Drawing the Line…

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Photo Credit: Garry Firth

If someone knows where to draw the line, they know at what point an activity or situation stops being reasonable and starts to be unacceptable. If you draw the line at a particular activity, you would not do it, because you disapprove of it or because it is so extreme. When we visit a tropical beach like the one pictured here we can without a doubt know where the shallow waters and the deep waters meet, you have a clear indication when you’re getting into deep waters.

The Apostle Paul draws a line for the Corinthian church near the end of his letter in 2 Corinthians. Paul uses language that is reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets who warned the people of Israel of God’s “razor sharp” justice in response to their disobedience of His laws and commands. “I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. (13:2-3) Paul speaks with authority and confidence through Christ and the work of the Spirit in his life. His genuine concern is that the church (the people) are falling into the catches of sin in their lives; there is jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder taking over the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control they are called to live in together through Christ.

The “line” in the water is the created by the contrast of light and dark. This picture or metaphor in scripture often highlights the life we live in Christ (light) and the life we live in sin (darkness). There is a transparent and reflective quality to the “light waters” of life in contrast to the mysterious and hidden “dark waters”. Paul’s concern for the church comes as he sees them heading into deeper, darker waters, and how this will lead them into the hands of a powerful and just God. Paul’s closes his letter with these final words of encouragement that bring hope, reconciliation and unity for the church, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:14) If Paul was here today, I am confident that he would have the same concerns and words for us as a church.

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A Close Shave

straight-razors

When I was younger, I would go to Frank’s Barber shop to have my hair cut, there was an older gentleman there who was all about doing things “old school”. After you sat down he would pull out a long leather strap along with his unusually lengthy straight blade; with great care and a seemingly sinister look on his face, he would hone the edge so it was razor sharp. You never told him what kind of cut you wanted, and he never asked, you just sat as quiet and still as deer staring into the headlights of a car while he meticulously worked his blade around your head cutting and shaving until each and every last hair was touched.

The book of Ezekiel describes God’s judgement on Israel like that of a razor (chapter 5). Take a second to this about these words: annihilate, eradicate, obliterate, demolish and destroy. In the first thirty-three chapters the main theme or message is all about doom, the plight of the chosen people of God because of their disobedience to his law. Statements like “I will inflict punishment on you… I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again… I myself will shave you… I will not look on you with pity or spare you.” (5:8-12) The word shave used in the NIV is used to explain the idea of being cut off, removed or withdrawn. God, who is righteous and just in his actions, tells the people through Ezekiel that they will be cut off from His presence, he will withdraw from their lives just as they have withdrawn from life in him. God’s swift razor of judgment came through the finishing actions of the sharp sword, famine and plague.

In between the words of doom and destruction we are reminded of God’s promise to carry a remnant of people through the impending judgement on them. Thinking in terms of a close shave or well-defined hair in respect to the straight razor, I am reminded that the remnant of hair left on top of my head was also affected by the sharp cut of the blade; it had been cut off, damaged and left to grow again. God did not promise that the remnant, those who were scattered among the nations would not be affected by his judgement, I can only imagine what happened to them left visible and defining scars both in a physical and mental sense; a reminder that God’s promise of justice over the whole nation of His people were not just empty threats. “They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord” (6:9-10a)

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Light in the Darkness

pinhole cameraHave you ever used a pinhole camera? The pinhole camera is one of the most basic cameras you can construct with only a few materials. This simple camera works on a basic principle of light and dark, how a small amount of light shining into a dark box through a hole made by a pin can create an image, an image of something much larger. The pinhole acts as a lens similar to that of a regular camera only on a much smaller scale.

The book of Lamentations is not an easy read. It is filled with passionate expressions of grief and sorrow. The author of Lamentations voices his deep concern and disappointment for the sinful acts committed by the people of Jerusalem. Their direct and open acts of disobedience to God’s word has unleashed the promised destruction of their city. God brings the gavel down and serves the people with his mighty hand of justice. The author records the destruction of the temple and the suffering of the people, “The enemy laid hands on all her treasures; she saw pagan nations enter her sanctuary” (the Babylonians ransacked the temple before burning it down). “In fierce anger he has cut off every horn (power) of Israel. He has withdrawn his right hand (his presence, power and protection) at the approach of the enemy. There was a darkness and feeling of torment that fell over all of those who disobeyed God.

Lamentations 3:22-24 reveals the “pinhole” that casts a light of hope into the darkness of the fervent laments of the author. In the middle of his discourse he changes his perspective by focusing on the hope that he still has in the Lord. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” Through the “pinhole of light” we have the picture of God’s everlasting promise of goodness and compassion. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail.” (3:22). This pinhole of light (salvation) comes from God. As hard as it is to read through the deserved sorrow and despair of those before us, we can learn from their actions and suffering. Today, with the same hope (because we serve the same God), we have to wait patiently through our own suffering and expectantly look forward to the salvation that we have been promised in Christ.

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Faithlessness vs. Faithfulness.

ping pong

March 23, 2014 was when Peter and Daniel Ives set the world record for the longest table tennis (ping pong) rally. 8 hours, 40 minutes and 5 seconds. Consider for a moment the number of paddle hits this would be. Based on my calculations (one paddle hit per second) that would be 31,205 hits. Normally the object of the game is to score points against each other but the game changes when you work together.

Reading through the book of Jeremiah (especially chapters 2-20) you will read about the judgement of Judah and Jerusalem, judgement (justice) served by God for their unfaithfulness to Him. Through these oracles or stories of judgement we get a glimpse not only into the mighty power of God as he delivers his justice, but we see the faithfulness of God (his grace and mercy) through the covenant He made with Moses and His people. God chose Jeremiah to bring a message of both destruction and hope. Over and over God calls the people back to him in spite of their faithlessness, “Return, faithless people” (3:12,3:14, 3:22, 4:1). Jeremiah, through the power of God relentlessly tries to teach the people that their actions, their disobedience (their faithlessness – turning away from God) is not going to end well for them.

Jeremiah did not have it easy, in light of the hopelessness of where the people were heading and the resistance from the people to listen, he continued to share the word of God. He did this with the knowledge and understanding that God would always remain faithful to his promise of deliverance into the promise land. God’s justice and mercy continue for us today through the cross, through the forgiveness of sins that was made possible through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. God is faithful and just, and despite our faithlessness from time to time He always welcomes us back. We need to be “Jeremiahs” today; we are called by God to continue sharing his word with confidence in a fallen world so that when he (Christ) comes again he would find many who have put their hope and trust in Him.

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The Wash Cycle

LaundryHave you ever wondered what goes on inside a washing machine? Probably not. If you’re like me you throw the clothes in, put a bit of soap in and let the machine do the rest. Some of these machines can be complicated if you look at all the settings and cycles that are available. Each cycle (regular, permanent press, knit, delicates, light, medium and heavy, extra rinse, extra spin) have a purpose. Ultimately, if the machine is working as designed, when you reach the end of the cycle you have clean clothes.

When you read through the book of Judges you will find a pattern of events related to Israel’s continuous cycle of sin and restoration. If we were to label this cycle we could describe it like this: relapse, ruin, repentance, restoration, rest, relapse. God raises up 13 unique judges to bring his justice into the lives of the Israelites, 13 different cycles. Some of these cycles varied with intensity, in verses 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 8:33-34, 10:6, 13:1 (seven instances) we are introduced to the cycles of relapse and ruin with the words “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord”. If we were to run these stories through the wash cycle we would choose “heavy, extra rinse and extra spin”. There were also times when you could categorize this cycle of life for the Israelites as “light” or “delicate”, a time when scripture does not record much about the actions of God’s people, presumably these could be the times of rest.

One of the highlights of reading through Judges is the picture of hope that we can see in God’s faithfulness, to forgive and provide for his people, a truth that still holds today. We see over and over the significance of the people coming before God (repentance) seeking his forgiveness and the power of God to forgive and restore them as a nation. Today we often fall into the same patterns of life like the Israelites, we tend to run amuck on our own, forgetting how God has complete control in the happenings of our lives. The illustration of the wash cycle always ends with fresh smelling clothes, clean and ready for work and play. When we put our hope and trust in God, when we come to Him in faith and ask for forgiveness, we are washed of those sins.

 

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The Meaning of Life

Question mark sign

With the vast amount of information now available online we have access to all kinds of “wisdom” to help us find the answer to “What is the meaning of life. “Google it” has become a verb in which many of us use today. Wikipedia has become a free “reliable” source of information that covers nearly any topic you can imagine. Just for fun I searched for “the meaning of life” on Google, the search engine returned about 274,000,000 results. It took Googles servers 0.82 seconds to come back with all those results, it’s going to take you more than a lifetime to read them all. Here is a shortcut…

The author of Ecclesiastes has really given us something to think about when it comes to understanding wisdom and life.  He, presumably Solomon, takes us on a wild and at times confusing journey of trying to find meaning and purpose in life through pleasure, work, prosperity and wisdom. “Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:2) “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (1:14) Solomon was in his time one of the wisest men in the world, “God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore.” (1 Kings 4:29) So here we have the words of a very intelligent man, one who was given a gift from God to lead and guide his people, to help them find purpose and meaning in life so that they could lead a life holy and pleasing to God. This collection of life experience and Godly wisdom written for the people of that time is transferrable to our lives today. We all live in the same world of sin and despair today. God, who is our hope in life and in death has revealed to us through his word the true meaning of life.

So, can Google or any other online search help give you and answer to what the meaning of life is? Yes, I believe it can, but it is like finding a needle in a haystack. Our online digital world is relatively new compared the writings of the bible which date back much further and much deeper into history. Understanding wisdom, finding meaning in life has been a journey many people have made before us and God inspired man to record it for us in His word. The author of Ecclesiastes comes to a point in his journey that brings him to this conclusion about life, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (12:13) Our attitude in life is one that needs to focus on trust and obedience to the word of God. Yes, life is difficult. Live and grow in the knowledge and experience found in this collection of teaching on wisdom written by Solomon, it is the needle in the haystack of 274,000,000 hits on Google, and it will only take you an hour to read it.

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Rocks and More

FullSizeRenderOne of the things I enjoy about living on the west coast of British Columbia is the easy access to a variety of different types of beaches. One of my favorite things to do on the beach is collect uniquely formed rocks and rocks of interesting color. I am not a rock expert, I can’t identify all the different types of rock or tell you how they are formed. My rock identifications skills are limited to knowing the best skipping rocks on the beach and the rocks that fly perfectly straight from my slingshot.

In Matthew chapter 7:24, Matthew uses a simple illustration to help us identify the connection between listening to God’s word and living them out in our lives. This is what he says: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house on the rock”. “These words of mine”, refer to the teachings of Jesus recorded for us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Wisdom is living a life that is holy and pleasing to God; to be wise like the man who built his house on the rock is a picture of us standing on the foundations and truths presented by God through the Bible. The Sermon on the Mount is bursting at the seams with knowledge and understanding for us as believers. Jesus is extremely clear in his teachings on topics like murder, adultery, divorce, generosity, love for our enemies, prayer and worry. All these things and more define how we are to live among one another, how we are to respond to the grace and mercy of a God who created us and desires to have a relationship with us.

Our human condition (our sinful nature) is constantly fighting to distract and pull us away from living out the truths of scripture. Sin has a notorious way of creeping into our lives, it rolls around and mixes into our lives causing us to stumble and fall. Matthew continues to tell us of the foolish man who built his house on the sand and how it was destroyed by the water and wind. Living in ignorance to the words that we have heard in scripture is foolishness and leads to separation from God. There is a wonderful little children’s song that teaches these truths from scripture, my favorite line as a kid was “and the house on the sand went splat”. The house is you and me, build your house on a firm foundation like the wise man, feel free to “renovate” and add-on but follow the building code (be wise in the knowledge and understanding of God’s word).

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Black & White

b&WThere are infinite possibilities when it comes to mixing colours. With all these possible combinations, my personal preference as an aspiriing artist is to do a lot of work in black and white. For me, I appreciate the simple contrast between these obvious opposites; black representing the complete absence of white, and white representing itself as brilliant and pure, free of any black.

James asks an interesting question in his letter to God’s people, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (3:13). To fully grasp the scope of what James is asking, we need to understand the truth about how the bible defines “wise”. Thankfully James helps us with this by including these words in his letter, “Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (3:13-16) In essence, what James is saying is those who are wise should demonstrate their wisdom in how they live, by deeds done with an attitude of humility. We as believers demonstrate wisdom if our deeds reflect God’s commands.

You can now begin to see a contrast between two types of wisdom. James continues in his letter giving these words of truth, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (3:17). Pure and void of any darkness, this selfless and humble wisdom is filled with the characteristics of our great God. Each of these things stand in contrast of the way the world defines its wisdom. When we live out these virtues or characteristics in our own lives, when we show greater concern for others then for ourselves (this is what James would call a “good life”) we bring glory and honour to God. The good fruit that James writes about here parallels the words of Paul in his letter to the Galatians, this is where he describes for us the fruits of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. A good life lived in accordance to God’s will is evidence that we are wise and understanding. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we as believers will stand as wise in contrast to the “wisdom” of the world.

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Wise Old Owl

Owl

Our western culture portrays this rather mysterious birds as wise; the owl is known for its stealth like ability to hunt its prey at night. It has been said that Athena, who was the Greek goddess of wisdom is often represented by the image of an owl. The famous character Owl from the classic story of Winnie the Pooh is characterized as a know-it-all. What about this perspective; The owl is considered dumb and empty-headed in India because it has the tendency to sit and stare blankly into space. So, is the owl really all that wise? I will leave that up to you to decide.

The book of Proverbs is filled with wisdom, instruction and divine truths. This is how the author opens this book, “Purpose and Theme: The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple.” This short introduction gives us a pretty clear scope of what God has provided through His word for direction in our lives. Verse seven of chapter one is the key to everything we find written in this book of wisdom, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” What is this fear? Well, it is an attitude of the heart and mind, an attitude of reverence, respect, awe, loyalty and obedience to live according to the words of the Lord.

The Bible is the inspired word of God given to man. The wisdom imparted through the Book of proverbs came from the Lord in a time much like we are living in today. The world that surrounds us has been plagued with foolishness (the antithesis of wisdom), dare I say it as the Indian culture describes, “empty-headed”. Reading through proverbs I found it noteworthy that the author was often addressing his son; the message was directed to those who were young and receptive to the teachings of the word. Solomon records these words in Proverbs 10:17, “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.” As Christian leaders, we are called to be an example of one who heeds discipline, to increase in our knowledge and understanding of who God is and how we should live. We are called to teach this wisdom, knowledge and experience to the next generation of believers, giving them the proper foundation to grow on.

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The Alarm is Sounding.

Alarm ClockI’m not sure I have met anyone who enjoys waking up to the sound of an alarm clock. If you are old enough to have had one of the “old school” bell ringing alarm clocks, you will recall that they have only one volume, and that is LOUD. Today most of us have digital alarm clocks on our bedside tables and alarms set on our digital devices to wake us up or remind us of an important task. No matter what you use the alarm for, it is a wakeup call, a reminder of something important.

The book of Revelation is much like an alarm clock, it is a “loud and dramatic” wakeup call, a reminder of the reality of how great and powerful our God is. It is a wakeup call to the church to hear, understand and respond to the truth and message of the gospel. God’s message through John to the seven churches is quite clear as you read through the first three chapters of Revelation. “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die… But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” John is revealing the words of Christ to us, the church, proclaiming a future judgement over all the earth. There is a profound sense of hopelessness and despair when we read John’s revelation the churches.

Where can we find hope in such a fallen world? Through Christ. In Christ. He who stands before us calling each and every one of us to him. There is a promise of victory in the future for those who open their hearts and lives to him. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (3:20) “Consider how far you have fallen, repent and do the things you did at first.” (2:5) The church, the believers then and now exist in a world filled with sin, hurt, pain and suffering. Christ is calling us back to a restored relationship with him. He made the ultimate sacrifice and provided a way for all of us to overcome sin and judgement when he returns. The book of Revelation brings us a picture of future blessings, given by a God who is just in all his ways, who is true to his word and a God who is the final judge in life and death. The alarm is ringing, wake-up, open the door and let God be by your side.

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