering or being reflective I know I bring those moods to the conversation I’m having with God; especially during spontaneous prayer. I don’t try to change thinking God wants me serious; I tend to go as I am. However, I should want to direct my prayer, no matter how short or long, to God.

Prayer time is when we communicate with God. If we are in a group setting, we generally are praying with others or on behalf of them. It probably is not the time to try to say something wise or funny just to please our friends who may be listening. It is a time of joy where we humbly approach God to honestly share with Him. It is a time when we connect to the One who is always listening for us.

EQUIP & ENGAGE

This week, while listening to an audio version of The Gospel of Mark, Mark 13:21-22 struck a chord with me. I stopped the playback and looked at my paper bible and re-read these verses several times. Only days earlier I had a conversation with a friend about who is responsible to call out false teaching. Additionally, I found an article which spoke about the results of a Barna study that suggested bible illiteracy is growing quickly in the Western Christian Church. Many churchgoers who participated in the study, admitted they did not have a bible reading plan, let alone intentionally studied the Word. It seems they have convinced themselves they can become followers and disciples of Jesus without reading or studying scripture. Most thought it was acceptable to just listen or read someone’s interpretation of scripture. They forgot scripture tells us that we can learn the truth by hearing God’s word; implying we learn not only by listening to our pastors, but also when we intentionally read and study scripture.

Many unbelievers say foolish things about scripture, but so do many believers. The problem is when Christians say these in the context of their life and ministry, incredible damage can be done. Imagine being in the lobby of your church with some friends and someone initiates a conversation about the Apocalypse. The primary speaker admits they have not read the book of Revelation, but boasts they read all the books in the Left Behind series. What is the probability they will offer a false teaching? Will you or any other person in your little group be able to spot a problem? If you recognize a false teaching, what would you do? Many fear the idea of confronting falsehood. Be assured that Satan enjoys and builds on your fear. He prompts us with excuses that we use to justify our non-action. He also knows the main reason we don’t’ or can’t confront false teachings – the main reason is that many “followers” do not read or study scripture and therefore know very little about what is contained in them. The purpose of this article is not to teach you how to confront false teachers. It is to have you confront yourself regarding your efforts to know God’s Word. It is to challenge you to admit whether you know enough about scripture to recognize that Jesus was not actually born on 25 December.

We know it is not possible for our pastors to tell us everything contained in scripture, so how do we fill in the gaps? People participate in small groups and that is a good thing. However, at some of these gatherings, there is more focus on relationship building with each other instead of with God. Also, these groups often only offer topical studies which focus on self-improvement instead of transformed lives. These types of studies are useful, however we need to go deeper so that we can know God and recognize whether we are hearing God’s truth or a false teacher. As part of the Jesus’ body, the Church, we are expected, to assist each other and apply biblical truths in our lives. When a Christian friend confides in us that they want to divorce their spouse because God wants them to be happy, our biblically grounded wisdom should cause a red flag to go. We may not have the knowledge or skills to provide marriage counselling, but we should understand God’s expectation for the marriage relationship. God wants what is good for us and sometimes what is good, such as marriage counselling, may not make us happy.

Our motto at the MCF is “Equip, Engage”. We believe that a solid faith foundation, built on biblical truth, equips us to share the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus as Lord and to engage brothers and sister who knowing or unknowingly are sharing false truths. Prayer, fellowship, worship, service, reading and studying the Word will equip us to engage others. A scholarly, comprehensive understanding of scripture would allow us to become apologist’s focused on defending or explain the Bible. However, for most of us, our best response to doubters, sceptics and false teachers is to share how Jesus affects our daily lives; we can share what we know about our relationship with God. Reading and studying scripture will help us recognize God’s truths as well as the false truths around us.

Will you go to a mirror, look yourselves in the eyes and ask yourself “Am I lacking truth because I lack the resolve to read my bible?” It is hoped that your response will be to ensure you find a way to start or continue to read and study scripture.  We are on the front line addressing false truths that Satan wishes to have us believe. Equip yourself so that you are not bamboozled by false truths.

THE PROMISE JOURNEY

When we think about God’s promises, we often go to the Old Testament and examine what God said to patriarchs: Abrahams and his descendants. I imagine that those who lived during those times saw those promises differently from us living in 2017. They probably reflected on land filled with milk and honey, and protection from enemies. They may not have thought too hard on how God’s promises could change them personally. They did not necessarily see how the promises lead to a deeper relationship with God and their neighbour.

Jesus came so God could fulfill His promises to us. Since the garden, and despite the guidance, encouragement and grace God gave His creation, people misunderstood what God wanted. They somehow felt they needed to amaze God with their deeds. They tried to be obedient, but became mechanical and routine. They did all they could to impress God, hoping He would bless but most of them ignored the caveats that were part of some of the promises. They wanted to do this relationship their way and missed what God was doing; they missed that He wanted to impress them (and us) with His love. Many could not, and still cannot understand the love that God has for His creation and as such are confused as to the full extent of His promises.

Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection were part of God’s plan to fulfill the promises, which includes more than land, goods, or physical protection. The fulfilment, for those who believe in Jesus, leads to eternity with Him, but also includes a changed life while on this earth. We prepared 25 devotionals that address the promises fulfilled because of Jesus. They are to be posted from December 1 to December 25 on our FACEBOOK page and each day there is a promise statement, a scripture verse, reflection questions, and prayer hints.

These devotionals are short but hopefully will be on your mind throughout the day. It is our prayer that, not only will you take some time to read, reflect and pray about these devotions but you will mull over them throughout the day. Join us every day until 25 December, and see what promises have been fulfilled by Jesus.

May you be blessed as you seek to understand God’s promises for you.

(Note – I must point out that the idea behind these devotionals came from something I read many years ago. Most of the promises and reflection questions associated with each devotional were taken from or inspired by that document.)

Anton Topilnyckyj

Prayer Coordinator

Let your prayers also be your worship

Have you ever had someone say to you “where were you? I texted you and left you a voice message and you did not get back to me”. Do their question and attitude cause you to feel a little bothered? Or, have you ever gotten frustrated when you tried to get a hold of someone and didn’t get an immediate response? Our technology, combined with an immediate gratification consumer expectation has resulted in an expectation of immediate responses, an expectation we know is unreasonable but some expect it.

God encourages communication with Him anytime, day or night. He does not limit our airtime with Him nor does He restrict our conversation to a numbers of words. He says He is available whenever and for whatever reason. Many believe this about God but have adopted an odd approach to prayer. They often behave like the caller who becomes frustrated when they do not get the immediate response they desired. Often they call and talk, but rarely listen and if they are honest with themselves, will admit they don’t talk to God as often as He desires. God understands why we offer spontaneous, spur of the moment prayers, and He does hear and respond but often we miss His interaction because we have moved on and left it with Him. Prayer is a form of worship and God would like us to worship Him with more intimate conversations. He actually wants to convey to us His response to our prayers. He doesn’t want us always calling and not waiting to see if He picks up and, although He allows us to leave messages, He’d like it if we listened for his reply.

James 4:3a  is talking about our attitude regarding prayer and could even be suggesting many don’t take time to talk or listen. Maybe all our prayers are one-sided and we talk without even acknowledging who we are talking to. It is appropriate to schedule time to pray so we can be uninterrupted and able to give God our full attention.  James 4:3 complete the statement. This may suggest our reason for calling on God may not be to glorify Him but to satisfy our own desires. Spontaneous prayers may sound needy at times and God understands, but He wants intimate prayer time with Him to be different. We go to God in prayer because He is the Lord Almighty who created and oversees the universe and also loves us and finds our time with Him to be precious. He wants to tell us that we are on His mind and that He has specific things He wants to say and personally give us.

In the days of the landline and even pre-answering machine, we knew when those we loved or cared about where available to talk on the phone. We may have even scheduled a weekly call because we wanted to ensure our time together would be uninterrupted and more cherished. God would be pleased if He could have a similar arrangement with us because He wants those uninterrupted, warm talks with us. He wants to hear us, and more importantly, He wants to talk to us.

If you are not in the habit of spending some time alone with God, you must consider making a change in that area. We know the benefits of giving and receiving someone’s undivided attention and with a few changes to our prayer practices, we can experience something special. We can continue with the short prayers or cries to God we offer in response to our daily life encounters, but it is important to make time for deeper conversations and to listen to Him. God sought us first and when His grace caused us to seek Him, He let it be known that our relationship would grow through meaningfully interactions where we both talked and both listened. Let your prayers also be your worship and be intentional about it.

Blessings

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator

Sharing Hope

When military leaders attend staff meetings and are given orders, the one certainty clear to them is, that they are not asked to interpret or modify their orders. Their education, training, and experience allows them to share with confidence and that is basically what they are required to do. It is accepted that not every leader will have access to the depth and complexity of the operation at hand yet, that does not prevent them from sharing the orders they have been given.  If necessary, they may need to seek clarity for things they do not understand before leaving the Orders Group meeting. Their duty is pass on the orders as if they were their own.

Christ followers have been given instructions to share Jesus’ truth; such as God’s promises for humanity leads to salvation from the consequences of sin. Jesus’ truth shed light on those promises and He offered hope that God’s plan offers eternal community with Him. We are called to believe and accept Jesus’ teachings. It is very possible to share what Jesus said even if we don’t understand the depth or complexity of God’s plan. Most followers understand the hope of eternity with God but many have not sought clarity about the hope that sustains us while we wait for Jesus to return. We must study His truths so we can put them into practice and experience the hope fulfilled by living a life focused on God.

If you have been on the receiving end of military orders you may have known a leader who seemed to lack certainty about their role. Some have passed on their orders and it has been obvious to the listener that the leader may not be in agreement with them. For whatever reason they discredited their orders by their tone, sarcastic comments, or reluctance to share information necessary to get the troops believing in the mission. This action both compromises and jeopardizes the mission. Some followers of Jesus have offered a poor witness to their faith and have not followed Gospel guidance. Those watching or listening notice the follower’s good news is not reflected in their behaviour or attitude. The truth becomes more acceptable if we share it as if we are living it.

Jesus told His disciples that “Because of the increase …. saved” Matthew 24:12-13. We have hope but must live as if we believe it. If we express hopelessness every time we face adversity are we not discrediting Jesus’ truth about being able to shoulder our burden to offer us peace? What message do we send if seek gratification from wealth and worldly things and then try to excuse our absence from church because we don’t like the music, or setting, or because we had something else to do? Are we suggesting that hope is linked to our actions, not God’s?

Matthew 5:14-16. We pass on Jesus’ orders by expressing our hope through words and actions. We are called to share the truth; to offer hope. “Hope for the future, that we will be redeemed. Hope for the present, that we are not alone, but are loved and have purpose. Hope even over the past, that our failures are not greater than God’s power to transform.” (Suzanne Benner).

Blessings

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator

HOPE

Job’s response to the unexpected death of his children and the destruction of his wealth could have been anger and despondency. Yet, he fell to the ground in a posture of worship and stated “Job 1: 21”. This did not signify he agreed with what had happened but it does show that, regardless of how the world seemed to be treating him, Job chose God. Friends later gathered to console him but were anything but encouragers or supporters. As they talked, Job at one point cried out “where is my hope – who can see any hope for me” (Job 17:5). We know that he was not giving up but just wanted to understand why life was playing out the way it was.

Many of us have been in a similar situation where we have wondered why life seems to be treating us so poorly; why the world seem to be behaving so badly. If you follow world news headlines you may have found yourself confused and even angry at the words being spoken by world leaders. Hedonism, immorality and even demands for individual rights taking precedence over societal harmony, offers uncertainty not only for us but for future generations. It can make you angry, despondent, confused or even fearful and some may say those responses are expected. However, we had foreknowledge of the world’s destructive nature as well as God’s restorative plan. Jesus is on the throne and will remain there and at the time chosen, will finally rid the world of wickedness. We must be prepared to be the beacon of hope of those around us.

Should we be concerned about increasing immorality growing around us, it is everywhere, in schools, and entertainment and in politics? Yes we should be and where appropriate, we should stand for righteousness and instruct our children to think biblically about the sin they will most certainly encounter. But if we’re constantly outraged, disgusted, discouraged, or panicked, then we haven’t come to grips with the Bible’s grim description of the world, and we aren’t fully trusting in our coming, conquering, and reigning king.

The future of hope to those who call Jesus Lord and Savior is the consummation of our salvation at death or when God brings present the world affairs to an end. However, we have a purpose while on this earth which includes being the hope to our circle of family and friends. We need to help them see beyond the ugliness that is all around us. We do this by being the image of God that we are created to be.

Job, despite his confusion, stood firm in his belief that God was in control. Although he wanted to understand why he was experiencing such misery, his hope did rest with God and His promises. He declared, “I know that my redeemer …” Job 19:25. This motivational statement is what should keep our eyes focused on heaven and our hearts on the mission He has entrusted to us. I was reminded this week, that some of us need to get on our knees and repent for our feeling of hopelessness. God in His wisdom and grace and according to His will, allowed the events of Job’s life to play out as it did just as He is allowing the world to do the same. We don’t give in or give up. We look in and look up to be able to inspire and encourage hope in others.

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator

IS YOUR FOUNDATION SOLID?

Matthew 7:24-27

I recently watched some television episodes of a home repair program and noted a pattern amongst a few home owners. They sought the help of a celebrity trade person to fix a problem with their newly purchased home and often, when explaining their purchasing experience, they blamed someone else for their decision. They would mention some of the steps they took to validate their potential purchase, including having a home inspection. However I noted that the desire to own a particular home blinded some people to the possibility of problems. During the program they mentioned they thought the crack running along the foundation or the wires dangling from the ceiling were suspicious. They had observed the large puddle on the basement floor and instead of seeking an explanation, they accepted the words “don’t worry”. To their untrained eye they noted faults that caused them apprehension and yet ignored the obvious.  It was as if their desire to have that home overrode their common sense and all they wanted was the approval of the inspector to validate their decision instead of the details about potential problems.

Do you know someone who has shared their life struggles with you and during your conversations some solutions seemed obvious? You may have realized the individual was not really looking for advice on how to correct their situation, but was wanting your validation of their actions or behaviour. You may have even shared some scripture that would assist them in their decision making, but they wanted to ignore those especially if they did corroborate their choices.  Sadly, we know that some want to blame others when life comes crashing down on them instead of looking at themselves to see if they have contributed to their troubles.

On the home repair program it was obvious that some families had made their purchases using the best advice available but were swindled or mislead. Instead of pointing fingers, they took time to acknowledge their errors and then sought the best assistance to move forward.  Sometimes things happen in our life that we know we were not the cause. In those times, and in times where our contribution is obvious, we need to know what we are made of; how our house is built. Are Christ’s words our foundation? Have we sought to listen and follow His words?

When the unexpected or difficult occur, even if we contributed to it, do you have something to fall back on?  Do you have God’s words that offer hope? Have you built your life on Jesus’ words and sought to follow them?  Do you go to God in prayer asking Him to settle your mind so you can look at the issues, yourself, and your relationship with Him? Do you have a friend who will lovingly listen and offer you wisdom?

Jesus analogy of the wise person building a house on a strong foundation and us building our life on the Word seems to point out the obvious to even the untrained follower of Christ. If your life has no foundational truths you will struggle to survive. Take some time to read and reflect on these verses and then ask yourself are you are prepared to face life.

Blessings to you
Anton Topilnyckyj
MCF Prayer Coordinator

Take up your cross

Every person who chooses to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces signs a document stating that while they remain in the military they adhere to the conditions and expectations of service.  This document is validated with the member taking an oath declaring:  “I, __________, do swear (solemnly declare) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and  successors according to law.  SO HELP ME GOD (delete if declaration)”

It is not a vow to be taken lightly because, in military service, people will lose their lives.  The military’s commitment to helping their members keep their oath is the pledge to provide training and resources.  The success of each soldier, sailor or airperson is based on their willingness to almost deny their former mindset, commit to possible hardships, train hard, utilize their resources, and follow their leaders.

Many readers of this newsletter have made a decision to follow Christ and become His disciples. They spoke some words to declare their hope and faith in Jesus and went about learning how a disciple responds to this call.  Many understand the cost of allegiance to Christ has both eternal and day-to-day consequences.  Jesus shares in scripture that rewards of discipleship will be great but the journey could be difficult to navigate; difficult especially without the willingness to rely on His teachings and resources.  Jesus knew that many would suffer in their struggle to accept His calling.  Some would even lay down their cross and become bystanders content to watch others stay on mission with Him.  Serving in the military without faith in the mission does not validate the oath taken.  Not all recruits make good members of the military family; some even quit without actually resigning.  They think they can serve in the military and behave as bystanders serving under their terms.  However the oath is not meant for bystanders but calls to those willing to sacrifice.

Sadly today we live in a world of compromised loyalty and “bystander Christianity”.  Bystander Christians are those who want to be numbered among the flock, but seem to care less about following the Shepherd.  They want the forgiveness Christ’s cross offers, but never intend to carry their own cross.  They want warm, fuzzy moments on Sunday mornings but offer no commitment to Jesus the remainder of the week.  They want the crown without the cross (thoughts from Pastor John Raulerson sermon).

Jesus knew many would think they could become Disciples on their terms but He clearly shows us we must come to Him on His terms.  He alone is the Way.  Disciples worship God, read scripture, fellowship with other believers, and pray.  We want to assist you on your walk with Jesus and starting the first week of July we will begin a 9 week prayer adventure aimed at helping us stay closer to God, to ourselves and to each other.  FACEBOOK will be our primary tool to relay each week’s prayer guide, however other electronic forums will also be used.

We challenge you to become committed disciples and join us on a journey to validate our faith and hope in Christ.

Anton