Heart not head

Read: Exodus 25-26, Matthew 21:1-22

Once Israel had been set free from the Egyptians, it was time for them to seek God in earnest. All other gods and worship had to be cast aside. God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was to be worshiped. Set apart because He had set Israel apart. A place, a tabernacle, needed to be assembled as a place for the presence of God to rest.

This wasn’t to be any old tent. God had given Moses a lot of very specific instructions that needed to be met exactly. Materials were required. Israel didn’t have a building fund. They didn’t have time to set up a donation campaign. No fundraising events were held.

Exodus 25:2

A freewill offering was taken up and work began to fulfill the specifications for the tabernacle. Nowhere in the text do we find a scenario where the supplies were not enough and a second offering had to be received. The people gave according to the prompting of their hearts.

What does it mean to be prompted by ones heart? Does it mean that we give when we feel like it? Are we generous only when we have the means to do so? Or is it simply a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit?

I believe it is the latter. Webster’s 1828 dictionary says that the heart is the seat of affections and passions. Israel had just been freed from centuries of slavery. It’s probably safe to say that they were passionate about their freedom and the One who had brought it about. Their generous offerings were a part of their worship.

Giving is worship. Worship should be inspired not by how we feel or what we have, but by whom we worship.

The only way [we can] worship in spirit and in truth [is] to know the One whom [we are] seeking to worship.

Kevin J. Navarro, The Complete Worship Leader

The more we know God, the more we will be in tune with His Spirit and the more we will be prompted to give generously. Giving is the only area in which God actually asks us to test him.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

Malachi 3:10 (NIV)

In any sort of worship—from song to giving—we must be dependent on our hearts, the seat of our affections, for direction. We must listen closely to that part of us which is joined with God. Our heads will always lead us away from generous worship, but our hearts will always lead us toward it.

The overflow

Read: Genesis 38-40, Matthew 12:22-50

Whether it’s intentional or not, things are going in and out of us all day every day. I’m not talking about food here. Or maybe I am. But it’s the spiritual sort. We read an article. We drive past a billboard. We watch a TV show. We have a conversation with a friend. We pass by a stranger. It’s all stimulation and it’s all being absorbed one way or another. And what goes in is what will come out.

Matthew 12:34

Since there are a lot of things that go in that we have no control over, the situation may seem hopeless. But, as we discussed yesterday, there is always hope. Just because we can’t control all of the bad things doesn’t mean we have no control whatsoever over the good things. We just have to make sure that the good stuff outweighs the bad. It may be as simple as changing the radio station in the car on the commute to work, or putting down one book in exchange for another. In some cases, it may take a little more effort.

For me, it’s getting up earlier than my schedule requires so that I know I will have time first thing every day to spend in the Word of God. I can carry that with me all day.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Jesus said that a tree—that’s us—is recognized by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every once in a while, it does us good to take a look at the kind of fruit we bear. We cannot assume that it’s always good. And, once we’ve determined our produce, we may need to take a look at what we’ve been feeding it. Even if you believe you have pretty decent fruit, keep in mind it can always be better, and the better it is, the less chance there is of it turning on you. Your fruit affects those around you even more than it affects you.

So, what’s your overflow?

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

Now is the time

When someone asks me to do something I’d already planned on doing, immediately I want to say no. It has turned from being an optional thing into a thing that must be done. And, now that it must be done, I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s not the greatest attitude to have. Especially when it comes to spiritual things.

I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of my love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.

Hosea 10:12 (NLT)

These statements from the Lord were not given as options. You might want to plant the good seeds of righteousness. Maybe think about plowing up the hard ground of your hearts. No, these are statements of things that must be done if we want to reap the rewards that are also described.

Chances are that you’ve planted something before. Maybe in school. Perhaps a garden in your yard. A flower pot on your patio. The soil is as important as the seed. This is why Jesus told a whole story about the soil. In the parable of the sower, Jesus took the time to describe the different types of soil in detail, but never gave any indications as to what the seed may have been or looked like.

As he scattered it across the field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.

Matthew 13:4 (NLT)

We can assume that the footpath was hard, packed, well-trod soil—if you can even call it soil anymore. When soil is hard and packed, a seed cannot even get far enough into the ground to sprout roots. All that potential becomes nothing more than bird food. God tells us that we must plow up that hard ground. Now is the time to do it.

Unlike planting, soil preparation can happen at any time. A farmer can start preparing a field for planting a year or more in advance. If the plot of land is particularly hard and stony, it will take time to make it useful for planting. So long as the ground is accessible, it can be prepared.

Our hearts are the same as the unprepared field. We don’t need to wait for a certain season to start. We just need to prepare ourselves to receive the seed. God will take care of the rest. But if we never take the time to prepare ourselves, we can never expect to reap a harvest. Any seed that may be scattered will be snatched away.

Let’s stop waiting and procrastinating. Get the job done while it is still a choice, not a duty. Now is the time to seek the Lord.

Daily Bible reading: Hosea 9-11, Revelation 2

The replacements

Our lives are full of comings and goings. Things change every moment of every day. Some things we can control, others we can’t.

Have you ever tried to break a bad habit? First of all, it’s not easy to do. Second, if you don’t replace that bad habit with something else, it’s bound to come back with a vengeance.

And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NLT)

It’s Grey Cup Sunday—the biggest day in Canadian football. Of course I can’t let the day go by without yet another football reference.

In Canadian football, there are 12 players on the field for each team at any given time. If a player gets injured and requires attention, he must then sit out for a minimum of three plays. Now, once that player is off the field, he must be replaced so that there are still the required 12 men on the play. The same applies for a player that isn’t getting the job done. If the coach decides he needs to go, he must also be replaced. A team that tries to play anything but 12 players will be penalized.

Many things in our lives work the same. If we’re trying to break a habit, we can’t just say we’re going to stop. That void has to be filled with something else or we’ll go right back to doing that thing we don’t want to do.

This is why, when we accept Jesus into our lives, that God takes away our old, stony heart of sin and replaces it with a new, obedient heart. He takes something away and puts something better in its place. The injured player comes out and a new, healthy one comes in.

God doesn’t just take things away from us like a big bully. He removes things from our lives so that He can replace them with better things. His things. And we need to let Him. If we had our way, we’d be like a coach playing a half dozen injured players and being baffled by the loss of a game. God wants to put us in the very best position possible. That means replacements.

So don’t get down when it’s time for God to pull something from your life that just isn’t working. Rejoice, because He has a better plan to fill that void.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 36-37, 1 Peter 3

Your name here

As we read the Bible, we should always take into consideration the context in which the verses were written. Who wrote them? Who are they talking to? Are they talking about a specific event or period of time? Is it culturally relevant? There are many variables that can change the way we perceive the Word of God. As Pastor Morris Watson put it in his message Do You Know What You’re Asking For?, not everything in the Bible is meant for us personally. But that’s not to say that we can’t take some of it personally.

There are those who like to take scripture and insert their own name into it. I’m not usually one to make a habit of it, but since today’s portion of scripture already has a name in it, why not try inserting your own name in place of Timothy’s?

But you, (insert your name here), belong to God; so run from all these evil things, and follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life, along with faith, love,  perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for what we believe. Hold tightly to the eternal life that God has given you, which you have confessed so well before so many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NLT)

Paul has been writing to Timothy about avoiding many of the pitfalls the Jewish nation was prone to. We’re pretty much in the same boat as the Jews were at that time. The world pushes against us trying to force us into their way of thinking and holding on to the truth becomes more and more difficult.

So today, if you find your faith being pressured, remember these words. Insert your name here and remember that you belong to God. Follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life. All of these things that Paul encouraged Timothy to do still apply to us today.

Take these words to heart. Take them personally and then you and I can fight the good fight for what we all believe.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 17-19, 1 Timothy 6

The wait

Sometimes it feels as though our life is made up more of waiting than actually doing. Just wait. Hold on a minute. Can I put you on hold? Just a moment, please. Hold your horses! We wait so much that we have lists and rooms designated for that purpose. And they’re full. All the time.

And, as much as the waiting is bothersome, everyone else’s reaction to your waiting can be even more so. When are you going to get married? When are you going to have kids? Are you having more kids? When are you ever going to get a job? What about that promotion? We can get so caught up in what everyone else thinks of our waiting that we plow ahead, bypassing God’s timing for our own.

The Bible is full of people who decided that they knew better than God. All the way back to Eve, if she’d only waited for Adam’s input before eating the fruit, things may have turned out differently. What about Sarah and Abraham? At 90, Sarah didn’t think she could wait any longer and foisted her servant on her husband so the promised child could be produced. The result was Ishmael—we’re still seeing the effects of that mistake today. The entire nation of Israel grew tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain and decided it would be better to worship idols.

The list goes on and on. The short of it is that no one likes to wait. We don’t like to feel as though we’re not accomplishing anything. But what is the penalty for our impatience?

Those who wait for me will never be put to shame.

Isaiah 49:23b (NLT)

We can try to blame God all we want, but when we jump the gun on His plan, the shame is ours alone. That’s not to say that God can’t repair what we broke, but there are still consequences.

But I don’t know what to do with myself!

I get it. I hate waiting, too. I hate not being productive. My hands must be busy. I have to have something to show for my time. In the practical sense, I bring something with me when I know I have to wait. A book. A crochet project. My journal. Candy Crush. But what about when I’m waiting on God?

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

Colossians 4:2 (NLT)

God doesn’t make us wait to watch us squirm. He makes us wait because He’s either preparing us, preparing someone else, or preparing a situation. We will never see the entire picture, yet God is only asking us to trust in Him. The best thing to do—pray. Devote yourself to God. The wait may not be as long as you thought it was.

Live wisely among those who are not Christians, and make the most of every opportunity.

Colossians 4:5 (NLT)

Waiting doesn’t have to be, and even shouldn’t be, idle time. The wait in itself is an opportunity. An opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. An opportunity to grow in our relationships with others. An opportunity to grow our faith and trust. An opportunity to prepare ourselves for the promise to come. The only shame in waiting is if we waste the opportunities God gives us in that time.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 48-49, Colossians 4

Shoe93

Every church wants a good growth strategy—at least they should. We also want to see community and global outreaches at work. Some churches focus on one more than the other and that’s okay. Organisations like the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) have figured out a way to get relief to war- and disaster-torn countries faster than any other organisation. The Association of Faith Churches and Ministers (AFCM) figured out how to build a leadership and church structure on the Peruvian Amazon in a way no one had been able to accomplish before. Victory Churches International (VCI) has been able to plant churches in 43 nations while also feeding communities and providing other necessities like job skills training and orphanages.

When a small church looks at organisations like these, it can be daunting. How can we possibly make a difference? My church is a part of Victory Churches International. We provide funding for a lot of what the organisation does in Canada and abroad, but we also want to make a difference in our own community—especially since our church is located in the inner city. We see the effects of poverty and drug abuse on a daily basis. And for the five years we’ve been in our building have tried all sorts of things to add value to the community. This year—as we go into our seventh year as a church, God planted a vision in our pastor’s heart that caught fire and spread quickly.

There is a school across the street from our building. It’s the poorest school in the city. Kids come and go all the time because of the transient nature of the neighbourhood. When we approached the school about what we could do, a surprising dilemma presented itself. These kids need shoes. In the spring, we handed out shoes to kids in a migrant camp in Mexico. That was expected. To have kids right across the street from us without shoes was completely unexpected.

So began our Shoe93 campaign.

Why Shoe93? Each year, we host several events which we call Reach293 (two-ninety-three). We work to invite people to fill all 293 seats in our auditorium. Shoe93 started off as a bit of a joke, but caught on. Why not try to collect 93 pairs of shoes? Well, collect 93 pairs we did, and then some. Folks who don’t even attend our church (or any church at all) felt a tug on their hearts to give. And, as of the writing of this post, we have somewhere in the vicinity of 175 pairs of shoes (and constructed a shoe-ninety-tree). We’re now hoping to keep going and get a pair of shoes for every student in the school (about 270).

What does this have to do with today’s Bible reading? Every pair of shoes has a tag that reads:

And on your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong.

Ephesians 6:15 (ICB)

2017-09-30 11.01

I am convinced that, as kids put on their first pair of new shoes, that the preparation of the Gospel of peace (as the New King James puts it) will go with them. That 270 kids will be running around town spreading peace like we’ve never seen before and that those little feet will be preparing the ground for the Gospel to be planted in our city. I believe that this little vision turned big will be the start of a revival in my town and this won’t be the last you year of Shoe93.

If you’d like to contribute to Shoe293, visit www.noperfectpeople.co to give online. 100% of all donations will go directly to the purchase of new shoes.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 29-30, Ephesians 6

Sing!

Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:19-20 (NLT)

When I was a kid and my mom would still send me off to school, she’d stand on the front step and holler out a song title at my sister and I. She would then stand on the step until she could hear us singing the song as we walked down the street.

More often than not, that song would stay with us throughout the day and we’d come home singing choruses like This is the Day or Celebrate Jesus (it was the nineties, have a little grace).

Mom was on to something. Her intent was to send us off to school with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Now, more than 20 years later, I’m still asking God to give me songs to sing while I work. When I’m alone in an room with great acoustics, why wouldn’t I sing? And if someone else walks in the room and hears me praising God while I work, what does that matter?

Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs aren’t just things to do to fill the silence, but they are a byproduct of being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing him to control our lives. Verse 19 is preceded by this:

Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you.

Ephesians 5:18b (NLT)

Then you will sing...

If you’ve got the Holy Spirit, don’t be afraid to sing the songs he puts in your heart. Even if you can’t sing. My dad always says that God told us to make a joyful noise. He never said it had to be on key.

So sing!

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 27-28, Ephesians 5

One more reason

Since reading Ecclesiastes 5 several weeks ago, my outlook on work has changed. And not just a little bit, but drastically. To help you understand, allow me to explain my current work situation.

Some friends of mine from church own a cleaning business. Work started to get a little crazy, so they brought me on to help them out. Do I love to clean? Not at all. Ask my mother. But it’s a job with a paycheque and the whole starving artist thing can only work for so long.

We clean new construction only. Meaning we get new houses and apartments ready to be moved into after the build is complete. Our current contract can be explained as less than ideal. We’re working on the second of what will be a three building apartment complex. The first building is complete and occupied. The building we are in is supposed to be occupied in a couple of weeks. The roof was two months late getting on and, as a result, every other trade has been pushed back. But in an effort to maintain the move-in dates, everyone is working at the same time. Drywallers are tripping over painters who are working over carpet installers who are working around guys pouring concrete who are working beside men trying to finish the siding. I think you get the picture. It’s a gong show.

No one on site is really happy about the situation. Myself included. I’m the peon on site. The lowliest of all the trades. It’s my job to clean up the mess everyone else left behind. Almost every day, I hear from another trade that I shouldn’t be there. I know that and they know that, but I’m trying to do my job just like they are. I could very easily take offense. I could very easily allow the situation to frustrate me and get me down. But since reading Ecclesiastes 5:19, it all rolls off.

And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—that is indeed a gift from God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19 (NLT)

I don’t take for granted this incredible gift that God has given me. Every day I walk on to the job site with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. (Most days those songs come out of my mouth, too—I’m pretty sure the site supervisor was laughing at me yesterday when he caught me singing to myself rather loudly.)

I’ve said all that to say this, God has given us so many reasons to praise Him. I praise Him daily because He has given me an inexplicable gift of joy that allows me to enjoy my work in what can be a rather hostile environment. And the reasons to praise Him keep on coming.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us everything he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. This is just one more reason for us to praise our glorious God.

Ephesians 1:14 (NLT)

After all that God has done for us, He sent His Spirit as a guarantee that He will do all He has promised. I guess I have just one more reason… to praise our glorious God today! What’s your reason?

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 16-18, Ephesians 1