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.

From your heart

Read: Exodus 11-12, Matthew 18:21-35

Have you ever had to ask forgiveness? Wait. That’s a silly question. We all have. And if you haven’t, I guarantee that you probably should. We’ve all done things to offend someone. We will all do things that will offend someone. When that happens, we all want to be forgiven. No one wants the weight of wrongdoing hanging over their heads—at least I hope not.

Not only do we all need forgiveness, but we’ve already received forgiveness. In the moment that we receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Saviour, God forgives us. But what does that really mean?

FORGIVE: To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty. The original and proper phrase is to forgive the offense, to send it away, to reject it, that is not to impute it, [put it to] the offender.

It is our sin that separates us from God, but when we ask Him to forgive us, He separates our sin from us. It is no longer ours. It has been sent away. Rejected. And because of that, we are expected to do the same for others. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story to help us understand how this works.

A king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. There was a man who owed him a great deal of money and was not able to pay. When the man begged to be permitted to leave, the king forgave the man his debt and sent him on his way.

When that same man who had begged forgiveness was approached by another man who owed him, rather than extend a small amount of the mercy he had been granted, he had the man thrown into prison until the debt could be paid.

When the king heard this, the man was brought before him, called wicked, and was turned over to the jailers to be tortured until his original debt was paid in full.

Matthew 18:35

Words are cheap and easy. Anyone can say that they forgive someone. The hard part is acting like it, but that’s where the forgiveness really is. The best place to start to learn to forgive is to learn to act like you’ve been forgiven.

The wicked servant in Jesus’ story never took to heart the gravity of what he’d been given. If he had, it would have been easy to offer just a small portion of that to another person. When we learn to truly accept just how much we been forgiven of, we can learn to take that grace and extend it to others.

It is not until both your words and your actions line up that you can truly learn to forgive from your heart.

Irrevocable

Read: Genesis 29-30, Matthew 10:1-23

A story came out in the news this week about a pastor of a large church. He, like many of us, has a past. And, like many of us, he dealt with it and left it where it belonged. Until recently, he had been enjoying the success of marriage and family and ministering to his congregation.

Before I go further, let me clarify that the situation in question happened when he was a young man working in a church. The actions were of a sexual nature and involved a 17-year-old girl. By all accounts, he was immediately remorseful and admitted his transgression to those to whom he was accountable in the church. He apologized to all involved and was removed from his position. Nothing has been brought forward to say that such actions took place on any other occasion.

Now, with the #MeToo movement bringing all sorts of people out of the woodwork, this pastor is having to relive his shame. I in no way condone his actions, nor do I belittle what happened to the woman involved. There is no place in society for any sort of sexual misconduct. But, with all of the very public accusations and shaming, what seems to be missing is the greatest component of all: grace.

When Jesus began his public ministry, the people he brought alongside him were far from what society would call blameless. He called the blue collar workers. He called the tax collectors. He called the sinners. And then he walked with them. He ate with them. He taught them. Then he empowered them and sent them off into ministry.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

Some scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions here did not only reference the physical needs of the people, but were also representative of their need to be healed and revived spiritually. The men Jesus called had all been healed and brought to life in one way or another. The greater their sin, the greater the grace they received. And who better to extend grace than the one who has already received it?

If we demand that this pastor, because of his past sin, is no longer fit for ministry, then we must throw away the entire Bible. We can no longer sing our worship songs. We must seclude ourselves for fear of being infected by the sin that runs rampant in our churches.

Paul’s sole purpose in life was to kill Christians. Matthew was a tax collector (the very worst kind of evil). David, the man after God’s own heart, was a sexual predator and a murderer. Yet all of these men, and more, made invaluable contributions to the Book that we hold so closely to our hearts.

Romans 11:29

Who are we to stand in judgement of someone who has asked for, and received, forgiveness? Who are we to say who is and is not fit for ministry? David was guilty of far worse than most of us and yet we still sing his songs in church every Sunday, thousands of years after they were written. Paul himself should have been put to death for his crimes against Christianity, yet he made some of the the greatest contributions to our faith.

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

John 8:7b (NIV)

Without grace, we are all guilty. None of us should be fit for ministry. But if we do as Jesus told the woman described in John 8 and leave our life of sin, there is no condemnation. But for the grace of God we should all be buried under a landslide of stones.

For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NIV)

God has called us all. No one, not even He, can revoke that calling. And it is only through His grace that any of us are able to walk in the purpose He has set out before us. What I give should be only from that which God has given through me. Judgement is not a gift from God. Grace is.

 

In His own image

Read: Genesis 1-2, Matthew 1

Genesis-1-27

Reading through the account of creation, we see that man is the only thing God created in His own image. Man is the only being that God breathed His own life into. Though they were made on the same day, man was different from the beasts of the field.

Man was made upright. His understanding saw Divine things clearly and truly; there were no errors or mistakes in his knowledge; his will consented at once, and in all things, to the will of God.

Matthew Henry

Before Adam made the worst decision in the history of humanity, he was at one with God. He knew no separation from his Creator and lived in perfect communion with Him. We know, that at the moment Adam chose to eat from the forbidden tree, that unique relationship was severed. While that relationship can never be fully restored on this side of heaven, God made a way for us to still have communion with Him. But it takes work. It’s not an instant fix; it is a lifelong effort on our part.

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

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

The only way to gain back even a portion of what Adam experienced with God in the garden is to continually renew ourselves to His will. You truly to become like the people you most spend time with, so spend time with God. Become more like Him—the way we were all created to be. This process of renewal must be constant and consistent. always moving forward and never looking back.

Paul said we need to be forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13). We have a decision to make. We can continue to live in separation from God and do as we please. Or we can approach Him through the grace provided through Jesus’ sacrifice and get to know Him and His will for us. We can live as we were created to live in perfect harmony with our Father.

Stuck in the middle

There are two sides to every coin. Two sides to every story. Two sides of the fence. There are two sides to many things and we use a lot of them as analogies and, more often than not, the truth is somewhere in the middle—neither one side nor the other.

There are some that would say building the Kingdom of God is nothing but hard work. Work. Work. Work. And then more work. Others may say that we just have to wait on God. He’ll to it all for us. Like the coin, the story, and the fence, the truth is stuck somewhere in the middle.

Building the Kingdom of God using brute strength alone will only build something that can crumble. Nothing man makes on his own will ever be eternal.

It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty.

Zechariah 4:6b (NLT)

Yet, we cannot just sit on our rear ends and do nothing, expecting the Holy Spirit to do it all for us.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

Zechariah 4:10a (NLT)

God cannot work through us unless there is work to work through. He needs our hands and our feet to accomplish His will on this earth. Sometimes that means getting dirty and maybe even sweaty. But we don’t have to do it all on our own.

And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.

Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

It is not within God’s nature to start a job and leave it unfinished. If He has called you to a work, He will be with you, helping you, until the work is finished.

What comes from the grace of God, may, in faith, be committed to the grace of God, for he will not forsake the work of his own hands.

Matthew Henry

So, don’t get stuck on one side or the other. Find that middle ground between work and the Spirit. There is no better place to be than stuck in the middle with God.

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 4-6, Revelation 18

 

Don’t shoot the messenger

We all have people in our lives that we’d rather not have in our lives. An annoying coworker. A nosy neighbour. That weird uncle that only shows up at holidays. We avoid these people at all costs and even begrudge them when something good happens in their lives. We hold on to our dislike—hate even—like a security blanket. So long as that person keeps doing the things we dislike, we can grip our sense of superiority over them.

Jonah experienced a similar feeling when God brought him to a certain city in a rather roundabout way. Jonah finally made it to the city of Nineveh by way of fish. It probably wasn’t the most popular mode of transportation in his day, but it did the trick. Jonah was finally where God told him to be—surrounded by people he didn’t like. Not only did he have to be there, he had to share a certain message.

On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

Jonah 3:4 (NLT)

Still believing himself to be above the people in the city, Jonah shared his message with a great sense of satisfaction and then found a prime spot to watch the promised destruction. Yet that destruction would never come. Because, in spite of his hatred for the people of Nineveh, they had received and embraced his message.

The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to go without food and wear sackcloth to show their sorrow.

Jonah 3:5 (NLT)

I doubt this was the response Jonah was expecting. In a city he hated, Jonah was forced to watch as his reluctant message was acted upon. Repentance ran rampant.

What all the saints make a matter of joy and praise, Jonah makes the subject of reflection upon God; as if showing mercy were an imperfection of the Divine nature, which is the greatest glory of it.

Matthew Henry

The account of Jonah is not merely a story of delayed obedience. It is a story of attitude, of mercy, of grace. And it is an account that show us that, even if our attitudes do not reflect our message, God can still work in the hearts of even the greatest sinners. But, unlike Jonah, when our message is received, our hearts should rejoice along with those who have received the gift of grace.

It is the neighbour we like the least that needs the most love. Hesitation on our part to share the Gospel is like shooting the messenger before he even has a chance to tell his story. We do ourselves and our neighbour a disservice by holding on to our hatred and dislike. We want to show our superiority while God wants to show His grace.

Immediate obedience to God’s instruction is far easier on our egos than waiting until the last possible moment.  Let us share in the glory of God’s grace rather than hoarding our own personal comfort.

Daily Bible reading: Jonah 1-4, Revelation 9

Tear your heart out

Hearing stories of the war and destruction that make up a lot of the Old Testament, many people who don’t know God are eager to paint Him as a tyrant. A big bully who destroyed entire nations (and even the earth once) on a whim. What they fail to see are the dire warnings that preceded all of that. Every time. Before death and destruction came warnings from men of God pleading with the nations to turn from their wicked ways and return to the Lord. God wanted to show mercy, but because man always seems to know better…

That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is still time! Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief; tear your hearts.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered. He is filled with kindness and is eager not to punish you.

Joel 2:12-13 (NLT)

Does that sound like a tyrant to you? If God is eager not to punish you, why then do we make him the villain of the story?

Because we don’t want to have to name the real villain. You. Me.

If God is truly gracious and merciful like He says He is, that would mean that we are the true bullies. We taunt God with our hearts and our love and then withhold them from Him. Put yourself in His place. You’ve created something so that you’d have companionship. You give that creation free will so that they will love you because they want to, not because they have to. You give them everything they could possibly need. And yet they still turn away from you. Again. And again. You must punish their evil deeds, but you don’t really want to, so you give a warning. And another warning. All with the hope that they will turn back to you and you won’t have to punish them. They come back for a little while. And then they leave again.

Be honest, how many opportunities would you give your creation to return?

God has given us infinite opportunities to return to Him. He doesn’t want to punish us. He wants to love us. He wants to shower us with His grace and mercy, but we have to put ourselves in a position to receive it.

We must tear our hearts. Our minds and our attitudes must be changed, our old patterns destroyed and replaced with a new way of thinking. Until we rend our old, stony hearts and allow God to replace that ugly mess, we cannot expect to experience all the goodness that He has planned for us.

So don’t be afraid to tear your heart out because God has a new one waiting for you.

Daily Bible reading: Joel 1-3, Revelation 4

The same

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Hebrews 13:8 (NLT)

No matter what translation you read, this verse is pretty much exactly the same in every one. The Amplified adds Jesus Christ is [eternally changeless, always] the same. The word same means just that. The same. Never changing. Unaltered. Never different. That is our Savior.

Think about that for a moment. The message that Jesus taught while he walked the earth is still valid today. Just because the world has changed and humanity has changed, doesn’t mean the Gospel changes.

So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your spiritual strength comes from God’s special favor…

Hebrews 13:9b (NLT)

Too often, we try to complicate the message of Jesus. It can get watered down or it can be altered to seem more appealing. But the true message of Jesus can get lost in all the things we try to do to it. If Jesus never, ever changes,why do we try to change his word? If Jesus appealed to the masses two thousand years ago what makes us think that he won’t appeal the crowds now?

We have not been called to make the message of the Gospel appealing. We’ve been called simply to share it.

And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him.

Hebrews 13:20 (NLT)

God is most please with us when we do His will His way, and He has already given us all we need to accomplish it. We don’t need to try to make up new stories or rules or ways of doing things. Jesus already set the standard and, since he never changes, why would we try to change his message?

Jesus ministered to anyone and everyone with grace and love. We should do the same.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 17-19, Hebrews 13

What is faith?

As Christians, we talk about faith. A lot. It is our belief system. It is the basis on which we live our lives. It is our calling. It is many things. We know that just a small amount—the measure of a mustard seed—can move a mountain. It can heal the sick and open blind eyes. Faith can raise the dead. But how many of us can accurately define faith?

Let’s go the the old standby in Hebrews:

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)

I once heard a pastor say that grace is God’s grip on us and faith is our grip on God. According to Noah Webster, her statement was more than just something to be typed on a meme and posted to social media.

The sense of the verb is to strain, to draw, and thus to bind or make fast. A rope or cable is that which makes fast.

Our faith, combined with God’s grace, brings us or draws us toward God and binds us to Him. Without faith, we have no grip whatsoever. Grace alone is not enough. It is not the binding agent, faith is.

So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)

FAITH: That firm belief of God’s testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation.

When we are called upon to use our faith, our belief should not be in the desired outcome, but in the One who can bring it to pass. We must remember that faith goes beyond a little prayer and a hope. Faith is what binds us to God. It draws us closer to Him. It brings us to obedience to His Word and puts in line with His will. It is our judgement that what God has stated is the truth. And, if He promised it, He will perform it.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 10-12, Hebrews 11:1-19

Uncommon and holy

You may have heard of a message of grace. Not just grace to cover sin when you first approach God in repentance, but a message of a grace that means you can live however you like and God will have to forgive you no matter what. Some may call it hyper-grace.

The conclusion of hyper-grace teaching is that we are not bound by Jesus’ teaching, even as we are not under the Law; that believers are not responsible for their sin; and that anyone who disagrees is a pharisaical legalist.

(Source)

To live a life under hyper-grace, means that, while one may accept salvation through Christ, they do not accept his teachings nor do they experience any real change in their life because of Jesus.

It’s a sad truth that there are many who profess Christianity live in what they believe to be grace, but it’s nothing more than self-condemnation. They devalue the sacrifice and blood of Jesus by expecting that God must forgive them no matter what—without ever having to come to Him in repentance.

Anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Think how much more terrible the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have treated the blood of the covenant as if it were common and unholy. Such people have insulted and enraged the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to his people.

Hebrews 10:28-29 (NLT)

Imagine a kid who comes home after having found a mud pit. The child approaches his parents with remorse because he knows that he cannot go into the house in his current state. Since his parents hadn’t yet addressed the repercussions of playing in the mud, they clean him off, put him in new clothes and bring him into the house. The next time they send him out to play, he is reminded to stay away from the mud. But that’s exactly where he goes. Once more, Mom and Dad clean him off, give him clean clothes and bring him inside. But once this happens a few more times, Mom and Dad aren’t so forgiving. Yet the kid only sees that he’s going to get cleaned up no matter what. Soon, he feels no remorse over his disobedience and simply expects that Mom and Dad will clean him up and dress him so that he can go inside. As the parents, how long will you allow this behavior? I doubt it wouldn’t be more than two or three muddy returns before the child is punished. Yet we should expect that God simply smile, shake His head, and immediately forgive us of far worse over and over and over again?

Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we received a full knowledge of the truth, there is no other sacrifice that will cover these sins.

Hebrews 10:26 (NLT)

Do we slip and fall and get ourselves dirty? Yes, of course we do. And God is faithful to help us up and dust us off. But to keep on deliberately sinning is ignorant and insulting to all that He has done for us. God has called us out of the muck (Psalm 40:2). He has called us to live pure, clean lives. It is to our benefit as well as those around us.

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.

Hebrews 10:23-24 (NLT)

Grace is not a Get Out of Jail Free card to be played whenever we get ourselves in trouble, but rather a gift that should be treated with awe and reverence. We should be doing all that we can to remain under the cover of grace and to pull others into its shelter.

Grace is not common and unholy, but rather uncommon and holy.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 7-9, Hebrews 10:24-39