Electrician, Musician, Physician…

The English language has some interesting ways of connecting words, ideas and thoughts together. The “-ian” attached to each of the words in the title is borrowed from the Latin iānus, which forms adjectives of belonging or origin from a noun. Electrician, musician and physician describe the role belonging to a person who might specialize in a particular area of expertise. Electricians work with all things electric, musicians’ study or play music and a physician as we know, is someone who is qualified to practice medicine. Knowing this, what comes to your mind when you think about the word Christian?

Acts chapter 11:26 is where we find the introduction of the expression “Christian” in relationship to those who follow Christ. “So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch”. Known between themselves as “brethren”, “the faithful”, “elect” or “believers” the title Christian was given to followers of Christ by the community of unbelievers among them. 

Jesus, during his ministry among humanity called his followers disciples. The term disciple in the New Testament is used approximately 230 times and gives us a deeper understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ. A disciple in this context is defined as a “leaner” or “pupil”. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. 

I am not sure about you, but I feel like we have seen the meaning of the title “Christian” change over time. Today many people call themselves “Christians” because they go to church and live a good moral and ethical life. While that is good, I think there is a much deeper connection to our faith in Christ when we identify ourselves with him as one of his disciples. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to worship him, serve him and be a witness to the transforming power of his mercy, grace and forgiveness in our lives. 

First, our worship of Jesus is all about how we live our lives, Romans 12 says that we are to “offer up our lives as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. All that we do in life, yes all, should bring honor, glory and praise to God, that is how we worship him. 

Second, we are called to serve him by serving others. The love that we show to one another through serving is one of the key elements that identifies us as true disciples to the world around us. 

Third, as disciples we are called to be witnesses for him. Jesus, sent by his Father was on mission to reveal himself to us so that we might know him and save us from sin and death. This mission was accomplished through his life, death and resurrection. Since then, as his disciples we are called to carry on the mission by telling others about his love for them so that they too can become a part of his eternal family. 

I am not proposing we discard the title “Christian”; I would suggest that we continue to work at learning to live out our faith as true disciples. Like the first disciples we should be set apart by our actions, our words, and our witness. Let’s pray together for a renewed commitment to the mission Jesus commanded us to carry forward; to worship him, love and serve others and be a witness to the world for his glory. 

Building Your Own Jesus.

Recently a good friend of mine shared an illustration during a Sunday sermon that stirred up some creative juices that inspired me to start writing in my blog again. While this mouthwatering illustration has been simmering in my mind for the past couple of days, I just had to share it with you.

Burger King introduced the world to the Whopper in 1957 along with a revolutionary concept that changed the way we order fast food. For the first time you could customize your burger to fit your personal taste. Don’t like pickles, no problem, like a little extra ketchup or mustard, of course. Aptly named, the whopper was a big hit, especially because it outsized any of the competitors burgers and you could order it just the way you wanted. Burger Kings mantra continues to ring out as, “have it your way”. 

Today this might not seem like a big deal as we tend to customize everything, burgers, pizzas, computers, cars, ringtones, music playlists, water bottles, watch bands and so much more. Over the passage of time our mantra has become “have it our way” While I am sure you can come up with a long list of things that you can customize, have you ever considered how this tendency to tailor things to our own taste/needs may intersect with our relationship with Jesus? 

Admittedly, like my friend, I have over time “customized” my relationship with Jesus to suit my own needs or wants. I have ordered off the “menu” choosing what I need or want and leaving out the rest of who he is. As we all face a multitude of different circumstances in life we sometimes slip into a false sense of who Jesus is thinking we can “have him our way”. 

Sometimes in life we choose to create a Jesus that works for us. We like the idea that Jesus loves us and watches out for us, that he leads, guides and protects us. And then on the flip side there are things we don’t like. It might be something he taught that stands in the face of a lifestyle choice we are living comfortably in or something that we want to do. We want to live life our way and fit Jesus into that life. As we check out the menu and build our own Jesus, we might like my friend order the following:

“A super-sized Jesus with extra grace, double forgiveness, hold the truth, with an order of don’t make me feel bad about anything that I want to do on the side.”

Throughout the ages individuals and groups of people have viewed Jesus through their particular lenses, building a version of him for themselves. Even his closest followers, the twelve disciples, didn’t fully understand who he was. The truth of God’s word holds the keys to truly knowing who Jesus is. The grand narrative of scripture reveals to us bit by bit the incredible truth of hope we can have in Jesus as we draw closer to him. 

When the disciples asked Jesus about which is the greatest commandment he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” When we invite Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we must commit to the “full meal deal”, every aspect of our heart, soul and mind must be given over to him. It’s not “have it your way”, “have it our way” or “have him our way”. In life and in death, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that we must follow. 

To listen to message that inspired this blog entry click here

Hang On…

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and he mentioned that he was contemplating the possibilities of jumping head first off a perfectly safe solid steel bridge 150 feet down towards a glacier fed icy cold river while attached to a massive elastic rope.  Consider for a moment the faith and trust that you have to have in the one thing separating you from life and death… an elastic rope.

John, in chapter 15 of his gospel records the words of Jesus as he and his disciples begin their journey from the upper room where they shared their last meal together to the garden of Gethsemane. Along the way Jesus uses an illustration of the vine and the branches to describe their relationship with him and his father. He is the vine, we are the branches and his Father is the gardener. This illustration or allegory has some incredibly deep and profound truths that give us a glimpse into the Christian life. God, our father in heaven through his Son Jesus Christ plays an active role in our lives; “pruning” or acting on our behalf to lead and guide us through life so that we can continue to be used as his disciples to effectively carry on his mission to bring the good news of salvation to others.

Our world has many different “vines” to hold onto in life. Some hold onto the “vines” of selfishness, wealth, pride, stubbornness or false gods; and while the vine may continue to grow its roots have not been set firmly into the garden that our heavenly father first planted. Jesus tells us that he is the “true vine”, he is stronger than the “elastic rope”. He is our life-line that continues to give us strength today and until that day when he returns to be with us in eternity. Being attached to the true vine (through a personal relationship with Jesus) is to be under the care and love of the master gardener of life, God. Will you take a leap of faith and be one of the many who have put their hope and trust in the strength and power of the one true vine, Jesus Christ? It is not one that you will ever regret.

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.

 

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.

Oil & Water

There is a complex and somewhat exhaustive explanation of why oil and water do not mix together. If you were to check in with your local science expert they would use terms like immiscible, density and mass to explain the chemical properties of each liquid. On a very basic level most everyone knows that oil and water do not mix, they both have inherent qualities that make them incompatible.  
Paul writes to an audience of believers in Rome that have come to know Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour through the ministry of men like himself and others. Written into Paul’s letter to the Roman believers is a myriad of incredible truths that give instruction and motivation to live vibrant and faithful lives as Christians. Paul’s written message was a reminder to the people about the power of sin and deception that is persistently trying to lead them away from a proper relationship with God. Sin, and our sinful nature have the ability to create conflict between living by the ideals of the world compared to that of God’s call on our lives to live a life holy and pleasing to him. This conflict is much like that between oil and water; Life in Christ (the water), dose not mix with life in the world (the oil). Although the two can coexist together, the both have their inherent qualities that make them incompatible.  

The power to overcome sin comes through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Through Him we have access to His Father in heaven. Paul writes these words in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Our hope comes from the Lord through the work of the Holy Spirit when we allow him into our lives. Hope is an anticipation, a confident expectation (faith and trust) in the promise that God will fulfill his promise of eternal life with him. “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (8:24-25). For all the many earthly things that we have in this world they cannot and will not fulfill the promise of something better, they are only temporary. A question I often ask of myself is this, is my hope overflowing in a way that it spills out so others can see? God provided a way for joy and peace in life and that comes through his Son, a joy and peace that fuels our hope. The power of hope in Christ over shadows the power of sin, it separates us from the world.  

Roller Coasters and Life

roller coasterWith names like Millennium Force, Top Dog Thriller, Formula Rossa, Intimidator 305 and Steel Dragon 2000, these world-famous roller coasters will provide the thrill that extreme adrenaline junkies seek. There are intense drops, twists and turns, incredible speeds and gut wrenching G-forces that push your mind and body to its limits. You might be one of those people who gets excited about being strapped into the seat on one of these giant steel mechanical marvels or you might be like me, the anxious spectator (who likes to keep two feet on the ground) left holding all the bags, hats and loose change until the ride is over.

When I read through the Psalms I get the sense of being on a different sort of roller coaster, a ride that journeys through a wide range of emotions. Through ups and downs, twists and turns and the pressures of life, we get a glimpse into the complex emotions that our creator built into us. Woven into the fabric of the text we can experience the writer’s feelings of joy, fear, anger, disappointment, outrage, gratitude, contentment and more. When we listen, hear, and take to heart the stories shared by the different author’s we are invited into their lives and deep into their hearts. One of the most powerful and emotional moments in the psalms for me is found in chapter 18:6, “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” Distress, suffering, pain, sorrow, grief, each one of these “places” can bring us crashing to our knees, desperate and needy, searching for God just a David did in this passage.

It has been said that every human emotion is portrayed in some way through the writing of the Psalms. The Psalms are a “go to” for many who need encouragement and direction in their lives; often when we find an emotional connection we can also experience the writer’s response or reflection. One of the strongest themes that help facilitate that connection is that of love. Out of His love for David, God hears his cry for help, He delivers him from the hands of his enemies. Today our God is no different than He was in David’s day, He waits patiently as we persistently try to work things out on our own, he continues to hear our cries, He loves us in all our brokenness, he rejoices when we put our faith and trust in Him. It is His love that will keep us standing with two feet on the ground.

 

Something Even Greater

Waiting in Line

There are so many things in life that we wait for. Kids and parents alike often can’t wait for Christmas to come; kids more than parents can’t wait for their next birthday. We wait expectantly for a child to be born and we often wait with mixed emotions about our mortality. Many wait in anticipation for their wedding day and some wait patiently for “the one” to come into their life. We wait in line at banks, grocery stores, doctors’ offices and for our turn to get on a plane for that well-deserved holiday. What is it in life that you wait for?

When you take the time to think about the incredibly powerful visions and imagery found in the book of Revelation that John records for us, you can’t help wonder or be curious about what God has planned for us. There is one particular passage in John’s writing that has stuck with me this past week, one that made me curious, excited and wanting while waiting. Found in Revelation 22:1-5, subtitled “Eden Restored” we get an glimpse into heaven. John describes what the angel showed him, “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb… on each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Can you imagine the beauty these words portray? Do you believe that one day this will be a reality? I do. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

There is something else, something even greater than the crystal-clear rivers, trees and bountiful harvest of fruit that I find in this passage.  Verse 4 of chapter 22 talks about you and I, it says, “They will see his face.” (read that quote again) To see His face means we will one day walk with God, our creator, just as Adam and Eve did. This incredible promise is a picture of restoration, a renewal of the intimate relationship our Heavenly Father intended to have with us. With his own breath, He created us so we could walk with Him and talk with Him, to be one with Him. If you are not on the edge of your seat in anticipation of this incredible promise, WAKE UP. God wants you to know that this is His greatest desire, a desire that I have put all my hope and trust in today. Through His Son, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will one day meet him face to face. So, will you wait with me? We have so much to look forward to.

Pass the Salt Please.

dubbelzoutSalt. It can be used to relieve bee stings, preserve food, enhance flavor or melt ice and gives seawater its distinctive taste. I willingly admit that I am a picky eater, although I prefer to say that I have a finely tuned palate. The Dutch blood that runs deep into my heritage has hardwired me to appreciate and love the salty taste of DubbelZout (double salt) hard black licorice. This fine Dutch treat has been preserving the Dutch and others for many years. (and yes I am eating them as I write this blog entry)

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Taken in context of the surrounding verses in Colossians 4, this figurative “seasoned with salt” statement is saying this,  let your conversation be uplifting. Paul writes this letter so that we can “talk the walk” that Jesus came to live out among us. Christ’s divine-human nature exemplifies the life that we are to live today. Full of grace, Christ came to love, teach and give. His words that were “seasoned with salt” were spoken to point us towards His Father. Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians from prison, it was meant to be encouraging and uplifting in a time when false teachers were drawing Christians away from the focus of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. His reminder that “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” reminds us of His supremacy over all things.

This passage reminds me of that of James chapter 3 and how he writes about the “Taming of the Tongue”. He asks the question, “Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring?” Essentially what he is asking is this, can our conversations or words reflect the love of Christ and curse mankind at the same time? According to James the answer is no! Unfortunately, this is how much of the world lives. We will never measure up to the standard of perfection lived out by Jesus because we were born into sin. It is important and key to our faith that we work diligently to reach for that measure of excellence, to ask Him to supply our needs, to give us the wisdom and courage to turn away from sin. The incarnation of Jesus happened so that we would be saved from our sins, so that we could return to a right relationship with our creator, our Father in heaven.  May our conversations be full of grace, uplifting and honoring to God so that others will see Him in us.

Encourage One Another

EncourageAs I was considering some thoughts around the idea of encouragement my mind wandered a little bit and I started to think about sports. Now, this is strange because I am not much of a sports guy so bear with me. Have you ever watched golf or been out on the course with someone who “talks” the ball to go where they want it to? Usually that person takes the time to skillfully line up their shot with the hole whether it is to be hit off the tee or is laying on the green. After taking the shot they will sometimes expressively talk the ball towards the hole, especially if it’s going off course. What about the basketball player getting ready to take a foul shot from the top of the key or is going the for the distance of a well timed three point shot? Often they will verbally encourage the ball to hit its target.

The author of Hebrews talks about a different type of encouragement, here is a short verse on what that looks like: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” (10:24&25) When you dig deeper into the word “encouraging” that the author uses here, it has a sense of urgency to it. It is suggesting a position of begging or pleading for fellow believers to stay the course of faith in our God. It is to build our faith in the midst of trials and temptations as we wait for the day when Christ comes again. The author calls us to encourage one another daily as he warns us that there will be times of unbelief, times of falling away and times where we will need to persevere.

Eugene Peterson in the message captures a picture of encouragement with these thoughts: “keep each other on your toes so sin doesn’t slow down your reflexes. If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul.” Living out our faith calls us to encourage others by walking with them through “thick and thin”, praying for them, being the example of love that Christ has for them.  The encouragement we give (and need) ought to draw us closer to our heavenly Father, reminding us of his unconditional love and sacrifice that will one day bring us into his presence.