A Broken Bench Seat

Remember the days of bench seats before seatbelt laws when a girl would sit in the middle of the vehicle right next a guy? He’d be driving with one hand on the wheel and the other around her shoulders or holding her hand. My grandpa, whenever he’d see that always said the seat must be broken or why else would she be sitting in the middle. I never figured out that he was joking till I got into my teens.

I heard about a couple, who’d been married somewhat over 20 years, who as they drove down the road noticed another couple sitting close like that. “Isn’t that sweet” said the wife? “Remember we used to sit like that? How come we don’t sit close like that anymore?” To which her husband, with a sly grin replied, “I never moved.”

In John 15 Jesus says that like a vine in a branch, if we stay intimately connected with him, the same way he lived in connection with God the Father, our lives will be full of joy. Notice he doesn’t say will be problem free. In fact later in the same discourse he says outright that as long as we live in this world life will be hard. But at the same time he assures us that, like joy, if we keep that intimate connection with him (Jesus uses the phrase “if you abide in me”) our heart and mind will be at peace despite circumstances.

Joy and peace. Sounds like a pretty good deal, but be careful here. It is easy to confuse joy and peace as the goal and Jesus as the means to that goal. In reality joy and peace are the indicators of an intimate connection with Jesus. As soon as we make joy and peace the object of our desire we lose them. Jesus is our goal, joy and peace are the evidence that we’re on the right track.

So how’s your joy level? How peaceful is your heart? If you’re lacking joy and your heart and mind are in turmoil you may want to pause for a while and get alone with God and ask him what’s happened. Odds are if you listen carefully you’ll hear him say, with bit of a grin, “I never moved. Why don’t you slide on over here and let me put my arm around you like we used to?”


I Oughta . . .

I have to admit I was a little jealous when I saw on Facebook that the Cranes were on a family trip to Dominica. Sharmon went to college with Wendy and I which was when she began dating Ben and we’ve been friends ever since. However their trip didn’t begin real well, at least not for Stephanie, their oldest daughter, whose luggage the airline managed to send to an unknown location. She had to manage without it for the entire trip because they never did track it down.

But when they got home something amazing happened. WestJet, which was not the airline they were travelling with, called Stephanie saying they had her luggage. From a previous flight she still had a WestJet ID tag on her bag and not only did they have it but they told her they would deliver it to their home the next day.

I’m not sharing this as a promotion for WestJet, and neither am I suggesting they had any purer motives than a brilliant business plan in customer service, but their actions are an excellent illustration of a word in the Bible that typically we don’t like: ought, as in we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)

Other words are sometimes translated as “ought” but here it literally means indebted, and often when you see it in the New Testament it is describing how we are to relate to one another. In the illustration WestJet chose to become indebted to Stephanie even though the fault wasn’t theirs and if fact they could have said it serves her right for not flying with them.

The point is that we choose to become indebted to others rather than seeking to please ourselves, not to gain some advantage, but because we are indebted to Jesus and therefore follow his lead. Hebrews 2:17 literally says he became indebted to us in order that he might pay the price for our sin with his life. So we pray “forgive us our debt (same word) as we forgive our debtors.” In response to what Jesus has done for us, we “ought” to serve others rather than please ourselves. We “ought” to live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6). We “ought” to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16). Since God loved us so much we “ought” to love, expressed in service to each other (1 John 4:11) ahead of pleasing ourselves.


Bring A Gift When You Visit

Who was your favorite person to have visit when you were a kid? I honestly can’t think of one favorite. I loved it when Grandparents came; not because they necessarily brought some gift, but it was exciting just having them come. Of course whenever cousins came to visit there was great fun playing together, but even when just the uncles or aunties would visit I distinctly remember it being something we looked forward to with great eagerness. Why? Again they didn’t usually bring gifts or treats but I wonder if it had something to do with the spiritual gift they brought with them?

In Romans 1:11-12 Paul expresses his eagerness, in fact a longing to come visit the Jesus followers in Rome and to bring to them a spiritual gift. He’s not speaking of the “gifts of the Spirit” rather it is singular, bring them a gift. What gift is that? It is a gift that will strengthen their faith. Actually the word is far stronger than that. It indicates a setting fast, making them unshakable, unalterable, focused and single minded in their devotion to and love for Jesus.

Wouldn’t you love for someone to bring you that gift? Wouldn’t you love to have a gift to give that could bring that for others?  What gift could possibly do this? Paul describes it as being “mutually encouraged” by each other’s faith. On the surface that kind of feels like one of those gifts where it’s not quite what you hoped for, like underwear for Christmas, but you know you should be polite and grateful anyway.

But look deeper. “Mutually encouraged” is actually one word. It’s a compound word and the base of it is the same word Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit; comforter or counselor, or advocate or helper. The implication in Romans is that the gift Paul brings is the ministry of the Holy Spirit who through Paul brings strength and healing and purpose and greater devotion to Jesus in the people whom he visits.

This is not a gift that only apostles or pastors have to give. If you are a Jesus follower you have this gift to give. Paul indicates it goes both ways; he to them and they to him. When you engage in a conversation ask God to give this gift through you. It can happen in any conversation, but it is most profound when both parties are intending and expecting to give and receive a spiritual gift.


Life Is Like A Truck Overflowing With Canola

This is canola seed.  Dumping canola into a truck from an overhead bin is fascinating, almost mesmerizing to watch.  Because it’s not being moved in segments with flighting like in an auger, but in one pouring in a continuous stream it behaves very much like a flow of thick liquid.  A tandem truck can be filled in less than a minute.  It is very cool to watch, but it also behaves much like a liquid, cascading over the sides when the truck gets full, which isn’t nearly so cool to watch.

Just to clarify I personally haven’t ever had that happen, but that picture is useful to keep in mind as we seek to understand what Jesus meant when he said in John 10:10 that he had come to give us “abundant life”.  The canola picture describes “abundant”, but what did Jesus mean by “life”? To grasp that it’s helpful to know that the New Testament uses three different words to describe “life”.

The first word is “bios” which you could understand in a timeline.  I was born, lived in these places, accomplished certain things, earned this much money, etc.  “Bios” quantifies life, but it doesn’t tell who I am or what my nature or character or personality is like.  That word is “psyche” and it’s used to describe the sort of person I am.

But the word Jesus used in John 10:10 was “zoe.” In the Bible “zoe” is always used in connection with the life of God.  We all share “bios” and have “psyche” but “zoe” is a gift from God, by faith, that we receive from Jesus.  Certainly “bios” and “psyche” are from God as well, but until we receive “zoe” we don’t recognize that.

“Zoe” is the term being used whenever you read “eternal life” but, while it certainly includes that, it also indicates the very nature, or righteousness of Jesus himself, a nature that he creates within us.  It is also the term used to describe streams of living water flowing out of Jesus followers, which brings us back to the picture of the canola.

Abundant life is not found in “bios”, a life of accumulation and accomplishment.  It is God’s life within us that boils out of us like canola overfilling the truck, and it is expressed in various ways.  Here’s two.  A couple of verses later in John 10, Jesus states that he lays down his life (psyche) for us.  We in turn spend our “bios” and “psyche” on serving others too.

Another expression is found in Romans 4:12.  Here Paul talks about the secret of being content regardless of circumstance.  That secret?  Abundant “zoe”.

(For a much fuller dealing of “life” in the New Testament I encourage you to read the essay Life In Three Dimensions. You can find it here: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=06-03-017-f )


Will Heaven Have Snow?

I am so ready for spring!  Of course I’ve been saying that since November.  Some people really like winter, and I used to, but I must be getting old because I’m ready for it to end earlier and earlier every year.  I still enjoy all the winter activities, but I think I could live without them if it meant no more cold.

I wonder if there will be winter in heaven.  Have you ever thought about that?  I have found myself thinking about heaven a lot more the last few years.  I read a fascinating book called simply, “Heaven,” by Randy Alcorn, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything he suggests, much of it is sound.

He begins by challenging us to evaluate what we have thought about heaven in light of what scripture actually says.  Set aside what you have always believed and read with an open mind what the Bible really says about heaven.  On the things that Scripture affirms by all means pick up those old beliefs but I think you will be pleasantly surprised by what is left behind and even more by what you discover.

Let me give you an example.  We usually think that heaven will be somewhere up in the sky and totally new and unfamiliar.  Scripture actually teaches that the New Jerusalem will come down to a renewed earth.  (Check out Revelation 21, especially verse 2 & 3).  This means that there will be a renewed and recognizable Alberta though it certainly will be better and even more beautiful than what we know now.

Or this: I used to think when Revelation 22:3 talked about serving God in heaven it was just one long church service.  But if satisfying and refreshing creative work was part of Eden, does it not make sense that it will be as well on the renewed Earth?

All of this is a moot point though, if you are not going to be there, and here we get to the heart of the matter.  Do you know whether you will be there?  How can you know?  Chapter 21 in Revelation records that God says that all who are victorious will be His children.  The obvious question then is who are the victorious?  In the first chapter of John we are told that everyone that believes who Jesus is and who follow him have been given the right to become children of God.

Will there be snow in heaven? I don’t really know.  But I know I will be.  Will you?


Re-using A Valentine

I would not be in the best graces with Wendy if I gave her the same card I gave her last Valentine’s day, but I was perusing through my posts from a year ago and came across the following post from last year.  Because I found it a good reminder for myself I decided that, with a tweak or two, it was worth re-posting this year.  May you be encouraged too.

 

Valentine ’s Day is coming up.  I’m not typically one to make a big deal over it, but I’ve come to at least see it as a good reminder not to get lazy or complacent in romancing my wife.  It’s important that I communicate to her how much she is treasured, how beautiful she is to me; how desired she is.  For me saying ”I love you” is easy and natural and is a daily occurrence.  But, without minimizing the value of that, finding other unique ways of communicating the same thing is valuable for both of us.

We like being desired.  In fact it is such a powerful thing that advertisers tap into this longing and make billions trying to convince us that we will be desirable if we buy their product.  Of course this is a lie and only leaves us hollow and empty.  But in a committed marriage relationship it is wonderful and fulfilling to have our spouse make an effort to woo us and pursue and entice us proving that we are desired.

The Song of Solomon is an amazing account of what a healthy, Godly, Biblical marriage relationship is like.  It is beautiful, and passionate, and intimate and full of expressions of desire for each other.  Throughout both husband and wife try to allure and entice the other but also take pleasure in being  pursued and persuaded to love.

For centuries it has been understood that the Song of Solomon is also a picture of God’s relationship with his people.  Paul makes a similar connection in Ephesians speaking of Jesus as the groom and we as his bride.  What I think we easily miss is that as much we value and are pleased that Jesus has pursued and wooed us he too derives pleasure from us reciprocating much as husband is pleased by the ways in which his wife expresses her desire for him.

Many of us are uncomfortable thinking of, let alone speaking of Holy God in this way but that’s because we don’t fully grasp the profound nature of the relationship God literally desires with us.  It is an awe inspiring thing to realize that I can bring pleasure to God; that God, though undeniably self-sufficient, desires to be desired.  Let me suggest that during these next few days when there are so many reminders of “love” around that you allow those to direct your thoughts and desires to the one who is Love.


What’s The Nature of Your Nature?

In 1898 Colonial Britain had determined to put a railway from the east coast of Africa through to Lake Victoria.  The line, still in use, runs along the south end of modern day Kenya crossing the Tsavo River.  While the bridge across this river was being built two lions terrorized the crews killing, according to eyewitnesses, 138 men.  Recent chemical analysis of the lions’ hair and bone has determined that likely only 34 humans were consumed between the two lions in the three month before they were shot and killed, but the exaggeration emphasises the terror running through the camps.

The lions would enter, at night, any one of the camps scattered along a thirty mile stretch of track and snatch workers right out of their tents.  Even the construction of thorn fence “bomas” and night fires were ineffective at inhibiting the man-eaters.  The locals called the lions, “the ghost” and “the darkness.”  After months of fruitless searching Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson, who was responsible for seeing the bridge built, finally shot the lions selling their skulls and hides to the Field Museum in Chicago, where, stuffed, they greet visitors to this day.

Why did these lions kill and consume flesh?  Quite simply because they were lions.  Granted it is rare for lions to become man-eaters, but the primary reason they attacked the workers is because that’s what lions do.  It is their nature to kill and eat flesh.  They cannot do otherwise.

Though the parallel is limited, it does help bring some understanding of why we all need Jesus.  Romans 8 sets out the truth that all of humankind is born with a sin nature.  We sin and cannot do otherwise.  For those who would object that you may occasionally do a bad thing, but you don’t sin all the time look at verse 8.  It says in your natural condition, literally in the flesh, in the nature you were born with it is impossible to please God.

But here’s the good news: Jesus offers us a new nature – his own.  If we will relinquish our own nature (admit our sin nature and that in it we can’t please God) and through faith receive Jesus’ sinless nature, Romans 8 goes on to say we cease to become bound to sin and instead become bound to righteousness.

So here’s the question; are you still trying to please God in your sin nature?  Verse 9 says anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ.  It’s all in the nature.  What’s yours?


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