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

There is no peace

Imagine a soldier returning from war. Post-traumatic stress disorder is common among men and women who have experienced or witnessed a terrifying event. Even in the safety of home, the mind struggles to reconcile peace. The smallest thing can trigger an event. A loud or sudden sound. The sight of a certain vehicle. A word or phrase. On one hand, the mind knows that they are safe, but it plays tricks and wreaks havoc when least expected.

The world is, in a way, experiencing PTSD. The truth really is out there. Peace can be found. Somewhere in the back of their minds, they all know that. But a part of them refuses to accept it. It doesn’t look like they think it should. It doesn’t sound like they think it should sound. They’ve become shellshocked, accustomed to things no one should ever become accustomed to. In some ways, it is easier to remain at war.

Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.

Luke 12:51 (NIV)

We’d all like to think that Jesus’ birth should have been the advent of eternal global peace. But that’s not why he came. He came to bring peace to those who would accept it. But, while some accept his peace, others find division.

Jesus’ message was revolutionary. Be last to be first. Serve if you want to lead. If someone strikes one cheek, offer the other. It goes against everything our humanity longs for—importance, status, acceptance.

Like soldiers returning to life after war where peace is a foreign concept, the world has grown so used to its carnal ways that anything else is completely foreign. And they fight against it.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

John 1:5 (NIV)

Unless there is a revelation of the truth of Jesus’ words, there will always be a fight against them. Human nature cannot be reconciled with spiritual rebirth.

Jesus didn’t come to start a war, but he knew that not everyone would be willing to receive him. But while we work to spread his Good News, he left something with us.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27 (NIV)

Read: 1 Samuel 4-6, Luke 12:35-59

We will possess

Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right do you have to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.

Judges 11:23-24 (NIV)

What God has given, no man can rightly take away. God gave Israel an inheritance. A good land where they could live and prosper so long as they remained obedient to God. While I’m not Jewish, nor do I live in Israel, God has given me (and you) a great many things that no man can ever take away.

The trouble comes when believers live in shame, pain, poverty, foolishness, sin, and more because they don’t know what they have. So many believers haven’t taken the time to learn the promises of God and, in the words of my brother-in-law, live their lives broke, busted, and disgusted because they believe that is where God would have them remain. Not so!

Here are just a few of the things that we don’t need to ask God for—He’s already given them to us.

Eternal life.

And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.

1 John 2:25 (NIV)

Forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NIV)

The Holy Spirit.

…how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Luke 11:13b (NIV)

Guidance and truth.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

John 16:13 (NIV)

Physical sustenance and clothing.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:31, 33 (NIV)

These are just a few of the many promises we have been given as children of God. But we often forget about them. Our focus turns to things other than God. We begin to worry and allow the day-to-day cares of this world to bring us down. We become like Israel—forgetting who we really are and what we have already been given.

Once God has given us something, the only one who can prevent us from obtaining it and maintaining it is ourselves. Whether it be by losing focus, getting distracted, a lack of faith, or all-out rejecting God, only you stand in the way of your promise.

So keep this in mind: if God has promised it, He will perform it.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 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.

2 Corinthians 1:20-22 (NIV)

Read: Judges 10-11. Luke 9:1-36

Methodless Man

Jesus performed miracles. Lots of miracles. Most people who do a lot of the same thing over and over again come up with a method for doing just that.

When I worked for the bank, my job title was Workflow Specialist. It was my duty to make our necessary processes run as efficiently as possible. We had methods of doing things. We did the same thing the same way every day so that it was easy to teach, easy to learn, and as easy as possible to do. Fewer mistakes are made when you get into a simple routine.

I don’t think Jesus knew about workflow specialists.

In Luke 7:9, Jesus healed a man’s servant simply because the man believed Jesus could do it. Jesus never even met the man he healed.

In verse 14, he touched the coffin of a dead man and the man was raised to life.

In verse 21, Jesus went all to cure many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits and gave sight to many who were blind.

Jesus was consistent in what he did, but now how he did it. Maybe he got bored with just touching people. A little spit and dust would certainly stir things up. Or maybe, he needed to avoid a particular method so that the Pharisees and other religious fanatics wouldn’t latch on to any particular way of performing a miracle and try to replicate the method.

Admit it. When something works out really well for you one time, you try to replicate the circumstances the next time you go to do it. If it works just as well the second time, you may start to refine your method for even better results.

Jesus didn’t do that. There is no one method we can use to get something from Jesus. That was the whole point. The only common strain that ran through all of Jesus’ miracles was faith. People went to him expecting a miracle. It didn’t matter how it happened, it only mattered that they got it.

If you want something from God, if you need a miracle, there are no surefire steps to take. To the man who wanted his servant healed and believed that if Jesus only said the words, it would happen, Jesus said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel!”

More than any one method, I believe it is the confident faith with which we approach Jesus that will see the greatest results. If God made us a promise in His Word, we can approach Him with all confidence that it will happen!

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 1:20 (NIV)

Read: Judges 1-2, Luke 7:1-30

As for me and my house

Every person on the planet—whether they realise it or not—has made a choice about God. There are only two ways to decide, but many ways that decision can be made.

  • Ignorance—some people’s choice has been taken out of their hands. By not knowing about God, sadly, their choice is against Him.
  • Misinformation—some people make their choice about God based on hearsay. They don’t really know the truth for themselves and trust in the word of another, whether right or wrong. Again, sadly, many make a choice against God because they believed a single person’s opinion over the actual Word of God.
  • Fact—I  personally know people who have weighed all the facts and still made a choice against God. It is a conscious decision to reject the Lord.
  • Personal desires— some are under the impression that a life lived for God is boring and useless and too costly, so they reject Him.
  • Truth—there are those still, who know and understand the truth of the Word of God and accept it.

No matter what we choose or how our choice is made, we do make the choice and there are consequences either way.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.

Romans 6:23 (NIV)

At the end of his life, Joshua gathered Israel together for one final pep rally. He recounted all that God had done in bringing them out of Egypt and into the land of promise. He closed with this:

Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods you forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, of the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Joshua 24:14-15 (NIV)

For Israel, the consequences of rejecting God to serve other gods was dire. Along the way from Egypt to Canaan, He made it pretty clear how things would go for them if they went against Him.

If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make and end of you, after he has been good to you.

Joshua 24:20 (NIV)

Now, we are no longer under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). God is not going to smite us should we refuse His gift of salvation. No, we bring ruin upon ourselves.

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slave, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Romans 6:16 (NIV)

No matter what choice we make, we must be prepared to live (or die) with the consequences. But, so long as there is breath in your lungs, it is never too late to make a declaration like Joshua: But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Read: Joshua 23-24 Luke 6:27-49

Side effects

As much as possible, I avoid the use of prescription medication. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I’m one of those people that experience side effects more often and more acutely than most. I can use nearly any list of side effects as a checklist should my health require the use of prescriptions. In most cases, the initial symptom is easier to endure than the side effects of the drug. As a result, I deal with chronic allergies instead of the nosebleeds, cough, fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, trouble breathing, and fatigue that come with over-the-counter nasal spray.

Now, I’m a more extreme case than the majority of the population, but most of us, in one way or another, have resigned ourselves to side effects and recovery time. A common cold may last just a few days, but the recovery of it can last a week or more. The same goes for the flu. A couple of days of being sick and medicated can lead to a week or two of recovery. We’re used to the idea. We expect it. And, whether we realise it or not, I think it’s had a dramatic effect on our faith.

“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

Luke 4:35 (NIV)

So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

Luke 4:49 (NIV)

These are just two accounts of many where Jesus performed a miracle. The miracles are incredible, but for now, look at what happened afterward. The demon-possessed man was freed without injury. Simon’s mother-in-law got up and started serving guests. When was the last time you were up and around doing housework the moment your fever broke? Probably never.

Here’s the thing about Jesus. Not only did he heal people, not only did he free them from demons, he did so without side effects. I cannot think of a single miracle in the Bible that required a time of recovery. Even Lazarus, dead for days, simply walked out of his tomb as though nothing had happened.

Our resignation to side effects and recovery time has stifled our faith. We pray just to get better and that’s good enough. But what Jesus has in mind for us is far better than good enough. It’s more than enough.

I think the possessed man would have been glad for a few scrapes and scratches, even a broken bone just to be free. Simon’s mother-in-law probably would have been content just to have a few degrees relief from her burning fever. Jesus didn’t just heal them, he made them whole.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 (NIV)

There are no side effects in Christ. There is no recovery time. When Jesus does something, he gets the job done the first time. That is where our faith should be. You may have heard it said that good enough is the enemy of great. It’s true. We’ve adopted an Eeyore mentality, convincing ourselves that just enough is okay. But it’s not.

The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who called Simon to cast his nets so they could be brought back up so full they nearly sunk two boats. The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who first forgave the paralytic, then told him to get up and walk. The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who not only rose from the grave, but conquered death itself.

So why are we settling for just enough when we serve the God of more than enough?

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 14-15, Luke 4:33-44 

Treasured

Has anyone ever said something so complimentary or encouraging to you that you took those words and filed them away in your mind so that you could remember them when things weren’t going so well? For some, a simple word of encouragement said in passing could become a lifeline later on.

Still recovering from childbirth, the shepherds—who had heard about a savior from a heavenly host—came to praise and glorify God in the presence of the baby Jesus.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:19 (NIV)

Later, when Jesus was a boy, Mary and Joseph realised he’d been left behind in Jerusalem. When they finally found him, the boy Jesus didn’t seem at all concerned.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49 (NIV)

Jesus obediently returned to Nazareth with his mother, Mary and her husband Joseph.

But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Luke 2:51b (NIV)

I imagine that, as Jesus grew, that there were more instances like these where Mary was reminded that Jesus wasn’t like her other children. He was more. And, as she treasured up these moments, I doubt she knew how greatly she would need them in the years to come.

When her son was arrested, beaten, hung on a cross, and laid to rest, I am sure that many of these words would have come rushing back to her. Though her baby boy was gone, she knew that there was purpose in his life, death, and eventual resurrection.

Most of us will never have to go through anything like what Mary went through as a mother, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t treasure up things in our hearts.

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

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

If words from family, friends, or peers can serve to comfort us in difficulty, how much more will the Word of God bring to us? Not only is the Word comforting, it is Life. The more we treasure in our hearts, the greater access we have to it when we need it most.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 7-8, Luke 2:25-52