Friday, 10 March 2017

Faith and Works

Let's talk about the phrase, "Faith without works is dead". We know this statement is a biblical fact as we read it in James 2:14-26. However, I think people really get stuck on the word "works". We can tend to think, "Am I doing enough to prove my faith?" or "Have I done enough good in my life?"  This is not what was intended by James. You can do good works or deeds and still have a dead faith. Faith is referred to in the bible as a seed and a seed is intended to produce something. If I have a dead apple tree in my yard and I go to the store to buy apples, that fruit was not a result of the seed planted in my yard. I have apples but they weren't produced by my apple tree.

In the same way, if our works aren't the fruit of our seed of faith, but a result of some sense of need to do good works, our faith could very well be dead. Jesus talks about false prophets in Matthew 7:15-16 and how they will be able to be distinguished by their "fruits". This word fruit (Karpos) means "everything done in true partnership with Christ" and it is the same word "fruit" used when Paul wrote to the Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. This fruit of the Spirit is the product of our faith.

That word for fruit, Karpos, also translates as "deed" or "action". Are our works the result of our true partnership with Christ? Galatians 5:25 says, "If we live in the Spirit let us also walk in the Spirit". We need to stop thinking about our works as what we are doing and instead see our works of faith as where the heart behind our action is coming from.

A work or good deed done through the flesh is temporal and it's results can and will only ever be temporal. But the Spirit is eternal and works done through the Spirit are eternal and will have eternal impacts. Therefore, the works of our faith should have eternal impacts!


Friday, 23 October 2015


Perhaps once, long ago, you made a decision to submit your life to God, to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and to live a life pleasing to Him. With this decision came a freedom. You were set free from the penalty of your sins, your debt was paid. And you set off to build a personal relationship with God, a relationship which would cause your life to change dramatically. The way you thought, the way you acted, everything about your day to day life was different.  You set off to rebuild, to repair that which was broken by a life of sin. Only, over time, your priorities shifted. You found yourself working a little less to build on that relationship as other things crept in around you. Perhaps one day you realized that you had stopped working on that relationship at all. 

We all make excuses. “I need to work more overtime to make up the shortfall on my bills. I want my child to excel in the sport they love and that means signing them up in a league that has tournaments every weekend. I really want to see that new movie that came out last week. I’m tired, and I need to make more money, and I just want to watch this one show, and I need a night out with my friends, and I need some time for myself.”  We find ourselves pushing so hard to get ahead and find that we are continually drained and falling short.

One time, long ago, the Israelites were set free. They had been in captivity at the hands of the Babylonian and Persian empires for many years because of their wickedness but the Lord stirred the heart of the man who held them in exile and he made this proclamation:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:2-4)

The people of Israel went with the blessings and the provision of a foreign king to rebuild the House of the Lord, the temple in Jerusalem. They were free to go resettle in the land from which they were exiled with one command: They were to rebuild the temple. Fast forward twenty years. The building of the temple had completely ceased. Opposition to the rebuilding had come and it was no longer worth the risk or the effort to them. From where they were standing, they just didn’t have the time or the energy to focus on that anymore. So, their priorities had shifted off of the building of the temple and onto other things. They changed their focus onto rebuilding their own lives. They restored their houses, they reworked the land for harvest, and they set to re-establish their old way of life in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, their lives only got harder from there. They struggled just to survive. There never seemed to be enough food to eat or water to drink. The harder they worked, the further behind they seemed to get.

Then Haggai, a prophet of the Lord, spoke up. “’Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord of Hosts; ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, earns wages to put them into a bag with holes.’” (Haggai 1:4-6)

The word of the Lord described perfectly how the Israelites felt. They were getting nowhere with all of their hard work. They knew this is what their lives had become but they had no idea why it all seemed this hard. They were God’s chosen people! Why were they struggling to survive? The Lord had the answer to that question as well:

“’Why?’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Because of my house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labour of your hands.’” (Haggai 1:9b-11)

The Lord was working to get their attention. He caused them to struggle as they worked for their own gain so that they would turn back to Him. As they collectively took their attention off of their own livelihoods and went back to building the temple, God had a promise for them.

“Is the seed still in the barn? As yet, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you.”(Haggai 2:19)

How does this story of the Israelites parallel to our lives today?  Consider the temple of the Old Covenant. Inside the temple was the Holy of Holies, which was the place where the presence of the Lord dwelt. This is where the Ark of the Covenant was placed and inside the Ark of the Covenant was the recording of the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai. This area was shrouded off from the rest of the temple by a great veil and it was only to be entered once a year by the high priest to give the atonement sacrifice for the sins of the people. We read in the account of Jesus’ crucifixion that this veil was torn in two at the time of His death (Matthew 27:51). In the new covenant, the Lord no longer houses the Holy of Holies within a physical temple. Rather, the Holy of Holies has been made accessible to us all, anywhere, by the blood of Christ. His Spirit no longer dwells in a physical temple, it dwells within us, His Spiritual temple.

“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)

 The laws that were once set in the Ark of the Covenant have now been placed, by Him, within our hearts.

“’This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’” (Hebrews 10:16-17)

Jesus residing within us causes us to become His temple. When we neglect this spiritual temple to focus instead on our “flesh”, our personal desires and ambitions, our work amounts to nothing! The struggle stops when we lay down our own desires and pick up His. Chasing after our own desires is like trying to swim against the current. You become exhausted while getting nowhere. Our blessing comes through putting our focus on His spiritual temple - not our bodies, but His Spirit living within us! It is time to take a good, hard look at ourselves. How is it right that we live out our personal desires while our spiritual lives are in ruins? Our spiritual drought is in response to our spiritual stinginess towards God!

We need a wake up message like the one Haggai delivered to the Israelites and we can find it in the words of Jesus.

“Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

To be honest, the things that Jesus mentioned in this passage most likely don’t even register as a worry in the everyday lives of most of us in North America. Perhaps today Jesus would say not to worry about such things as our positions at work, how big or new our houses and cars are, whether our wardrobe is in line with the current fashion trends, whether we have an iPhone 4s or 6s, whether our televisions are 17” or 70”, whether we got down to some tropical destination for a vacation this year… We waste so much time and energy and money focusing on the things we want. Even if we did seek the kingdom first, I doubt many of these things would be added to us because, if we're being honest with ourselves, they are not desires of the Spirit, they are desires of the flesh! 

We need a shift in priorities. I need a shift in priorities. Perhaps you gave up on the building of your temple. Perhaps you’ve neglected your spiritual growth in your relationship with God because opposition rose up, because life got hard. Start now! It’s not too late! Will life get easier? No, probably not. But there will be fruit! Galatians 5:16-25 talks of the difference of the products of life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. I won’t speak on the works of the flesh. We see them every day. But the fruit of the Spirit. Those are worth mentioning. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are the things that I desire in my life. These are the blessings that follow when we build up our relationship with God, through Christ.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Lamentation of My Heart

Today, my heart breaks for our society in a way that I have never felt. To place the way I am feeling into words is difficult as there is such a deep issue at the heart of it. Yes, these feelings are spurred on by the announcement today that the US Supreme Court has ruled same sex marriage legal in all 50 states. This should not come as a surprise to anyone as the US is viewed as behind the curve in such "progressive" and "open-minded" thinking. I live in a nation where this battle was brought to a head on July 20th, 2005. Canada was the fourth nation and first outside of Europe to pass a gender neutral marriage definition. This was a long time coming for our southern neighbours. However, same sex marriage is not the issue for me; rather it is a symptom of the issue. There are many other symptoms. Deficit spending, not only on a personal level, but also on a corporate and even national level is a symptom. The degradation of traditional family morals and values is another symptom. Perhaps the  greatest symptom and most glaring view into the heart issue of our world today is a look at our largest industries.

I will put pornography, prostitution and human trafficking together in one as they are all so closely intertwined. The disgusting fact is that a large part of our society gets pleasure sexually at the expense of others. We can kid ourselves by hovering on the fringe of this industry where it can be passed off as legitimate and consenting but the fact is that even the most "innocent" and consensual  of pornographic media condones the deepest, darkest corners of these industries. We are entertained at the expense of others through the piracy of music and movies. We love the art these artists are creating enough to have it, just not enough to pay for it. We love to have things that we didn't need to work for. This fact also fuels the lottery and gambling industry (legal or otherwise). They offer us the opportunity to get rich quick. Just give them your money and pick some numbers or a sports team and you may just be the next big winner. Not winning at life? That's fine. The bank or credit company will give us a card to buy things we really can't afford so that we can at least look the part. We put on our masks of Gucci, BMW, Cartier...still can't afford all of these brands with our impressive credit limits and mortgages? Here enters another growing industry - counterfeiting. It doesn't have to be expensive, it just has to look like it was.

The heartbreaking thing is that, even with all of the pleasures we take and treasures that we accumulate, so  many of us turn to ways of survival or escape. Illegal drugs are a massive industry fueled by addiction but ignited by emptiness. What starts as a break from life turns into a way of life. Cocaine is smuggled into the states at a staggering rate. Marijuana is so common that it may very well be the next thing to be nationally legalized. I can't stop at illegal drugs. We legally allow the sale and consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, both highly addictive and with proven long term negative effects on health. Why? If we can't stop the use of such substances then at least we can control them and tax their use. How about the more subtle addictions? Caffeine, sugar, food, work, beauty, attention...

What can save us from this downward spiral of inward thinking and destructive selfishness? The answer is not what but who! Jesus is the only answer, the only way. You see, as we continually fight for equality, many of us fail to see that we are all equal. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). That goes for the man trafficking girls to pad his wallet, the two men engaging in sexual relations with eachother, the man down the street cooking a steak on his bbq and the pastor in his office writing his sermon for the next Sunday. 

Getting back to the news of the day, the fact is that to this world marriage is a contract between two equal people regardless of gender. That is the worldly definition of a legal marriage. It was passed by the same legal system that allows the sexual exploitation of the human body for pleasure and financial gains. This is the same legal system that allows the sale of harmful substances to adults because they are only hurting themselves. This is the same legal system that allows people with addictions to ruin themselves financially at the lotto booth because it funds government shortfalls or hospital drives.  The eyes of this world are so collectively off of God that we are drowning in a lifestyle of "me first". 

This is backwards from the commandment that Jesus claimed as the greatest. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 23:37-40). Now, I can hear the voices rising up..."See?!? Jesus taught love. Love everything, love everyone!" Hold on a second. Jesus' definition of love is very different than our world's definition. If you want to understand Jesus' stance on love you must read of how he talked about it to his disciples. 

"As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love. Just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:9-14). Jesus did lay down His life for us in the ultimate display of love. He did not do it so that we can keep on living a life permeated in sin! The Jesus that laid down His life is the same Jesus who preached and said,"Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). He started and finished His earthly ministry with this message. "He said to them, 'Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem'" (Luke 24:46-47).

We are quick to preach the love of Jesus but we shy away from the importance He placed on the identification, confession and repentance of sin. It is not popular, it is not comfortable, but it is necessary. The world loves the Jesus that hung out with sinners but it hates the Jesus that saw them changed through repentance. This is what our society needs now more than ever. Not just those that are too often targeted and identified as sinners but the whole lot of us, every last one. As I watch us step further and further away from a lifestyle of repentance and submission to God, I am reminded of something Jesus shared: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37)

So, to the person reading this, no matter where you find yourself in life, I say that this is not about hating on you because of your sin. I have it too. This  is about the lamentation of a grieving Saviour who loves you so much and is just longing to embrace you if only you would turn to Him. Only He can offer true joy and a lasting peace. The world has pursued it and continues still, and yet it has never been found lasting outside of Him. 

As I look at this world I think:
But I also see:
Turn to Him and you will see too.

With love,


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Kicking Against the Goads

“And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Acts 26:14

The first time that I read this and it really caught my eye, I was left dumbfounded by what it meant. What is kicking against the goads and why did Jesus say it on that day when He met Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus?  I believe that the saying must have carried a certain importance to Paul for him to share it in his telling of the encounter to King Agrippa in Acts 26.

It really wasn’t too hard to find an historical explanation as to the origin of the phrase “kick against the goads”. A goad was a long pointed prod used by farmers to guide their team of oxen through the fields. The idea was that a well-trained ox would know by a gentle poke that you desired for it to begin working or to turn one way or the other. The amount of pain inflicted by this poke would be very low. The goad was not intended to harm the oxen; rather it was intended to guide the oxen. However, an ox that was still being trained would often feel the poke and, instead of walking or turning away from the poke, it would kick back at it in aggression or confusion. Often, this would lead to a much more significant poke than the farmer had intended, perhaps even causing significant harm to the ox.

So why did Jesus use this phrase with Saul? I believe it was a warning. Saul was being given fair notice that his response to the encounter on the road to Damascus would either lead him into the plans that God had for him. Or it would lead him to his destruction. As we see that Saul was rendered blind at Jesus’ word, we also know that it was temporary blindness on the condition of Saul’s submission and obedience. Had Saul not submitted to God and gone to Damascus as instructed, would he have spent the rest of his life blind? Or worse? I believe so! (“Correction is grievous unto him that forsakes the way: and he that hates reproof shall die.” Proverbs 15:10)

Submission… That is the word we should take from the phrase “it is hard for you to kick against the goads”. God loves us enough to use our surroundings and circumstances to gently prod us towards His plan for our lives. When we submit to His will those prods become our guidance rather than just a source of pain or discomfort for us. However, if we fight against His guidance and His will, we are only doing more harm to ourselves.

Maybe God is prodding at you. Maybe you think God is punishing you for some reason. Maybe you don’t even associate the afflictions of your life as God’s prodding at all. I know that when we are going through hard times it can be easy to lash out in response. But please, just consider for one moment what reasons there could be for the things you find yourself going through. Perhaps you are being guided into a place where the pain that you have gone through will be used for some good? (“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28)

I will leave you with this thought. When an ox plows a field it is sharing in the labour of its sustenance. Those fields may grow grains and hay that will be used to nourish those same oxen. When we submit to the will of God and “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) He will supply our every need.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

2015 - Walking in Victory

We’ve all had those moments; Those times in our life where we feel as though defeat is knocking on our door and calling out to us, “Hey! You’re done for. May as well just give up, let me in and get it over with!” As followers of Christ, walking in this feeling of defeat only holds us back from seeing the power of God in our lives. When I find myself slipping into this mindset of defeat, I have one portion of scripture that I know I can turn to and find encouragement and direction in how to handle this oppression in my mind. The story is of a king named Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat had spent a great deal of energy turning the people of Judah back to the Lord God and urging them to fear the Lord. Now, suddenly, he found himself being targeted by the people of several surrounding nations, specifically Moab and Ammon. In 2 Chronicles 20:3, it says that Jehoshaphat “feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout Judah”.

It says that Jehoshaphat stood and talked to the Lord. He began proclaiming who God was: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?” (2 Chronicles 20:6)

After that he began to proclaim the things that God had already done:  “Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?” (2 Chronicles 20:7)

This next part is powerful. Jehoshaphat shared with the Lord about the current situation that Judah found itself in. He shared how the very nations that God had instructed the Israelites to leave alone when then He took them out of Egypt were now coming against them:  “O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)

This is a relationship that we see sporadically between God and the descendants of Abraham in the Old Testament. Real communication was taking place. The people of God spoke, and He listened. God responded, and His people stood on His promise. To put it simply, Jehoshaphat had basically said to God, “I know you are amazing, you’ve done so much for us already, I don’t understand why we are in this situation, but I know that without you we are as good as dead. Help!”  It says that a Levite man, Jahaziel, spoke up and said “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:15-17)

Wouldn’t you know it; they all got up early the next morning and went out to face the armies of Moab and Ammon. They sang and praised God on their way and, as they did this, God caused the different groups of people who had come against Judah to turn on one another and they completely destroyed their own armies. Is that amazing or what? When the people of Judah finally made it to the place of battle, all that remained of the multitude was the dead bodies and all of the valuables that the armies had carried with them. There was so much spoil of war that it took the people of Judah three days to gather it all! It is obvious through this story that as followers of Christ and, therefore, people of God, we need not fear. He hears us and He answers us. The Lord is with us and He fights for us.

When we feel defeated, we need to set our eyes upon the Lord. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we should remember that Christ has already won the victory.   When Jesus cried out “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He meant it. We cannot allow our circumstances to cause us to walk in defeat when we have been given victory. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58). When you find the troubles of this world are bringing you down, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your steps” (Proverbs 3:6).

 I really feel that if the church can grab a hold of the victory of Christ and begin to walk in that victory then, just like Judah spent days collecting the valuables that were left by the fallen enemies, so can we find a great work in gathering and returning to Christ that which the enemy has lost a hold of. The valuables of this victory are the souls of men and women returning to God.  In the victory of Christ we have been empowered AND commissioned to go and “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Let us see the value in this call, forsake the treasures of this world and, in victory, store up the treasures of heaven once again. It’s hard to feel defeated when you know that all of heaven is on your side.

The King of Kings left His throne
To come and save us, make us His own
He's triumphed over the enemy
And from sin's bondage, He's set us free

Now we go forth in victory
Taking back from the enemy
Yes our triumph comes from the cross
The blood of Jesus redeems the lost

The victory is ours
The battle is the Lords
So lift a shout of praise

We are an army, we will not fear
We stand triumphant, our King is here

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Chaos into Order - His Ways are Higher

Sometimes when I look around, all I see is chaos. People being oppressed or killed, nations suffering through famine or drought, communities being destroyed by nature’s fury, families being broken apart, the rich getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer, the list goes on and on.  I don’t understand. Sometimes I see scientific articles, news reports, or debates on certain topics and I am frazzled by what they have to say. Everyone is trying to prove their own points while trying to disprove the points of others around them at the same time. Terrorism, global warming, overpopulation, conspiracy theories….everyone has an opinion, everyone has an idea and everyone thinks they are right. I’m tired just thinking about it. Chaos.  All I can say is Lord, direct my steps by your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me. When I don’t understand, I have to trust that God has a plan that is higher than I can comprehend, that what I see as chaos God created as order.  Isaiah 55:8 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” 
Many people struggle with this, including me. It is in our nature to want to understand and to be in control. Even when we cannot control something, we attempt to. We gauge things, we forecast things. We cannot control an earthquake but we try to control the damage it causes by placing strict building codes in areas where they are frequent. We cannot control the weather (though some of those conspiracy theorists think that the government can and is) so we forecast it. We can’t control when it is going to rain but if we know roughly when it is going to rain we can make sure we are indoors when it does.
Even in our chaos, we have a certain amount of order. We have recognizable seasons; we have a gauge on time (seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, centuries, millennia, etc…); many of us recognize some form of a higher authority whether it is our parents, our employer, our government or our God.  The question becomes did we create this order within our chaos or were we made aware of it? The vainglory of man would have us believe that, out of our own intelligence, we have created some order. My belief is that, as the creation of God, we have been given certain revelations into His design.
I recently shared a Facebook update that consisted entirely of numbers:
…and I left it at that. To look at those numbers, one might see purely chaos. They may think, “Wow, Mike must have rolled over on the computer while he was sleeping”.  Another may look at it and say, “This doesn’t make any sense but perhaps if I look at it long enough or study it in some detail, perhaps something will begin to come together”. The plain fact of the matter is, I know what this number means and you do not. I know what it means because I made the system to create it. I gave the number its order and it makes perfect sense to me. It is not overly complicated and I’m sure there are people out there smart enough that could figure it out given time. But, the easiest way to understand what it means would be to either simply ask me, or ask for the key to decipher it. That leaves me with a choice. If I want you to know what it means I can tell you, if I want you to figure it out for yourself I can give you the key and if I really just don’t want you to know I can simply do nothing.
If I were to choose to not tell you what it means or not help you figure it out, how would you react? Some might become angry and turn away from me. Some might continue to try and figure it out on their own. Some might decide that it may really have no meaning and just forget about it altogether.  What reason could I possibly have to not show you what it means? Perhaps I would not tell you because even though it has meaning, you wouldn’t understand it if I showed it to you. Perhaps I would not tell you because it would hurt you to see what it means.
It comes down to trust. We can trust that where we see chaos, God sees order. We can trust that God gives us the answers we need. We can trust that God protects us from things that we don’t understand and could hurt ourselves with (look what the knowledge of good and evil did to Adam and Eve when they chose to try the fruit over trusting God). We can trust that God has the keys and that He gives them to us when we need them.  I can trust because “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts”.
With love,
P.S. I purposely didn’t give you the key to decipher the number. I will however give you where to find the answer - Psalms 119:133

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Obedience over Understanding: The whole Duty of Man

Psalm 111:10 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments.

So often in life, I have heard others talk about how they want to believe in God but they just can’t seem to come to an understanding about certain things that are involved with believing in a sovereign creator. Topics such as follows commonly come up:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why does He allow children to suffer and die?

Why does God allow people to die in natural disasters or at the hands of evil rulers and regimes?

Why does it seem like God isn’t answering when I pray?

The list could go on and on. Unfortunately, there really isn’t an answer that can be given or found to appease the minds of most, including me. I don’t understand. The good news is that we can get to a place where we don’t need to understand everything before God becomes real and important in our lives.

When I think about being asked to accept things that I don’t understand, I am immediately brought back to my childhood. There were times that my parents would do something that I didn’t agree with. There were also times that they would inform me that I was expected to do (or not do) some specific thing for no reason more than they were the parents, I was the child and I was to obey. Back then, as a child, these things may have rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t understand why my parents were doing what they were doing or why they wanted me to do (or not do) something. I wasn’t always capable of fully understanding the reasoning behind decisions and rules that they made, even if they took the time to try and explain it to me. For example, if my parents were to ask me to stop eating out of a bag of candy, I likely didn’t understand that if I ate too much candy I’d have a sour stomach shortly after.  All I knew was that candy tasted good. It was not that they weren’t explaining it properly. They had a higher level of understanding than me because of the wisdom that they had accumulated over the years through their experiences in many different circumstances.

As children of God, there is a great parallel in this relationship. God, the Father, in His sovereignty, possesses knowledge, wisdom and understanding in levels which we cannot even begin to comprehend.   As His children, sometimes, He looks to us to simply obey when we don’t understand. One great example of this is the story of Abraham and Isaac. In Genesis 22, God came to Abraham and asked him to do something that seemed totally absurd. Let us remember that, previously, Abraham’s wife had been unable to provide a child for him. God promised Abraham a son in Genesis 18:10 and this son was meant to fulfill the promise of God given in Genesis 15 that Abraham’s descendants would be as innumerable as the stars. Now God was asking Abraham to take this one and only son and offer him as a burnt offering. I can only imagine what must have gone through Abraham’s mind as he obediently took Isaac up the mountain to do what the Lord had asked. “I don’t understand. This doesn’t make any sense!” Yet he went up that mountain fully prepared to do what had been asked of him. Thankfully, in Genesis 22:12, God interrupts the preparations of Isaac and says, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for I now know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Abraham’s fear of the Lord was so great that he was willing to obey Him at any cost.

Fear of the Lord is something that is sorely lacking in our current times. As a world of prodigals, we very rarely look upon God as someone to respect and hold in reverence. With my father, there is a respect that I hold because, as his child, I have come to an understanding that when he says we will do something, he does it, whether that is in the form of discipline or reward. It is the same with my Heavenly Father. My fear of the Lord comes from a personal understanding that He rules over my life and that when He says He will do something, whether discipline or reward, He will do it.  Isaac must have learned well through his own personal experiences that it was good to have a healthy fear of the Lord and Isaac must have also passed the importance of the fear of the Lord to his own children as well. In Genesis 31:42 Jacob refers to God as “the God of my father (Isaac), the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac”. Such reverential submission must Isaac have had for God that his child would refer to Him as the “Fear” of Isaac.

While this level of “Fear of the Lord” is an extreme example, we can see that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still held a healthy understanding of the fear of the Lord hundreds of years later.  We can see that the fear of the Lord is seen as an enticement to obedience and service: to fear God is to do his will. As we can see in Deuteronomy 10, the Israelites see the correlation between fear of the Lord and obedience. “And now Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?”(Deuteronomy 10:12, 13).

If we turn to the book of Proverbs, we see that one of the first topics is the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7 says simply, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction”. Similarly, Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” If we tear these verses apart we can see a progression.

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. However, we can despise wisdom and instruction. An instruction (or commandment) is simply being directed to do (or not do) something. When we are given instructions we have the choice to obey or not to obey. Psalms 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments”. It is logical to see the progression as follows then:

Fear of the Lord -> Obedience -> Understanding, Knowledge, Wisdom

As I sit here a 30-year-old man, I have a much greater understanding of many of the decisions that my parents made. I also have a greater understanding of many of the instructions and rules that they gave me to follow. Through my obedience to them, I built up my own understanding of why certain rules were important and I am now giving many of the same instructions to my own children. It is my conclusion that before we are able to understand, we are called to obey. One of the final verses of Ecclesiastes sums up well the point that I hope I have been able to make.

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments:

For this the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13 KJV)

With Love,