John and Paul

In 1967, John Lennon and Paul McCartney loudly declared that All You Need Is Love. And those words changed the world. They were a key part of a cultural revolution (they sang about that, too). They may not have gone about it the right way, but they weren’t entirely wrong.

Thousands of years before guitars got plugged in and a hairdo was referred to as a mop-top, Another John and another Paul spoke of a different kind of love that would change the world.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends to the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.

John 3:29-30 (NIV)

John, Jesus’ cousin, was known for baptising people. Some of his followers were a little upset when Jesus also began baptising. And there were more people in Jesus’ lineup on the shore than in John’s. Rather than joining the jealous conversation, John explained that now that Jesus had shown up and stepped up, his job was pretty much done. His entire purpose was to point people toward Jesus. And because people were going to Jesus, his purpose and his joy were made complete. His time was over. Jesus’ had begun.

If you have any encouragements from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

Just as John was filled with joy at people following Jesus, Paul’s joy was made complete when the believers acted in one accord, displaying the attributes of Christ.

Lennon and McCartney may have landed on some very profound truths in their lyrics, but without ever knowing the true power behind those words, they are void of life. All of the focus was on the men behind the microphones.

The Baptist and The Apostle also landed on some very profound truths in their words. The difference here is that they both pointed the attention away from themselves and toward Jesus—the fulfillment of their proclamations.

The glory does not belong to us, but to Christ. All that we do should be a reflection of him and only serve to point others toward the cross. If all you need is love, love can be found in Christ at the foot of the cross. When you find Christ, your joy will also be complete.

Read: 2 Kings 1-3, John 3:22-36

True life

We’re all looking for something or someone. Everyone wants to find purpose or meaning in life. And most people go through their entire lives searching but never finding because they’ve been looking in all the wrong places.

The Sunday after Jesus died by way of crucifixion, the women who had been following him went to the tomb to anoint his body properly for burial. One would assume that the best place to look for someone who had died would be the tomb where their body had been placed, but when they arrived, there was no body to anoint. Just a couple of angels with a message.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Luke 24:5b (NIV)

In the entire account of the empty tomb, this one question stood out to me. In all of our searching for meaning and purpose in life, most often, we look for it among the dead. In John 14:6, Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” If there is life to be found, there is only one place to find it, and it’s not in the world.

The world, as hard as it may try, cannot replace or replicate the life that is found in Christ. Anything that is found outside of Christ can only mimic true life.

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they make take hold of the life that is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:18-19 (NIV)

Meaning and purpose cannot be found just anywhere. Paul wrote to Timothy to tell the people to do good, be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. That is where true life begins. It is not a selfish search for ourselves, but a selfless search for Christ.

And if there is any doubt at all:

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.”

John 6:35a (NIV)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

John 6:63 (NIV)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 (NIV)

You may be breathing. Your heart may be beating. But are you alive? Are you truly alive?

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25-26 (NIV)

Life is too short to waste looking for it among the dead. Life, true life, can only be found at the foot of the cross of Jesus.

Read: 1 Kings 10-11, Luke 24:1-35

Cheap and easy

Have you ever known another Christian who thinks you should do things for or give things to them just because you’re both Christians? Somewhere along the line, a lot of believers got it in their heads that everything should be cheap and easy. Free is even better. We’ve got this idea in our heads that it’s a blessing. Generally, it’s not. It’s cheap. It’s greedy. It’s unbecoming of a group of people who should be known for their generosity, not their ability to rip people off in the name of faith.

David, having grieved the Lord, was instructed to build an altar and offer a sacrifice at a certain place. That certain place was a threshing floor belonging to a man named Araunan. Araunan offered everything to David for free.

But the king replied to Araunan, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

David paid for the threshing floor, the wood for the fire, and the oxen to sacrifice. As the king, it probably didn’t break the bank. But he still refused to offer something to God that he didn’t have to pay for.

Centuries later, another sacrifice was required. Like David’s sin needed a sacrifice, our sin, too, needed a sacrifice. Only the payment for our sin was much greater than the purchase of a floor, wood, and ox. The payment required on our behalf was the life of God’s Son.

As Jesus prepared for what he knew he had to do, he let out one last agonising prayer.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Luk 22:42 (NIV)

I cannot imagine the torment Jesus went through during that time in the garden. He knew the physical pain would be unbearable. He knew the weight of the sins of the world would be crushing. And he knew that he would forever be separated from his Father.

These are just two examples, in a book of many, that we are to emulate. Jesus taught on and lived a life of generosity. That practice continued in the early church as Paul writes to commend the church at Philippi.

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.

Philippians 4:15 (NIV)

Only one church of many understood the concept of generous giving. The point was not that Paul needed so much (even though he did), but that the church received far more because of their gifts.

Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

Philippians 4:17-18 (NIV)

David could have very easily accepted the gift Araunan offered to him, but he knew that he needed to pay a price or the sacrifice would not have been his, but Araunan’s. Jesus, too, could have prayed that the cup be passed and stopped there. God may have even allowed it. But Jesus knew a price had to be paid. Paul could have sent the gifts back to Philippi since he had more than enough, but he knew that the church needed to give so that they could receive more.

You see, generosity is not something we should expect from others, but it is something we should expect of ourselves. How much value do you place in something that came cheap and easy? Compare that to something that you paid dearly for.

Someone may or may not have need of what you have to give, but you have far greater need for the space your sacrifice creates in your own life. If you want a blessing, you have to make room for it. If a gift costs you nothing to give, is it really worth giving? What does that say about you? What does that say to the person receiving the gift?

No matter who you give to or what you give, whether it be to the Lord, a brother or sister in Christ, or the homeless person on the street, give generously. Give faithfully. Give as though it’s the first gift you get to give and the last you’ll ever be able to give.

Read: 2 Samuel 23-24, Luke 22:31-53

Suck it up, Buttercup

Feelings are good. They can let us know when things are okay or bad or scary or wonderful. Some would have us believe that we should be ruled entirely by our feelings. We should always feel safe. We should never feel threatened. We always have a right to feel whatever we want to feel and express those feelings however we choose. And how is that working out for us?

Even King David, upon learning of the death of his son Absalom, had a moment when he let his feelings overtake him. He retreated to his safe space. And you know what that earned him? A big, fat lecture from the leader of his military.

The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son, Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Then Joab when into the house of the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from you youth till now.”

2 Samuel 19:4-7 (NIV)

Ouch! Who would be brave enough to tell a king to get off his butt, wipe the tears off his face, and congratulate the army that killed his son? From David’s perspective of intense grief, one may say that Joab was overly harsh with his king. What right did he have to say what he did in the manner he said it? Was David not allowed to mourn for his son?

Had David chosen to put his feelings first and wallow in his grief, it would have cost him the kingdom that had just been saved. Instead of closing the door on Joab, David heeded his commander’s advice.

So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, “The king is sitting in the gateway,” they all came before him.

2 Samuel 19:8 (NIV)

We are all entitled to our feelings, but our feelings are not entitled to rule us unless we allow them to. God gave us feelings. He gave us the ability to rejoice and to grieve. He made us to be glad as well as sad. But He also gave us dominion. To be ruled by our feelings is to look solely on our inward selves. To give in to every feeling with the unction to express every little emotion that comes upon us is to become utterly selfish.

Was David selfish in wanting to grieve for his son? No. But in his grief, he stole the joy of victory from his men. They thought they had done well in restoring the kingdom to its rightful ruler. But instead of a pat on the back, all they saw was David’s back as he turned to mourn the death of his enemy.

While we should welcome feelings and emotions, we cannot be entirely ruled by them. Sometimes how we feel must take a back seat to what we must do. Sometimes we have to suck it up and do what is best for the greater good rather than our own good.

Take a page out of David’s book, literally. He learned to channel his feelings and emotions, pouring them out to God in the pages we now know as the Psalms. There, the shepherd boy who became a king, let it all out. He figured out how to handle his emotions while balancing them with the responsibilities of ruling God’s chosen people. He learned humility above all.

My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131 (NIV)

Read: 2 Samuel 19-20, Luke 21:20-38 

Losers

I think it would be fair to say that most of us do not relish being losers. We all want to win. At everything. But there are some cases in which losing will gain us far more than winning ever will.

But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.

Luke 21:12-19 (NIV)

Anyone who tells you that life as a Christian will be sunshine and roses is a liar. The Bible makes no guarantees that, once we put our faith in Christ, our lives will be stretched out before us like a freshly paved highway on the prairie. It’s more like a narrow path through rock, jungle, desert, and ocean. In just a few statements Jesus told his followers that they will be betrayed by those closest to them, that they will be hated, and that they may even die. But don’t worry, not a hair of your head will perish!

Though we may be losers for Christ, we shall not, we cannot be losers by him, in the end.

Matthew Henry

To those new to the faith, it may seem that Jesus is asking a lot of us. Maybe too much. He’s asking for our lives. If we don’t fully understand the benefits that are afforded to us as believers, we may well be unwilling to do all that Christ asks of us.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Philippians 3:7-8 (NIV)

For one who has only faith in themself, it is difficult to understand how a follower of Christ could be so willing to give up everything—become a loser—for someone who existed thousands of years ago. But even in the face of complete and utter loss in this life, we have gained far more than they can ever know unless they, too, come to an understanding of the grace by which we stand. We have already won because Jesus has already won. Christ has already defeated the one thing which the world cannot—death. And because we are in Christ, we have already won as well.

Losers in this life we may be, but we have already gained everything in the next.

Read: 2 Samuel 17-18, Luke 21:1-19

Amazing grace

Do you ever see yourself in Jesus’ parables? Maybe you’re the widow giving your last few cents. Perhaps you’re the servant who buried and hid what had been given to you for safekeeping. Or you could be the Good Samaritan, giving of yourself to a complete stranger.

Today, I am the brother who stayed at home with the father.

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of your was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

Luke 15:31-32 (NIV)

Sometimes, when I hear the stories of those whom God saved from lives of sin and destruction, I think, God, I haven’t experienced that much grace. Why has that person received so much from you, but I haven’t?

You see, I was born and raised in a Christian home. I was four years old when I made a decision for Christ, barely older than that when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and just eight years old when I was water baptised. My parents have both been leaders in the church for as long as I can remember, and my grandfather, until he moved to heaven, was my pastor. I started playing on the worship team when I was twelve, leading worship when I was sixteen, and have never looked back. I have literally lived my life in the church. I am the older brother who stayed home.

For those who have grown up similarly to myself, we see what God has brought some people out of and easily forget, like the older son, that God has given us the very same grace that He’s given to the greatest of sinners. The thing about grace is that it’s amazing no matter how it’s applied.

For me, I have to remind myself that I have been spared a lifetime of memories and regret that come with a worldly life. I have great memories from my childhood of God working in mighty and miraculous ways. Those things are because of amazing grace.

For those who have come to Jesus later in life, or have still yet to come, the grace you receive is just as amazing. While the grace I have received has allowed me to grow up knowing God and His infinite love, the grace you receive allows you to see the extent to which He will go to bring you to Him. The grace you receive covers your life of memories and regret. And you can live the rest of your life knowing that, like the prodigal son, your Father has welcomed you back with open arms.

Grace isn’t only amazing because it saves us from ourselves, it is amazing because it keeps us close to God no matter where we find ourselves in life. And what makes it even more amazing is that it’s the same grace that covers us all.

Read: 1 Samuel 19-21, Luke 15:11-32

The common denominator

Canada (and much of the world) was brought to its knees recently with the news of a horrific bus crash that took the lives of sixteen individuals on or working with the Humboldt Broncos, a junior hockey team. Prayers went out. Millions of dollars raised to cover expenses. The nation grieves. I know that some (if not all) of the victims were believers. It is impossible to make sense of the event. In some way, we all feel impacted by these senseless deaths.

Several attempts were made to kill a certain man. Eventually, in 1994, he was beaten to death. How does that make you feel? Do you feel a similar kind of grief that you felt when you heard the news of the bus crash? What if I told you the man who was beaten to death was mass murderer, Jeffrey Dahmer? Did he get what he deserved?

There is an account of Jesus with his disciples where a similar comparison is made.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Luke 13:1-5 (NIV)

I believe there is little to compare between Jeffrey Dahmer and the Humboldt Broncos, but it is a stark contrast and, when we think about our own responses, it sheds a bit of light on our attitudes.

The disciples shared an account with Jesus painting the Galileans as horrible sinners because of the manner in which they were killed. Jesus compared them to eighteen people who were killed in a tower collapse. By the disciples reckoning, those eighteen must also have been terrible sinners to have died in such a manner. While we might say that Jeffrey Dahmer deserved to die a horrible death, I don’t think anyone would say such a think about a group of young men entering the prime of their lives.

There is one common denominator between us all. Jesus went on to say not once, but twice that unless you repent, you too will all perish. Death is a staggering statistic. One in one will die. Ten of ten who are now living will die. No matter how you place the numbers, there is a 100% chance of death at the end of this life.

Our sin is not the direct cause of physical death, nor will righteousness spare us from it. It is not the manner of our deaths that will define us, but the way we live.

Repentance is the only true guarantee of life beyond this earth. A sinner can die in peace while a believer dies in violence. The only constant is that we are all guilty unless, like Jesus said, we repent. Upon repentance, we receive a guarantee from Jesus himself of life after death. Eternal life. Abundant life.

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

1 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NIV)

Read: 1 Samuel 7-9, Luke 13:1-21