A Particular kind of Confidence

Confidence in its various forms can be defined either as a feeling or belief that one can rely on something or someone. It can also be used to describe the feeling of certainty about the truth of something. Confidence in oneself can be described as a feeling of self-assurance coming from one’s appreciation of our own abilities or qualities. 

Today I began reading Paul’s letter to Titus and was reminded once again that God reveals himself and his truths to us in incredible ways. As I was reading the opening words, I was struck by the remarkable confidence Paul had in knowing who he was and his role (purpose) in advancing the message of the Gospel. Read his words as he opens the letter and “introduces” himself,  

“…a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior…”

Considering the depth of meaning attached to the word “servant” or “slave” as some translations write, Paul makes a very powerful statement. While our minds tend to think of this position through a negative lens, Paul helps us understand it differently. He is declaring in this letter that he belongs to the Lord, that his life and purpose are to serve the God who created him. Understanding who Jesus is and what he has done for him, Paul put all his trust in him. 

Paul’s words of introduction have made me stop and think about the confidence he had in his faith. Normally I equate Paul with his title of Apostle, one that gives him authority and responsibility in the mission that was entrusted to him. The roots of Paul’s work to advance the message of the gospel go so much deeper than any prescribed role. His life, his work, his passion for God reflects the incredible power of the Holy Spirit through the work of Christ in his life. 

Paul’s confidence, his knowledge and understanding in living for Jesus underscore the hope that he has in the promise of eternal life with his Father in heaven. The same promise given to you and me as we live our lives here and now. Paul’s life should be an inspiration for our lives. 

Can you or I claim to be a servant of God like Paul? Absolutely! We serve the same God as Paul and are afforded the same power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives when we place our hope in trust in the message of the Gospel, in our relationship with Jesus. 

For me, Paul’s actions speak louder than the words that he wrote. He lived a hard life as a follower of Jesus. Paul was entrusted with a mission, one that he took with him to the grave. The heart and soul of Paul’s life and writing continue to live on. The confidence he had in the message and reality of the Gospel will carry on for generations to come. 

Today, as I read the opening words of Paul’s letter to Titus, I am thankful for the reminder that we can have confidence in the promises of God. I am thankful for the power of the Gospel message. I pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit I can have the same confidence as Paul to be on mission for Jesus Christ. This is my prayer for you as well.

Refresh

In the furniture refinishing business, the term “refresh” is used to describe the type of work to be done any one piece of furniture. To refresh something, you lightly sand the existing finish before you give it a nice fresh topcoat. To refinish something, you would strip the old finish right off, get down to bare wood and start from scratch. 

In life and in faith when we come to know Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour, we in a sense “refinish” our lives. We give over to God our old lives and begin a new one, living for Jesus. As we grow in our faith, as we live in a world full of evil and temptation, we need to be refreshed from time to time. 

When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to Philemon he wrote these words, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people”. Philemon was a fellow disciple of Jesus and as we read in the opening verses, hosted a gathering of believers (the church) in his home. Paul’s letter describes the incredible love that Philemon had for these people and personally thanks him and encourages him through his words. 

There are three other instances where Paul uses the word “refreshed” in the NT, once again in verse 20 of this letter and in Romans 15:32 and 1 Corinthians 16:18. Paul uses this word to describe the taking of time to break away from our busy lives so that our hearts, minds, and spirit can be refreshed. Refreshed in the sense that we take time to reflect, learn and grow in our relationship with Christ. 

Philemon was a partner with Paul in sharing the good news of the Gospel, to share everything that is good so that his understanding of who Christ is would reflect in his life and love for others. I do believe that as Philemon took the time to read these words from Paul his own heart would have been refreshed.

As believers, many of us set aside an hour or two each week, typically on a Sunday morning to go to church. This time is a break away from the normal routine and busyness of life. We come together to hear God’s word, learning, and growing in our understanding of who he is so that like the people of the church before us our hearts, our minds and our spirit can be refreshed. 

Is once a week for an hour or two in the morning enough to keep you refreshed? NO, we need these moments in our lives every day. So, how might we be refreshed in our hearts, our spirit, and our minds each day? To begin, we all (myself included) need to spend more time in God’s Word and in prayer. These are two of the foundations of our faith, on these things all other things are built. 

Consider how each of the following things can help you refresh your heart, mind, and spirit. Rest in the Lord, simply trust in him. Expect that God will work in and through you. Fear the Lord in reverent awe. Read his Word, a gift given to you. Embrace all that he has given to you, count your blessings. Share his love with others. Help those who need help; serve, and allow yourself to be served. 

When was the last time you took some time to be refreshed? What did that look like for you? How did it feel?” Pray and ask God to lead you into a time of refreshment today.

Let’s Get Personal.

Raise your hand if you have ever been in in church and felt like the pastor was speaking directly to you. Have you ever felt like you are sitting in the “hot seat”? Ever felt like the pastor keeps making eye contact with you, and only you, as he speaks? It’s happened to me, both as a recipient and after giving a message. I have had people come to me and say, “I think that message was written for me.” For whatever reason, the message that day for that person was very personal. 

The apostle Paul wrote several letters to the church in his time, many of course that we have preserved in our Bibles today. The letter that we have to Philemon stands apart from the others because it is a much more personal letter, it is very short and, on the surface, does not seem to contain any big theological teachings. 

This letter has a lot to do with relationships, close personal relationships, and the incredible bond of love (inspired by Christ) that binds them together. Consider for a moment the words that Paul uses to describe Onesimus, He is his child (v.10), his heart (v.12) and his beloved brother (v.16). When he speaks of Philemon, he uses similar words plus regards him as a co-worker (v.1), a partner (v.17) and one who owes him his very life (v.19). 

Much of Paul’s letter to Philemon is written on the foundations and command found in 1 John chapter 4. “We love because he first loved us… Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister”. (v.19,21b)

It seems that Philemon was in the “hot seat” as the intended recipient of the letter, but, the introductory verses also read, “the church that meets in your home”. The church as a whole body is included in this plea that Paul writes. While this letter is personal there is a bigger message for us all. 

I like to think that we can all put ourselves in the shoes of the original characters of this letter. Maybe you or I take on the role of Paul as the writer and mentor, maybe as Philemon, the recipient and leader, or as Onesimus as the one seeking to be forgiven and accepted. Maybe you or I are observing from the “sidelines” as someone who is a part of the church. 

No matter who we might be in the letter there is a message here for each of us. A message that bridges the span of time from its first delivery to the minute you and I read these words in your bible today. 

As followers of Christ, we are not alone. In Christ, we become brothers and sisters, we are adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God. Paul outlines some very practical ways for us to act as a family through this letter, putting us all in the “hot seat” as we think about how we personally and corporately live out each of his prescribed actions in our lives. 

How are we loving one another? (vs. 5, 7, 9,16); How are we praying for one another? (vs. 4, 22); How are we partnering or sharing with one another? (vs. 6); How are we being good or showing favor to one another (vs. 6,14); How have we been refreshing (inspiring) each other’s hearts to act and serve in a way that honors God? (vs. 7,12,20)

What question or action will you choose to act on today? Was this message written for you personally? Pray and ask God to lead and guide you out of the “hot seat” and into action. 

What is in your Junk Drawer

I don’t think there is a home in which the “junk drawer” does not exist. Almost everyone I have asked in the past couple of weeks fully admits to having one. This is the one drawer in the house that collects all the seemingly useless items that we don’t really know what to do with. Somewhere in the depths of our minds (and the drawer) we know that the items we place in them will once again find the light of day and be useful again.

Tucked away in the New Testament we have the privilege of reading a short letter to Philemon. It is written by Paul and although it is short in word count, the words that Paul uses are filled with some incredible instruction and truths. Through generations of change (both culturally and in language) I do believe that we miss some of the original craftsmanship that Paul uses to send a message to Philemon (and the church) as instruction for living for Jesus. 

Reading, hearing, and understanding this letter in its original context and language would help us appreciate the bigger picture of Paul’s intent for having Philemon accept Onesimus back into his life and ministry. Consider verse eleven for a moment regarding Onesimus, Paul writes, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.” When you dig a little deeper into what Paul says, you begin to see some interesting connections between the words.

For example, the Greek word for “useless” (achrēstos) sounds like the Greek word achristos which means “without Christ”. The Greek word for “useful” (euchrēstos) sounds like the Greek word for Christ (christos)

Paul skillfully draws for us a connection that speaks directly to the relationship that we have together in Christ. First and foremost, that a relationship with Christ is life changing (useless – without Christ vs. useful – with Christ) and foundational to being on mission for him. Secondly, that relationship is what binds us together as disciples of Christ. 

When Paul says Onesimus in now “useful both to you and to me”, he is referring to the fact that he is now a part of God’s family, a brother in Christ and is a part of the same mission. The message of the gospel, the incredible news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus had become a reality for Onesimus, his life had been transformed, he was adopted into a new family. 

When I read this letter, I can almost feel the excitement behind the words that Paul writes. Paul has gained a new brother in Christ who is ready and willing to do his part to bring the gospel message to others. 

There are times in life when we may feel “useless”, stored away in a “drawer” feeling like we are not being very effective in the work of the Lord. But, when the power of the resurrection is a reality in our lives, we are far from useless. God has a time and place for each of his children to shine, to be used by him for his glory. 

If you are sitting in the “drawer” waiting for the opportunity to be “useful” again, do this: Pray. Pray and ask God to use you for his will and purpose. Be ready, the opportunity will come.

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.

Drawing Conclusions

Experience has taught me that during most of our lives we will automatically draw conclusions about what is happening around us. Our natural tendency is to decide if a certain fact or principle is true (or false) according to the information that we have been given. We often hear or read “facts” from a blender of outlets today. Whether it is social media feeds, radio, television, internet news sites or printed media, they all contribute to the mixed blend of facts that guide our own personal response or conclusion of them.  

We all have a responsibility as followers of Jesus to discern these facts through the lens of our Christian worldview. As one of Christ’s followers I believe that the Bible was inspired by the Spirit of God and is completely free from error. My faith is built on its authority and truth found in it pages from beginning to end. 

So, when I read from books like Judges (which I have been doing now for several months) it challenged me to consider the facts (the truths) found within its words. As I read through these inspired words, I often found myself wondering “why?” Why were these various accounts of “the good, the bad and the ugly” included for us to read today? 

Well, based on what I have read and with some careful examination I have drawn (as we all do) some conclusions. 

First, it is as evident today as it was then that sin has an incredible hold over the lives of all mankind. One of the common threads we see in the lives of the people during the time of the judges was the continuous cycle of sin, punishment, repentance, and rescue. Unfortunately, this is a trend that continues to play out in our lives today. 

Secondly, and in my humble opinion, the book of Judges reminds us of the incredible grace, mercy, and forgiveness that God has for all his people. The book of Judges points forward to the coming of the one true Judge and king that will overcome the hold of sin and death over us. 

Jesus is that one true king. John 18:37 records Jesus’ interactions with Pilate, “Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king? Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) given to us by God. Through his death and resurrection Christ overcame sin and death on our behalf because of his incredible love for us. 

Judges lays out for us the truth of failure that comes by living without the rule of God in our lives. All throughout scripture and plainly written for us in The New Testament we read how a life “in the world”, that is, “not in Christ” continues to bring disorder, immorality, corruption, and destruction into our daily lives. 

Just because I follow Jesus doesn’t automatically make me a perfect person. I, like every other follower of Jesus fail at living according to his perfect will. The incredible part of the truth (who Jesus is) written in scripture is that no matter who we are or what we have done he can and will forgive us. 

Some will disagree with my conclusions and that is ok. It is my hope and prayer that this truth becomes real in their lives one day. What truth are you holding onto today? 

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?

Weathering The Storm

Recently as I was sitting in my favorite chair reading a book my eyes were drawn to the quickly shifting clouds that passed by the large windows in my living room. Within a few minutes the bright light of the sun disappeared and was overtaken by a heavy gray cloud. Then came the storm! First, rain began to shower down like I have never seen it before. Moments later small pellets of ice followed and bounced off the metal railing making a loud machine-gun like sound. As the wind picked up momentum the giant fir trees began to sway as their deep roots held fast deep within the earth. A single clap of thunder followed by a streak of light passed over the horizon which signaled the procession of sleet then snow. Then, in the same way the storm so quickly darkened the day the sun came back to reclaim its rightful place. 

As I thought about the force of the wind and the incredible speed at which the storm came and went my mind wondered what it would have been like for the disciples as they experienced a similar storm on the sea of Galilee.

Matthew chapter 8 holds the account of the storm in which the disciples (some of whom were veteran fisherman) felt their very lives were threatened. They had just witnessed the incredible power of Jesus through the healing of a man with leprosy and Peter’s mother-in-law and other miracles. Tired and ready for a rest, Jesus and the disciples boarded a boat to sail across to the other side of the lake. Little did they know the next part of their journey would draw them into an epic storm that made them fear for their lives as they endured the wind and raging waters. 

Matthew’s account of this hair-raising experience through the storm is a testimony to the incredible power and sovereignty of Jesus as God. Verse 27 of chapter 8 describe the moment following Jesus’ rebuke (calming) of the storm, it says, “The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”” Matthew and the other gospel writers tell us that Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat as the stormy weather tossed them about; when I read this, I see a soul and mind warming picture of peace in the midst of the storm. Jesus, the author and creator of the earth we walk on and breath of life we live with is the anchor of peace that grounds us in a storm. 

In those moments while I was watching the storm from the comfort of my chair it reminded me of Gods incredible power, authority and control over all things in life, especially in the storms. The “storms of life”, the trials we experience can come as swiftly as the ones mentioned here. The outcome or weathering of the storm can be hard to navigate on our own; when we have the assurance of Christ as our anchor, we can be strong and courageous. In the storm we may be frightened or dismayed but often those feelings draw us closer to Jesus, we grow deeper into our relationship with him, and he uses those moments to know and trust him more. As believers Jesus is always in the boat with us, in full control as we live through the storms of life. He is our comfort and peace, what a beautiful promise for all of us.   

Isaiah 41:10 reads, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Go in peace today as you seek God in the storms of life and give thanks for his provision in the times of calm. 

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.