The Imitation Game

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Paul’s words to the Corinthian church)

When I think of men who have found themselves far astray from God but repented with strong conviction when they are exposed, some characters in scripture come to mind. Peter and David are examples of this. It is astounding how many times David chose to do something questionable or wrong. Yet each time he realizes what he has done, he turns to repent.

We should not follow David in the slaying of thousands of enemies, or in sleeping with his friend’s wife. But God calls David a man after His own heart. David’s instructive pattern in the psalms leads us to know and be with God. There are aspects of David’s life to emulate but some no man or woman should imitate.

Likewise, Peter has moments along his path we absolutely should not imitate. Do you recall the night Jesus was awaiting his crucifixion? Peter denied Jesus not once but three times. 

Peter follows this up by standing before a crowd on the day of Pentecost to deliver a sermon to the masses, sharing the gospel in each person’s language. This is the launch of the church. Thousands were added to the number of followers of Jesus that day. This is something to imitate.

Fast forward and we see Peter preaching the gospel to Gentiles following a vision from the Lord. He obeys in spite of not fully agreeing with God. He chooses to surrender his own understanding and will to walk in obedience. This is something to imitate.

Fast forward again and we see Peter has gone back on his inclusion of the Gentiles. He tells them they are welcome only if they adopt certain Jewish customs. Whether it be to please the Jewish believers or an inability to fully surrender his initial prejudice against the Gentiles, Peter returns to following portions of the law in his practice and teaching. This should not be imitated.

So, can anyone say as Paul does to the Corinthian church, imitate me? Paul includes an important word: as. We can imitate our leaders but only in the ways they are imitating Christ. Only Christ can be fully imitated. Peter was not disqualified from the kingdom or from future leadership but these examples of wrongdoing are evidence that no one can take the place of Jesus.

David was disqualified from building the temple with his own hands because of all the blood he spilled. There are repercussions for disobedience. We see from this that we cannot imitate the whole of a person’s life since all people battle sinful desires. God’s plan for David’s lineage to give birth to the Messiah, however, was not nullified. God chose for Jesus to be born into David’s line because of David’s heart to follow after Him. 

There was but one who walked the earth in the flesh and did not sin, one who’s perfection is to be imitated in full. That person is Jesus. Those who follow Jesus strive to live up to that perfection but will always fail to imitate him in full. In following Jesus we learn how to imitate him through following those who have gone before us in imitating Him. It is imperative as well to constantly realign ourselves to the teaching and model of Jesus himself. Thanks be to God for the Holy Spirit who guides us and corrects our path.

Paul in his own words rebukes the church of Corinth for their arguments over following Paul or Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3. He knows they are but men who serve God and not deities to be worshiped.

“So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” – 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

It is easy to fall into the habit of elevating a person to the place of Jesus. It is easier to imitate the fallen image of a human leader than God in flesh, especially when those we follow excuse our shortcomings. Listening to and following people who allow us to stay comfortable is not the narrow path but is the way of the world. The church since the beginning has had to fight the temptation of following man rather than imitating Christ.

As we see in the correction of the church in Corinth, becoming followers of people is not a new struggle. We have many to pick and choose from, including literary mentors. I love the writing and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and there are many ways in which I imitate him as he imitates Jesus. But he is not Jesus. There are aspects to his life that will fail to match the character and actions of God incarnate. This is not a disqualification of his place in the kingdom but rightly confirms he is not God.

At times we are tempted to ignore or explain away unrighteous behaviour in people we are imitating or learning from. In doing so we can find ourselves believing we are supposed to be a finished product, fully righteous, not in the process of being sanctified. Or, we can choose the other direction and overlook sin citing no one can be perfect, then go on to embrace everything about them.  Instead of being a little Christ we become a mini (insert name here).

Charismatic leaders often have this effect on people. An influencer, or someone with charisma, find the people around them imitating mannerisms, clothing, language and actions. These people are gifted leaders and can have a great impact, often starting mega churches or movements. While leadership is a gift that can serve the kingdom, it can also derail kingdom work when we follow a man in ungodly ways .

Jesus was unique in only doing what he saw the Father doing. Our attempts to do the same will always be imperfect. When rebellion is imitated, it is like a car in rush hour slamming on the breaks. The kingdom work is stalled like the traffic jam following that front car. It is not God who stopped. We just followed a person who stopped following God.

God not only leads perfectly but creates systems and order to maintain health. Elders should always be applying course correction to maintain the spiritual health of a body. They should acknowledge and warn people when they are following a person instead of God.This does not excuse each one of us from testing all things. Someone told me once to receive everything with faith and test it all. Doubt and skepticism should not be a part of our pursuit of Jesus, but testing is what keeps us on the straight and narrow path. Without the two we will find ourselves stuck in traffic, then taking an exit that leads us far off the narrow path.

Learning from those who have gone before us and witnessing the lives of faithful men and women helps us grow at a rapid pace. It allows us to build off the experiences of others and not just our own. We should imitate healthy followers as they imitate Christ, but only as they imitate Christ.

Well done!

There are a few places in scripture with lists of requirements for service in the kingdom of God. In each instance the balance of gift vs. character skews heavily to the side of character. The more elevated the position, the more important the character becomes. This exposes what is of import to the Lord. (Acts 6, 1 Timothy, Titus 1)

Whether it be the selection of an apostle to replace Judas or an elder in a local congregation, scripture prioritises holiness over the skill or gift of the individual. It is not that gifts do not matter. God gives gifts to individuals and to the church but many of these same gifts are held also by people in opposition to the kingdom of God. Gifts alone do not make one qualified to serve in the church.

What we celebrate is what we promote. I hear talk in many circles about creating a “culture of honour”. The fruit I see from this is the affirmation of gifts. While that isn’t inherently evil, it results in elevating individuals according to skill rather than holiness. Rather than celebrating a new area of repentance or someone’s nature becoming more like Christ, we tend to celebrate a sermon or singing skills, giving no thought to that person’s spiritual health.

I love the way God inspects what he has created and declares “it is good”. His nature is to inspect (or judge) in order to affirm, not just correct. Public affirmation should be given only for things God is affirming. If we create rules of our own and affirm people for following them, it can lead to a return to a form of the law or create a cult. This is what people like Luther and Bonhoeffer were correcting after a period of the church leaders forming their own rules.

For a person to be obedient in their pursuit of Christ, everything they do should be in service to God. All gifts have been given by God just as every breath in our lungs. As such, each breath and gift is in service to him. Our spiritual health requires understanding how we have uniquely been created to serve the Lord. Our gifts, however, are only a by-product of our discipleship, not the supreme focus.

The overemphasis on gifts sidelines the primary focus, the spiritual health of the individual, and often alienates certain gifts. The gifts a culture is comfortable with will be celebrated while the others cause shame in people. If the development of gifts becomes a by-product of discipleship, everyone serves and excels in their gift as they are called in season.

It is more difficult to focus on spiritual maturity than the presence of gifts. A test of someone’s vocals is easier than a testing of the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life. This is a more intimate and invasive process but is hopefully done out of love.

Issues can arise from public affirmation of the function of a gift. It can place a false import on the gift. Secondly, it may cause followers of Jesus to replace the affirmation of God with the affirmation of man.

Remember the reaction of the 72 (0r 70 depending on translation) upon returning to Jesus? (Luke 10:17-24) They celebrate because the demons were subject to them. Jesus responds with “celebrate that your names are written in the book of life.” It is not wrong to celebrate deliverance. What is harmful is the pride that arises from the celebration of a gift instead of gratitude in the grace of God.

Expressing gratitude for the work of God is the way we should affirm. To acknowledge the continued work of the cross in a person affirms who they are in Christ and their surrender to it. Praising the accomplishments of an individual lends itself to pride. Acknowledgement of a gift should be used in the attempt to encourage a person into greater obedience, not greater ego.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1

Public affirmation of righteous acts tends to enable direct disobedience to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:1. We often crave affirmation. We struggle to find satisfaction solely in pleasing the Lord. Thus, we seek opportunities to please people instead. Our desire to please people is often used to keep society in line. As a society we create a system of approved actions and affirm the people who accept them and cancel (or mute) those that disagree. A desire for affirmation can lead us to mirror those around us.

Dualism is created within a person when their public and private lives disagree, for example, righteousness in religious settings, and depravity in private. That is why a pursuit of holiness from within should be encouraged rather than just a set of actions to emulate.

Again, I say, public affirmation of actions or gifts is not inherently evil. But proceed with caution. It lends itself to creating a culture that elevates self rather than God and can lead us astray down the path of pride. Gifts are given by God, but we are not to celebrate the gift but appreciate the gift and honour the gift giver.

We all need the affirmation of our Creator. To hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant” is what we seek. An insecurity in this affirmation drives us to seek it from other sources. For believers, this other source is often just slightly off the mark as we look to our Christian leaders as the conduits for the Lord’s affirmation. 

We are running the race for that eventual prize. We look for confirmation we are on the right path and the affirmation of the Lord awaits us at the finish line. This promise is meant to be enough. While affirmation from each other can at times be good, it is not when it generates insecurity in the Lord’s affirmation.  

There is a big difference between joining the affirmation of the Lord and replacing it. But that difference can be blurry at times. Sometimes our created systems of “honour” may cause men and women to perform for affirmation rather than act out of obedience and compassion. The Lord is after the heart of a person not the picture of righteousness.

In many cases I have discovered public affirmation does not encourage the transformation of the heart but creates an increased hunger for people’s affirmation. Affirmation then becomes like a drug causing those who crave it to abandon the path of righteousness or get buried under a list of duties.

There is a reason why Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” Public displays of righteousness expose the insecurity in the affirmation of the Lord and ultimately point to who you serve. You are a slave of the one whose approval you need.

Do not withhold affirmation when you know the Lord is affirming someone. Be like Jesus affirming the disciples for their confession of who he is. Affirm people they are loved by Jesus as John so often does. Affirm the signs of freedom arising from a life of repentance. Ask God to reveal what he is affirming in those around you and join him in affirming it too. His affirmation is what we need just like all creation did when he inspected what he made and called it good.


Is warning necessary in evangelism and discipleship? This is a much-debated question. There has been a move away from the tactic of warning people of hell and the destructive reality of sin.

Believers love to talk about the benefits of trusting in God. We cling to the promises God gives (even if those promises were accompanied by a warning) but we often ignore sections of scripture where God warns of disaster awaiting those who refuse to turn to him. God is consistent with these warnings. 

In the Old Testament God frequently warned his people through the prophets and has continued to do so .Warning is likely given even more consistently these days with the gifts of the Holy Spirit available to all. Warning when heeded protects us from impending judgement and plants us securely on the path of grace.

27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. – Colossians 1:27-29

The formula Paul uses for bringing people to maturity with Christ is: 

Warning + teaching = maturity

As with any formula, removing a portion from one side changes the result on the other. As a culture we have much teaching available to us. The content available through the internet is astounding. Some may argue the depth isn’t there, but if you really look, you can find depth of teaching from a good source online. This can be very beneficial for self-education or the autodidact. 

I have noticed although more teaching is available to us, the warning is absent. Scripture, however, is clear about the consequences of not following God’s ways and includes actions of obedience. Studying scripture is how we learn to live in Christ the way we are intended to live. (2 Timothy 3:16) When that way is not followed, the ways of the world (which always lead to death) are embraced.

When we walk in obedience we live in step with the living God and are like gardens tended by the Holy Spirit, bearing fruit. When we walk in disobedience, we walk in a wasteland destined for death. Results like broken relationships and addiction await those who walk not in the path of the Lord.

We need to be warned of what awaits us if we stray from God’s path. Warning prepares the hearer in such a way that the teaching takes root for the maturing of a believer. It perks up the listener and allows them to see the perils for what they are.

For much of my life when teaching large groups or walking alongside a brother in Christ, I would often see the warning clearly but instead of sharing it only focused on what will happen if the teaching is followed. I thought the role of the prophetic voice was to push people towards the positive direction. Recently, after reading Colossians 1, I was freed from a burden of filtering out the warning. I realized the warning was not fatalism but acknowledging the only destination apart from Christ’s intervention.

In the Old Testament story of Jonah, Jonah is sent to warn Nineveh of coming judgement. The people of Nineveh never received any option of  hope and repented anyways. The warning was what saved them when they were on the brink of destruction. How can we know the urgency if we don’t know our current state? We are all ignorant to our reality in at least some small way. Wouldn’t we change that reality if we knew better?

Warning makes an issue real. It is no longer a hypothetical or academic review of a subject, but an urgent matter requiring a response if the teaching isn’t currently being followed. The warning produces the fear of the Lord.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – Proverbs  9:10

The fear of the Lord is what leads us to submission. It is what causes us to surrender in full. It is where wisdom begins and our rebellion ends.

Could you imagine if we refused to warn people about things in the natural world in this way? Imagine if we had no road signs in a place warning people of a collapsed bridge or of moose crossings. Imagine if there was a deadly disease going around and it was considered taboo to tell others about it in any way. Imagine if our planes and cars had no way of warning us of malfunctions. After considering those scenarios, is it an act of hate to warn someone?

It is almost humorous how seriously we take warning in our society for things that can cause physical harm. If we aren’t warned of peanuts in packaging, or potential side effects from a medical drug we sue the manufacturer. Where I live we even have signs telling us not to go on the wet rocks so a wave won’t wash us out to sea. But if we are warned of spiritual danger, we often lash out and get angry. Since the spiritual has eternal impact, one would think we would embrace those warnings with open arms.

Warning someone that breaking a law will result in jail time is not judgement but a hope to save someone from judgement. Are we not to do the same thing? We know the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). If we see someone sinning, is it not best to warn them of the death that awaits? Is it not best when teaching to highlight the path of life and what happens when you refuse it?

We give Jonah a hard time for anticipating the destruction of Nineveh. But destruction was what was in store for the people if they didn’t repent. It was the heart of Jonah that was out of line and not his logic. His warning was true and it led the Ninevites to repentance. Jonah should have desired the outcome of life over death, but the option of death was the path they were on and he rightly highlighted that.

We need to understand why God warns people. It is the same reason he came and sacrificed himself for us. It is to save us from death. We need to see warning the way he does. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. Jesus who taught us the way to life was preceded by the warning of John in his message of repentance.

Without warning, why would we ever worry about consequences? If we are ignorant of where our path is headed, how would we know we need to repent? Rather than treating a warning with hostility, we should see it as a life line pulling us back to safety. We should welcome any effort to lead us back to the fear of the Lord and life abundant with Christ.

Instead of receiving a spiritual warning and accusing the speaker of passing judgement, we should acknowledge it as an attempt to save us from judgement. The warning is the message that judgement awaits and now is the time to access the cross to make us clean. Warning is not judgement but an attempt to save us from it. Just like telling someone to stop before they walk off a cliff or step on a landmine, a warning to turn away from sin saves a life from a death that is more permanent than this mortal shell.

The God You Want vs The God Who Is

There are many times in our lives we are confronted with who God is in a way that challenges our current belief. It is beyond our capacity to fully comprehend his eternal nature, thus we make conclusions based on limited understanding. This is nothing new, but has been the ongoing struggle of humans since the beginning. We see as a model the New Testament letters written shortly after the launch of a church, correcting faulty teaching and practices.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.1 Timothy 4:3-5

The God who is will not always be the God we want. We have a tendency as humans to pursue the things that feed our passion. In some cases this is a good thing, but in others our hearts are not pure. This makes following what we want to be true, nothing but a lie. Our hearts are often deceitful and are subject to ongoing corruption by the world.

Often when we see God do or say something we like, we take that action or phrase and make an interpretation based on our own desires and perceptions. The truth is God never breaks character. Each word and action are always true to his nature and thus must be interpreted not through our desires but through the whole of scripture. An experience of God today, in the gospels or in the Old Testament is the same God with the same nature. Jesus is the one who spoke creation into being and was worshipped by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God is real. He is alive. He is not created from our suppositions. Our defining him as we wish does not make him so. He exists outside of our definition of who he is. He is the Alpha (beginning) and Omega(end). There is no end to his existence and no impact from his creations can change who he is. 

The Triune God spoken of in John 1 as before anything else is the same that exists in Genesis in creation. It is the same God who also cast Adam and Eve out of the garden and brought a flood to cover the earth that wiped out most of creation. He is the same God who made a covenant with Abraham and chose his offspring as the first witnesses to his plan of redemption. He is the same God who took on the form of man for our sake, and by his mercy took the punishment for those who turn to him in repentance. He is the same God who is preparing an eternal place for the elect and will return to bring an end to this age and judge the living and the dead. He has not changed from the beginning and will not in the end. His plan was known to him since before creation and we cannot disregard elements of who he is or what he has done. He is the same God from beginning to end and is true to his word.

The God we worship is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God made clear through his taking on flesh and through his death and resurrection. He is further clarified through the sending of the Holy Spirit who leads us into true understanding of all God is.

In Acts 3 Peter explains to the crowd in Solomon’s Portico the power experienced isn’t in themselves or a new God. It is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the God of their ancestors) who they put to death in ignorance before being raised back to life. This is not a new God or a new nature but the same God who existed before creation, now revealed clearly in the flesh.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:14-17

To know God better, we are never to adjust teachings endured since the beginning. There are certain things that are to be unshakable in our beliefs. We are not to tear up the foundations laid in the apostles’ teaching but rather allow the Holy Spirit to expose what is false through scripture in community. We are not to hold experience over scripture or isolate teachings that support our passion. Instead, we are to tear down any false view of God we have so that the truth can be built upon a solid foundation.

God’s hatred of sin is an area of contention for many. We have seen since the garden the reaction God has towards sin. God loathes it and punishes accordingly. We saw it with Adam and Eve, in Noah’s age with the flood and we see it in the requirement of the cross. In James 4 we see friendship with the world makes us enemies of God. 

In Acts 21, Paul travels to Jerusalem and is greeted by the new Jewish believers along with a riot of people looking to kill him because of his welcoming of the Gentiles and doing away with many customs. Instead of examining their views, the Jewish believers were so unwilling to abandon some false teaching they turned to anger and violence. This is not abnormal in the history of the church.

Wars have been fought between Christians over false beliefs. My own Anabaptist history has much persecution for beliefs. The early Anabaptists faced drowning for views of scripture (like full-immersion baptism) seen as heresy by Catholics and Lutherans alike. As the Anabaptists read the bible in their own language they discovered false practices and teaching and looked to correct them for which some were met with death.

Interestingly, for the Anabaptists it was an era of returning to early traditions and understanding the way of Jesus, but the false beliefs of the age (inside and out of the church) were so embedded in believers this movement was met with hostility and pride. We should be very careful when approaching the teaching and wisdom of the present age, always holding it up to our plumbline (the word of God).

No one wants to be caught on the side of false teaching like those who wanted to kill Paul or the other faithful throughout history. The solution seems to be to allow the truth of scripture to convict and correct our understanding. We should not shift like the winds with every teaching but stand firm on the word of God. When the word of God is not comfortable or what God does is not compatible with our understanding, we must confess we are wrong about who God is and what he commands us to do.

I would not want to be like the Jews who didn’t recognize their own God and cried out for his death. To avoid this we must embrace truth even though it requires suffering or difficulty. The radical teaching of Jesus will forever be radical. His words are accompanied by a promise of suffering. The world at large will never accept him, and a choice to be friends with this world is a choice to be an enemy of God (James 4:4). On which side will you fall?

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6

Humility is required to embrace correction. Pride will lead us down the path of heresy and keep us there. Pride doesn’t just hinder us in the presence of others, but also alone in the presence of God. Pride impedes us admitting error and wrongdoing which keeps us from the grace of God. As we approach all teaching we must have a desire to have exposed what is wrong both in our current view and in what is newly introduced.

So humble yourself before God. Ask him to expose where you have worshipped a false God. Spend time in the word with others asking God to build up a right view of who he is and what he has called you to. When Jesus makes a command, follow it. When you need the correction of a letter in the New Testament, take it. And when the God of Abraham (Old Testament) makes no sense to you, seek to know him as the one true God.

Grace is inaccessible if we remain proud. There is no grace for willful ignorance to the truth or disobedience to his commands. God’s grace leads us through correction to holiness. If that is not the direction we are headed, we will not know his grace. Through humility, however, his grace will forever bring us from glory to glory until we reach our eternal home with Christ.

Hide not from the truth of who God is. We must not create for ourselves false gods reflecting what we desire. That is not God.  There is only one God who is, was and always will be. He is the I AM and no created thing can alter the Uncreated One.

What is there to Forgive?

When contrasting arguments are laid out it is easier to distinguish the path and outcome. When it comes to a life filled with emotions and complications, it is not always so easy. The last blog started on the adventure of trying to increase vigilance to remain on the path that leads to life.

This series of blogs is not presenting a way of living that earns salvation, but displays the path of Jesus. Jesus is the way the truth and the life, the only way to the Father and life eternal is through him. This implies the path of life placed before us through Jesus is narrow. It is walking as he does and abandoning the path of death that we walked before knowing him.

The paths before us lead us either back to death or continue us along the path of life with Christ.

The paths of forgiveness and unforgiveness like that of humility and pride split into the same two paths. Forgiveness, like humility, can be found on the way to life and unforgiveness, well you can probably figure out where that leads.

Jesus highlighted this contrast in his teaching with a parable. He went as far as to say that our own forgiveness is tied to the forgiveness we show to others. There is no wiggle room on this theme; it is life or death that lies in front of us.

Jesus then models what to do in one of his last acts on the cross with the words “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Matthew 18:21-22

Forgiveness does not keep memory of hurt. It lays no foundation on which to build future wounds or slights. In so many instances division or separation comes as a result of a build up of events. Anger at a first time offence is very rare. Usually it is triggered by memories of past wounds that are still raw, or lightly scabbed. When Jesus responds to the man saying to forgive 70 x 7 he is not telling him to start keeping a notebook with tallies of how many times he has forgiven people. Without getting into the numerical significance, although I encourage you to explore that yourself, Jesus is essentially saying to forgive infinitude.

You may have heard it said “time heals all wounds”. Whoever told you that was misinformed. Just take a look at the conflicts in the Middle East, or maybe even the current status of the American people. Time just lets wounds fester unless treated. Like a physical wound, it gets worse and infection sets in if untreated.

It is not time that heals emotional wounds, but God through forgiveness. Healing comes not from just speaking words of forgiveness but acknowledging the pain and handing it over to God. Removing the pain and letting go of any desired vengeance makes room for healing. The memory is not removed but the wound then is. In place of pain comes joy. If that person or situation is brought up in the future there is nothing to trigger, no wound to poke.

Suppression is not forgiveness. Ignoring that something happened does not take away any of the pain, but temporarily numbs us until the pain becomes unbearable down the road. Suppression is used because of the promise of time dealing with the wound on its own.

Like any infection, unforgiveness spreads. It can lead to anger, and a quickness to take offense. What could have easily been overlooked in the past becomes a new wound. Unforgiveness can lead to gossip which takes the place of productive speech and it invites others on that path to death.

Forgiveness can be an active practice through inviting God to reveal any harboured unforgiveness to deal with. A person committed to walking in forgiveness doesn’t wait for disaster, but acknowledges even a small hurt or sin done against them and quickly forgives and delivers unto the cross the wound to be nailed there with Jesus. The practice should in the end never desire another person to be set on the road to death but saved onto the path of life. Forgiveness is the practice that turns hurt into praying for those who persecute you. There is no promise of a future free of pain, just the promise of a past free of it.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant[c] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Matthew 18:23-35

The choice of forgiveness is not an easy one. There is something inside of us that acknowledges the wrong done and recognizes the need for justice. To make matters worse, if our own health or wellbeing was attacked in the process, we may feel violated. Sometimes we feel as though withholding forgiveness is the only way to hold out for justice.

Can you imagine if God felt this way about our sin towards him? What if he responded to our sin against him in that same way? The justice of God is mercy triumphing over judgement. On the cross Jesus took upon himself judgement that we may receive his mercy. All repented sin is greeted by the mercy of God as our sin is nailed with Jesus to the cross. That which is left unrepented will meet the judgement of God. What is fascinating is Jesus tells us mercy is unavailable to those who harbour unforgiveness in Matthew 18. The parable of the servants is used to demonstrate the seriousness with which God treats unforgiveness. Our being forgiven is placed in our hands as we choose to or not to forgive others.

When it is presented this way, how could we question the significance of unforgiveness? To receive the deserved punishment instead of the forgiveness offered to us because of our own inability to forgive is a price I am unwilling to pay. It is too steep!

As we saw in the last blog, the path of life takes vigilance. On it we find the fruit of the spirit but it takes discipline to stay on it. There are influences both external and internal that try to pull us away and off the path. Regarding forgiveness, we must be quick to forgive but also be sure to expose our hearts before God to find if there is any remaining unforgiveness.

The Lord knows the capacity and timing needed. Steps on the path must be taken in order. The grace of God pulls us along revealing the next obedience. I have found after asking the question “Is there any person I have not forgiven?” the Lord doesn’t withhold but protects me until I am ready to face a past situation. I remember a moment when God dealt with my inability to receive love from others and a floodgate of memories came in accompanied by an awareness of unforgiveness. This was after years of asking this question of God regularly.

When unforgiveness is held it is like a weight pressed upon us. We can ignore the pain by suppressing the memory or hold resentment but as soon as another situation touches the previous wound it adds another weight on top of the old one. Over time that weight grows to a point of unbearable pain. That last event could be very small but because of the built up weight it causes us to lash out and end relationships. If we go our whole lives without practicing forgiveness many old wounds with stacks of weight on them will be triggered. We become fragile from a life of unforgiveness. The Holy Spirit can lead us through memories of situations and people we harbour unforgiveness against. Through forgiveness and giving God the pain, those weights are removed leaving us free to embrace any future situations fresh.

This is why forgiving 70×7 times is possible. The pain is not felt all at once as the past wounds have no bearance on the future. Imagine how many relationships could be saved if there was no build up of unforgiveness and the past wounds had no impact on the present reality!

When we forgive someone, it doesn’t snap them right back into a category of trust. When there is no repentance on the side of the other person, it gives us awareness of where they stand with God. We may very well have to practice turning the other cheek, but it is not out of blindness but obedience that reconciliation happens (if beneficial). The presence of unrepentant sin will continue to separate us after we have forgiven the other person. Our forgiveness does not cancel their need to repent, and as always sin separates us from God and others.

I was reminded by a friend this week that pursuing reconciliation between brothers and sisters in Christ is the call. At times the vulnerability of that pursuit is difficult for me. Taking another punch and forgiving again without sharing how it impacts me is easier for me than sharing the impact with the one who wounded me. I often need the reminder that God actually desires I be loved by those he has chosen to walk with me. Without pursuing reconciliation, that option is not on the table.

There was a moment in my life when I had a word from the Lord to not trust another leader. I ignored this word giving him the opportunity to create difficulties, division, and sin in the lives of the people I led. God was so gracious in healing those wounds, but it didn’t have to go as it did. There are people that are compromised by sin and lies. These people cannot be trusted. It does not mean we have grounds to withhold forgiveness, but it does mean we should withhold trust and partnership.

Forgiveness is a command and not a choice on our behalf. The decisions which follow are not always as clear. How we manage the relationship after forgiveness requires discernment, obedience and an understanding of whether the heart of the person is repentant. I am sure a future blog is in order to focus on how to navigate those relationships, but for now we need to see the clear choice of paths.

There is no option on the path to life but forgiveness. Unforgiveness will always take us on a hard turn off the narrow path and bring about disaster in our lives. As all sin does, unforgiveness takes root in the heart and spreads to corrupt everything within us.

A Choice of Two Paths

I often reflect on the dynamic contrasts presented in scripture. We can sometimes miss this when we read scripture in small chunks. As we read larger sections, we see the drastic contrast between the path of Jesus and the path of sin.

Scripture presents many forks in the road. One path leads to life and the other leads to death. Some see a third alternative made up of a balance of the two, but in many cases this is impossible. A person cannot allow part of himself to follow the path to death and another part to life. We were not created fragmented like this.

This is why writers like Paul list practices that send someone down the path to death next to a list of actions on the path of life (Ephesians 4:17-5:21). Life and death do not share a path. They cannot. As we come to know the way of Jesus, the path comes into greater focus. We learn to stay on it as the distinctions are clarified. There are not individual paths for each contrasting characteristic or choice. It is one path we walk on that leads to life or death.

In my scripture reading recently the postures of pride and humility have become as distinct as east from west. The way of humility is on the path to life while pride leads to death. It becomes so clear as we see the path chosen by Lucifer contrasted against the path of Jesus. Is there a clearer life and death analogy than the chosen path of God and Satan?

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5‭-‬8

In Philippians 2 the story of Jesus coming to Earth is told through the lens of God giving up his place of divinity to be born without status and to go on to die a shameful death. The humility shown is astounding. God clung not to position, power or wealth, but gave it up although he deserves all honour and praise. In the end Jesus is elevated and will be praised on the lips of all created beings.

In Ezekiel 28 the fall of Lucifer tells the opposite story:

Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.
Ezekiel 28:17

Lucifer reached for the status of God. His own beauty and wisdom led him to elevate himself. That led to his exile from heaven, cast out of the presence of God to endure eternal death or existence apart from God and his goodness. There is not a lot told to us of the battle in heaven and eventual exile of Satan and his followers. What we do know is equality with God was not his place and he reached for it.

In both of these contrasted narratives there is an exodus from heaven. One is chosen and the other forced. For Lucifer it is exile from heaven, he is thrown to the earth. For Jesus it is voluntary with a planned elevation back to eternity in Heaven.

Although our starting place was not heaven we are faced with the same choice and the same ending. The way of Jesus presents us with service to all in humility. We are never to look to our own elevation here in the eyes of the world (or even other believers) but for the sake of others, just as Jesus gained nothing for himself in descending to earth. He being God was already the highest authority but gave it up.

Pride is to think of oneself much. Humility is to think of oneself little. The result then of humility is to think of the interests of others. Our own way and legacy ceases to be priority. Pride is not just when we reach for equality with God, but when we look to our own elevation. It is when we act entitled, our thoughts thinking of what we deserve and where we should be. This does not mean positions of power or leadership are evil. A role of power still has the path of humility available. Does Jesus not model this perfectly?

While on earth, Jesus welcomed those who had nothing to give him instead of embracing people in power. He invited the children, the sick, the poor and despots to him and gave them life. Though power he had, he used it not for himself even though being God he is deserving of all honour, power, and glory. Humility is the path of service fueled by love of others.

The heart is where the divide really happens. A person could have actions of service while they are only doing it to be seen by others. They might post to social media of all of the good they are doing. This reveals the prideful heart. Rather than doing it in quiet for the sake of others, they need to be seen. They are thinking of themselves. A humble heart will perform the same actions in secret looking to the interest of the one they serve.

Humility doesn’t desire recognition or reward. It is important to search out our hearts posture. As we see through scripture, one path leads to death and the other to life. Stay far away from pride. Humble yourself before God and repent if you see the orientation of your heart towards your own elevation. It is not too late to get onto the path of life. His grace sustains us on the path in our ignorance, but when conviction comes, the choice must be made.

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.
1 Peter 5:5‭-‬6

This topic which seems so clear is at times so difficult to see our error. So with this I close; be vigilant in humbling yourself before God, prudent in guarding your heart, for the path is narrow and many voices will attempt to lead you astray.

Somebody Save Me

Do you feel at times you need saving? We often see individuals and groups in the media crying out, “We need to be saved!”.

I have found both in scripture and in life that looking to a saviour apart from Christ leaves me empty. Trusting in a man, a group or a philosophy ultimately leaves me hollow. This is the opposite of what I have found in Christ. There is no let down in him at any point in time.

What is it we let rob our peace? Do the happenings of our day cause us to call out for salvation to anyone who will listen? Or do we trust in the goodness of the Saviour we already have? Don’t get me wrong, receiving charity from a person or relying on others can be a very good thing, but not at the expense of our peace. This is not to say we should go through life numb and without anything rocking us. That would in fact remove us from the one above as well.

This is why Paul so adamantly shut down the comparisons and praise of the people. People wanted to make Paul their saviour. They mistook him as a God (Acts 14) and compared him to Apollos (1Corinthians 3) as the saviour to turn to. It took a concerted effort for Paul to fend off these attempts. This is still an issue today that religious leaders are looked to for saving rather than Christ himself.

So how do we navigate receiving, and expecting things from people without rejecting God in the process? Treating God as Saviour and Lord are both required. Surrender is how we know him as Saviour, not to be saved as we would desire, but how he chooses to do it. The story of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, sending 10 plagues (Exodus 7-12) and then delivering the Israelites, is not how any of us would choose to be saved. But it was the way of God, and in the end, all of Israel (and Egypt) were in awe of God. Israel to this day knows God as the one who saved them from Egypt.

This is the essence of the first commandment — having no other Gods beside the Lord. Looking to a man or institution as an answer to a problem is fine, but not for salvation. What is the distinction?

Will we be saved by a vaccine or by a political party that restores our freedom? Are we waiting for these things? Are we like the Hebrew people who didn’t know their God and wanted Pharaoh to deliver them from the oppression he had placed upon them? Where did that get them? It was in finally turning to God as Saviour as they followed his instruction on the day of Passover, that they were saved from death.

Every time I hear or see a follower of Jesus use the term “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) I picture the Israelites crying out to God to give them a king. It is a statement of rejection of God and desire to trust in a man for their salvation. I am not making a political statement but an assessment of who we trust with saving us. The statement MAGA implies there is both a man and nation who can bring salvation. A vote for a person should not be a welcoming of a saviour.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
1 Samuel 8:4-9

In the final days of Judges leading Israel, there came a cry from the people for a king. They desired a man as saviour and king instead of God. This was a rejection of God and not just an addition of another. They already had a system with leaders enacting the words of God, but they wanted to be like the rest of the world who didn’t know the God who brought them out of Egypt.

Looking elsewhere for a saviour reveals a rejection of Jesus. Just like Israel asking for a king, it comes down to us not understanding who Jesus is. Our seeking a saviour elsewhere is heartbreaking to God. It means we don’t really know Jesus. How could we search elsewhere if we did?

I think most Christians, if they were to give a quick gut response, would claim Jesus as Saviour. But if they were to take the proper time for introspection, they would realize they look elsewhere. I think there is often a divide between the songs we sing on Sunday and who we cry out to during the week.

The narrative of this world will always be that we need saving. It is what their hearts are screaming. It is the reality they live in. If they are self aware, it will be their reaction to their life situation because they do need a saviour. Since the fall, creation itself speaks to a need for a saviour. The heart of man is scrambling, searching for something or someone to cling to for salvation. We should not be surprised when politicians or social movements use this to build themselves up as a saviour. Have you noticed a political debate often turns into “if you vote for my opponent you are asking for destruction but if you vote for me you are asking for life”?

Are you seduced by this talk? Support for a person or recognition of the benefit they bring is not a bad thing. We should care about the place we live, but desperation for what one man could bring, or fear of what one man could provide reveals you are still looking for a saviour.

Does this mean we don’t take aid from others? No not at all! We receive it with thanksgiving of the person/people/organization, but also God. For we know that every good and perfect thing comes from above. Our provision is ultimately from him. So we are thankful for the vessel of blessing and the one who provides the blessing. The answer is not to become numb or go through life carefree. The answer is to put our faith in the Saviour who is always worthy of our trust, the one who is always faithful and merciful.

The narrative of the church should always be “we have found our Saviour and his name is Jesus”. The church has no need for another saviour, but only that which he provides. You will notice in Paul’s writing to the Ephesian church he makes a point in showing that God has gifted the church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. They are not saviours but people provided by God to serve necessary functions. In turn, the Great Commission sends us out to make new disciples of Jesus. It is he who is saving them.

I leave you with a hymn that reflects my heart’s response to this topic.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” Lord, unto me!
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness, ” Lord, unto me!
William Marion Runyan

Is God For You?

I have heard the statement “God is for you” so many times recently. These words bring much hope to the listener especially in times of difficulty, but I can’t help but wonder if these words are true.

This saying is derived from Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Yes, this is the verse you often see tattooed on arms, or written in profiles on Instagram. This verse has become the mantra for many. But is this verse understood correctly and can it be attributed to everyone?

Let’s press pause on that question to explore whether we can take promises given to a specific person in scripture and receive them for ourselves. Often when I see a promise in scripture I put it through a simple test. I ask, “Could this verse as I understand it apply to Stephen (martyr), Paul (often beaten, shipwrecked and imprisoned because of obedience to God) or Job? If it can’t, then the promise isn’t plug and play in the way I understand it.

It is really hard to know what promises are true for us if we don’t know the full story of God. We end up with an a la carte God. It is not the “I AM” but our own fabrication. We can’t know how he deals with us, or what he has planned for us if we don’t know Him.

Let’s take for example the promise God gives to Abraham. “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 17:4). Can we take this promise and claim it for everyone? I think not. Think of the population growth.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:5

The book of Jeremiah itself begins in chapter 1 with God speaking to the unique call to Jeremiah. In fact the whole book contains moments of God speaking directly to Jeremiah dealing solely with the life of Jeremiah and his call. In other parts God delivers messages directly to the nation of Israel. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of those. Spoken to a specific people, plan and timeline.

Jeremiah 29 begins with this explanation: “These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” The entire chapter, including verse 11, is addressed to these recipients.

So back to that question, is God for you? Absolutely he is for you. The Gospel screams he is for you. He took the punishment you deserve upon himself while you were still a sinner so that you may know life. If that doesn’t mean he is for you, I don’t know what else he can do.

But is he for everything you do?

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Jeremiah 17:9-10

God is not for our plans. He is not completely for our thoughts and desires. Many of our desires are harmful for us and he is not ok with plans that lead to death. Often when we hear “He is for you” we receive it as he will bless me absolutely, or in whatever I want to do.

Paul in writing to the church in Ephesus makes a point of reminding the believers God has prepared tasks for us to walk into. He tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) That means it is Christ who commands my steps, who prepares a way for me. We can know these plans are good, but they often differ from our own plans, and at times are not our interpretation of what is good.

Our understanding of God being for us and prospering us is usually applied to how we want to prosper and not viewed through the lens of what God knows is best for us. We hear he is for us and the path of “drinking from the cup of suffering” (Mark 10:38) or “picking up our cross” (Matthew 16:24-26)doesn’t fit that narrative. We may think we will prosper despite acting in rebellion to God. God does not enable us in our sin, but allows us to feel the refining fire that we may repent and turn back to him.

The place to start understanding a God who is for us begins with surrendering our assumptions of what that means. It begins with studying the stories of how he walked with the faithful before us. We need to read the entirety of scripture, not just select stories we like.

Walking in the Lord’s favor means walking in right standing with God. It means walking in repentance and laying down our own lives in obedience to Jesus our Lord. Remember it is not about us. We are living for Jesus. Jesus is not a butler waiting to act at our will and prosper our lives. We are in fact the servants tasked with advancing the kingdom of God through the works he has prepared for us.

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
John 15:20

The same God who told Israel of his plans not to harm them, promised us we would be persecuted. Jesus over and over promises his followers will be persecuted as he was. This does not contradict any other promise he gives us. Our view of God being for us must be defined through this lens. It must be consistent with what Jesus calls us to. It must be understood through how he has walked with his people and not as we desire it to read.

Joshua (in Joshua 5) confronts the commander of the Lord’s army asking whose side he is on. The commander replies he is on the Lord’s side. Life is not about us. It is not our glory we are to seek but God’s. It is not our plans he blesses but his plans we follow. Like Joshua we must decide who we are living for, ourselves or God.

The question we should ultimately be asking is not Is God for me? but am I for Him?

Peace I Leave With You

Do you know what you were made for? The answer to this question is one which many men and women search their whole lives to find. This question comes from a place of unrest. The conflict within a person causes them to seek meaning, often from many different sources.

Finding your purpose through relationships, activities, work and even helping others will not lead you to the peace you seek. For a while one may be satisfied feeling the high in the newness of something, but they will find themselves again searching for meaning. Most people have numerous crisis points as they discover themselves or assess their lives, often in their teens, midlife or even retirement.

A life of crisis was never in our design. It is a result of having no peace, or Shalom. Shalom is wholeness. It is the state of something being aligned, harmonious, unbroken. It is the way we were created and what our souls long for. Without this peace, we will forever have chaos within and create chaos around us.

We translate the word Shalom (Hebrew) and Eirene (Greek) to peace, but there is such depth to the word shalom that can be missed in translation. The word peace in English has a fairly narrow focus. When first created or translated from Anglo-French in the twelfth century, the word peace was used to mean a freedom from civil disorder and spoke to a unified nation. It evolved to include “friendly relations between people” over the next hundred or so years. In all these cases it spoke to a relationship between separate entities.

The Greek or Hebrew word has more depth to it. It speaks to something being as it was made to be, whole, in order, prosperous. As believers, we know sin has impacted every created thing and thus peace is only made possible through Christ. Nothing, not even creation itself was untainted by the fall. So nothing can be at peace without the blood of Christ.

Peace is accomplished from the finished work of the cross. The restorative work of the cross brings us to a place of peace. That is why the peace of Jesus is complete whereas it fails from any other source.

Peace is the result of living as we were created to. We were created to live for Jesus. In all we do, we are to do it with our eyes fixed on Jesus. We do all things with and for Christ. Peace only exists when that focus is unbroken, when each action is “what we see the Father doing”.

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:16-20

One could say the Gospel summed up in one word is peace. The message we bring to the world is that of peace. Our message is that through repentance there awaits restoration in Jesus to the way you were made. You can find peace through calling Jesus Lord. By placing your hope and trust only in Jesus, you can find rightness with God and be made fully whole.

True Shalom is not primarily about circumstances although that is included. It is about an alignment of creation with its natural state. Shalom was created by and for Jesus. Since the fall of man, the concept of peace has always been accompanied by hope, hope in the one that would restore what was corrupted.

Jesus does not just bring peace in circumstances, but rather a holistic peace that remains beyond the experience. He in fact is our peace. We were created by and for him so our wholeness is dependent upon him being our focus. That is true for all. The inner chaos of a life not centered on Jesus will soon bubble over to the outside. Likewise, the peace Jesus gives will in turn bubble over to the world around.

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:26-27

This hope for peace was realized in the person of Jesus who in turn sent the Holy Spirit to bring us a peace within that cannot be touched by the outside world. Jesus was and is the answer for a world without peace. He is the one that can restore us to the way we were made for he is the word that spoke us into being. The word that became flesh to dwell among us is the one that spoke creation into being. (John 1) The Holy Spirit in turn reveals Jesus and makes known his instruction to us producing the fruit of peace in our continued obedience.

If we try and pursue peace apart from aligning under the Lordship of Christ, it is not peace we pursue. Pursuing an end to a conflict, for example, is not the same as pursuing the biblical concept of peace. We must also understand the world’s pursuit of peace without Jesus is a fool’s errand. There can be ceasefires for a time and an end to specific external conflict but the chaos can only be stilled through the blood of Christ.

We have used the word peace in such a narrow capacity that we haven’t allowed the true fruit to ripen. This word with such depth of meaning, which for so long has been used as a blessing in coming and going, has lost its meaning.

We as believers can and should seek an end to world conflicts, but always alongside the message of the peace of Christ. We must acknowledge that our pursuits apart from Christ are pure vanity. We could stop wars and rescue millions of slaves but without Jesus they will eternally be without peace. This doesn’t mean we stop doing the work of the kingdom, but we must know there is no peace apart from the blood of Christ and repentance of sin.

We were made by Jesus and for him. He didn’t stop there, however. Knowing our peace would be lost to sin, he took the form of his creation and through his blood spilled on the cross welcomed us back to peace and a state of living for him. Therefore, let us stop searching for peace apart from Christ and discover it is only through the Lordship of Christ that peace is found.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Isaiah 52:7

Finding Treasure

Did you know the treasure I have found in Jesus is worth everything to me? The sacrifice Jesus paid is worth life itself. To be made right before God and brought into relationship with the living God, let alone the inheritance I will receive, is worth everything. What Jesus has done is good news, and remains good news even when we find out  the cost is to give our lives as a living sacrifice. To live in full obedience to a good God demands we lose our lives so we might receive life eternal.

For the past few months, I haven’t been able to move away from contemplating the cost of following Jesus. It is important to know what we are gaining in following Jesus but also the cost. It costs our lives to follow him but in this we are not paying for all Jesus has done. There is nothing we could give that can pay the cost of salvation.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Matthew 13:44

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:45-46

In both of the parables about discovering the kingdom of God, the cost to acquire it is everything they had. They found the treasure and got rid of everything to obtain it. It was of that great value and importance to them.

I think when we read these stories we get caught up solely on the great value and miss the part where everything else in their life is now gone. It has been taken away but they leave rejoicing because of what they have found.

It reminds me of the story of the rich young ruler who approaches Jesus with a desire to follow him (Matthew 19:16-22). He faces the cost of having to sell his possessions and give everything he has to the poor. This was a high cost and we are left wondering, why did this guy have such a high cost of entry into the kingdom of God? 

The conclusion I have come to is this is what Jesus requires of us all. He does not always require us to give all of our physical possessions and wealth away, but the things of this world are no longer to have a hold of us. To enter the Kingdom of God we must surrender the entirety of our lives to him. Jesus just pointed to that big idol and said you need to give that up to follow me.

He does the same thing with each one of us. I know this isn’t a popular topic. But Jesus doesn’t just add to your life, he tells us to remove things we pursue and find comfort in apart from him. It blows a hole in how we often view the blessing of God. Please never forget that what we inherit in this is far greater than anything we give up. What we give up is good for us, but it is a cost when it is demanded we hand it over.It is a cost because we are blinded by the trappings of this world. Our eyes are fixed on the here and now, and it is hard for us to see what God can give beyond the physical things in front of us.

I am reminded as I write this of Jesus’ response to James and John (or more specifically their mother in Mark 10:35-45) following their request for seats of power beside Jesus. His response is not of granting this request but of asking if they are prepared to drink from the same cup of suffering he is to endure.

There is a constant warning of persecution that Jesus gives his followers. These are not just empty words but a promise of what is to come for those who follow him. There is no expiry date on this. There will always be people who hate Jesus and take it out on those who follow him. 

I think it is time we start acknowledging that words like blessing have to be understood not through a lens of the world but through that of God (particularly found in scripture). We should maybe start looking at the heroes of the faith who were persecuted and without worldly wealth as living a blessed life.

I am not making an argument to search out persecution intentionally. I am trying to set up a life that holds everything of this world with a loose grip, willing to let it go as directed by God, even if it is painful trusting in a good God who sees the need for us to be rid of certain things, or enter into certain situations.

There is an inherent cost to following Jesus. It is renouncing all other masters, for with Jesus there can only be one master. That is not the way we are used to living. We treat ourselves and many others as Lord of our lives. We experience the cost when we reach a situation where we confront a love of money and have to let go of it. The cost is letting go of the way our lives pursue that love of money.

We see the cost in the lives of the disciples, giving up occupations and leaving their homes to follow Jesus in scripture. But the cost doesn’t end there. Frequently they are faced with a worldly desire they have to let go of to embrace Jesus.

It is the same for us. Not only was there an initial cost to follow Jesus, but our lives ongoingly present a cost to following Jesus. We no longer serve the gods of wealth, power, status, or family. We come into moments of conflict regularly where we must count the cost as followers of Jesus and believe the treasure of Jesus is worth more than what we see in front of us. 

The pursuits and desires we are bombarded with in this world are no longer what we follow. We have given those up and are set on the path of the Kingdom of God. It is narrow with many seductive offshoots, but we must not turn away from the path. For the treasure that lies ahead is of value beyond comprehension. We get to experience a taste of that treasure here, but what awaits is unimaginable.