But Not Them

Read 
Matthew 13:10-17 
“The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” Verse 11 (NIV) 

Reflect 
I remember well spending extra evenings at language school trying to figure out some of our lessons. Naomi caught on right away, but Kiswahili was going to take some time to sink into my brain. When we got to Nygezi, Tanzania, where we would work and live, the constant exposure to the language finally made the lessons from school understandableEven though I became quite comfortable conversing in Kiswahili, I realized in a short time that I would not be able to preach in Kiswahili because Biblical terminology  (things like sin, righteousness, grace, redemption, etc.) was not part of everyday conversational speech and the flow of a sermon was completely different than having a conversation. 

Our verse for today is stated in a slightly different way in the gospel of Mark. In Mark 4:11, Jesus states, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables.” 

Jesus called his disciples, and they followed along with him as their teacher. They were willing to spend time with him and learn from him constantly. In fact, they spent all their time with him, and eventually they learned and began to understand his purposes. They knew what it meant to live continuously in his presence. 

To those who are willing to live fully in his kingdom, Jesus gives the secrets of the kingdom. But all who are not willing to turn to Jesus, and to ask and learn why he has come, will stand at the edge of the kingdom, unable to understand the nuances, the mysteries, the fulness of love that flows from the Father in heaven. 

Do you need to press further in? Do you need to spend more time listening to the whispers that Jesus speaks to your heart? He wants us to turn to him and be forgiven, and to have life to the full! This is the only condition for life in his kingdom. 

Pray 
Lord Jesus, help me to press into you and immerse myself in the full life of your kingdom. In your name, Amen.

God and Money

Read 
Matthew 6:19-24 
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Verse 24 (NIV) 

Reflect 
I learned a few bits of information that were new to me this week. I learned that the Roman god of love was Venus, and the god of war was Mars. To me and I am sure to many of us, those are just the names of a couple of planets. But to a Roman army, it was crucial to sacrifice to Mars and pray for victory before going into battle. And a young Roman man would pray to Venus that the woman who had stolen his heart would someday return his love. 

Most of us don’t know that the ancient Syrian god of wealth and prosperity was called Mammon. Jesus lived just across the border from Syria, and he knew about Mammon. This was a false god that represented the love of money and the material wealth and comforts and power it might buy. Jesus also knew that you cannot have any other god alongside the Creator of heaven and earth. That would be idolatry. Therefore, he said, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Any of us who were raised with the King James Version of the Bible will vaguely recognize the name “Mammon.” 

Idolatry is at the root of looking at the world differently or doing business differently rather than via a Biblical norm. And gradually the idol takes over. Greed and worry which accompanies so much of the pursuit of prosperity today, replaces the moral guidelines of the Bible, and the calm trust in God’s blessing disappears along with them. The result so very often is trampled human relationships, anxiety, and sometimes even nervous breakdowns. These can be signs that, somewhere along the line, serving Mammon has squeezed out serving God. Mammon is not a god of love but a false god that leaves a trail of destruction. 

Who are you serving today?” 

Pray 
Lord God, earning a living is an important part of our daily life. Help us to serve you alone, and to trust you for our daily bread. Amen. 

Inheritance

Read 
Proverbs 13:20-22 (NIV)
Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.  Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things.  A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous. 

Reflect 
I have not had any personal experience, but I have been told of families that are torn apart relationally because of arguments over an inheritance that was left behind with no will or any kind of instruction.  

Inheritance issues can be controversial, but, in the Bible, inheritance is also a great example of a good gift because it’s given by grace – not earned – a windfall received from God, who loves us. Psalm 136 celebrates the way God gave the promised land to Israel “as an inheritance.” Again, and again the refrain echoes, “His love endures forever.” As history shows, Israel had done nothing to earn that inheritance. God was creating a new nation that would bless all nations by providing a Saviour. 

The tribe of Levi was different.  They did not receive land as their inheritance. They served in the ceremonial worship of God as priests and teachers and temple workers. And because of this intimate relationship with God, it was said, “The Lord is their inheritance”.
(Deuteronomy 10:9) 

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). And 1 Peter 1:4 describes salvation as “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” Like Israel we did not earn this inheritance, nor do we deserve this inheritance. We have this heavenly treasure all by grace, through faith.  Thanks be to Jesus for all we have. 

Pray 
Thank you Father for the inheritance that we have in your Son Jesus Christ. Amen! 

Settling for Less

Read
Numbers 32:1-27
“We will arm ourselves for battle and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place.”Verse 17 (NIV) 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.Hebrews 12:1-2a (NIV) 

Reflect 
Being raised in an immigrant family, I was taught that you do not ever purchase the highest price for an item. Or maybe it was just that as Dutch people we are inherently cheap. In any case I still to this day settle for the purchase of something that is mid-range in price. That practice has sometimes come back to bite with products that just don’t do the job I expected them to do. 

The promised land was just across the Jordan River, but the land on the near side of the river looked good for grazing. So, the tribes of Reuben and Gad petitioned Moses to let them settle in that area. In doing so, they faced the temptation of settling for what looked good rather than launching forward to grab hold of what God had promised – The Promised Land. When Moses challenged them, the tribes of Reuben and Gad agreed to go with the others across the Jordan to conquer the land. 

Settling down and being fulfilled merely with the things around us is so tempting. The more we have, the easier it is to focus solely on this life. Rather than keeping our eyes on the promises of God, we tend to see the things around us and be satisfied with them. The danger is that we end up settling for much less. 

The Christian faith is to be marked by a holy discontent with earthly treasures and that is easy to do when things are difficult. But as Christians, we need to long for Christ and his kingdom even when things are good, because we know Jesus is the greatest treasure. We are a blessed people living in a blessed land, therefor let’s remember to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus to obtain the ultimate prize – eternal life with Jesus. 

Pray 
Father, help me not to love earthly treasures more than you. We worship you for giving us the gift of your Son (John 3:16). In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Peacekeepers

Read 
Matthew. 5:9-12
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Verse 9 (NIV) 

Reflect 
We just celebrated Canada Day and one of the qualities of the Canadian culture is that we are peacekeepers. Not just active peacekeepers on the international stage, but generally we are known as peace-loving people. 

The concept of peace here in this text, is based on the meaning of the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom refers to a way of life in which justice, peace, goodness, rightness, and flourishing abound for all people. This is life as God intends it to be, in which everyone lives in harmony with God and with their neighbors.  

Jesus came to bring and restore us to peace with God (John 16:33; Romans 5:1). And now we are invited to be peacemakers together with Jesus, not just peacekeepers, but peace makers. Just as he is the Son of God, so we become children of God as we join in his mission of peacemaking.  

Shalom-making involves everything we do – in our work and play, in the way we handle our finances, in all our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Shalom guides us to build unity across racial differences, break down barriers that keep people in poverty, call for legislation that helps life to flourish, and point to God’s way of living that brings full life for all, including care for God’s creation.  

Being a peace maker or a shalom maker calls for us to be like Jesus in how we live, how we play, how we act and how we interact with people and the world. We know from Jesus words that the world will hate us (John 15:19), so we need to walk in the power of Jesus. 

Pray 
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  Numbers 6: 24-26 (NIV) 

Contagious Forgiveness

Read 
Matthew 6:9-15
“If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Verses 14-15 (NIV) 

Reflect 
These verses from the Lord’s Prayer have been said by us time & time again. But do we really know what we are praying. The teaching here might be confusing. It almost sounds as if we have to earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others. But we also know that through faith in Jesus, we are already forgiven by God (Acts 2:38Romans 3-8). So how do we view these verses and how do we apply them to our lives. 

In my childhood home we used a thin rectangular sponge at the kitchen sink. When that kitchen sponge hadn’t been used for a long time and you put it under the tap, the water ran right over the sponge. But if you set that sponge in a sink of water for a few minutes, it softened and became usable again 

Our hearts can be like that sponge. When we hold onto resentments and bitterness, feeding our anger, we can become as hard as a rock, and God’s grace for us will be like water running over a rock. It doesn’t soak in. 

But when we are open to forgiving others, we become soft like a moistened sponge. The Lord’s deep grace soaks in and envelopes our hearts, and we become available to share his grace. Just as a wet sponge moistens other things when it touches them, we can share grace, helping to wipe others’ dirt away as we forgive themAs Colossians 3:13 puts it, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” 

Verses 14-15 in the Lord’s Prayer is about our willingness to forgive. It is about our attitude and our spiritual heart’s willingness to offer grace, while at the same time, die to our anger, resentment, and bitterness.  

Pray
Soak my heart, Lord, in the depths of your abundant grace and mercy, that I may overflow with grace and mercy for others. For Jesus’ sake, Amen. 

Clenched Hearts

Read 
Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Verse 3 (NIV) 

Reflect
Make a fist and squeeze as hard as you can. After a few moments that feels uncomfortable and creates some tension in your entire body. Now imagine that your heart is like that: clenched, closed, so tense and tight that it almost hurts – but in a strange way, that tightness feels safer than letting anyone in to hurt you.

Jesus begins a powerful sermon, declaring, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …” It’s as if he’s saying, “Of course your heart wants to clench up. It feels inadequate; it is wounded and weary; it feels threatened, like it’s under attack. It wants to protect itself.” 

But we know that a clenched heart might also shut out the love of God. So, Jesus invites us to open our hearts, just as they are, wounded and weary. It’s as if he is saying, “Be real; be vulnerable, be open hearted.”  Many of us are sensitive and actually poor in spirit, but we hide that from people around us, so we clench our heart. Being poor in spirit is not something to hide, it’s a way to be blessed. 

My dad told me that if I really wanted to get to know someone well, I should find a way to work with that person on a common task. Our strictest professor at Bible College was very hard to get to know. One summer he hired me to do a significant amount of work in his backyard. The great surprise was that he decided to work alongside me. During those days, his hard exterior came down. We had some very personal discussions and we got to know each other at a different level.  

That September, back at school, I encountered the same strict, hard professor but I knew the heart of the man just below the exterior. It made for a much more enjoyable learning experience. 

Open your heart! It will bless someone else and you at the same time. 

Pray 
Lord, thank you for inviting me to come to you as I am. Help me to open my heart to others – and to show your love. Amen. 

Community is Caring

Read 
Romans 12:3-13
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Verse 6 (NIV) 

Reflect 
In my many years of pastoral work I have been blessed to see the church community act and react with all of their gifts, to be the warm embrace of Jesus in our world. When a middle-aged couple lost the baby they had waited so many years for, their sorrow was unbearable. I watched as people gathered around them to console their broken hearts. I watched as older wise men sat with the husband and responded to his questions about “Where was God in this tragedy?” At the funeral, a young mother who had also lost a child sat with this grieving mom and simply offered her shoulder and an understanding of pain. For weeks following the funeral people dropped off meals, flowers, and cards with expressions of sympathy and support. The entire community cared for them in whatever way they could. 

When the apostle Paul talks about the body of Christ in Romans 12, he urges his listeners to use whatever gifts they have been given to their fullest ability. It doesn’t really matter which gifts we might have. What matters is, that we use them to the best of our ability for the good of others. That expression of caring and love makes the body of Christ strong, resilient, and attractive to those outside the community. 

In community, people care for each other. They use their gifts to help each other and to see that anyone who is wounded, or hurting, or in some other difficulty, is looked after and loved. Sometimes healing is possible. Other times mourning and support are needed when healing doesn’t take place. 

There are times when we all need to know is that someone will care for us. Having a community around us to do that is essential. 

Pray 
Father, help us to use the gifts we have been given to care for each other, and help us to receive care when we need it. Amen. 

Canada Day

Read 
Luke 10:27 (NIV)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself.

Reflect 
My parents and two older siblings immigrated to Canada. For my parents they always celebrated Canada Day and told us on a regular basis that they loved being Canadian. 

When they had visitors from Holland, they always remarked on how much space there is here and how much distance between towns. They notice how each house is different from its neighbour. They were also surprised how hot it is, because they always came in the summer. One of our visitors believed that it was cold in Canada all the time. He wondered how we could keep large farms under glass to allow things to grow. Lake Ontario was often called “the sea” by mistake, because lake is much smaller in Europe

Being a fairly young nation, Canada has so many amenities: straight, well-maintained highways, indoor shopping malls, playgrounds, comfort centres, fast food outlets, and churches with insulation and air conditioning.

God’s been good to us. There’s room for all here. We’re friendly. We welcome those from other countries, and all religions are free to worship here. We’re open-minded. We’re known the world over as peacemakers. I suspect that we might, in fact, be just a little apathetic, taking our blessings for granted.

Whatever the part of the globe that we call home, we need to stand on guard. We could lose our freedoms very easily. As patriots and as Christians, we must be good stewards of this part of the globe that we call home. This means taking care of everything from voting to littering. We need to be informed. We need to keep the Golden Rule, loving our neighbours as ourselves.

As Christians, this world is not our home. We belong to God’s kingdom, and one day, we will live with Him there. We are different from worldly people. God has placed us here to be salt and light – not to be assimilated into the world, but to have an effect on it. We are His ambassadors. 

Let’s remember to be light in the darkness. 

Prayer
Father in heaven, we praise You for our own country, for Your creation, for blessings, and for freedom. Help us to know our true purpose: to serve and to “Stand on guard for Thee.” Amen. 

Community is Family

Read
Matthew 12:46  5(NIV)
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” 

Reflect 
Many of us have a great family and extended family to whom we are very close.  But we can also be a part of other communities that we consider somewhat like family. Some of us are part of a sports team that has been together for many years.  If you are part of a small group, you probably have some very close connections as you have travelled through life together.  My hope would also be that you are part of your church family and that you feel loved and cared for by your church family through the good times and the bad times. 

Jesus gathered a close group of disciples around him who became like family to him. They shared significant, even life changing events and quiet downtimes together. They shared a God-given passion for living in the kingdom of God. And while Jesus no doubt loved his earthly mother and brothers, he loved his community of disciples, followers, and friends as well. 

With whom are you surrounding yourself? What communities are you a part of that are like family to you, loving you unconditionally and supporting you in both good times and bad times? Whom do you share life with? It is important for each of us to have a family around us to do life together. Church should be the kind of place that provides family to one another. 

Pray 
Father, help us find people to share life with as a family community. Amen.