Grace and Truth

One of my favourite passages is John 1:1-14 which is usually read out on Christmas Eve in most traditional-styled church services. In verse 14 it tells us that Jesus, born that first Christmas, was “full of grace and truth.” And, I for one am glad that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and yes forever… because that means He is still full of grace and truth.

Grace and truth

Grace told the adulterous woman, “I do not condemn you” (John 8:11 NASB)

Truth told her, “Go and sin no more” (verse 11 NKJV).

Grace invited a swindler named Zacchaeus to lunch.

Truth prompted him to sell half of his belongings and give to the poor (Luke 19:1-8)

Grace washed to feet of His disciples.

Truth told them, “Do as I have done to you” (John 13:15 NKJV).

Grace invited Peter to climb out of the boat and walk on the sea.

Truth upbraided his lack of faith (Matthew 14:29-31).

Grace invited the woman at the well to drink everlasting water.

Truth tactfully reminded her that she had gone through five husbands and was shacking up with a boyfriend (John 4:18).

Jesus was gracious enough to meet Nicodemus at night.

He was truthful enough to tell him, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (John 3:5 NKJV).

Jesus shared truth, but graciously.

Jesus offered grace, but truthfully.

Grace and truth.

Because of grace Jesus can accept us as we are.

Because of truth He can then speak to us and work with us to become who we should be. 

I am so thankful that the Christmas season reminds me that “Jesus came full of grace and truth.”

Sometimes I Fail to Worship

As I read the Christmas stories in the four Gospels I realize how much emphasis is placed on worship

Worship as a response to what God is doing

Worship because of how God is touching people’s lives and changing them forever

Worship because people are becoming involved in the supernatural and experiencing miracles, seeing signs and wonders

Worship that is both heavenly – the angels singing – and earthly as the Wise Men kneel before the Christ child and worship Him

And I notice the times when the response to what God was doing or Jesus was saying seems to fall short of worship or even a recorded response at all

In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus says, “Let Me teach you…” No apparent response!

Wow! You bet. Let’s go for it. Note book and pen at the ready, Bible open…

In my studies this week I came across a passage in the Bible that spoke of what Jesus was doing and how the people who saw it were amazed and broke into praise and worship

Matthew 15:29-31 NIV “Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

Ah! They worshipped God and thanked and praised Him for what was happening to them personally

They praised God for all He was doing even if it was for others and not for them personally

However, here and in many other places, you would wish that the New Testament writers had been a bit more descriptive

This is one of those times – “And He healed them” seems too short a phrase to describe what must have been an astonishing sight

When we read the Scriptures we need to use a little bit of sanctified imagination

Let your imagination go – Picture the scene in your mind’s eye

Enter into the story with your heart – feelings, emotions…

Can you visualize the blind husband seeing his wife for the first time?

His eyes gazing into her tear-filled ones as if she were the queen of the morning?

Envision the man who had never walked, now walking!

Don’t you know that he didn’t want to sit down?

Don’t you know that he ran and jumped and did a dance with the kids?

For three days it went on

Person after person

Mat after mat

Crutch after crutch

Smile after smile

No record of Jesus preaching or teaching or instructing or challenging

He just healed

Then Matthew, still the great economizer of words, gave us another phrase, one which I wish he would have elaborated: “They praised the God of Israel.”

I wonder how they did that

I feel more certain of what they didn’t do than of what they did do

I feel confident that they didn’t form a praise committee

I feel confident that they didn’t make any robes for a choir

I feel confident that they didn’t sit in rows and stare at the back of each other’s heads

I feel confident that there was not a worship team with a worship leader

I doubt seriously that they wrote a creed on how they were to praise this Jesus they had never before worshipped

I can’t picture them getting into an argument over technicalities

I doubt they felt their praise had to be done indoors

And I know they didn’t wait until the Sabbath to do it

In all probability they just did it

Each one — in his or her own way, with his or her own heart — just praised Jesus

Perhaps some people came and fell at Jesus’ feet

Perhaps some shouted His Name

Maybe a few just went up on the hillside, looked into the sky, and smiled

I can picture a mom and dad standing speechless before the Healer as they hold their newly healed baby

I can envision a leper staring in awe at the One who took away his terror

I can imagine throngs of people pushing and shoving, wanting to get close

Not to request anything or demand anything but just to say “thank you”

Perhaps some tried to pay Jesus, but what payment would have been sufficient?

Perhaps some tried to acknowledge His gift with their own gift, but what could a person give that would express a heart filled with gratitude, amazement, and worship?

All that the people could do was exactly what Matthew said they did: “They praised the God of Israel.”

However they did it, they did it!

And Jesus was touched, so touched that He insisted they stay for a meal before they left

Without using the word worship, this passage in Matthew 15 defines it

Worship is when you’re aware that what you’ve been given is far greater than what you can give

Worship is the awareness that were it not for His touch, you’d still be hobbling and hurting, bitter and broken

Worship is the half-glazed expression on the parched face of a desert pilgrim as he discovers that the oasis is not a mirage

Worship is the “thank you” that refuses to be silenced

We have tried to make a science out of worship

We can’t do that

We have managed to make a big business out of worship

We shouldn’t do that

Worship has little to do with the songs we sing and a lot to do with the heart from which we sing them – the heart from which the words flow

We need to understand that

Worship is a voluntary act of gratitude offered by the saved to the Saviour — the kind of gratitude exhibited in the heart of the man born blind (John 9)

John in his gospel introduces him to us with these words:

As [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth” (John 9:1 NASB).

This man has never seen a sunrise

Can’t tell purple from pink

The disciples fault the family tree: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2 NASB)

“Neither,” Jesus replies. Trace this condition back to heaven. The reason this man was born sightless? So, “the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3)

Talk about a thankless role

Selected to suffer

Some sing to God’s glory

Others teach to God’s glory

Who wants to be blind for God’s glory?

Which is tougher — having the condition or discovering it was God’s idea?

The cure proves to be as surprising as the cause

John 9:6 NASB “[Jesus] spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes.”

The  world abounds with paintings of Jesus:

In the arms of Mary

In the Garden of Gethsemane

In the Upper Room

In the darkened tomb

Jesus touching

Jesus weeping

Jesus laughing

Jesus teaching

But I have never seen a painting of Jesus spitting

Christ smacking His lips a time of two, gathering a mouth of saliva, working up a blob of drool, and letting it go — down in the dirt

Then He squats, stirs up a puddle of … I don’t know, what would you call it?

            • Holy putty?
            • Spit therapy?
            • Saliva solution?

Whatever the name, He places a fingerful in His palm, and then, as calmly as a painter plasters a hole in the wall, Jesus streaks mud-miracle on the blind man’s eyes

“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,” Jesus says  (John 9:7).

The blind beggar feels his way to the pool, splashes water on his mud-streaked face, and rubs away the clay

The result is the first chapter of Genesis just for him – light where there was darkness

Virgin eyes focus

Fuzzy figures become human beings

And John receives the “Understatement of the Bible Award” when he writes: “He came back seeing” (John 9:7)

Don’t you want to yell: “Come on, John! Running short of verbs are we?

How about:

          • “He raced back seeing”?
          • “He danced back seeing”?
          • “He roared back whooping and hollering and kissing everything he could — for the first time — seeing”?

The guy had to be thrilled

We would love to leave him that way, but in this man’s life he has just stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire

Look at the reaction of the neighbours:

“Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?”

Others were saying: “ This is he”

Still others were saying, “No, but he looks like him”

The blind man now seeing keeps saying: “I am him. I am the one” (John 9:8-9 NASB)

These folks don’t celebrate; they debate!

These folks don’t praise and worship the God who heals

They have watched this man grope and trip since he was a kid (John 9:20)

You would think they would rejoice and praise / worship God

But they don’t

The Pharisees call him a heretic and cast him out of the synagogue

The Bible states: “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him” (John 9:35 MSG)

In case the stable birth wasn’t enough — God humbling Himself and becoming one with us — one of us

If three decades of earth walking and miracle working were insufficient

If there was any doubt regarding God’s full-bore devotion, He does things like this

He tracks down a troubled pauper

The beggar lifts his eyes to look into the face of the One who started all this

Jesus has one more question for him:

“Do you believe in the Son of God?”

He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”

Then he said, “Lord, I believe” (John 9: 35-38)

John described the final act of the once-blind man, and it is the only response you can have when you realize you are not looking into the face of a man but the face of God Himself: “he worshipped Him” (John 9:38 NASB)

Don’t you know he knelt?

Don’t you think he wept?

And how could he keep from wrapping his arms around the waist of the One who gave him sight?

He worshipped Him

And one day when we are finally fully healed and standing in front of our Saviour face-to-face, we will do the same. 

We will worship Him

I have said all this to say:

1> We need to be in an attitude of worship because of who God is 

Not just worship Him when He does something we ask Him to do or something that is obviously supernatural

But also when He does not do what we ask of Him and we don’t understand why He is not moving on our behalf

Worship is a decision and not a feeling!

2> When we read the Scriptures we need to read slowly and pause to think and feel — we need to engage our imaginations and step into the story

To imagine how the people would have been feeling

To imagine how they would have understood what they were seeing and hearing

To imagine what they did with what they saw and heard

We need to understand that these were real people facing real life – people with thoughts and feelings, families and finances, needs and wants

3> When we are reading the Scriptures we need to engage the heart and not just the head … so we can experience and encounter truth and not just understand it

Then it is life changing … transformational

4> We need to ask Jesus to teach us and show us – bringing revelation to our hearts and heads and let Him open the Scriptures to us as He did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus

Matthew 11:28-29 (partial) “Come to Me … and learn from Me”

Luke 24:32 “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures”

5> We need to do whatever we can to bring life to our Bible reading and Bible study times … to regain a lost dynamic or to experience a dynamic for the first time

Using the Scriptures as a basis for prayer and worship

Pray the Scriptures

Worship as you read and become personally engaged in the stories and events

 

 

 

 

 

Whoever…

John 3:16 states: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

“Whoever” unrolls the welcome mat of heaven to humanity. 

“Whoever” invites the world to God.

Jesus could have so easily narrowed the scope, changing “whoever” to whatever. “Whatever Jew believes” or “Whatever woman follows me.” But He used no qualifier. The pronoun is wonderfully indefinite. After all, who isn’t a “whoever?”

The word sledgehammers racial fences and dynamites social classes. It bypasses gender borders and surpasses ancient traditions. 

“Whoever” makes it clear: God exports His grace worldwide. For those who attempt to restrict it, Jesus has a word: “whoever.”

 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32)

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39)

“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35)

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16)

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:36)

“… but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14)

“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37)

“… and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:26)

“And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17 NKJV)

Titus 2:11 assures us that “God’s grace that can save everyone has come’ (NCV). Paul contended that Jesus Christ “sacrificed Himself to win freedom for all mankind” (1 Timothy 2:6 NEB). Peter affirmed that “it is not His [God’s] will for any to be lost, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NEB). 

God’s gospel has a “whoever” policy and that is simply powerfully exciting and even awesome!

Jesus…

I have not written a blog in a few days … I try not to write just for the sake of writing but to write when I have something to say and want to share. Thus last month I missed three days writing a blog and four this month. Breaking routine.? Yes! Allowing more time to read? Yes! Thinking a little deeper than usual? Absolutely! 

In the past three days I have been focused on reading an excellent book on Jesus by Max Lucado called “Jesus, The God Who Knows Your Name.” Written in a very readable and easy to follow and understand manner. Yet an excellent study into the life and ministry of Jesus. This morning early I started another book on the life, times, and ministry of Jesus written with a more scholarly format yet just as good. The book is “Simply Jesus” by N.T. Wright. Again, a worthwhile investment of time and energy.

We are approaching Christmas and I become quickly overwhelmed by advertisements to buy everything from a kitchen appliance to a new Toyota in their year-end sale. At least the appliance usually fits under the tree. Consumerism runs at top speed this time of year and it takes effort to stay focused on Jesus and the true message of the season. I am instantly reminded that the crib (baby Jesus) means nothing without the Cross of Calvary and the crowning of Jesus as King. Remember the words of the Magi when they asked, “Where is He who is born king?” The crib must remain connected to the crown and the cross was the path needed to be travelled so as to receive the crown.

So, each year at about this time in the Christmas season I turn my focus to Jesus and read so as to refresh my understanding but also to deepen and enrich my relationship with Him. And, this approach and focus keeps me anchored and helps me not get caught up in the commercial aspects of the season. It reminds me, as the now worn out phrase states, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

As I read both the biblical account of the birth of Jesus and other books written about Him I look for fresh insights to a very familiar story of His birth. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament who received fresh manna every day from their heavenly Father I am looking for “fresh manna” of another sort. Jesus said that “we don’t live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The Greek tense is the present perfect which can be translated “proceeds continuously day after day” from the Lord. So, I am looking for that fresh manna that feeds my soul and spirit and refreshes me as I allow the words and insights to sink into my very being. 

This takes time which always seems in short supply and even more so with all the added family events which happen around the Christmas season. So, I work hard to protect my time and not waste it on unnecessary things. Time is precious and seems to be in short supply even at the best of times. More so around the festive season of Christmas. But to receive and digest fresh manna takes time and focus and so I work hard to protect my time with the Lord in the morning and even add to it so as to spend a little more time than normal.

There is always more to see. More to know. More to understand. More to experience. And, so I look forward with serious expectation to knowing the Prince of Peace better by the end of this season called CHRISTmas. 

How about you?

Sometimes I Miss the Obvious

There is an annoying advertisement on television for hotels.com which features a character called “Captain Obvious”

He has been around since 2014 and is becoming fairly famous through his somewhat obvious comments in ads for his company

Thus his name Captain Obvious

Makes you wonder about comments you hear and signs that you see when travelling…

      • You know its cold outside when you go outside and it’s cold
      • Please make sure the elevator is there before stepping in
      • Wet paint unless it dried
      • Caution: water on road during rain
      • Open the door before entering. Thank you.
      • Do not breathe under water
      • Caution: Fire is hot
      • Library is closed until opening time
      • On a bin of peanuts: This product contains peanuts
      • On a milk freezer in the grocery store: This is not an exit

Well, it made me think about some of the truths in the Scriptures which are rather obvious but which we miss because we read the Bible with religious glasses and thus miss them 

So: “Sometimes I Miss the Obvious”

We read passages that are familiar and so just keep reading and thus miss a truth or an insight because we know the verse or the story

We read Scripture without thinking through the context of the passage

    • Who is speaking?
    • To whom are they speaking?
    • What was happening to cause the comment to be spoken?
    • How would those people in that day hear what was being said?
    • Is there something in the culture or the religion of that day that brings more meaning to this passage?

We read from a place of accumulated experiences, understanding, traditions, religious teachings … all of which cloud our understanding and any new insight that might be there

We read without asking the author – the Holy Spirit – to give us insight into what we are reading

We read the Bible as part of a discipline – We were taught that every day we should start the day by reading three chapters of the Bible.

I wonder if Jesus did that – I mean woke up early, stoked the camp fire, made a pot of coffee, and then sat quietly to read His Bible

We read without any real understanding of the culture during the time it was written and the ethnicity to whom it was addressed … what was going on historically at that time

So, “Sometimes I Miss the Obvious”

Years ago I spent a lot of time studying the temples in the Bible 

Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness

David / Solomon and the amazing temple that they built

Herod – Roman ruler of Israel – and the temple he built for the Jews

The third major temple that some believe will be built on the Temple Mound in Jerusalem where currently there is a very large mosque functioning

It was the “in thing” at that time to discuss and argue about the potential possible third temple that would be built in Jerusalem when Jesus returns….

Recently I have been thinking about that – Thinking about Jesus – that’s a good thing

And about His attitude and approach to the temple and what He said about a possible future temple

Some general comments:

As a child Jesus was taken to the temple on several occasions

His dedication

When He was 12 and ended up staying behind when His family left and is found discussing the Scriptures with the elders several days later

He once visited the temple and cleared out all those who were, in His mind, misusing its facilities – money changes and those selling animals to offer as a sacrifice

Jesus did not invite people to attend the temple services and His own disciples apparently did not attend either

He did comment and prophesy that the temple would be destroyed which it was in 70 A.D. (C.E.)

After His resurrection He again apparently ignored the temple

Now, don’t miss the obvious…

When Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of God He was not in the temple …

The temple was:

The center focus of the Jewish religion

The place where you came to be with God and in His presence

The location where you could seek and find forgiveness through offering a sacrifice

When Jesus was talking about the Kingdom He was most often sitting at someone kitchen table sharing a meal…

In Luke’s Gospel alone there are nearly three dozen references to eating, drinking, and sitting at table

Throughout the third Gospel, Jesus is moving from meal to meal, table to table, house to house

Jesus is constantly announcing and enacting the Kingdom of God by a common meal at a shared table

The most radical aspect of Jesus and His movable feast was His fondness for sharing the table with the “wrong” people — the sinner, the outcast, the excluded

In a culture where table practice was closely associated with personal holiness, this was bound to raise eyebrows … and it did

The Scribes and Pharisees grumbled, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1)

And Jesus was happy to live up to their criticism

Jesus was clearly willing to share the table with anyone who would come to Him

For Jesus, a shared table was the way salvation came to sinners

When Jesus sat at table with Jericho’s chief tax collector Zacchaeus, the meal was not over before the notorious sinner had come to understand salvation

Luke 19:1-10 “He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”

When Jesus was asked, “Will only a few be saved?” He responded by saying, “People will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the Kingdom of God “ (Luke 13:23, 29)

For Jesus, salvation could be described as eating in the Kingdom of God, and He anticipated all kinds of people coming to His table

In His preaching, parables, and practice Jesus made it clear that salvation and the Kingdom of God are centered, not in a temple, but at a table — Radical, revolutionary thinking and practice

Temple                                                                    Table

Old Testament                                                      New Testament

Religion                                                                  Relationships

God kept at a distance                                         God up close and personal

Temple / altar                                                       Homes / kitchen table

Jews only                                                               Anyone and everyone

Jesus celebrated the Last Supper at a table in the Upper Room

Jesus made Himself known to the two disappointed disciples walking home to Emmaus when they stopped and had a meal together around a table — that was when the revelation of who he was came to them

Jesus appeared after His resurrection to His disciples in the Upper Room where they had gathered to eat keeping the door locked for fear of being arrested

Jesus revealed Himself to Peter and His disciples by cooking fish on a open fire on the beach and sharing a meal together

This is the obvious I had missed for so long….

Jesus relocated the holy of holies from a veiled chamber reserved for a solitary high priest, to a shared table to which all are invited

Jesus overturned money-changing tables in the temple, but set up banqueting tables in His Father’s house

Prior to Jesus — the Jewish concept of holiness was one of ever smaller and ever holier concentric circles

As one moved closer to the holy of holies, access became more stricter

          • The land of Israel was the holy land within the world
          • Within the land of Israel was the holy city of Jerusalem
          • Within Jerusalem was the holy temple
          • Within the temple were increasing levels of holiness with corresponding restrictedness
              • There was a court for Jews only where Gentiles were prohibited
              • A court for men only, where women were prohibited
              • A court for priests only, where laymen were prohibited
              • And at last, the holy of holies where only the high priest could enter, and only once a year

Holiness was something to be protected from the profane and the secular

But Jesus changed all of that

Jesus changed the concept of kosher

When the unclean touched Jesus, Jesus was not made unclean, rather the unclean were made whole

During Jesus’ ministry sinners (the unclean) were given unfettered access to the holiest of all – Himself

What could be more holy than sitting at table and dipping bread in the same bowl with God Himself?

In the hospitality of Jesus we make the unprecedented discovery of the obvious

That God is willing to share His table with anyone — even with sinners

Especially with sinners

This fundamentally changes our idea of kosher and holy and church

The apostle Peter eventually learns to say, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (Acts 10:28)

For the Christian the holiest of all is sharing a meal around a table … the height of which is The Lord’s Supper – the Communion table where we are offered the body and blood of Jesus

Instead of being restricted to a particular place (geography) and limited to a priestly elite, the Christian holy of holies can be located anywhere and everywhere there is a table

The Lord’s Table bears witness to the New Covenant truth that the holy land is the whole earth and the chosen people are the human race

During His final week of ministry in Jerusalem, Jesus did two highly significant things:

1> He overturned the tables of the money changers and thus shut down the temple – although only briefly

2> He celebrated a major meal with His disciples which has since become the example for the Lord’s Supper (Hoy Communion) if done properly

The temple is protested while the table is blessed

During Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday Jesus prophesied the demise of the temple and the rise of the table

Jesus shifts our thinking from temple to table

As Jesus sat at the table with His disciples during the Last Supper, He told them He would not drink from the fruit of the vine until He drank it with them anew in the coming Kingdom of God

Matthew 26:29 TPT “The next time we drink this, I will be with you and we will drink it together with a new understanding in the kingdom realm of my Father.”

The new understanding was the switch from the temple to the table

This also explains why Jesus was eager to eat and drink with His disciples after His resurrection

He was celebrating with them the full exposure of the Kingdom and the new understanding of the Kingdom and the Church … 

Centered on the intimate fellowship between believers shared with Him — which comes when we sit around a table and eat together 

In the Book of Acts Peter described the apostles as those who “ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41)

The Risen Christ did not appear at the temple but at meal tables

 

In the Upper Room

On the road to Emmaus

Again in the Upper Room (twice – with 10 of the apostles, then with Thomas there)

On the beach 

The center of God’s activity had shifted — it was no longer the temple but the table that was the holiest of all

The Church would do well to think of itself, not so much as a kind of temple, but as a kind of table where we eat and share fellowship as they did in Acts 2:42

Religion – most churches today – still see themselves as a temple and have duplicated the Old Testament style of ministry

            • Priest – Pastors
            • The Church being a sacred place separated from the world
            • Only the priest or pastor can celebrate The Lord’s Supper
            • An altar rail  or raised platform – separating the holy of holies from the rest of the church where the people sit 
            • God kept at a distance
            • The Lord’s Supper for members only

So, there was to be a fundamental shift from the temple / church building to the table

Consider the difference between temple and table

Temple                                                                                     Table

Exclusive                                                                                         Inclusive

Hierarchical                                                                                    Eqalitarian

Authoritarian                                                                                  Affirming

Upright and status conscious                                                       Relaxed and “family-style”

Rigorous enforcement of purity codes                                        A welcome home party celebrating the return of sinner                                                                                                                                                                                                                             that prohibits the unclean

Temporal                                                                                            Eternal

God was a deity in a temple                                                            God is a Father at a table

And, we need to grasp this obvious change that took place with the ministry and resurrection of Jesus

Because “now many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 8:11)

The exclusivity of the temple must give way to the inclusive nature of the kitchen table

The difference between the old temple and the new temple – the table – is like the difference between performing purity rites under the judgmental gaze of religious gatekeepers and sharing food and drink at table with close friends (coffee at Starbucks or Tim Horton’s)

Instead of the temple method of declaring the outside unclean and restricting their access at the Lord’s Table we need to say, “Pull up a chair and sit with us, we’ll make room for you.”

In the temple the sacred is preserved by the practice of exclusion — women, Gentiles, sinners and the unclean are kept at a proscribed distance

At the table the sacred is expressed in the practice of inclusion — receiving the outsider, the stranger, and the unclean for whom Jesus always makes room

Religion separates life into sacred and secular

Jesus – centering life around the table – see life as a whole and in itself sacred

Sometimes I miss the obvious because of the familiar 

But recently I have been asking the Holy Spirit to remove my religious glasses and to open my spiritual eyes and ears even more

I have been reading much less of the Bible each day and discovering more depth and truth in what I am reading than ever before

I have been asking to see as He sees and hear what He is saying through the Word of God, the Bible

I have been, with His help, tearing down my religious understanding of things including much of what I have been taught and taught others

I have been – for the last several years – praying Hebrews 12:25-27 MSG

So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words … “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.”

And, in many ways, praying that seems to be working — God has and is answering my prayer

And, I invite you to trust our heavenly Father and pray that same prayer … so that you will no longer miss so much that should be and really is rather obvious

 

TAG IT 

What’s your tagline? When people ask, “do you know so and so?” and someone says about you, “yeah, he/she is the ______?” What is the fill in the blank? 

I guess the first question is “do you have a tagline?” I have two- “Radical Teacher” and “Prophetic.” That defines what I love to do, and hopefully adds value to those around me. But it is the tag that most people use who know me well, as well as those who are simply acquaintances. 

Let me give a few other examples, strictly based on my opinion: 

John Maxwell- leadership
Don Miller- blue like jazz
Darlene Zschech- worship leader Beth Moore- women’s bible studies Rick Warren- Purpose Driven Mark Batterson- insightful author

You may argue with some of the “tags” I’ve given to these folks, but the point is, whether you like it or not, you are being tagged. 

I believe “branding” and “tagging” are different. Branding is more about identity and emotion, where tagging is more about what I do. Sometimes they overlap, but most of the time they are closely associated but not necessarily the same. 

A tag is the subtitle of your book, if you were writing a biography. A tag is what comes to mind first when people think of you, that split second chance for someone to properly pull your file from their short or long term memory. A tag is no more than 10 words- a quick and concise snapshot of what someone sees you doing. 

So are you creating your own tag, or is someone else creating it for you? 

Coming Shifts and Changes That Will Be Needed

As I write this – the day before its publication – we are into our second day of strong winds and snow, a blizzard. All roads and highways into and out of the city are closed. Visibility has improved but is still not good. Drifting snow and terrible road conditions. On the bight side – lots of exercise shovelling the snow from the last 36 hours. So, no need to fight the conditions to get to the gym. I do have to be out and about later in the day however. Hopefully by then conditions will improve. Welcome to winter in my part of the country.

As the weather seasons change I believe the natural is speaking to us about the spiritual or supernatural. There seems to be a change or a shift happening in the Church and thus in the Kingdom. In fact, a number of shifts 

1> We are seeing the church move from being an organization to being more organic. Organic means being built on relationships and not programming. It also means more people involved in the life of the church buying into the fellowship, connecting, committing. With each member becoming actively involved in the life of the Body (1 Corinthians 12:14-31). Body ministry as expressed in 1 Corinthians 12 must become a reality. 

2> We are seeing a shift from big to small. As a result of Covid we have been meeting in smaller, house-centered groups. Many of the larger churches have not been meeting but the life of the Body of Christ has continued and, in fact, improved because of the increase in house fellowships and personal face-to-face contact. This will continue even post-Covid as it is a move and a change directed by the Spirit.

3> We are shifting from cognition to emotion. We are needing to alter the way we teach. For decades we have been teaching to impart information. We have been aiming our teachings at the head, knowledge. The result is informed believers. The new shift will take us to transformation as we teach to touch the heart and thus bring immediate change into the lives of believers as the Word does its work (Hebrews 4:12). Transformation, not information. Heart not just head.

4> We will be shifting from asking “What?” To asking “What If?” In other words, we will become much more imaginative and will be stepping out in faith and making many changes to way we do life together. We will no longer just ask “What is happening?” We will be thinking and feeling through the question “What if we…?” And we will begin to, once again, step out in faith and see what the Spirit can accomplish through us.

5> For many years our emphasis has been on building a decent sized church. So, assembling a crowd as numbers have determined success or failure. We are seeing a healthy shift to building disciples and not just focusing on numbers. So, focusing on making strong and mature disciples for the Kingdom and not just more members for the Church

6> We are having to face a new reality and so there is a shift going on from the old to the new reality. This shift includes a much stronger on-line presence and using the technology that now exists to reach people for Jesus. On-line church services, small groups, and personal counselling will become a necessity in the new society and culture now being formed due in part to the Covid pandemic. 

7> We need to shift gears from go to stop. This means we need to be somewhat less active and a bit more contemplative. As leaders and as believers we need to be in touch with our heart or spirit. We need to take the time to know how we are doing and what might need some realignment. We need to develop solid, in-depth relationships that allow us to be seriously accountable. We need good friends. We need to have a daily time with God and regain the discipline of journaling. We need to slow down enough to have a time to exercise daily. And, we need to develop and maintain a growing hunger for more of God in every aspect of our lives. This means we will need to say no more often so that we have the time needed to regain and maintain our health. We need to shift gears from constant go, go, go to taking the time to stop ministering as much and as often and invest in our our own health – physical, spiritual, mental, and relational. 

8> We need to shift from direct to indirect influence. As leaders we often lead directly touching and changing hearts. However, there is a shift to a more biblical form of leadership where we invest the majority of our time discipling and mentoring future leaders who will influence the next generation. Thus, we continue to directly influence those who are our peers but through others that we disciple and mentor into leadership we indirectly influence many more that, on our own, we would never reach.

9> A shift from town to region (local community to complete cities and beyond). The Bible states that Jesus went throughout all of the towns and villages” in Galilee (Matthew 9:35). The northern region of Israel where Jesus ministered was, at that time, estimated to have a population of three million. Jesus ministered to therein and not just one town or village.

Paul followed this regional influence method by planting churches in major population centers and then working from there outwards to the whole region (trading district). Acts 19 sees Paul planting a church in the city of Ephesus which then shared “the word of the Lord” with every household in the entire district of Asia Minor (Acts 19:10) within two years.

10> A shift from addition to multiplication. So, instead of planting one church and watching it grow and continue to develop we shift our thinking and thus our spiritual DNA and “plant to plant”. Think of your church plant or current mature church as the first of many that will be planted. And immediately upon planting begin training and raising up teams to plant other new churches out of the current plant. A modest goal of one new church a year would be a good start. 

This new church would then also plan to plant a sister church and thus in year two there would be two churches planting two new church… and so on year after year. Thus we shift our thinking and planning from an addition mentality to a multiplication mentality.

11> A shift from discouragement to encouragement. The church must become a place where everyone can find encouragement. A place where believers and non-believers can be built up and encouraged in the Lord. The early churches were oases of encouragement. 

      • Barnabas was called the son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36)
      • Barnabas encouraged believers in Antioch (Acts 11:23)
      • Two prophets in the early church, Judas and Silas “said so much to encourage and strengthen the brothers” (Acts 15:32)
      • After being released from prison in Philippi, Paul and Silas went to the home of Lydia, “where they met with the brothers and encouraged them” (Acts 16:40)
      • When Paul was about to enter into Macedonia, Luke writes: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-bye and set out for Macedonia. He travelled through the area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people (Acts 20:1-2)
      • On the way to Rome, Paul the prisoner met with believers, where we read, “At the sight of these men, Paul thanked God and was encouraged” (Acts 28:15)

So, there needs to be a major focus shift where we stop dwelling on how hard something is or how difficult people can be and start seeing difficulties and problems as challenges that with God’s help we can meet. We need to focus on what will encourage people in good times and bad.

12> Shift from mundane to joyful. Life with Jesus should never be boring or mundane (ordinary, unexcited, uninteresting, dull, monotonous, tiresome). Neither should ministry. So, we need to see that we are joining with Jesus in His work and actually completing what He started.

In the Gospels Jesus began His work and ministry. In the book of Acts Jesus continues to do what He began now working through His servants (leaders and believers). Acts 1:1 states, “In my first book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…” Luke recorded in the Gospel of Luke what Jesus began to do. In Acts he continues to record what Jesus continued to do but this time through His Church. And, we join with Him in this continuing ministry.

The Book of Acts is the only New Testament book that never draws to a close and didn’t end… So, we are writing Acts, chapter 29 and this should always excite us and bring great joy. Working for and with the Lord should never be mundane. Planting churches and winning the lost should always be exciting and bring great joy – just as the angels in heaven rejoice each time even one lost sinner meets Jesus. 

Some of the many changes needed as we enter a new season in the Church and the Kingdom. 

And We Go To Church Because?

In speaking with young people who have been active church attendees and true believers and disciples of Jesus I have been asking them one key question in the midst of year two of the pandemic. A time in which they have not been attending on the weekend because of Covid and local restrictions or simply out of an abundance of caution during this troubling time. 

The question: Are you planning to return to church when the pandemic is over? 

The answer in all cases – young unmarried men and young married couples – is no! 

The reason for not wanting to reconnect? Simple. When they stopped attending nothing changed in their daily life. The came to realize that church attendance and gathering with other believers to worship and hear someone teach God’s Word had not impacted their life in any tangible way. That the current format of ‘church’ was simply not working. So, if attending a Christian assembly on the weekend was not making a difference in their life and it was not even missed – even a little bit – then why start up attending again? Good question!

Their observation and their decision has much to say to the Church and I hope we don’t miss the message. The Church, in the eyes of many young people, is not longer relevant and has ceased to play a meaning role in their lives, if it ever did. It no longer serves a purpose. So, as a famous pastor once said, “If the horse is dead, dismount!” And that is exactly what they have done and are doing.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. They are not mad or disappointed with Jesus. They are still deeply interested in spiritual issues. They are continuing their spiritual journey searching for deeper meaning and purpose. They have simply eliminated the Church from the journey and are no longer seeing it as having a purpose in their lives. They won’t be returning – at least not to the Church as it now functions. 

From my vantage point this is a good thing IF, and it is a big if, the leaders of the Church will sit and speak with these young people and hear their heart. Leaders need to step outside their comfort zone and speak to those who have decided not to return and hear, really hear, what they have to say. Hear their heart without being defensive. Listen with their heart without making excuses and rationalizing. Then the leaders need to process this information and act upon what they are hearing. Changes need to be made. Big and small changes. Foundational changes. And to do so we need to remember that the message never changes – the Gospel of the Kingdom is always the same. But, the methods can change. The way we present the message needs to change. The way we celebrate the message needs to change. The way we gather to live the message needs to change. The way we understand the message and relate it to today’s soon-to-be (we hope) post pandemic world needs adjusting. 

I believe the changes need to be as radical and mind-bending as the ones Jesus Himself brought to the religious world of His day. His people had once had a dynamic, personal relationship with the living God. However, their faith had become bogged down in traditions and rituals and lost its life. It was now simply a set of rules to follow and rituals to perform. It had gone from dynamic to dead. From relational to religious. And Jesus came to turn this all upside down. The early Church continued this revolution (see Acts 17:6b). But over the decades and centuries that have followed the Church becomes fossilized and losing its life-force. Change is required. New seasons arrive and radical adjustments are made. We are in such a season. Let’s not miss the implications. 

In the midst of a slow death the Spirit moves upon the hearts of some people who face the truth and see the reality. And, they leave what is to build what should be. Oh, they are not always sure how to build but they know that what they have is not working and think that anything will be an improvement. They need the apostles to step in and encourage them in their search. They need the prophets to speak into the situation. They need to recognize that the foundation of the Church is the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). And then, with these specific leaders they need to start to build once again. Not repair. Not rebuild. But starting with just the hunger they feel and the need they have for meaningful and life-giving fellowship they must step forward in faith and see where the Spirit leads them. 

Those who are still involved in the local church as we continue to walk through Covid and the pandemic should also take this opportunity to look at what they are doing and ask themselves why they do what they do. What are we gaining from what we do? Is what we call Church really biblical or is it designed by us for us? Those who continue to attend need to answer the question: “And we go to church because?” 

Why Are We Involved In All That Stuff?

Last week there was a passing comment by someone I love dearly that he had cut off Facebook contact with someone who is a family member and professing Christian. The reason: this person is spreading conspiracy theories and “Fox News” material through his posts on Facebook. I had a short chat with this same person this summer during which he mentioned a number of off-the-wall (yes, my opinion) theories that are circulating within the Christian community and wider society. A short chat because I ended the brief visit because of the stream of unfounded conspiracy theories and false prophecies (again, my opinion) he was sharing freely and without my asking or being interesting in the least.

So I ask the question: “What are we (Christians) involved in all this stuff?” And, the question is important because the current conspiracy theories are only the tip of the iceberg of the many things believers are occupying their time with. Just last week I was in touch with a great believer and leader I have known for several decades and she was dealing with a flood of texts from others about Pope Francis throwing out and cancelling the Bible as a book to be read and followed. Come on folks. We can do better.

I find it amazing to see what many believers are occupying their time with fake news and an avalanche of conspiracy theories about Trump, the recent presidential elections in the United States, Covid-19, and so many other things. And, right along side of all this, the number of false and misleading prophetic words floating around Facebook and the internet in general. False prophecies being accepted as valid and occupying people’s time , prayers, and conversations. 

It is as if Jesus is simply not enough. 

I just marked my 45th anniversary of being born agin and encountering Jesus and His amazing love for me. In that 45 years I have read the Bible from cover to cover over 100 times and the New Testament many more times than that. I have written and preached thousands of sermons. I have a shelf full of books about Jesus that I have read and digested (with a few new ones to read in 2022). And I sense and feel that I have barely scratched the surface of what there is to learn and know about Jesus, His love and grace, His Church, and His plans for the evangelization of the whole world. 

So, I don’t have a lot of time – in fact, I don’t have any time – to become involved in the rumours, conspiracies, false prophetic words, and other miscellaneous things that believers are focusing on. There are people in your world and in your neighbourhood who need to know Jesus, His love and His grace. And, they will come to know Him by seeing how much we love Him, each other, and those who do not know Him. Jesus said, “they will know you are My disciples by your love.” And our love for Him is not evident in all the fake news, false prophetic words, and ridiculous conspiracy theories that many believers are speaking about and spreading. 

I find Jesus is more than enough and I don’t need to be adding other lesser things to my focus and daily conversations – especially things that don’t edify or build up. We are called as believers “to speak the truth in love…” and to “do all things as unto the Lord.” Let’s focus on loving others in thought, word, and deed. Let’s show the world the real Jesus. Yes, that may mean having to really discover Him for yourself first before you can truly speak about Him to others. Many have a religious Jesus but not the real Jesus of Scripture.

In John 12 a group of spiritually hungry men come up to Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, and say “See, we would like to meet Jesus.” Many of our neighbours and friends are, in various ways, saying the same thing to each of us. They need to see Jesus. They want to see Jesus. And, so we need to be focused on Jesus – who He is and what He did and is doing. We need to adjust our lifestyle so that it speaks about Him. We need to walk in His love and give it away. And, that is a full-time focus leaving no room for the false prophetic, conspiracy theories, or even personal opinions. Just Jesus!

My full focus is to know Jesus and make Him known. That is what fills my day and fulfills the yearning in my heart. That is what makes my life meaningful and fulfilling. 

“Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21) is the cry of the world today. Let’s answer that cry. 

Let’s Not Complicate Things

I think that we often over complicate the Christian faith. I believe in solid Bible scholarship. I believe that preaching should be biblical, theologically correct, practical and rooted in the reality that we face today. I believe that the Christian faith is challenging and profound in its own way. I believe that any teaching of the Bible should have depth and not just be one’s opinion with a verse or two to “proof text” the opinion of the speaker or writer. But I believe we have seriously over complicated the basics of the faith.

The Christian faith is about love. God’s love for us. God’s love in us. God’s love through us to others. It is not about human love often seen as kindness, generosity, and gentleness. It is not a ‘feeling’ love. We often mix up God’s love with a feeling we have when we say we love sailing or love hockey or ice cream. Love is a decision. God decided that He would love us regardless. God decided that when we come to know Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour that He would pour His love into us (Romans 5:5). And, after He has done this then we can truly love Him with a God-love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). And because His love lives within us we can love others as He would and does.  Loving our fellow Christians, loving those who don’t yet know Him. And, hold on to your hat, loving even our enemies. 

Jesus said, “By this will all people know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). All people – fellow believers, unbelievers, and those that hate and persecute us. This is loving others with the God kind of love known in the Greek language as Agapé.

And based in this love we can then accept other people just as Jesus accepted us. His acceptance of us was based in His love for us and not in something we did or didn’t do. Our performance. He simply accepted us as we were – yet knowing what we had done as well as who we could become and what we could do in His Kingdom. His is an unconditional love. Love without conditions. No-strings-attached love. And we are to then, from His love residing in us, accept others unconditionally. Regardless of their status in society, their education, their wealth or lack thereof. We accept them regardless of their history, their cultural and social background, or what they have done – the sin in their lives. Jesus came to love the sinner and so must we.

As we accept others they will come to experience the love of God through us. As they see that love and experience the acceptance they will, with the help of the Holy Spirit, draw closer to the Saviour and begin to experience His acceptance and love. This will open their hearts to the conviction of the Holy Spirit which will, in time, result in godly sorrow and repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-10) which will lead them to salvation.

The third element in the basics of the simple but profound Christian faith is total forgiveness. When a person encounters forgiveness in their relationships with believers they will begin to experience, in a small yet significant way, the total and absolute forgiveness that can only be found in knowing Jesus. As they encounter forgiveness in their relationships with Christians they will come to understand that forgiveness is not only possible but available. In the world they did find forgiveness. Revenge, yes! Rejection, yes! Judgment, yes! Offences, yes! Hatred, yes! Only in relationship with believers will they taste the total and absolute forgiveness that they seek and need in life. Because we, as disciples, have experienced total forgiveness we can offer our forgiveness to others when they speak or act against us, hurt us, or reject us. A small taste of the forgiveness they will receive when they come to know Jesus personally.

This is the Christian faith – Jesus loves us unconditionally, accepts us just as we are, and forgives us totally – past, present, and future. We are called to be like Jesus and do the same in our relationships with both believers and non-believers. Love, accept, and forgive. Let’s not complicate it. The Christian faith is profound and deep but it is also simple and practical.

The LAF Principle – Love, Accept, and Forgive.