Lending a Hand

Have you ever felt like you needed a third hand? There are times in life when having that third hand would be handy. One of my hobbies requires some soldering from time to time and to make life easier I have what is called a third hand jig (also known as a helping hand). This adjustable device holds wires in place while I work with the soldering iron. Without that third hand the task would be difficult. 

Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is about helping hands. In many ways this chapter reads like one of those extensive genealogies found in other parts of scriptures. If you’re anything like me, I tend to just browse right past these types of passages because let’s be honest, we feel like they don’t have much to offer, plus all those names are hard to pronounce. 

Following his inspection of the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah began to assign workers to repair areas near where they lived or worked. Chapter three holds the blueprint to the reconstruction process. Starting in verse 2 we see the beginning of two repeating phrases that becomes the mortar between the bricks of such a massive project. “Next to him” or “next to them” is repeated in one form another over 20 times. As I read these words, I noticed a theme that connects to the many aspects of living and working in community both in Nehemiah’s day and here and now. 

Much like the situation Nehemiah and the people of the city found themselves in, we as followers of Jesus are living amid a similar but different re-building process. As the church gathers again after a challenging time of physical separation, many of them are starting to re-build. With what seems like an ever-changing blueprint in the process, there is one constant that remains and that is the message and mission of the Gospel. 

“Next to him” or “next to them” reveals to us a picture of a community committed to a purpose. In context, Nehemiah was writing about rebuilding the wall (phase two of his plan) so that God’s glory would be able to shine. In our context, it is about coming together again and working next to one another so that others will continue to see the glory of God shine through his people. 

Many leaders today are calling on the church (you and I) to come together, next to one another, to serve and love one another. No one person could have accomplished the work of repairing the walls around Jerusalem; the same stands for today as we work to rebuild. We must work together if we are to continue our God given mission. Our work is to glorify God, to love one another, to serve with the gifts we have been given and to share the good news of the gospel with those who don’t yet know the incredible love of God. 

So, how might you be a “third hand” in helping the church grow into a renewed passion and presence in your community? Who will you work “next to”? Not for your glory, but for the glory of our Father in heaven? In the words of Nehemiah, “Let us start rebuilding.”

Big Things in Small Packages

ringThere 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.

A Bold Word

Coffee Cup - Cup Of CoffeeI 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.

A View From The Top

canucks1-550x288Have you ever been to a sporting event and had a view from the “cheap seats” (aka the “nose bleeds”). These particular seats offer up some disadvantages as well as some advantages depending on your perspective.  The view from the top tier of seats gives you the “big picture” experience. You can see the game being played, you can “feel” the energy of the crowd as they cheer on their team or yell at the referee; yet at the same time you miss the impact of the hard hitting body checks or skillfully placed shot on goal.

As I read through the book of 1 Corinthians I carefully combed through each chapter looking for and listening to what God was leading me to learn. As I worked through the many details of Paul’s letter to the church I had to take a step back to get a scope of the bigger picture, I had to take a seat in the “nose bleed” section to get a different view. Paul’s primary audience was the Christians at that time (the church), he had heard about their problems of inappropriate behaviour and different quarrels that had divided them between leaders and beliefs. Near the beginning of his letter Paul asks them to “recognize” their calling (1:26), a call from God to be saved through accepting the work of His Son Jesus Christ, a call to be in relationship with Him. Paul reminds the people how to live a life pleasing to the Lord, how to live in unity in their marriages, how to treat their neighbours, how to worship properly and how best to use their spiritual gifts for the benefit of all believers. The book of 1 Corinthians holds one of my favourite passages in scripture, it is often called the “love passage”. This short descriptive passage describes the love our Heavenly Father has for us, the kind of love that we should have for one another.

If I had to pick a “moment in the game” as I read through 1 Corinthians to run on the highlight reel or replay on the Jumbo-Tron it would come near the end of the letter in chapter 15. Paul gives the Corinthian church and us the most important reminder of all, the foundation of what our faith is built on, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (15:3-4) This incredible act of love on our Heavenly Fathers behalf is the “ultimate play”, a moment in time that has been witnessed and recorded in His “play book” so we can be encouraged and learn from it.

Be Idle Free.

bcidlefree1

The province of British Columbia has been trying to implement the “Idle free B.C” program for a number of years now. The message they are sending declares that unnecessary idling of vehicles wastes fuel and results in emissions that degrade the local air quality and contribute to climate change. They are taking proactive measures now to ensure that the health of the environment is sustainable for the generations to come.

Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians gives us a descriptive warning against idleness of a different sort, a behaviour that falls within our human nature that can have an effect on the “local air quality”. “We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” (3:11). The idle and disruptive nature that Paul describes here can also be seen as disorderly and irresponsible. There were those among the Thessalonians who felt that with the day of the Lord coming near they didn’t have to work or make any contribution to society, often adding a burden to others. These “busybodies” as Paul calls them work their way into the business of others as they work to live according to the model set before them by the Apostles (a model of self-sacrifice and commitment to doing their best in their service for God). Paul’s instruction to the believers is direct and to the point when it comes to these idle and disruptive people, “Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.” (3:14).

Even as Paul’s command to the people might seem cold and hard he continues in verse 15 with further instructions, “Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer”. We are not to hate these people, God calls us to show them love through instruction and teaching so that they can be set free from the grip of evil and destruction. As we work diligently to be faithful and loving in our relationships with God and others we are called to be an example to others. As hard as it seems at times let us heed the words of the Apostle Paul when he says, “brothers and sisters, never tire (become discouraged or disheartened) of doing what is good”. (3:13)

Imitators of God

elvisThe most impersonated person in the world is, of course, Elvis Presley. There are currently more than 400,000 professional Elvis impersonators in the world. Interestingly, at the time of his death in 1977 there were only 170. As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31 percent) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth,”*

The Apostle Paul wrote two short letters to the Church of the Thessalonians. In his first letter he writes to all believers in the Church, his brothers and sisters in Christ, to remind them of their purpose as part of God’s family. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1:6), “And you became a model to all the believers…” (1:7), “For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches…” (2:14). The question that needs be asked is this, what were they to be imitators of? What were they as believers called to model? Paul, in this letter and others provides the answers to these questions. We are to be imitators of the Lord, living a life that is upright and holy, filled with integrity, faith and love so that others will be built up in the promises of the Lord. We are called to care for each other thorough toils and hardships – to be encouragers, comforters and leaders who live lives worthy of God. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” (4:7-8)

Imagine for a minute that the 2.2 billion adherents of the Christian faith lived their lives according to the prescribed model that Paul describes. Imagine the impact that we could have in the world today if all of us (you and I are included in that 2.2 billion) lived a life that imitated that of Christ. A life filled with an unbridled passion for God that sparks a fire of compassion for His people in all walks of life. Paul concludes his letter with these powerful words, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify (purify, cleanse) you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (5:23-24). As believers in Christ, I pray that this is who God has called you to be.

*(stats have not been fully verified, they are based on a basic internet search and are for illustrative purposes).

When No is Yes

yesnotarotOne 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.

Duck Calls: Life and Faith

ep_7_twitter_photo_1Hunters use a variety of different calls to attract animals and each one has a very unique quality of sound to it. The manufactures of duck calls do a huge amount of research and field testing before producing what might be a profitable product. According to my quick search online, there are at least 28 different species of ducks in North America , each with their own unique call. I have never blown a duck call before and I hear it take some practice to get it right. Why I am writing about duck calls? Read on to find out why.

The Book of Jude talks of a different kind of call, if you take a few minutes to read this short letter you will glean from it a sense of direction (calling) for living a life in Christ. Jude writes “To those who have been called, [those in the church who believed in God and had a personal relationship with him] who are loved in God the Father who are kept for Jesus Christ”. This brief yet powerful letter reminds the people of that time and us now what God has delivered us from. Through this reminder we are called to persevere (knowing that God is with us) through the difficulties of life. We are called to build each other up in the faith, called to pray in the name of the Holy Spirit, called to be show mercy to others and called to share the good news of Jesus Christ so that others might be saved. Much like the unique call that beckons a duck to follow a certain direction each one of us has a unique call from God on our lives.

Through His word, God speaks to us, calling us into his service. I have been called to lead in full time ministry using the gifts and abilities that God has given to me, you most likely have a different calling. As unique as we all are, when God calls us out of the “pond” he has a purpose that is common to all of us, to glorify Him. We are all called to bring honour and glory to His name through the lives that we live. As a called people, the living church of today, our role in His kingdom is to live in unity, to love one another and build each other up in the faith so that we exemplify Christ’s life. As Jude reminds us, there will be times of trouble in life, moments when our faith will be tested and stretched. The call to persevere comes through putting or hope and trust in the Lord. “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” (1:21)