You! Who, Me?

Have you ever had someone single you out in a crowd? It can be an uneasy feeling depending on the circumstance. Oftentimes, this pointed exclamation is followed with a message of accusation or blame. “You”, makes things personal; it narrows the audience of its subsequent words to a single intended subject, you! Whether through spoken or written word, the use of “you” should draw your attention to listen or read carefully as there is a message to follow.

The Apostle Paul uses an emphatic “you” in his letter to Titus that helps us to understand the importance and contrast between living for Jesus and living for the world. Titus chapter 2:1 reads “You, however…” or as some translations might say, “As for you Titus…” must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 

In the last several of verses in chapter 1 Paul talks about the “many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception… by teaching things they must not teach”. This contrast to what is true and faithful to the life of a believer outlines the charge Paul gives to Titus, “to teach what is appropriate” in life in faith. 

Titus was chosen by Paul to lead the charge in teaching or promoting the truth and transformational power of the gospel, to live a life that reflected the correct behaviours and attitudes that would be an inspiration and model for the leaders of the church and ultimately the church itself. 

Paul does not leave Titus empty handed in his given task. The words that follow help identify some of the foundational truths and heart and mind attitudes that will help people separate and protect themselves from the false teachings that were being taught. Speaking to a society distant from how the world defines culture today Paul’s words still stand as good practice in our lives today. 

The central themes of self-control, respect, reverence, love, purity, kindness, and integrity are part of the instruction given to the older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves.  These actions are not just empty directives that only help us live better lives, each speak into a greater purpose and motivation. In the following verses Paul gives us the answer to the question why we should live this way, 

“so that no one will malign the word of God” (2:5); “so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” (2:8); “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (2:10)

You might ask, how it is possible to live in a way that truly reflects God while the world around us becomes more resistant to recognizing who he is? Paul reminds us about the incredible grace and salvation God has given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. “It teaches us to say” NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled lives in this present age”. (2:12)

How are YOU, yes YOU, leading the charge to teach or promote the truth and transformational power of the Gospel in your life? My prayer for you, (something I pray for myself) is that you would continually experience the incredible grace of God in your life. “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. (Matthew 5:16)

Been There, Done That.

The phrase “been there, done that” is often used to express a person’s complete familiarity with a situation or event. Typically, when this statement is used, it is spoken with a suggestion of sarcasm or a sense of tiredness. For example, if you live on an island as I do, you might think or say “been there, done that” when you consider setting sail on the ferry for the umpteenth time.

A I continue to read Paul’s letter to Titus I came across a couple of verses in chapter three where Paul uses a variation of the statement “been there, done that”. After Paul instructs Titus to remind the people (the church) to be mindful of their attitudes and actions towards leaders in government, to be obedient to ready to serve and do what is good and gentle to everyone around them he says, “At one time”. 

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated, and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3) In other words, we have all “been there, done that”. 

There are a couple of important reminders for us in this verse and the verses that follow. First, Paul reminds us that we too once walked in the shoes and followed the pathway of worldly practices that kept us separated from God. This first reminder sets us up to recognize the sometimes-negative attitude of “better than” or “holier than thou” way we may act towards those who have not yet experienced the incredible love and grace Jesus has for them. The gentleness we are called to have for everyone in chapter 3:2 can become a little rough around the edges. 

The second reminder we have through these words is what follows in verse 4 of chapter 3. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” 

If there is anything we need to be reminded of daily it is the fact that as believers, we must never forget the means by which we are saved. When Paul speaks of the incredible mercy that came to us through the appearance of our Saviour, he is talking about the birth, the life, the death (sacrifice) and the resurrection of Jesus. 

The kindness and love that is Jesus Christ is available to everyone. His grace and mercy are poured out on each one of us as his followers every single day as we continue to live in a world that temps us and pulls us away from living in obedience and service in Christs name. 

As believers we have answered the call of Jesus to come and follow him. In a sense we have “been there, done that.” Think of this in a more positive light rather than the opening suggestion of sarcasm or tiredness. We have received the greatest gift ever and with that comes purpose, that is what Paul reminds us of here in these verses.

Jesus is kindness and love. Each one of us is created in his image, to reflect who he is so that others may know him. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been empowered to move beyond “been there, done that”, we were created to do more. Do you remember the moment you made the choice to follow Jesus? Think back to your “been there, done that” moment and use that experience to inspire others, share your story so that kindness and love (Christ) shines through you.

Sound Advice

How many of these familiar sayings have you heard before? “They returned safe and sound”, or “their business has been built on a sound foundation” or “he/she is sound asleep”. Maybe you have heard something like, “that person likes to sound off their opinions” or “you have a sound understanding on the subject”.  In life, we all benefit from getting sound advice on buying the right investments, vehicles, homes, and making other significant decisions. 

When life and faith come together there is much sound advice that we find in scripture. In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul talks about sound doctrine, and being sound in our faith.

The word translated as “sound” in verses one and two of chapter 2 in this letter define a sense of “healthiness”, to be healthy or to be correct. Paul’s instruction or command to Titus was this, “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.” In other words, teach what is healthy and beneficial for those who hear your words. Paul, in an earlier letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:11) connects sound doctrine to the incredible truths laid out in the message of the gospel. 

The truth of the Gospel message is the foundation on which every Christ follower must find their feet firmly planted. Paul’s letter to Titus was written to encourage and instruct not just himself but the church of believers. This was a reminder for everyone to live by example, to live differently from the false teachers and the un-believing community they were a part of.  The sound advice given to Titus and the Christian churches in Crete was so much more than just knowledge and understanding of sound doctrine but living it out in their daily lives. 

To be sound in our faith implies that we as Christians understand and live according to the will of God. The promise of the gospel message for all of us is that we will one day be in the presence of our heavenly Father. By the grace of God our salvation is secured for us through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. 

Skillfully written into this letter given to Titus are references to more than a dozen teachings (doctrines) that help guide us in navigating life and faith in a culture that is seemingly counter-Christian. In many ways when we read the words of these letters to Titus and Timothy, we find ourselves facing much the same cultural influences that continue to distract people from the truths found in God’s word. 

The worldly distractions around us have the potential to deafen our hearts and minds from following this sound advice of living a healthy and productive life for Christ. So, what can we do to protect ourselves? 

First, embrace the truth of the gospel; through Christ’s death and resurrection and by the grace of God we have been brought into his family. 

Second, Pray & read. You and I do not have the power or the strength alone to live as fully devoted followers of Jesus on our own. Through prayer and scripture, we will grow into knowing the Lords will for our lives. 

Third, Live boldly for Jesus. Every day, live a life that sets you apart from the world. Be sound in your faith. 

Yo-Yo’s, Life & Faith

I have never been able to master the skills of tossing a yoyo, in fact, I gave up the practice many years ago after sustaining some self-inflicted bruises and having to sweep up some freshly broken pottery. This seemingly simple toy, when placed in the hands of a skilled yoyo master can both mesmerize and inspire the inner child in all of us.

As I started reading through the book of Judges, I felt a bit like a yoyo spinning and moving in what seems like an unpredictable direction. Following the death of Joshua, the nation of Israel was without a leader, someone who could keep them focused on moving forward in their life and faith in God. The absence of a leader set into motion an up and down cycle of sin, punishment, repentance, and ensuing rescue. Their rescue came when God chose for them a “judge” or leader who led them back into knowing who God is and into his endless grace and mercy for them. 

Chapter by chapter as we read from a distance about the lives of the Israelite people, we find ourselves spinning through this yoyo like cycle of ups and downs with them. The final words of Judges lay out for us the cause of all that happens through the rest of its narrative, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit”. (21:25)

Judges chapter 2 highlights the foundation of why “everyone did as they saw fit”. The generations of people who followed that of Joshua had lost sight of who God was and what he had done for the nation of Israel in the past. Chapter 2:11-12 recounts what happened next, “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them”. This, as we see throughout the book is the beginning of the cycle (sin) that leads into punishment, repentance and rescue of a God who continued to love them. 

The seemingly unpredictable direction I mentioned earlier becomes more and more predictable as we read along. God himself was always in the picture. The people may have been blinded to his presence at times, but God never left them. Each time the nation cried out for help, he rescued them by providing a judge, a leader to draw them back toward him and live in peace once again. 

As believers today we live and serve the same God that was looking over the nation of Israel, a God who loves and cares for every created being. At times, the lives that we live today fall into a similar cycle lived out in the pages of Judges. When we do as we see fit for our own lives, when we let the heart of the world overtake the heart of Christ in us, we draw ourselves further away from God our Father. What do we do when things come crashing down around us? Well, as the cycle continues, we cry out to God (who has never left us in the first place) and He restores our heart, our soul and mind through his incredible mercy and grace. 

Our rescue is forgiveness and restoration through Christ’s love, a love that has no limits. Life will sometimes become tangled and spin out of control like a yo-yo, but in the hands of a master (our Father in heaven) comes beauty and inspiration. Do you need to cry out to God today? He is near to you; He will answer the call from your heart with love and forgiveness.

Joshua’s Bucket List

In 2007 the movie “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman inspired many people to think about what they wanted to do before they died. I have never made an official “bucket list” but there are a few things I hope to do before my life here on earth is complete. Near the top of my list is to visit to the Netherlands during the Tulip Festival. I would also love to spend some time walking the ancient streets of Israel retracing some of the steps that Jesus and his disciples took.

Near the end of the book of Joshua we read about the number one thing on Joshua’s “bucket list”, something that was not even for himself but for others. This compilation of verses from chapter 23 should give you a clue as to what he wanted for God’s people:

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left” (v6). “But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now” (v8). “So be very careful to love the Lord your God” (v11). In verse 14 he brings it all home, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”

Joshua wanted what was best for the people as he was getting ready to “go the way of the earth”. His greatest concern was for the people and their relationship with the Lord. With one last opportunity Joshua addressed the whole nation, an address that I can only imagine was delivered with incredible passion and deep heartfelt emotion. Alongside each verse quoted here Joshua also gives a sharp warning of what comes if the people do fall into the temptation of doing life on their own, without God. With incredible grace and mercy through Christ today we have all we need to stay strong so that when we do fall, he picks us up to journey forward.

From the day Joshua spoke these words to this moment in time here and now and into the future, the promises made by God to his people continue to be trustworthy in their fulfillment. Knowing this brings incredible hope to me and many others who know and follow Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. 

What if we took a different perspective on adding things to our bucket list based on Joshua’s words? What if as followers of Christ we continue to build our own relationship with the Lord while also focusing on helping others do the same. We can continue to be strong in our own faith while helping someone grow in theirs; we can hold fast to the promises God has made to us and share them with someone who might not know about them. 

What if we move our attention away from what we want to what others need? Today more than ever people need Jesus. We have something that so many others need, as a disciple of Jesus a part of our responsibility is to share his incredible love with others. 

So, what might we add to our bucket list today? First, pray and ask God how he might inspire you to find a way to share his great love with someone else. Second, write it down and share it with someone close to you and third, do it. Easier said than done, I know. A wise man once said, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13)

What Will You Receive?

Recently there was some discussion at my house around a particular science assignment that one of my girls was working on. We inherit certain traits from our parents that dictate the outcome of our physical attributes; I have blues eyes and my wife has beautiful brown eyes. When my daughter plugged these variables into a Punnett square (a weirdly named scientific tool) and with a little explanation from our resident science teacher she finally realized why she and her sisters all have brown eyes. There are many things in life and in death that we can inherit. 
 
If you have the time and patience to read through chapters 13-21 of the book of Joshua, you will come across the word inheritance somewhere around 50 times. After leading the nation of Israel through many victorious battles it was time for Joshua to allocate the land that the Lord had given them as their promised inheritance. The reality of living in the land promised to them through Moses was coming to realization. 
 
To inherit something typically means something is passed down or given to you. You may not have earned it or even deserve it, but it comes to you in one form or another. Joshua and his army were one to be feared; they did things that are seemingly unimaginable for most of us to get them to the place they were in. God was the force in front of and behind them as they battled to secure the land he promised to them. We may be inclined to think that they deserved the land that they deserved it. Yet, without the Lord’s help they would have had nothing. The Promise Land was a gift of God’s incredible love for them as his chosen people. The land was their inheritance from their Father in heaven. 
 
These events that happened in centuries past are a strong witness to the assurance we have today in the fulfillment of 
another promise made to those who continue to faithfully follow God.  
 
1 Peter chapter one describes for us a promised inheritance that is kept for us in heaven, one that will never perish, spoil, or fade. As followers of Christ our inheritance is found in him. Our life (new birth) in Christ through his own death and resurrection promises us eternal life with him in heaven. 
 
We have been given an incredible gift of love by the same God that brought the people of Israel into the Promise Land. In many ways like the people of Israel experienced time and time again our promise of faithfulness often falls short of Christ’s command to be holy as he is. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the complete forgiveness of all our sins and through the incredible gift of grace we are presented as blameless and pure in God’s eyes through Christ. 
 
As followers of Jesus, we are considered children of God, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). As his children we will inherit what God has promised, eternal life. As we live our lives in wait and wanting for the completion of our salvation (that day when Christ comes again) we can be assured that God continually works for the good of those who love him. It may be hard to see amid all that is going on around us in the world today, but we have inside of us a living hope that points us to a better day. 
 
Do you hope for an inheritance that will never perish, spoil, or fade? Here is the best part of this promised inheritance, it is available to anyone who truly seeks it and humbly comes before the Lord and asks him for it. What will you receive?

Melting Point

This past summer as one of the particularly long heat waves passed through our area, we discovered that two of our Costco sized bags of chocolate chips melted and transformed from little, tiny morsels into large solid blocks of chocolate. Our chocolate chip cookies turned into chocolate chunk cookies. It seems that everything has a melting point. 

Six times in the book of Joshua we read about the idea of people “melting in fear”. (2:9; 2:11; 2:24; 5:1; 7:5; 14:8). In context of each of these verses there is a very real sense of fear surrounding life and death as people have witnessed the incredible power of God through the continuance of his promise to bring his people into the land promised to them through his covenant with Abraham. 

Chapter 2 of Joshua recounts the interaction between Rahab and the spies where she explains to them, “When we heard of it, (the crossing of the Jordan) our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” As we read this today, we recognize the transformation in Rahab’s life that speaks to a “melting” or “softening” of another kind. We don’t know a lot about Rahab, but we do know that at some point in time she recognized God for who he is and gave her life over to him, her heart was softened.

What started as a real fear in the sense of life and death became a life changing experience for Rahab. A new sense of understanding and fear of the Lord became a new reality of reverence and awe for a God who saves and protects those who love and follow him. Later in scripture (Heb 11:31; James 2:25) we hear of Rahab as an example of faith, one who stands out because of her actions in service to God. 

In life and ministry, I have had the opportunity to hear many incredible stories of life transformation as God continues to work in the hearts of his people. Each story, unique in their own way demonstrate the incredible power of love, forgiveness, and acceptance as people put their hope and trust in the Lord. Unfortunately, I have also heard stories that are surrounded by a paralyzing fear that keeps people at a distance from God. They fear that their life choices and actions are unforgivable, and that God could never love or forgive them.

The scriptures are filled with stories of forgiveness and redemption; Rahab’s story is only one of many. David is another example, and he shares these words for all of us:

He (God) does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

The God that we serve is so full of mercy and grace and no matter who we are and what we have done there is forgiveness available to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. 

The stories we have in scripture have the power to inspire and change lives. Our stories, just the same, have power to inspire and encourage others who may not know how great the love of God is.

When was the last time you shared your story? How has God has worked in your life to draw you close to him? Take some time to pray and ask God to give you the opportunity to share your story with someone, you never know the kind of change it will bring in someone’s life.

Tending to the Fire

One of my favourite things to do while camping is watching the burning fire. The sight of the flames dancing around, the smell and sound of the wood burning, and the comforting warmth all work together to help me slip into a mysteriously hypnotic state. Fires need tending, a constant supply of fuel to keep burning; without it, the fire slowly burns out leaving small burning embers or nothing more than a pile of ash in its place.

From the moment when Nehemiah first inspected the damage to the walls surrounding Jerusalem, to the time he returned to his position as cup bearer for the king (a span of 12 years) he had been tending “fires” of a different kind. Not only did Nehemiah light the fire of inspiration and drive of the people to commit to rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but he also re-kindled the fire and passion in the hearts of the people to fall back into a life that honored and glorified their Heavenly Father.  

Chapter 10 of Nehemiah outlines the elements of a binding agreement or covenant the nation and its leaders made and committed to follow together. At that time the priests and Levites were responsible for the continued spiritual leadership of the city. In many ways they were responsible to tend the “spiritual fire” that brought the people back into a right relationship with God. As we continue to read on, Nehemiah outlines for us in chapter 13 several things that, after he left, began to stifle the desire (the fire) of the people to stay on track with a life devoted to following the laws and commands given to them. 

If we fast-forward a few thousand years to today, we can see some similarities to our own walk of faith in the Lord. 

Many of you can remember the time in your life when you first accepted the good news of the gospel and made Jesus a part of your life. There was an excitement, a fire that burned inside of you as a new believer; you devoted your life to following and serving the Lord, loving him, and loving others. God’s word (the bible) became your guide for life, you immersed yourself in it and you surrounded yourself with others who lived with that same fire in their soul. 

I have seen in others and experienced for myself this incredible feeling as the fire burned bright in life. I will be the first to admit that there are times when the fire does not burn as bright as it should. There have been times when the fuel for the fire seems in short supply, and we only see a few burning embers. 

Nehemiah saw a fire in need of tending among the people of Jerusalem and once again did his part to help re-kindle the flames of life with God among them. Like Nehemiah, we must pray and seek God’s mercy and grace in our lives; confess to him our weaknesses and He will begin a work in us to restore that burning fire in life. Keep the fire fueled through the reading of his word. When you do, you will hear his voice, his direction for your life. Surround yourself again with those who share in the warmth and comfort of knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior. Consider these words of an old hymn that continue to inspire new life in Christ, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”. 

A Little Bit of History.

HistoryEvery now and then I have the privilege of hearing stories about the “olden days”. These past stories of adventure and experience from an older generation often hold a glimpse into a vastly different world from that which we live in today. Bygone are the times of what some of them would call a much “simpler” life. A time when high tech was a simple transistor radio or when penny candy was actually a penny. We all have a story, a historical timeline of memorable and forgotten events that shape the very essence of who we are. Knowing our history is an important aspect to knowing who we are.

The first four chapters in the book of Deuteronomy recount the events in the “recent” history of the people of Israel, Moses reminds them where they had come from and what has happened over the past 40 years of wandering in the desert. He is speaking to a new generation of people that were born in exile due to the previous generations disobedience and ignorance of God’s direction. Moses’ whole point in bringing up their history was to motivate and encourage them to put their hope and trust in God alone for deliverance into the promise land. The people are reminded of God’s law through Moses as he digs deeper into its meaning, significance and importance for their lives. Near the end of the book, Moses leaves them with a stern warning in regards what will happen if they do not follow God’s law. He also leaves them with a word of encouragement and assurance that when they repent of their sinful ways God will forgive them and continue to walk with them.

Moses commands the people to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (6:5) We hear this command again from Jesus in Matthew 22 where he is asked this question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? This is the first and greatest commandment, says Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Did the Israelites love the Lord with all they had all the time? Unfortunately, no. Their lives, much like ours today were filled with distractions (sin) that tested and often destroyed the bond of our relationship with God. One of the most amazing realities in our relationship with God is the completely underserved gift of grace given through his son Jesus Christ. By the grace of God, we can come before Him every hour of every day with the promise of forgiveness. Do you have that assurance in life? Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength?

Rewrite

IMG_1733Have you ever worked extremely hard on a research paper or project and felt like the weight of the world was lifted off your shoulders as you handed it in to your boss or teacher? Then, with silent expectation and a slight sense of nervousness you wait for the final mark; in the back of your mind your hoping it will come back with great accolades and a well-deserved pat on the back. So, your paper comes back, profusely marked in red ink and the word REWRITE is scored across the cover page. Now what? Where do you go from here?

God’s justice is righteous and true and will be delivered by him to all those who believe in him (Hebrews 10:30). To be judged as righteous and true according to his will means we will be favored and accepted into the fullness of eternal life with him. The author of the book of Hebrews writes these words, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” (Hebrews) God, the author of all life provides an opportunity through his Son Jesus Christ to “rewrite” his will for our lives on our hearts. The prophet Jeremiah uses some strong imagery to describe what it is that God is rewriting “Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts” (Jer 17:1).

Our lives, much like that of the people of Judah and the generations that follow have the markings of sin etched deeply into our hearts and minds. God’s offers us a “rewrite” in life when we accept and believe in the power of the death and resurrection of his Son for our sins. Justice for our sins has been served on our behalf, Christ paid for all of those sins. “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more”. (Heb 10:17) The deeply etched marks of sin are wiped out, a heart of stone replaced by a heart of flesh ready to be led by the spirit to follow the will of the Lord. (Ez 36:26-27) So, now what? Where do you go from here? TAKE the second chance, this is the rewrite of your life, an opportunity to grab ahold of the saving power and grace God gave us through His Son.