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.

Deny Yourself

“If anyone wishes to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24

How practiced are we in denying ourselves? To abstain from making a purchase, avoid an impulse buy, not watch every football game, and choose not to embrace your “best life”, is very countercultural. Between the values pulled from consumerism and individualism which heavily govern our lives, there is not much room for self denial.

When Jesus made the invitation to follow him there was always a cost involved. There was an invitation to give up your life and deny yourself. What you desire is to be sacrificed. For the rich young ruler it was his wealth. For many it was leaving their occupation. For some it was following before their father died. In all cases, Jesus zeroed in on a desire and made it clear that following him had a cost.

As I have observed reactions in this pandemic, I realize it has exposed our lack of practice in denying ourselves. If we were practiced in it we would not be throwing tantrums when something is taken away from us by someone else. If we were used to saying no to our own desires then when someone else calls us to it, we wouldn’t find it overly difficult. In fact, we could find joy in the act of denying ourselves.

Have you ever thought of the persecuted church in this light? They understand the cost when they choose to follow Jesus. They give up everything in this life to follow him. Everything can and often is taken away from them, yet they still follow and find joy in obedience to God. Have you ever noticed Paul is able to rejoice from prison? He doesn’t even ask people to pray for his release.

It is interesting those we once most revered in the faith were monks that essentially gave up every pleasure of this world and martyrs who gave up their lives. I am not going to get into a discussion here on that extreme but they surely understood there was freedom in letting go of the desires of this world. There was a clarity that came with denial and an openness to the desires that God gives.

If we are able to deny ourselves in obedience to God, then when a situation comes where we need to give something up or something is taken from us (even our “freedoms”), we are content. If we haven’t learned the freedom that comes through self denial it will feel like punishment and we will be filled with grief or anger.

To be honest, if we do not practice self denial we will be prone to the responses of a toddler who throws a temper tantrum in the store when they can’t have the toy they wanted. A good parent knows giving into every desire of your child isn’t good. That’s why you limit screen time and the amount of sugar they consume. I would say many recent posts on social media have resembled a bunch of toddlers at a toy store whose parents just said no.

I expect this behaviour from the world, but not from believers. We should be able to rejoice in denying ourselves. How often do we read the grumblings of the Israelites in the wilderness and think, “Look at the way God is caring for you. Why are you complaining?” And then sports are shut down and we can’t leave the province so we complain just as badly. Self denial helps deliver us from the state of entitlement which was the posture of our old self and into a state of contentment. “It is well with my soul” can only really be understood through learning Jesus is truly enough. That’s why he requires us to deny ourselves the things of this world. Our whole self needs to discover this peace that only comes through the practice of self denial.

I have gone through seasons of my life where I have been convicted about the amount of time I spend focused on things of this world. I remember years ago when I had to give up watching sports for a time, not just because of the amount of time I spent on it, but because it had become an idol in my life. The act of denying myself this thing I loved was necessary to discover what had eternal value.

We all start following Jesus with a set of beliefs, values and desires. The cost of following Jesus is giving those up in surrender to follow Jesus. That is not to say there won’t be some desires that are good and will be encouraged by God, but they are to be laid down regardless. Our walk with Jesus is going to be filled with constant disruptions. Some of these will be from what Jesus requires of us, and some are because of a fallen world with hardened hearts.

We know from the Gospels that when Jesus invites someone to follow him he has them lay down the things of import at the start. This however is just the start of a life learning to deny themselves, not the completion of the sacrifice.

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
1 John 2:15-17

When we don’t deny ourselves we get tricked into thinking this world is enough. We begin to live for what happens in the here and now. When we deny ourselves we begin to remember the eternal and begin to experience the peace that comes in living for heaven and not for earth. What comes is a peace in the storm as we become aware this life is but a breath for the purpose of imitating Christ and being transformed into his image.

I posted something on facebook the other day which I think is a good gut check: Nothing exposes our lack of self denial in obedience to God quite like our reaction to prolonged forced withdrawal (AKA long suffering).

I will not ignore the fact some things taken away from us we cannot just roll over on. If the state takes away something commanded by God it cannot be a healthy form of denial but will steal us away from him. We see this in the early church as well as in the persecuted church where they must discern where obedience to God is at odds with obedience to the authorities of this world.

When denial is not a voluntary act and something is taken away from us, we panic because our eyes are fixed on this world. When we are used to denying ourselves, we still need to surrender to God and possibly mourn, but it is a practiced habit and a place of peace, not internal chaos.

Denying ourselves is a practice for us until the day when our only desires are those which God has. The life of a believer is one in which we should ever be getting closer to this but will never attain until Jesus returns or calls us home. I long for that day, but know that while I am here I must continue to surrender my desires and practice the discipline of denying myself.

Victory in this Season of Grace

Having just come through Easter, the victory of the resurrection should be fresh on our minds. The words out of Isaiah “death is swallowed up in victory” accurately sets the scene of Easter. Complete victory was won. This is the testimony we walk in. This is the good news of the gospel.

So how does this apply to the season we are in now? Are we walking as victors in Christ or hiding out waiting for the season to pass? Is the kingdom of God on defense or is his kingdom advancing?

God is not sleeping through this season. He is not waiting until this pandemic stops. In fact at no point in our lives is that the case. There is no season in which God turns to us and says, “Let’s just make it through. We are in this together.” Thinking of this, I am reminded of when Joshua asks the man in front of Jericho, “Whose side are you on?” It turns out it is the commander of the Lord’s armies and he replies, “I am on the Lord’s side.” (Joshua 5). Whose side are you on? Being on the Lord’s side, is there any reason to cower or fear? What could make us just wait out a season?

God is not taking a break or treading water. He is very active! His kingdom isn’t rebuffed but ever advancing.

There is a season for everything as Solomon learned. But there is no season where the gospel has no say. There is no season where God is not present and active. We need to stop looking at life through the lens of the world and start seeing it through the lens of the gospel. We need to understand God has plans he is accomplishing right now and he is inviting us to join him.

I am finding when I take time to listen, his wisdom, warning, direction and correction is abundantly clear at this time. He is revealing things I have held on to and freeing me from the burden. He is giving me insight for what he wants to accomplish and inviting me to join him. He is revealing truth in scripture in new ways, giving incredible wealth in revelation. I am hearing testimony of the same thing from those who have sought the Lord regarding what this season is about. He has given such a grace to see him clearly and clear out the temple (we are temples of the living God).

It is time to stop consoling each other and grieving the life that was. (Grieving is not a bad thing. If you have lost a loved one, please take the time to grieve the loss with God.) But grieving life as it was? I am finding what this pandemic has done is expose all of the things we anchored ourselves to instead of Jesus. Our health is in question, finances uncertain, job security has disappeared, support networks destroyed, and friends and family made distant. So many things we placed our hope in and relied on for security just got ripped away. If you ask me, this is a wave of grace exposing where we hadn’t allowed the gospel to transform our lives, where we haven’t surrendered and trusted Jesus and have not believed the truth of the gospel.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Matthew 7:24-27

The gospel is unshakable. It is the anchor that cannot be swayed by the storms of life. When the waves hit they are rebuffed because our security is not in this world. We need to stop consoling each other as believers when we are distraught from these things being taken away. We must see this as an opportunity to repent, confess how we have not trusted Jesus, and allow him into whatever area was exposed. If anxiety comes over a stock portfolio collapsing or job loss we say, “God I confess that I have relied on myself and the wealth of this world for my provision and security. I surrender this area to you. Would you expose the lies I have believed that have kept me from the gospel, and reveal the truth?”

Let’s look at it this way. Before this season hit, we had the same issues. The pandemic just exposed them. There wasn’t some massive victory by the enemy causing us to suddenly not trust God or cast a shadow over the gospel. The issues were just “manageable” or hidden before. The answer is not to stay hidden and wait for this season to finish. WE NEED TO STOP TRYING TO CONSOLE ONE ANOTHER, AND MANAGE OUR WAY THROUGH THIS! This is a window, by the grace of God, for freedom and to learn to trust God through our surrender in all of the exposed areas.

I have said this before and this probably won’t be the last time. I really like conflict. It is actually a place of comfort for me. Conflict is when something is “incompatible or at variance”. It activates my hope because I know it is what allows for growth. This season is one of conflict for all of us. We are being hit with a realization we are not as secure as we thought we were. We are being hit with the reality we were placing our security in things that are being wiped out. Don’t avoid this conflict. Conflict is what inevitably happens when anything new is introduced. It challenges the old way and forces us to change or remain, depending on what we decide.

The act of allowing God in through repentance is what sparks the spiritual growth in us. These moments of conflict where what is inside is exposed provides opportunity for freedom. We need to start realizing we can’t ignore it when we see the gospel at odds with our hearts and behaviour. These moments of awareness provide opportunity for us to become anchored in Christ and free of the chains attached to the false anchors of this world.

There are ample opportunities for spiritual growth at such a time as this. We need to start looking at these circumstances as the grace of God because the freedom the gospel offers is way better than anything we had before this season.

There is no going back to how things were. Thank you Jesus for that! I don’t want to lose the freedom I have found in this season. I want my testimony to be: I used to fear and toil in vain on my own but Jesus saved me and now I am free, and free forevermore.

Embracing Lent

For much of the evangelical church, and possibly the Orthodox and Catholic Church, there is some awareness of the practice of Lent, and maybe even some thought of a biblical reasoning, but the history is foreign. Lent, like many other traditions, has evolved over time. At first it was a three-day preparation and has become a 40-day period on the church calendar that, for some, focuses on repentance and penance.

The word Lent (old english derived from Lentin) actually just means “springtime” or “lengthening of days”. It is more a description of the actual physical season and not the spiritual practices. The latin word however (which would have been the term used in the Catholic Church for centuries) is quadragesima, which refers to it’s 40-day length.

At first Lent was a short three-day preparation for Easter, but as the practice of baptisms on Easter Sunday were adopted by the church, it turned into a three-week preparation for new converts. It was a time focused on learning the core beliefs. It was like an incubator for those preparing to see their old lives washed away and embracing a new way of living. The early church joined these new believers in fasting and prayer as an encouragement.

As the church started to baptize infants the practice maintained some of the focus but turned into a 40-day period focused more on repentance and penance. The Catholic Church introduced mandatory minimum practices regarding the eating of meat on certain days. The 40 days came from the period of time that Jesus fasted in the wilderness where he ate nothing and was tempted by the devil.

As the practices have evolved over time, I think the purpose of Lent was lost a bit along the way. Lent was a time of incubation and preparation. I believe this focus must remain central in the season. As we abstain from food and other things in our lives, the lack we feel should increase our reliance on God and turn our focus towards him. It should help clarify where our true sustenance is found. This takes purpose and training.

I found out recently there are still a number of churches that have the practice of baptizing on Easter. This excites me. Baptism is an act of obedience that reflects what we celebrate in Easter. Our old selves are put in the ground with Jesus and we are raised to new life.

Lent should be a season where we are more keenly focused and reliant on God. It is a season of reflection and learning. Lent becomes lost when all we do is abstain from certain foods or practices. I would argue that Lent then becomes meaningless (though well intentioned).

As we continue on in this season, it is important to note this season is not supposed to be easy. I think part of the reason the whole church and not just the new converts participated in Lent is because it is something we need encouragement in. I understand Jesus went alone into the wilderness and endured the temptations of Satan, but Jesus is God and we are not. Partnering with each other to endure and redirect our attention to God is an important function of our brothers and sisters at this time.

Let us in anticipation of the harvest to come be vigilant in the season we have been called to. Not just following the letter of the law, but the spirit of the traditions. Let us turn our focus and reliance not on another created thing, but to God.

Whether you have started observing Lent or not, I would encourage you to look at how this season can best serve your increased reliance on God. I would recommend trying to simplify your life and getting to know the living God in intimate ways. Reflect on Jesus in the wilderness and the early church focusing on preparation.

As I write this the song lyrics from an old Brian Doerksen song comes to mind

“I lift my eyes up
Unto the mountains
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from you
Maker of heaven
Creator of the earth.

Oh, how I need you, Lord
You are my only hope.
You’re my only prayer.
So I will wait for you
To come and rescue me
Come and give me life.”

Lent should help us realize that these song lyrics reflect our constant state. Through stripping away the things we turn to instead of Jesus and focusing on him, we are able to see what brings true life. It prepares us to experience in all the fullness the celebration of the new life in Jesus we find in Easter. Like Jesus in the desert, we will find moments when we are tempted to turn away and try to find life in other things. (Read Luke 4)

Of note, the story of Jesus in the desert is what directly precedes Jesus’ public ministry. Although at times it might seem like a waste, Jesus models the importance of this season in our lives. May all you who read this be encouraged in this season to become keenly aware of your need for God, knowing true repentance as you strip away that which holds you back from the life God has waiting for you.

Civic Duty

On Tuesday, in Canada, we exercised our civic duty, and privilege, in taking to the polls to vote for our nation’s representatives and leaders. This is a time when we have some of the most influence in shaping the future of our nation.

That being said, voting has nowhere near the power of prayer. Do not take this the wrong way. I will never pass up the opportunity to vote and will forever encourage others to do so in this country, but the power we possess in prayer, as we ask God to intervene, is far greater than any ballot we can submit. Our civic duty as believers goes far beyond the voting polls.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:12

At times I find myself complaining and feeling stuck with the leadership of my country. In doing so, I take myself out of the fight for this land and people. Partisan politics can trick us into seeing the enemy as a person or a party. As followers of Jesus, we must acknowledge the ploys of the enemy but not be sucked into seeing the enemy as a person.

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Romans 13:1

When we look at the biblical setting of this letter written to the Romans, it is in the midst of the reign of one of the most brutal emperors and slayers of Christians there ever was in Nero. This passage was not conferring any legitimate respect for the person in leadership, but the office of leadership as God has allowed.

We do not belong here. This is our place of exile. We are to care for it and come under the authority of the leadership (because it has been placed there by God), but the happenings of this earth should not shake us. When the governing authority goes against our beliefs, or even against scripture, don’t panic.

Government authority has been against the practices of the church in much of the world, and for a lot of its existence. Although we have experienced freedom to practice as we wish in the great nation of Canada for so long, even if that changes, our being subject to authority doesn’t change. Our prayer for the leaders should not stop. We should still follow, as our faith allows, the laws of the land.

Our hope is not found in our leaders. Our hope is found in Christ alone. The party we voted for is not going to save us. Yes, we have a say in the process, but don’t let that draw you into resentment or complaining. We should want our leaders to thrive and not struggle. We should be praying that our leaders will receive wisdom and make good decisions that lead to peace, not hoping they fail.

I understand the inclination in partisan politics to see other parties as the enemy. There is an urge to cheer for their destruction so that they will not get another term. But isn’t that making an enemy out of men and women instead of seeing the true enemy in the process?

Let’s commit to praying for our leaders. Even when we don’t fully agree with the policy, let’s intercede for their decision-making ability, and pray they come to know the ways of the Lord so it may go well for us all. May we continually be aware our hope is in Christ and not in man. May we take comfort in the promise of struggle, and not expect policies to align with the kingdom of God but still intercede for it.

For we know that we belong to a kingdom that is not seen here on earth. Our hope will be fulfilled in the return of Jesus and not in the right government in power. Let us lean in with prayer to the happenings around us instead of critiquing from the peanut gallery.

Too Quick to Change

After my previous blog exploring the quick to respond transformation that God loves, I thought it would be helpful to pump the brakes in this one. Not all transformation is good for us. Change is a part of this life as a result of the impact of sin. We can either be transformed into the image of Christ or this world.

There are times we change quickly with the times without realizing we are actually changing into the image of a fallen man and not the perfection of Jesus. It is easy to get wrapped up in the movement and lure of culture. Change is appealing on many levels and deceptively looks like the way of God at times. Isn’t that the strategy of the serpent in Genesis who told Eve, “You will become like God.”

There is a danger with being swept up in change. Rather than being a part of the discerning process, a lot of people rely on the discernment of others. It could be a charismatic leader or a trusted community that could prompt this sudden shift in someone. History is proof of this. Throughout history people get swept up in ideology that brings about wars, genocide, idol worship and all manners of sin.

“ 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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4

The new testament is full of warnings of false doctrines and false prophets. These are not just hypothetical warnings but promises that there will be people to deceive you. There will be people intentionally trying to lead you astray, and those who have been tricked themselves.

How does it happen that people can so easily change? It is so easy to take the more trodden path of least resistance. It takes vigilance not to get caught up in change that brings destruction. It takes being steadfast in the midst of opposition. It takes not being swept up by fears and desires. This walk with Christ is one of excitement and journey but also steadfast in truth.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them.
Exodus 32:7-8

Many of you may remember from Sunday School the story of Moses leaving the people of Israel to seek the Lord on top of a mountain in Exodus 32. He is gone for so long that the Israelites are worried about their future. So they do what they have seen done by other cultures and make for themselves a statue out of gold to worship. They make a golden calf. This is done rather quickly and not from the counsel of the Lord. They have seen God come through for them many times by this point, but still they quickly turn away.

There are times when we hold on to a desire and place it higher than the wisdom of God. We even search the scriptures and wisdom from people far and wide just to hear that our desires are good. The sad thing is that there are often counsel no’s from God in prayer, scripture and community that are ignored in the process. In fact, as this “discernment” plays out longer, the voice of God falls silent. Ignoring the voice of God in one area affects our whole relationship with him. It is never localized.

There is a key question that must be asked in this process. Is scripture my guide for and through this change? Am I using the culture of this world to inform and drive the change I embrace or the culture of the kingdom?

But, you might ask, “How do I really know if this change is good or not?” We don’t as believers usually start out by saying, “I want to rebel against God and his ways.” I don’t think that was the starting place for Adam and Eve either. We need to surrender our desires and potential changes before God. This entails bringing mature believers into the discernment as well. We shouldn’t go searching for the approving voices, but the voices of the faithful mature believers. We must surrender what we want to be the outcome, being willing to put to death the desired outcome.

We must remember that although we think we know what is best for ourselves, the one who created us knows us better than any. He always knows what is going on and is for those he has created and called.

The Wanderer

As someone who has lived in a few different places, and been a part of a few different local churches in this world, I find there is a common thread in each of Paul’s letters that always brings up memories.

Paul so affectionately ends his letters to brothers and sisters in the faith that he loves. You can almost accuse Paul of having FOMO. The phrase: “I wish I could be with you” is a staple. This is not just a turn of phrase. Paul has served so many, seeing many born to new life. For a time he watched them grow like newborns into children, then was called away.

“3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:3-8

Paul is not just writing a book on theology, but a letter to those he has bled with, preached with, battled in the spiritual realm with. He is writing to people he acted as a spiritual parent and brother to.

There are times in my life when I am hit with the emotions of missing friends, brothers and sisters of the faith. At times it is because I am aware of their hardships, and sometimes I want to rejoice in person with them. Sometimes it is just memories of good times together and I wish to be together. The sentiment in Paul’s letter gives me great comfort. At times I hear a voice telling me to abandon ship and just go back to another place. I read the letters of Paul and know his heart and conviction to continue where God has him despite the desire to go back.

There is such peace in surrendering where you are. The voice telling you to pack up and leave is at times deafening.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

I have a few friends who have had wandering years. It is a time in life when they are free to serve the Lord, travel, move from community to community as an encouragement. What’s left at the end of that season is a plethora of friendships, loved ones, and communities to which you feel you belong, without knowing where your home is.
There is a benefit and a struggle in this. You feel a pull so many different ways, while also understanding better than most that this world is not our home. There is always a connection with those people. We serve and love the same God, we have the same Holy Spirit within us, and we have experiences shared.

There are good things that come from spending time in many communities, but also opportunity for the enemy. Satan wants to steal us away from what God is inviting us into in the here and now. He would love for us to be always on social media or phone calls, catching up with people and not attentive to what he has for us in the moment and place in which we are called.

On the other hand, the benefit of counsel outside of your setting is so valuable. Sometimes the people close to you have blinders in discernment and a discerning voice of encouragement is needed. That is what we see in Paul’s letters. He is close to the people but also removed from the situation. He is not drawn into the politics or the fears of fallout. He, in surrender, can clearly articulate the heart of God for the community. Paul also can’t make anything happen. He is not there. He has to release what he writes and trust God in the follow through.

If you are one of these people who know a life of wandering, you know the short moments together have such incredible value. Such life, rest, and courage comes from these moments. To have someone free to celebrate with and bring correction in fleeting moments often propels me into something good.

A lot of my “wake up calls” or most rapid development has been a result of a short period of time with someone not in my setting. It is not that everything changes from that conversation, but they don’t have blinders that come from everyday life together. We have a tendency to excuse things due to circumstances or context. A voice from the outside isn’t as focused on those things and can remind us of the call of God without the noise.

That is how I read Paul’s letters. They are in large part a reminder of what they have already been taught with some new revelation thrown in. Often the messages we have been told don’t translate into life change and we need to be encouraged to be continually transformed into the image of Christ.

I love my friends at a distance and am so thankful for the places God has placed me. But I, like Paul, never want to be led by FOMO. I want to be obedient to where God has called me while always attentive to the need of encouragement and edification of my brothers and sisters that I love and am no longer in community with.

May my fellow wanderers find comfort this day in the same conviction Paul had.

Who do You Serve?

I have been thinking about the passage where Jesus says “you cannot serve two masters”. We are prone to compartmentalize our lives.We think that we are able to keep parts of our life separate from others. We are often instructed to do this for a healthy life. We are told, “Don’t bring work home,” or “Don’t bring your personal problems into work. Be professional.” For things of this world those distinctions can work, and might be very helpful. Being present is an important lesson we need to learn. Ridding ourselves of distractions allows us to live in the moment.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Matthew 6:24

This statement of not being able to serve two masters is used in the context of not being able to serve both God and money, but it applies across the board. Jesus being our master is a present reality in all situations, in all things. As he is our eternal master in the physical and spiritual, there is no point at which he stops being our master. In turn, there is no part of life that doesn’t fall under his purview.

That means when we are at work, Jesus is our master. When we are at church, Jesus is our master. When we are watching tv, Jesus is our master. When we are with friends, Jesus is our master. When we are shopping, Jesus is our master. Do you get the picture? We are not at any point in time without a master. When we turn to ourselves, money, or other people as our masters, that is rebellion.

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Matthew 16:24-26

The question we are left with is, how do we live as though Jesus is our master at all times? We need to start with applying the teaching and life of Jesus in each situation. We are not to conform to the ways of the world, but live at all times under the authority of Jesus. That means the way we speak, do business, surf the internet, entertain ourselves, spend our time, spend our money is not to be dictated by the world, but by Jesus. The pursuit of the newest gadget, the best stuff money can buy, “best practices” in business are to be put through the grid of the gospel. Jesus must be our master in all of this.

I had a great conversation recently about the way people play sports as a product of the morals of a society. We see some athletes embellishing calls, flopping, grabbing at jerseys, deceptively playing the sport. Would Jesus instruct us to play this way? Shouldn’t the play of a believer point to who their master is? I realize the things I mentioned are very much a part of the game, but would Jesus do it?

I love hearing about how my Papa led as CEO of a corporate farm. He made decisions out of his conviction of scripture and not the practices of the other farms that were doing well. The farm, even during the harvest, would have no work done on Sundays. My Papa cared for the families of workers and invested in the character of employees as much as their work skills. Even though he was serving the board and shareholders, his master is Jesus.

Slavery to Christ is not contrary to success or profitability, but winning at all costs is contrary to the gospel. The ends do not justify the means in the Kingdom of God. There is no timeout from calling Jesus Lord.

We are supposed to serve those in authority over us as unto the Lord, realizing that our Lord is still our master. He is still the one we are serving with the earthly authority functioning as a steward of power.

We cannot turn off serving our master. Our pursuits are those of our master’s. I think our hatred of slavery can cause us to overlook the language used in the new testament. Phrases like “a slave to Christ” are looked at as a turn of phrase rather than a literal meaning. Can we really look at slavery to Christ as a positive thing ?

Don’t be fooled, your #bestlife is that of a slave to Christ. Why would being Jesus’ slave be a bad thing? We have come to hate slavery, But, if Jesus were responsible for our lives, and we surrendered our free will, would things be better or worse? Slavery to Christ is a choice we should gladly make. It is the invitation for us through Jesus’ death and resurrection to come die and thus live.

I think we need to recapture the meaning of slavery to Christ. We need to see every one of our decisions and actions as service to our master. We need to see the entirety of our spheres as places to make disciples. We need to see there is no beginning or end to the Lordship of Christ. The times we choose another master never go well. What better master could there be than Jesus?

Life through Repentance

If you haven’t yet read my previous blog, I would encourage you to read it alongside this one. It gives a glimpse into repentance as a key part of being a person after God’s own heart.

The act of repentance is pivotal to the Christian walk. We cannot follow Jesus apart from repentance. It is this act that moves us into who we are as a new creation in Christ. We must leave behind our old ways, which separated us from God, and turn to righteous living with Christ. It is a big part of the life of a disciple. We are to be continually stepping into a more complete life with Christ.  

I am so thankful for those who have walked me through the process of repentance. Throughout my life I knew it was important, but it wasn’t until the process was broken down that I really found life through it. For so long I would say sorry and hope to not continue sinning, but there was so much more to discover.

It took realizing that in repentance Jesus takes away the entire penalty of sin and invites us into a life that is completely free. The weight and punishment of sin, the shame, is no longer there on the other side of repentance. The cross acts like a filter, removing all that is tainted by the sin we are repenting of. There is nothing left on us on the other side of the cross.

Repentance is the act of turning away from what separates us from God and turning towards him. It hinges on the cross, where the penalty of our sin is nailed with Jesus. On the cross he took the punishment, the weight of our sin. Repentance is the transaction of that, where we choose to hand our sin over and step into resurrection life with Jesus.

This process is not just confession, however. Confession is an outward acknowledgment of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is key but not the entirety. “Confess your sins one to another so you may be healed.” James 5:16

I spent a year interning at a church in Fresno California. They had an incredible process for walking through repentance using 6 R’s. I hope this process is as impactful in your life as it has been in mine. May it bring freedom to many new areas of your life.

The first R is: Recognize the nature of God in light of your sin. We need to understand that what we are repenting of is actually in opposition to the nature of God. We are looking to understand what God is inviting us into. Our new life reflects his nature. How does our sin oppose the nature of God?

Repent Of the sin. At this stage we need to remember and repent of how we have sinned. This can take a while. Take time to list the actions of sin. There could be many. Allow God to remind you of them, and say, “God, I repent of these actions.” Repent of the heart behind them. Ask God to reveal the biblical name for the sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21 are helpful here).

Renounce the lies of the enemy. What is causing you to live in sin? What are you believing that is keeping you in this life opposed to Christ? It is important to take time to ask God. What am I believing that is causing me to act this way? When did this start in my life?” For each lie exposed, renounce it and speak over yourself the biblical truth in contrast.

Receive the forgiveness that is freely offered. Forgiveness does not need to be earned, but rather received. This is an important step though. The ploy of the enemy is to make us feel as though we still need to earn forgiveness and that steals the power of the cross away from us. I love to look at Psalm 103:7-12 at this stage. Remember the cross completely satisfies the penalty of our sin when we hand it over.

Release the Holy Spirit to do his work in your life. As the house is cleaned out, an empty house leaves room for the old to return. Releasing the Holy Spirit to do his work fills that place. Repentance is a turning away from what separates us and turns us to life in the Spirit. This invites new life to take place.

Rejoice in your freedom! Rejoice for who God is! Rejoice in your new life! Rejoice with others too! Testimony is so important. It leaves no room for the enemy to steal the freedom we are now walking in. It builds our faith and our joy while inviting others into the same freedom!

Words that Change us

An hour before I was to teach a class on how to hear God’s voice last week, I realized most of what I had prepared (although I think it was great) was not going to be most beneficial. I sensed in that moment God wanted people to get a taste of what it is like to hear his voice. So, I scrapped most of my teaching and engaged in exercises of surrender, listening and practicing testing words in groups.

I love receiving (and giving) good teaching. I love to hear others unpack the scriptures, to reveal the heart and invitation of God to us. There is so much I have yet to learn. At the same time, I think we often rely on others to handle our spiritual formation.

Since this moment of surrendering what I planned, I have been thinking how our culture is so reliant on the information provided by others. If I have a question, I ask my phone or look it up in a book. I could even watch one of the 10,000 documentaries that can be seen on streaming services. There is so much readily available information within our culture.

This is true in the church as well. There are multiple books on any subject one could ever want to know. There are Christian podcasts, online sermons, and blogs (yes I see the irony) everywhere you look on the internet. These are not bad things, except they have taken a primary role for many people. There is a place for all of these theological pursuits, especially for people called to certain roles in our churches.

The issue we face is when spirituality becomes more of an academic pursuit than a way of life. Our God is all about revelation. He continues to reveal more and more to his people. But revelation comes with an invitation. We are to live differently, more like Jesus, as God reveals things to us.

There have been seasons of my life where God keeps bringing up the same thing. He does this because I haven’t understood or been obedient to his invitation yet. A new revelation wouldn’t be good for me. He knows what revelation is needed in the moment.

The place we need to start our spiritual formation is in a personal life steeped in scripture and prayer.

This blog entry is less about put down that book, and more about spend time with Jesus. In a university course, there is often supplemental reading that is not required. That is how we must see the other stuff out there. Prayer and scripture in a believers life are the daily necessities, the required reading list. Which list would you go to first in school? Prayer and scripture are where we go to for revelation, to encounter God in an intimate and personal way. It is where we understand the invitation of God daily.

God has a personal revelation and invitation for each one of us, not necessarily in the grandiose Abraham-like calling. But he is inviting us into deeper relationship and to join him in what he is doing. Although God gets our attention through others, we are missing out on so much if we are not taking time to listen to God in prayer and scripture ourselves. Remember, God wants to reveal things to you. He is not hiding it in the revelation of others.

As much as I am talking about personal call and revelation, this is not to be discerned apart from community. We are to be sharing these revelations with one another, encouraging each other, praying for one another, and testing revelation collectively. This is a part of the process of hearing from God. As brothers and sisters in Christ we are supporting each other and looking out for the other’s best interest.

I understand there are seasons of life where the need for the teaching of others is more important. When you are new in your faith there is a lot to learn. In the early years of faith there is so much to navigate through, so many lies to work through, the impact of culture to renounce and brand new practices to learn. There is a reason why the church in the New Testament is instructed not to raise people into leadership too soon. Passion doesn’t cover over the need for spiritual maturity.

I love my literary mentors. Theologians like Bonhoeffer, Barth and Packer have caused me to examine my beliefs and practices in countless ways. They have inspired me and taught me so much. As one that is called to teach and equip others, they have helped me understand more fully spiritual truths I only knew in part before.

Mentors both living and dead will continue to be a part of my discipleship, but there is so much to receive from God himself. He has given us an invitation to “Be Still and know that I am God”. There is an invitation to discover him afresh daily. I want to say yes to this invitation. How about you?