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

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

Is anybody listening?

Have you ever heard God’s voice? I mean really heard His voice, not just an inkling in your spirit? I always imagined God to sound like a big black man. Like James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman. But I’ve never actually audibly hear God’s voice. Truth be told, most Christians haven’t. And almost as many would probably say that they’ve never really felt an unction in their spirit, either. Why is that? Does God not speak? Or are we not listening?

A long, long time ago in a land far, far away, there was a boy who heard a voice. It called his name in the night. The boy got up and ran to his mentor asking what was required of him. The old man told the boy to go back to sleep, no one had called him. Again, the voice called and the boy ran. The old man, once more sent him back to bed. Yet again the voice called the boy’s name and he got up. Finally, the old priest, Eli, realised what was happening. This time, he instructed the boy to respond a certain way when he heard the voice.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

1 Samuel 3:10 (NIV)

Many imagine the voice of the Lord to be a terrible thing, shaking the earth and splitting stones. But a sound like that would have terrified a child in the night. Instead, Samuel immediately ran to Eli. God’s voice sounded familiar to him.

In 1 Kings 19:11-12, the voice of God spoke to Elijah. After a powerful wind, an earthquake, and fire, he heard a gentle whisper.

In Isaiah 6, the sound of angels crying, “Holy, holy, holy.” shook the temple, and afterward, Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord calling to him.

In Acts 9, Saul was brought to a sudden stop with a blinding light. When the Lord called out to him, Saul knew immediately who spoke.

No two accounts of man hearing the voice of God are the same, but they all have a couple of things in common.

  1. They weren’t afraid. None of these people feared or cowered at God’s voice. His voice was familiar and, in most cases, gentle. Unlike the angels—who always had to tell people not to fear, God’s voice is nothing to cringe at.
  2. They were listening. In some cases, God had to get someone’s attention. In the case of Samuel, it was the fourth time that was a charm. In the case of Saul, He had to blind him to get him to listen. But they listened.

Close your eyes. Listen. How many sounds can you identify as you sit where you are? At the moment, I can hear the fan of a heater and my computer, I hear the fridge in the next room, there’s a car speeding up the hill near my house, and a clock is ticking on the wall above me. I hear the landlord’s footsteps on the hardwood floor overhead and the house creaking as it settles. Most of those sounds I can’t even turn off.

Our ears and our minds are constantly bombarded with noise and then we have the audacity to claim that God isn’t speaking or that, if He wanted to get our attention, He would. Only in very special cases, like Saul (who later became known as Paul), did God arrest someone to give them a certain message. We allow distractions to fill our heads to our own detriment. Most of us can’t stand the silence. Yet that’s where God’s voice usually is.

We need to make time to listen. We need to block out the noise to hear. I am confident in this: God wants to speak to you.

He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.

John 8:47 (NIV)

Those are Jesus’ words, not mine. If we really, truly belong to God, we’ll make time for Him. We will listen, not for the wind or the quaking, but the whisper.

Is anybody listening?

Read: 1 Samuel 1-3, Luke 12:1-34

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.

 

Intensely

Jesus gave us two commands: love God and love each other. Loving God comes pretty easy. When we realise and accept all that He has done for us, it’s a no-brainer. How can we not love the One who saved us from our own sin and set us on a path to eternal life? It’s the latter command that tends to give us more trouble.

Loving each other can be difficult. Many in the church often pray that God would give them a love for unbelievers, but I think love for our fellow believers is even harder. We give grace to the sinner when they sin. After all, that’s what they’re supposed to do. It’s when Christians—who are supposed to be better—mess up that we have a tendency to withhold the love Christ told us to give.

Now you can have sincere love for each other as brothers and sisters because you were cleansed from you sins when you accepted the truth of the Good News. So see to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your hearts.

1 Peter 1:22 (NLT)

How would you describe your love for the person who sits in your seat on Sunday morning? What would you have to say about your feelings to that elderly woman who sits behind you with the overbearing perfume that matches her voice as she warbles out the wrong words to your favourite song? What about the friend that let you down? Or the trusted leader who betrayed you? Our love for each other is apparent when things go exactly as we think they should. But where is that same love when things go awry?

What comes to mind when you read that we are to love each other intensely?

INTENSELY: To an extreme degree; vehemently; attentively; earnestly.

Peter made a point to tell the members of the church to love each other. I’m sure he had the same struggles that we all do in that it’s hard to love those whom we believe should be held to a different set of standards. Paul spoke to those situations.

Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)

When we put our expectations of each other before our love, we will always be let down. But when we can love each other with the same intensity that God loves us, we make room for mistakes. That kind of love makes room for fault. Love first. Love intensely. You’ll be surprised at what no longer matters.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 32-33, 1 Peter 1

I insist

When we insist on something, we’re usually polite about it. Let me get the bill, I insist. We’re just being nice.

INSIST: Literally, to stand or rest on. To press or urge for any thing with immovable firmness; to persist in demands.

Not so polite now, is it? To insist on something is to stand firm, without moving or wavering. Paul, in his letter to Titus insists that he stand on the truth of the message of Christ.

But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life. These things I have told you are all true. I want you to insist on them so that everyone who trust in God will be careful to do good deeds all the time. These things are good and beneficial to everyone.

Titus 3:4-8 (NLT)

Not only should we insist on the Truth, but we should insist on it for a reason—so that we will all be careful to do good deeds all the time.

Look at one who’s received a heart transplant. Someone had to die in order for that person to live. Now that they have a new heart, they will not—they cannot—go back to living the way they lived before. They must live a life worthy of the gift they received. The same goes for us. While we’re not going to drop dead if we don’t do good deeds, to live a life without change is hardly living a life worthy of the price Jesus paid so that we could be free from those things that tie us down.

We have been called to so much more than just a simple belief in Christ. Believing that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died and rose again to pay the price for our sins is only the beginning. God, the creator of the universe, has a plan for each of us. He, in His infinite grace and mercy, has far greater things in mind for us than we could ever comprehend. To keep on living the way we always lived is an insult to the price that Jesus paid.

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.

Ephesians 4:1 (NLT)

Let’s think about our lives. Think about the gift of grace we have been given. And think about the ways that we can live worthy of that gift one day at a time. Start with one good deed. Then another. Then another.

I insist.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 33-35, Titus 3

Game day

I can’t remember how long it’s been since I last used a football analogy, but in my mind, one can never use them too often.

This weekend, I made a trip out to go see two of my nephews play football. As a part of their fundraising (and to clear out room in storage), the team is selling off old jerseys. Since I didn’t yet have any team apparel, I snagged one of these game-worn shirts. Immediately after putting it on, I noticed some pretty major differences between it and the other jerseys I own. While my fan jerseys are all pretty awesome, they’d be useless if I ever actually wanted to play the game of football. Unlike a game jersey, they have little stretch and absolutely no room for protective padding. It got me thinking about how we, as Christians, wear different shirts and expect results that we are unprepared for.

Now, I can go to Saskatchewan, wear my green and white jersey with a name and number on the back and tell everyone that I play for the Roughriders. But no one is going to believe me. I’m just a fan. It’s obvious. Or I can step out onto the field in my new gold and black jersey and claim I’m a Bear, but it’s quite plain that I’m not. This is how a lot of Christians are. They get saved and become fans of the faith. It’s alright. They follow the rest of the team and wear the team shirt when it suits them, but they’re not team players. They aren’t equipped.

Then we have the armchair quarterbacks. You know, those people who wear the game jersey ballooning out across their shoulders. There’s room for equipment, but it’s not there. They know the playbook and the rulebook and are more than willing to tell everyone else how to play the game, but are again, ill equipped to actually get in there and do it themselves.

We also have those like my nephew, with both the playbook and rulebook memorized, game jersey on—filled out with a full set of pads, early to every practice, in every play, learning every position. This is how we are all supposed to be—eager to get on the field at every opportunity. And, if we’re not playing, we should be coaching—showing those with less experienced how to get things done.

Paul was Timothy’s coach. Paul had been in the game for a while and was raising up the next team to take his place on the so-called field of faith.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and make us realize what is wrong in our in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Word of God contains everything we need to get out there and do what He’s called us to do. And let’s set the record straight—God has not called any of us simply to be fans or armchair quarterbacks. We’ve all be drafted to the team and are expected to do everything we can to help the team grow, become stronger, and win.

Church, get ready. It’s game day.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 25-26. 2 Timothy 3

Unchained melody

Growing up, I used to love it when travelling ministers would speak in my church. If it was Sunday evening, us kids would get to stay in the service and listen to incredible stories of both miracles and persecutions. It all seemed so fantastic and far away. Yet now, it doesn’t seem so far off. At least not the persecution.

As the foolish, ignorant arguments that Paul warned Timothy against keep being fought, the voices of reason and truth are being drowned out. The words that my country was founded on, the Word of God, is being labelled as hate speech and to be anything but politically correct is to be labelled a hater, a bigot or, in some cases, a criminal.

While I find it sickening to see what was once labelled a Christian nation bow to the cries of the liberal left, we’re not the first in history to experience this type of persecution nor will we be the last.

Does this mean that we too, must allow ourselves stifled? No! Paul, while in chains said that, he was willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen (2 Timothy 2:10). If we truly believe what we say we believe, we will do whatever it takes to see the Gospel spread to every nation. After all, most of what Paul wrote to the Church was written while he was in prison. He was as effective, if not more so while he was chained than when he was free.

Let us not be discouraged by the state of current politics. God is not a politician. He is not a Republican or Democrat, a Conservative or a Liberal. He is God. Period. And He is not bound by any law man can come up with nor can He be stifled by a bill passed by parliament.

For the word of God is full of living power.

Hebrews 4:12a (NLT)

Once the Word of God is out there, it cannot be stopped by any man.

It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

Isaiah 55:11 (NLT)

We, like Paul, may have to endure punishment for proclaiming the Gospel.

But the word of God cannot be chained.

2 Timothy 2:9b (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 23-24, 2 Timothy 2

 

Never be ashamed

If you’re afraid of the dark, if you’ve encountered a scary situation, if you can’t seem to put your mind at ease, 2 Timothy 1:7 may have been a verse that came to mind or one that someone has given to you. I don’t want to burst your bubble—because we shouldn’t be fearful when God is on our side—but in context, that verse really doesn’t have much to do with being afraid and has more to do with being bold.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

That’s a great verse and I know it’s helped many get through some pretty intense situations, but take a look at what Paul tells Timothy next.

So you must never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.

2 Timothy 1:8 (NLT)

That doesn’t sound much like Timothy was struggling with night terrors or paranoia. It sounds as though Timothy was having trouble finding his voice when it came to sharing the Gospel.

I don’t want to make light of those who genuinely deal with fear. It’s something we all deal with at times in our lives, but I want to be sure that we really understand what these verses are talking about.

Preceding these passages, Paul reminds Timothy to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave him. Then he tells him that God hasn’t given him a spirit of fear.

God has given all of us—yes all—spiritual gifts. And sometimes it can be difficult to step out in these gifts. What if I’m wrong? What if I’ve missed God? What if someone makes fun of me? What if people don’t understand? There is nothing wrong with having these questions. The error comes when we allow them to control when and how we use the gifts God has given us. This is why Paul tells Timothy not to fear. He says, I am not ashamed, because I know Jesus, the One in whom I have believed (NCV).

There is a boldness that comes when we know Christ, I mean really know Christ. He gives us the power, love, and self-discipline to step out in the gifts that he has given to us. And then it is up to us to use, to refine, and to protect those gifts.

Protect the truth that you were given; protect it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

2 Timothy 1:14 (NCV)

The more you use your gift—whatever that gift may be—the more confident you will become in it. Never be ashamed to use what God has given you, but be confident in the One who gave it to you.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 20-22, 2 Timothy 1

Living knowledge

[God] saves men because He loves them individually, and desires to make them blessed; but He also saves them because He desires that through them other shall be brought into the living knowledge of His love. It is most especially true about great religious teachers and guides.

MacLaren’s Expositions

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he tells his son in the faith to stop letting people waste time in endless speculation. Many in the church had begun to spend more time in discussion over fruitless facts rather than actually bearing fruit. They lost sight of the purpose of their salvation.

Our salvation is not only for our own personal good, but for the good of everyone. As stated in the quote above, God saves us because He loves us, but He also saves us so that we can share His love and be brought into the living knowledge of it.

Facts are great. I love facts. I love statistics. I like knowing things. But those things bear no fruit. Facts have no life to them. This is why Paul directed Timothy to keep the church from spending all their time arguing over these things. While genealogies may be important to an extent, when compared to eternity, it’s a bit of a waste of time. Because God wants to save everyone—not just a specific few.

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:15-16 (NLT)

The greater the fall, the greater the story of salvation. (Please don’t take this as an invitation to go on a sinning spree just so you can say you’ve been saved from all of that.) If Paul, a man who spent his life pursuing and killing Christians, could be saved, we can all be saved. And, if that same man can spread the Gospel, we can all spread the Gospel. This is the point he was making.

In the Kingdom of God, your earthy pedigree means nothing. The very same grace saves us all. Let’s not lose sight of that fact and let us not lose sight of the fact that we are saved so that others might be saved.

The purpose of my instruction is that all Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith.

1 Timothy 1:5 (NLT)

Love is what we should be filled with, not fruitless arguments. Look for that living knowledge of God, that which edifies the soul and strengthens the spirit. Those are the thoughts that should be consuming us.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 5-6, 1 Timothy 1