In and out

I’m scheduled to leave for a short missionary trip to Mexico in just a few days. This morning I received a phone call from the mechanic (where I managed to push my car after it broke down in the middle of the road yesterday) saying I needed a new fuel pump. It’s not a cheap fix. Cheaper than needing a new car, but not cheap.

I then got to thinking. This isn’t the first time something really crappy has happened right before I’ve left for a missions trip:

  • Just days before I left on my first trip to Peru, my great-grandmother passed away, almost a year to the day since my grandfather passed away—my grandfather was supposed to accompany me on that trip.
  • Again, just days before leaving for Costa Rica, I broke a toe. It may seem insignificant, but is quite significant when you can’t put on proper shoes to walk through a squatter village.
  • Upon returning from another trip to Peru, I came home to learn that my employer had filled my position in my absence—an absence I had scheduled and made arrangements to be covered until my return.

In addition to these points, I’ve dealt many times with lost or delayed luggage, differences in opinion with leadership, and a plethora of other small issues that, when I think about it, really add up.

Does this mean I’m destined to deal with garbage every time I go on the mission field? Possibly. Does it discourage me? When I look at the bill for my car, maybe. Will all this stop me from future missionary work? No. Because I have a list of promises from the Bible—both in the Old and New Testaments—that say I can expect more.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord you God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessing will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

Deuteronomy 28:1-6 (NIV)

This is an Old Covenant blessing, but I don’t believe that the New Covenant completely voids it. I don’t believe that God withdraws His blessings, He adds to them.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Ephesians 1:3-6 (NIV)

My inheritance in Christ doesn’t included broken down cars, broken toes, or lost jobs. My inheritance includes every spiritual blessing in Christ. According to Ephesians 1:18-19 it also includes the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Just because we may deal with junk in life doesn’t mean that we can’t also expect good things from a good Father. In Deuteronomy, the blessings of the obedient Israelites were to serve as a sign to the nations that they belonged to God. In Ephesians, we were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Bad things happen. It is the nature of a fallen world. But it is our response in those situations that will either push us ahead or drag us down. I choose to believe that every attack I have encountered before a missions trip is yet another sign that I am on the right track. The enemy won’t waste his time on people who have no intention of accomplishing anything for the Kingdom. I choose to believe that God has a plan for me and that His plan is a good one.

I choose to believe that, even in the trial, I will be blessed when I come in and blessed when I go out.

Read: Deuteronomy 28, Mark 15:27-47

The second crow

Read: Deuteronomy 23-25, Mark 14:51-72

On one of my missionary trips to Peru, there was a young man who preferred to sleep past dawn. Most people prefer it, really. But it was not to be. We were on a boat on a tributary of the Amazon River on our way to a pastoral conference. At that conference, we would be providing much of the food, including the meat. The best way to keep meat fresh on the Amazon is to keep it alive until you’re ready to eat it. So there was a rooster on the boat. Every morning, just as the sun began to peek over the horizon, that rooster would let us all know what time it was. The day we had chicken for dinner, the aforementioned young man celebrated. We would no longer be wakened by said rooster.

When the conference ended and we had all boarded the boat to return to the city, one last crate needed to be loaded. A thank you gift. A rooster. Even once we were back in the city, we had nature’s alarm clock. A reminder of dawn.

Back in the Gospel of Mark, another rooster served as a reminder. By the time it had crowed twice, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Mark 14:72 (NIV)

Most people would hear this story and shake their heads at Peter’s betrayal. I look at it as a story of a new beginning.

Peter knew in the moment, that to associate himself with Jesus would likely put him in a similar position—imprisoned. So, in the presence of his enemies, Peter denied his teacher, his leader, his friend.

But it is in the presence of our enemies that God makes provision.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.

Psalm 23:5a (NIV)

Before Jesus had even been arrested, he knew exactly what Peter would do and say. He even told Peter so. Yet Jesus never cast Peter aside. He never scolded him or scorned him. He simply made the statement. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, yet offered him the bread and the cup of covenant anyway.

Jesus didn’t accept the cross for the righteous, but for those like Peter, who in the moment would either, in faith, step out of the boat on to the waves or, in fear, deny he ever knew Jesus. Jesus went to the cross for those of us who struggle with our faith, going from the mountaintop to the valley and everything in between.

I think that Peter’s denial of Jesus only strengthened his resolve to follow. Imagine how he felt when that second rooster crowed and he realised what he had done. When he remembered what Jesus had told him. I suspect that, once the heat of shame subsided, he was filled with wonder and gratitude at the magnitude of Jesus’ actions.

In both stories here, the second rooster was a gift. For Peter, had he never heard that second crow, he would have stood by his denial. But instead, it was a reminder of the grace Jesus had extended to him, to the table already prepared for him in the presence of his enemies. Again, Peter found grace in the midst of a storm.

Come alive

Read: Deuteronomy 5-7, Mark 12:1-27

Have you ever heard an unbeliever say, “Why should I believe in God? What has He ever done for me?” Well, first of all, if you’re questioning what He has or hasn’t done for you, the first question is moot because there must be a measure of belief in someone in order to question their motives. Second, aside from offering a plan of salvation that leads to eternal life, He hasn’t done anything for you. Why should He? He’s not your God.

Before you get all that’s heresy! on me, let me explain.

Mark 12-27.jpg

This was Jesus’ response to the Sadducees question regarding eternal life. It’s like someone who doesn’t believe in God asking why God hasn’t done anything for them. The Sadducees said there was no resurrection. No such thing as eternal life. Yet they put Jesus on the spot with a question about life after death.

So what then did Jesus mean when he said that His Father was the God of the living, not of the dead?

Then he said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 3:6 (NIV)

The Bible Knowledge Commentary says this:

God implied that the patriarchs were still alive and that He had a continuing relationship with them as their covenant-keeping God, even though they had died long before… He is still the patriarchs’ God which would not be true had they ceased to exist at death, that is, if death ends it all. And His covenant faithfulness implicitly guarantees their bodily resurrection.

Jesus was not talking about physical death, but of spiritual death. No matter how good you think you may be, we are all born spiritually dead, and there is only one way to overcome that death—to be born again.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

John 3:5-6 (NIV)

I cannot make my point better than the character of P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman:

‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking
Thinking that’s your only option
But you can flip the switch and brighten up your darkest day
Sun is up and the color’s blinding
Take the world and redefine it
Leave behind your narrow mind
You’ll never be the same

Come alive, come alive
Go and ride your light
Let it burn so bright
Reaching up to the sky
And it’s open wide
You’re electrified

Come Alive, words and music by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek

The dead cannot have the same experience as those who are alive. It’s impossible. There are certain things that God has reserved solely for His children—those made alive in Christ through the rebirth. Anyone who has not accepted salvation through Jesus cannot experience those things—those who remain spiritually dead having either not yet received Christ or having rejected him altogether. Again, it’s impossible.

If you want God to do something for you, you must first do something for Him. Accept Him. Believe in Him. Trust that His Word is true and that all of His promises are guaranteed because of His covenant with His children.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7 (NIV)


Faith and forgiveness

Read: Deuteronomy 3-4, Mark 11:20-33

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.

Mark 11:22-26 (NIV)

In Mark 11, we can’t wait to get to the good part about telling a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and then we quickly skip over that uncomfortable part about forgiveness and move on to the next parable.

Who doesn’t want to see a miracle? We should long to see the miraculous. Signs and wonders should be following every believer. But what if the miracle God wants to perform has to do with you forgiving your brother? What if the sign He wants to show someone has you asking for forgiveness from your neighbour?

Not every miracle, sign or wonder has to do with healing or provision. Sometimes they seem so insignificant to us that we wouldn’t even deem to call the event worthwhile. But to the person who’s been forgiven, it can be life-changing.

If grace does not produce joyful obedience it has been abused. Forgiving is the very essence of grace.

The Weston Study Bible

Forgiveness isn’t something we should look at that we need to get out of the way so we can see the mountain move. Forgiveness may be the mountain itself.

When Jesus took the time to explain to his disciples how they should pray, he didn’t include the miraculous, but he did include forgiveness.

This, then, is how you should pray,

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Jesus then went on to say that when we forgive those who sin against us, God will forgive us, but if we withhold our forgiveness, God will not forgive us.

It would seem to me, then, that as much as it is impossible to please God without faith, it is also impossible to please him without forgiveness.


Read: Numbers 28-29, Mark 9:1-29

Once upon a time, I wasn’t a believer. You weren’t a believer. And, sometimes, I’m still not a believer. Neither are you. Very few people in this world can claim to go through life with complete and unwavering faith. I am not one of those people. Odds are that you aren’t either. But that’s not the end of the world. Actually, the sooner we all come to that realisation, the sooner we can do something about it.

Mark 9-24.jpg

The man who spoke these words was going through a bit of a tough time.—that’s putting it lightly. For most of his life, his son had been suffering from convulsions caused by an evil spirit. Hearing that Jesus and his disciples were able to cast out demons, the man brought his son to them. Jesus was unavailable at the moment (being deep in conversation with Moses and Elijah) so the disciples gave it a go. They’d been at this for a while now and had experienced great success. But success was not to be found with this case.

Eventually, Jesus returned, rebuked his disciples for their unbelief and told the father that anything was possible if he’d only believe. First he states he believes and then asks Jesus to help his unbelief. Which was it? Did he believe or didn’t he?

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I win him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me he can do nothing.

John 5:5 (NIV)

In John, Jesus had a lengthy discussion about vines and branches. Any branch that doesn’t bear fruit gets cut off and burned up. How does a vine stay connected to the branch? How does a branch bear fruit? How can we keep from getting cut off and tossed into the fire?

Since vines don’t have to devote effort and energy to producing strong stems to hold them upright, they use their energy to grow outward. Vines are among the fastest growing landscape plants.

When it comes to training vines, gardeners often do not realize how important it is to direct growth from the time the vine is planted and throughout its life in the garden.

Dan Gill, Training Garden Vines Right the First Time

I had a Bible school teacher say that faith is our grip on God; grace is His grip on us.

Let’s put all of this information together.

  • I do believe. We have all been given a measure of faith. We’ve been grafted into the vine as branches. Since Jesus is the vine, we gain our strength from him. Our energy doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t be) be spent trying to support ourselves.
  • Help me overcome my unbelief. Just because we’ve been given faith and grafted in doesn’t mean that we immediately become amazing, fruit-bearing vines. It takes work. It takes coaxing. It takes training. God, as the vinedresser, prods us and guides us in the direction He wants us to go. He places us where we can be most fruitful and grow the strongest. Taking our strength from the main vine—Jesus—and holding on to the supports that take us higher, we can grow strong and fruitful.

Faith isn’t a mystical power. Some may say it’s a muscle we have to train. I disagree. I believe that a stronger faith is merely the result of a stronger relationship with the Father. Vines don’t worry about where to grow, they simply flourish where they are placed by the vinedresser. When we know and trust in the one who is training us, faith will come easy.

Let me leave you with a story from Charles Spurgeon.

There was once a good woman who was well known among her circle for her simple faith, and her great calmness in the midst of many trials. Another woman, living at a distance, hearing of her, said, “I must go and see that woman, and learn the secret of her holy, happy life.” She went, and accosting the woman, said, “Are you the woman with the great faith?” “No,” replied she, “I am not the woman with the great faith; but I am the woman with a little faith in the great God.”

An admission of guilt

Read: Leviticus 4-6, Matthew 25:1-30

I have a very early memory of my younger sister and I being in a convenience store with my father. As we were walking down a row lined with candy, my sister grabbed a gumball (shaped like a football—she remembers the incident) and, before my dad could do anything about it, popped it in her mouth and chomped down. I’m quite certain my father was a solid mix between livid and embarrassed. He knelt down in front of us and explained to us both that what had just happened was theft and there were consequences for it. We were marched up to the front counter and my sister made to apologize to the store clerk and pay for the consumed goods. We both learned a hard lesson that day. Sin is sin whether we realise it or not, and there are always consequences, even when the offense wasn’t intentional.

Today’s reading in Leviticus is all about the lengthy process required when unintentional sin is brought to light.

If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, he is guilty.

Leviticus 4:27 (NIV)

Sounds a little harsh. How can a person be guilty of they didn’t even know that what they were doing was wrong? Like us kids in the candy store, whether we were aware or not, to consume goods before purchase is wrong. Claiming ignorance did not alter the fact that a theft had occurred—no matter how insignificant it seemed.

It is my understanding that in the Philippines, it is legal to kill/murder someone if they are suspected of being involved in the drug trade. Say someone from the Philippines then comes to Canada or the US and they see a drug sale going down and decide to take matters into their own hands. Bodies are left on the street and the offender feels as though they have done their new country a great service. But drug dealer or not, to kill another human being is very illegal and there are some very serious consequences for the crime. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get that person off the hook.

In Leviticus, God explained this concept to His people. You may have unintentionally sinned, but once you are made aware of your guilt, you are accountable and must take certain steps to ensure your atonement.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 3:23 (NIV)

It all seems a rather hopeless. Until you keep reading.

and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:24 (NIV)

We have all sinned. But we also have all been justified. Like the Israelites, all we must do is admit our guilt before the Lord.

1 John 1:9

Our situation isn’t hopeless. It’s quite the opposite, really. Unlike the Israelites, our sacrifice has already been made once and for all. We need only to make our admission and accept the grace.

Life isn’t fair

Read: Exodus 19-21, Matthew 20:1-16

Life isn’t fair. How many times did you hear that growing up? You’d complain to your parents or teacher about someone receiving something you felt they didn’t deserve, but you did. “But, it’s not fair,” you’d plead to no avail, because life just isn’t fair.

Like many things in life, this attitude often carries over into our faith.

Jesus tells a story about a man who owned a vineyard. At the beginning of the day, he went to the marketplace to find men to work his fields. They settled on a wage for the day and the men went to work. At various times throughout the day, the vineyard owner went back to the market to find more workers. Each time, he settled on a wage and they went to work.

At the end of the day, the men who’d started last were first in line to be paid. They got their promised wage. The men who started at the beginning of the day also got their promised wage, yet they were upset because all of the workers, no matter what time of day they started, received the very same pay. Was this unfair in any way? It certainly seemed so to the men who had been working out in the heat all day long. Yet they hadn’t been cheated out of anything. The landowner gave them exactly what he’d promised.

I’ve heard some Christians say that they haven’t received as much grace as others. God didn’t give them as much as He gave someone else. After hearing a testimony of someone who was brought from the brink of self-destruction, one could very well decide that God had given that person more grace than another who had been raise in a Christian home. But it isn’t a matter of more or less. It is a matter of equality. God takes us all—no matter where He finds us—and places us on equal footing.

Matthew 20-16

Let us forego every proud claim, and seek for salvation as a free gift. Let us never envy or grudge, but rejoice and praise God for his mercy to others as well as to ourselves.

Matthew Henry

The Kingdom of God is not a grand hierarchy. Sometimes we look too closely at how certain churches or denominations are organised and decide that is how heaven must be. But in the eyes of God, a brand new believer still struggling with sin is on the same level as the pope himself. There is no more or less. There is simply grace.

Just because we may perceive someone as having received more doesn’t mean that we ourselves have been cheated out of anything. God’s grace is not something to be divvied out according to seniority. It is something to be multiplied, bringing everyone under it to the same place.