I’m working

Jesus took a lot of flack for the things that he did on the Sabbath day. Those that would seek to destroy him looked for any and every opportunity to see him come to ruin. It is interesting to think how often Jesus was “caught in the act” by the Pharisees. How did they know what he was up to unless they were following him? If Jesus told a man to get up and pick up his mat because he’d been healed, that was considered work? If getting up was considered work, getting dressed was surely work and we don’t read stories of the Pharisees walking around naked on the Sabbath.

It is true that God rested on the seventh day after spending six days creating the universe. He also instituted the Sabbath as a day of rest and reflection on Him. Work was to be set aside and the focus of the people was to be on God. The Pharisees, for all their not working, certainly set their focus on something—someone—else.

Let’s work this out, shall we? God created the Sabbath—a day of rest. Jesus is God. Jesus created the Sabbath. Jesus was sent to walk the earth. Jesus did stuff on the Sabbath. Jesus never went against God’s word. So was what Jesus did on the Sabbath to be considered work or not?

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

John 5:17 (NIV)

Well, how does Jesus get around this then? He’s working on a day where no one self-respecting Jew is supposed to work!

God rested on the seventh day from His work of Creation. But Jesus pointed to the continuous work of God as justification for His Sabbath activity. God sustains the universe, begets life, and visits judgments. It is not wrong for His Son to do works of grace and mercy on the Sabbath.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary

Just because God rested on the seventh day didn’t mean that His work stopped. God is always working on our behalf, even Sundays (or Saturdays, depending on which day you recognise as the Sabbath). Despite what religious leaders may think, God’s work cannot be put on pause or stopped. Because God’s work is never truly done, Jesus’ work was never done. No matter what we need or when we need it, God is ready and able to fulfill our needs, uninterrupted and without fail. A day of the week can’t stop Him if He’s working.

Read: 2 Kings 9-11, John 5:1-24

There is a cloud

On a cold winter night in 1933, a boy was born. It was Christmas Eve. The boy’s parents were poor. Dirt poor. To add to his trials, the boy’s parents were not married when he had been conceived. Soon, siblings followed and they all learned to work on the family farm. But that boy, born on Christmas Eve, had bigger plans for himself.

When the boy got a hold of a catalogue, he would eagerly flip to the menswear section and stare intently at the men dressed in sharp suits. The boy wasn’t destined to keep working on the farm. His imagination was bigger than that. Someday, he would get to wear a suit and tie to work every day.

The boy grew and continued to work on the farm. Circumstances led him to drop out of school before graduation. But he worked. He met a lovely young woman and, after a time of long-distance correspondence, he convinced the girl to marry him. Soon, they welcomed a baby girl into their family. The first of three. They were poor. Dirt poor. But that boy born on Christmas Eve still had bigger plans for himself and his growing family. He still wanted to wear a suit and tie to work every day.

The boy, now a man, had his sights on a certain company, but that company was not hiring. The boy, now a man, didn’t think that should stop him from working for them. So every day, he got up, got dressed and went to work. He earned nothing but the respect of those he helped on the loading docks each day. It wasn’t long before the company decided to start paying the man who wanted to work so badly, he’d do it for nothing. Surely he’d work even harder if he knew he’d be earning a paycheque.

The man born on Christmas Eve worked his way up in the company. Then another company, and then another. By the time he retired, he’d been wearing a suit and tie to work every day for decades. All those days of looking at catalogues daydreaming of the future had finally come to fruition.

In addition to becoming a very influential businessman, the man born on a cold Christmas Eve to poor parents who hadn’t been married when he was conceived, the man who never finished high school, also pastored a church. And then another church and another after that. When the man finally went home to be with Jesus, the building where his own church met was not large enough to contain all of the people whose lives he had touched.

Nothing in the way his life began indicated that a boy born on a farm to poor parents would have had the capacity to affect so many lives in both business and ministry. But that is exactly what my grandfather did. Even when it was no longer fashionable, he still wore a suit and tie to work every day and to preach at church every Sunday.

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'”

1 Kings 18:43-44 (NIV)

Like a cloud on the horizon the size of a man’s hand, where and how we start has little consequence on how we finish. That small cloud saved a nation from drought and famine. That boy born on Christmas Eve brought countless lives into the kingdom of God through the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and his legacy lives on in every life he touched and every life those lives touch. Even if you are told, there is nothing there, look again. And again. And again. Surely there is a cloud. Maybe you just can’t see it yet.

Read: i Kings 16-18, John 1:29-51

30K Giveaway

Yesterday, I made an attempt to win $30,000 from a local radio station. For several weeks I’ve been listening half-interested for three specific songs played consecutively in a specific order. I’d resigned myself to the fact that I would miss those three songs while I was at work or in a meeting or at church. That is, until I heard all three songs played consecutively in the correct order while I was on my way home from work. Once I pulled over (it’s not legal here to have a phone in your hands while driving), I dialed the number, several times, and was met with an automated voice each time telling me the number I had dialed was not available. I listened while another caller won the $30,000.

Then I got to thinking. What would I do with $30,000? As it turns out, $30,000 wouldn’t really last very long. With record high gas prices, I suppose I could fill up my car once or twice… While it would be great to be $30,000 wealthier, it wouldn’t really launch me into a new life.

In a dream, God gave Solomon a choice. A big choice. Ask me for anything. Anything. Solomon could have asked for all the riches in the world. He could have asked to conquer the world. He could have asked for the world. But he asked for wisdom.

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.

1 Kings 3:10-13 (NIV)

Like Solomon, we have been invited to make requests of God.

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:14 (NIV)

James then tells us what we should be asking for.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask of God, who give generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

James 1:5 (NIV)

Sure, we could ask for health and wealth, but like the $30,000, where will that get us a month, a year, a decade from now? Because Solomon asked for wisdom, God gave him everything else. With wisdom comes the ability to make the choices to keep us healthy and make us wealthy.

Wisdom is in low supply. If what is perceived as wisdom is not coming from God, where then does it come from? We have the ability to ask for and receive wisdom, yet how many of us have actually taken advantage of that offer? Instead of asking God to rectify a situation, why not ask for the wisdom to fix it ourselves? Then the next time we find ourselves in a similar place, we’ll be able to repair it ourselves, or perhaps we won’t find ourselves there at all.

Like Solomon drew people from all over the known world, the world should be drawn to godly wisdom. But it has to exist to draw people. So go ahead, ask God. See if He doesn’t keep is word.

Read: 1 Kings 3-5, Luke 23:1-26

Waiting room

Sometimes life, for all it’s hurry, seems like a long stint in a waiting room. When you’re a kid, you wait to grow up. When you grow up, you wait to find the right person to spend the rest of your life with. When you’ve found that person, you wait to start a family. And those are just the big things. We wait for bedtime. We wait for the alarm clock to ring. We wait to start work and we wait to finish work. We wait at lights and stop signs, checkouts and check-ins. And in all that waiting, what are we really doing?

Israel had waited a long time to obtain their promise. When God sent Moses to get them out of Egypt, it should have just been a few weeks at most before their arrival in the land of milk and honey. Instead, it was over forty years. And that was just to get across the river! There was a lot more waiting involved once they crossed over. By this time Joshua, a young man when he was first sent to scout out the land, was old. He’d seen a lot in his day. He’d led Israel into their promise and fought with them to take hold of it. And after all that waiting, Israel still waited.

So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?”

Joshua 18:3 (NIV)

Here Israel stood, in their promise. And they stood around waiting to take hold of it. They got exactly what God told them He would give them and still they waited.

This week, Major League Baseball begins a new season. My team is the Toronto Blue Jays. I’ve followed the team all through the off season and have watched as many spring training games as have been aired on television. I know that there were some pretty major trades since the fall. I know some players got healthy, while others will begin the season on the disabled list. I also know that, through the spring, the coaches and trainers have worked with all of the players to make sure that they’re in the best shape they can be, that they know their roles on the team, and know the plan for the team in the season ahead. They’re prepared.

Let’s say that opening day arrives and the Blue Jays take the field at Rogers Centre. Pitcher J. Happ takes the mound and the first Yankee in the lineup steps up to the plate. The Jays stand in the middle of the field as though they have no idea what’s going on.

Joshua must have felt like the manager of such a team. All that time, preparation, and waiting led them to where they were and then they waited while all that time, they could have been taking possession of a fruitful land!

I bet God feels that way with us sometimes. He’s given us everything we need to succeed. We have what we need to see His many promises come to pass. But most of us sit waiting for something to magically happen.

I understand that some people may be waiting for a word from the Lord regarding a specific situation, but that’s no excuse to put everything else on hold. The Bible is our rulebook, playbook, and instruction manual all in one. It has guidelines on how we should live, methods on how we can do it, and practical examples of how others were able to accomplish it.

We can add to all of the waiting we must already endure or we can take Jesus’ lead and go out and take hold of God’s promises for us. The Blue Jays are going to do everything they can to win the World Series this year. They’re not going to wait for it to come to them, because it won’t. It takes hard work, endurance, and determination. The same went for Israel as they took the Promised Land. And the same goes for us if we want to see God move on our behalf.

Read: Joshua 116-18, Luke 5:1-16

Square peg

Read: Number 14-15, Mark 6:1-32

You may have heard the term, like fitting a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you try, those corners are not going to magically round off so that the square peg can fit into a circle. Sometimes, the way we minister is the square peg and those we’re ministering to are the round hole. No matter what you say or how you say it, the message isn’t going to get through. Jesus had some advice for his disciples for such a time as this.

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.

Mark 6:11 (NIV)

As I’ve been turning this verse over in my mind throughout the day, I’ve come to several conclusions.

  1. This is not an excuse to leave when things get difficult. There is a difference between difficult and not being received altogether. Sometimes ministry—our Christian lives—is hard. A lot of the time it’s hard. But that doesn’t mean we’re just supposed to give up. Welcome and comfort are not always equal. My pastor said this morning that complacency is the greatest stifler of the church. When we get all cozy, we do nothing.
  2. Leaving someone or some place that doesn’t welcome you is not giving up. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that they had to stay in one place until everyone accepted the Good News. He didn’t expect them to stay in an unwelcome place. He wanted them to be where the Gospel would be received.
  3. The Gospel spreads faster where it is welcome. Our Great Commission as believers is to share the Gospel with every nation. That doesn’t mean we have to start with the hardest ones first. I think Jesus actually wanted his disciples to start with the easy ones. Do you want to know why? More people get saved in the easy ones and the more people who are saved, the more people will get saved. I believe that some of those cities who scoffed at the disciples, after hearing of the miracles that followed them wished they’d have been more welcoming.

Mark 6-12-13.jpg

The disciples went where they were welcome, where they were made to fit. They didn’t stick around as square pegs in a round hole trying to make something work.

If God has told you to be where you are, stay. I don’t want to tell someone that, because something is hard, they should leave. Sometimes God asks us to stick around through very difficult situations and I believe that He can and will work through them.

And I’m also not saying that the path of least resistance is the one we should all be taking. The Bible is full of seemingly contradictory teaching and it is up to us to read through it carefully and depend on the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is right for each of us.

Sometimes that peg will never fit. Sometimes the peg needs to be whittled down to fit. Sometimes the hole need to be chiseled to accommodate. And sometimes, we just need to light it all on fire with the power of the Gospel.

One thing at a time

Read: Numbers 7, Mark 4:21-41

It’s winter where I live. Usually, living on the southwest coast of Canada, we don’t get much for winter but buckets of rain. Today, the temperature is below freezing and there is a thin layer of crunchy snow on the ground. Though some bulbs have managed to push their shoots through the cold ground, no seeds will be planted for months yet.

Many of us Christians, myself included, act as though we are in a perpetual spiritual winter. We withhold the seed in our hands claiming the soil isn’t ready. Or maybe it is, but we either don’t know how or just plain refuse to scatter it.

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.”

Mark 4:26 (NIV)

Who is the man in this story? I am. You are. What is the seed? The Word of God. What are we supposed to do with the seed? Scatter it. Then what?

Mark 4-27.jpg

Too many of us hold on to our seeds unsure of what we’re supposed to do once we scatter. Sometimes it’s nothing at all. But what if it doesn’t grow? What if it does?

When you go out and plant seeds in the soil, aside from a bit of water, there is very little you can do to ensure your plant comes up. You can’t dig down and check on it. You have to wait and trust that the seed you planted was a good seed and that it will sprout at the right time.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NIV)

You have a seed to plant. We all have seeds that can be planted. And we all have water to help those seeds to grow. And still, we all have the tools to harvest those plants once they’re mature. It is rare that one person will plant, water, and harvest the same seed.

The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:8-9 (NIV)

Instead of worrying about a whole field, focus on one thing at a time. Plant the seed that’s in your hand right now. Share the Word of God. Keep planting. You may find you encounter someone who’s already received a seed. Water it. Keep sharing the Word of God. Keep watering. You may come across a person who’s received a seed and had it watered. That’s your harvest. Keep harvesting.

This is not just the job of pastors and teachers and church leaders. It’s your job. Ephesians 4:12 says that all of those people were given to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith. We are all to do works of service.

One person doing their work may be able to change their circle of influence. But if we all do our work—just one thing at a time, we will change the world.

Life isn’t fair

Read: Exodus 19-21, Matthew 20:1-16

Life isn’t fair. How many times did you hear that growing up? You’d complain to your parents or teacher about someone receiving something you felt they didn’t deserve, but you did. “But, it’s not fair,” you’d plead to no avail, because life just isn’t fair.

Like many things in life, this attitude often carries over into our faith.

Jesus tells a story about a man who owned a vineyard. At the beginning of the day, he went to the marketplace to find men to work his fields. They settled on a wage for the day and the men went to work. At various times throughout the day, the vineyard owner went back to the market to find more workers. Each time, he settled on a wage and they went to work.

At the end of the day, the men who’d started last were first in line to be paid. They got their promised wage. The men who started at the beginning of the day also got their promised wage, yet they were upset because all of the workers, no matter what time of day they started, received the very same pay. Was this unfair in any way? It certainly seemed so to the men who had been working out in the heat all day long. Yet they hadn’t been cheated out of anything. The landowner gave them exactly what he’d promised.

I’ve heard some Christians say that they haven’t received as much grace as others. God didn’t give them as much as He gave someone else. After hearing a testimony of someone who was brought from the brink of self-destruction, one could very well decide that God had given that person more grace than another who had been raise in a Christian home. But it isn’t a matter of more or less. It is a matter of equality. God takes us all—no matter where He finds us—and places us on equal footing.

Matthew 20-16

Let us forego every proud claim, and seek for salvation as a free gift. Let us never envy or grudge, but rejoice and praise God for his mercy to others as well as to ourselves.

Matthew Henry

The Kingdom of God is not a grand hierarchy. Sometimes we look too closely at how certain churches or denominations are organised and decide that is how heaven must be. But in the eyes of God, a brand new believer still struggling with sin is on the same level as the pope himself. There is no more or less. There is simply grace.

Just because we may perceive someone as having received more doesn’t mean that we ourselves have been cheated out of anything. God’s grace is not something to be divvied out according to seniority. It is something to be multiplied, bringing everyone under it to the same place.