Why Missions?

Luke 15:1-24
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion …”
Verse 20 (NIV)

I have heard it said more than once that when a person is converted to Christianity, the last part of the person to be converted is his or her wallet. Meaning of course that our present culture is very much concerned about money and material things.

Seldom do we see any expression from God that points to opulence. The exception may be the building of the temple by Solomon. Simply put, God goes all out to seek people in order to have a deep, loving relationship with them. God wants followers who care about the same things he cares about.

Jesus’ parables in Luke 15 tell us about the deeply loving and caring heart of God. In this section of Scripture, we find three powerful stories with the same theme: something precious and valuable is lost, and it simply must be found and restored! We sense the pain of deep loss; we are caught up in the search and desire for restoration; we feel the thrill of rediscovery; and we experience the great joy of celebrating with a big party.

You can always tell what you value by what you do. Does your heart beat in tune with God’s heart? Will you go out of your way to join God’s mission of love to those who aren’t home with the Father yet? Missions is about searching for what is lost, finding and restoring them, then celebrating the victory of ultimate restoration and life. Is there any wonder why missionaries are so passionate about what they do!

Lord, thank you for coming to look for us long before we started searching for you. Use us to be your restoring presence today among people who’ve lost their way. Amen.

Putting On The Right Clothes

Colossians 3:1-14
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.                                         Verse 12 (NIV)

In the mid 1980s I worked on the transformation of a house in Toronto’s Rosedale area to a posh hair boutique. The owners were impressed with our work and invited my boss and I, with our wives, to come to the grand opening with Hall & Oates (pop singers) in attendance. So, we went. Did we ever feel out of place at that event. Everyone was dressed in very modern and up to date clothes. The four of us quietly left and went out for dinner. A much more comfortable evening.

Sometimes what you wear ­allows other people to see what you value and what your character is like. If you go to a sports game, you will be surrounded by a sea of team jerseys.

In today’s Scripture passage, we are encouraged to dress in a way that shows what we value and who we are. In verses 5-11, we are reminded to put off things that are sinful, demeaning, and hurtful, such as malice, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed. Then we are urged to put on a new set of clothes: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We also add love, “which binds them all together in perfect unity.” In other words, love makes our outfits perfectly coordinated! All of these articles were “worn” perfectly by Jesus Christ; as his followers, we model our lives after him.

I remember a time when I was wearing my denim jacket with a “Jesus is Lord” patch on my back. I was making a purchase at a gas station and the attendant, I thought, was very rude. I was ready to give him a good piece of my mind, but then I remembered what I was wearing. That would have been a very poor witness. I changed my attitude and tone of voice and informed him that I thought he should be more customer friendly. May we always put on the mind of Christ and glorify him before others.

Lord make us aware of what we show ourselves to be as followers of Jesus, Amen.

Good Foundations

Matthew 7:24-27
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (NIV)

As a house builder for a number of years I understood the value of a well-built foundation. I do remember a house in the Cobourg area that was putting on an addition. The excavator dug too close to the existing footings and the soil below began to give way. Within a day the entire end of the house had collapsed and fell into the newly excavated basement, exposing the roof and both first and second floor. Without a good foundation a house will not stand!

Jesus gives some building advice in the parable we have read today. But he is talking about more than building houses. He is talking about building our lives and making sure their foundation is firm, made up of wisdom and faith in him.

This foundation requires two things. It first involves listening to Jesus’ words. Listening is ­really important and can be hard to do sometimes. Listening often means putting aside our own ideas or agendas and paying ­attention for a while.

But listening is only the first step in the foundation of our faith lives. The next step is doing what he asks of us. If we only listen and don’t do what is asked, we haven’t really accomplished anything. Our faith can be filled with knowledge and belief, but if it isn’t tied to action, it rings hollow. Doing is really important!

Is the house of your life built on the foundation of faith that involves both listening to what Jesus is saying and doing what he asks? That is the way of life Jesus is calling us to.

Lord, make me a good listener to your word and an excellent doer of your word, Amen

Just Keep Going

Hebrews 10:23 – 25
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  (NIV) 

In North America and other parts of the world today, we are living in what is called a “post-Christian” culture. More and more people are rejecting Christianity and the church and saying they have no religion. It is discouraging to see people leaving the faith, and the pressures to conform to a faithless culture seems to be increasing all the time. 

The author of Hebrews gives us a different perspective. As we hear about Jesus, what he has accomplished for us, and his superiority over everything, how can we not be encouraged in our faith? But the pressures and challenges of an unbelieving culture remain ours to struggle with. 

Today’s text reminds us and encourages us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” – or just to keep going! Even if we experience despair and discouragement, we are encouraged to hold tightly to the one who is faithful. All other things may fail us, but Jesus is faithful. His promises are true. Even when we experience discouragement and despair, he is faithful, and we need to just keep going. 

Let us continue to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Let us continue to encourage each other to keep going, even if times are tough. We do not trust in one who is unreliable; we trust in the one who is faithful. Let us continue to be encouraged and to encourage one another in the Lord 

Lord God, thank you for being faithful. Help us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” in you. Amen 

Barnabas: God’s Bridge Builder

Acts 11:19-30
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So, for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.  Verses 25-26 (NIV) 

I have always enjoyed the story of Barnabas. I guess I just like the fact that the name Barnabas means son of encouragement (Acts 4:36)and in every place of ministry that I have been active there has been a Barnabas to keep me going and pushing me forward. 

The gospel spreading to those outside the Jewish nation did not stop with Peter’s encounter with Cornelius. The scattering of believers because of persecution led to more and more Jews hearing about Jesus, and in Antioch some believers began sharing the good news with Greeks and other Gentiles. 

The task of equipping theses new believers fell to BarnabasBarnabas began ministering in Antioch, and many people came to believe in the Lord. 

God also motivated Barnabas to look for Saul and to bring him into the work in Antioch. Barnabas had introduced Saul earlier to the apostles (Acts 9:27), and now he became a bridge builder again. For the next year, Saul and Barnabas “taught great numbers of people.” And the believers there became so identified with Jesus that a term of ridicule, Christians – meaning “little Christ’s” – became a badge of honor. 

Interestingly enough, the final verses of our passage show us that the bridge works both ways. When a severe famine came into the region and Judea was hit hard, the church in Antioch sent Barnabas and Saul with gifts for the people in Judea. Bridge building is the way God wants us to work together. 

Our heavenly Father, may we be challenged to live as bridge builders who desire to serve whomever we meet. May our eyes be opened, and our hearts be in sync with yours. Amen 

Great Cost, Great Blessing

Luke 18:24-30
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”  Verse 28 (NIV) 

On occasion when finances were very tight, and life was difficult I asked the same question Peter asked. Of course, I did not give up as much as the disciples but the chance to be a partner in a housing business was given up and the chance to build my own house and sell it with good profit and then do it again and again, was lost as well. When I saw friends, who had gone on with their business lives and lived with ease there were those small pains of having forfeited a life of financial gain. 

Peter exclaimed, “We have left all we had to follow you!” And Jesus understood Peter’s concern. Jesus knew that his closest followers had left valuable relationships behind to follow him. They had left their homes, wives, children, aging parents, and promising careers. They had left the most crucial relationships people have in life. It was not about wealth or power for the disciples; they had left family relationships and all the blessed conversations and memories that go with them – all for the sake of being with and following the Son of God. So, they needed reassurance. 

Jesus explained to a fearful Peter and a frightened crowd that the blessings of full life in God’s kingdom happen both now and in the life to come. Jesus held out the promise that leaving family relationships for his kingdom vision would result in healing and restoration. Jesus promised that no one keeping company with him would be shortchanged. The life that God has called me and my wife to has not always been easy, but it has always brought a full life of rewards. God is so very good! 

Andre Crouch wrote a song that expressed this so well.
If Heaven was Never Promised to Me.” 

But if heaven never was promised to me,
Neither God’s promise to live eternally.
It’s been worth just having the Lord in my life.
Living in a world of darkness,
You came along and brought me the light. 

Lord, we know that life on this earth can be tough. Help us to look forward to the time when all is healed in your eternal presence. In your name, Amen. 

Unless the Lord Builds the House

Psalm 127
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
Verse 1 (NIV)

As a young man in the house building industry, I used to think to myself that I did a pretty good job building the house. Once I became a believer this verse and this Psalm had a special place in my heart. My life, whether as a carpenter or any other career, would be empty without Jesus at the centre of my life.

That is the point of Psalm 127, unless the Lord is the one directing our lives there is little purpose to life. This doesn’t mean we sit back and expect God to do all the work. Rather, as we begin to plan around a new normal and re-opening in this pandemic, we need to include the Lord in our plans. We need to ask ourselves, “What would I like to accomplish in this new normal? And how will I go about it?” Unless we plan with God, we will fail utterly. We need a higher goal than making a living, or getting ahead, or planning for retirement. We need to plan with God’s purpose in mind. As the writer of Proverbs states, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21 NIV).

God has a plan for us. We are called to be kingdom builders in this pandemic recovery, each of us in our own way and in our own place. The question for all of us is: How will we use our gifts, our talents, our resources, our dreams to be a part of God’s building program?

The recovery to this pandemic should include the heart, mind, and soul of God’s people. Pray that God will give many of us opportunity to be difference makers and kingdom shapers in our community, in our neighbourhood, and in our culture. To God be the Glory!

Thank you, Lord, for inviting us to help in building your kingdom. Show us your plan and help us to build with you. Amen. 

Compassion, Humility & Healing – Part 2

2 Kings 5:7-19
“Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”  Verse 15 (NIV) 

I am amazed at video evidence that so many people are not willing to wear facemasks during the pandemic. Health experts say it is simple and one of the best ways to reduce the spread of the virus. Yet there are so many excuses as to why people will not wear them. By and large that is all they are, excuses.

Naaman is on a journey to seek healing from leprosy. He first goes to the king of Israel, but that king is not the source of healing. Elisha hears about this visitor from a foreign land and invites the king to send Naaman to him.

Naaman arrives at the house of Elisha, expecting to get a royal welcome and healing from the prophet himself. But instead a servant comes out and tells him to wash seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman’s expectations almost derail his hope filled journeyMilitary leaders are not given to take orders, especially from the servant of a prophet!

In this critical moment, however, Naaman’s own servants redirect his thinking. These unnamed servants respectfully challenge Naaman not to turn away from an “ordinary task” when he would have willingly done a much more difficult thing. Naaman wisely listens to these servants, humbles himself, and dips into the Jordan River.

Naaman obeys, somewhat haltingly, and he is healed. A journey that began with an unnamed servant girl from Israel ends with Naaman testifying that there is no God in the whole world except the God of Israel. Naaman’s unnamed servants are ordinary people whom God uses for his extraordinary purposes. Because of their words, a follower of God is given new life in the waters of the Jordan.

Gracious heavenly Father, thank you for the healing that comes when we humble ourselves before you. Thank you for the community of faith that can encourage us on our journey to you. Amen. 

Compassion, Humility & Healing – Part 1

2Kings 5:1-6
“If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Verse 3 (NIV)

Kindness and compassion sometimes appear in the most unlikely places or unlikely people. One of our special needs people suffers from fairly regular occasions of discomfort and pain that cause him lots of distress. From time to time when I check on him, I will ask him how he is feeling. Each time he struggles to get in a position that he can look at me and says: “Louis, I am happy.” Talk about melting your heart. I am trying to show compassion and he is telling me that he is not just “OK”, but he is happy. 

If anyone had an excuse not to be used by God, the servant girl of Naaman did. She had been captured by the enemy. She had been taken from her family, her people, and her land. She was a stranger and a foreigner, and now she was a slave in the household of Naaman.

If anyone had an excuse not to be compassionate or kind, this servant girl did. Many people in her circumstances might have taken great joy at the suffering of their master. Naaman was afflicted with leprosy, a deforming disease that separated people from their community and eventually caused great suffering and death. And yet. this slave girl was moved to be a servant of the living God. When suffering entered into her household, she wanted to see that suffering relieved and her master healed.

In our passage, the phrase “If only …” is the phrase that turns the story from one of hopelessness to a great God storyWhen we read this story carefully, we see that it is a story of compassion and hope. This unnamed servant girl’s careful cry to her master’s wife starts Naaman on a journey that will eventually lead him to Elisha and an encounter with the living God. An unnamed servant girl has a heart of compassion and kindness,that leads to a life that is changed by the power and heart of God.

God of healing and hope, there is so much suffering in our world, in our neighborhoods, and perhaps even in our families. Lord make us instruments of your compassion, healing, and hope. Amen.

Rich Man / Poor Man

Luke 16: 19-31
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.”Verses 19-21 (NIV) 

I think because my parents knew the hardship of coming to Canada with two kids and only two suitcases, they also knew the hardships of those who just did not have enough. Although I do not remember my family being generous in a monetary way, they were always there with food, clothing, and the labour of their hands (and our hands as well). One thing was certain, there was never any negative or bad talk about poor people around our house. It was not allowed. 

Jesus and the prophets of God who brought God’s Word to the people, had sympathy for the poor and often rebuked rich people who were selfish and did nothing for the poor. In this parable, the poor man Lazarus, who died, was carried by angels to Abraham’s side in heaven, and the rich man was sent to hell, where he was in torment. 

The rich man had lived for his own pleasure and had ignored the message of Moses and the Prophets. Lazarus had no comfort in life, but in death he received the blessings of life with God in heaven. 

I have read that this parable was a comfort to many slaves in the American South in the 1800s. One of their spiritual songs speaks of God as the “Rock of my soul” in “the bosom of Abraham” – an expression referring to “Abraham’s side.” Where could those slaves find justice when their children were ripped from their arms and sold down the river, when the earthly powers and people were stacked against them? But the Lord saw their plight and he will bring justice to their oppressors. 

In this parable, the rich man’s sin was not that he was rich; it was that he refused to care for a person in need. His stony heart ignored the call to share food with the hungry and to provide shelter and clothing for people in need (Isaiah 58:7). There are still many who look for kindness and justice and search in vain to find it. As followers of Jesus we are called to be that kind word, that hand up and the voice of justice and peace. 

Lord, instill in us your heart of compassion, and lead us to do some good with the earthly treasures you have given us. In the name of the Jesus who has compassion on us, Amen.