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.

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)

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”. 

Light in the Darkness

pinhole cameraHave you ever used a pinhole camera? The pinhole camera is one of the most basic cameras you can construct with only a few materials. This simple camera works on a basic principle of light and dark, how a small amount of light shining into a dark box through a hole made by a pin can create an image, an image of something much larger. The pinhole acts as a lens similar to that of a regular camera only on a much smaller scale.

The book of Lamentations is not an easy read. It is filled with passionate expressions of grief and sorrow. The author of Lamentations voices his deep concern and disappointment for the sinful acts committed by the people of Jerusalem. Their direct and open acts of disobedience to God’s word has unleashed the promised destruction of their city. God brings the gavel down and serves the people with his mighty hand of justice. The author records the destruction of the temple and the suffering of the people, “The enemy laid hands on all her treasures; she saw pagan nations enter her sanctuary” (the Babylonians ransacked the temple before burning it down). “In fierce anger he has cut off every horn (power) of Israel. He has withdrawn his right hand (his presence, power and protection) at the approach of the enemy. There was a darkness and feeling of torment that fell over all of those who disobeyed God.

Lamentations 3:22-24 reveals the “pinhole” that casts a light of hope into the darkness of the fervent laments of the author. In the middle of his discourse he changes his perspective by focusing on the hope that he still has in the Lord. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” Through the “pinhole of light” we have the picture of God’s everlasting promise of goodness and compassion. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail.” (3:22). This pinhole of light (salvation) comes from God. As hard as it is to read through the deserved sorrow and despair of those before us, we can learn from their actions and suffering. Today, with the same hope (because we serve the same God), we have to wait patiently through our own suffering and expectantly look forward to the salvation that we have been promised in Christ.

Faithlessness vs. Faithfulness.

ping pong

March 23, 2014 was when Peter and Daniel Ives set the world record for the longest table tennis (ping pong) rally. 8 hours, 40 minutes and 5 seconds. Consider for a moment the number of paddle hits this would be. Based on my calculations (one paddle hit per second) that would be 31,205 hits. Normally the object of the game is to score points against each other but the game changes when you work together.

Reading through the book of Jeremiah (especially chapters 2-20) you will read about the judgement of Judah and Jerusalem, judgement (justice) served by God for their unfaithfulness to Him. Through these oracles or stories of judgement we get a glimpse not only into the mighty power of God as he delivers his justice, but we see the faithfulness of God (his grace and mercy) through the covenant He made with Moses and His people. God chose Jeremiah to bring a message of both destruction and hope. Over and over God calls the people back to him in spite of their faithlessness, “Return, faithless people” (3:12,3:14, 3:22, 4:1). Jeremiah, through the power of God relentlessly tries to teach the people that their actions, their disobedience (their faithlessness – turning away from God) is not going to end well for them.

Jeremiah did not have it easy, in light of the hopelessness of where the people were heading and the resistance from the people to listen, he continued to share the word of God. He did this with the knowledge and understanding that God would always remain faithful to his promise of deliverance into the promise land. God’s justice and mercy continue for us today through the cross, through the forgiveness of sins that was made possible through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. God is faithful and just, and despite our faithlessness from time to time He always welcomes us back. We need to be “Jeremiahs” today; we are called by God to continue sharing his word with confidence in a fallen world so that when he (Christ) comes again he would find many who have put their hope and trust in Him.

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ . What is it?

question-mark

There are many things around us that we often take for granted, and in many ways don’t even recognize as an incredible blessing. For example, the clean air we breathe, a home, freedom, an abundance of food, family, advanced technology, running water, education… the list could go on. Living where I do, I have easy and unlimited access to all these things.  This is not the case for everyone around this great planet. There is one thing that each and every one of us have access to, it makes all the above things pale in comparison. It is GRACE, God’s grace to be exact.

What is it?  GRACE that is. The book of Romans gives us a great look into GRACE. Paul, a man who personally experienced the GRACE of God in his life helps us understand what GRACE is through his letter to the Romans. Let me break it down for you; “G”, GRACE is a gift that we receive through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (1:5). “R”, GRACE releases us from the law and binds us to Christ. (Romans 7). “A”, We have been given access to God’s GRACE through Christ, both now and forever as faithful and obedient believers (5:2). “C”, we have been chosen (11:5) and called (1:7) to live in the GRACE that is freely given through Christ, chosen not because of what we have done but because of the love that He has for us. “E”, everyone, Jew and Gentiles (you and I) as Paul describes are included in God’s plan of salvation, we as believers are called to obedience that comes through faith in Him.

Mercy, love, compassion, kindness, favour, goodwill. These words all in some way stand under the “umbrella” of GRACE. Do we take these things for granted? We may not realize it at times but we can become complacent in our faith, we can lose sight of the incredible gift of GRACE from God that He continually pours out into us. Our daily lives and interactions with others are filled with good days and hard days. One day we may feel loved by those around us, other days we may feel invisible or hurt. The great thing about God’s love and GRACE is that it never fails, it is the same day in and day out. There is so much goodness flowing through the GRACE of our Heavenly Father, for this we are greatly blessed.