A Journey in Time

I remember the moment with vivid clarity, it was early January 2016, I was awkwardly crammed into the back of a vibrantly decorated Jeepney with a mission’s team and several new Pilipino friends. One of our new friends was a local pastor with a propensity for telling jokes. While we were nervously weaving in and out of traffic, he shared this joke: “Who was the shortest man in the Bible?”. Not knowing the answer, he regaled us with this witty response, “Nehemiah” but with a twist… (Knee-High-Miah).  

I share this with you because every time I turn in my Bible to the book of Nehemiah this memory floods back into my mind. This past week I spent some time reading through Nehemiah’s words and one of the themes I have been considering is that of “time”. This remarkable story recounts Nehemiah’s incredible leadership and reliance on God in completing the re-construction of the wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days. Yet, there is another important segment of time that precedes the building of the wall that was critical to its success. 

Chapter 1:4 records these words, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” While it takes us less than two minutes to read these words and transition to the next events of Nehemiah’s story we must stop and understand that “For some days” was a span of time that was approximately four months long. Today, living in a culture that thrives on instant gratification, high achievement and quick solutions four months might feel like a lifetime. 

After receiving news about the trouble and disgrace of what was transpiring in Jerusalem three things occurred in the months following for Nehemiah. First, he mourned over the circumstances surrounding the lives of the people and the city that was their home. Second, he fasted and third, he prayed day and night before the God of heaven to help the people of Israel. 

Something I need to ask myself and one thing I can ask of you is this: In the light of a difficult situation or experience do I/you take the appropriate amount of time to mourn, fast and pray for God’s direction in moving forward?  While some difficult experiences in life may not require a lengthy period of time to navigate, others will. Who we are will often influence the length of time each of us needs to work through life’s challenges, the important part is how we start the journey. 

The book of Nehemiah is filled with examples of his dependance on God through prayer to accomplish the tasks that God called him to. The meaning of the name Nehemiah is “Yahweh comforts”. In times of mourning, in times of fasting, and in times of prayer, God is our comfort. He is our hope, and he is our guide in life. Paul, in Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”. My prayer is that no matter what life brings our way, easy or hard, positive or negative, that we are on the journey together with a God who loves us. 

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

The Great _ommission

An omission is defined as “the action of excluding or leaving out someone or something”. Today, I have purposely left something out in my title, did it catch your attention? I feel it is befitting of the mysterious tendency that creeps into the ordinary day-to-day pattern of life we as believers can sometimes drift into. The exclusion or omission of clear instruction in our spiritual life has an impact on our mission as followers of Jesus Christ. We all tend to drift without continuous reminders of who we are called to be and what our mission is as believers. 

Like the disciples, we have been given a clear and concise mandate as believers, it is recorded for us in Matthew chapter 28: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is the mission we chose to accept when we entered into a personal relationship with the Son of God. His words to us, his clear instructions are central to the life we are to live as his disciples.  We are called to be disciple making disciples. So, what does this look like for us today, in what context are we to “go”?

The first thing that we must consider as we walk in obedience to this command today is the promise that follows it; something that we often forget when we begin to slip into that mysterious tendency I mentioned earlier, Jesus says: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” There should be incredible encouragement found for each one of us in this promise, not just in the beginning as we are fired up and ready to go, but right through till the end. He is with us, (think about that for a minute). “Go” in this passage refers to the act of going in a particular direction. Figuratively, it refers to taking a particular course of action, and in this case has an effect on someone becoming a disciple (a follower of Christ). The Great Commission is not only meant to cross borders (all nations) but is a call for all believers to be active in their own little parts of the world. This means we are to actively influence those who are close to us, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community members by living out our faith in a way that brings about change (transformational change) in their lives. 

Have you been living in omission to the Great Commission? Has life shifted your focus to a different mission? One of the best ways to build your confidence in sharing your faith so that you can fulfill your God given mission, is to immerse yourself in His word. The Bible is full of incredible testimonies of God’s amazing mercy and grace. His word has been inspiring believers for centuries to be on task, to be ready for action and to go out into the world on mission for him. It is my prayer for you that you are a disciple making disciple. 

Strength (integrity)

A quick online search for “strongest material on earth” results in a storm of websites listing Graphene as number one. Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon 200 times stronger than steel. One engineer said that It would take an elephant balancing on a pencil to break a sheet as thin as Saran wrap. Incredible when you think about it isn’t it? 

When I think about the strongest man in the Bible my first instinct is to think of the mighty Sampson. Called and gifted by God, Sampson displayed some miraculous feats of physical strength. Yet for me, another man jumps to my mind when it comes to a different picture of strength, and that is Job. Job’s integrity as a faithful servant of God withstood some of the most painful personal hardships that one man could ever face.  

Job 1:1 (NIV): “This man (Job) was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. The whole book deals with the realities of suffering and righteousness, something many christians continue to struggle with today. Verse one of chapter one describes Job as “blameless”, not necessarily sinless. Romans 3:8 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of the Lord.” Job’s integrity and devotion to God was tested through the unfathomable loss of his family; his good health was stripped from him and every material thing he had was taken away. In the midst of all these things Job utters these words, “he tests me — I shall come out like gold” (23:10)…“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. (42:5). 

We are given a picture of Job’s integrity in heart, soul and mind as we read his story. There is no doubt in my mind that Job struggled with sin in his life, he was human just like you and me.  His story tells us that his suffering was not because of any sin that he may have committed (despite what his “friends” try to tell him). Job’s integrity came out of his fear of God, it was an attitude of respect, obedience and upmost trust that guarded his integrity of heart from failure.

Job’s life, his experiences, should not drag us down, it should build us up with hope as we continue to live in a world filled with suffering and injustice. It has the power to encourage and inspire each of us in our own lives. This life of integrity lived by one man is and has been a model for many generations of believers. 

Drawing the Line…

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Photo Credit: Garry Firth

If someone knows where to draw the line, they know at what point an activity or situation stops being reasonable and starts to be unacceptable. If you draw the line at a particular activity, you would not do it, because you disapprove of it or because it is so extreme. When we visit a tropical beach like the one pictured here we can without a doubt know where the shallow waters and the deep waters meet, you have a clear indication when you’re getting into deep waters.

The Apostle Paul draws a line for the Corinthian church near the end of his letter in 2 Corinthians. Paul uses language that is reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets who warned the people of Israel of God’s “razor sharp” justice in response to their disobedience of His laws and commands. “I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. (13:2-3) Paul speaks with authority and confidence through Christ and the work of the Spirit in his life. His genuine concern is that the church (the people) are falling into the catches of sin in their lives; there is jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder taking over the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control they are called to live in together through Christ.

The “line” in the water is the created by the contrast of light and dark. This picture or metaphor in scripture often highlights the life we live in Christ (light) and the life we live in sin (darkness). There is a transparent and reflective quality to the “light waters” of life in contrast to the mysterious and hidden “dark waters”. Paul’s concern for the church comes as he sees them heading into deeper, darker waters, and how this will lead them into the hands of a powerful and just God. Paul’s closes his letter with these final words of encouragement that bring hope, reconciliation and unity for the church, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:14) If Paul was here today, I am confident that he would have the same concerns and words for us as a church.

A Close Shave

straight-razors

When I was younger, I would go to Frank’s Barber shop to have my hair cut, there was an older gentleman there who was all about doing things “old school”. After you sat down he would pull out a long leather strap along with his unusually lengthy straight blade; with great care and a seemingly sinister look on his face, he would hone the edge so it was razor sharp. You never told him what kind of cut you wanted, and he never asked, you just sat as quiet and still as deer staring into the headlights of a car while he meticulously worked his blade around your head cutting and shaving until each and every last hair was touched.

The book of Ezekiel describes God’s judgement on Israel like that of a razor (chapter 5). Take a second to this about these words: annihilate, eradicate, obliterate, demolish and destroy. In the first thirty-three chapters the main theme or message is all about doom, the plight of the chosen people of God because of their disobedience to his law. Statements like “I will inflict punishment on you… I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again… I myself will shave you… I will not look on you with pity or spare you.” (5:8-12) The word shave used in the NIV is used to explain the idea of being cut off, removed or withdrawn. God, who is righteous and just in his actions, tells the people through Ezekiel that they will be cut off from His presence, he will withdraw from their lives just as they have withdrawn from life in him. God’s swift razor of judgment came through the finishing actions of the sharp sword, famine and plague.

In between the words of doom and destruction we are reminded of God’s promise to carry a remnant of people through the impending judgement on them. Thinking in terms of a close shave or well-defined hair in respect to the straight razor, I am reminded that the remnant of hair left on top of my head was also affected by the sharp cut of the blade; it had been cut off, damaged and left to grow again. God did not promise that the remnant, those who were scattered among the nations would not be affected by his judgement, I can only imagine what happened to them left visible and defining scars both in a physical and mental sense; a reminder that God’s promise of justice over the whole nation of His people were not just empty threats. “They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord” (6:9-10a)

The Meaning of Life

Question mark sign

With the vast amount of information now available online we have access to all kinds of “wisdom” to help us find the answer to “What is the meaning of life. “Google it” has become a verb in which many of us use today. Wikipedia has become a free “reliable” source of information that covers nearly any topic you can imagine. Just for fun I searched for “the meaning of life” on Google, the search engine returned about 274,000,000 results. It took Googles servers 0.82 seconds to come back with all those results, it’s going to take you more than a lifetime to read them all. Here is a shortcut…

The author of Ecclesiastes has really given us something to think about when it comes to understanding wisdom and life.  He, presumably Solomon, takes us on a wild and at times confusing journey of trying to find meaning and purpose in life through pleasure, work, prosperity and wisdom. “Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:2) “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (1:14) Solomon was in his time one of the wisest men in the world, “God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore.” (1 Kings 4:29) So here we have the words of a very intelligent man, one who was given a gift from God to lead and guide his people, to help them find purpose and meaning in life so that they could lead a life holy and pleasing to God. This collection of life experience and Godly wisdom written for the people of that time is transferrable to our lives today. We all live in the same world of sin and despair today. God, who is our hope in life and in death has revealed to us through his word the true meaning of life.

So, can Google or any other online search help give you and answer to what the meaning of life is? Yes, I believe it can, but it is like finding a needle in a haystack. Our online digital world is relatively new compared the writings of the bible which date back much further and much deeper into history. Understanding wisdom, finding meaning in life has been a journey many people have made before us and God inspired man to record it for us in His word. The author of Ecclesiastes comes to a point in his journey that brings him to this conclusion about life, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (12:13) Our attitude in life is one that needs to focus on trust and obedience to the word of God. Yes, life is difficult. Live and grow in the knowledge and experience found in this collection of teaching on wisdom written by Solomon, it is the needle in the haystack of 274,000,000 hits on Google, and it will only take you an hour to read it.