Sunday, September 29, 2013

Extravagant Acts of Worship

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on His head as He was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant, "Why this waste?" they asked. "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly, I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done for me will also be told, in remembrance of her."  (Matthew 26:6-13)

How often I have read this account quickly and missed what is contained in it. It's slipped in in the midst of the accounts of the plans to kill Jesus. Just a few verses, but they challenged me when I read them a few days ago.

A woman comes to where Jesus and His disciples are. She comes with an extravagant gift of worship for Jesus. She is so focussed on her worship of Jesus that she not only gives Jesus an expensive gift, she also breaks social norms to do it. Her heart is set on worshipping Jesus.

The disciples are watching this all unfold. But they are missing the worship of her act. They are seeing only the cost of the perfume. Money they decide could have been better used to help the poor.

As I read this I began to ponder who I would have been if I had been in the room that day? Would I have been the woman bringing my extravagant gift of worship to Jesus despite what others might think? Or would I have been one of the disciples who missed the heart behind it and judged the act a misuse of money? Challenging questions to ponder.

I think we all have moments of being the woman and moments of being one of the disciples. Although we don't really want to admit to being one of the disciples in this instance.

The person who we should want to be in this account is made clear in Jesus' response to this. He commends the woman for her act of worship. And He challenges His disciples on how they were thinking. Jesus doesn't condemn His disciples for their thoughts, but He encourages and challenges them to think differently.

Who would you have been if you had been there that day?
Would you have been the woman offering Jesus your extravagant worship - not for others to see, but because you felt compelled to do so in your heart?
Or would you have been one of the disciples, judging the acts of worship of another?

If we would have been one of the disciples that day and maybe we are now, the good news is that we don't have to stay that way. God can change our hearts and He offers us a second chance (and many more) to get it right with His help.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Five Minute Friday: True

It's Five Minute Friday again. This week's word is "true."

Do you ever share the true story of your life? You know the one . . .

. . . the one where you share your failures and mistakes, alongside the successes and the things you did right.

. . . the one where you're not defined by any one thing, but by the total of what makes you who you are.

. . . the one where you're honest and authentic.

It's probably not the story we want to share all the time. It's not necessarily the story that makes us look good to other people.

But the true story our lives is the one that people can most relate to. It's the one that lets people know we're human and that we struggle with the same things they do.

True . . . that's what it should be when we share the story of our lives with others.

We can tell the true story without sharing things that disrespect others or sharing details people don't need to hear. It might require us to be careful, but the true story of our lives can still be told that way.

Do you ever share the true story of your life?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Seeing Yourself as God Sees You

Since I wrote my last post on what we commonly know as the Greatest Commandment found in Matthew 22:27-29, I've been thinking about something that came up at the end of the post.

Jesus tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves. I finished that post with some thoughts on how if we are to love our neighbours well, we have to learn to love ourselves well too.

I've been thinking about that idea in the days since. It's an interesting concept to think about.

Some people may argue with me that we live in a world where we're told to place too much evidence on ourselves and loving ourselves. And others would argue that we live in a world where self-esteem is destroyed in many people and they don't know to love themselves at all.

I think part of the problem is the language being used. Loving yourself can seem to be a conceited  way of living. Maybe a better way of looking at it would be to see it as seeing yourself the way God sees you.

We need to learn to see ourselves as God sees us, because if we don't we'll have a hard time loving others well. There's nothing conceited about learning to see ourselves the way God sees us. That is the way God wants us to live. And out of that flows love for our neighbour, like Jesus talked about in Matthew 22:27-29.

The problem is that we often have a difficult time believing what God says about us, so we don't see ourselves as God sees us. We've allowed other people's opinions of us and our own thoughts about ourselves, to get in the way of us seeing ourselves as God sees us.

Scripture is full of references to how God sees us. Full of references that tell us what God sees when He looks at us.

  • You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • You are not condemned (Romans 8:1)
  • You are God's workmanship - His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You are chosen (1 Peter 2:9)
  • You are a child of God (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1)
  • You are an overcomer (1 John 4:4)
  • You are a friend of God (John 15:15)
  • You are forgiven (1 John 1:9)

Those are just a few of the many verses in Scripture that tell us how God sees us.

How are you doing at seeing yourself as God sees you?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Love God and Love Others

"Jesus replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself'." (Matthew22:27-29)

Jesus' response when the Pharisees asked Him which was the greatest commandment in the Law.

We hear them quoted often today. We say them often. They familiar words to us. So familiar we often shorten them up in summary: Love God and love others.

True in those words as well. But do these five words really portray all that Jesus said in His answer? They get the basics down, but maybe not the full extent.

"Love . . ."

One word with a broad range of meaning in our English language. And a word we misuse and abuse in daily life.

In the Greek, the word is agape. The kind of love often spoke of in reference to how God loves us. A sacrificial love. A love that is a choice even when it costs us something.

 That's the kind of love Jesus is talking about here. A love we choose.

". . . the Lord your God . . ."

Jesus isn't talking about a distant, impersonal God we're supposed to love. He's talking about a God Who is personal. A God who gets involved in our lives and cares about the details.

". . . with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."

Heart . . . Emotions . . . Feelings. We're to love God with all of them.

Soul . . . The deepest part of you. The part that no one else sees, but God sees. Love Him with all of that.

Mind . . . Your thoughts. The things you think about each day. Love God with all of them.

"Love your neighbour . . ."

Jesus doesn't give us a description of specifically who our neighbour is here and I think that's for good reason. When it's not specifically defined, our neighbour could be anyone we come into contact with.

Some people are easy to love. Some people are difficult to love. Some people seem impossible to love and we would rather not even try. But, Jesus doesn't give us an out on any of these people. We're to love them all.

". . . as yourself."

After we love God with all of us, we're supposed to love others. And we're supposed to love them as we love ourselves.

Sometimes we love ourselves well. Sometimes we love ourselves too well. And sometimes we don't love ourselves very well at all. But, if we're supposed to love others as we love ourselves, we have to learn what it looks like to love ourselves.

So, how are you doing at loving God?
With all your heart?
With all your soul?
With all your mind?
How are you doing a loving your neighbour?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Five Minute Friday: She

It's Five Minute Friday again and I'm joining in with the group over at Lisa-Jo Baker's blog. The instructions are simple: five minutes of writing on the given word - no editing or over-thinking what you write about; then you share what you wrote. This week the word is "she."

When she walked in the room, everyone turned to look at her.

She was the center of attention and she knew it. She was used to it. She often was the center of attention in a crowd.

The problem was, she didn't want to be the center of attention. At least, not for the reasons she was.

Most of those people looking at her were judging her.

You see, she looked different than the rest of them. She didn't feel like she belonged.

It had taken her a long time to get comfortable with who she was and how she looked. It hadn't been easy. But it was something she had to do if she was going to live a life that didn't revolve around hiding.

And the more she learned to be comfortable with who she was, the less she noticed people staring when she walked in a room. She became comfortable in who she was. And no one else's opinion mattered any longer.

The best part was that she had learned there was Someone who wasn't concerned with what she looked like. To Him what mattered was on the inside. That was shy she mattered.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fill the Empty Places

"When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first." (Matthew 12:43-45)

These aren't my favourite words of Jesus' teaching and they're likely not yours either. They seem a bit harsh at first read, but they teach an important truth that we need to understand.

Jesus is speaking to our human nature to fill empty places with something. And making it clear that Satan and his demons work the same way, so we need to be aware.

It's a good thing to remove the things in our lives that shouldn't be there. We should deal with sinful thoughts, habits, and actions. We want to remove these things from our lives.

The problem arises when we remove them and then the places they filled in our lives unfilled with anything good. We just choose to leave those places empty. When we remove sinful things from our lives, we need to fill that place with something good and pleasing to God, so that the thing we removed can't come back into our lives.

We can kick Satan and his schemes out, but he will find a way back in if we don't fill those areas where we kicked him out of with something. And when Satan gets back into those areas, he often does more damage when he was there before. That leaves us feeling worse than the time before as well.

If we're not careful, we end up stuck in a cycle of defeat, victory, greater defeat, victory, even greater defeat. With the times of victory growing more infrequent and shorter duration until we give up completely.

That's what Satan wants for us. But that's not what God wants for us.

Jesus doesn't say it in this passage, but other places in His teaching He talks about the Holy Spirit coming to live in all believers. Those places we kick Satan out of should be filled with the Holy Spirit and the things of God. When we allow the Holy Spirit to get into all those places we kicked Satan out of, there is no room for Satan to get back in when he tries.

I believe that Jesus came to be our strength to live as we were meant to live. But that won't happen completely unless we allow Him to access every area of our lives so He can fill every area of our lives.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What's Your Burden?

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Well known and familiar words from Jesus. Words we cling to when life is weighing us down.

At least, the part about taking our burdens to Jesus and receiving rest. We cling to that. And that's good.

Jesus is calling us to exactly that in these verses. Jesus tells us we can come to Him tired and carrying heavy burdens and He will take them from us. He will give us rest from all we have been carrying.

But Jesus has more to say than just that in these verses. I've read through them often and never stopped on what Jesus said besides offering rest and relief from heavy burdens.

Jesus also tells us take His yoke upon ourselves and that His yoke is easy and light. Jesus isn't just taking our burdens from us. He is giving us something to carry alongside Him in return.

Jesus takes the heavy burdens we're not supposed to be carrying and replaces them with ones from Him that He wants to carry walking with us. The difference between the burdens we're carrying when we come to Jesus weary and in need of rest and the burden that Jesus gives us in return when we come to Him is that one we're meant to carry and one we're not.

It's when we're carrying the one we're  not meant to carry that we get tired and weary and are in need of rest.

But when we're carrying the burden that comes with Jesus' yoke - the one we're meant to carry - we're not tired because we're not carrying it alone. Jesus us helping us carry it, because He wants us to carry that one.

What burdens are you carrying that you need to take to Jesus so He can give you rest?

Are you ready to begin carrying the burden Jesus has for you to carry with Him?

Ask Jesus to show you what the burden is He has for you to carry with Him.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Mercy

It's Five Minute Friday again. Joining in with everyone over at Lisa-Jo Baker's blog for five minutes of writing on the given word. The rules are simple: write for five minutes, no editing or overthinking, then share your work. Today's word is "mercy."

Sitting on a bench on the sidewalk. I see you walking down the street toward me.

I wonder if you are the one who will offer mercy - who will offer some kindness.

But then you notice me.

Your pace quickens. Something on your phone is suddenly of ultimate importance.

Just like everyone else, you rush by and don't notice me.

. . .

I'm sitting on the grass in the park - minding my own business this time.

I don't even notice you approach me, until your shadow casts shade over me.

Looking up I realize that you're not here to be kind. You're here to judge me again.

. . .

But the truth is neither of you know my story. And neither of you care to learn it as you walk past. You see the way I look and make assumptions about me and about my story.

. . .

Jesus offered mercy to the people in need He passed by.

He healed lepers - outcasts of society.

He spoke to a Samaritan woman - a woman from a race most Jews avoided.

He healed blind men, paralyzed men, those possessed by demons.

Mercy was a part of every day, every moment of Jesus' life. He knew the importance of offering mercy and He modelled it for us.

If mercy is so important, then why do we have such a difficult time with it? Why do we find it so difficult to offer mercy - to offer kindness and help - to those we run into who are in need?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Church as Family

I recently came across a question posed on Facebook that intrigued me. The question was whether churches need to scale back the marriage and family focus to attract and keep singles as part of their ministry.

Interesting question. Even more interesting to me were the comments that followed the question.

Given that the ministry asking the question focuses on Christian singles I was interested to see what they would have to say in response. Especially because I know that these singles do struggle at times to find their place in the local church.

As I read through the comments, I read comment after comment from these other single people who did not think the church should scale back the marriage and family focus to keep them as part of the local church. That they should rather include singles in all that is happening within the church. That response was the overwhelming consensus. And I agree.

The church should not scale back marriage and family focus to attract and keep singles. That does leave an interesting dilemma though. In the midst of important teaching about and support for marriages and families, how do we help singles feel welcome and a valuable part of our church families?

I don't know if it's a question that has an easy answer, because every church, every family, every single is unique.

When I look around my church on any given weekend, the number of singles does seem to be disproportionately small compared to the number of singles in the general population - at least when it comes to those older than college and university students.

In a culture where marriage and family are under attack, I don't think the church can afford to scale back on the marriage and family focus. It is needed. It is vital.

That leaves a balance that needs to be found. Even while having a marriage and family focus, as a church we can still make singles feel like a welcomed and valued part of our church families. But it takes work from both sides. As singles there are things the church can do to help us. But there are also things singles need to do. It's a two-way street here.

I think the most important thing all of us can do is look at our local church as a family. We talk that way often, but we really live like we believe it? Within our families, we don't usually separate people according to age or marital status and keep them from interacting with each other. If we begin to really see our churches as families it can become easier to make singles feel welcome whatever the focus.

Honestly, as a single who has moved beyond my early to mid-twenties, I just want to be included in the regular church ministries - whether that is women's ministry or small groups or anything else happening. To me that's part of being a family.

I want to be part of Bible studies with people who are at different stages of life than me, because I can learn a lot from what they say. There really is only so much I can learn from people whose lives look exactly the same as mine.

I need to hear what people older than me and younger than me have to say. I need to hear what married people have to say. And I hope I can share things in those groups that other people need to hear.

Marriage and family need to be talked about and taught about. But much of life following God doesn't change whether you are married or single. The same truths apply. So why do we often segregate people by whether they are married or not? We can learn from one another by being together when we talk about things.

I really don't think there is any reason for churches to scale back their marriage and family focus just because of single people. Rather, what needs to happen is a balance that makes everyone feel welcome no matter their age or marital status. A welcoming of all people into all aspects of church life. Everyone of us is looking to feel welcome and valued for who we are.

Every person who walks through the doors of our church gatherings is important regardless of their marriage status. We need to be making them all feel welcome and valuable as part of the family they are walking into.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What's Your Response to God Speaking to You?

I was reading the often all-too-familiar Christmas story the other day. This time as I was reading Matthew's account of it, I was struck by Joseph's example of hearing God speak and obeying it.

In the first two chapters of his gospel, Matthew records three examples of Joseph hearing God and obeying what he hears.

First, Joseph is told by an angel in a dream that he shouldn't be afraid to take Mary as his wife because the child she was carrying was from God (Matthew 1:20). A few verses later, we're told that Joseph did take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:24).

The second example comes after the visit from the Magi. An angel again appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him he needs to escape to Egypt with Mary and the child because Herod wants to kill the child (Matthew 2:13). So Joseph took Mary and the child to Egypt (Matthew 2:14).

An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph a third time after Herod's death and tells him to return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-20). Once again, Joseph obeys (Matthew 2:21).

Now, I acknowledge that God would have still protected His Son and carried out His plan no matter what Joseph had done. But I think Joseph still sets a great example for us in these instances.

When God spoke to Joseph, Joseph's response was to obey - even when it cost him to do so. He set an example of hearing God and then obeying God. I think it's an example we would do well to follow in our own lives.

I sometimes wonder if the biggest reason why we don't hear God's voice in our lives is that we haven't yet responded in obedience to what God has already said to us. We've asked God to speak to us and He has, but for whatever reason - whether fear or not wanting to do it or any other excuse we may give - we haven't obeyed what God has told us.

And, so I wonder if, when we are in this situation, God's response when we ask Him to speak to us again is, "I already told you what to do, when are you going to do it?"

I know it often plays out this way in my life. When I haven't obeyed what He's already told me, I get easily frustrated when I feel like He's not speaking to me. But I've learned in those times I need to step back and look for where God has already spoken and there's something I need to do.

Now, I'm not saying God won't ever speak to us if we're not obeying what He's already told us. Putting God in a box like that will never work. But I do think He speaks more - or, maybe better put, we listen to Him better - when we're already doing what He has told us.

We can learn much from Joseph's example here in Matthew 1-2. When we hear God's voice, our response should be obedience to what we hear. And as we keep responding that way we keep hearing God's voice directing us.
Are you listening for God to speak?
Are you responding to what He says with obedience?

Friday, September 6, 2013

What are You Allowing In?

The last post in the series on Philippians 4:4-8. You can read the other parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

"Finally, bothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

Paul is emphasizing the importance of what we fill our minds with. We need to pay attention to what we're thinking about because it is a reflection of what we're filling our minds with.

The standards Paul gives for what we fill our minds with our high. And they are high for a reason.

We don't want to allow anything in that opens a door for Satan to get a foothold in our minds and hearts.

These standards that Paul gives for what we think about are the things that are the guard God's peace put around our minds and hearts.

It is important to evaluate things before we allow them in.

  • Is this the truth that I'm allowing in?
  • Is this something with quality that I'm allowing in?
  • Is this pure according to God's standards?
  • Is this lovely according to God's standards?
  • Is this something admirable according to God's standards?
  • Is this in line with God's standards for excellence?
  • Is this praiseworthy according to God's standards?

If the answer to any of these questions is "no" then maybe we need to re-evaluate why we're allowing it into our minds and hearts.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Are You Filled With God's Peace?

Part 4 in a series on Philippians 4:4-8. You can read the remaining parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

This verse is also one I'll look at in a couple of sections.

"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding . . ."

God's peace is given to us. It replaces the anxious thoughts we give over to God in prayer (see last post in the series). God offers His peace to us.

We may not always understand God's peace. If fact, we often don't. We can have God's peace in the midst of circumstances that should cause us anything but peace. But that is what God offers when we take our anxious thoughts to Him in prayer.

". . . will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

God's peace guards our hearts and minds. It protects us from the anxious thoughts coming back. When we are filled with God's peace, it forms a guard around our heart and our mind to keep things that would steal that peace.

All of this happens as we are in Christ Jesus. If we're not in Christ, we won't receive God's peace.
Have you accepted the peace God offers to you?
Are you remaining in Christ?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Are You Praying?

This is the third part in a series on Philippians 4:4-8. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:5)

I think with this verse it will be easiest to take it section by section.

"Do not be anxious about anything . . ."

Paul is talking about the same thing here that Jesus taught about in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34 - the futility of worrying about things. We're not really living if we're worrying or anxious about things. And we have no reason to be.

". . . but in every situation . . ."

There's no situation excluded from what Paul is talking about here. It covers everything.

". . . by prayer and petition . . ."

Prayer is talking to God. Petition is asking of God. Both are important in our relationship with God. He wants us to communicate with Him.

". . . with thanksgiving . . ."

Thankfulness should be a regular part of our lives. No matter what we're facing in life, we can be looking for things to be thankful for. Being thankful changes our perspective on things.

". . . present your requests to God."

This is Paul's answer for how we can avoid being anxious and worrying about everything. We can take all of those things to God and leave them in His hands. God invites us to bring those things to Him.

Are you worrying about things?
Are you taking every situation to God?
Are you looking for things you can be thankful for?
Are you taking everything to God in prayer?