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. 

Testing

Read 
Judges 2:20-23 (NIV) 
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua. 

Reflect 
I recall the time that I prayed a very hard prayer: “Lord do whatever it takes to make my friend see the error of his ways.” The next day my friend was in jail. That was not what I expected, however, the longterm result was that good fruit has been growing from my friend since those days. 

Peter writes that Christians will suffer for their faith, but unrighteous behavior or compromising the faith will also produce suffering (1 Peter 4:15). If we ignore God’s commands, we may well face consequences. As James points out, we are not to merely listen to God’s word, we are to do what it says (James 1:22). 

One author describes Israel’s disobedience with James image of the person that looks at his face in the mirror and forgets what he sees (James 1:22-25). That image also raises a question for us: Are God’s people suffering today for their faith or for their lack of obedience? 

We regularly pray for our fellow believers around the world who suffer for their faith. Perhaps we also need prayer for believers who do not or cannot yet take responsibility for their lack of obedience?   

Scripture asks every generation to examine if the testing of our faith is a result of our faith or faithlessness. Hebrew 12:7-10 instructs us to bear with suffering, regardless of the reason for suffering, because God means it for good, for growth, for an example for others. 

May our worship today provoke us to self-examination and to direct our eyes to Jesus for the sake of our spiritual health. 

Pray 
Lord, please show us and forgive us our sins – and if we suffer, may it be for Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

Bearing Fruit

Read 
Romans 2:12-16 
If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God. Verse 12-13 (MSG) 

Reflect 
Have you ever been charged with the accusation that, “You just think you are holier than me & my friends.” I have a few times, and it always makes me feel a little sick inside. I don’t ever want to appear or act like I am better than someone else, however the truth is that if we walk with Jesus, we may appear “a little more holy.” 

Trying to be “holy” in what I do is not the same as trying to earn my salvation by aiming to be righteous. We are saved only by God’s grace. It has nothing to do with how well I perform as/or like a Christian. But once we are saved and declared righteous through Christ, there is an expectation that we will try to live a righteous life out of thanks for our salvation. Both the Old and New Testaments teach that the way I live says something about who I am and how I really understand the faith journey. Jesus taught that you can tell something about a tree by the fruit it bears (Matthew 7:16-20). 

Just doing good things is not really Paul’s point. The question is whether or not the good things I do come from a heart that belongs to Jesus. Is the fruit of my life reflecting that I am grafted into the tree of life (Proverbs 11:30)? Do all the things I do reflect that my heart belongs to him? 

I also do bad things, because I am still a sinner. But God wants me to have integrity; God wants my faith connected with all I think, do, and say. And God’s Spirit helps me to live that way. God wants to shape me from the inside out. When I belong to him, that’s what I want God to do as well. 

Pray 
Lord make me a bearer of good fruit that I might reflect you in my life. Guide me in my walk for your name’s sake. Amen.  

Authority

Read
Luke 4:31-37 
They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority. Verse 32 (NIV) 

Reflect 
When I am part of a gathering where a meal is part of the event, it seems inevitable that I am the one who is chosen to say grace before the meal. It is as if my prayers are more meaningful or I have a better connection to God than others. Recently, I have taken to joking that it must be that I am a “professional prayer.” Of course, the reality is that I have no more authority because I am a pastor than anyone else who has a relationship with our Heavenly Father.  

I am very aware that Jesus is the true authority and power. Without Jesus I can accomplish nothing of spiritual value. Without him I would simply be a carpenter going about my tasks and using my own acquired skills to try and accomplish something beneficial. To be a pastor, to lead a church, to share the truth of the Good News of Jesus, to have insight into God’s word all require the power of the Holy Spirit to be actively at work in my life. 

I think we all need this reminder in our lives. Any time we begin to think we have all the answers, we need to be reminded that ultimately it all comes from God. 

At the end of Jesus’ ministry, he told his disciples that all authority had been given to him. Then he sent them into the world as his representatives (Matthew 28:18-20.) Prior to his ascension into heaven he told the disciples they would receive power from on high (Acts 1:8). By his authority and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are sent to bring the Good News of grace and love to the world as well.  

Our faith isn’t built on our own abilities and strength. It is built on Jesus’ power and authority. 

Pray 
Jesus, remind us every day that you are in charge. Your power and authority are supreme, and we are your people. Help us Lord to live in this world and show who you are to people every day. Amen. 

Children of God

Read
Romans 8:28-39
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
1 Peter 1:1-2 (NIV) 

Reflect 
Consider what joy we ought to enjoy for today. God knows our sins, our thoughts, and what we hide from others. He also knows our tendency to disobey and hurt him again and again. Still, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God always welcomes us back into his presence. No wonder John declares: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). God wants us to have the joy of fellowship with him forever. 

Now, consider our confidence for tomorrow. Scripture says that God made us, saved us, and teaches us. He also guides our paths each day and promises to lead us to his eternal home. What an awesome God.  

Do you ever wonder if we are good enough for God? Well that is the whole point of his amazing graceWe are not good enough – not even close. Despite our failure and inability, we are simply invited to love him who first loved us, and to look forward to the time when he will call us to himself! What an incredible privilege! What an incredible God! 

Pray 
Dear Lord, please create a deep sense of our joy in your grace and give us confidence to face the future. Establish us in your love and lead us in your ways. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Prejudice

Read
Ephesians 2:14-18 
His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.Verses 15b – 16 (NIV) 

Reflect 
All of us at some point have some kind of prejudice. Most often it is due to ignorance about those who we see as different. Those who know our family might wonder what prejudice we have. Via adoption our six children represent ten different ethnicities or heritages. I discovered some years ago that I still had a prejudice about a particular cultural/religious group. I was actually surprised at myself. 

This is how one author described prejudice: Prejudice can be pictured as a circle that separates “us” from “them.” The people inside the circle are “normal” people, who are most like us – similar skin color, ethnicity, values, abilities, language, gender identity, and so on. Because “we” inside the circle are “normal,” everyone outside the circle is “abnormal” – people different from “us” in ethnicity, abilities, and so on.  

That is a good way to describe prejudice. As I write this there are many places around the world where demonstrations are being held due to prejudice being used against others simply due to the colour of their skin 

The ancient Israelites thought of themselves as normal people and everyone else as abnormal. In fact, they thought that they alone were selected to receive God’s favor. They were actually pretty smug about their special place in the world. 

Through the prophet Isaiah God told them that the promised Savior was coming for all people. “I will . . . make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). One day in our future prejudice will all be gone: “… and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9; Read Revelation 7 as well). 

Praise God that Jesus came to destroy the sinful distinction we make between “normal” and “abnormal” humans. He is creating a new humanity. Jesus came to put to death the hostility of prejudice and to create a new community of mutual love – no normal or abnormal people, no “us” and “them.” Just us in all our diversity. Hallelujah! 

Pray 
Oh Lord, teach us to revel in the wonderful diversity you have created among us. Make our love reflect your love for all the people of the world.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Father’s Day 

Read 

Psalm 68:5-6a  A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,is God in his holy dwelling.God sets the lonely in families, …. 

Matthew 9:36 - When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  

Reflect 

I have mentioned my dad on a few occasions. He was a good role model and he dropped bits of wisdom into my life that helped to shape my thinking and my attitudes. One thing my dad did not do was being very affectionate. I don’t believe I ever heard my dad say, “I love you” to any of us boys. I am certain that he did, and he showed it by his care for us, we just did not hear it. Every day is imperfections and strengths.  

Our heavenly Father is compassionate, kind and loving, especially of those who are alienated & alone (Ps.68:5-6a). He also disciplines, corrects and directs us through the scriptures and the person of the Holy Spirit. One thing that he is not: Is absent.   

Matthew allows us to look into the heart of Jesus and see that he cares for us the way a father would do for a wandering and aimless child. I have encountered many young people during my years of ministry who were harassed & helpless. Two teenaged brothers who found their mother hanged in the basement when they were children, and an absent father, never allowed them to adjust properly to life as adults. A teenaged girl rebelling in every possible way because her father was an authoritarian and ruled with an iron fist, devoid of love. A good father is not something we should take for granted. 

As Christian families we have the added benefit of our dads having the example of a Heavenly Father filled with all the traits that help us to walk a path that blesses our families. As Christian dads we have the empowering Holy Spirit within us to help us be the kind of dads we need to be for our family and as an example in our community. 

Pray 

Our Heavenly Father help our dads to be the best they can be and thank you for the dads you have blessed us with. Above all thank you for being our perfect heavenly Father. Amen 

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY 

Safe at Home! 

Read 

Psalm 91. Verse 1 – Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 

Reflect 

At a meeting of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank I spoke with a well-seasoned aid worker who told me the following story:  I met a refugee and asked her a number of questions through an interpreter. One question was “What is your favorite text in the Bible?” Without any hesitation she said, “Psalm 91.” When I asked why, she shared that she had been moving every six to nine months for her physical safety, but in her spirit she was safe in the Lord. 

I will never forget that story of faith and trust. That being said, the tension we face in life is that even though we may “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” and “rest in the shadow of the Almighty,” we have to deal with troubles and daily struggles.  For some people they even have to face deadly diseases and terrorizing attacks. The psalmist understood that this world is filled with uncertainties—and yet there is a place of safety. We can go up against giants like Covid19 and have to flee for our lives from dangerous enemies, and still we can be in a safe place with the Almighty. 

The question each of us has to ask ourselves is this: “What is our dwelling place? What is our shelter or safety net?” If it is our money, family, home, or work, or even government safeguards, they will all crumble. The enemy has come to kill, steal, and destroy. But the one place of safety in the universe from which no one can snatch us is “in the shelter of the Most High.” Our risen and ascended Lord has promised, “My sheep listen to my voice … and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and … no one will ever snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). In Christ we will always be at home, safe and secure.

Pray 

Lord Jesus, we praise you for the security and peace we have in you, regardless of what we experience in life. Amen. 

Familiar But Not at Home! 

Read
Luke 15:25-32. Verses 29-30 – ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 

Reflect 

I love the fifteenth chapter of Luke. Three parables of something being lost, then found and a celebration with a group because the lost was found and now was where it should be. But the last parable has a twist at the end that is very important for us to understand. 

The older brother was upset! I believe I would have been as well. Ever since he was young, he had worked on his father’s farm, without ever asking for any kind of recognition. But when his good-for-nothing, playboy brother came home penniless after squandering his inheritance, his father not only welcomed him with open arms but even put on a banquet to celebrate. It was too much. 

The father pleaded with him and explained the reason for his actions, but the older son refused to join the celebration. Like the Pharisees who served God out of a sense of duty, the older son had served his father—not out of devotion and love but because he felt he had to. The Pharisees had complained that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them (Luke 15:2). Similarly, the older son belly ached about his father’s welcome of his depraved, immoral, useless, younger brother. 

The response of the older son forces us to take a hard look at ourselves. Do we serve the Lord with love and devotion? Do we come to worship because we love the Lord, or out of a sense of duty? Do we give cheerfully or because it is expected of us? Are we willing, like God the Father, to forgive people in our lives who have hurt us? Do we understand that we are as much in need of forgiveness as the younger son, even though we may not have left for a distant country? This twist in the parable calls for some self-examination and some honest reflection. 

Am I just living my Christian life as a familiar pattern or ritual or am I truly at home with the Lord? 

Pray 

Lord, our God, help us to search our hearts, to serve you with gladness, and to truly rejoice when a sinner comes back to you—because of Jesus. Amen.