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. 

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.

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.

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.