You have probably heard the statement “in one ear and out the other”, this implies the person or people you are talking to are in the room and for whatever reason your words or message didn’t sink in. This might seem like an odd question but have you ever tried talking to a brick wall? Brick walls don’t listen. In fact, your voice, the words you speak will bounce back from the hard surface and come back at you like a “slap in the face”. Brick walls are not only hard to break down, it is even difficult to put a hole in one so you can reach the other side.
At times, I think Jeremiah felt like he was talking to a brick wall. The people God had called him to speak to had built up walls with their own “brick and mortar”, materials that were not up to God’s standards. The people chose to ignore the words that God spoke through Jeremiah, “they did not listen or pay attention” (17:23) “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words” (13:10). Jeremiah knew for the most part what he was up against from the time God called him into this role, 7:27 says, “When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.” When we continue to read through Jeremiah we see the other half of the picture. Jeremiah was beaten (20:2), left for dead (38:6), called a liar (43:2) and again, threatened with death by the priests and prophets (26:11). Not only was the “brick wall” Jeremiah facing not listening it was “fighting” back, growing in strength and height as he pursued his calling to prophesy God’s impending judgment on the people if they did not repent and begin to follow Him.
Jeremiah had every reason to run the other way, to throw in the towel and let the people deal with God’s wrath on their own, but he had one very good reason to stay, and that was God. When we see God as our all-powerful (sovereign) Lord and King through Jeremiah’s story we get a glimpse of how God provided for all of Jeremiah’s needs. Knowing exactly what he needed and when he needed it and ultimately how much his mortal mind and body could handle, God walked alongside Jeremiah through all the trials that he faced. Jeremiah put his hope and trust in God to carry him through as he promised (1:8) Just as God worked through the life of Jeremiah to reach a lost and wandering nation of people He calls us to do the same. God created this world and all that is in it. As his people we are commanded to “go out into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”. (Mk 16:15) Breaking down brick walls and reaching into the lives of the lost so that they may come to know God in all his power and glory should be our goal. It is our responsiblitiy to live in obedience to his will, it is what He desires.
In filmmaking, there are many different ‘takes” that typically make up a scene. Actors do their best to avoid making mistakes until the scene is complete and to the satisfaction of the director. One of the things I really enjoy about some filmmakers is how they include some of the out-takes at the end of the movie. Often, these raw clips make me laugh more than the movie itself did. The out-takes are what make the actors seem real, they reveal their authentic character which shows us that we all make mistakes.
1 and 2 Kings remind me of this concept of “takes”. Throughout these two books we have 42 different takes on the role the kings plays in the life of Israel. Each of these Kings set out with a vision as they took on the responsibility of leading the people. The events in the two books of kings happen over approximately 384 years. During this time we read about two characteristics that in part help define the landscape of the vision held by these leaders. Scripture tells us these two things, “He did Evil in the eyes of the Lord” and “He did right in the eyes of the Lord.” Two very closely related statements with incredibly different outcomes which also highlight one of the character traits each of these leaders posses. Out of forty-two “takes” only six of the kings listed started and carried out their role as king with God in the picture. 1 and 2 kings only give us a glimpse into the lives of these men, one has to wonder about the differences in the culture and quality of life between the good kings and the evil kings.
One of the incredible characteristics of our God is that He is the same today as He was in the time of all these kings. Today, as leaders we serve the same God who looks at all we do, the vision we cast, the lives that we live and holds us to the same standard as these kings. Are we doing right in His eyes or are we doing evil in His eyes. What is at the heart of our vision? Are we keeping God at the centre of all we do? Are we giving God the glory for the work he is doing through the plans (vision) he has inspired in us. I hope and pray that what I am doing as a leader having been called by Him into His service is being seen as right in His eyes. I want this “take” on life and leadership to have an impact in His great Story.
There are some big things that some in small packages. It could be an engagement ring in a small black box that initiates a new commitment for a lifetime of love and learning, maybe it is the moment the relator hands over the keys to your new house or it is the birth of your first, second or third child. Each one of these things may seem to be small but each carry a huge amount of care and responsibility in our lives. The physical and emotional nature of rings, keys and the gift of children make a large impact in our lives, but so can the words we say or read.
Take for example the seemingly small four letter word “Holy”, small word, big meaning. The book of Leviticus has a few things to say to us about the grand picture of holiness as it applies to our lives and our relationship with God. All the laws and rules that Moses received from God and passed on to the people of Israel were all part of His call on their lives to be holy. God’s command to the people of Israel and His desire for us today is the same “Be Holy, because, I the Lord your God am Holy. (11:44) My understanding of holiness looks like this:
Be loving, because God is love
Be joyful, because God is Joy
Be peaceful, because God is peace
Be patient, because God is patient
Be kind, because God is kind
Be good, because God is good
Be faithful, because God is faithful
Be compassionate, because God is compassionate
Be gracious, because God is gracious.
We gather together as believers each Sunday (the church) to bring honour and glory to the name of our father in heaven. Some of us meet together in small groups to learn and grow in relationships with each other and God. No matter the who, the where, the when, we are called to lead a life that is holy and pleasing to God because that is who we were created to be, created in the image of a holy God. The words of the Lord through his prophets, priests, apostles, preachers and teachers are the words that help guide us as a church and as individuals. It should be our prayer that God helps us to live true to his word, true to his call, reflecting his life through ours.
I recently visited a local Starbucks establishment to talk with a friend, as I waited around for my drink order this advertisement caught my attention. “It’s easy to get lost in the moment over a robust cup of your favorite dark-roasted coffee. Fuller-bodied and bold, these coffees feature robust flavors and a lush mouthfeel. Each cup is full of enough body and intrigue to entrance the senses until the last drop.” This well written script makes a good attempt at “selling” me the experience of a great cup of coffee, the play to our senses and the use of powerful descriptive words is very effective.
Luke uses some powerful descriptive language in the book of Acts to help us understand our function and role as a called people, particularly those who preach and teach in the church. “Speak your word with great boldness” (4:39), “Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly” (13:46), “Paul spoke boldly, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God”. (19:8). The boldness that is described in each of these verses is a call to preach and teach fearlessly and freely, with courage and without any hindrance. After Saul’s encounter with God he began to preach with such boldness that some of the people tried to kill him (9:29). There are many more examples of God’s people speaking with boldness throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts, the key to understanding their capacity to preach boldly is found in Acts chapter 4:31. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly”. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit (the presence of God) in each of their lives that gave them the ability to speak in a way that made an impact for the Kingdom of God.
Consider for a minute the impact that speaking boldly had on the people. Acts chapter 13 describes the influence that follows Paul’s teaching in the synagogue. Verse 44 says “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” Do we have the same boldness today? Did the message this past Sunday make an impact so big on the lives of the people that our churches will be overflowing on the next Sunday? Are we giving everything over to God and praying diligently like the apostles for the work of the Holy Spirit to come and move among us? It is my hope and prayer that we speak God’s word with boldness, to preach and teach fearlessly so that we can make an impact for the His Kingdom.
One of the first words that comes from the mouths of babes can be singled out as one of the most powerful two letter words in the English language. It translates easily from one language to another, it is a word that is recognized across most every culture and anyone can use a simple hand gesture to get its message across. Printed on a ballot, this word has the ability change the most powerful leadership regime, this seemingly small word has the potential to change the direction of one’s life.
The word is NO.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:12). When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit into our lives, as we say “yes” to living a life in Jesus name we say no in a big way to the passions of the world. Titus was left in a bit of a pickle as he worked to build a church in a place where it was not easy to break ground and grow followers of Christ. Paul gives Titus practical advice on how to appoint elders who love what is good, men who love the lord and do good (say no) for the sake of the Gospel. Paul then takes it a few steps further, he instructs Titus to teach every generation (older men, older women, young men, young women) to live in unity with each other, to live lives of integrity. When we say no to the sinful acts that separate us from God and give over the passions of the world to Him we live according to His will, we bring honour and glory to him.
As a believer called by God we have a responsibility as Paul says, to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, reverent, to teach what is good, to be kind and to be an example to each other. For lack of a better word, our “function” as a called people is to resist temptation and say no to the evil and darkness of the world. It is through the kindness and love of God that we are saved, not because of what we have done, but because of his loving grace and mercy. The power of the word NO in this context is saying yes to being upright and godly, it is saying yes to living a life that is self-controlled and honouring to God. The present time that we live in offers so many “evils”, our culture almost demands compliance and can be difficult to navigate. Through our faith in Jesus, we can put our trust in Him to see us through these present times.