Confidence in a Clear Call

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Have you ever wondered where you fit in the family of God? Have you ever questioned if believing in Jesus is all there is to life with God? Have you found more purpose pursuing success in this life than in the purposes and plans of God? Be honest with yourself. For many in the church the answer to all of these questions is yes.

This tragic yes likely comes from feeling like a bystander in the kingdom of God. It comes from being left watching a few who seem to know what they are doing while the masses just observe, occasionally being asked to participate in a small, fleeting way while being told it is super important. This only further convinces the bystander no purpose can be found in the plans of God.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10

These experiences of observing rather than participating often leave us wondering if there are only a certain few who can gain a clarity of call and function in the kingdom of God. We wonder, if only on a subconscious level, if observing the purposes of God is all there is for us. God’s response to this is unequivocally NO!!!

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:16

Paul makes it painfully clear we were all created by and for Jesus in his letter to the Colossians. Every man and woman was created with intention by God with a purpose and a function in the workings of his eternal plan along with every other created being. Look no further than the care with which he made all creation work together to reproduce and maintain life and the even greater care with which he purposed us who possess an eternal soul.

The reason we stall is because we are unaware of our function in the eternal purposes of God. The few in scripture we see who gain great clarity of their function, we excuse as the exception. Paul wrote from a place of clarity. His function in the Kingdom of God was revealed to him and he operated with great conviction as a result. He didn’t receive this pronouncement in a moment of isolation. God gave Ananias the message of who Saul was to be.

Saul (soon to be Paul) didn’t instantly step into the fullness of his function. He was discipled and matured until the point of his commissioning by the laying on of hands in Antioch. This practice was fundamental in the early church. There were many reasons for the laying on of hands:

  1. Healing the sick
  2. Filling of the Holy Spirit (usually immediately following baptism)
  3. Release into the ministry of the Church

Although one’s kingdom function was determined before birth, the laying on of hands (#3) to release into the ministry of the Church gave freedom to operate, albeit still under authority. From this moment, they didn’t need to wait for any external prompting. The Holy Spirit gave desire to engage and the disciple acted.

Paul, knowing his call to go before kings, petitioned Rome when given the chance, aware this might hinder his chance of release. He knew he was to bring the gospel to the gentiles and kings. He saw the opportunity and fulfilled his call.

I am so thankful for my own call to teach and disciple others. I am able to walk into a situation without second guessing an opportunity. If I see the opportunity to call someone to repentance or encourage them in an area of growth, I quickly jump in when I know there is grace for it. I don’t need to wait, for I know my role in warning and teaching in the Kingdom of God.

I love the story of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was the greatest man born to a woman (Luke 7:28). I have rarely heard this quote of Jesus spoken of. What makes John so special?  Many of John’s attributes drew chastising by the religious groups, but Jesus saw something special. 

Why did Jesus speak such praise of John the Baptist? Was it because they were cousins? Surely not, since Jesus disregarded his own mother and brothers when he made them wait. (Matthew 12:46-50) Here Jesus defines family, however, as those who do His Father’s will. John definitely fits that bill! 

John carried an incredible clarity and confidence in his calling, only questioned in a moment of imprisonment. Where did this clarity and confidence come from you may ask. 

The story of John’s conception and birth was known and spoken of all over the region.A barren woman conceiving a child and a priest (the father) stricken mute by the Lord during the pregnancy was the kind of gossip that got around. In all likelihood, everyone John met would have immediately known who he was and how he received his name. 

“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”” – Luke 1:14-17

Imagine from birth having these words repeated to you over and over again. “John, this is who you are…” This was not a private revelation. It was made very public by the Lord. Everyone clarified the call and spoke it to him. There may have been moments when he felt he couldn’t measure up, but never could he escape the awareness and affirmation. 

One of these moments of insecurity came when John sat in prison. He asked Jesus if he was the Messiah. Despite all that surrounded the revelation of his identity and function, John had a moment of doubt. “Was I wrong? Was I supposed to prepare the way for you?” he asks of the one who both created his identity and function. John needs a refresher, an encouragement to regain his clarity and confidence. We will all need this at times from the Lord and the body of Christ to regain our confidence.

A clarity of our God-given identity and role in the kingdom is not like our identity in the world. I have often experienced feeling trapped as a result of taking on an identity or function in opposition to what God has intended for me. You could call it double-mindedness. At times it even happened as a result of the body of Christ calling me to something for which the Lord had not intended.

We were made by God and for him. To inherit an identity from elsewhere is false. It is like fitting a square peg in a round hole.The identity from Jesus is one made for the vessel. It fits perfectly. It provides peace to the one who receives it no matter what earthly end they meet. It was why Stephen finds peace in the moment he is stoned. He has walked out obedience and rests even in that moment in the joy of the Lord.

 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:12-16

This clarity John had was the same found in Paul. It is the same clarity Paul intends for Timothy as we see by the encouragement in his letters. Elders or leaders in the church have an important role to provide the same clarity and encouragement. This requires listening to God for those in their care to identify and call out the purpose God has placed and reveals. Scripture is clear. We were all intentionally formed by and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16 amongst others).

No one is called to be an observer or a bystander to the purposes and plans of God. We have all been called, only to different functions so the church can move in the fullness of the plans of Jesus. We must all mature into the purposes Jesus intended for us and understand the tragedy it is for the church if any one believer fails to attain this release. John was constantly reminded of who God intended him to be. Likewise, let us encourage and help one another, both before and after our commissioning, to mature through continued sanctification into the fullness of our calling. 

Jesus is Lord

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We often think about the Lordship of Christ through a macro lens: the King of the universe, seated on the throne in heaven with earth as his footstool. While this depiction is true, it doesn’t lend itself to an everyday impact. The imagery can cause us to imagine a God who is distant and not Lord over everyday life.

“Jesus is Lord” is a statement of truth in the macro sense, but also one of surrender. It is an oath of allegiance to the rule and reign of Christ. Although his kingdom is not of this world, his rule over us encompasses every realm.

We need to think about Jesus’ lordship not just as reigning above every authority, but in every sphere. His Lordship applies to our homes, families, relationships, occupations etc. Realizing this takes us in a different trajectory than the world. It is easy to slip into the same progressions in life as the world, but the way of Jesus is different. There should be an obvious difference.

The renewing of the mind transforms us from the rule of sin to the rule of Jesus. The world’s motivations pervade all aspects of life. A search for worldly success can be driven by any mix of motivations laid out in Colossians 3. Following any motivation on this list is a clear sign Jesus does not reign over a part of our mind.

“5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave,  free; but Christ is all, and in all.” – Colossians 3:5-11

It is easy to get caught up in pursuing success the same way those around us do. For most of us it is the only way we have known. How could we expect to know differently?

When I was in my last year of my BComm majoring in finance, I was given a clear warning from the Holy Spirit. The path I laid out was to pursue corporate law. My immature drive at the time to compete and win would have fed a lust for power and greed. I was granted foresight into how my life would unintentionally turn from the Lord in a pursuit of worldly success if I made that decision.

Instead, I finished my degree and ran off to California to intern at a wonderful church in Fresno, fleeing from the temptation the other road presented for me. This was a moment of submission to the rule of Christ. A fear of the Lord gripped me in the moment of revelation and there was no way I wanted to choose a path that would lead me away from him.

If Jesus is Lord, the rules and patterns of this world are no longer what we follow. That moment in University showed me the patterns of this world were embedded in me despite my desire to follow Jesus. My decision making process and pursuits could not simply be trusted. My motivations needed to be submitted to another kingdom and put through the grid of the second list in Colossians 3:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:12-17

The maturing of a believer is an awakening of the mind to the many discrepancies between our confession of “Jesus is Lord” and our mental pathways. In time, the Holy Spirit reveals to the willing the discrepancies so our minds may align with our confession.

Our “Jesus is Lord” confession upon conversion is not negated by this discrepancy. Our heart’s desire in that moment is to serve the Lord, and we succeed on a macro level. But sin leaves wreckage in its wake. The continued exposure to a world that celebrates sin reinforces the old paths, making it difficult to live entirely under the reign of Christ.

This begs the question, “Do my actions, decisions, and desires reflect Jesus as Lord?” If a job promotion is offered, or an opportunity arises, this is the question we must ask. If you come into a large sum of money, your decision needs to be put through this grid. If you want to marry or date someone, ask this question. How you discipline an employee or respond to a superior must be put through this grid. Relations with friends, families, strangers, and persecutors must all be subject to the rule of Jesus. This question reveals whether your confession is a binding oath or whimsical.

Over time, this question becomes internalized. Your grid becomes scripture as you consume it. As your mind is further renewed, you find more often your internal motivations reflect the Lordship of Christ. But even the most mature must not move away from testing which king they serve with their decisions, not out of fear of failure but a fear of God, a strong desire to reject the way that leads to destruction.

Does this sound daunting? That is why we rely on the Holy Spirit and ask him to lead us, not just once, but in every task and situation. We trust him to outline our misalignment and to renew our minds.  We are still being redeemed and are not equipped without the Holy Spirit, without the full armour of God, to make true our confession that Jesus is Lord.

The filling of the Holy Spirit is not an added bonus. The Holy Spirit is our passport, marking us as citizens of heaven. He is our guide to life in the kingdom of God, and the power by which we can live under the rule and reign of Christ.

Single-minded

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Today as I was sitting in a coffee shop I was reminded of a series of blogs I had started on the mutually exclusive paths we choose to walk. The way of Jesus cannot be combined with any other. For some this may cause a feeling of restrictiveness due to conflicting desires within.

The issue for many is equating the feeling of freedom with the ability to do what we want. In saying so, the way of Jesus is only freedom for a fully sanctified person. Only once our wants and desires fully reflect him would freedom be experienced by this definition.

But doing what we want is not the real freedom. Freedomwas won on the cross when Jesus paid for our sin. Freedom from sin gives us the option of life by rejecting the offer of the serpent to become “like God”. We have two choices: to live as we were designed to live by God or live in sin. They are mutually exclusive. The idea we can jump back and forth is a lie intended to pull us back into slavery.

As we continually choose the way of Jesus, we experience what life is like with Him and our desires become anything that keeps us close with God. The restrictive feeling disappears as we maintain a single-minded focus to remain in Christ.

But this is not instantaneous. The renewing of our minds is a lifelong journey. Thus we need to take the task of discernment seriously.  We need to make choices based on sound analysis through the grid of scripture in community instead of our desires. This is the way of the free, though it sounds restrictive to many.

Therefore, we cannot frivolously support or back an individual or movement. We cannot take the shortcut to success if it isn’t Christlike. We cannot become ambassadors of something that tarnishes our ambassadorship of Christ.

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” – 2 Corinthians 6:14

Nationalism and the way of Jesus are mutually exclusive. Christ doesn’t disengage with the world, but he cannot partner with sin and chaos. Hitching our wagon to anything that isn’t aligned with Christ will always pull us off the way of Jesus. We choose to be aliens in this world in order to enact change and reveal the person of Jesus, not to be pulled into the destructive patterns we find here.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17

We need to adopt a single-minded focus, letting anything that doesn’t align become white noise in the background. We do not need to engage in everything but respond as we are moved with compassion.

I am fascinated in my reading of the gospels how rarely Jesus engages with the brokenness around him. I understand most stories are about healing or speaking to it, but Jesus is surrounded by darkness and still sneaks away on his own, or with his disciples. He spends time teaching, feasting and praying while there is still so much he could address.

He doesn’t address everything going on in the world but knows his task, his timing, and is only distracted by compassion and not ideology. We can take a page from his book. Jesus is not apathetic towards those he doesn’t engage with. He still has compassion, but discerns with wisdom and foresight what intervention will accomplish.

We do not need to engage with everything that comes up on our news feed!

I rarely share in my blog my own personal sentiments towards current movements. But to be clear, my reflections presented above are exactly why I cannot back something like the Freedom Convoy. I have sentiments regarding government overreach, but I also understand the manner it is addressed and the viewpoints of those in charge do not fully reflect the way of Jesus. It is why I can vote but not swear full allegiance to a person or nation. My allegiance is already given to Jesus and his church.

One cannot swear allegiance to conflicting forces. Righteousness cannot side with lawlessness, light cannot side with darkness and believers cannot be equally yoked with unbelievers. If a believer is involved in something they cannot fully reconcile with Christ, they are met with a crisis.

Eric Liddell, as made famous by the movie Chariots of Fire, made a similar decision to not run on a Sunday in the Olympics despite being favored to win. His allegiance was to Christ and not to the sport, his nation, or himself. Just as a note, this is not an opening or transition to a discussion on revering the sabbath. It is an example of a man facing conflicting convictions and choosing the way of Jesus above all others. If you haven’t seen this movie it is a wonderful depiction of the inner conflict of a believer facing a broken world, scored with an epic soundtrack.

Has your company just spit in the face of Jesus? Has the political party or movement you swore allegiance to just walked into darkness? How do you respond as an ambassador of Christ? Do you pretend it didn’t happen? Do you speak to those above you? Do you leave?

There is no cut and paste response to all these questions and situations. We are in fact called into the world to be light, contrasting the darkness around us. I am thankful Jesus didn’t call each one of us alone to answer the questions. He called us to seek him, and he brought us into community with others to discern together.

In the midst of all of the confusion and chaos around us, one thing is for sure. Our witness and allegiance to Christ is never to be tainted. Our single-minded pursuit is to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) in our end goal and each step we take.

Advent Primer

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When reflecting on the Christmas story I usually jump straight to Luke’s telling of the nativity. He does a wonderful job at painting the picture of the journey and celebration culminating in the virgin birth. Although joyous, I find that it causes me to focus on the singular event rather than the whole scope of what is occurring.

John’s gospel starts off with the telling of the birth of Jesus by going all the way back before the dawn of creation. “In the beginning” causes us to pull back from the nativity to a view of the entire timeline. Instead of seeing only months, we see thousands of years. We find ourselves looking at Jesus at the dawn of time, the Word that speaks and there is light.

Moving forward we see “the Word took on flesh”. John continues the creation story in his take on nativity. Jesus places himself in his own creation. The Message translation says “and moved into the neighbourhood”. This brings to mind imagery of God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve.

“And we have seen his glory” – John 1:14

Adam and Eve witnessed the glory of God. They walked with him, and knowing no sin they were not struck down by the sight. When Jesus took on flesh he allowed us to see the glory in a fallen world. This is not just the birth of God, but the first time since the gate to Eden was shut that the glory of God could be witnessed with an unveiled face, no sacrifice needed.

This is so much bigger than a single moment! For all of history, creation was lying in wait, anxious and crying out because of the separation. The Word takes on flesh, as if it were the final day of creation, a moment of completion we were all waiting for. This celebration is so much bigger than any of us realised. The anticipation dates back further than we can fathom. This moment echoes further than any of the witnesses understood.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” – John 1:1-2

I can only imagine how long the wait felt to the angels before showing up to the shepherds. This was no sudden move, but planned since the beginning. It is why John starts with “in the beginning”. Right from the beginning this plan began to rectify the fall of man by God taking on flesh and giving up the skin of God while still radiating the glory.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:12-13

The birth of Christ in John’s gospel doesn’t just look back to the dawn of time but stretches to eternity. The birth of the King welcomes us into an inheritance of eternal life. This moment is not the start of a new story, but is the pivotal mark in the ongoing story. The celebration is not complete for John in the celebration only of a new born king or even in the living God dwelling with us.

The story of the birth of Jesus is incomplete without the acknowledgement of the larger role it plays in history. The Word taking on flesh is the moment of victory, for this world had fallen and now the glory of God has moved back into the neighbourhood. Victory is ensured and the promised inheritance has been sealed.

Yes, the moments of the cross, descent, resurrection and ascension are also required in securing the victory over death and sin. But the moment Emmanuel was born is what all creation was waiting for since sin entered this world. God with us was always the intention and sin created distance from the glory of God. But God, not wanting this separation, took on flesh for a time as a foretaste of what was and is to come. Once again men and women could join the ranks of Adam and Eve walking with God in the cool of the day.

John 1 gives us the whole storyboard instead of a single chapter. At the center is Jesus. He is at the center of it all. We are celebrating Jesus, yes the birth of Jesus, but also everything his birth stands for. He is what creation was crying out for and who we still await with joyful expectation.

In Advent we find ourselves in a season of anticipation. We place ourselves on both sides of the virgin birth. We join with all those from Adam until the birth who waited with bated breath for the glory of God to be made manifest. We also acknowledge the anticipation of our current state. We wait for the return of Jesus and the end of this age. We hope for and rejoice in the victory that is set but not yet our reality.

John shows us God has already written the story. Before the dawn of time this story has been written like a play waiting for actors to take their places on the stage. We celebrate moments along the way but Advent calls us to embrace in faith the story that is unfolding before us.

Citizens of Two Worlds

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Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Romans 13:1-7

It is quite puzzling at first glance to see the New Testament writings on submission to authority are written by men who have been imprisoned by the same authorities they command we obey. Peter experienced multiple recorded instances of being broken free from prison and Paul has a long endured stint in prison from which he writes some of his letters.

This should not cast suspicion on the topic but grant context for our understanding. Much of the teaching we are given on how to conduct ourselves in scripture offers an asterisk, the asterisk of *unless God’s momentary design deviates from his natural order. God created everything with a natural order which can be seen in all of creation, but there are times he deviates.

This does not make God a liar or deceptive. Some instruction given by God, such as his instruction to flee from sin, is absolute. Other teaching offers us the natural way of things as a gift with an assumption we remain led by the Holy Spirit in all of our endeavors.

It is important we do not throw out our understanding of the way of Jesus because of a few moments when God’s plan required deviation from the norm. It is also important not to be so rigid we toss out a word from the Lord.

There are things such as what the Lord has labeled as sin God will never call us to do. But the orderly worship we are directed to in scripture might look different depending on the season, and there are times women will be called to eldership as Deborah was called to be judge. There is an order the Lord has created and we must know unless it goes against his nature or promise he can deviate from his created order.

If this were not possible there would be no miracles. How could God turn water into wine if he was contained to the order he created? This does not become our template for making wine but it was how it was for a moment when God chose to work in a different way.

So when Peter is thrown in jail for preaching the gospel, his preaching is not out of rebellion, but a moment in time when he is aware of the grace of God to preach the gospel publicly despite the rules set in place by local authorities. It doesn’t make him a hypocrite. He just understands the default is in all things to submit to authority in the land unless the Lord says otherwise.

Deviation from the instruction of God is not something to take lightly. In fact there should be great conviction and discernment of a word from the Lord before exploring acting in opposition to an authority over you. Paul and Peter both found such an exception in preaching the Gospel. Sharing the news of Jesus was not something the church could give up despite what any human authority might say.

You will note even Jesus acknowledges the authority of Pilate in John 19 but points out Pilate only has authority because of his Father in heaven. God is always the highest authority we submit to. Failure to submit to an earthly authority is only permitted as far as God steps in to overrule.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

You will note Jesus claims highest authority in this scripture passage. Making disciples, baptism, and teaching the way of Jesus are instructions superseding any other. No earthly authority can claim higher than Jesus. You will note the New Testament church is persecuted for these acts. It was never rebellion against the government or speaking out against policy which turns believers into prisoners and martyrs.

This is why slaves and free men worshipped side by side. The slaves remained slaves under the authority of their masters while being free in Christ. Jesus didn’t spark the rebellion of slaves, although the Roman Empire did have a long slave rebellion. In fact there is a whole letter included in scripture which accompanied a former slave named Onesimus. Paul, after some discipling, sends Onesimus back to be a slave. In this letter Philemon, the slave owner who is also a follower of Jesus, is encouraged to free him as he is a brother.

The slave conversation is a conversation for another time, but the early church understood they were not a rebel group. They were not a political organization, but the people of God, a people who remain here not to tear down empires but out of the same compassion of Jesus to make disciples of those hostile to them. They were to focus on freedom in Christ and care for each other’s physical needs under the law of the land.

Democracy makes honoring authorities tricky. We are encouraged to speak up in a democracy. The questions we need to ask are: when should we speak, if at all? Does this scripture still hold up in a democracy? Is the government ever the chosen system to see people saved?

My conviction is scripture absolutely still holds up! I believe we should rarely speak up against the government except to warn of the consequences of actions. Like sending Jonah to Nineveh, God has compassion for the lost today and at times they need to be warned on a mass scale. It is not up to us to change the behaviour but to pray for repentance of the people. Forcing changes in policy does nothing to the hearts of the people. That would be the same approach the conquistadors took as they tore through the New World with violence and forced conversion to catholicism. You cannot force conversion of the heart.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17

An urge arises in me at times when I consume media content and news to gossip and critique those in government. Democracy has placed accountability in the hands of the voting public, but we must be sure not to dishonour those in power. Disrespect is the way of the world, and we must avoid being led into sin by the masses. We should think long on whether it is good (of God) to speak or dwell on any issues. I have had to repent numerous times of things I have said about certain people in power. Just because something is true, doesn’t mean I need to speak of it.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

As an election draws near in Canada it is important to know how to act and vote. First off, pray for those who are currently in power and those who will step in. Pray for wisdom and for the Lord to use those who oppose him for his purposes as he did with Pharaoh in Egypt. Pray out of compassion for policies regarding the vulnerable and oppressed. Pray politicians would turn to the Lord. Ask the Lord if there is any warning needed to be given out of compassion rather than self-interest. Vote your conscience as you spend time with the Lord and in community. Know the Lord your God is the highest authority. Whom shall we fear when we remain in him?

Light and Heavy

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Sometimes we struggle with understanding the words of Jesus because we look at them through a narrow lens of a single passage. For three years Jesus sat with his disciples, teaching them. His teaching was not fully understood in a moment, and his disciples showed their lack of understanding time and time again.

Each new concept learned can be like a system update calibrating our entire understanding of the Kingdom of God and the life Jesus offers. The disciples, however, had difficulty understanding Jesus’ teachings at every turn. They couldn’t update their understanding with the new information. Even when Jesus didn’t use parables they struggled comprehending. Part of this is Jesus has not yet endured the cross, descended into hell, been raised from the grave, ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit leads us into truth, but like the disciples we often get caught up in drawing conclusions from a single teaching instead of viewing it as a part of the whole teaching of scripture. Jesus gives many statements about following him which when considered in isolation can cause us to form false and conflicting views. One of those concepts visited frequently in Matthew’s Gospel is the difficulty of the way of Jesus. Jesus calls the path narrow and hard, but states his burden is easy.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
– Matthew 7:13-14

There is but one way to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is through Jesus. Many try to fit part of their journey through the wide gate and still follow Jesus but get stuck on the narrow gate because one cannot go through both gates. They do not go to the same place.

Getting rid of everything other than Jesus is how we unburden ourselves before fitting through the narrow gate. Jesus takes our burdens so we can fit through the gate. Without this it is impossible to enter his kingdom.

Many will choose the path where they need not forfeit their life. They define their own path and cling to things the Lord hates. For these, although they wish to follow Jesus, the call is too high, the path too narrow. All they can see is what must be let go of. They do not view it as an exchange but a sacrifice that is altogether burdensome.

When we first confess Jesus is Lord we place our wills in a posture of total release. This is followed up with a constant exchange as the Holy Spirit reveals specific areas of repentance required in a season.

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus follows up his statement of the way to life being hard by saying his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. That is enough to confound the wise. How can a way be both easy and hard? If you take a look at the two passages, one describes coming to Jesus, and the other is a commentary of the two gates. Jesus invites us to exchange what is hard for what is easy. But ease is only found through a constant exchange. Any attempt to go the way of Jesus without him is without the rest he provides.

When we remain in Jesus’ rest, our burdens are let down. It is not a place to occasionally visit but a place to remain. We should not depart from the Lord only to return later. We are to remain in the rest he provides in all we do. We remain in his rest as we walk in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The grace of God allows us to remain in his presence even as we are still being sanctified. Remaining in his presence happens by his grace in our obedience and not by our perfection. We live with an easy yoke and a light burden not because the exchange has been finalized but because it is complete according to what is currently required by the Lord. He will initiate new exchanges in every season as we find ourselves continually sanctified.

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
– Matthew 16:21-23

Peter has formed conclusions about Jesus, about God, that are based on a partial understanding and emotions. He doesn’t want the death of Jesus to be the end result as he still has a view of the Messiah as a conquering King.

This whole interaction is incomprehensible to me. How does Peter show an understanding of Jesus as Messiah in one setting and then challenge his choices in the next? The way Jesus rebukes Peter’s rebuke is fascinating. Peter’s audacity to take Jesus aside shows how thick headed he is. He thinks he understands but still cannot comprehend the way of Jesus.

Peter can’t comprehend how the path of Jesus could be both as conquering king and slaughtered lamb. The heavy cost of the victorious path is not understood. How can this be your end Jesus?

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
– Matthew 16:24-28

The way of Jesus is both light and heavy. The law points out just how heavy the path to life is. It is impossible for man. To go our own way even in the slightest is a burden that overwhelms and takes us off the path to life. You could call it impossibly burdensome to hang on to even a sliver of your own life. But the burden of Jesus is light, his yoke easy.

Jesus never says laying down our lives is easy. It is his cross on the other side that is light. It is where we are at peace and find rest. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus shows he has not yet come out the other side.

In each season of our lives, the Lord continues to sanctify us. The further we move in step with the Lord, the more we realize the freedom which awaits us on the other side of the cross and the more we know his rest is where we need to be. We also know God is not finished working within us. As a result, the mature will quickly turn to the cross, the place of exchange, a familiar place.

“Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51:11

David cries out, cast me not from your presence. Our home will also become the presence of God. In maturity our desire is to embrace the difficulty of approaching the cross, the place of exchange, bringing our sin and carnal nature and exchanging it for his burden and remaining in the presence of God.

Lord let us not avoid the heaviness of bringing our burdens to the cross. Let us not be cast from your presence, but acknowledge the grace of the season to run to the place of rest and freedom you provide.

What’s in Season?

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For everything there is a season. Some practices transcend seasons, such as prayer, reading Scripture and communion, but may become the primary focus in a specific season. Other practices such as mourning or feasting belong in a season. It is important to rightly assess what is required in a given season. If we miss the grace of God in a season we operate in opposition to what God is doing and are hindered in moving forward.

A season always gives way to another one. Just like the seasons in nature, each is required in their given ecosystem. Just as plants and animals respond to the changing of the seasons in the physical world, it is important we do the same spiritually.

One of the most important things that church elders (or leadership) can do is be aware of how to lead their congregation in the proper season. The Lord is gracious in making known the season and preparing us for it. God does this so we can walk in step with the good plans he has.

As churches come out of a time of adhering to governmental restrictions we should be asking, “Have we lost the practice of obeying the requirements of the Lord instead of the demands of man?” We have a tendency to first look to the world to understand how to be like Jesus in a season. We try to understand how to react to the world instead of being led by God. This assumes a defensive posture.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:6-9

Please don’t hear me say that following the Covid restrictions was an act of rebellion against God. What I am trying to clarify is that the Lord frequently calls us to calibrate our actions to the changing season as a community and individuals. Rather than just a new sermon series, there will be times when the whole life of the church is to focus on evangelism, prayer, generosity, repentance, thanksgiving or self control (to name a few) because of the season we are in, such as in Lent or Advent in Orthodox Church traditions.

It is not just the official church functions but the everyday life of believers which should be oriented on the God-given focus of a season. Our failure to be aware of the season frequently causes us to miss out on what God is doing. We can end up working at cross purposes despite our motive to serve the Lord.

It is often necessary to stop programs in order to focus on what is important. Jesus did this when he stopped what he was doing and focused on the need set before him. We too should be aware of how God is at work and be led by compassion as the church.

Just as God leads a local congregation through seasons, he will do the same with families and individuals.

I have found in my personal life God prepares me in one season for what is required in the next. Sometimes the season of preparation makes little sense until I experience something for which I was ill prepared before the growth God led me through.

God prepares the church in the same way as individuals. Elders should be bold in responding to the leading of the Lord, not act because of societal pressures but out of a fear of the Lord. How can we withstand the pressures awaiting us unless we are prepared for them?

Although Jesus did not need preparation, he modeled this through entering the wilderness to be tested following his baptism.

We need to develop the habit of asking the Lord what he is doing in the current or upcoming season and how by his grace we are to live in season. Like pulling out our winter coats for winter and shorts for the summer, we need to know how to address the coming season. This is best asked prior to planning lest we be caught making plans in vain. It is not wrong to make plans but we must loosely hold them as we seek to better understand what the will of God is. We should make plans with the added “God willing”.

Following someone else’s blueprint can be a great thing if it is what the Lord is currently requiring. There have been movements when there was training en masse for a season when God led entire denominations or regions through the same plan. An example of this is the Experiencing God study led by Henry Blackaby which was used powerfully amongst the Southern Baptists and others in the 1990s. It is good when the Lord does this, but there are times when we attempt to recreate success rather than obey God. This does not go well and we lose out not only on what God intended for that season but also the practice of being led by God through the season he has us in.

Just because someone else is experiencing a season we would prefer, it doesn’t mean we are able to create their season in our own life. It might not even be good for us to live that experience. If it is not of God for you it cannot be good. For as Jesus said, “Only God is good”. We should rejoice when we see people respond to a move of God and not covet it for ourselves. We should rejoice in what God has for others, and rejoice in the season he has us in because he knows what is good for all.

Solomon understood “there is a season for everything”. Beneficial actions require an understanding of what the season requires. If it is a time for mourning, we should mourn. If it is a time to fast, we are to fast. If it is a time of thanksgiving, we ought to give thanks. If it is a time of purification, we must purge. It is not complicated but it requires diligence and obedience.

We must not react to the push and pull of the outside world for, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Our seasons are set by the Lord and not by man. How we respond to what is happening in the world around us ought not to be because of the demands of man, but because of the commands of God.

Jesus says in John 5:19 he can only do what he sees the Father doing. Our goal in desiring to be like Jesus is thus not imitating the actions of man but looking to God for our marching orders. Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus and then the church making waves through their actions. The way of the Lord will at times be met with great hostility. The response of the world does not dictate what is good for only God is good.

In Mark 5 Jesus is chased out of town for sending a demon out of a man and into some pigs. In Luke 7 Jesus is silently ridiculed for allowing a sinner to anoint his head. In Acts 19 Paul sparked a riot in Ephesus as the people clung to Artemis as their God. These are just a few examples of when obedience to God met great opposition. Can you imagine if instead Jesus and Paul had acted to appease the culture or reflect the world around them?

In many instances a new physical reality demands a response by the body of Christ. In poverty the people of God should care for the needy. Where there is sickness we should partner with God in seeing people made well. Just as Jesus acted through compassion, so should we. There will always be desperation and need in this world until Christ returns. It is the result of sin. It is not that we cannot determine acts that reflect the heart of God, it is that we have a tendency to act without him. We then remove God entirely from the process resulting in acts of charity that reflect his ways but have no eternal impact. It is vital we act out of conviction in obedience.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:1-2

At times we act as though God has left us on our own to figure things out. We wrestle with decisions absent of searching the scriptures or hearing the Lord in prayer. Even the wayward kings of Israel sought out the Prophets for how to act in a given season but failed to follow the actions laid out.

Through the Holy Spirit and the word of God we have access to the Father’s will and the means to understand it. Building in vain is not something we should find ourselves doing. Bowing to other kings is not an option. We see in the accounts of Israel the results of such actions, and we know from church history it has gone the same way since the ascension of Christ. When we choose to look to other sources to set our path in a season we stray from the grace of God and find ourselves lost.

Remember the Lord our God is good and perfect in all he does. His ways and thoughts are higher than our own. What God has laid out before us in a season will always be good even when we do not feel it or understand it. His nature will never change. In every season his ways will forever be good and best.

The Imitation Game

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“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Paul’s words to the Corinthian church)

When I think of men who have found themselves far astray from God but repented with strong conviction when they are exposed, some characters in scripture come to mind. Peter and David are examples of this. It is astounding how many times David chose to do something questionable or wrong. Yet each time he realizes what he has done, he turns to repent.

We should not follow David in the slaying of thousands of enemies, or in sleeping with his friend’s wife. But God calls David a man after His own heart. David’s instructive pattern in the psalms leads us to know and be with God. There are aspects of David’s life to emulate but some no man or woman should imitate.

Likewise, Peter has moments along his path we absolutely should not imitate. Do you recall the night Jesus was awaiting his crucifixion? Peter denied Jesus not once but three times. 

Peter follows this up by standing before a crowd on the day of Pentecost to deliver a sermon to the masses, sharing the gospel in each person’s language. This is the launch of the church. Thousands were added to the number of followers of Jesus that day. This is something to imitate.

Fast forward and we see Peter preaching the gospel to Gentiles following a vision from the Lord. He obeys in spite of not fully agreeing with God. He chooses to surrender his own understanding and will to walk in obedience. This is something to imitate.

Fast forward again and we see Peter has gone back on his inclusion of the Gentiles. He tells them they are welcome only if they adopt certain Jewish customs. Whether it be to please the Jewish believers or an inability to fully surrender his initial prejudice against the Gentiles, Peter returns to following portions of the law in his practice and teaching. This should not be imitated.

So, can anyone say as Paul does to the Corinthian church, imitate me? Paul includes an important word: as. We can imitate our leaders but only in the ways they are imitating Christ. Only Christ can be fully imitated. Peter was not disqualified from the kingdom or from future leadership but these examples of wrongdoing are evidence that no one can take the place of Jesus.

David was disqualified from building the temple with his own hands because of all the blood he spilled. There are repercussions for disobedience. We see from this that we cannot imitate the whole of a person’s life since all people battle sinful desires. God’s plan for David’s lineage to give birth to the Messiah, however, was not nullified. God chose for Jesus to be born into David’s line because of David’s heart to follow after Him. 

There was but one who walked the earth in the flesh and did not sin, one who’s perfection is to be imitated in full. That person is Jesus. Those who follow Jesus strive to live up to that perfection but will always fail to imitate him in full. In following Jesus we learn how to imitate him through following those who have gone before us in imitating Him. It is imperative as well to constantly realign ourselves to the teaching and model of Jesus himself. Thanks be to God for the Holy Spirit who guides us and corrects our path.

Paul in his own words rebukes the church of Corinth for their arguments over following Paul or Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3. He knows they are but men who serve God and not deities to be worshiped.

“So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” – 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

It is easy to fall into the habit of elevating a person to the place of Jesus. It is easier to imitate the fallen image of a human leader than God in flesh, especially when those we follow excuse our shortcomings. Listening to and following people who allow us to stay comfortable is not the narrow path but is the way of the world. The church since the beginning has had to fight the temptation of following man rather than imitating Christ.

As we see in the correction of the church in Corinth, becoming followers of people is not a new struggle. We have many to pick and choose from, including literary mentors. I love the writing and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and there are many ways in which I imitate him as he imitates Jesus. But he is not Jesus. There are aspects to his life that will fail to match the character and actions of God incarnate. This is not a disqualification of his place in the kingdom but rightly confirms he is not God.

At times we are tempted to ignore or explain away unrighteous behaviour in people we are imitating or learning from. In doing so we can find ourselves believing we are supposed to be a finished product, fully righteous, not in the process of being sanctified. Or, we can choose the other direction and overlook sin citing no one can be perfect, then go on to embrace everything about them.  Instead of being a little Christ we become a mini (insert name here).

Charismatic leaders often have this effect on people. An influencer, or someone with charisma, find the people around them imitating mannerisms, clothing, language and actions. These people are gifted leaders and can have a great impact, often starting mega churches or movements. While leadership is a gift that can serve the kingdom, it can also derail kingdom work when we follow a man in ungodly ways .

Jesus was unique in only doing what he saw the Father doing. Our attempts to do the same will always be imperfect. When rebellion is imitated, it is like a car in rush hour slamming on the breaks. The kingdom work is stalled like the traffic jam following that front car. It is not God who stopped. We just followed a person who stopped following God.

God not only leads perfectly but creates systems and order to maintain health. Elders should always be applying course correction to maintain the spiritual health of a body. They should acknowledge and warn people when they are following a person instead of God.This does not excuse each one of us from testing all things. Someone told me once to receive everything with faith and test it all. Doubt and skepticism should not be a part of our pursuit of Jesus, but testing is what keeps us on the straight and narrow path. Without the two we will find ourselves stuck in traffic, then taking an exit that leads us far off the narrow path.

Learning from those who have gone before us and witnessing the lives of faithful men and women helps us grow at a rapid pace. It allows us to build off the experiences of others and not just our own. We should imitate healthy followers as they imitate Christ, but only as they imitate Christ.

Well done!

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There are a few places in scripture with lists of requirements for service in the kingdom of God. In each instance the balance of gift vs. character skews heavily to the side of character. The more elevated the position, the more important the character becomes. This exposes what is of import to the Lord. (Acts 6, 1 Timothy, Titus 1)

Whether it be the selection of an apostle to replace Judas or an elder in a local congregation, scripture prioritises holiness over the skill or gift of the individual. It is not that gifts do not matter. God gives gifts to individuals and to the church but many of these same gifts are held also by people in opposition to the kingdom of God. Gifts alone do not make one qualified to serve in the church.

What we celebrate is what we promote. I hear talk in many circles about creating a “culture of honour”. The fruit I see from this is the affirmation of gifts. While that isn’t inherently evil, it results in elevating individuals according to skill rather than holiness. Rather than celebrating a new area of repentance or someone’s nature becoming more like Christ, we tend to celebrate a sermon or singing skills, giving no thought to that person’s spiritual health.

I love the way God inspects what he has created and declares “it is good”. His nature is to inspect (or judge) in order to affirm, not just correct. Public affirmation should be given only for things God is affirming. If we create rules of our own and affirm people for following them, it can lead to a return to a form of the law or create a cult. This is what people like Luther and Bonhoeffer were correcting after a period of the church leaders forming their own rules.

For a person to be obedient in their pursuit of Christ, everything they do should be in service to God. All gifts have been given by God just as every breath in our lungs. As such, each breath and gift is in service to him. Our spiritual health requires understanding how we have uniquely been created to serve the Lord. Our gifts, however, are only a by-product of our discipleship, not the supreme focus.

The overemphasis on gifts sidelines the primary focus, the spiritual health of the individual, and often alienates certain gifts. The gifts a culture is comfortable with will be celebrated while the others cause shame in people. If the development of gifts becomes a by-product of discipleship, everyone serves and excels in their gift as they are called in season.

It is more difficult to focus on spiritual maturity than the presence of gifts. A test of someone’s vocals is easier than a testing of the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life. This is a more intimate and invasive process but is hopefully done out of love.

Issues can arise from public affirmation of the function of a gift. It can place a false import on the gift. Secondly, it may cause followers of Jesus to replace the affirmation of God with the affirmation of man.

Remember the reaction of the 72 (0r 70 depending on translation) upon returning to Jesus? (Luke 10:17-24) They celebrate because the demons were subject to them. Jesus responds with “celebrate that your names are written in the book of life.” It is not wrong to celebrate deliverance. What is harmful is the pride that arises from the celebration of a gift instead of gratitude in the grace of God.

Expressing gratitude for the work of God is the way we should affirm. To acknowledge the continued work of the cross in a person affirms who they are in Christ and their surrender to it. Praising the accomplishments of an individual lends itself to pride. Acknowledgement of a gift should be used in the attempt to encourage a person into greater obedience, not greater ego.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1

Public affirmation of righteous acts tends to enable direct disobedience to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:1. We often crave affirmation. We struggle to find satisfaction solely in pleasing the Lord. Thus, we seek opportunities to please people instead. Our desire to please people is often used to keep society in line. As a society we create a system of approved actions and affirm the people who accept them and cancel (or mute) those that disagree. A desire for affirmation can lead us to mirror those around us.

Dualism is created within a person when their public and private lives disagree, for example, righteousness in religious settings, and depravity in private. That is why a pursuit of holiness from within should be encouraged rather than just a set of actions to emulate.

Again, I say, public affirmation of actions or gifts is not inherently evil. But proceed with caution. It lends itself to creating a culture that elevates self rather than God and can lead us astray down the path of pride. Gifts are given by God, but we are not to celebrate the gift but appreciate the gift and honour the gift giver.

We all need the affirmation of our Creator. To hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant” is what we seek. An insecurity in this affirmation drives us to seek it from other sources. For believers, this other source is often just slightly off the mark as we look to our Christian leaders as the conduits for the Lord’s affirmation. 

We are running the race for that eventual prize. We look for confirmation we are on the right path and the affirmation of the Lord awaits us at the finish line. This promise is meant to be enough. While affirmation from each other can at times be good, it is not when it generates insecurity in the Lord’s affirmation.  

There is a big difference between joining the affirmation of the Lord and replacing it. But that difference can be blurry at times. Sometimes our created systems of “honour” may cause men and women to perform for affirmation rather than act out of obedience and compassion. The Lord is after the heart of a person not the picture of righteousness.

In many cases I have discovered public affirmation does not encourage the transformation of the heart but creates an increased hunger for people’s affirmation. Affirmation then becomes like a drug causing those who crave it to abandon the path of righteousness or get buried under a list of duties.

There is a reason why Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” Public displays of righteousness expose the insecurity in the affirmation of the Lord and ultimately point to who you serve. You are a slave of the one whose approval you need.

Do not withhold affirmation when you know the Lord is affirming someone. Be like Jesus affirming the disciples for their confession of who he is. Affirm people they are loved by Jesus as John so often does. Affirm the signs of freedom arising from a life of repentance. Ask God to reveal what he is affirming in those around you and join him in affirming it too. His affirmation is what we need just like all creation did when he inspected what he made and called it good.

WARNING!!!

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Is warning necessary in evangelism and discipleship? This is a much-debated question. There has been a move away from the tactic of warning people of hell and the destructive reality of sin.

Believers love to talk about the benefits of trusting in God. We cling to the promises God gives (even if those promises were accompanied by a warning) but we often ignore sections of scripture where God warns of disaster awaiting those who refuse to turn to him. God is consistent with these warnings. 

In the Old Testament God frequently warned his people through the prophets and has continued to do so .Warning is likely given even more consistently these days with the gifts of the Holy Spirit available to all. Warning when heeded protects us from impending judgement and plants us securely on the path of grace.

27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. – Colossians 1:27-29

The formula Paul uses for bringing people to maturity with Christ is: 

Warning + teaching = maturity

As with any formula, removing a portion from one side changes the result on the other. As a culture we have much teaching available to us. The content available through the internet is astounding. Some may argue the depth isn’t there, but if you really look, you can find depth of teaching from a good source online. This can be very beneficial for self-education or the autodidact. 

I have noticed although more teaching is available to us, the warning is absent. Scripture, however, is clear about the consequences of not following God’s ways and includes actions of obedience. Studying scripture is how we learn to live in Christ the way we are intended to live. (2 Timothy 3:16) When that way is not followed, the ways of the world (which always lead to death) are embraced.

When we walk in obedience we live in step with the living God and are like gardens tended by the Holy Spirit, bearing fruit. When we walk in disobedience, we walk in a wasteland destined for death. Results like broken relationships and addiction await those who walk not in the path of the Lord.

We need to be warned of what awaits us if we stray from God’s path. Warning prepares the hearer in such a way that the teaching takes root for the maturing of a believer. It perks up the listener and allows them to see the perils for what they are.

For much of my life when teaching large groups or walking alongside a brother in Christ, I would often see the warning clearly but instead of sharing it only focused on what will happen if the teaching is followed. I thought the role of the prophetic voice was to push people towards the positive direction. Recently, after reading Colossians 1, I was freed from a burden of filtering out the warning. I realized the warning was not fatalism but acknowledging the only destination apart from Christ’s intervention.

In the Old Testament story of Jonah, Jonah is sent to warn Nineveh of coming judgement. The people of Nineveh never received any option of  hope and repented anyways. The warning was what saved them when they were on the brink of destruction. How can we know the urgency if we don’t know our current state? We are all ignorant to our reality in at least some small way. Wouldn’t we change that reality if we knew better?

Warning makes an issue real. It is no longer a hypothetical or academic review of a subject, but an urgent matter requiring a response if the teaching isn’t currently being followed. The warning produces the fear of the Lord.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – Proverbs  9:10

The fear of the Lord is what leads us to submission. It is what causes us to surrender in full. It is where wisdom begins and our rebellion ends.

Could you imagine if we refused to warn people about things in the natural world in this way? Imagine if we had no road signs in a place warning people of a collapsed bridge or of moose crossings. Imagine if there was a deadly disease going around and it was considered taboo to tell others about it in any way. Imagine if our planes and cars had no way of warning us of malfunctions. After considering those scenarios, is it an act of hate to warn someone?

It is almost humorous how seriously we take warning in our society for things that can cause physical harm. If we aren’t warned of peanuts in packaging, or potential side effects from a medical drug we sue the manufacturer. Where I live we even have signs telling us not to go on the wet rocks so a wave won’t wash us out to sea. But if we are warned of spiritual danger, we often lash out and get angry. Since the spiritual has eternal impact, one would think we would embrace those warnings with open arms.

Warning someone that breaking a law will result in jail time is not judgement but a hope to save someone from judgement. Are we not to do the same thing? We know the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). If we see someone sinning, is it not best to warn them of the death that awaits? Is it not best when teaching to highlight the path of life and what happens when you refuse it?

We give Jonah a hard time for anticipating the destruction of Nineveh. But destruction was what was in store for the people if they didn’t repent. It was the heart of Jonah that was out of line and not his logic. His warning was true and it led the Ninevites to repentance. Jonah should have desired the outcome of life over death, but the option of death was the path they were on and he rightly highlighted that.

We need to understand why God warns people. It is the same reason he came and sacrificed himself for us. It is to save us from death. We need to see warning the way he does. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. Jesus who taught us the way to life was preceded by the warning of John in his message of repentance.

Without warning, why would we ever worry about consequences? If we are ignorant of where our path is headed, how would we know we need to repent? Rather than treating a warning with hostility, we should see it as a life line pulling us back to safety. We should welcome any effort to lead us back to the fear of the Lord and life abundant with Christ.

Instead of receiving a spiritual warning and accusing the speaker of passing judgement, we should acknowledge it as an attempt to save us from judgement. The warning is the message that judgement awaits and now is the time to access the cross to make us clean. Warning is not judgement but an attempt to save us from it. Just like telling someone to stop before they walk off a cliff or step on a landmine, a warning to turn away from sin saves a life from a death that is more permanent than this mortal shell.

The God You Want vs The God Who Is

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There are many times in our lives we are confronted with who God is in a way that challenges our current belief. It is beyond our capacity to fully comprehend his eternal nature, thus we make conclusions based on limited understanding. This is nothing new, but has been the ongoing struggle of humans since the beginning. We see as a model the New Testament letters written shortly after the launch of a church, correcting faulty teaching and practices.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.1 Timothy 4:3-5

The God who is will not always be the God we want. We have a tendency as humans to pursue the things that feed our passion. In some cases this is a good thing, but in others our hearts are not pure. This makes following what we want to be true, nothing but a lie. Our hearts are often deceitful and are subject to ongoing corruption by the world.

Often when we see God do or say something we like, we take that action or phrase and make an interpretation based on our own desires and perceptions. The truth is God never breaks character. Each word and action are always true to his nature and thus must be interpreted not through our desires but through the whole of scripture. An experience of God today, in the gospels or in the Old Testament is the same God with the same nature. Jesus is the one who spoke creation into being and was worshipped by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God is real. He is alive. He is not created from our suppositions. Our defining him as we wish does not make him so. He exists outside of our definition of who he is. He is the Alpha (beginning) and Omega(end). There is no end to his existence and no impact from his creations can change who he is. 

The Triune God spoken of in John 1 as before anything else is the same that exists in Genesis in creation. It is the same God who also cast Adam and Eve out of the garden and brought a flood to cover the earth that wiped out most of creation. He is the same God who made a covenant with Abraham and chose his offspring as the first witnesses to his plan of redemption. He is the same God who took on the form of man for our sake, and by his mercy took the punishment for those who turn to him in repentance. He is the same God who is preparing an eternal place for the elect and will return to bring an end to this age and judge the living and the dead. He has not changed from the beginning and will not in the end. His plan was known to him since before creation and we cannot disregard elements of who he is or what he has done. He is the same God from beginning to end and is true to his word.

The God we worship is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God made clear through his taking on flesh and through his death and resurrection. He is further clarified through the sending of the Holy Spirit who leads us into true understanding of all God is.

In Acts 3 Peter explains to the crowd in Solomon’s Portico the power experienced isn’t in themselves or a new God. It is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the God of their ancestors) who they put to death in ignorance before being raised back to life. This is not a new God or a new nature but the same God who existed before creation, now revealed clearly in the flesh.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:14-17

To know God better, we are never to adjust teachings endured since the beginning. There are certain things that are to be unshakable in our beliefs. We are not to tear up the foundations laid in the apostles’ teaching but rather allow the Holy Spirit to expose what is false through scripture in community. We are not to hold experience over scripture or isolate teachings that support our passion. Instead, we are to tear down any false view of God we have so that the truth can be built upon a solid foundation.

God’s hatred of sin is an area of contention for many. We have seen since the garden the reaction God has towards sin. God loathes it and punishes accordingly. We saw it with Adam and Eve, in Noah’s age with the flood and we see it in the requirement of the cross. In James 4 we see friendship with the world makes us enemies of God. 

In Acts 21, Paul travels to Jerusalem and is greeted by the new Jewish believers along with a riot of people looking to kill him because of his welcoming of the Gentiles and doing away with many customs. Instead of examining their views, the Jewish believers were so unwilling to abandon some false teaching they turned to anger and violence. This is not abnormal in the history of the church.

Wars have been fought between Christians over false beliefs. My own Anabaptist history has much persecution for beliefs. The early Anabaptists faced drowning for views of scripture (like full-immersion baptism) seen as heresy by Catholics and Lutherans alike. As the Anabaptists read the bible in their own language they discovered false practices and teaching and looked to correct them for which some were met with death.

Interestingly, for the Anabaptists it was an era of returning to early traditions and understanding the way of Jesus, but the false beliefs of the age (inside and out of the church) were so embedded in believers this movement was met with hostility and pride. We should be very careful when approaching the teaching and wisdom of the present age, always holding it up to our plumbline (the word of God).

No one wants to be caught on the side of false teaching like those who wanted to kill Paul or the other faithful throughout history. The solution seems to be to allow the truth of scripture to convict and correct our understanding. We should not shift like the winds with every teaching but stand firm on the word of God. When the word of God is not comfortable or what God does is not compatible with our understanding, we must confess we are wrong about who God is and what he commands us to do.

I would not want to be like the Jews who didn’t recognize their own God and cried out for his death. To avoid this we must embrace truth even though it requires suffering or difficulty. The radical teaching of Jesus will forever be radical. His words are accompanied by a promise of suffering. The world at large will never accept him, and a choice to be friends with this world is a choice to be an enemy of God (James 4:4). On which side will you fall?

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6

Humility is required to embrace correction. Pride will lead us down the path of heresy and keep us there. Pride doesn’t just hinder us in the presence of others, but also alone in the presence of God. Pride impedes us admitting error and wrongdoing which keeps us from the grace of God. As we approach all teaching we must have a desire to have exposed what is wrong both in our current view and in what is newly introduced.

So humble yourself before God. Ask him to expose where you have worshipped a false God. Spend time in the word with others asking God to build up a right view of who he is and what he has called you to. When Jesus makes a command, follow it. When you need the correction of a letter in the New Testament, take it. And when the God of Abraham (Old Testament) makes no sense to you, seek to know him as the one true God.

Grace is inaccessible if we remain proud. There is no grace for willful ignorance to the truth or disobedience to his commands. God’s grace leads us through correction to holiness. If that is not the direction we are headed, we will not know his grace. Through humility, however, his grace will forever bring us from glory to glory until we reach our eternal home with Christ.

Hide not from the truth of who God is. We must not create for ourselves false gods reflecting what we desire. That is not God.  There is only one God who is, was and always will be. He is the I AM and no created thing can alter the Uncreated One.

What is there to Forgive?

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When contrasting arguments are laid out it is easier to distinguish the path and outcome. When it comes to a life filled with emotions and complications, it is not always so easy. The last blog started on the adventure of trying to increase vigilance to remain on the path that leads to life.

This series of blogs is not presenting a way of living that earns salvation, but displays the path of Jesus. Jesus is the way the truth and the life, the only way to the Father and life eternal is through him. This implies the path of life placed before us through Jesus is narrow. It is walking as he does and abandoning the path of death that we walked before knowing him.

The paths before us lead us either back to death or continue us along the path of life with Christ.

The paths of forgiveness and unforgiveness like that of humility and pride split into the same two paths. Forgiveness, like humility, can be found on the way to life and unforgiveness, well you can probably figure out where that leads.

Jesus highlighted this contrast in his teaching with a parable. He went as far as to say that our own forgiveness is tied to the forgiveness we show to others. There is no wiggle room on this theme; it is life or death that lies in front of us.

Jesus then models what to do in one of his last acts on the cross with the words “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Matthew 18:21-22

Forgiveness does not keep memory of hurt. It lays no foundation on which to build future wounds or slights. In so many instances division or separation comes as a result of a build up of events. Anger at a first time offence is very rare. Usually it is triggered by memories of past wounds that are still raw, or lightly scabbed. When Jesus responds to the man saying to forgive 70 x 7 he is not telling him to start keeping a notebook with tallies of how many times he has forgiven people. Without getting into the numerical significance, although I encourage you to explore that yourself, Jesus is essentially saying to forgive infinitude.

You may have heard it said “time heals all wounds”. Whoever told you that was misinformed. Just take a look at the conflicts in the Middle East, or maybe even the current status of the American people. Time just lets wounds fester unless treated. Like a physical wound, it gets worse and infection sets in if untreated.

It is not time that heals emotional wounds, but God through forgiveness. Healing comes not from just speaking words of forgiveness but acknowledging the pain and handing it over to God. Removing the pain and letting go of any desired vengeance makes room for healing. The memory is not removed but the wound then is. In place of pain comes joy. If that person or situation is brought up in the future there is nothing to trigger, no wound to poke.

Suppression is not forgiveness. Ignoring that something happened does not take away any of the pain, but temporarily numbs us until the pain becomes unbearable down the road. Suppression is used because of the promise of time dealing with the wound on its own.

Like any infection, unforgiveness spreads. It can lead to anger, and a quickness to take offense. What could have easily been overlooked in the past becomes a new wound. Unforgiveness can lead to gossip which takes the place of productive speech and it invites others on that path to death.

Forgiveness can be an active practice through inviting God to reveal any harboured unforgiveness to deal with. A person committed to walking in forgiveness doesn’t wait for disaster, but acknowledges even a small hurt or sin done against them and quickly forgives and delivers unto the cross the wound to be nailed there with Jesus. The practice should in the end never desire another person to be set on the road to death but saved onto the path of life. Forgiveness is the practice that turns hurt into praying for those who persecute you. There is no promise of a future free of pain, just the promise of a past free of it.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant[c] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Matthew 18:23-35

The choice of forgiveness is not an easy one. There is something inside of us that acknowledges the wrong done and recognizes the need for justice. To make matters worse, if our own health or wellbeing was attacked in the process, we may feel violated. Sometimes we feel as though withholding forgiveness is the only way to hold out for justice.

Can you imagine if God felt this way about our sin towards him? What if he responded to our sin against him in that same way? The justice of God is mercy triumphing over judgement. On the cross Jesus took upon himself judgement that we may receive his mercy. All repented sin is greeted by the mercy of God as our sin is nailed with Jesus to the cross. That which is left unrepented will meet the judgement of God. What is fascinating is Jesus tells us mercy is unavailable to those who harbour unforgiveness in Matthew 18. The parable of the servants is used to demonstrate the seriousness with which God treats unforgiveness. Our being forgiven is placed in our hands as we choose to or not to forgive others.

When it is presented this way, how could we question the significance of unforgiveness? To receive the deserved punishment instead of the forgiveness offered to us because of our own inability to forgive is a price I am unwilling to pay. It is too steep!

As we saw in the last blog, the path of life takes vigilance. On it we find the fruit of the spirit but it takes discipline to stay on it. There are influences both external and internal that try to pull us away and off the path. Regarding forgiveness, we must be quick to forgive but also be sure to expose our hearts before God to find if there is any remaining unforgiveness.

The Lord knows the capacity and timing needed. Steps on the path must be taken in order. The grace of God pulls us along revealing the next obedience. I have found after asking the question “Is there any person I have not forgiven?” the Lord doesn’t withhold but protects me until I am ready to face a past situation. I remember a moment when God dealt with my inability to receive love from others and a floodgate of memories came in accompanied by an awareness of unforgiveness. This was after years of asking this question of God regularly.

When unforgiveness is held it is like a weight pressed upon us. We can ignore the pain by suppressing the memory or hold resentment but as soon as another situation touches the previous wound it adds another weight on top of the old one. Over time that weight grows to a point of unbearable pain. That last event could be very small but because of the built up weight it causes us to lash out and end relationships. If we go our whole lives without practicing forgiveness many old wounds with stacks of weight on them will be triggered. We become fragile from a life of unforgiveness. The Holy Spirit can lead us through memories of situations and people we harbour unforgiveness against. Through forgiveness and giving God the pain, those weights are removed leaving us free to embrace any future situations fresh.

This is why forgiving 70×7 times is possible. The pain is not felt all at once as the past wounds have no bearance on the future. Imagine how many relationships could be saved if there was no build up of unforgiveness and the past wounds had no impact on the present reality!

When we forgive someone, it doesn’t snap them right back into a category of trust. When there is no repentance on the side of the other person, it gives us awareness of where they stand with God. We may very well have to practice turning the other cheek, but it is not out of blindness but obedience that reconciliation happens (if beneficial). The presence of unrepentant sin will continue to separate us after we have forgiven the other person. Our forgiveness does not cancel their need to repent, and as always sin separates us from God and others.

I was reminded by a friend this week that pursuing reconciliation between brothers and sisters in Christ is the call. At times the vulnerability of that pursuit is difficult for me. Taking another punch and forgiving again without sharing how it impacts me is easier for me than sharing the impact with the one who wounded me. I often need the reminder that God actually desires I be loved by those he has chosen to walk with me. Without pursuing reconciliation, that option is not on the table.

There was a moment in my life when I had a word from the Lord to not trust another leader. I ignored this word giving him the opportunity to create difficulties, division, and sin in the lives of the people I led. God was so gracious in healing those wounds, but it didn’t have to go as it did. There are people that are compromised by sin and lies. These people cannot be trusted. It does not mean we have grounds to withhold forgiveness, but it does mean we should withhold trust and partnership.

Forgiveness is a command and not a choice on our behalf. The decisions which follow are not always as clear. How we manage the relationship after forgiveness requires discernment, obedience and an understanding of whether the heart of the person is repentant. I am sure a future blog is in order to focus on how to navigate those relationships, but for now we need to see the clear choice of paths.

There is no option on the path to life but forgiveness. Unforgiveness will always take us on a hard turn off the narrow path and bring about disaster in our lives. As all sin does, unforgiveness takes root in the heart and spreads to corrupt everything within us.

A Choice of Two Paths

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I often reflect on the dynamic contrasts presented in scripture. We can sometimes miss this when we read scripture in small chunks. As we read larger sections, we see the drastic contrast between the path of Jesus and the path of sin.

Scripture presents many forks in the road. One path leads to life and the other leads to death. Some see a third alternative made up of a balance of the two, but in many cases this is impossible. A person cannot allow part of himself to follow the path to death and another part to life. We were not created fragmented like this.

This is why writers like Paul list practices that send someone down the path to death next to a list of actions on the path of life (Ephesians 4:17-5:21). Life and death do not share a path. They cannot. As we come to know the way of Jesus, the path comes into greater focus. We learn to stay on it as the distinctions are clarified. There are not individual paths for each contrasting characteristic or choice. It is one path we walk on that leads to life or death.

In my scripture reading recently the postures of pride and humility have become as distinct as east from west. The way of humility is on the path to life while pride leads to death. It becomes so clear as we see the path chosen by Lucifer contrasted against the path of Jesus. Is there a clearer life and death analogy than the chosen path of God and Satan?

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5‭-‬8

In Philippians 2 the story of Jesus coming to Earth is told through the lens of God giving up his place of divinity to be born without status and to go on to die a shameful death. The humility shown is astounding. God clung not to position, power or wealth, but gave it up although he deserves all honour and praise. In the end Jesus is elevated and will be praised on the lips of all created beings.

In Ezekiel 28 the fall of Lucifer tells the opposite story:

Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.
Ezekiel 28:17

Lucifer reached for the status of God. His own beauty and wisdom led him to elevate himself. That led to his exile from heaven, cast out of the presence of God to endure eternal death or existence apart from God and his goodness. There is not a lot told to us of the battle in heaven and eventual exile of Satan and his followers. What we do know is equality with God was not his place and he reached for it.

In both of these contrasted narratives there is an exodus from heaven. One is chosen and the other forced. For Lucifer it is exile from heaven, he is thrown to the earth. For Jesus it is voluntary with a planned elevation back to eternity in Heaven.

Although our starting place was not heaven we are faced with the same choice and the same ending. The way of Jesus presents us with service to all in humility. We are never to look to our own elevation here in the eyes of the world (or even other believers) but for the sake of others, just as Jesus gained nothing for himself in descending to earth. He being God was already the highest authority but gave it up.

Pride is to think of oneself much. Humility is to think of oneself little. The result then of humility is to think of the interests of others. Our own way and legacy ceases to be priority. Pride is not just when we reach for equality with God, but when we look to our own elevation. It is when we act entitled, our thoughts thinking of what we deserve and where we should be. This does not mean positions of power or leadership are evil. A role of power still has the path of humility available. Does Jesus not model this perfectly?

While on earth, Jesus welcomed those who had nothing to give him instead of embracing people in power. He invited the children, the sick, the poor and despots to him and gave them life. Though power he had, he used it not for himself even though being God he is deserving of all honour, power, and glory. Humility is the path of service fueled by love of others.

The heart is where the divide really happens. A person could have actions of service while they are only doing it to be seen by others. They might post to social media of all of the good they are doing. This reveals the prideful heart. Rather than doing it in quiet for the sake of others, they need to be seen. They are thinking of themselves. A humble heart will perform the same actions in secret looking to the interest of the one they serve.

Humility doesn’t desire recognition or reward. It is important to search out our hearts posture. As we see through scripture, one path leads to death and the other to life. Stay far away from pride. Humble yourself before God and repent if you see the orientation of your heart towards your own elevation. It is not too late to get onto the path of life. His grace sustains us on the path in our ignorance, but when conviction comes, the choice must be made.

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.
1 Peter 5:5‭-‬6

This topic which seems so clear is at times so difficult to see our error. So with this I close; be vigilant in humbling yourself before God, prudent in guarding your heart, for the path is narrow and many voices will attempt to lead you astray.

Somebody Save Me

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Do you feel at times you need saving? We often see individuals and groups in the media crying out, “We need to be saved!”.

I have found both in scripture and in life that looking to a saviour apart from Christ leaves me empty. Trusting in a man, a group or a philosophy ultimately leaves me hollow. This is the opposite of what I have found in Christ. There is no let down in him at any point in time.

What is it we let rob our peace? Do the happenings of our day cause us to call out for salvation to anyone who will listen? Or do we trust in the goodness of the Saviour we already have? Don’t get me wrong, receiving charity from a person or relying on others can be a very good thing, but not at the expense of our peace. This is not to say we should go through life numb and without anything rocking us. That would in fact remove us from the one above as well.

This is why Paul so adamantly shut down the comparisons and praise of the people. People wanted to make Paul their saviour. They mistook him as a God (Acts 14) and compared him to Apollos (1Corinthians 3) as the saviour to turn to. It took a concerted effort for Paul to fend off these attempts. This is still an issue today that religious leaders are looked to for saving rather than Christ himself.

So how do we navigate receiving, and expecting things from people without rejecting God in the process? Treating God as Saviour and Lord are both required. Surrender is how we know him as Saviour, not to be saved as we would desire, but how he chooses to do it. The story of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, sending 10 plagues (Exodus 7-12) and then delivering the Israelites, is not how any of us would choose to be saved. But it was the way of God, and in the end, all of Israel (and Egypt) were in awe of God. Israel to this day knows God as the one who saved them from Egypt.

This is the essence of the first commandment — having no other Gods beside the Lord. Looking to a man or institution as an answer to a problem is fine, but not for salvation. What is the distinction?

Will we be saved by a vaccine or by a political party that restores our freedom? Are we waiting for these things? Are we like the Hebrew people who didn’t know their God and wanted Pharaoh to deliver them from the oppression he had placed upon them? Where did that get them? It was in finally turning to God as Saviour as they followed his instruction on the day of Passover, that they were saved from death.

Every time I hear or see a follower of Jesus use the term “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) I picture the Israelites crying out to God to give them a king. It is a statement of rejection of God and desire to trust in a man for their salvation. I am not making a political statement but an assessment of who we trust with saving us. The statement MAGA implies there is both a man and nation who can bring salvation. A vote for a person should not be a welcoming of a saviour.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
1 Samuel 8:4-9

In the final days of Judges leading Israel, there came a cry from the people for a king. They desired a man as saviour and king instead of God. This was a rejection of God and not just an addition of another. They already had a system with leaders enacting the words of God, but they wanted to be like the rest of the world who didn’t know the God who brought them out of Egypt.

Looking elsewhere for a saviour reveals a rejection of Jesus. Just like Israel asking for a king, it comes down to us not understanding who Jesus is. Our seeking a saviour elsewhere is heartbreaking to God. It means we don’t really know Jesus. How could we search elsewhere if we did?

I think most Christians, if they were to give a quick gut response, would claim Jesus as Saviour. But if they were to take the proper time for introspection, they would realize they look elsewhere. I think there is often a divide between the songs we sing on Sunday and who we cry out to during the week.

The narrative of this world will always be that we need saving. It is what their hearts are screaming. It is the reality they live in. If they are self aware, it will be their reaction to their life situation because they do need a saviour. Since the fall, creation itself speaks to a need for a saviour. The heart of man is scrambling, searching for something or someone to cling to for salvation. We should not be surprised when politicians or social movements use this to build themselves up as a saviour. Have you noticed a political debate often turns into “if you vote for my opponent you are asking for destruction but if you vote for me you are asking for life”?

Are you seduced by this talk? Support for a person or recognition of the benefit they bring is not a bad thing. We should care about the place we live, but desperation for what one man could bring, or fear of what one man could provide reveals you are still looking for a saviour.

Does this mean we don’t take aid from others? No not at all! We receive it with thanksgiving of the person/people/organization, but also God. For we know that every good and perfect thing comes from above. Our provision is ultimately from him. So we are thankful for the vessel of blessing and the one who provides the blessing. The answer is not to become numb or go through life carefree. The answer is to put our faith in the Saviour who is always worthy of our trust, the one who is always faithful and merciful.

The narrative of the church should always be “we have found our Saviour and his name is Jesus”. The church has no need for another saviour, but only that which he provides. You will notice in Paul’s writing to the Ephesian church he makes a point in showing that God has gifted the church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. They are not saviours but people provided by God to serve necessary functions. In turn, the Great Commission sends us out to make new disciples of Jesus. It is he who is saving them.

I leave you with a hymn that reflects my heart’s response to this topic.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” Lord, unto me!
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” Lord, unto me!
William Marion Runyan

Is God For You?

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I have heard the statement “God is for you” so many times recently. These words bring much hope to the listener especially in times of difficulty, but I can’t help but wonder if these words are true.

This saying is derived from Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Yes, this is the verse you often see tattooed on arms, or written in profiles on Instagram. This verse has become the mantra for many. But is this verse understood correctly and can it be attributed to everyone?

Let’s press pause on that question to explore whether we can take promises given to a specific person in scripture and receive them for ourselves. Often when I see a promise in scripture I put it through a simple test. I ask, “Could this verse as I understand it apply to Stephen (martyr), Paul (often beaten, shipwrecked and imprisoned because of obedience to God) or Job? If it can’t, then the promise isn’t plug and play in the way I understand it.

It is really hard to know what promises are true for us if we don’t know the full story of God. We end up with an a la carte God. It is not the “I AM” but our own fabrication. We can’t know how he deals with us, or what he has planned for us if we don’t know Him.

Let’s take for example the promise God gives to Abraham. “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 17:4). Can we take this promise and claim it for everyone? I think not. Think of the population growth.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:5

The book of Jeremiah itself begins in chapter 1 with God speaking to the unique call to Jeremiah. In fact the whole book contains moments of God speaking directly to Jeremiah dealing solely with the life of Jeremiah and his call. In other parts God delivers messages directly to the nation of Israel. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of those. Spoken to a specific people, plan and timeline.

Jeremiah 29 begins with this explanation: “These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” The entire chapter, including verse 11, is addressed to these recipients.

So back to that question, is God for you? Absolutely he is for you. The Gospel screams he is for you. He took the punishment you deserve upon himself while you were still a sinner so that you may know life. If that doesn’t mean he is for you, I don’t know what else he can do.

But is he for everything you do?

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Jeremiah 17:9-10

God is not for our plans. He is not completely for our thoughts and desires. Many of our desires are harmful for us and he is not ok with plans that lead to death. Often when we hear “He is for you” we receive it as he will bless me absolutely, or in whatever I want to do.

Paul in writing to the church in Ephesus makes a point of reminding the believers God has prepared tasks for us to walk into. He tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) That means it is Christ who commands my steps, who prepares a way for me. We can know these plans are good, but they often differ from our own plans, and at times are not our interpretation of what is good.

Our understanding of God being for us and prospering us is usually applied to how we want to prosper and not viewed through the lens of what God knows is best for us. We hear he is for us and the path of “drinking from the cup of suffering” (Mark 10:38) or “picking up our cross” (Matthew 16:24-26)doesn’t fit that narrative. We may think we will prosper despite acting in rebellion to God. God does not enable us in our sin, but allows us to feel the refining fire that we may repent and turn back to him.

The place to start understanding a God who is for us begins with surrendering our assumptions of what that means. It begins with studying the stories of how he walked with the faithful before us. We need to read the entirety of scripture, not just select stories we like.

Walking in the Lord’s favor means walking in right standing with God. It means walking in repentance and laying down our own lives in obedience to Jesus our Lord. Remember it is not about us. We are living for Jesus. Jesus is not a butler waiting to act at our will and prosper our lives. We are in fact the servants tasked with advancing the kingdom of God through the works he has prepared for us.

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
John 15:20

The same God who told Israel of his plans not to harm them, promised us we would be persecuted. Jesus over and over promises his followers will be persecuted as he was. This does not contradict any other promise he gives us. Our view of God being for us must be defined through this lens. It must be consistent with what Jesus calls us to. It must be understood through how he has walked with his people and not as we desire it to read.

Joshua (in Joshua 5) confronts the commander of the Lord’s army asking whose side he is on. The commander replies he is on the Lord’s side. Life is not about us. It is not our glory we are to seek but God’s. It is not our plans he blesses but his plans we follow. Like Joshua we must decide who we are living for, ourselves or God.

The question we should ultimately be asking is not Is God for me? but am I for Him?

Peace I Leave With You

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Do you know what you were made for? The answer to this question is one which many men and women search their whole lives to find. This question comes from a place of unrest. The conflict within a person causes them to seek meaning, often from many different sources.

Finding your purpose through relationships, activities, work and even helping others will not lead you to the peace you seek. For a while one may be satisfied feeling the high in the newness of something, but they will find themselves again searching for meaning. Most people have numerous crisis points as they discover themselves or assess their lives, often in their teens, midlife or even retirement.

A life of crisis was never in our design. It is a result of having no peace, or Shalom. Shalom is wholeness. It is the state of something being aligned, harmonious, unbroken. It is the way we were created and what our souls long for. Without this peace, we will forever have chaos within and create chaos around us.

We translate the word Shalom (Hebrew) and Eirene (Greek) to peace, but there is such depth to the word shalom that can be missed in translation. The word peace in English has a fairly narrow focus. When first created or translated from Anglo-French in the twelfth century, the word peace was used to mean a freedom from civil disorder and spoke to a unified nation. It evolved to include “friendly relations between people” over the next hundred or so years. In all these cases it spoke to a relationship between separate entities.

The Greek or Hebrew word has more depth to it. It speaks to something being as it was made to be, whole, in order, prosperous. As believers, we know sin has impacted every created thing and thus peace is only made possible through Christ. Nothing, not even creation itself was untainted by the fall. So nothing can be at peace without the blood of Christ.

Peace is accomplished from the finished work of the cross. The restorative work of the cross brings us to a place of peace. That is why the peace of Jesus is complete whereas it fails from any other source.

Peace is the result of living as we were created to. We were created to live for Jesus. In all we do, we are to do it with our eyes fixed on Jesus. We do all things with and for Christ. Peace only exists when that focus is unbroken, when each action is “what we see the Father doing”.

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:16-20

One could say the Gospel summed up in one word is peace. The message we bring to the world is that of peace. Our message is that through repentance there awaits restoration in Jesus to the way you were made. You can find peace through calling Jesus Lord. By placing your hope and trust only in Jesus, you can find rightness with God and be made fully whole.

True Shalom is not primarily about circumstances although that is included. It is about an alignment of creation with its natural state. Shalom was created by and for Jesus. Since the fall of man, the concept of peace has always been accompanied by hope, hope in the one that would restore what was corrupted.

Jesus does not just bring peace in circumstances, but rather a holistic peace that remains beyond the experience. He in fact is our peace. We were created by and for him so our wholeness is dependent upon him being our focus. That is true for all. The inner chaos of a life not centered on Jesus will soon bubble over to the outside. Likewise, the peace Jesus gives will in turn bubble over to the world around.

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:26-27

This hope for peace was realized in the person of Jesus who in turn sent the Holy Spirit to bring us a peace within that cannot be touched by the outside world. Jesus was and is the answer for a world without peace. He is the one that can restore us to the way we were made for he is the word that spoke us into being. The word that became flesh to dwell among us is the one that spoke creation into being. (John 1) The Holy Spirit in turn reveals Jesus and makes known his instruction to us producing the fruit of peace in our continued obedience.

If we try and pursue peace apart from aligning under the Lordship of Christ, it is not peace we pursue. Pursuing an end to a conflict, for example, is not the same as pursuing the biblical concept of peace. We must also understand the world’s pursuit of peace without Jesus is a fool’s errand. There can be ceasefires for a time and an end to specific external conflict but the chaos can only be stilled through the blood of Christ.

We have used the word peace in such a narrow capacity that we haven’t allowed the true fruit to ripen. This word with such depth of meaning, which for so long has been used as a blessing in coming and going, has lost its meaning.

We as believers can and should seek an end to world conflicts, but always alongside the message of the peace of Christ. We must acknowledge that our pursuits apart from Christ are pure vanity. We could stop wars and rescue millions of slaves but without Jesus they will eternally be without peace. This doesn’t mean we stop doing the work of the kingdom, but we must know there is no peace apart from the blood of Christ and repentance of sin.

We were made by Jesus and for him. He didn’t stop there, however. Knowing our peace would be lost to sin, he took the form of his creation and through his blood spilled on the cross welcomed us back to peace and a state of living for him. Therefore, let us stop searching for peace apart from Christ and discover it is only through the Lordship of Christ that peace is found.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Isaiah 52:7

Finding Treasure

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Did you know the treasure I have found in Jesus is worth everything to me? The sacrifice Jesus paid is worth life itself. To be made right before God and brought into relationship with the living God, let alone the inheritance I will receive, is worth everything. What Jesus has done is good news, and remains good news even when we find out  the cost is to give our lives as a living sacrifice. To live in full obedience to a good God demands we lose our lives so we might receive life eternal.

For the past few months, I haven’t been able to move away from contemplating the cost of following Jesus. It is important to know what we are gaining in following Jesus but also the cost. It costs our lives to follow him but in this we are not paying for all Jesus has done. There is nothing we could give that can pay the cost of salvation.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Matthew 13:44

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:45-46

In both of the parables about discovering the kingdom of God, the cost to acquire it is everything they had. They found the treasure and got rid of everything to obtain it. It was of that great value and importance to them.

I think when we read these stories we get caught up solely on the great value and miss the part where everything else in their life is now gone. It has been taken away but they leave rejoicing because of what they have found.

It reminds me of the story of the rich young ruler who approaches Jesus with a desire to follow him (Matthew 19:16-22). He faces the cost of having to sell his possessions and give everything he has to the poor. This was a high cost and we are left wondering, why did this guy have such a high cost of entry into the kingdom of God? 

The conclusion I have come to is this is what Jesus requires of us all. He does not always require us to give all of our physical possessions and wealth away, but the things of this world are no longer to have a hold of us. To enter the Kingdom of God we must surrender the entirety of our lives to him. Jesus just pointed to that big idol and said you need to give that up to follow me.

He does the same thing with each one of us. I know this isn’t a popular topic. But Jesus doesn’t just add to your life, he tells us to remove things we pursue and find comfort in apart from him. It blows a hole in how we often view the blessing of God. Please never forget that what we inherit in this is far greater than anything we give up. What we give up is good for us, but it is a cost when it is demanded we hand it over.It is a cost because we are blinded by the trappings of this world. Our eyes are fixed on the here and now, and it is hard for us to see what God can give beyond the physical things in front of us.

I am reminded as I write this of Jesus’ response to James and John (or more specifically their mother in Mark 10:35-45) following their request for seats of power beside Jesus. His response is not of granting this request but of asking if they are prepared to drink from the same cup of suffering he is to endure.

There is a constant warning of persecution that Jesus gives his followers. These are not just empty words but a promise of what is to come for those who follow him. There is no expiry date on this. There will always be people who hate Jesus and take it out on those who follow him. 

I think it is time we start acknowledging that words like blessing have to be understood not through a lens of the world but through that of God (particularly found in scripture). We should maybe start looking at the heroes of the faith who were persecuted and without worldly wealth as living a blessed life.

I am not making an argument to search out persecution intentionally. I am trying to set up a life that holds everything of this world with a loose grip, willing to let it go as directed by God, even if it is painful trusting in a good God who sees the need for us to be rid of certain things, or enter into certain situations.

There is an inherent cost to following Jesus. It is renouncing all other masters, for with Jesus there can only be one master. That is not the way we are used to living. We treat ourselves and many others as Lord of our lives. We experience the cost when we reach a situation where we confront a love of money and have to let go of it. The cost is letting go of the way our lives pursue that love of money.

We see the cost in the lives of the disciples, giving up occupations and leaving their homes to follow Jesus in scripture. But the cost doesn’t end there. Frequently they are faced with a worldly desire they have to let go of to embrace Jesus.

It is the same for us. Not only was there an initial cost to follow Jesus, but our lives ongoingly present a cost to following Jesus. We no longer serve the gods of wealth, power, status, or family. We come into moments of conflict regularly where we must count the cost as followers of Jesus and believe the treasure of Jesus is worth more than what we see in front of us. 

The pursuits and desires we are bombarded with in this world are no longer what we follow. We have given those up and are set on the path of the Kingdom of God. It is narrow with many seductive offshoots, but we must not turn away from the path. For the treasure that lies ahead is of value beyond comprehension. We get to experience a taste of that treasure here, but what awaits is unimaginable.

Deny Yourself

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“If anyone wishes to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24

How practiced are we in denying ourselves? To abstain from making a purchase, avoid an impulse buy, not watch every football game, and choose not to embrace your “best life”, is very countercultural. Between the values pulled from consumerism and individualism which heavily govern our lives, there is not much room for self denial.

When Jesus made the invitation to follow him there was always a cost involved. There was an invitation to give up your life and deny yourself. What you desire is to be sacrificed. For the rich young ruler it was his wealth. For many it was leaving their occupation. For some it was following before their father died. In all cases, Jesus zeroed in on a desire and made it clear that following him had a cost.

As I have observed reactions in this pandemic, I realize it has exposed our lack of practice in denying ourselves. If we were practiced in it we would not be throwing tantrums when something is taken away from us by someone else. If we were used to saying no to our own desires then when someone else calls us to it, we wouldn’t find it overly difficult. In fact, we could find joy in the act of denying ourselves.

Have you ever thought of the persecuted church in this light? They understand the cost when they choose to follow Jesus. They give up everything in this life to follow him. Everything can and often is taken away from them, yet they still follow and find joy in obedience to God. Have you ever noticed Paul is able to rejoice from prison? He doesn’t even ask people to pray for his release.

It is interesting those we once most revered in the faith were monks that essentially gave up every pleasure of this world and martyrs who gave up their lives. I am not going to get into a discussion here on that extreme but they surely understood there was freedom in letting go of the desires of this world. There was a clarity that came with denial and an openness to the desires that God gives.

If we are able to deny ourselves in obedience to God, then when a situation comes where we need to give something up or something is taken from us (even our “freedoms”), we are content. If we haven’t learned the freedom that comes through self denial it will feel like punishment and we will be filled with grief or anger.

To be honest, if we do not practice self denial we will be prone to the responses of a toddler who throws a temper tantrum in the store when they can’t have the toy they wanted. A good parent knows giving into every desire of your child isn’t good. That’s why you limit screen time and the amount of sugar they consume. I would say many recent posts on social media have resembled a bunch of toddlers at a toy store whose parents just said no.

I expect this behaviour from the world, but not from believers. We should be able to rejoice in denying ourselves. How often do we read the grumblings of the Israelites in the wilderness and think, “Look at the way God is caring for you. Why are you complaining?” And then sports are shut down and we can’t leave the province so we complain just as badly. Self denial helps deliver us from the state of entitlement which was the posture of our old self and into a state of contentment. “It is well with my soul” can only really be understood through learning Jesus is truly enough. That’s why he requires us to deny ourselves the things of this world. Our whole self needs to discover this peace that only comes through the practice of self denial.

I have gone through seasons of my life where I have been convicted about the amount of time I spend focused on things of this world. I remember years ago when I had to give up watching sports for a time, not just because of the amount of time I spent on it, but because it had become an idol in my life. The act of denying myself this thing I loved was necessary to discover what had eternal value.

We all start following Jesus with a set of beliefs, values and desires. The cost of following Jesus is giving those up in surrender to follow Jesus. That is not to say there won’t be some desires that are good and will be encouraged by God, but they are to be laid down regardless. Our walk with Jesus is going to be filled with constant disruptions. Some of these will be from what Jesus requires of us, and some are because of a fallen world with hardened hearts.

We know from the Gospels that when Jesus invites someone to follow him he has them lay down the things of import at the start. This however is just the start of a life learning to deny themselves, not the completion of the sacrifice.

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
1 John 2:15-17

When we don’t deny ourselves we get tricked into thinking this world is enough. We begin to live for what happens in the here and now. When we deny ourselves we begin to remember the eternal and begin to experience the peace that comes in living for heaven and not for earth. What comes is a peace in the storm as we become aware this life is but a breath for the purpose of imitating Christ and being transformed into his image.

I posted something on facebook the other day which I think is a good gut check: Nothing exposes our lack of self denial in obedience to God quite like our reaction to prolonged forced withdrawal (AKA long suffering).

I will not ignore the fact some things taken away from us we cannot just roll over on. If the state takes away something commanded by God it cannot be a healthy form of denial but will steal us away from him. We see this in the early church as well as in the persecuted church where they must discern where obedience to God is at odds with obedience to the authorities of this world.

When denial is not a voluntary act and something is taken away from us, we panic because our eyes are fixed on this world. When we are used to denying ourselves, we still need to surrender to God and possibly mourn, but it is a practiced habit and a place of peace, not internal chaos.

Denying ourselves is a practice for us until the day when our only desires are those which God has. The life of a believer is one in which we should ever be getting closer to this but will never attain until Jesus returns or calls us home. I long for that day, but know that while I am here I must continue to surrender my desires and practice the discipline of denying myself.

What Guides our Speech?

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Does anyone else remember the time when everyone wore bracelets with WWJD written on them? For those of you who don’t, WWJD stands for What Would Jesus Do. It was supposed to be a constant reminder to ask yourself in any given situation, “What would Jesus do here?” Everyone who attended a youth conference at the time sported the bracelet.

The memory came to me as I was reflecting on the words of Jesus in John 5:

19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so you may marvel.
John 5:19-20

These words keep coming back to me as I scroll through my social media feed. I think, would Jesus post these words or share this link? Is this something the Father is about? I know these are words about Jesus who is both fully God and fully man. He has an awareness of the plans of God we will not on this side of heaven be able to fully grasp. But that being said, is our life’s goal to only do what we see the Father doing?

You might say this is an impossible goal, and we would be idle all the time if this were the case. This is a possible response when facing the question of holiness and obedience to God. It is not what the result should be but some people treat the words with fear rather than freedom.

Scripture is chock-full of instruction on how to live and what business God is about. There are numerous words given on how to act in the workplace, treat the people around you, and pursue success. I think the place we must start is in the word. We must be looking for understanding of how Jesus would attack the situations we are facing. What advice would he give to a friend or co-worker?

We are told to stay away from certain things because they do not agree with the character and promises of God. This doesn’t mean we should try to defend our position with scripture, but be transformed by the word, allowing it to change the advice we would give. How could we ever say we are about the Father’s business when we ignore the instructions he has already given us?

Words like those found in the Sermon on the Mount, or any of Jesus’ teachings, when applied will transform much of the advice we give and actions we take.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29

These words in Ephesians, if made a grid for every social media post, would pretty quickly clean up our feeds (both in quantity and quality). A sign of maturity is our every word and action being inspired and guided by God. Worldly platitudes no longer come from the lips, and slander has no place in the heart. Only a word that is acceptable before God, one that would pass the lips of Jesus, flows from ours.

There will be a point in time when we are so free from the hold this world has on us that out of our hearts will pour only what the Father is about. That is what we are aiming for! Until that day we must take care to root out that which pulls us away. We must search to know God completely, taking care with our word and actions to represent Christ.

For me, the process of surrendering actions helps. Before making a decision, writing a text or email, making a phone call, I attempt to take the moment it requires to say, “God I surrender this to you. Would you lead me into what is good and relevant and cleanse my heart and thoughts from that which is not of you.” We still need to know God and his ways in this process. As he exposes falsehoods, we need to know them as such. We must be able to recognize truth from lie even in our desire to only be about his business.

Let us always look to the example of Jesus. Just as he, being fully God and man did only as the Father did, let us imitate Christ in our actions. Let our goal be to imitate Christ with consistency, acting and speaking in accordance with his way and plans according to the need of the moment.

Victory in this Season of Grace

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Having just come through Easter, the victory of the resurrection should be fresh on our minds. The words out of Isaiah “death is swallowed up in victory” accurately sets the scene of Easter. Complete victory was won. This is the testimony we walk in. This is the good news of the gospel.

So how does this apply to the season we are in now? Are we walking as victors in Christ or hiding out waiting for the season to pass? Is the kingdom of God on defense or is his kingdom advancing?

God is not sleeping through this season. He is not waiting until this pandemic stops. In fact at no point in our lives is that the case. There is no season in which God turns to us and says, “Let’s just make it through. We are in this together.” Thinking of this, I am reminded of when Joshua asks the man in front of Jericho, “Whose side are you on?” It turns out it is the commander of the Lord’s armies and he replies, “I am on the Lord’s side.” (Joshua 5). Whose side are you on? Being on the Lord’s side, is there any reason to cower or fear? What could make us just wait out a season?

God is not taking a break or treading water. He is very active! His kingdom isn’t rebuffed but ever advancing.

There is a season for everything as Solomon learned. But there is no season where the gospel has no say. There is no season where God is not present and active. We need to stop looking at life through the lens of the world and start seeing it through the lens of the gospel. We need to understand God has plans he is accomplishing right now and he is inviting us to join him.

I am finding when I take time to listen, his wisdom, warning, direction and correction is abundantly clear at this time. He is revealing things I have held on to and freeing me from the burden. He is giving me insight for what he wants to accomplish and inviting me to join him. He is revealing truth in scripture in new ways, giving incredible wealth in revelation. I am hearing testimony of the same thing from those who have sought the Lord regarding what this season is about. He has given such a grace to see him clearly and clear out the temple (we are temples of the living God).

It is time to stop consoling each other and grieving the life that was. (Grieving is not a bad thing. If you have lost a loved one, please take the time to grieve the loss with God.) But grieving life as it was? I am finding what this pandemic has done is expose all of the things we anchored ourselves to instead of Jesus. Our health is in question, finances uncertain, job security has disappeared, support networks destroyed, and friends and family made distant. So many things we placed our hope in and relied on for security just got ripped away. If you ask me, this is a wave of grace exposing where we hadn’t allowed the gospel to transform our lives, where we haven’t surrendered and trusted Jesus and have not believed the truth of the gospel.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Matthew 7:24-27

The gospel is unshakable. It is the anchor that cannot be swayed by the storms of life. When the waves hit they are rebuffed because our security is not in this world. We need to stop consoling each other as believers when we are distraught from these things being taken away. We must see this as an opportunity to repent, confess how we have not trusted Jesus, and allow him into whatever area was exposed. If anxiety comes over a stock portfolio collapsing or job loss we say, “God I confess that I have relied on myself and the wealth of this world for my provision and security. I surrender this area to you. Would you expose the lies I have believed that have kept me from the gospel, and reveal the truth?”

Let’s look at it this way. Before this season hit, we had the same issues. The pandemic just exposed them. There wasn’t some massive victory by the enemy causing us to suddenly not trust God or cast a shadow over the gospel. The issues were just “manageable” or hidden before. The answer is not to stay hidden and wait for this season to finish. WE NEED TO STOP TRYING TO CONSOLE ONE ANOTHER, AND MANAGE OUR WAY THROUGH THIS! This is a window, by the grace of God, for freedom and to learn to trust God through our surrender in all of the exposed areas.

I have said this before and this probably won’t be the last time. I really like conflict. It is actually a place of comfort for me. Conflict is when something is “incompatible or at variance”. It activates my hope because I know it is what allows for growth. This season is one of conflict for all of us. We are being hit with a realization we are not as secure as we thought we were. We are being hit with the reality we were placing our security in things that are being wiped out. Don’t avoid this conflict. Conflict is what inevitably happens when anything new is introduced. It challenges the old way and forces us to change or remain, depending on what we decide.

The act of allowing God in through repentance is what sparks the spiritual growth in us. These moments of conflict where what is inside is exposed provides opportunity for freedom. We need to start realizing we can’t ignore it when we see the gospel at odds with our hearts and behaviour. These moments of awareness provide opportunity for us to become anchored in Christ and free of the chains attached to the false anchors of this world.

There are ample opportunities for spiritual growth at such a time as this. We need to start looking at these circumstances as the grace of God because the freedom the gospel offers is way better than anything we had before this season.

There is no going back to how things were. Thank you Jesus for that! I don’t want to lose the freedom I have found in this season. I want my testimony to be: I used to fear and toil in vain on my own but Jesus saved me and now I am free, and free forevermore.

My Covid Response

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It has taken me awhile to sit down and write about this Covid-19. Although I have more time on my hands, I always write out of lessons God has walked me through. I write when I feel freedom and clarity to share the lessons I have internalized. I also wait until I get a sense it is the time to share those thoughts with the world. Social Media is my medium for more spontaneous revelation in these days (of which God is sharing in abundance!).

There are two thoughts that keep swirling around in my head. They have become the focus of a lot of phone and video conversations. The first is that this time came as no surprise to God. He has been aware of this moment and season for all of us as individuals, as a society (global and local) and as the church. He has a grace for this moment to usher us into what he has planned for this time. The second thought is that I do not want this season to pass us before we experience the good things he has for us.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

Isaiah 40:27-28

This thought that “God is not surprised” brings me such peace. His view is not linear like ours. That is why we can receive prophetic words from him. He shares with us in part as a preparation, but he sees in full. There is no death, job loss, financial crisis, gift, or victory that surprises him. He is sufficient in all of these situations. He is prepared to supply all that I need in any situation. He is sufficient and blessing us in this moment we are in. What he asks is for us to call upon his name and ask for him to provide what we need.

This crisis is doing something extraordinary. It is pulling away those things in this world we cling to for support. Our health, our wealth, our friends and family, our ability to travel and yes, our independence (maybe read back to my last blog). It is revealing the things we think bring freedom and happiness and exposing them as fraudulent. Even movies and TV shows aren’t calming people or giving them life.

There is a beauty in this moment that is stripping away the things that take the place of God in our lives. Those idols we cling to are being shown as worthless and lifeless at this time. Realizing God knew this was coming leads to the beautiful revelation he is ready to take on being God in this moment. As all of those other things aren’t able to provide in this moment, God is. As all of those other things can’t silence the fear, God can bring peace. As all of those idols give no clarity on the future, God brings hope. As all of our healthcare systems are overburdened, God is still our healer, and our future can be secure with the knowledge that eternity is with Jesus!

He is prepared to be the place we turn to.

I have been spending the majority of my scripture time in the story of Moses from the point of the plagues in Egypt to the time that Moses is forced to lead his people in the wilderness. It is interesting God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to letting the Israelites go. There is something God wanted to accomplish in the season before freeing Israel (Exodus 6-12).

“But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.”
Exodus 9:12

We might think the best thing would be for God to soften Pharaoh’s heart so Israel could leave Egypt right away. But there was something the Israelites needed to learn before their exodus. They needed to see who their God really was. They needed to see his power and his care for them. I think of how he instructed them to put blood over their door frames to be protected from the death that awaited the Egyptians. God was teaching them, there is nothing I can’t do, and you can look to me as your protector and provider. This season became a point to look back to for generations to come as a reminder of who God is. What could have been a quick moment of deliverance, became a lasting reminder of who we can turn to, and that he knows the ending before we do.

The people of Israel didn’t fully learn the lesson and we get a picture of Israel turning to an idol of their own creation when Moses is gone too long (Exodus 32). The high priest himself enabled this rebellion against God. Instead of just glancing over this, God told a whole generation that they couldn’t enter the promised land because of their rebellion.

“because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Hebrews 12:6

Is this because God is a jealous God? Yes and no. Yes, he instructs us to turn from all idols, but it is not out of vengeance but grace that Israel must wander the desert. Like any good parent, God disciplines those he loves. He does this so they (and future generations) will learn to trust him and his ways. Discipline is not a pleasant thing but it is always good from God. Discipline looks like long suffering until the point that we get it. His grace will always sustain us in the suffering and we will turn to rejoice in it.

The dangerous thing about this season is if we let it pass without embracing it, we will be left behind. This is not because God isn’t gracious but because we have refused his love. God does not abandon us, but our rebellion (sin) creates a chasm between us which removes us from his presence. The good news is that at any point we repent that chasm is filled by the cross and we are invited back into his presence and provision. But if we miss that moment of grace we could be left behind until that moment of repentance (or indefinitely).

This is the second thought that has been driving my prayer life. “God, I don’t want to miss what you have for us in this season by your grace. I don’t want this to pass and go forward the same as I was before this. I want your church to embrace the good things and discipline you have for us now! Please don’t let this time end until we have heard and entered into your provision for this season.”

Just like the Israelite in Egypt, I don’t want us to miss the provision of God and be unprepared for the wilderness ahead.

Remember how King Saul lost his anointing? Although he had good intentions, he ignored the instruction of God and didn’t wait for Samuel to offer sacrifices. He offered them himself and then became defensive when he was exposed. It seems like he was given such a short time to repent of what he did, and he lived the rest of his life without the anointing of God. It instead passed to David. I don’t want us to live the experience of Saul! Please don’t let this be us at the end of this season.

I have such hope for the church in this season. My hope is we will embrace a fear of the Lord and a lifestyle of holiness we couldn’t have imagined prior. My hope is we will understand the gospel in a new way and be bringers of hope and peace to everywhere our feet touch. This is the invitation of God. Can you hear it? He has the storehouses of heaven to provide for us. Will that be our provision?

The Myth of Independence

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For so long we have embraced independence. We use the term independent as a compliment and something to strive towards. The thought of giving up our independence is laughable. The act of surrender is the act of letting go of our independence. It is allowing another to have influence, and even authority over our actions and decisions. But so many old hymns speak of surrendering all to God. How can that be a desire if independence is so important?

The act of surrender throughout history has looked very different. The results and ramifications have also varied, but have influenced the way we view surrender. The Roman practice of surrender on the battlefield was to lay down their shields. In ancient Greece, the surrendering party would send an olive branch to the opposing forces. In more recent history, we see a white flag being waved. These are the practices or the act of surrender by the conquered side. They were then at the whims of the conqueror. Throughout history there have been very different demands placed on the conquered foe. Some empires demanded tribute. Some still killed part of the population and set up city rulers under the conqueror’s control. In most cases the conquered group or nation would be at the beck and call of their overlords. If called upon, they would be forced to go to battle for the conquerors.

We know from scripture the nation of Israel had multiple points where they were conquered and surrendered. We see this in Egypt where they are enslaved and in Babylon where Daniel and his cohort are serving the court (as eunuchs I might add). In the Roman Empire, we see a mix of slaves, foreigners and Roman citizens who could all originate from the same region of the world.

In most cases, there would be some sort of negotiation of the terms of surrender, what the losing side would need to give up. The terms have differed across the ages and depending on the nations in command. One thing, however, is constant: surrender has always been seen as a failure. To give up some control and enslave yourself to an opposing force is a failure.

In contrast to all of those examples, surrendering to God isn’t losing. Let’s look at what happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, though they didn’t understand the terms, surrendered to sin. They handed all of creation over to an oppressing force that ever since has had us in its grip. We do not have the power to rise up against the force of evil that has enslaved us. We cannot rally together to overthrow darkness. What it takes is our surrender back to God. Surrendering to God is the act (made possible through the victory of Jesus) of returning to our previous state.

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”
Romans 6:16

The trick that Satan used on Adam and Eve was convincing them God was withholding and not allowing them to be truly free. The reality was very different, however. It was true freedom they were experiencing, freedom from the oppression of sin.

The difference between surrender to God and surrender to anything or anyone else is that God created us and knows what we are made for. That is exactly what he wants for us, and what he gives to us. Complete surrender to God allows him to vanquish all other things we have surrendered to. It will remove us from oppression and make us truly free.

Scripture tells us little of what the garden was like. But we know Adam and Eve had purpose and freedoms, without anxiety, need or struggle. The only restriction given was so they would not become enslaved to an oppressor.

God is so unlike any other being or force. He has no needs, no pride or ego to serve. He doesn’t need to flex his muscles with us or prove himself. His nature is always benevolent and good. He doesn’t wish to control, but to free us.

I believe surrender is such a difficult thing to embrace because the thought of surrendering to anyone else is crippling. Especially in an age where independence is so valued, the thought of handing over our independence sounds like and feels like oppression.

Independence is something we highly value as a society. Cambridge dictionary defines independence as “not influenced or controlled in any way by other people, events, or things”. Is that even possible?! I would like someone to tell me one time they were ever independent, based on that definition. I bet I could find a way you were influenced by someone else in making that decision.

I would argue we are always being influenced by something or someone. There is no single act that is so isolated it has no outside influence. By this definition, God would be the only being capable of true independence. He existed before all other things and out of his own desire created all things.

Even though we don’t usually outright state it, we associate independence with freedom. Ever since Adam and Eve were tricked into this association, we have maintained this idea. This makes surrender so difficult for us. We need to escape from this lie. We need to renounce it. We need to embrace the truth that only in Christ are we truly free. Only in surrendering to God can we find the freedom we long for.

Surrendering to God is not like surrendering to a nation. There are no negotiated terms of surrender. We need to surrender all we are to be influenced and directed by God. He does not ask us to pay tribute, or maintain partial pursuit of independence. It needs to be a complete submission so we may be free of the other influences.

“Submit therefore to God Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
James 4:7

The only hope we have to find freedom from death is surrender. The only way to be free of the grips of sin is to submit to God and resist influences that oppose Him. This freedom is available but we must first hand over our independence and trust God rather than the lie of independence.

Embracing Lent

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For much of the evangelical church, and possibly the Orthodox and Catholic Church, there is some awareness of the practice of Lent, and maybe even some thought of a biblical reasoning, but the history is foreign. Lent, like many other traditions, has evolved over time. At first it was a three-day preparation and has become a 40-day period on the church calendar that, for some, focuses on repentance and penance.

The word Lent (old english derived from Lentin) actually just means “springtime” or “lengthening of days”. It is more a description of the actual physical season and not the spiritual practices. The latin word however (which would have been the term used in the Catholic Church for centuries) is quadragesima, which refers to it’s 40-day length.

At first Lent was a short three-day preparation for Easter, but as the practice of baptisms on Easter Sunday were adopted by the church, it turned into a three-week preparation for new converts. It was a time focused on learning the core beliefs. It was like an incubator for those preparing to see their old lives washed away and embracing a new way of living. The early church joined these new believers in fasting and prayer as an encouragement.

As the church started to baptize infants the practice maintained some of the focus but turned into a 40-day period focused more on repentance and penance. The Catholic Church introduced mandatory minimum practices regarding the eating of meat on certain days. The 40 days came from the period of time that Jesus fasted in the wilderness where he ate nothing and was tempted by the devil.

As the practices have evolved over time, I think the purpose of Lent was lost a bit along the way. Lent was a time of incubation and preparation. I believe this focus must remain central in the season. As we abstain from food and other things in our lives, the lack we feel should increase our reliance on God and turn our focus towards him. It should help clarify where our true sustenance is found. This takes purpose and training.

I found out recently there are still a number of churches that have the practice of baptizing on Easter. This excites me. Baptism is an act of obedience that reflects what we celebrate in Easter. Our old selves are put in the ground with Jesus and we are raised to new life.

Lent should be a season where we are more keenly focused and reliant on God. It is a season of reflection and learning. Lent becomes lost when all we do is abstain from certain foods or practices. I would argue that Lent then becomes meaningless (though well intentioned).

As we continue on in this season, it is important to note this season is not supposed to be easy. I think part of the reason the whole church and not just the new converts participated in Lent is because it is something we need encouragement in. I understand Jesus went alone into the wilderness and endured the temptations of Satan, but Jesus is God and we are not. Partnering with each other to endure and redirect our attention to God is an important function of our brothers and sisters at this time.

Let us in anticipation of the harvest to come be vigilant in the season we have been called to. Not just following the letter of the law, but the spirit of the traditions. Let us turn our focus and reliance not on another created thing, but to God.

Whether you have started observing Lent or not, I would encourage you to look at how this season can best serve your increased reliance on God. I would recommend trying to simplify your life and getting to know the living God in intimate ways. Reflect on Jesus in the wilderness and the early church focusing on preparation.

As I write this the song lyrics from an old Brian Doerksen song comes to mind

“I lift my eyes up
Unto the mountains
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from you
Maker of heaven
Creator of the earth.

Oh, how I need you, Lord
You are my only hope.
You’re my only prayer.
So I will wait for you
To come and rescue me
Come and give me life.”

Lent should help us realize that these song lyrics reflect our constant state. Through stripping away the things we turn to instead of Jesus and focusing on him, we are able to see what brings true life. It prepares us to experience in all the fullness the celebration of the new life in Jesus we find in Easter. Like Jesus in the desert, we will find moments when we are tempted to turn away and try to find life in other things. (Read Luke 4)

Of note, the story of Jesus in the desert is what directly precedes Jesus’ public ministry. Although at times it might seem like a waste, Jesus models the importance of this season in our lives. May all you who read this be encouraged in this season to become keenly aware of your need for God, knowing true repentance as you strip away that which holds you back from the life God has waiting for you.

Expecting Opposition

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I sometimes find myself projecting my beliefs or morals onto the world around me. I think that when people around me don’t follow the same set of biblical morals I do, they must feel guilty and know what they are doing is wrong.

I usually snap out of this mindset quickly. I realize I have been incredibly gifted with the Holy Spirit who instructs me, and a text (The Bible) that informs me. I realize I am becoming more and more aware of the way of God, and that those who do not know him have no reason to know how good his way is.

I have found this to be a freeing way to approach the world. When others wrong me, rather than being the victim, forgiveness comes quickly. Not only that, I see the potential opportunity to share Jesus with the people around me.

I was reading the story in Acts 17 where Paul and Silas are run out of Thessalonica by some Jews. They were shouting lying accusations, trying to get Paul and Silas arrested or killed. This was similar to the experience Jesus had when there were paid accusers telling lies to convict him. The more I read of scripture, the more I see this is the consistent behaviour of those opposed to Jesus.

It should come as no surprise that we today would face people who do the same. Their opposition is not just to the person of Jesus but also his way. They find their morales in something other than the way of Jesus. It makes sense this would sadden us, but it should not shock us.

I find there are 3 response options we have when we encounter this kind of situation.

  1. We can act as a victim and lash out.
  2. We can join on the same level.
  3. We can forgive them and choose the way of Jesus.

It is really important as we learn, to stop and gather ourselves before making a decision. I believe option 3 can become second nature to us, but that takes time and maturity. Just because we follow Jesus doesn’t mean we instantly make all the right decisions.

As I write this, I feel the need to clarify who I am calling to this biblical response. Those who do not know Jesus have no reason to share my convictions. They may in some way agree with me, but I am not an accountability for them, for I have no one to hold them accountable to. To my brothers and sisters in Christ, on the other hand, I have the obligation to remind of the way of Jesus. Again this is not as a victim, but one who wishes to see them flourish.

I believe that as followers of Jesus we are called to very high standards. We are ambassadors of Christ and our actions should reflect his way of doing things.

I am a big sports fan. If you ask the people who have played with or watched basketball with me, they will know I hate it when players flop or embellish a call. Some will call it acting, but I call it deceitful. They are essentially trying to lie to the refs to get them to call something that has not happened. To me, this isn’t just a part of the game, but an immoral act. I have come to grips with this being a part of today’s game, but I would still not participate in it.To me it would be like hiding conditions in the fine print of a contract. You might call my convictions petty or small, but I think all of our actions no matter how small should reflect the way of Jesus.

It is so freeing to realize the world is lost and in need of a saviour. We cannot, nor should, try to align their actions with our own. Rather, we should live the way of Jesus and invite others to know and follow him.

So many times I have found myself frustrated at the Patriot’s or Astro’s cheating scandals, or basketball players who seem to flop on every play. But now I see the reason I would act differently is not because I am better than they are, but because I know the living God who has shown me a better way. It is no longer anger, but compassion, that fills me.

I wish I could say I have mastered this. The truth is, this is a new lesson for me. It is a result of seeing the extent to which God has revealed his ways to me and forgiven me. I see more and more the distinction between my old life and my new. I am thankful for this revelation and feel so much more free being the odd one out.

“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”
Colossians 3:5

As we mature as believers, there should be more and more that separates us from the world we live in. There will be moral convictions that have changed, and some things we must give up entirely to follow Jesus. This will create an ever-growing chasm between us and the world. We will find more and more opportunities to be frustrated by the actions or words of others. That is no reason to remove ourselves, but more reason to become a light in the darkness.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2

Remaining in the way of Jesus is a conscious choice. We will daily have opportunities to go along with practices that are opposed to Jesus. We must spend time in his presence and in his word. We must continually be transformed by him with the renewing of our minds. God is so faithful to prepare us for what we face if we allow him. We will so easily align ourselves with what everyone around us is doing if we are not prepared. This should not cause us to fear, but to learn to listen to the voice of God and be prepared for what he allows us to face.

God is so gracious to walk with us, not so that we can change the people around us, but so that we can live transformed lives that reveal that Jesus is alive.

Emmanuel

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As advent is soon ending and Christmas is almost upon us, I have been thinking of the anticipation the prophets had in the coming Messiah. They had such hope and expectation for God to save their people from the oppression of this world. They longed for an end to the suffering and separation from the living God.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14

The first time we see the name Immanuel (or Emmanuel) is from the prophet Isaiah. The name literally translates to God is with us. This is a prophecy telling of God being born into this world. This is the center of what we are celebrating at Christmas, that God descended and dwells among his people. This is the good news of Christmas, he is here with us.

I can’t help but think of the contrast between the wonder of that first celebration and now, how we have lost the wonder of God being with us. That first celebration must have been pretty incredible, with angels showing up to announce the birth and a miracle being witnessed in the virgin birth.

There were no decorations, no smell of baked goods, no presents (that we know of) on that day. There was just a bunch of animals, outcasts (shepherds) and Mary and Joseph in a cave with the animals, filled with wonder and worship. They all knew this child was God in flesh, the king above all kings, and they were amazed and privileged to be invited to the celebration.

The Shepherds were invited by angels to the celebration, and came to find Mary, Joseph and Jesus (who were strangers to them) where they were told to go. They believed in faith and their response was first of praise, and then of telling the whole town of what had occurred. Mary (let’s be honest, is probably pretty worn out) took a different approach and more privately reflected on what just happened.

This whole interaction was about celebrating God being amongst them, worshipping the King who was present.The incredible thing is we can still worship the living God who is present with us. Yes, Jesus left to prepare a place for us, but the Holy Spirit is very present here with us. Emmanuel is still a very true name at this time.

When we think of our Christmas celebration, how central is Emmanuel? Are we still in wonder like the shepherds, praising our saviour and sharing the good news abroad? Or has the birthday boy taken a back seat? Has the celebration and all the trappings become the focus of this day and season?

Don’t get me wrong, I think celebration is best served with a feast and shared with others, and this should be a marvelous celebration each year. But I think we can get distracted by traditions and elements of the festivities. We forget to include God, let alone make him as the focal point for the entire day.

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Philippians 2:6-7

Christmas should be a day to marvel at the fact that God not only thought of us, but took on the form of a human so he could dwell among us and make a way to forever be in our midst. The gift given in Jesus should take the spotlight throughout the celebrations. That doesn’t mean it is wrong to feast, share gifts, and celebrate our traditions.

Let’s remember that first celebration where the celebration was open to the stranger and the outcast. The focus was on the newborn saviour, God incarnate, God who was and is with us.

Renewed Hope

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Last year as I was researching the season of Advent, I was surprised to find out the celebration wasn’t explicitly linked to Christmas until the middle ages. The church originally used this time to anticipate the second coming of Jesus. It wasn’t until centuries later the focus became more on the birth of Jesus.

What we have today is a season leading up until Christmas, focused on the already and the not yet. It is joining in the anticipation of Israel for the long expected messiah as well as the return of Jesus, when he will make all things right.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
John 14:1-3

This season, like Lent, is not about the celebration, but finding hope in what is to come. It is a time when we purposefully acknowledge this world is not where we belong, and we are waiting for Jesus to return like he said he would. Just like the promise of his birth foretold through the prophets, we know and look forward to the return he promised.

Over time, Advent for many of us has disappeared. It has become the pre-celebration of Christmas. We have Christmas parties and feasting throughout the time leading up to Christmas. It becomes about family and loved ones, being together and finding joy in this life. In many ways, this is contrary to what the season is supposed to be.

Hope can be a hard thing to hold on to. When our hope is in and for things in this life, there is a possibility of disappointment. That does not mean we should altogether do away with hoping for things in this life. God shows up in this life and not just in the next one. But our hope in the return of Jesus, and what he will bring, cannot be taken away. In fact, when we place our hope in his return, trials only increase our joy as we find our hope stands true.

Anticipation for the return of Jesus is focused on a time beyond this earth. It is built on what Jesus has already bought, but only as the first fruits of what is to come. Anticipation for the return of Jesus can be tough because there is no countdown clock. We think, How long must I wait for the promise to be fulfilled? It is like an engagement with no wedding date set.

The focused wait of Advent is meant to tune our hearts and minds to the kingdom of God. When our hope is set on things in this life, that is where our focus will be. When our hearts and minds are set on the return of Jesus, that is what we work towards, what we talk about, where our treasure is.

Advent helps reset our focus. The feast of Epiphany will follow, a season of celebrating Jesus’ presence with us. Emmanuel, God with us, came in the form of a baby to bring light into the darkness and restore us back to relationship with our maker.

I remember one of my mom’s sisters and her family would not decorate the house for Christmas until Christmas Eve. They wouldn’t mix the season of Advent with the season of Christmas. I didn’t understand this as a child. Why put off the celebration of something you love? What good does that do?

As I have grown older, I have come to know the greatest of treasures here does not compare to what we are looking forward to in Jesus’ return. He will bring an end to our pain and sorrow. The best celebration here will pale in comparison to a day in the house of the Lord. Advent reminds us that living for today is meaningless. It helps renew our hope and place it in something more deserving.

Advent should align us not to proper celebration for Christmas, but in placing our hope correctly, in something that is not temporary but everlasting. The practice of Advent produces hope in something that is not a present reality but eternal, not looking forward to the presents under the Christmas tree, or even the time around the table with friends and family.

As the rest of the world looks to the treasures in this world in this season, it may be harder to focus on what is to come, but abstinence is where we find joy in the hope. When we find opposition in our hope, it builds our character and strength.

Traditionally advent was a time of fasting and prayer. Like Lent, it was a time to abstain from the treasures of this life to find the treasure of real value. Wow! We have come a long way from this practice!

Why not give some things up this Advent season? It’s not too late to stop the Christmas movie binge, or to save those cookies for Christmas. Why not wait in this season? Why not spend some time exploring what life will be like when Jesus returns? Why not focus in this season on what is eternal? Why not share our hope with others, telling of what Jesus brought, and the hope we have in his return?

This is not a season of punishment, but reward. To find our hope realigned is in itself a treasure, one not easily stolen or dismayed.

Too Quick to Change

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After my previous blog exploring the quick to respond transformation that God loves, I thought it would be helpful to pump the brakes in this one. Not all transformation is good for us. Change is a part of this life as a result of the impact of sin. We can either be transformed into the image of Christ or this world.

There are times we change quickly with the times without realizing we are actually changing into the image of a fallen man and not the perfection of Jesus. It is easy to get wrapped up in the movement and lure of culture. Change is appealing on many levels and deceptively looks like the way of God at times. Isn’t that the strategy of the serpent in Genesis who told Eve, “You will become like God.”

There is a danger with being swept up in change. Rather than being a part of the discerning process, a lot of people rely on the discernment of others. It could be a charismatic leader or a trusted community that could prompt this sudden shift in someone. History is proof of this. Throughout history people get swept up in ideology that brings about wars, genocide, idol worship and all manners of sin.

“ For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4

The new testament is full of warnings of false doctrines and false prophets. These are not just hypothetical warnings but promises that there will be people to deceive you. There will be people intentionally trying to lead you astray, and those who have been tricked themselves.

How does it happen that people can so easily change? It is so easy to take the more trodden path of least resistance. It takes vigilance not to get caught up in change that brings destruction. It takes being steadfast in the midst of opposition. It takes not being swept up by fears and desires. This walk with Christ is one of excitement and journey but also steadfast in truth.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them.
Exodus 32:7-8

Many of you may remember from Sunday School the story of Moses leaving the people of Israel to seek the Lord on top of a mountain in Exodus 32. He is gone for so long that the Israelites are worried about their future. So they do what they have seen done by other cultures and make for themselves a statue out of gold to worship. They make a golden calf. This is done rather quickly and not from the counsel of the Lord. They have seen God come through for them many times by this point, but still they quickly turn away.

There are times when we hold on to a desire and place it higher than the wisdom of God. We even search the scriptures and wisdom from people far and wide just to hear that our desires are good. The sad thing is that there are often counsel no’s from God in prayer, scripture and community that are ignored in the process. In fact, as this “discernment” plays out longer, the voice of God falls silent. Ignoring the voice of God in one area affects our whole relationship with him. It is never localized.

There is a key question that must be asked in this process. Is scripture my guide for and through this change? Am I using the culture of this world to inform and drive the change I embrace or the culture of the kingdom?

But, you might ask, “How do I really know if this change is good or not?” We don’t as believers usually start out by saying, “I want to rebel against God and his ways.” I don’t think that was the starting place for Adam and Eve either. We need to surrender our desires and potential changes before God. This entails bringing mature believers into the discernment as well. We shouldn’t go searching for the approving voices, but the voices of the faithful mature believers. We must surrender what we want to be the outcome, being willing to put to death the desired outcome.

We must remember that although we think we know what is best for ourselves, the one who created us knows us better than any. He always knows what is going on and is for those he has created and called.

Too Slow to Change

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I have been thinking a lot about what healthy change looks like. There are many examples in scripture of an invitation to repentance and a response from either an individual or group. My question is: Is it ok if we delay? Are we allowed to take our time and deliberate, sustaining the old way of life for a time? Change doesn’t happen overnight, right?

The story of Jonah going to the Ninevites has always seemed humorous to me. God sends a prophet who rebels and doesn’t want to go. And when he finally does, his expectation is that the people will not repent and God will bring wrath upon them. He has little expectation of the ability of a sinful nation to respond quickly to God, especially in the face of his own rebellion.

But the response of Nineveh is actually the response the Lord is looking for. They turn from their wicked ways when God shows up and reveals the error of their ways. They don’t delay, but right away change their behaviour and cry out to God. What if they did delay? I think Jonah would have gotten his wish. He would have seen a city destroyed in the book of Jonah.

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14

What happens when we are faced with our lifestyle contradicting the way of Jesus? What happens when the bible contradicts our beliefs and actions?

I have a tendency to be stubborn. You might at times call me bullheaded. I have a desire to dig in and fight when faced with something contrary to my beliefs or viewpoint. As I have matured, I have become quicker to repent, but at times I stand in my own way when it comes to being transformed into the image of Jesus. This stubbornness trait has a positive attribute alongside it, but for the sake of this article let’s look at the danger.

“27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””
John 20:27-29

Thomas, known to many as the “doubting Thomas” is known for his inability to trust solely in the words of Jesus. He needed visual proof in the risen saviour. I have heard people’s thoughts on the positives and negatives of this but I believe to always approach new revelation with skepticism is a sad reality. I remember someone teaching me once to always receive the revelation from God fully in faith, and then to test everything. This approach doesn’t start in opposition, but a desire to be in favor of that new reality. Thomas started with doubt and demanded proof to win him over. We see a patient Jesus in this scenario but Thomas is not praised for demanding proof.

The Rich young ruler gives us an example of a response of a man who saw the cost of change as too great. The change necessary to follow Jesus seemed impossible for him, so not only did he not quickly change, he decided to change was altogether too much. We have no insight into his future. He might have at some point bought in and given up everything for the kingdom of God. But again, that is not the point of the story. When Jesus told him to give up his possessions, that was the time to say yes.

A heart of repentance, or a heart after God, doesn’t put off the yes when he calls. A heart of repentance does not wait to bury our parents, or until we get that promotion. There is no ideal future for the yes, just the timing he has chosen. We have some stories of unrepentant people but so many other examples of individuals quick to change in scripture.

I love the story of King Josiah in 2 Kings 22. As the temple is being restored his people stumble upon the laws God has given the people of Israel. These laws have been disregarded for generations and the people of Israel are living in rebellion. When King Josiah discovers this, he cries out to God and changes his ways. He doesn’t stay on the same path or think about how difficult it would be to shift the culture back to what it once was.

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’”
2 Kings 22:18-20

As the people of God, we are to be like King Josiah, eager to embrace the plan of God. When that requires change, we embrace it. Change can be for the better or worse, but when it is in obedience to God, it is always good.

Let us not be slow to change. Let us be a people who hang on the very words of God, being quick to jump to his call. I don’t want to miss out on the blessing God has in store, and I don’t want his voice to fall silent in my listening. So for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Eyes Set on Eternity

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I was chatting with my friend the other day, and realized how little we think about the fact that this life is just a breath in comparison to eternity set before us.

There are so many people who have a hard time wrapping their heads around the thought of a God that would allow all of this sin and destruction in the world. The understanding of a God that would allow this suffering to continue does not make sense to them alongside the character of a loving and gracious God.

God, in creating us, knew there would be a need to save us from our own actions. God created the world without sin, without destruction or decay. The entrance of sin corrupted everything. But God was prepared with the plan of Jesus, so that man could choose to experience life as God intended, free from sin and destruction. God came to experience the pain of this life, so that we, having chosen sin, might have eternity as he intended and created it.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

We get to experience life to the fullest, eternally, with just a moment of suffering. This is the gracious plan of God from the beginning. When we lose sight of eternity, suffering loses meaning and becomes heavier. It engulfs us and steals our hope.

How are we to endure suffering if we see no end to it? If we only see life in this world, why would we not just live our best life here? These questions drive us when our eyes are not set on eternity. We live for this life by the standards set in this world. It may not be intentional, but the world’s message will be the one we focus on and follow.

Throughout the New Testament (and across the globe today) we see stories of believers persecuted, tortured and put to death for their faith. An interesting aspect to Paul’s letters is he doesn’t ask God to deliver him or other Christians from this torment, but rather strength to endure it.

The suffering of the believer gives testimony to their faith in Jesus. This holds true across beliefs. Beliefs are exposed in hard times and only that which is worth clinging to withstands the pressure. It gives testimony to what is important to that person. For a follower of Jesus, what is important is only that which is given by Christ himself. Discovering this comes through turning your eyes on Jesus rather than the things of this world.

This life we are living matters not because it is our only one, but it is where life eternal begins. We should not be setting ourselves up for life here, but for living with Christ eternally. These two options are drastically different. The things that matter in the kingdom of God are very different from what matters here. We will not be bringing with us any of our stuff, our jobs, or even our relationships as they currently exist.

Knowing what is important for eternity is important. Knowing God is important! Becoming like God is as well. So is bringing people along with us to life with Christ.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Romans 8:18-21

We should not expect this world and life focused on the eternal to share the same values, motivation or pursuits. In fact, because this world has been corrupted by sin, we should expect they will be at odds. We will see those who know life eternal persecuted. But do not lose heart. The greatest of hardships can not compare to the future glory. The way of this world has no glory to look forward to. This is the best it gets.

Setting our eyes on what is unseen and eternal allows us to take heart in persecution and when looking at the pain surrounding us. Eternity brings hope. Endless days free of this pain are ahead for those who choose it in this life. No suffering should tempt us to give that up for this short time on earth. The more we know God, the more we have to hope for.

So where are your eyes focused? Is it on the future glory, or the glory this world has to offer? Is your focus status, power or wealth? Or is it on the riches or eternity with Christ? What does your decision making process reveal? What does your bank account reveal? What does your calendar reveal? Take heart. There is eternal sharing in the inheritance of Christ to look forward to.

The Wanderer

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As someone who has lived in a few different places, and been a part of a few different local churches in this world, I find there is a common thread in each of Paul’s letters that always brings up memories.

Paul so affectionately ends his letters to brothers and sisters in the faith that he loves. You can almost accuse Paul of having FOMO. The phrase: “I wish I could be with you” is a staple. This is not just a turn of phrase. Paul has served so many, seeing many born to new life. For a time he watched them grow like newborns into children, then was called away.

“3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:3-8

Paul is not just writing a book on theology, but a letter to those he has bled with, preached with, battled in the spiritual realm with. He is writing to people he acted as a spiritual parent and brother to.

There are times in my life when I am hit with the emotions of missing friends, brothers and sisters of the faith. At times it is because I am aware of their hardships, and sometimes I want to rejoice in person with them. Sometimes it is just memories of good times together and I wish to be together. The sentiment in Paul’s letter gives me great comfort. At times I hear a voice telling me to abandon ship and just go back to another place. I read the letters of Paul and know his heart and conviction to continue where God has him despite the desire to go back.

There is such peace in surrendering where you are. The voice telling you to pack up and leave is at times deafening.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

I have a few friends who have had wandering years. It is a time in life when they are free to serve the Lord, travel, move from community to community as an encouragement. What’s left at the end of that season is a plethora of friendships, loved ones, and communities to which you feel you belong, without knowing where your home is.
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There is a benefit and a struggle in this. You feel a pull so many different ways, while also understanding better than most that this world is not our home. There is always a connection with those people. We serve and love the same God, we have the same Holy Spirit within us, and we have experiences shared.

There are good things that come from spending time in many communities, but also opportunity for the enemy. Satan wants to steal us away from what God is inviting us into in the here and now. He would love for us to be always on social media or phone calls, catching up with people and not attentive to what he has for us in the moment and place in which we are called.

On the other hand, the benefit of counsel outside of your setting is so valuable. Sometimes the people close to you have blinders in discernment and a discerning voice of encouragement is needed. That is what we see in Paul’s letters. He is close to the people but also removed from the situation. He is not drawn into the politics or the fears of fallout. He, in surrender, can clearly articulate the heart of God for the community. Paul also can’t make anything happen. He is not there. He has to release what he writes and trust God in the follow through.

If you are one of these people who know a life of wandering, you know the short moments together have such incredible value. Such life, rest, and courage comes from these moments. To have someone free to celebrate with and bring correction in fleeting moments often propels me into something good.

A lot of my “wake up calls” or most rapid development has been a result of a short period of time with someone not in my setting. It is not that everything changes from that conversation, but they don’t have blinders that come from everyday life together. We have a tendency to excuse things due to circumstances or context. A voice from the outside isn’t as focused on those things and can remind us of the call of God without the noise.

That is how I read Paul’s letters. They are in large part a reminder of what they have already been taught with some new revelation thrown in. Often the messages we have been told don’t translate into life change and we need to be encouraged to be continually transformed into the image of Christ.

I love my friends at a distance and am so thankful for the places God has placed me. But I, like Paul, never want to be led by FOMO. I want to be obedient to where God has called me while always attentive to the need of encouragement and edification of my brothers and sisters that I love and am no longer in community with.

May my fellow wanderers find comfort this day in the same conviction Paul had.

Knowing the Unchanging Nature of God

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Since being a slave to Christ is such a big topic, I decided to write about it again this week. So much can be learned of how to follow Jesus through scripture. There are directives, explanations of the Kingdom of God, and attributes of God presented. But there is another side as well.

God actually gives us personal instruction. He literally invites us to join him. He gives us tasks with unique invitations, he convicts us of sin, he gives us purpose and draws us into intimate relationship. Slavery to Christ is not just interpreting instructions in the text of the Bible. It is a living word, and a living relationship filled with conversation with God.

This means being a slave to Christ involves asking God what to do. If you have a decision to make at work, ask God for wisdom and courage. When you have a conflict with a friend, ask God how to deal with it. We are not left on our own in this relationship of slave to master. We are children of God who are loved by God. The relationship of father-child does not disappear in the slave-master relationship.

It is sometimes very difficult to understand the constant nature of God. Sometimes this is due to a culture giving new meaning to words, and sometimes it is due to the flawed human examples we cling to.

One might wonder how can God be both Lord and master, and our father? How is a loving father able to take on the role of master? Is not one harsh and to be feared while the other is loving and sacrificial? If you were to look at how people view the title of Father around the world, the description would look different. There would be some consistency, but probably differences as well. As believers we need to understand the nature of God not from a human perspective, but by who God says he is.

When the nature of God is revealed to us in scripture, it is who he always is. He doesn’t change from one day to the next. Change is a thing of the flesh, not of God. So when God is both Father and Master, there is no point in time when one ends and the next starts. Both relationships are happening at the same time.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

When God as a father gives good gifts to his children, he is also demanding our obedience. When God looks for what is best for his children’s future, it is the same master that invites us to endure the suffering of Christ. This is not an easy thing for us to understand, but important nonetheless.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17

There is much danger in throwing aside an attribute of God. What we end up doing is creating God in a fleshly image. Instead of one who is constant, he actually becomes a God who is more an imitation of man instead of the one who created them.

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
Psalm 102:25-27

As we look at the unchanging nature of God, we need to understand in fullness who he is. He doesn’t change from one moment to the next but remains the same. He in all instances is still lord and master, father and friend, saviour, the lord of heaven’s armies and judge (just to name a few). These are not split personalities, but the make-up of I AM.

There will always be aspects of God that are more comfortable for us. A lot of this has to do with our experiences, temperament and the culture we live in. But God is not subject to these things. His nature never changes, and we are forever discovering the fullness of who he is. We must take God for who he says he is even when we do not understand how it can coexist with other parts we already understand.

May we forever pursue greater understanding as we walk humbly and obediently with our God.

Who do You Serve?

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I have been thinking about the passage where Jesus says “you cannot serve two masters”. We are prone to compartmentalize our lives.We think that we are able to keep parts of our life separate from others. We are often instructed to do this for a healthy life. We are told, “Don’t bring work home,” or “Don’t bring your personal problems into work. Be professional.” For things of this world those distinctions can work, and might be very helpful. Being present is an important lesson we need to learn. Ridding ourselves of distractions allows us to live in the moment.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Matthew 6:24

This statement of not being able to serve two masters is used in the context of not being able to serve both God and money, but it applies across the board. Jesus being our master is a present reality in all situations, in all things. As he is our eternal master in the physical and spiritual, there is no point at which he stops being our master. In turn, there is no part of life that doesn’t fall under his purview.

That means when we are at work, Jesus is our master. When we are at church, Jesus is our master. When we are watching tv, Jesus is our master. When we are with friends, Jesus is our master. When we are shopping, Jesus is our master. Do you get the picture? We are not at any point in time without a master. When we turn to ourselves, money, or other people as our masters, that is rebellion.

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:24-26

The question we are left with is, how do we live as though Jesus is our master at all times? We need to start with applying the teaching and life of Jesus in each situation. We are not to conform to the ways of the world, but live at all times under the authority of Jesus. That means the way we speak, do business, surf the internet, entertain ourselves, spend our time, spend our money is not to be dictated by the world, but by Jesus. The pursuit of the newest gadget, the best stuff money can buy, “best practices” in business are to be put through the grid of the gospel. Jesus must be our master in all of this.

I had a great conversation recently about the way people play sports as a product of the morals of a society. We see some athletes embellishing calls, flopping, grabbing at jerseys, deceptively playing the sport. Would Jesus instruct us to play this way? Shouldn’t the play of a believer point to who their master is? I realize the things I mentioned are very much a part of the game, but would Jesus do it?

I love hearing about how my Papa led as CEO of a corporate farm. He made decisions out of his conviction of scripture and not the practices of the other farms that were doing well. The farm, even during the harvest, would have no work done on Sundays. My Papa cared for the families of workers and invested in the character of employees as much as their work skills. Even though he was serving the board and shareholders, his master is Jesus.

Slavery to Christ is not contrary to success or profitability, but winning at all costs is contrary to the gospel. The ends do not justify the means in the Kingdom of God. There is no timeout from calling Jesus Lord.

We are supposed to serve those in authority over us as unto the Lord, realizing that our Lord is still our master. He is still the one we are serving with the earthly authority functioning as a steward of power.

We cannot turn off serving our master. Our pursuits are those of our master’s. I think our hatred of slavery can cause us to overlook the language used in the new testament. Phrases like “a slave to Christ” are looked at as a turn of phrase rather than a literal meaning. Can we really look at slavery to Christ as a positive thing ?

Don’t be fooled, your #bestlife is that of a slave to Christ. Why would being Jesus’ slave be a bad thing? We have come to hate slavery, But, if Jesus were responsible for our lives, and we surrendered our free will, would things be better or worse? Slavery to Christ is a choice we should gladly make. It is the invitation for us through Jesus’ death and resurrection to come die and thus live.

I think we need to recapture the meaning of slavery to Christ. We need to see every one of our decisions and actions as service to our master. We need to see the entirety of our spheres as places to make disciples. We need to see there is no beginning or end to the Lordship of Christ. The times we choose another master never go well. What better master could there be than Jesus?

A Call to Obey

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I woke up this morning thinking about all the instructions Jesus gives us. I thought about how I at times pick and choose what is important and what isn’t. How is it we can be so combative on certain theological views and at the same time glance over direct instructions?

The Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in Matthew 15 come to mind concerning this issue. In Matthew 15, Jesus’ disciples are ridiculed by the Pharisees for not performing the ceremonial hand washing. Jesus in turn points out that the Pharisees are not honouring their parents, one of the 10 commandments.

I think we often skip over the commandments given and get caught up with cultural practices and heady theology. There are so many directives in the New Testament, both in the teachings of Jesus, and in the letters sent to the early church. I fall victim to glancing over these at times and going straight to deep theology. This is not ok!

These directives are given by the one we call Lord! That means we must obey. There is no picking and choosing what instructions to follow. We are to hear (or read) and obey. There are many deep truths in scripture to be discovered and ways in which we need to understand in greater depths. These are not the directives of which I speak.I am talking about all those do’s and don’ts. We shouldn’t deliberate these things. There is no room for debate.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells the listeners not to store up riches on earth where they fade away, but to store up riches in heaven where they are forever. So often we take away the underlying truth in this statement but do not adhere to the directive. We instead read “this earth is not forever, so be sure to prepare for life after death.” It even goes on to say that you can’t serve both God and money.

But there is a directive and not just a theological point here. “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasure on earth…lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” This is so easy for us to miss. It might be partially because it is in written form. We are so used to treating things that are written as an academic pursuit rather than a place to receive instructions. We try and figure out deep meanings at the cost of obedience.

This isn’t a legalism issue. This is about learning the ways of the kingdom. This is about learning to be obedient. Disobedience to directives exposes we serve another master. We should be asking ourselves whether we are walking in obedience to God. Sometimes we should read these directives and hear the conviction of the Holy Spirit saying, “Why do you break God’s command because of your tradition?”

Let’s take storing up treasures on earth as an example. Does the security of finances keep us from the kingdom of God? Is our goal and ambition to be financially secure? Do we dream of our next purchase? Or do we pursue the things that are for eternal rewards, like saving people from certain death (life without Christ) through making disciples?

As I was sharing this revelation with a friend, I realized that written texts (like the bible) are almost exclusively used for academic purposes in most contexts today. We don’t treat it as instructional as it was intended to be. The teachings of Jesus are incredibly practical and instructive. The letters are very corrective and instructional. I am recognizing even when I read the instructions, I am quick to turn to academic pursuit as a natural starting place.

I think we should ask the question when we read scripture, “Is there a call to action in the text?” We should keep pursuing a deeper understanding of the heart of God, and how we can be changed into his likeness. We should keep pursuing the deep knowledge of who we are as children of God and how we are to act as the church. But none of these should be at the cost of obedience to the directives of God. Remember that obedience means reading and doing.

Where are all the Miracles?

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Over the past month I have been reminded over and over of our call to proclaim the kingdom of God and share the good news of Jesus. In both conversation with friends and times of reflection, I have been reflecting on the book of Acts. We see such an urgency in believers to share the message of Jesus. We see over the first decades of the church the gospel spread across the Roman empire and beyond. Jesus is made famous, and people are starting to follow “The Way”.

As I have been reflecting, I came across stories like Peter and John going to pray and coming across a lame man begging. They take authority and heal him. I also think about Simon the Sorcerer who tries to buy the Holy Spirit from some disciples because of the power he has witnessed.

In the early church, the power of the Kingdom displayed and the the presence of the Holy Spirit are not separated from the message of Jesus. In fact, it is these very things that seem to spread the gospel like wildfire. Even as Peter is making a case for Jesus in Acts 2, it is coming on the heels of the Holy Spirit descending and causing those present to share the gospel in many tongues. We see this combination of message with signs and wonders over and over again.

I love the story in Acts 16 where the earthquake hits the prison and frees Paul, Silas and the other prisoners, but they stay and the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?”.

I am all about the need for knowing and sharing the message of Jesus with people. We are called to be witnesses and proclaimers of the gospel. But there is something missing without the power of God displayed. It is like we are trying in our own power to convince people of Jesus. You may be thinking that the truth about Jesus should be enough. But people are burdened under lies and need something to break through those walls that have been built up.

Over the past few years, I have seen numerous people experience healing and other miracles. I have been blessed to be a part of it and prayed for it to happen. I am thankful for this and want to see more. As I have looked back though, I have noticed that they were all in the context of believers with believers. As I read the book of Acts, however, I am seeing almost all of these miracles happen not in houses of worship but in streets, in prisons, in places filled with lost people.

I am not saying to stop praying for healing in your church (I believe James 5:14 and the role of elders praying for healing is good). Rather, I am saying we need to start taking the authority Jesus has given us to the streets, our workplaces, to every space we occupy. There is a theme of a sent people throughout the scriptures. This is not just in the Great Commission (Matthew 28). Jesus in his time of ministry on earth sent out his disciples with authority to heal, deliver and share the message of the kingdom (Matthew 10, Luke 2).

So my question is, where are all the miracles? Where are the stories of healing on the streets, and other tongues in multicultural contexts? Where are the stories of demonic deliverance? I imagine local television news and newspapers back in the time of Acts would have reflected the power of God at work.

I know there are miracles happening in our midst. God has not stopped doing things, but I think we have lost sight of so much of the purpose of miracles happening in our midst. These are a foretaste of what is to come, a foretaste to reveal king Jesus and his kingdom. Shouldn’t it be displayed not only in the places we are already worshipping Jesus, but on display for those who are ignorant? As I read the gospels and the book of Acts, that is the picture I get. But as I see our practices as a church, we are seeking the miracles in church and are silent when surrounded by unbelievers.

It is almost as if we just feel safe tentatively asking God to do a work in the safety of the church but are horrified by the thought of praying for healing with an unbeliever and risk God not showing up and healing the person. We often excuse ourselves by saying we didn’t feel prompted. We believe lies that God won’t show up (perpetuated by our not seeing it happen) and that we will turn people away from Jesus if we pray with them and nothing happens.

To these I say, Jesus wants to show himself and his power! That’s why he has sent us with his authority. And second, unbelievers are right now bound in darkness. If we don’t make an effort to step in, they are still forever in darkness. Should we not, in faith, step out in trusting God to show up and not fear the failure of our role? It is not our convincing message, but rather the revelation of the person of Jesus through the Holy Spirit that draws people.

I think we need to recapture what it means to be sent out by Jesus. I think we need to start looking for opportunities for the kingdom of God to be displayed like Peter and John in Acts 3. I think our desire for miracles needs to become a little less selfish and a little more selfless. I think we need to start seeing the place for miracles more in the public’s eye and a little less in the confines of our churches (not saying we shouldn’t see miracles in the church as well).

I want to see the gospel spread like we see in the early church and I don’t think that telecommunications is the answer (not saying it is not helpful). I think the answer is signs and wonders of the kingdom of God accompanied by the good news of the gospel. I think with the world of relative truth and individualism, the power of God will be what breaks through the lies and cuts to the same question the jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

Life through Repentance

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If you haven’t yet read my previous blog, I would encourage you to read it alongside this one. It gives a glimpse into repentance as a key part of being a person after God’s own heart.

The act of repentance is pivotal to the Christian walk. We cannot follow Jesus apart from repentance. It is this act that moves us into who we are as a new creation in Christ. We must leave behind our old ways, which separated us from God, and turn to righteous living with Christ. It is a big part of the life of a disciple. We are to be continually stepping into a more complete life with Christ.  

I am so thankful for those who have walked me through the process of repentance. Throughout my life I knew it was important, but it wasn’t until the process was broken down that I really found life through it. For so long I would say sorry and hope to not continue sinning, but there was so much more to discover.

It took realizing that in repentance Jesus takes away the entire penalty of sin and invites us into a life that is completely free. The weight and punishment of sin, the shame, is no longer there on the other side of repentance. The cross acts like a filter, removing all that is tainted by the sin we are repenting of. There is nothing left on us on the other side of the cross.

Repentance is the act of turning away from what separates us from God and turning towards him. It hinges on the cross, where the penalty of our sin is nailed with Jesus. On the cross he took the punishment, the weight of our sin. Repentance is the transaction of that, where we choose to hand our sin over and step into resurrection life with Jesus.

This process is not just confession, however. Confession is an outward acknowledgment of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is key but not the entirety. “Confess your sins one to another so you may be healed.” James 5:16

I spent a year interning at a church in Fresno California. They had an incredible process for walking through repentance using 6 R’s. I hope this process is as impactful in your life as it has been in mine. May it bring freedom to many new areas of your life.

The first R is: Recognize the nature of God in light of your sin. We need to understand that what we are repenting of is actually in opposition to the nature of God. We are looking to understand what God is inviting us into. Our new life reflects his nature. How does our sin oppose the nature of God?

Repent Of the sin. At this stage we need to remember and repent of how we have sinned. This can take a while. Take time to list the actions of sin. There could be many. Allow God to remind you of them, and say, “God, I repent of these actions.” Repent of the heart behind them. Ask God to reveal the biblical name for the sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21 are helpful here).

Renounce the lies of the enemy. What is causing you to live in sin? What are you believing that is keeping you in this life opposed to Christ? It is important to take time to ask God. What am I believing that is causing me to act this way? When did this start in my life?” For each lie exposed, renounce it and speak over yourself the biblical truth in contrast.

Receive the forgiveness that is freely offered. Forgiveness does not need to be earned, but rather received. This is an important step though. The ploy of the enemy is to make us feel as though we still need to earn forgiveness and that steals the power of the cross away from us. I love to look at Psalm 103:7-12 at this stage. Remember the cross completely satisfies the penalty of our sin when we hand it over.

Release the Holy Spirit to do his work in your life. As the house is cleaned out, an empty house leaves room for the old to return. Releasing the Holy Spirit to do his work fills that place. Repentance is a turning away from what separates us and turns us to life in the Spirit. This invites new life to take place.

Rejoice in your freedom! Rejoice for who God is! Rejoice in your new life! Rejoice with others too! Testimony is so important. It leaves no room for the enemy to steal the freedom we are now walking in. It builds our faith and our joy while inviting others into the same freedom!

The Heart of David

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We know from 1 Samuel 13 David is a man after God’s own heart. In light of Saul’s failures, God chose David to be the prince to succeed the throne.

“But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
1 Samuel 13:14

Why David? What makes him so special. There are a lot of things about David that make him the hero of the stories. There are a lot of characteristics I would like to model my life after, but the one that sticks out to me most is how he longs for the presence of God. He is horrified at the thought of being cast from the presence of God.

David is not perfect. He sins. He gives into sexual temptation, and at times seems to have a thirst for blood and violence. These are not traits I want to imitate.

2 Samuel 12 (please take a moment to read this story) is the story where Nathan the prophet is sent to David to reveal God’s heart concerning his actions with Bathsheba. David’s response is that of heartbreak over being out of the Lord’s favor. He turns to repentance and sorrow over the repercussions. On the other side, David no longer holds shame or sorrow.

David’s heart is to dwell in the presence of the Lord. This is not just a future hope. He feels the weight of separation from God through sin and can’t stand the thought of living at odds with God. This is what brings him to repentance so quickly. He doesn’t want to deny what he has done or remain hidden with the cost of the favor of God.

For God it seems a man after his own heart is not a perfect man, but a man who runs to repentance and falls on the grace of God to remain in his presence. It is one who doesn’t minimize his sin, but cries out to God for freedom.

I think as believers, we need to imitate this character trait. When we are shown to not measure up, when we are exposed, do we try and minimize exposure and avoid humiliation? Do we try and hide our shameful acts, or do we cry out to God in repentance, owning our failure and falling on the grace of God?

The latter is what the Lord wants. It is what the heart of passionate obedience looks like. In David’s psalms, there tends to be a side to David where he passionately laments in his trials. When he feels the Lord is not present, he is heartbroken. I don’t think David is being melodramatic or spiritually immature. He doesn’t attempt to just brave through his circumstances. He has come to know he doesn’t want to move forward unless the Lord is with him.

The psalms are an interesting view into David. David is calm and collected in many situations. But when someone is sinning against the Lord, or there is injustice, David gets outraged. He doesn’t condone sin. It is as though David can’t even expose himself to alienating himself from God by ignoring the sin around him.

In all reality David was an enemy to Saul (the king) but when a man comes to inform David of his death and his role in taking the life of the king, David has him put to death. To act outside of justice is inconceivable to David, in his own life and the lives of those under his care.

David’s heart longs for the presence and person of God. His heart yearns for what is true and just. It leads him to repentance. It leads him towards holiness and breaks at the awareness of sin.

I want to be a man after God’s own heart like David. I want, like David, to be quick to repent, quick to fall on the grace of God instead of hiding away. I want to long for the presence of God and be broken over the thought of his presence being withheld. May you in turn experience a David-like heart as you read this.

Words of Encouragement

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I love the story of Joshua in the Old Testament. From the story of his youth of spying in the promised land, to the transition to leadership of the Hebrew people, his story is filled with faith and confidence in God.

God speaks encouragement to Joshua a number of times before he takes on leadership. God’s message is, “Be strong and courageous.” God speaks this to prepare Joshua for what is to come. We first see it in Deuteronomy 31.

This happens often in our lives. Before God invites us into something, he prepares us with a message that speaks to our character. He prepares us for what he calls us into. In Joshua’s case, he was about to lead his people, a people who were known not for their courage at this point, but for their grumbling and complaining, into a land of giants.

As I was reading through the first few books of the Old Testament in my devotions recently, I was struck that Israel (at this point in the story) is constantly handing themselves over to their fears. I had always thought of this word to Joshua as a personal word. I had never really thought about the fact he is about to take on the doubts and complaints of a whole nation who is chronicled to be full of complainers.

As I have been looking at this message in the context of Joshua’s life, I noticed that Joshua already looks courageous in contrast to the rest of Israel. He and Caleb were the only spies of the 12 who thought it would be a good idea to take the land God had promised. Their report was one of courage.

I find it interesting that God is telling Joshua to be strong and courageous. God is not implying Joshua is weak and timid. God is preparing him for what he will face. Joshua is about to come in conflict with naysayers and complainers at every turn. He is about to lead the same people who were scared to leave Egypt, wanted to turn around at the Red Sea, wanted to go back to Egypt because of hunger in the desert, and who built a golden calf to worship when Moses was gone too long. Let’s face it, the track record of these people was not one of courage.

Joshua is being told by God before he steps into leadership that he must stand firm, be strong and courageous and know that God is with him because, let’s face it, the people are not always going to be on his side (or ours). This coming season for Joshua is one of intense growth of strength and courage. He is not only needing to be strong for himself but for a whole nation.

Usually this phrase, be strong and courageous, is quoted from Joshua 1:9. But this is just a reminder of what God had already spoken over Joshua. God is not just faithful to remain with Joshua, he is also faithful to remind Joshua of what he has invited him into in this season.

God supplies, in his grace, what is needed for the season he has us in. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. But he is there with us. The season is both for our benefit and the benefit of others.

I love how God leads us. He prepares us for the seasons ahead with encouragement, and walks through it with us, reminding us of what he says and that he is still with us.

I have found it so helpful in my life to reflect on those words God shares that prepare me for the season God is leading me into. It is so important to hear them because it sustains me when opposition comes. My peace is not shaken as I know God is with me and intends something good through it. Those words spoken to me in preparation, like Joshua, allow me to say, oh yeah, God told me to remain strong and courageous. He warned me these people would doubt this plan, but I can’t give in to them.

God is never surprised by what happens, by what we face. Sometimes we act as though things come out of nowhere, and to us they do. But God is never surprised. He may be saddened or angry at something, but not surprised. He is our shelter in the unforeseen storms of life. He prepares us, and prepares a place for us in whatever arises.

God’s preparatory words of encouragement bring comfort and boldness in times of need. For Joshua those words were be strong and courageous. What is he speaking to you?

Words that Change us

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An hour before I was to teach a class on how to hear God’s voice last week, I realized most of what I had prepared (although I think it was great) was not going to be most beneficial. I sensed in that moment God wanted people to get a taste of what it is like to hear his voice. So, I scrapped most of my teaching and engaged in exercises of surrender, listening and practicing testing words in groups.

I love receiving (and giving) good teaching. I love to hear others unpack the scriptures, to reveal the heart and invitation of God to us. There is so much I have yet to learn. At the same time, I think we often rely on others to handle our spiritual formation.

Since this moment of surrendering what I planned, I have been thinking how our culture is so reliant on the information provided by others. If I have a question, I ask my phone or look it up in a book. I could even watch one of the 10,000 documentaries that can be seen on streaming services. There is so much readily available information within our culture.

This is true in the church as well. There are multiple books on any subject one could ever want to know. There are Christian podcasts, online sermons, and blogs (yes I see the irony) everywhere you look on the internet. These are not bad things, except they have taken a primary role for many people. There is a place for all of these theological pursuits, especially for people called to certain roles in our churches.

The issue we face is when spirituality becomes more of an academic pursuit than a way of life. Our God is all about revelation. He continues to reveal more and more to his people. But revelation comes with an invitation. We are to live differently, more like Jesus, as God reveals things to us.

There have been seasons of my life where God keeps bringing up the same thing. He does this because I haven’t understood or been obedient to his invitation yet. A new revelation wouldn’t be good for me. He knows what revelation is needed in the moment.

The place we need to start our spiritual formation is in a personal life steeped in scripture and prayer.

This blog entry is less about put down that book, and more about spend time with Jesus. In a university course, there is often supplemental reading that is not required. That is how we must see the other stuff out there. Prayer and scripture in a believers life are the daily necessities, the required reading list. Which list would you go to first in school? Prayer and scripture are where we go to for revelation, to encounter God in an intimate and personal way. It is where we understand the invitation of God daily.

God has a personal revelation and invitation for each one of us, not necessarily in the grandiose Abraham-like calling. But he is inviting us into deeper relationship and to join him in what he is doing. Although God gets our attention through others, we are missing out on so much if we are not taking time to listen to God in prayer and scripture ourselves. Remember, God wants to reveal things to you. He is not hiding it in the revelation of others.

As much as I am talking about personal call and revelation, this is not to be discerned apart from community. We are to be sharing these revelations with one another, encouraging each other, praying for one another, and testing revelation collectively. This is a part of the process of hearing from God. As brothers and sisters in Christ we are supporting each other and looking out for the other’s best interest.

I understand there are seasons of life where the need for the teaching of others is more important. When you are new in your faith there is a lot to learn. In the early years of faith there is so much to navigate through, so many lies to work through, the impact of culture to renounce and brand new practices to learn. There is a reason why the church in the New Testament is instructed not to raise people into leadership too soon. Passion doesn’t cover over the need for spiritual maturity.

I love my literary mentors. Theologians like Bonhoeffer, Barth and Packer have caused me to examine my beliefs and practices in countless ways. They have inspired me and taught me so much. As one that is called to teach and equip others, they have helped me understand more fully spiritual truths I only knew in part before.

Mentors both living and dead will continue to be a part of my discipleship, but there is so much to receive from God himself. He has given us an invitation to “Be Still and know that I am God”. There is an invitation to discover him afresh daily. I want to say yes to this invitation. How about you?

My First Love

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I had a great chat recently with a wonderful man who has truly devoted his life to pursuit of God. He is a local pastor who has served faithfully at his church and around the globe for many years. I will probably write sometime about the value of these faithful men and women who have devotedly run the race set before them. They have much to offer. But this week, I want to reflect on the conversation we had.

This man told me he is heartbroken over the way many, like in the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2), have lost their first love. He unpacked this as a loss of desire. He asked, “Where are the all night meetings, the waiting for God to show up in our church services, the spending hours on end together and alone to meet with God?”

As this thought has been rolling around in my head, I have been reading through Acts in my daily scripture readings. I am reading of a group of people that seemingly spent every possible moment seeking the Lord and walking out his instructions.

I love the story in Acts 13 where Paul and Barnabas are sent out. I’m particularly struck by the part following God telling the church in Antioch to send out these two. The community fasts, prays, and seeks the Lord before blessing and sending out Paul and Barnabas. I don’t know what else is happening in the lives of these believers, but they seem to drop everything to be with God.

My point is not to quit your job so you can, on a whim, fast and pray. I’m asking, what do I set as priority? What distracts me? And honestly, how many things do I desire above meeting with the living God?

Desire is what drives us. We pursue the things our hearts are for. Our time goes into those things. Our money goes into those things. We have many desires, both as individuals and as a church, that drive our actions.

Jesus gave warning to the church of Ephesus in Revelations. The warning is, you have lost your first love and your desire to be with me. Things will not go well with you if you keep going as you are. Come back to your first love, come back to me.

Repentance is the process of turning towards Jesus. It is turning away from the things that don’t bring life and towards the one that is love. Sometimes we take a look at just the things we know are altogether wrong and turn away from them. I think there is a deeper issue we must face. We must look at our lives and ask the question: What do I desire? We must turn to Jesus and ask that same question.

First love has dual meaning for us as followers of Jesus. Love for God is foremost and God is the source of all love. He is literally the first love. When anything comes above him in desire, we need to repent. We need to repent of those times we have put him on the backburner. But more importantly, we must ask God to give us a desire to be with him, to encounter him, to hear him speak. We were made for this, to be with him. We need (both personally and in our churches) to desire the presence of God, not for what he will say, although he will speak, not so that we will get marching orders from him, although he will guide us, but because it is where we belong. It is where we find our rest and our peace (Shalom).

I am reminded of a song written by friends of mine as I write this, “Where I Belong” by Life Support.The whole song speaks of longing to be in the presence of God. I encourage you to take a listen and let it draw you back to your first love.

The voice of the prophet, as in Revelations, is in our midst now to draw us back to the heart of God. Let us not be like the many who heeded not the message from God, but let us repent of our ways and return to our first love.

Exiled in a City God Loves

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I just returned home from a conference a couple weeks ago and I am fired up. The CAPITALYZE conference highlighted city-reaching movements across the globe to inspire establishing the kingdom of God in our cities.

There was so much to take away, but one passage in particular has stayed with me. It was quoted over and over at the conference and theologically clicked for me. I am now fired up to see the Kingdom of God established in Halifax, and my city transformed in every sphere.

The passage Jeremiah 29:7, takes place after Israel has been conquered, and the people have been taken into Babylon (in exile).

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Jeremiah 29:7

Since advent I have been sitting in the reality that we do not belong in this world. We are anticipating the day of the return of Jesus. We are a people who are in exile, not belonging to this world, but living in it. This is the same state the people of Israel were in when Jeremiah receives this word from the Lord. God equally has a desire to see this land, these people surrounding us, prosper.

This earth we are on is our place of “exile”. It is not our home, and we are waiting for the day when Jesus returns or calls us home. But while we are waiting for that day, God wants the earth to encounter his kingdom. While we are here, we are to seek the peace and prosperity of our land through welcoming the kingdom of God.

We need to be asking God the question, “What would it look like for your kingdom to come to my city?” If we want good soil for people to receive the gospel, we need to be asking this question. His kingdom being established, on a personal and corporate level, is what will bring people to know the living God!

God has always had this on his heart. He actually created the earth as a good, well-functioning place, a land at peace (shalom). As the church works towards a city filled with peace, the glory of God is on display. God is more on display through our engagement in the land than in our separation. To be a set apart people is not to disengage, but to “seek the welfare of the city”.

I am fired up to see what God wants to do in my city. This will take the whole church united to see this through. It is time to see the kingdom of God established and not our own kingdoms grown. I love the local church and the unique expressions of worship they express. As much as I love to see my own local church grow and thrive, there is something larger we are a part of.

The task before us as the church is to see the kingdom of God established in every sphere of our region. The places we find ourselves as believers should be changed by our presence. We should be praying as Jesus taught us to: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is not a prayer for God to work separate from us. We are to know what it looks like to have his kingdom established. We are to pray specifically for those things. We are to engage in practical efforts (together as the greater church) to see things happen. We will not be working at cross purposes from other believers if we are all seeking the kingdom of God to be established here.

So how do we go after this daunting task? It may seem overwhelming. Do you know anyone who loves Jesus on your street? In your neighbourhood? At your school? At your place of work? Why not ask them to pray with you? Say hey, want to pray together for the kingdom of God to come to our shared space? Let’s gather together as believers (not just the same church or denomination, Catholics or Protestants, Charismatic or Non-Charismatic) and listen to what it would look like for the Kingdom of God to come. How can we be a part of this work?

For me, I am excited about what this will look like in Halifax. I want to see his kingdom come in Halifax as in heaven. I long to see all believers together seeking the peace and prosperity of our city. I long to see my neighbours see Jesus as king, reigning over Halifax in goodness and justice.

What Season is This?

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What is good in one season is not necessarily good in the next. There are times we chase after things we think are good for us but they end up blowing up in our faces. Last week I wrote on dealing with disappointment but this week I am taking a look at some ways we can possibly avoid some of that. Knowing what season we are in will not altogether keep us from disappointment, but it may shorten certain seasons and help us respond to the invitation of God.

King Solomon, known as the wisest man who lived, tells us there is a season for everything. When we lean into a season instead of fighting it, we can find health. God has always walked with his people through seasons. God led the Israelites through seasons of remembrance, celebration, mourning, fasting and many other things. He had so much to teach them through the many seasons. The church, likewise, has a calendar for this purpose, to corporately lead through that which God wants to teach us and reveal to us.

On a personal level, God deals with us in seasons as well. Not everything we do will fall under the particular season we are in, but it will give us some parameters of what to engage in and how to use our time. A practice I have brought into my life is asking God, “What season do you have me in? What do you want to teach me in this season? Is there a passage or theme that you want me to focus on and learn at this time?” This not only gives me focus, but confidence in saying yes or no to things as they fit in the season God has me in. From time to time I will ask God if the season has changed and if there is something new. There have been times when I have missed asking these questions and have endured things for much longer than was necessary. It was not out of punishment, but because God knew that moving forward without encountering him in that season would bring harm to me.

A few years ago, when I was living in Ontario, I was working with some great people and a wonderful organization. When I was invited, however, into something more permanent, I was hit with some anxiety. After some discernment I found the source of this anxiety was a disbelief in the goodness of God. It was not that I didn’t believe what the scriptures say about God being good and what he does is good. I knew God said in Genesis 1:31 “It is good” about his creation. I could recite the Psalms, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1) and “no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84:11). But I did not have faith it was always true as He dealt with me.

I was in the midst of making a decision on taking a long-term position, and all of a sudden all these doubts and insecurities started to flood in: What if I get trapped in a role that doesn’t fit my gifts or that I don’t enjoy? I don’t know if God has actually created me with good gifts. Is what I am doing actually having an eternal impact? Would God really want to provide in the desires I have?”

The more these questions came up, and the more nervous I was about sticking around, I began to realize the issue wasn’t with the situation or the role, but my trusting in the goodness of God. So I moved out West to begin a journey of discovering that God is good.

Right away there was an invitation to discover God in discipline and perseverance. These are two concepts most of us fight against, especially in our early years of life, as if they are contrary to what is good and best for us. It was an intriguing place for God to initiate this journey. I soon realized I had established a false correlation between goodness and things being easy. A quick read on the heroes of the faith (whether it be from scripture or biographies) will help us discover how difficult life can be when we walk in step with a good God. Just look at the life of Joseph and his time in prison, or David in exile, or Paul (how many times was he left for dead!). Those lives are not easy or smooth sailing (pun intended for Paul).

An early tangible example of this came from my desire to own a car. This would be my first ever personally owned vehicle. This journey of knowing God’s goodness has been wholistic, not just spiritual and theoretical. I had a strong desire to own a car and it was a practical need. So, I prayerfully ventured into this process of finding a used vehicle I liked to drive across Canada from Ontario to British Columbia.

After inspection, I purchased one I liked, packed the car with my belongings, and started driving. I made it 75 km and the head gasket blew! Instantly some thoughts crossed my mind. How could this happen? Should I just turn around and stay here? Within seconds, however, I was reminded of the invitation in this season to persevere and discover the goodness of God in the midst of hardships. A few days later, a newer engine was put in and I was off again praising God and thanking him for how good and present he was through the process.

The season wasn’t over and he provided mentors and spiritual direction as I discovered a new reality that not only is God so good, but he gives us new desires. I went into a new season of learning how to surrender desires to God and boldly pursuing those desires he sustains.

“16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”
Galatians 5:16-17

This is how I ended up back in Halifax. Near the end of this season, I was inviting the Holy Spirit to produce desires within me and a desire to be in Halifax arose, a desire to see the Kingdom of God established in this city. To be honest, I was shocked by this. Since I was a kid I wanted to be gone, but I knew from this season how important it was to be obedient to the desires God was placing within me.

I am so thankful for how God has taught me in seasons. As I look back, sometimes I failed to recognize immediately what God was trying to teach me, but he was so patient with me. Some seasons I wanted out of quickly, but now I thank God for what he revealed and how intimacy with God grew as a result.

For me, knowing God’s invitation usually starts with knowing the season. The story I wrote about was pretty clearly outlined. That is not always the case. In most changing seasons, I am not picking up my life and moving across the country. In fact, God has led me through many seasons since returning to Halifax. Some have been short and others long, but for each one I am thankful.

The question I leave with you is what season does God have you in?

Dance Upon Disappointment

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On January 1 this year I took a hike to reflect on the past year. Solo hiking has become an incredible way for me to connect with God. It allows me (without feeling others will think I am crazy) to talk out loud with God as I walk. It is so incredible to be alone with God in his beautiful creation, experiencing a bit of what it must have been like for Adam to walk with God in “the cool of the day”.

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From this year of walking with God, I have some things to thank God for and give him glory for. I also have disappointments from the past year to work through. There were things I was hoping for that never happened. There were things I wanted to see happen in the lives of those around me that didn’t happen. There were things I wanted to see happen in ministry that didn’t materialize. There were memories of my own failure, and things for which I was asking God, “Why didn’t you show up? Why were my prayers not answered?”

Some of you as you are reading this are thinking, who are you to question God not showing up? But I am reminded of David writing in Psalm 13:

1 O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

3 Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.

Something I have come to learn is that disappointment will follow me until I deal with it. Sometimes my disappointment drove me to improve, and other times it caused me to cower away, but it was always there. When we are disappointed in our own actions, we tend to disqualify ourselves from moving forward. We see ourselves as failures who have no reason to be given another opportunity.

When we are disappointed by God not showing up, it brings on a whole slew of other problems. Now, please hear me correctly. I AM NOT SAYING THAT GOD FAILED! What I am saying is, we wanted God to do something and He did not do it. My disappointment is not based on a promise he gave, but a desire I had. This can be anything from the death of a loved one, someone not being healed, someone not turning to Jesus, or not getting that job/house/car/promotion we wanted. Let’s be honest, at those times we are disappointed. We say, “How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul!”

Disappointment not dealt with will not go away. It will become the breeding ground for lies about our identity and the nature of God. It will create a barrier between us and the discipleship God has in store for us. In order for us to be ready for what is next, we need to surrender what has passed.

So how are we to deal with disappointment? Just sitting in the disappointment or dredging up these memories to dwell on will not help. To hand over our disappointment to God is to admit: “God this was hard! I really wanted this and thought it was good… or, I failed badly in this, I hurt others and acted poorly.” We do this not to wallow in self pity, but to say, “God I give this to you and don’t hang on to it. I surrender this regret/disappointment/failure and ask that you would take it so that it will not have a hold on me moving forward.”

From there we praise God as David does:
“5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.”

I have oft thought of Peter denying Jesus three times. That was a pretty big failure to come back from. How did he even show his face around the other disciples after that? But Jesus doesn’t treat him as a failure before or after he failed. Jesus is not disappointed in Peter. He does not disqualify Peter, but tasks him (among others) as one who will establish the church. Just like Peter, we are invited to be free of the failure that could restrict us. We don’t need to earn our way back into God’s good books, and he sure doesn’t need to earn his way back into ours.

The start of a new year (yes, I know we are a few weeks into January) is a great time to start fresh. I hope last week you spent some time acknowledging where God showed up this past year. I encourage you this week to set some time aside with God to address your disappointments. Take time to cry out to God and repent of your own failures. Make sure you surrender each of those circumstances to God and at the end rejoice in the goodness of God. Remind yourself of the truths of who God is through praise, just as David does in Psalm 13.

A Season Past

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I have been thinking about the line “lest we forget” since Remembrance Day. In our country we take time to remember the sacrifice of those who serve and have served in our military. I am not going to touch on the holiday but rather the act of remembrance. I believe it is important to take time to remember what has happened and give honor where honor is due. It is so easy to forget what has happened in our own past, in the past of the church, and before Jesus came. As a year has recently passed us by, this is a good time to look back.

Since leaving the church I grew up in, I have had the opportunity to be part of many other churches. I have been surprised how little much of the Protestant Church follows the church calendar. In using terms like epiphany, lent and pentecost, I often get blank faces in response. I love the way more liturgical churches remember the history of what God has done. I believe taking time to celebrate the movement of God throughout history gives us a fuller picture of who God is and what he is doing. These moments in time are significant and teach us so much.

In remembering the work of God, I see five important areas for us to take note of: God at work with the nation of Israel, the life of Jesus on earth, the history of the church (this would include Acts and Pentecost), what God has done in our community (local church, city, family) and our own personal journey with God. These all have bearance on our lives today.

It is so easy to forget who our trust should be in. It is so easy to forget the provision of God, the love of God, the protection of God. It is easy to forget about the waves of revival across the globe and lose hope for our city. It is easy to forget about the centrality of the cross without Good Friday. It is easy to forget how much we need the Holy Spirit without Pentecost. It is easy to forget about that first time we came to know God as father, as the one that heals, the one that brings joy, love, peace, hope….without remembering those times he has done just that in our lives.

My Papa, when our family is gathered together, always makes room for sharing from our personal stories. He leads us and shares from the past year what God has taught him, shown him, done in him, and invites the rest of us to share likewise. I am so thankful he has modeled this.

Remembering what has happened allows us to grow beyond the experiences of the past. Over and over God says things like, “remember the way I brought you out of Egypt” or “you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness” or “remember the former things of old for I am God” or Jesus telling his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me” as he passes the bread and wine.

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” Psalm 143:5

Solomon reflects on the newness of experiences by saying, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Each “new” experience is not so new when we live life with the memory of the past. The knowledge of God’s faithfulness in our life and the lives of others helps us be less frantic as we face life. Remembering can help us act in the way God has taught us to. We can surrender as we have before. We can build upon the lessons learned instead of relearning everything over and over again. A mature believer has a long and active memory of God at work. They don’t get thrown by difficult situations but stand firm on the conviction of who God is and who they are. They remember how faithful God has been and trust him in the moment. They dwell in the presence of God, and yield to the Holy Spirit.

Seven years ago, I spent time interning at a church in Fresno California (Mountain View Community Church). This church practices journaling through scripture. They use a format of engaging through scripture they call SHAPE. It stands for Scripture Hear Apply Pray Exalt. They journal a message from God in the HEAR section and respond by journaling their PRAYER. This is a daily practice. It is an incredible way to chronicle what God is doing in your life so that you can look back and remember.

Almost two years ago, I started to write blogs just for myself and saved them. They were a way of chronicling seasons of my life as God was revealing new things to me. This is where I started to get the idea to write a blog.

Both of these things have been reminders for me as I look back. It is incredible how I am able to face with confidence what is before me as I am reminded of who God has shown himself to be in the past. Testimony fills us with confidence. As we remember, we grow in confidence and wisdom. By looking back we can better take the next step.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions, things to drop or pick up for the new year. There is nothing wrong with this practice, in fact, it is good to take time to think about where you need to grow or improve. But, I would also recommend taking time to chronicle the year that was 2018.

How has God made himself known to you? What are key moments or memories from the past year? What are you thankful for from the past year and why? Are you still in the same season or is it time for something new? Take some time with these questions. God is always good in each season he leads us in, but in order to grow, we need to learn the lessons the seasons teach us.